The return of Jesus Christ, sad to say, seems to be a subject treated with pretty much indifference in the evangelical world today; and yet it is not only a cardinal truth of Christianity, but it is essentially the ultimate truth of Christianity, because everything is moving toward our Lord’s return. One could argue that this is the most important of all doctrines, because every other doctrine ultimately consummates in Christ returning for His people and judging the ungodly and setting up His kingdom, and then creating the new heaven and the new earth where we will dwell with Him forever. The end of the story is the whole point of the story. There are so many who ignore the end of the story, which is a tragic perspective in all regards, and an irresponsible one as well, I think.
The Bible is crystal clear on what is to come in the future, and this is our hope. We don’t need to be living in this world worrying about what is going to happen to the planet or to the nations or in the future politically or economically or on any other level, because the final chapter of human history has already been written in Scripture. We know what is coming, and we know our Lord is on schedule. God’s sovereignty is, of course, ultimately vindicated when the end of the story is written in history. That’s what we live for. We call it the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
We’re waiting for the return of the Lord Jesus. The Messiah has already come. We’re not looking for another human deliverer, we are looking for the one Redeemer, the one Savior, the one Deliverer to come back and take His own to be with Him, judge the ungodly, and establish the glorious kingdom promised to the saints. And then, to go into the new heaven and the new earth, and worship forever and ever in perfect joy and peace. That is what the Bible promises Christians. So I want to talk to you about that over the next couple of weeks, and I want to dig down a little bit into these things, because I know there are a lot of people who have different views about this. We’re just going to take what God said in the Bible; and it’s very straightforward and not at all difficult to understand. So for a beginning point, we’re going to talk about the next event on God’s prophetic timetable, the next event on God’s prophetic timetable.
Human history is unfolding seemingly in an inexorable, long, drawn out pathway to further and further disaster. But the end has been written, and the end has been written in detail by God Himself in His word and is available to us. So we’re going to be looking at what the Scripture says about the coming of the Lord and the elements of the end. Now there’s a lot that could be said, we could spend years dealing with this. I’m not going to go back through all of it, but I do want us to look at what the apostle Paul, in particular, has to say about Christ’s coming in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. So we’re going to kind of confine it to those two brief epistles, and they will open up a world of understanding for us.
Now on the occasion of our Lord being in the upper room with His disciples, as recorded in John 13 through 16, He told them the really sad news that He was leaving, He was going away. This was crushing to them, heartbreaking to them. He was everything to them. They could not imagine life without Him. But that’s what was going to face them imminently; He was leaving. They were in grief about that. Their hearts were troubled over that. They could not imagine life without Him with them, interpreting everything in life, and speaking to them the truth every time He opened His lips.
Their hearts were broken. And so, He said to them, “Even when I’m gone, I am going to take care of you, because I’m going to send the Holy Spirit. I’m going to send another member of the Trinity – God Himself, God the Spirit – and He’s going to come. He has been with you in Me; He will then be in you.” And we all know that when the Lord went back to heaven He sent the Holy Spirit, who came on the day of Pentecost and took up residence in the believers, a hundred and twenty of them that first day. And subsequently, the Spirit of God lives in every believer since that time. And He is the Spirit of Christ. He is another like Christ. He is the Spirit of Christ, in fact. And with the coming of the Spirit to dwell within believers, we also receive all that the Spirit of Christ would dispense to us.
And so, in those chapters in that Upper Room Discourse, the Lord promised the disciples that even in His absence they would have the Holy Spirit; and with the Holy Spirit would come truth, and wisdom, and understanding, and knowledge, and love, and joy, and peace; and all their prayers that were prayed in the will of God would be answered, and all their needs would be met. And with the Holy Spirit would come protection and would come power, power to do beyond even what He had done, in terms of its extent. And all they would need would be available to them inside of them in the indwelling Holy Spirit for them to live out the gospel in the world.
But even with the promise of the Holy Spirit there was a heavy burden of grief that swept over them, because their Lord was not going to be there. And so, for them, I’m sure the best of those promises – if you go back to John chapter 14 – was when Jesus said this, John 14:1 to 3, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.” He’s equating Himself with God; He is God. “In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
Of all the promises that He gave them, that must have been the one that carried the most hope: “You’re coming back and You’re going to take us to be in the place with You that You have been preparing for us.” And we all know that forty days after our Lord’s resurrection He ascended into heaven; and since that ascension He has been doing exactly what He said He would do, preparing a place for us. And the next event on God’s prophetic timetable is for Him to come back and get His own and take them to glory.
Again I say this particular doctrine is not just a cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith, it is perhaps the most essential, because it is the ultimate doctrine, it is the ultimate truth. It defines the whole purpose for all other actions of God in human history. It is the great culmination, and as for all things, is the ultimate expression of the glory of God.
Our Lord Jesus will return. He will return for His people to take them to heaven to the place He has been preparing for them. He also will return to judge the world and the ungodly in the world. He will return to judge Satan and unholy angels. He will return to execute all who are evil. He will return to establish His kingdom of righteousness, and He will rule the world for a thousand years – as Revelation makes clear. He will finally then at the end of that thousand years reap judgment on a rebellious population that have developed during the time of His kingdom, and He will bring them into eternal judgment. Then He will destroy the universe as we know it and create in its place a new heaven and a new earth wherein only righteousness and holiness is present; and all who are righteous and holy will dwell with Him there forever.
This is not fantasy. This is not wishful thinking. This is prewritten, historical fact. He will come; and according to Matthew 24:44, no one knows the hour, no one. But when He comes, all of these things that I’ve just mentioned will take place, and they will take place over a period of time. He will come for His church, and there will be judgment across the earth in a time known as the tribulation.
The final half of the tribulation is called the great tribulation. It ends with Armageddon, when all the ungodly are destroyed and sent to eternal hell. And then He establishes a thousand-year millennial kingdom; and at the end of that, the new heavens and the new earth. That’s the flow. So He comes, and then there’s at least seven years of tribulation, and then a thousand years of His glorious kingdom before the final creation of a new heaven and a new earth.
But what is the beginning of all of it? We don’t know the exact hour. But where does it begin? And what are we actually looking for? There is one thing that we are looking for and it’s described in 1 Thessalonians 4. Open your Bible to 1 Thessalonians 4, verse 13. And this is so important I want you to understand it.
As Paul says, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, and with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
The next even of our Lord’s prophetic timetable is intended to comfort us. It is given us as a comfort, as an encouragement, and it is that event that has just been described. It’s often called the rapture of the church, and that comes from the verb in verse 17, “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” It’s the Greek verb harpazō. It’s a very strong word. I don’t think “caught up” really does justice to it. Nor do I think the word “rapture” does justice to it, because rapture can have the idea of some kind of emotional feeling. This is a historical event. The closest English word we would have to it is “snatch.” So if you want to replace “the rapture” with “the snatch” that would actually be accurate. Let me tell you why I say that. Listen to the usages of harpazō. This will be helpful to you.
In chapter 11 of Matthew’s gospel and verse 12 we read about John the Baptist. And it says, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.” This is a verb, harpazō. It’s a violent act. It’s an act of seizing something. Violent men do a violent act when this verb is used.
In the thirteenth chapter of Matthew and again verse 19 we have the familiar parable of the sower and the seed. And when the seed is sown on hard ground we read this, verse 19, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.” The picture in the parable is seed lying on hard ground and a bird comes and snatches it away. And this is what Satan does to the word lying on the surface of a heart; it’s snatching again.
And in the sixth chapter of John – to continue to take a look at this word – verse 15, “So Jesus, perceiving that the crowd” – where He had, as you remember, fed everyone by creating a meal – “perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force” – coming and snatching Him by force, uses the same verb – “to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.”
And then over in the tenth chapter – and just a couple of others which will I think be helpful to you – chapter 10, verse 12. Our Lord is talking about how He holds onto His sheep as the Good Shepherd. And verse 12 of John 10 says, “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he’s a hired hand.” The wolf, obviously false teachers, snatches the sheep.
Later in that same chapter, down to verse 28, on the contrast to that, is the promise of our Lord, verse 27, “My sheep hear My voice, I know them, they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” Again, you get the picture of this verb. It’s a very strong, violent act of snatching someone.
Now it’s used one more time that’s instructive for us, and that’s in Revelation 12:5; and in this text it is used to describe the ascension of Christ. In the vision that John has, sign in heaven, we read in verse 5, “She gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron;” – this is Christ – “and her child was snatched up to God and to His throne.” That’s referring to the ascension. And the ascension is the snatching of the Savior from earth into the presence of the Lord. And it happened, as Acts 1 says, in clouds. And that’s exactly what it says – go back to 1 Thessalonians 4 – will happen to believers when they are snatched in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
Now the Thessalonian believers knew about the return of Christ, all early believers did, and they all were eager for that to happen. They all wanted to believe it would occur in their lifetime. In the first chapter of Acts, the disciples said to Jesus, “Will You at this time bring the kingdom? Is it going to happen right now?” They were eagerly anticipating that.
The Thessalonians knew the Lord was going to return. Go back to chapter 1 and just take a look at what they had been taught. Chapter 1 says in verse 3 that they were marked by “work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father.” They were hoping to see Christ; they were hoping to be reunited with Him.
Down in verse 9, Paul says about them they had a marvelous testimony, because, he says, “You turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” They were waiting for Christ to return. They were like those disciples in the upper room. Jesus said, “I’m coming back for you.” They were waiting for Him to return.
Chapter 2 even refers to the second coming in verse 19, “Who is our hope or joy or crown of jubilation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?” And then in chapter 3, verse 13, he refers to, “establishing their hearts without blame in holiness before God, our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His holy ones.” They were living in the light of the coming of the Lord.
Then in chapter 4, verses 13 to 18, he refers to that event: the snatch, or the rapture. And even in chapter 5, in the first two verses, he refers to the coming of the Lord. This was in a critical place in their thinking. Jesus was going to come back, He was going to return to take them to be with Him.
Now this anticipation was a very purifying reality in their lives. That is exactly what it says back at the end of chapter 3. There’s a final few verses that really are so instructive, starting in verse 11: “Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.” Paul says, “I want you to get your spiritual act together. I want you to increase and abound in love, because love for one another and for all people produces holiness, blamelessness; and that’s what you want when Jesus returns.”
First John 3, John essentially says the same thing: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it didn’t know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared what we shall be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” And then this, “And everyone who has this hope fixed in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
If you knew that Jesus was coming this afternoon, it would alter your behavior this morning. If you knew that He was coming tomorrow, it would alter your behavior the rest of the day. If you knew He was coming in a week, it would alter that week dramatically. That’s how He wants us to live, so that when He comes – and we can’t know when. Matthew tells us our Lord said, “No one knows the day nor the hour.” So we need to live in every moment as if He were coming in the next, so that we will be found blameless and holy at the coming of our Lord Jesus.
So Paul has said so much to them about His coming. They’re eager; they’re waiting; they’re ready. But they have a dilemma and it bothers them deeply. “He’s going to come and He’s going to take us to heaven to be with Him. But what about the believers who have already died? What about them? What is going to happen to them?”
Did those who died miss the coming of the Lord? Was their death a kind of punishment, “Not going to let you experience that,” much like maybe 1 Corinthians 11:30 where some believers literally died because of the desecration of the Lord’s Table? Would they miss the gathering into heaven? Would they just forever in heaven float around and disembodied spirits and never be there in bodily form like the resurrection body of Christ? Would they therefore be marked out forever as inferior?
Now they truly loved each other. Look at chapter 4, verse 9: “As to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, excel still more.”
They loved each other, and it was that love for each other that caused them grief. They were sad because they thought that if a believer dies he misses this great event. They also knew about the day of the Lord. That is addressed in chapter 5. Look at the opening verses: “Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness.”
They knew two things were going to come: the Lord was going to come for His people, and the day of the Lord was going to come to judge the world. Day of the Lord is an Old Testament concept that always means judgment, always means judgment. Throughout the prophets in the Old Testament as well as the New, it means judgment.
Now many of these believers were suffering. You can read about some of their suffering back in chapter 3. They were struggling. Verses 3 and 4 mentions their affliction. Verse 5 mentions the struggle with temptation. So they were confused. They were waiting for the rapture, but people were dying: “What about them?” They were waiting for the rapture, which was the next event; but it felt like they were suffering immensely and being persecuted. And therefore, did this mean that the day of the Lord had already come, and they had missed the rapture? And to confuse them even more, somebody had written a fake letter saying they were already in the day of the Lord, and claimed that it was from Paul.
Now understand, put all this together. They were waiting for the Lord to come. They were not waiting for the Antichrist to show up, they were not waiting for the day of the Lord of judgment to come, they were waiting for the Lord. If they were in the day of the Lord, if they were under judgment, then what happened to the rapture that was to deliver them from the wrath to come? And then that other question: What about the believers who died? Was that a kind of punishment that left them disembodied in the presence of the Lord forever?
Now let me just draw a conclusion for you while you’re thinking about the chronology here. All of this implies that they believed the rapture would come, and then the day of the Lord. If they had been taught that they were going to go through the day of the Lord or go through the tribulation, persecution would not have been hard to understand; nor would the death of believers be hard to understand, because many, many believers will be killed in the time of the tribulation, many, many martyrs. But they believed that they would be taken by the Lord into glory before the day of the Lord began.
You see the chronology even in the way the rapture appears in chapter 4 and the day of the Lord in chapter 5. They believed in what we would call a pretribulation snatch. They expected Christ, not Antichrist. They expected comfort, hope to be realized in the presence of the Lord in a room in the Father’s house that had been prepared for them. They did not expect divine wrath.
So what happened? If this is, in fact, the day of the Lord, what happened to the rapture? And what about those saints who died? What about them?
So this passage and the rest of Paul’s teaching on this subject is built around those dilemmas. The passages are more pastoral than theological. There is theology here, there’s eschatology here, but it’s more to deal with their grief. And let’s look at that in verse 13: “For we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.”
They were grieving. They were grieving over the death of the ones they loved; this was not just normal grief. Normal grief is normal grief; and we are to weep with those who weep. “Blessed are those who mourn,” Matthew 5:4 says. “Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus,” John 11. There’s a place for normal weeping when someone dies.
But there was a long, arduous grieving going on with these people, because they were afraid that the ones they loved who had died missed the great rapture and the home-gathering of the saints. They had come to some conclusion in ignorance that those people who already died would be something like second-class floating spirits, while all the rest of them who were alive would be taken to heaven and receive a glorified body like the resurrection body of Christ. So Paul wants to straighten all this out, and that’s why he says, verse 13, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brethren.”
And by the way, that is a formula that he uses a lot to introduce a new topic. And here it’s not just switching topics, it’s introducing actually new teaching. This teaching is new, it’s new. This is new teaching. The only revelation they had about this event was what Jesus said: “I’m coming back; I’m going to take you to the place I’ve prepared for you.” That was all they knew. So Paul is going to now eliminate their ignorance by giving them more revelation. This is not only a new subject, this is new teaching on a new subject: “I don’t want you to be ignorant. On the other hand, I want you to fully understand, because this will” – verse 18 – “provide you comfort.”
Now their ignorance was based upon the fact that believers had died, so there was this concern about, verse 13 says, those who are asleep. Now let me talk about the word “sleep,” koimaō in the Greek, “to cause to sleep.” This is a reverence to believers. The word “sleep” is used in the Bible. This verb is used of actual sleep, but it’s also used of the bodies of believers resting in the grave. I’m going to make that distinction very clear. It’s used of the bodies of believers resting in the grave, it is never used of the souls of believers.
Lazarus, John 11, slept. That is, his body was asleep in the grave. Stephen’s body – Acts 7, verse 60 – fell asleep. First Corinthians 7:39, a husband who dies, his body sleeps. Second Peter 3:4 goes back to the fathers, previous saints, who fell asleep. It simply means that: bodies that fall asleep.
Interestingly enough, koimaō is the Greek root for the English word “cemetery.” And it was Christians who came up with that word, because Christians identified burial places as sleeping places, sleeping grounds. That was the optimistic name given by believers to these places who knew that there would come a resurrection. So this was not final, this was just a sleeping place.
Let me hasten to say this: never does it say the soul sleeps, never. When the rich man died – Luke 16:19 parable – he immediately was in torment. When Lazarus the beggar died, he immediately was in the presence of Abraham. When the thief on the cross put his trust in the Savior hanging beside him, Jesus said, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.”
It is far better to depart and be with Christ. Philippians 1:23, “Far better to depart and be with Christ.” Second Corinthians 5 says it this way: “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” There’s no gap; there’s no waiting; there’s no soul sleep at all. There’s no purgatory. There’s nothing but a believer leaving this realm and instantaneously being consciously in the realm of the presence of the Lord. The teaching of soul sleep, some kind of unconscious existence in the afterlife, is contrary to Scripture, and is an accommodation to human fears of hell and eternal judgment, and is a lie. Our Lord taught conscious, eternal punishment in hell, not sleep.
So he doesn’t want them to be ignorant about those who’ve fallen asleep. Why? Because it makes them sad. He doesn’t want them to grieve. That’s why I say this is more pastoral than it is theological. Christians grieve when they love, and they grieve when they don’t think there’s going to be a reunion, or they think somebody has permanently missed out – “for those who have no hope.”
I can tell you and you would understand this. Through the years I’ve done many funerals. The most difficult experience that anybody could ever have is to be at the funeral of a person who dies without God, without Christ, and goes to hell. What can you say? There is no hope. There is nothing to say of any comfort. People will reach back to occasions of life experience with that individual and good memories. But in the end, realization that someone is suffering forever in hell so horrific that it kills the heart.
They have no hope. The ungodly have no hope. So I don’t want you to grieve like people who have no hope. I don’t want you to think like pagans think, because we have hope.” And Paul is going to tell them the very essentials of that hope that will comfort them.
Now there’s only one other portion of Scripture that deals with this event, and it’s 1 Corinthians 15. You might want to look at it for a moment; just introduce it to you, because I want to show you the word that describes it. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:51, “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.” That’s the same snatching, that’s the rapture. “But it’s a mystery.”
What does it mean when it says it’s a mystery, mustērion? It doesn’t mean it’s like a riddle that you have to solve. Paul uses “mystery” to speak of something hidden in the past and revealed by the apostle himself. There are a handful of mysteries in the New Testament where Paul distinctively uses that as a technical term to reveal truth that had never been revealed before. So this is not in the Old Testament, you won’t find it in the Old Testament. As I said, there are only three places where it’s even mentioned in the New, and it’s only introduced in John 14 by our Lord, and then elucidated by Paul in 1 Thessalonians, as we will see, and also in this chapter as well.
Here we find even more about what it means when it says, “We will all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling on an eye.” That’s how fast this rapture will happen, at the last trump. The trump will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. So dead what? Dead bodies. “The spirits of just men made perfect” – Hebrews says – “are in the presence of God.” Their spirits are in the presence of God, bodies in the grave. And when this event takes place, the sleeping bodies, the dead will be raised imperishable.
No matter how long they’ve been there, no matter how utterly and totally decomposed they might be, there will be a new resurrection body coming to meet that eternally glorified spirit. “And the perishable” – once perishable body – “will put on imperishable, and the mortal will put on immortality. And the perishable will have put on the imperishable, and the mortal will have put on immortality, and then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul goes on earlier in this chapter to even describe this body. He says in verse 42, “There’s a resurrection of the dead. Sown a perishable body, raised an imperishable body; sown in dishonor, raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power; sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body.” It’s going to be different. But the sleep referred to here is the sleep of bodies that God will raise from the grave.
So he’s comforting these believers by saying this: “No one who belongs to me is going to be left out. We’re not going to be like those who have no hope. There’s going to be a coming and a catching away of those who are alive. And the bodies of those already spiritually in the presence of the Lord, they will receive their glorified body at that event when the Lord calls their bodies out of their graves.”
People always ask me, “Does that mean that people are in heaven now floating around as spirits waiting for their bodies?” The best way to understand that is a simple answer: no, because there’s no waiting in heaven, because there’s no time there. And I know it’s impossible for you to get out of the paradigm you live in and think about timelessness, but that’s the way to think about heaven. Nobody’s waiting for anything, because there’s no passage of time. Everything is an eternal moment. That’s what makes heaven so wonderful. We would all wonder whether we wanted to be someplace forever; but that forever is just a moment that never ends.
And so, nobody is waiting, because there’s no sense of time. But at this moment, Hebrews describes them as the spirit of just men made perfect, and their bodies are to come when they’re snatched out of the grave along with the living believers on earth. That’s the next event in God’s prophetic timetable. That’s what we’re waiting for.
Now there are a number of points in this passage that I want to cover, and we’re not going to do it this morning, so don’t worry. But I do want to give you at least an introductory point. We’re going to look at the basis of this event, the participants in the event, the features of the event, the benefits of it. But at least we’ll give you a little bit of a look at the basis of this event. What is the basis of this event? What is the foundation of this? What has God done that creates the reality that this will happen?
The basis of the rapture, the basis of the snatching of believers is found in verses 14 and 15a: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord,” – we’ll stop right there.
Three things are mentioned there upon which we can believe the truth of this event. One, if we, or since we believe that Jesus died. The first foundation for our hope is the death of Jesus. Why is that a foundation for hope? Why is death a foundation for hope? Because it was in His death that He bore our penalty for sin. And the only way we could rise to live with God forever would be if sin had been dealt with. So if we believe, if we are among those who believe that Jesus died, who believe that He bore our sins in His own body, that He became sin for us, that He died in our place, if we believe that, if we understand that He fulfilled our punishment in the full, that He therefore met all the conditions to transform death into life, then we understand our hope. Our hope had to be based on a death. If we die for our own sins, we have no hope; we’re eternally in hell.
But God offered a perfect sacrifice to die in our place. We are given life through His death. When He died, we died. He died an actual death; and all of us who would ever believe in Him through all of human history were in Him when He died. Christ entered into all that was involved in death and judgment for all believers. He paid the penalty in full. That’s why what I just read is so strong: “O death, where is your sting? O death,” – O grave – “where is your victory?” We have triumphed in Christ’s death.
So the first pillar foundation stone holding up this doctrine is the death of Christ. The second is the resurrection, verse 14: “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again,” – why is the resurrection important? Because if He can’t conquer death for Himself, He obviously didn’t conquer it for us. “But because He lives,” – John 14 – “we shall live also.”
When God raised Jesus from the dead, God was validating the sacrifice as being perfect and complete. By one offering He perfected forever them that are sanctified. The Father raising the Son proved totally and triumphantly that Jesus conquered sin and death for every Christian. And thus does Paul say, “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” That’s the first indication of what this event is. God’s going to bring back to heaven with Jesus all for whom Jesus died and rose again.
The death of believers does not take place apart from Jesus Christ. We died in Him, we will rise in Him. The penalty of our sin is paid; we triumph in His resurrection. And so, he says, “Even so, just as God was satisfied with the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf and raised Him from the dead, God is so satisfied that He will bring with Christ back to glory all who have fallen asleep in Him.” So Paul is comforting these believers who think that maybe because some of them died they’re going to miss the trip to glory. Not a chance; not going to happen.
When the Lord comes down and goes back He’s going to bring with Him all those who have fallen asleep. This answers the point of their sadness and their sorrow, that those who had died will not miss this great event. They will not miss it. Second Corinthians 4:14 says, “He who raised Jesus will raise us also with Jesus.” So based on His death and His resurrection, we have hope for our own resurrection.
And then there’s a third pillar, and it is the Word of God: “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord.” Paul is not just drawing some kind of logical conclusion to the death and resurrection of Christ, although he could do that. He could say that it’s a logical conclusion that if He died for us and rose for us, that we have died and risen in Him, we will rise. That’s a logical conclusion.
But He wants to go a step further: “This is not just a logical conclusion, rather we say this to you by the word of the Lord. I’m about to give you a divine revelation.” He’s not referring to something in the past, because all there was referring to this was in John 14. Later he would write more in 1 Corinthians. But he’s saying, “I’m going to give you revelation from heaven.” I love that phrase “the word of the Lord.” The Bible is always that, isn’t it, the word of the Lord.
On the basis of divine utterance: “So on the basis of the death of Christ paying the penalty in full for our sins, on the basis of the resurrection of Christ granting us life in Him, and by the testimony of the revelation of the word of the Lord, I am telling you, the dead will rise. They will not miss Christ coming to take His own to heaven. Don’t grieve about the dead saints.” This is new revelation. That’s why Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:51 said it’s a mystery. It had been hidden; it is now fully revealed.
So our hope for the next event: the coming of the Lord to take us to heaven. Our hope is based on the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and the divine revelation we’re going to look at in detail. We have all we need for hope and, as verse 18 says, for comfort. Again, I say, this is the next event. And after this event then, as chapter 5 will unfold for us, comes the day of the Lord, the time of the tribulation. We live in the light of Christ coming for His own.
Again, back to John 14, Jesus said to His disciples, “I’m going to prepare a place for you, I’ll be back to take you there.” He didn’t say, “Oh, but by the way, before I do that, you’re going to go through horrible judgment.” He just said, “Wait for Me, I’m coming back.” They understood that He meant to save them from the wrath to come. So this is the strong, strong basis of this glorious event.
It could happen at any time. You say, “Well, it’s been two thousand years.” Yes. But as Peter says, “A day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day.” You say, “Well, what’s He waiting for?” He’s waiting until all the believers who have been chosen from before the foundation of the world are gathered in. But we all live in the light of this. And it’s good that it’s imminent, because that kind of immanency is helpful to motivate us to godliness and holiness.
Now that’s just the start. We’re going to talk about the features of this, the participants of this event and the benefits of it next time. Bow with me in prayer.
Lord, we are so astounded that You would be preparing a place for us. What right do we have for such mercy, grace, magnanimous lovingkindness? This is just beyond comprehension that You would actually prepare a room for every believer in Your Father’s house where we can dwell with You forever in boundless, incomprehensible joy.
Thank You for placing our sins on Your Son and making Him our sacrifice. Thank You for placing us in Him so that we died in Him and rose in Him to newness of life. As Paul says in Romans 6, “We have died to the old, we’ve risen to the new.” We belong to You. Thank You for giving us Your Word, to explain this marvelous event, this marvelous reality. And we would say with the apostle John, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
The world is a wearying experience even at its best. We’re grateful for the heaven on earth we enjoy. In the church and because of the Holy Spirit and because of fellowship, we’re grateful for that heaven on earth; but we long for heaven in heaven. And, Lord, we are so saddened by the way Your name is dishonored, the way Your Son is blasphemed, Your Spirit is maligned, Your Word is mocked; and we would cry out like the martyrs in the book of Revelation under the altar, “How long, O Lord, will You allow this before You vindicate Your name and establish Your kingdom in the world?” We thank You that You will take us to be with You and then bring us back after the judgment to live in this world in the glory of Your earthly kingdom.
Wondrous, wondrous realities promised to us who are unworthy. May we live in the light of this and not get caught up in the folly of the mundane in this world. You created it, You’ll take it out of existence. You pronounced the curse, You’ll bring the final judgment. But before that, You will rescue Your people as You rescued Noah and his family before You drowned the entire world. You’ll take us to be with You, where we can enjoy fellowship, marriage supper of the Lamb. And then when the judgment is over You’ll bring us back to reign in this world with You, and then throughout all eternity in the new heaven and the new earth. What marvelous truth this is.
And You are the God of truth, and You have done everything You said You would do; and this is why we live in hope. Fill every heart with hope in believing, joy in believing, peace in believing. And for those who have not come to Christ as the only Savior, draw them this very day so they will never experience the horrors of divine judgment. Do Your work in hearts, Lord, we pray, for Your glory. Amen.
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