Open your Bible, if you will, to 1 Thessalonians 4, and we’re looking at verses 13 to 18. We’re doing a bit of a study in the future, the plans that the Lord has for us, prophetic plans related to the return of our Lord, and taking them from these particular sermons from Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. We’ll spend a little more time in the first letter, and then look at the second one as well.
But we’re starting where we have to start, and that is with the next event on God’s prophetic timetable. The next event is what we have called the rapture of the church, the catching away, the snatching of the church out of this world. And as we read in 1 Corinthians 15, it will happen in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. That’s not a blink, but that’s the time it takes for light to flash off the pupil of the eye. Just that fast, all true Christians across this planet will disappear instantaneously. That is a coming historical event, and it is the next event on God’s timetable.
As we said last time, it is a signless event, it can happen at any time. Nothing prophetic needs to happen before this happens. There are no anticipatory signs or signals, it could come at any moment. That is why we say it is imminent. It is the very next thing that God has revealed that He will do on a global basis is snatch His church out of this world.
Now this is not something you hear a lot about today. People are consumed with navigating life in this world, when they should be a lot more concerned about anticipating the life in the next world. And the world is becoming more and more burdensome; wouldn’t you agree? It’s not a place you want to focus. That’s why Paul says, “Set your affections on things above and not on things on the earth.” You need to focus on what the Lord has planned for you as a believer.
According to some estimates, about one-fifth of the Old Testament is prophetic, it’s predictive, telling about something that’s going to happen in the future. And of that one-fifth of the Old Testament, at least a third of that is referring specifically to the Messiah, the Lord Jesus. And of the material in the Old Testament that refers to Jesus, about a third of it refers to His first coming; the other two-thirds refers to things that will happen when He comes again. Although the Old Testament doesn’t necessarily make that distinction, we know that only about a third of the prophecies that were given concerning the Messiah were fulfilled in His first coming.
And I would remind you that the prophecies of the Old Testament that were said to identify the Messiah were fulfilled historically and literally. Those are actual prophecies that actually came to pass in the real world in Israel, in Jerusalem, among the people of God, the nation Israel; and the person was none other than the Lord Jesus Himself, a real person who fulfilled literally the promises of the Old Testament. We can anticipate then that the other two-thirds of the prophecies related to Him will be just as literal and just as historical as the first ones were. There’s no reason to change the rules of the game, these things will come to pass. Christians in previous generations have been more aware and living in anticipation of these things than they seem to be in our contemporary culture, when people are so caught up in the world. So it’s good for us to get beyond the things that we allow ourselves to be literally consumed with and to think of the things that the Lord has prepared for us.
Now there are always going to be people who deny the return of Christ. We are not surprised by that. Some people think it’s a ridiculous idea; and the specificity with which the Bible speaks about it is ludicrous. These things will never happen; they certainly cannot happen. Peter speaks to people who have that particular perspective.
In 2 Peter chapter 3. Peter writes this, starting in verse 3: “Knowing this, first of all, that in the last days,” – and we are in the last days; the last days began when the Lord came the first time – “in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.’”
The argument it is is simply this, that nothing’s ever changed, everything’s been exactly the same since this whole thing started. Why would we believe in some cataclysmic, global holocaust that is associated with the return of Jesus, when everything has been uniform since it all started? That’s the argument. The mockers would mock that anything is going to change the typical routine patterns of life in this world and in this universe.
However, Peter responds, “When they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.” People who think that everything is continued exactly as it were from the very beginning have forgotten the universal flood which drowned the entire human race – a cataclysmic, miraculous flood, that left only eight survivors: Noah and his wife, and sons and their wives. So everything hasn’t continued just uniformly since the beginning; there was a flood of global proportions. And that is why you find fish fossils in the Grand Canyon.
I was reading recently about up in the icy north of the very tip of Russia they have been doing some excavation, and they have dug up mastodons. I actually have a chunk of one of their tusks that was given to me. And these mastodons, when they’re dug up on the very top border of Russia near the North Pole and their stomachs are opened, are filled with the remnants of tropical plants. How could that be possible if the earth has always been the way it is now? It hasn’t always been the way it is now; the flood changed everything.
They have forgotten that the world was destroyed with water. Verse 7: “But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire.” The next judgment won’t be water, it’ll be fire. God promised He would never destroy the world again with water; that’s what rainbows mean. “But He will destroy the world with fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”
And you say, “Well, it’s been such a long time.” “Do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day.” God’s not watching the clock like we do.
Why is He waiting? Why is He delaying? Verse 9: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” The Lord is waiting for all the elect to come to repentance. He is going to wait until all those whom He has chosen have been gathered in.
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar, the elements will be destroyed, and they’ll be destroyed with intense heat,” – this is an atomic implosion – “the earth and its works will be burned up.” That is the uncreation of the universe as we know it.
“Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we’re looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him” – when He comes – “in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.” You still have an opportunity for salvation before the end comes.
Now Peter is talking about the end of the end, the complete destruction of the universe, and its replacement by new heavens and a new earth. That’s the final act in the events that make up the second coming of Christ.
Moving to the opposite end to the very beginning of it, what is the very first event that inaugurates all the events that are connected with the second coming? That first event is the snatching away of believers from the earth called the rapture of the church. Let’s look at it in 1 Thessalonians 4:13. I’ll read you the text. We looked at it last week, we’ll look at it again.
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep,” – meaning those who have died – “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 who 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, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will 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.”
This signless event, this imminent event is the next of God’s acts on this planet. The key verb in verse 17, “will be caught up,” caught up, snatched, raptured.
I saw a survey this last week that said 60 percent of evangelicals believe this, 60 percent of evangelicals believe this. This is in the Bible. This is explicitly in the Bible. Don’t call yourself an evangelical if you don’t believe this. What are the other 40 believing? That’s not your prerogative. It comes originally from the words of our Lord.
In John 14 this very event He described in the upper room with His disciples in John 14 when He said, “Do not let your heart be troubled;” – because He was leaving, they were very troubled – “believe in God, believe also in Me. 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.” That couldn’t be more simple. “I’m going away, I’m going to be gone preparing rooms for you in the Father’s house, I’m going to come back, and I’m going to take you where I am.” That is a promise that the Lord will come back and take His own to heaven. That couldn’t be more clear.
Now the Thessalonians were aware of this, certainly they knew that the apostles taught this as our Lord had taught it. Even though the gospel of John hadn’t been written yet, they were aware of the Lord’s coming. We know they were sensitive to the Lord’s coming because it’s in every chapter of this letter.
Back in chapter 1 and verse 10, Paul says about them that “they were serving a living and true God, and waiting for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” They expected Jesus to come and rescue them from the coming wrath.
In chapter 2, verse 19, Paul says, “It is our hope and joy or crown of rejoicing. What is that, that we rejoice in? It is not even you – is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?” Again, Paul’s hope was to be with his people at the coming of his Lord.
Chapter 3, verse 11 is a kind of benediction: “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.”
He’s not only coming for His saints, He’s coming with His saints. In the rapture, He comes for His saints. Seven years later in the second coming, He comes with His saints at the end of the time of tribulation. But they were waiting for the coming of the Lord for His saints, and later the coming of the Lord with His saints. Chapter 4, we have our passage, verses 13 to 18, about this next event. And chapter 5, verses 1 to 11, is about His coming, and particularly the day of the Lord, which is the time of judgment.
So they were very, very aware of the Lord’s return. In fact, they must have been living in the light of His return, because this is a church that Paul writes to and makes no condemnation whatsoever. He doesn’t identify any issue, any problem, any sin; it is as if this church was everything a church should be. And part of what I think motivated this church to its purity was this consuming desire to be found faithful and blameless and righteous when the Lord came. And they believed that He was coming and could even come in their lifetime.
They were also a very loving church. We see that in chapter 4, verse 9: “As to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write 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. All we can do is encourage you to love more. You have a reputation for love.” So here’s this church, very aware of the return of Christ, very aware that the Lord was going to come and take His own to heaven to be with Him as Jesus Himself had said.
Now some of them were dying, and they were concerned about the ones that were dying. They were actually grieving over the ones that were dying, because their assumption was they’re going to miss this great event. Why did the Lord let them die? They were living as if the Lord could come and might come in their lifetime. They believed that there were no more signs. As I said, it’s a signless event. They were living in the imminent reality that He could come at any time. And these people who died, they knew their spirits went to be with the Lord. “Absent from the body, present with the Lord. Far better depart and be with Christ.”
The spirits of those who die in Christ go to be with the Lord, but their bodies go to the grave. So what about that? Will they miss that great rapture event when we’re all gathered to heaven because they’re already there? And are they going to be disembodied spirits forever in heaven? Are they going to therefore have to wear some kind of stigma through all eternity that they died because of some sin or some discipline or some punishment? What about them?
So Paul writes this, not so much as an eschatological debate or argument, but he writes it to comfort their fears, to vanquish the struggles they were having over the people they loved somehow missing the glory of the return of the Lord and the glorification of His people. That’s why he writes this. And you can see the reason at the end of the section, verse 18. Now look at it: “Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
This is all about comfort. This is all about dispelling the grief that the Thessalonians were having over Christian who had died, and they thought they would be maybe left out of the rapture, and therefore left out of the resurrection of the body, and somehow identified as second-class forever in heaven. Paul wants them to know that is not going to happen. All believers are going to be a part of the snatching. All believers, the bodies that are in the grave will not be left out. Those that are alive will also be collected and gathered by the Lord and taken with Him to heaven. That’s what this passage is saying. That is the next event.
Now four aspects of this I want you to look at. The basis of the rapture – we looked at that last time – and then the participants in the raptures, the features of the rapture, and the benefits from the rapture. Just a quick reminder: the basis of the rapture we saw in verses 14 and 15. There are three sort of pillars that cause us to have confidence in this future event. One, if we believe that Jesus died.
The first basis for this event, the rapture and resurrection of the saints, is that Jesus died. And in that, Paul is summing up the full reality of why He died and what He accomplished in His death: “because He bore in His own body our sins on the cross; because God made Him sin for us, the One who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him; because He became a curse for us; because He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, crushed for our peace; because He took our place, because He was God’s satisfactory Lamb in our place, we can live forever.”
His death laid the foundation for our eternal life, because He paid the penalty for our sin. The fact that Christ died historically, carrying the guilt of our sins and bearing the full punishment for all of them means that we died in Him. We therefore have had our punishment paid in full, and God is free to raise us and bring us to glory. So this hope of this glorious resurrection at the rapture, the snatching of the church, is based on the death of Christ.
And not only the death; but if we believe that Jesus died, we also believe that He rose again. And His resurrection shows that not only did He pay the penalty for sin for us, He conquered death, He conquered death, which is the wages of sin. That’s why we read in 1 Corinthians 15, “Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?” We have triumphed over death because Christ has triumphed over death.
Second Corinthians 4:14, “He who raised Jesus will raise us also with Him.” And therefore based upon the death and resurrection of Christ, “Even so God will bring with Him” – with Jesus back to heaven – “those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” So Paul is saying, “You don’t need to grieve, you don’t need to be sad, you don’t need to be like those who have no hope. I’m telling you, I’m giving you this word based on the death and resurrection of Christ: God will bring back to His house with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him, they will not be left out.”
Then there’s a third pillar that is a foundation for this great promise, that is the word of the Lord, verse 15: “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord,” revelation from the Lord. So you have the death of Christ, you have the resurrection of Christ, and then you have a revelation from the Lord. And that revelation is what Paul now gives. He’s not referring to some prior revelation. All there was was John 14. That was a revelation of this event, but not with all the detail that we receive here or the detail that we receive from 1 Corinthians 15, all three speaking of the same event. But he wants them to know that the word of the Lord has made it clear that God will bring with Him back to heaven those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
This is new revelation. That’s why Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:51 said, “This is a mystery.” A mystery is the term that means something hidden and now revealed. Many, many mysteries in the New Testament that Paul revealed. They’re all divine truths hidden in the past, and now revealed. So here is information about the rapture that has never been given before, it’s given here and in 1 Corinthians 15. So we see then the basis of the resurrection, the basis of the snatching, the rapture of the living saints, and the resurrection of the dead ones is the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and the revelation from the Lord Himself in His word, namely this very passage.
Now, secondly, the participants who participates in this, verse 15, “that we who are alive and remain, we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord.” First group he considers are the people who are alive when He comes to get us. They will be living on the earth at the parousia, the appearance, the presence of the Lord.
And notice he uses the word “we,” “we who are alive.” He’s been using “we” ever since verse 13. He includes himself in the anticipation and the hope of this event. It could happen in his lifetime; perhaps it would. I’m sure he hoped it would, and maybe thought it would. He demonstrates what is a proper anticipation of this event. He doesn’t have a specific time, he doesn’t lay out a time, he doesn’t give a sequence of events; it could happen at any time, and he includes himself among those to whom it might happen.
The coming of the Lord to take His children to heaven is a reality. Paul is certain of that. He’s going to give us revelation on it specifically. He doesn’t know when it’s going to happen. That’s not surprising, because Jesus said in Matthew 24, “No man knows the day or the hour, not even the Son of Man.” In the self-imposed limits of His incarnation He didn’t even know.
In Acts 1:7, the disciples said, “Is this the time?” And our Lord said to them, “It’s not for you to know the times and the seasons the Lord has put in His power.” And in Matthew 24 and 25, our Lord tells parables that warn people, “Be ready. Don’t be like the servants who weren’t ready when the master came. Don’t be like the virgins who didn’t have any oil in their lamps when the bridegroom came, and they were shut out of the wedding.”
Early Christians believed the Lord could come in their lifetime. Paul said in Romans 13:11, “Now is your salvation nearer than when you believed.” He’s talking about the final element of your salvation, your glorification, “It’s now nearer than when you believed.”
In 1 Corinthians 16:22, he gives a one-word cry, “Maranatha,” which means, “O come, Lord. O come, Lord.” And in chapter 5 of 1 Thessalonians, verse 23, he gives this benediction: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So he expected that they would still be embodied saints when the Lord came. The rapture could happen even then, and they would meet Christ in their bodies.
But on the other hand, he also knew that he might not be alive when the rapture came. To the Philippians in chapter 1, verse 20 and following, he says, “Christ shall be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. To me, to live is Christ, to die is gain. Having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.” He was fine to be alive when the Lord came, but he was not fine to keep on enduring what he was enduring endlessly. He was ready to go and be with the Lord; and if it wasn’t going to be in the rapture, he was content that it be in death.
He came to the end of his life and writes Timothy in 2 Timothy, “I’ve fought the good fight, I’ve finished the course, I’ve kept the faith; henceforth there’s laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord shall give to me; and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing.” And he says, “I am now ready to be offered. Lord, get me out of here.” So he knew there was a possibility that he could be alive when the Lord came and snatch His church. But on the other hand, it was just as much a possibility that he would have died; and that was fine as well, because that would usher him into the presence of his Lord.
And that’s how every Christian is to live. That’s living in the immanency of the return of Christ. You say, “Well, it’s been two thousand years and He hasn’t come.” And I remind you of what Peter said, “A thousand years is like a day with the Lord, and a day is a thousand years.” Whether or not you are among those alive and remaining, or whether or not you have been already in the presence of the Lord and your spirit and your body’s in the grave, Paul says you’re not going to be left out of this event.
So go back to verse 15: “Those who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will not preceded those who have fallen asleep.” They will not go before. They’re not even going to go first. No only are the saints that are dead going to go, but they’re going to go first. The idea that living saints had some advantage is here dispelled. The idea that because you have died before the rapture you’re getting some kind of discipline or punishment is ridiculous. The living will not go before those who have fallen asleep. The dead in Christ shall rise first. Some assume because they have to go six feet further, but that’s not the point. The point is to make equity at this great event. All Christians alive or dead will be raptured, no one will be left out.
Now remember, their souls aren’t sleeping, but their bodies are; and their bodies have decayed, obviously, in most cases into nothing. But there will come new bodies out of the grave. And you say, “Well, what will those bodies be like?” I just read that to you in 1 Corinthians 15. They’ll be a heavenly body. I can’t tell you any more than that other than to say they’ll be like the body of the risen Christ – and we’ll look at a verse that says that in a moment. So the bodies will be raised to join their spirits already with the Lord, and those who are alive will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air to remain with Him forever, as verse 17 says.
Now let’s look at the features of this. We’ve seen the basis and the participants; now the features. This is just remarkable description of this event. This is a historic event.
Here’s how it starts: “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven.” This is fulfilling the promise of John 14. Do I need to remind you again of precisely what He said? “If I go away, I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
Now think about that. He said, “I’m going to heaven. I’m going to heaven to prepare a room for you in the Father’s house. You’ll all live in the Father’s house.” I know it says, “In my Father’s house are many mansions,” in the King James. That’s very misleading. It’s not a big neighborhood and some people live eight blocks down and six blocks to the left. Everybody has a room in the Father’s house. “In My Father’s house are many rooms.” You can’t have many mansions in a house.
“In My Father’s house are many rooms. I’m going to prepare a room for you there in heaven.” And the point is, “I’m going to come and get you and take you where I am.” And where is He now? He’s in heaven. He’s coming down. He’s going to take us to be where He now is in heaven. And God is going to bring with Him both those who have died and those who are alive. The Lord Himself will do this, not an angel, not a group of angels. There are angels that will be very involved in the activities of the second coming of Christ.
Subsequent to us being taken to heaven to be in the rooms the Lord has prepared us in the Father’s house, there will break out on earth all kinds of judgments in the time of the tribulation seven-year period. Scripture’s explicit about it. And many of those judgments will be from angelic powers. There will be immense and intense angelic activity. At the end of that period of time, the angels will come, and there will be what is called the judgment of the sheep and the goats, and the separation of the wheat and the tares; and the angels will be involved in that judgment at the end of the tribulation, separating out believers and unbelievers, so that the believers can go into the kingdom of Christ.
But there are no angels involved in collecting the saints here. We see that later at the second coming. Here it is the Lord Himself. And that’s exactly what He promised in John 14: “I will come, and I will take you to be with me where I am.” They were looking for the Lord.
In Acts 1:11, when Jesus ascended into heaven, the angel said to them, “The same Jesus, who has gone into heaven, will come in like manner as you have seen Him go. He will come in like manner as you have seen Him go.” It is He who will come to take us to be with Him.
Notice that it says, secondly, He will descend from heaven. That’s where He’s been. Important to say that, because He comes from heaven to take us to heaven. Did you get that? He doesn’t come from heaven to earth to stay on earth, that is what He does at the second coming seven years later. That’s a completely different judgment event. And there He establishes His kingdom. At that point, we come back with Him to earth. Here we go with Him to heaven. He descends from heaven. That’s where He has been since His ascension, and sitting at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. He’s been interceding for us by pleading our case before the Father. He’s been our great faithful High Priest.
“He will come back personally and He will descend from heaven” – the third thing it says as we look at the future – “with a shout,” keleusma. Really a word of command. It’s a military term, as if troops were at ease, and He called, all of a sudden, attention. To call the troops to a proper order; that’s the kind of idea that’s mentioned with this term. Luther said it was a call to the church to stand up. A command, very much like John 11:43, where Jesus arrived at the grave of Lazarus and said, “Lazarus, come out.”
Psalm 47:5 is a millennial psalm. It’s a little bit later in the events of the second coming. But it says, “God is gone up with a shout, the Lord, with the sound of a trumpet.” So when the Lord arrives to rapture the church and when He arrives in judgment to establish His kingdom, He does so with a shout and, we’ll see in a moment, a trumpet. Here He comes down, and He commands the dead to rise. He literally commands the dead to rise, and all believing dead through all the history of the church will rise.
Listen to John 5:25, the words of our Lord, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. Those who hear will live.” He comes with a shout, and those who hear His voice are His sheep who know that voice, and they will live. This is a call to life, and new bodies come out of the graves and join the spirits of just men made perfect, so that they are in their final glorified form.
A fourth element also says, “with the voice of an archangel.” This is without parallel in Scripture, by the way. The only mention of an archangel is here and in Jude 9. And in Jude it’s Michael. Maybe it’s Michael, maybe it’s another archangel. Could be Michael. Michael is identified with the resurrection of Israel back in Daniel 12.
Daniel 12:1 to 3 talks about the resurrection of Israel. God is one day going to call Israel out of the grave. Listen to that passage: “At the time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time;” – that’s the time of the tribulation – “at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Those who have insight” – or wisdom – “will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”
So there is Michael calling Israel, calling the redeemed of Israel to life out of the graves at the very culmination of the day of the Lord in judgment. So perhaps this is Michael, we really don’t know. But to add to the drama, you have the affirmation of one who represents the angels by being an archangel, and that would be an overseeing angel of high rank.
And then you can add a fifth feature, the trumpet of God, the trumpet of God. What is that speaking of? Well, the Old Testament is full of trumpets. Trumpets were blown all over the place in the Old Testament. The ram’s horn trumpets. There were trumpets for all kinds of occasions. But typically, trumpets called people to assembly. They called people to gather for festivals, for celebrations, for convocations. They called people together for positive means. They also sometimes were trumpets of judgment.
I think Exodus 19 is a good example of a trumpet of assembly, you could call it, where the trumpet called the people out of the camp to meet with God. And that’s what this is going to be. There’s going to be a trumpet blast of some kind, a heavenly trumpet blast, calling the people out of this world to meet their Lord. In Zechariah 9:14 there is a trumpet that is kind of a trumpet of deliverance, a trumpet of deliverance. So this is both a trumpet of deliverance as the people of God are delivered out of the domain of Satan out of this world, and called to assemble with their Lord.
Now there are many trumpets in the book of Revelation chapters 8 to 11, but those are trumpets of judgment. This is a trumpet of assembly and a trumpet of deliverance. And when that trumpet blows, and when that archangel declares, and when the Lord Himself shouts the command for the dead to rise, there’s a sixth feature, the dead in Christ shall rise first. I love that it says the dead in Christ shall rise first. They’re the only ones that are going to rise at this time. There’ll be a resurrection of the unjust, the ungodly later at the end of the tribulation time, at the time of God’s final judgment.
Now resurrection was fundamental to Jewish belief. In Hebrews chapter 6, verse 2, it says the Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead, they affirm the resurrection of the dead. You can go back into the book of Job. Job said, “Though worms destroy this body; yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see for myself and not another.” Job knew he would be raised from the dead.
That is a hope that is expressed in the Psalms many times: “God will not allow His holy one to see corruption.” And we saw it in Daniel 12 where God is going to raise the righteous dead of the nation Israel and bring them into His presence.
The New Testament teaches the same thing, that God is a God of resurrection power. That’s exactly what was declared at the very grave of Lazarus. When Lazarus was called out of the grave by our Lord, you remember the statement that was made in verse 24, “Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he’ – that is Lazarus her brother – ‘will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ And then Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live even if he dies.’” So Martha believed that even Lazarus who was dead would one day rise. That was a part of Jewish belief because of the Old Testament.
So the dead in Christ – I love that. If you’re in Christ, when your body’s in the grave, it’s dead in Christ. It still belongs to Him. In 1 Corinthians 15:23, it says, “those who are Christ’s.” So the dead in Christ shall rise first.
Verse 17, then a seventh feature, “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up, snatched up by this irresistible divine power. Now that verb “caught up,” “snatched” is used a number of times in the New Testament. Just to remind you, in Matthew 11 and 12 it’s used to refer to taking the kingdom by force. In John 10:12 it’s used of a wolf snatching a sheep. In John 10:28 and 29, Jesus says of His own, “No one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” In 2 Corinthians 12 it speaks of Paul being snatched up into the third heaven. In Acts 8, Philip was snatched up, caught up out of the chariot. And in Revelation 12 it’s used to describe the ascension of our Lord who was taken up into heaven.
And that’s exactly what’s going to happen to us. “In a moment,” – 1 Corinthians 15:51 and 52 – “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we will be snatched up and transformed.” And what will that new body be like? I read you Paul’s description, but here’s an additional note: “The Lord Jesus Christ” – Philippians 3:21 – “will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory.” We’ll have a body like the risen Christ.
“The dead and the living, then, when the Lord comes will be snatched up together,” – go back to that verse together – “caught up together with them,” them referring back to the ones who were dead; they go first. “We are caught up with them, those who are alive,” signifies that there is no advantage to the living over the dead. The church triumphant will join the church militant in heaven, and they will all have resurrection bodies.
How do we get to heaven? What’s our transportation? In the clouds, verse 17, in the clouds. Clouds are often associated with divine appearances, sometimes clouds of glory. I don’t know if this is an actual cloud like you see in the sky or a cloud of glory. It’s more than an actual cloud, because an actual cloud doesn’t take you anywhere; couldn’t get you to heaven. But some kind of cloud, some kind of glory cloud, very much like the cloud that took Jesus up in Acts 1:11. He’s coming back in those same kinds of clouds and He’s taking us back in the cloud of glory as well.
Now I want to point out this next feature in verse 17, “to meet the Lord in the air.” He doesn’t come to earth. At His second coming He comes to earth, plants His feet on the Mount of Olives, splits the mountain open, creates a stream that goes into the desert, and establishes His kingdom; and He reigns on earth for a thousand years. This is not that. This is why you have to separate the rapture from the second coming of Christ, because this is not where the Lord comes to earth, this is where He does what He said He was going to do in John 14. He comes to get us, to lift us up to meet Him in the air and take us to where He is. We go with Him to heaven, meet the Lord in the air. This is a common Jewish concept, meeting with the Lord. You see it in the Old Testament. This is its ultimate, magnificent glory.
Some people think this is church welcoming the Lord to earth. No, it’s not that. This is not like a group of people welcoming a king as he arrives. No, it’s not that. He doesn’t come to earth, He stops in the air. We go up and meet Him in the air; and then we are taken by Him into heaven where we are with Him. And the book of Revelation says we are involved in what is called the marriage supper of the Lamb, the marriage feast. We go to the rooms He’s made for us in the Father’s house. We have a wonderful time of celebration, as the Bridegroom welcomes His bride to glory. This is not King Jesus coming to a welcoming earth, this is King Jesus snatching His own out of an unwelcoming earth that is totally in the hands of Satan.
Now think about it. When that event happens it’s going to be challenging for the people left on earth, when in a flash all Christians all over the planet disappear. Yes, pilot and copilot. If you’re flying in that plane, that will be the end. That’s going to make pretty dramatic things happen around the earth, collisions and all kinds of strange things.
How is it then that people are not going to all of a sudden repent globally? Because Satan has a plan, and Satan’s plan is going to be to make it clear to the world that belongs to him, that follow the liar and don’t believe the truth even if the truth is looking right in their face. He’s going to explain to him that finally, finally the world is rid of those Christian who are holding it back from becoming everything it could be. It’s going to be a time of global rejoicing that the Christians who are increasingly hated are gone; Satan will come up with a clever strategy to make sure of that.
We go back to heaven. “And so” – verse 17 ends – “we shall always be with the Lord.” Never again will we be separated from Him. This is what He was trying to say to them back in John 14, “I’m going to come and take you where I am; you’ll be with Me there.”
Never again separated. We’ll be having a marriage supper and all hell will break loose down here in Satan’s world, Antichrist’s world, the false prophet; demons coming out of the pit. Judgments: the judgment of the seals, trumpets, the bowl judgments described in detail in the book of Revelation. And while we’re celebrating our union with Christ in glory, the day of the Lord will burst on this planet. At the end of that seven-year period we come back with the Lord. He comes out of heaven with His saints, Revelation 19, and this time He comes back and touches the earth, and establishes His kingdom, destroys all the ungodly, and takes the living saints into His earthly kingdom, and they fellowship with the already glorified saints who come back with Him. We will be to them as angels were to saints in the Old Testament.
That’s the next event. He doesn’t come to earth, we go to heaven. This cannot be something that happens at the end of the tribulation. I know people say, “Well, I believe in a post-tribulation rapture.” If you believe in a post-tribulation rapture, then the rapture’s meaningless, means nothing, because we’re not going to heaven.
In the rapture, we’re going to heaven, we’re going to the Father’s house to the rooms He’s been preparing for us. If He’s coming down, then we’re not going up. The rapture becomes meaningless; and it can’t be meaningless because it’s here to comfort both the disciples in John 14 and us in 1 Thessalonians. And if this happens at the second coming and all the dead saints are raised and all the living saints are collected to the Lord, and all the ungodly are destroyed, then nobody is alive to go into the kingdom.
Then what is the millennium? You have no living saints. The living saints are the sheep who will be alive, still human like we are, and go into that kingdom, and even have children. You can’t put the rapture at that point or it becomes meaningless. And by the way, there is in those three rapture passages not a hint of judgment; but at the second coming, it’s all about judgment. This is a very separate event.
Furthermore, if Christ is coming at the end of the tribulation, then it’s not imminent. Can’t be imminent, because we have to go through the tribulation, which is delineated in detail. But this is an imminent event intended to cause us to be pure and to be comforted. We are looking for Christ who will deliver us from that wrath to come. And he ends with the benefits from this truth, verse 18, “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” This is about comfort. There will be no comfort if we were going through the tribulation and all its horrors. This is for comfort; the God of all comfort is comforting us.
And again, I just reiterate: this can happen at any time. The beginning of this, James 5, verse 8, “Be patient; strengthen your hearts, the coming of the Lord is near.” First Peter 4:7, “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment, sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.” John says the same thing. Paul says the same thing to Titus.
The point of this is not to prepare you for the tribulation, the point of this is to comfort you. There’s not one single word in Revelation 6 to 18 which describes the tribulation, not one single mention of the church; it’s not there. We will be rescued. In fact, that’s the promise that our Lord gave us in Revelation chapter 3: “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, the hour which is about to come upon the whole earth, to test those who dwell on the earth.” That’s a promise to keep you from the hour of testing or tribulation.
So be comforted, believer. The Lord has it all in His control, doesn’t He? Enjoy your life. Draw all the richness of it. Don’t think that man is in charge of the future of anything, he’s not; the Lord is in charge of it all. And we are looking for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. I hope you’re ready. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank You for this amazing promise in such detail. Thank You for delineating every aspect of this, for even describing something of the bodies in 1 Corinthians 15, and for promising that You’re going to come and meet us in the air and take us to be with You. You’re going to deliver us from the wrath to come. You’re going to take us out from this hour of testing that’s coming on the earth, and we’re going to be in glory with You, celebrating the wedding with You as our Bridegroom.
Thank You for saving us. Thank You for all Your promises. And we would say with the apostle John, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Maranatha. We say that in hope, because Your word is true, and we believe it. We live in hope, and that fills our hearts with joy in anticipation of what You’ve prepared for us. Thank You for the grace that is so abundant, to give us this eternal promise.
We ask that You would make us the kind of people that we should be. What manner of person should we be? In godliness and holy conduct, living in the light of what is coming. Not only that, but comforted, living at peace, in rest, because You’re coming for us as our Bridegroom. We live in that hope with grateful hearts. Amen.
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