Raptured: Part 1 – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17, NIV).

Around 50 AD the Apostle Paul and Barnabas left Antioch and returned to the towns in Galatia and Pisidia where they had visited on their previous journey (Paul’s second missionary journey is described in Acts 16-18). They had an argument about whether to take John Mark with them again, and agreed to disagree and each went their separate way. Barnabas decided to re-visit the Jewish believers in Cyprus while Paul re-visited the Gentile believers in Galatia.

Paul and his missionary team of Silas and Timothy traveled through the Roman provinces of Galatia and Phrygia but the Holy Spirit prevented them from preaching in the Roman province of Asia. One night Paul dreamed a man from Macedonia (in modern-day Greece) was begging him to come and help the people of Macedonia.

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey

Paul’s team sailed across the Aegean Sea and began their journey through Greece. When they reached the city of Thessalonica, Paul and Silas preached in the Jewish synagogue on three consecutive Sabbaths. But some of the Jews became jealous and incited some bad characters to form a mob and cause a riot. Paul and Silas were forced to escape from Thessalonica under the cover of night.

Paul moved on to Athens and then Corinth where he remained for about a year and a half. While at Corinth and possibly due to his abbreviated visit to Thessalonica, Paul wrote two letters to the church at Thessalonica. In the first letter he explained and clarified some of the theological positions of the gospel he had preached during his short stay in Thessalonica. Specifically, in these verses Paul addressed the state of the Christian dead.

Perhaps, the Thessalonian Christians were so convinced of the imminent return of Christ that they became concerned about the eternal outcome of their loved ones who died before Christ returned. So, in verses 14-17 Paul explains the logistics of the second coming of Christ for those Christians who have died and for those who are alive on the earth–what many Christians call the Rapture:

  1. Those who are alive when Christ returns shall not precede those who are dead.
  2. The dead in Christ will resurrect first.
  3. As Christ descends to the earth the living and the “resurrected dead” will be caught up together to meet Christ in the air.
  4. This meeting of Christ in the air is the beginning of the eternal destiny of believers.

Paul’s explanation is meant as a reassurance to the Thessalonians (and to us) that the dead in Christ are not forgotten by God when they die. In fact, according to Paul those who have already died in Christ appear to have first priority because “the dead in Christ will rise first…after that, we who are still alive.”

As Christ descends to the the earth the believers who are still alive on the earth at that time will be “caught up” or raptured to meet Christ up in the air. (The term “rapture” is taken from the Latin rapio for the two words “caught up” used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.)

There are differing views of when the Rapture occurs–pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, post-tribulation, pre-millenial, post-millenial. Regardless of these differing views, whether we be alive or dead when Christ returns, all Christians are going to be raptured. All Christians, dead or alive, are going to meet Christ in the air when He returns and then they will forever be in His presence.

In verse 18 Paul tells the Thessalonians to encourage one another with these words. The anticipation of Christ’s imminent return and the rapture of all Christians should surely stir up within us a hopefulness and sense of destiny that inspires us to live godly lives in this present world.

And to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:12-13, NIV)

How Should We Then Live? – Titus 2:11-14

“For the grace of God has appeared with salvation for all people, instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for Himself a people for His own possession, eager to do good works” (Titus 2:11-14, HCSB).

In 1976 theologian Francis A. Schaeffer published How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. The book (and subsequent documentary film series) traced the history of Western civilization from Ancient Rome until the time of writing (1976). Schaeffer’s central premise was that when a social order is based on the Bible and on a personal knowledge of the infinite God, it provides an absolute standard by which people can conduct their lives.

These four verses from Paul’s letter to his protege Titus not only declare the gospel but also explain how Christians should live as redeemed human beings, but a little more concisely than Schaeffer’s treatise.

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The End is Near – Luke 17:20-37

End_is_near“And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:26-30, NASB).

Jesus was once asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come. Jesus replied that the Kingdom of God was imminent–it was so near to them that it was within their grasp because the coming of Jesus was the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus then explained to His disciples that a day will come when this present, invisible Kingdom which He was inaugurating on Earth culminates with a future, visible Kingdom at His Second Coming at the end of the age. The Kingdom’s future coming will render judgment on Earth and will receive redeemed people into eternal life.

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Living Like It Matters for Eternity – Matthew 25

vigilanceWe live in the time between the first and second comings of Jesus. It’s a time when we are joined to Jesus by His Spirit but awaiting his final coming. At His coming we will dwell in His personal presence. When Christ appears for the second time, those in Christ who are dead will be raised and along with those who are living in Christ will be transformed to share in the reality of the new heavens and earth where God personally dwells.

To live effectively and productively in this present age, Christians should be focused on eternity while making the most of the life they have in this present world.

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Eternal Matters – Revelation 19:7-8

BrideWithLongVeil&Groom“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (Revelation 19:7-8, ESV).

To prepare for a modern wedding, the bride-to-be starts weeks or maybe even months in advance to select a wedding dress, shoes, jewelry and other attire to wear at the wedding ceremony. Before the ceremony the bride-to-be will go to the beauty salon to have her hair done and have a facial and manicure so she can look especially beautiful for the groom at the wedding ceremony.

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Living Among the Dead – John 5:24-29

zombieland“An hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25, ESV).

Since Jesus came to this world the first time and inaugurated the Kingdom of God on earth,  the time has come when many “dead” people hear the voice of the Son of God and He grants them eternal life.

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The Benefits of Humility – Zephaniah 3:12

humility3“Those who are left will be the lowly and humble, for it is they who trust in the name of the Lord.” (Zephaniah 3:12, NLT).

Zephaniah’s prophecy graphically describes the future day of God’s judgment.

On “the day of the Lord” God’s terrible judgment will be carried out against the rebellious people of Israel and all nations of the earth.

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No Bad Behavior in Heaven – Romans 13:11-14

SecondComing“Besides this, knowing the time, it is already the hour for you to wake up from sleep, for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is nearly over, and the daylight is near, so let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk with decency, as in the daylight: not in carousing and drunkenness; not in sexual impurity and promiscuity; not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no plans to satisfy the fleshly desires.”

In my book, The Kingdom Order: Living for the Future in the Present, I contend that Christians today face a dilemma they have faced for the last two thousand years since the first generation of Christians died—that of living in an age in which an anticipated future has erupted into the present reality.

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Something To Live For – Luke 22:7-30

kingiscoming

“When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table. Jesus said, I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God” (Luke 22:14-16, NLT).

The Passover meal had as its ultimate goal the messianic banquet (see Revelation 19:7).

Jesus’ death as the true Passover lamb (1 Cor 5:7) inaugurated the Kingdom of God that will be completed at Jesus’ second coming!

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Just Do It – Matthew 25:40

“And the King will say, I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me” (Matthew 25:40, NLT).

In Matthew 25 Jesus told His disciples several object lessons when asked by them when the end of the world would come.

In one object lesson recorded in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus referred to the time when He, the Coming King, will return to Earth to judge all nations.

Jesus told His disciples that on that judgement day, the King will separate all people into two groups in much the same way a shepherd separates sheep from goats.

He will reward those on his right with co-ownership of his Kingdom because during their lives on Earth they were benevolent toward other people in need. He will send those on his left into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels because during their lives on Earth they were not benevolent toward other people in need.

So, the moral of the story was that you should help disenfranchised and desperate people because helping them is the same as helping the King, and not helping them is the same as not helping the King.

And, the message we should take from this somewhat ominous story is that serving God is not just a state of mind–it’s something you do!

Here’s what I mean…

The amazing thing about the righteous ones was that they didn’t know they were performing these good deeds or that they would receive a heavenly reward—they just did it because they were the loyal subjects of the King and wanted to please Him.

And the identifying characteristic of the unrighteous ones was that they just didn’t! They were repugnant to the King because they didn’t do anything to help those in need.

They were so self-referenced that they weren’t aware or didn’t care! And so they had no desire to serve or please the King.

So, this story mitigates some of the tension between faith and works because it illustrates that faith that does not result in works is not saving faith (James 2:14-26).

But those who focus on the reality of God’s invisible Kingdom by faith begin to live out their future life in the present by works without even knowing they are doing it—they just do it!