“For I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:50-53, NIV).
Around 50 AD the Apostle Paul conducted his second missionary journey and traveled through Macedonia (modern-day Greece). Due to some troubles caused by some of the citizens of Thessalonica, Paul was forced to escape from the city 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. Paul departed Corinth after a year and a half and went to Jerusalem, then later traveled to Ephesus where he stayed for three years conducting his apostolic ministry (c. AD 53-55). It is believed that while Paul was residing in Ephesus that he wrote 1 Corinthians.
In the first Thessalonian letter Paul addressed the state of the Christian dead. The dead in Christ are not forgotten by God when they die but both the the dead in Christ and those who are alive when Christ returns will be caught up in the air–or raptured–at Christ’s coming. In the second letter Paul assured the Thessalonians that the Rapture could not have occurred because certain apocalyptic events including the revealing of the antichrist must take place.
Paul declares a similar message to the Corinthians but with some additional nuances.
“Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him…. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction…. whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 1-8, NIV).
Around 50 AD the Apostle Paul conducted his second missionary journey, traveling through Macedonia which is modern-day Greece. Due to some troubles caused by local Thessalonian citizens, Paul was forced to escape from the city of 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. Included in these two letters were descriptions about the Second Coming of Christ and the fate of those who die before Christ’s return.
In his first letter to the Thessalonians Paul explained that the dead in Christ (those who die before the Second Coming) are not forgotten by God when they die. Paul said that when Christ comes to gather his people, the dead in Christ AND those who are alive shall be caught away–or raptured–to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
“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 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 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 in the town to form a mob and cause a riot. Paul and Silas were forced to escape from Thessalonica under the cover of night.
“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.
“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.
We 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.
“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.
“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.