1 Thess. 4:13-18
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And 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.” (John 14:1-3)
Pastors often shy away from talking about prophecy. They might not feel qualified to teach about such a complex subject. With so many differing interpretations, they risk offending someone or creating division in the church. They do not see practical, here-and-now benefit to dealing with prophecy, so they focus their attention on what they believe has greater immediate application. Further, so many teachers have created an attitude of skepticism around biblical prophecy because they have inappropriately used it to sell books, raise funds, and make false predictions. These are a few of the many reasons that pastors give for avoiding prophecy. It can be a dangerous subject.
Speaking of danger, I got to listen in this week as two unnamed elderly men sat on a porch and reminisced about what life was like when they were teenagers. One story, in particular, prompted my amazement. One of the men told of how a friend of his invited him to his house to play with some dynamite. Yes, that is right. Not Legos, not fishing poles, not four-wheelers … dynamite. Apparently, the railroad or road crews would leave a small amount behind when they finished with projects, and this teenager had some stashed underneath the hay in the shed.
So, the two of them collected a few sticks for a little target practice. To the credit of the dynamite owning friend, he warned his buddy that the glycerin was leaking from the sticks making them more unstable. He needed to be very careful not to drop any of it. The handoff did not go as planned, and, as his young life flashed before his eyes, he watched the dynamite fall to the ground. Thankfully, it did not go off.
After successfully putting the dynamite in a container and then attaching it to the branch of a large oak tree, the two young men quickly retreated behind a barrier in the field. The sound of their rifle shot was overwhelmingly dwarfed by the sonic boom of that dynamite exploding in the tree. The boys were unprepared for the outcome – both the sound as well as the later discovery that the blast had taken out some windows in a nearby farmhouse. As fast as they could, they slithered away through a ravine, got to the car, and headed down to Lonaconing so that they could create an alibi for themselves.
I do not know what the statute of limitations is for foolishness. Hence, the anonymity that I am giving to the story’s source. This story illustrates that dynamite, when handled by those who do not know what they are doing or who have less then ideal motivations, can be destructive. However, when handled properly, dynamite can clear away obstructions and enable the construction of a home or a road. The same is true of prophecy.
The Bible says of itself these words:
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
Since prophecy makes up somewhere between one quarter and one third of the Bible, we dare not ignore it no matter its inherent dangers. It is a significant chunk of that which God inspired. God uses it to teach, to correct, to train, and to equip. Instead of thinking of it as dangerous, think of it as powerful!
Much of the prophetic literature in Scripture has already been fulfilled. That fact is a testimony, perhaps the strongest testimony, to the trustworthiness of the Bible. It is also the proof of who Jesus is because a great amount of that prophecy focused on Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection. Just as some fulfilled prophecy looks back on what Jesus did, the rest looks forward to what He will do. That leads me to a truth.
The best reason for studying prophecy is because prophecy magnifies Jesus. In fact, “If prophecy leads you anywhere other than to Jesus Christ, then you are missing the point.”
We come to a specific prophecy, the one that Jesus gave as He prepared His disciples for His departure. He said, “I am going away, but when I return, I will take you to be with me forever.” Jesus initially presented the promise in John 14. Paul elaborated on the specifics of that promise in 1 Thessalonians 4.
Today, we refer to Jesus’ return to earth to retrieve His followers as the Rapture. Of all the events in the prophetic calendar (God’s timeline for the completion of His redeeming work), the Rapture has created the most controversy. People ask, “Is there a Rapture? When will it happen? Does it happen before the Tribulation, during the Tribulation, or at the end of the Tribulation?”
For now, we will focus our attention on what we know and what we can say unequivocally. JESUS…IS…COMING! That is the message that Paul presents here in our passage. More than that, Paul says that an awareness, an anticipation, an excitement about Jesus’ return will have profound effects on a person’s life. See what it does for you.
The first effect of Jesus’ return is that it…
- Jesus’ return gives us hope. “sorrow not…no hope” (v. 13)
Look at v. 13.
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.”
People fall into one of three categories:
Some people live with a false hope. They rely upon a political party to bring justice and progress to the world. They are at peace when their finances and health are good even though those things can be taken from them very quickly. For someone to rest his future in anything that is of a temporary nature is a dangerous gamble.
Other people live life with no hope. I believe that this is the fastest growing category of people. Because they placed their faith in something that did not last and could not live up to its claims, they have given up hope that anything can. They often turn to drugs and alcohol as an escape from reality. Those that do not take that route still live from day to day and go about their normal routine. But they have no expectation that there will ever be anything more.
No hope is a terrible place to be. Someone has said that we can live 40 days without food, 4 days without water, 4 minutes without air, but only 4 seconds without hope. I do not know if I totally agree with the last part of that statement, but it illustrates the necessity of hope. You can exist without hope, but I do not think you can truly live without it.
Thankfully, Jesus came to supply hope in abundant supply. And those who come to Him for the meeting of their needs comprise the last category of people. They are the ones who have a sure hope. Hope from a biblical perspective is more than a wish. It is a confidence that is based on the character and the promises of God.
As a Christian, we still sorrow. We go through difficult days, but we do not sorrow as those who have no hope. What keeps us going is the realization that those difficult days do not define our future. Jesus defines our future. And because of Jesus’ promise, even those believers who are buried in the ground or who lie in a casket have a glorious future. Death is not the end!
That’s the second thing that Jesus’ return does for us. It gives us…
- Jesus’ return is proof of life after death. “died and rose again” (v. 14)
Look at v. 14.
“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.”
On the night that Jesus breathed His last breath, His body was not the only thing that died. Hope died for all His followers gathered there. That Passover was the worst one they had ever experienced. The ceremony that was designed to remind them of God’s protective hand in the midst of judgment only served to provide them an opportunity to brood over their wounded spirits.
Sunrise on the first day of the week brought more than light and warmth. It brought hope. The stone was rolled away! The tomb was empty! Jesus was alive! Jesus’ resurrection confirmed that there is life after death. Jesus’ return will provide even more evidence to that fact. Death does not gain the victory. Its sting, at worst, is only temporary.
Scripture says, “For me to live is Christ; to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Most of you have loved ones who have died – parents, grandparents, husbands, wives, children, and friends. The older you get, the more names you recognize in the obituaries.
Some have mentioned how disappointed they are when they hear a pastor assure the family that their loved one is at peace even though the deceased gave no evidence whatsoever of a relationship with Jesus. I understand why pastors do that. They want to give hope. But a false hope is potentially more damaging than no hope. It communicates the message that everyone goes to a better place, and, sadly, that is not true.
A pastor’s responsibility at a funeral is to give the truth. It is wonderful when the truth comforts, but if the truth confronts, that too is wonderful. That is when transformation can happen.
No one ceases to exist. We will all have an eternal, conscious existence in one of two places – Heaven or Hell. You see, life after death is only a good thing so long as that person has received forgiveness for their sins by placing their faith in Jesus Christ. Otherwise, they will spend eternity paying the consequences of their sin.
I do not say that to make anyone sad or fearful about the possible painful existence of friends and relatives who have already died. There is nothing you can do to change their situation. However, you can do something to alter your situation or that of the people around you.
Jesus’ return will be a glorious event for many but not for all. You need to get ready for it, and you need to do so soon because…
- Jesus’ return could happen at any time. “alive and remain” (v. 15)
Listen to Jesus’ words as He spoke about the timing of His return:
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” (Matthew 24:36)
Now look at how Paul spoke of Jesus’ arrival:
“we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:15)
There will be people alive at Jesus’ return, and Paul expected to be one of them. It did not happen. I am expecting Jesus’ return in my lifetime. It might not happen. People of every generation have searched the sky for Jesus’ approach. They knew that Jesus’ return was imminent. That means that it could happen at any moment without further warning.
We are certain that Jesus will return. We are uncertain about the timing of that event. The coupling of those two realities has many results. Let me mention two of them.
One result is that an awareness of Jesus’ return at any moment helps us to properly handle whatever events we currently face. For some of you, life is good. You just bought a new boat, and it’s a beaut. You can’t wait to take it out on the lake. What if Jesus comes back before you get the chance? Can I make a suggestion?
Keep a light grip on the things of earth. Do not get too attached. Enjoy God’s blessings, but don’t allow them to stifle your anticipation of Jesus’ return. It is fine for you to watch the water for the bass’s approach, but make sure you also keep an eye on the sky for the Savior’s arrival.
For others of you, life is anything but good. Let the message of these verses encourage you. When life is sad, you can be joyful. Why? Because Jesus is coming. You can be at peace when life is in turmoil. Jesus is coming. You can be excited when life is boring. Jesus is coming. You can be courageous when life is scary. Jesus is coming! You can be faithful when life is tempting. Jesus is coming. That gets us to the second result of His approach.
Look at Titus 2:12-13.
“For the grace of God …teaches us that… we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12-13)
What would you be embarrassed to be doing if Jesus showed up in the middle of you doing it? Well, if it is something that you can avoid or should avoid, then avoid it! The awareness that Jesus could appear at any unannounced moment is part of the motivation for us staying away from sin. We must be constantly ready to see His face.
“Therefore, you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matt. 24:44)
Though we cannot put the Rapture on the calendar, God has given us indicators, signs, of its impending approach.
Jesus gave us multiple signs indicating His return. You can find some of them in Matthew 24. Compare them to today’s news, and you will see that the signs are growing in frequency and intensity. The prophetic clock is ticking off the final seconds. Folks, we are nearing our destination, and there is someone waiting for us when we get there. His name is Jesus.
Jesus’ return did not happen in Paul’s lifetime, not did it happen at the moments various people predicted. No one knows when it will happen. I know this though: Jesus’ return is closer today than it was yesterday. I also know that one glimpse of Jesus will radically and positively change us.
- Jesus’ return will transform us. “dead in Christ shall rise” (v. 16-17)
Look at v. 16-17.
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”
Let me enumerate the sequence of events that will happen on that day. It will begin like any other day on the calendar. The world is going on as normal, and so is your life. You roll out of bed, get ready for the day, feed the dog and the kids, head off to work. Unbeknownst to you, the day in Heaven is anything but normal. There is great excitement around God’s throne because the Father has just said these words: “Son, go get your Bride!”
As Jesus descends in the clouds, a heavenly entourage accompanies Him. The archangel calls out. The trumpet blows. Jesus shouts. You might get the idea that Jesus is just a little bit excited about this day. He should be. It is His wedding day. He has been anticipating it ever since He left earth behind. The sky is ablaze with glory.
Earth begins to resonate with the atmospheric celebration. Death gives way to life as the One who is life nears. Just as happened with Lazarus, Jesus beckons the dead to come forth. Graves where the bodies of past Christians rest open and release their captives. Those bodies rise into the air. Then, the Christians who are alive at Jesus’ return will also rise into the sky.
All of this will happen in a moment’s time. Look at this prophesied description of the event.
“Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” (1 Cor. 15:52-53)
There are two especially important facts that passage communicates. First, though there will be a great deal of activity involving millions of people happening on the day of the Rapture, all these events will happen instantaneously. The conversation you were having across a long distance will end abruptly. Silence is the only thing that will greet the other person’s ear, not because of a dropped call, but because of an ascended soul. Doctors performing surgery will vanish. Race car drivers, crane operators, airplane mechanics, housewives, maybe even a preacher or two will leave the ground the moment that Jesus arrives.
There will be no time to get ready or to change your mind. You are either ready when Jesus comes back, or you are not. He either takes you, or you get left behind.
Secondly, for those who do go, Jesus performs a radical, permanent, glorious transformation. They get (we get) brand new bodies! The Bible says that our transformed bodies will be much like the body that Jesus had when He rose from the grave.
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body…” (Phil. 3:20-21)
The body that walked out of the grave was a physical one. In His new body, Jesus could eat, but He did not have to. He could touch, and others could touch Him. His body was no longer limited by the physical laws of nature. Gravity could not keep Him down. Walls and locked doors could not prevent His entrance into a room.
More importantly, His body could not die, nor could it feel pain. Why? Because sin’s curse no longer had impact upon His body. The same will be true for us.
“…we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2)
As much as I look forward to the physical transformation, the most meaningful change will be a spiritual one. Jesus will purge me of my sin nature along with all the effects that sin has on me. Those things that once tempted me to sin will lose their power. I will finally be righteous. So will you.
We will never again experience the shame, regret, sorrow, loss, and separation that sin brought. Jesus will never again have to forgive us because we will not do anything requiring forgiveness. No longer will we be a disappointment to our Father or bring dishonor to the family name. We will be the people of God, living in the home of God, basking in the presence of God.
That gets us to the fifth result of Jesus’ return.
- Jesus’ return expels our loneliness. “ever be with the Lord” (v. 17b)
Look at the second half of v. 14.
“…God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.”
“Sleep in Jesus.” Isn’t that a comforting image? It speaks of peace, of protection, of intimacy. Most, if not all, of us have been touched by death. Grandparents, parents, spouses, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters. For some, that experience has been a recent one. Right now, these sleep in Jesus … but not forever. These are coming back with Jesus when He comes in the sky.
Their bodies will rise out of the grave to be gloriously transformed and reintegrated with their spirit coming down from Heaven. And then, we and they will see each other again. Can you envision what that will be like?
Who are you yearning to see? Your husband, your dad, the baby that you never got to watch grow up? My dad died when I was five years old. I never got the chance to know him really. I will. He will be in that crowd. I will spend eternity with my dad. Think of all the people whose funerals you have witnessed. If those people knew Jesus, then they are excitedly anticipating reunion day.
Not only will we welcome loved ones back into our lives, but we will also finally meet Jesus face-to-face. Look at the end of v. 17.
“…so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
Jesus is coming. He is coming for you!
Let me ask you a question. Are you lonely? Some people experience a self-imposed loneliness. They enjoy time spent with others, and they want to let others in, but they hesitate. They fear exposing themselves – their vulnerabilities, their flaws, their weaknesses.
Part of that comes from the hurt created by past relationship failures. Some of that hesitancy comes from the uncertainty of how others will react when they discover the you that you work so desperately to keep hidden. You have this nagging anxiety that once people see beyond the smoke and mirrors, they will reject the person that you truly are.
I cannot speak for people and their actions, but I can speak for the Father. He…
“… predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace…” (Eph. 1:5-7)
You are accepted. The One who knows you best loves you most. You may not want to be with Jesus, but He wants to be with you.
You might be tempted to think something like this: “Well, of course, He’ll want to be with us then. He will have erased all our flaws. We will be perfect. There would be no reason to reject us then.” But what the Bible presents is that Jesus loves you now, just as you are.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Jesus will take away your loneliness then. He wants to take it away now.
There is one last thing that this passage says about Jesus’ return.
- Jesus’ return is our message of encouragement. “comfort one another” (v. 18)
Look at v. 18.
“Therefore comfort [or “encourage” – NIV] one another with these words.”
I hope that the message of Jesus’ return encourages you, but the message of encouragement is not meant only for you. It is meant for you to share.
In v. 13, Paul spoke of hope. That was for you. You get to keep that. But encouragement, you are supposed to give away.
One of the ways that the Bible describes this appearing of Jesus is that it will be in secret. The general populace will only discover that something of significance is happening once they see millions upon millions of people disappear. Non-Christians will not hear the celebratory noises in the sky or see Jesus in the clouds. So, Jesus’ arrival will be in secret, but the promise of His coming, we are supposed to tell everyone, especially to each other!
I think we have gotten out of practice.
There is so much that is going on in our world that threatens to discourage you. Add to that the personal difficulties you face, and the weight gets very heavy. I do not mean to diminish the heaviness of your burden. I simply want you to look at your struggles from an eternal perspective. Listen to these words.
“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
Yes, the encouragement found in Jesus’ soon return is something that you are supposed to give away. But, as each of us fulfills this command, eventually someone shares it back with you, and you come away encouraged too.
We are going home. It could be today. Are you ready?
The Rapture will be a day of rejoicing. It will be a great day for those who get to participate! What follows on earth soon after will not be a great day. A seven-year period known as the Tribulation will result in the destruction of earth’s ecosystem and most of its population. It will be a time of more intense suffering than humanity has ever known. You do not want to be here for the earthly events that are coming.
The only way that you can ensure your escape from that or the eternal suffering that comes after it is to get ready now. Take Jesus as your Savior now. There will be no time to get ready once events start to take place. Look at these verses.
“… the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.” (1 Thess. 5:1-3)
The announcement of Jesus’ return is an encouragement for those who have placed their faith in Him. However, it is warning for those who are not yet ready. You can be ready. If you have never placed your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior, I beg you to do so today. Jesus’ return might be 100 years from now, or it might happen before you get done with dinner. Either way, He’s coming. Be ready.
 “The Last Hour” by Amir Tsarfati, p. 117
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