Why I Believe in the Rapture – Part 1
1 Thessalonians 4:13–18
God's Plan for the Ages – Dispensations Lesson #22
August 26, 2014
"Father, as we come before You this evening we are mindful of situations in this world that seem quite chaotic and out of control, situations especially in the Middle East, which is often been the graveyard of empires as we see the rise of this horrible group, ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), as well as the parallel development we see in Israel with the ongoing fighting with Hamas. And Father, we pray that You would give wisdom to the leaders of Israel and wisdom to the leaders in the United States as to how to handle these situations. Father, we pray especially for those who are missionaries, who are working in these areas; that they might be protected; that You might give them courage and strength to be a ministry to those who are in need. And Father, we pray too for those Christians who are near ISIS, those who have been driven from their homes, lost everything that they have; those who are working with various humanitarian groups. We pray that they might be faithful in presenting the only real hope, which is Jesus Christ. Father, we pray for us, this congregation, that we might have a view that goes beyond the walls of this congregation to the impact of Your Word throughout the world; and that it is only through the impact of individual believers who are studying the Word and applying it as they move out from within their narrow areas of our live into the broader applications in terms of our local culture, the culture of our nation's and beyond; that we are used by You as the light of the world. Now Father, we pray that You will challenge us with Your Word this evening as we study it that we might have hope and strength from the Scriptures. We pray this in Christ's Name. Amen."
Open your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians 4, which will be our key passage that we will begin with this evening. We are looking at the question Why I Believe in the Rapture. This question of the Rapture is really a question of timing, but we first of all have to understand what it is, and then we have to understand when it will take place. That has been a matter of debate over the last almost 200 years. Many people today still erroneously think that John Nelson Darby came up with the idea of a pre-Tribulation (pre-Trib) Rapture. That is a Rapture of the church that comes prior to the seven-year Tribulation, also known as the time of Jacob's wrath, also known as Daniel's 70th week. It is a seven-year period that begins not with the Rapture, as we will see time and again, but it begins with the signing of a covenant between the Antichrist and Israel. That kicks off the clock and as the clock goes forward it will only go seven years and then the Lord Jesus Christ will return to the earth. But before that happens, this event known as the Rapture, sometimes it is called the "secret Rapture."
I did not grow up learning that term "secret Rapture" and usually you only hear opponents use that term secret Rapture; but actually that term was used by dispensationalists back in the 19th century. It came out of part of the culture in which John Nelson Darby operated. He was originally ordained as an Anglican clergy. He became quite disenchanted with the Anglican Church and left it and was one of the original founders of a group known as the Plymouth Brethren. They believe that as the church age continued and came closer and closer to end times that there would be an increase of apostasy so that there will be fewer and fewer believers on the earth, fewer and fewer church age believers. So when the Rapture occurred there wouldn't be many left. When they disappeared it wouldn't be that noticed. So it was a "secret Rapture." That is what they meant by that, but often our opponents use that. I don't know if it will be secret or not. I think that it will be very obvious that there are believers who are gone. If the Rapture were to occur today I think it would cause great chaos in the world.
When I was a kid I heard that there was at least one airline that had a president who was a believer who wouldn't allow two Christians to fly in the cockpit together. I don't know if that was true or not, but I heard that a number of times and that was back in the 50s. Nowadays nobody would know. Most airline executives probably don't have a clue, but that was true. You are going to have a lot of accidents that take place, a lot of chaos that takes place. In the United States we still have a huge number of significant captains of industry, officers in the military, politicians in government who are believers who would no longer be here. This would cause tremendous calamity! I believe that in other governments there are those who are believers, and in many businesses around the world there are those who are believers. We don't know the extent of that, but it is very possible that if the Rapture were to occur today that it would cause worldwide chaos.
I think that that is very likely and that it is into the vacuum of leadership that it occurs during that chaos that the Antichrist, at that time a previously unknown person. He certainly isn't identified as the Antichrist until after he signs that treaty with Israel. When the Antichrist signs that treaty with Israel that is the first sign, the first clear indication that he is the Antichrist before that we do not know. There is always a lot of speculation as to who the Antichrist might be and it is always helpful to remember that Satan is no more informed about the timing of the Rapture then any of us. Only God the Father has access to that information. Only God the Father knows that information. Jesus said that it was only for the Father to know. Obviously, He is omniscient and He would know, but it is not part of His role to disclose that or be involved in that decision as the Second Person of the Trinity. That was the domain of God the Father.
And so if Satan is absolutely ignorant of the timing of the Rapture, that means that Satan has to be ready at any moment to have an Antichrist candidate in place. And that means that back in the early 1800s, late 1700s, when Christians thought it might be Napoleon; it might have been. If later on in the 19th century if it was Bismarck; it might have been. Satan had somebody in place. It could possibly have been Hitler; it could have been any number of candidates that have been suggested because Satan always had to have somebody who would fit that profile, who he could use to move into that position. So at any time in history people could certainly look around and go "awe" maybe it could be so and so; and maybe it was, maybe it wasn't, who knows, because God has not authorized the Rapture yet.
Slide 3: Biblical Dispensations Chart
We are looking at this doctrine of the Rapture, which is important for a number of reasons, and I just want to go through parts of the overview. Now here is the chart. I have animated the last couple of weeks. This is just the overview of the dispensations and ages. We have the two broad ages in the Old Testament (OT), the Age of the Gentiles up to the tower of Babel; actually, to the call of Abraham; and then the Age of Israel. Those ages are subdivided into administrative periods, administrations of God. The dispensation of Perfect Environment during the Garden of Eden, the dispensation of Conscience from the Garden of Eden to the Noahic Flood, the dispensation of Human Government from the Flood to the call of Abraham. The dispensation of Patriarchs, that is the first dispensation in the Age of Israel, from Abraham to the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai; and then the dispensation of the Mosaic Law, which extends all the way to the Cross because it is the Cross that is the end of the Law.
All we have at the end of that dispensation is sort of a hinge dispensation. It has got significant distinctives and that is the period of Christ's public ministry on the earth (Messianic Age). So I identify that as a distinct dispensation; it is a hinge dispensation that fulfills the Law looking to the past, but Jesus also sets the precedent for the spiritual life of the Church Age. The Church Age begins 50 days after the Cross at the Day of Pentecost in AD 33 and will end with the Rapture of the church that is what ends. What is distinctive in the Church Age is the baptism by the Holy Spirit and the role of God the Holy Spirit in empowering the spiritual life of church age believers. Following the Rapture, not the next day, but certainly maybe the next week, the next month, maybe even the next year or decade the Tribulation will begin. We don't know how much time will take place in that intervening period. There was certainly a 50 day period. Christ is the end of the Law at the Cross, but the Church Age doesn't begin for 50 days at the Day of Pentecost. There is a 50-day gap there when there is a transition from one dispensation to another. So there is certainly going to be some kind of transition between the end of the Church Age and the beginning of the Tribulation.
Slide 4: Why I Believe in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture?
Slide 5: WHAT is the Rapture? WHEN is the Rapture?
Slides 6-7: What is the Rapture? The Rapture is…
These are the two key questions that we need to address. We looked last time at what is the Rapture and defined it as, not this is what is important, the translation of all living believers from the earth at the end of the church age immediately following the resurrection of all dead church age believers. There is a distinction in the text. Those who are in dead in Christ will arise from the dead and then we who are alive and remain will be "caught up."
Slide 8: Rapture Vocabulary
That is the word for Rapture, HARPAZO. So the "caught up," the Rapture word, technically only applies to those "who are alive and remain." The dead in Christ will "rise" first. That is the term for resurrection. So if you want to be technical, the dead in Christ are resurrected when the Lord returns in the air and those who are alive are raptured. Now most people don't think precisely enough for that to make a whole lot of difference and it will fly right past them. But technically, in the Scripture the Rapture, that word, was applied only to that which happens to those "who are alive and remain."
This is a word I just mentioned here in terms of Rapture vocabulary, HARPAZO, and it means to be caught up; it means to seize upon something with force or to snatch up. It is a word that is often used of a thief coming and stealing something. It is something unexpected; it is something sudden; it is something that happens quickly. This is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The Greek word HARPAZO was translated by Jerome. Jerome was one of the early church fathers in the 3rd century who translated both the Old Testament and New Testament (NT) into Latin. And the Latin word that he used to translate HARPAZO was the Latin word RAPTO, which is the basic for our word "Rapture." Every now and then you will hear somebody say, I don't believe in the Rapture. Prove it. That that word is not used in the Bible. It is! It is used in the Latin Bible. It is not used in your English Bible, but it is that word meaning to be "caught up" to be with the Lord in the air.
Now there are a number of passages that allude to the Rapture. There are, I think, three key passages that really focus us on the Rapture. The foundation passage is the one in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Paul begins by saying, "We do not want you to be uninformed, brethren." We don't want you to be ignorant. We don't want you to not understand the issues. Paul was only in Thessalonica for a short time, two to three months. Some scholars believe it was maybe only as little as six weeks. I think it was a little longer than that, but certainly not much longer than three or four months. And clearly during that three or four month period he taught these new believers in Thessalonica about future things.
We live in an era today, partly influenced by the wholly agnosticism of post-modern influence in the church, that there are things that we just can't be certain about in the Bible. Many people, you might even here that, well we can't really know for sure about prophecy or we can't know for sure about the sign gifts. That is a favorite one today. Or we really can't know we just need to be involved in doing what Jesus said to do. But doing what Jesus said to do is predicated upon understanding correctly what Jesus said to do; and that means that the Bible had to have been written with the understanding from God that we would be able to correctly understand what He is communicating to us. God did not cloud His Word or obfuscate His Word for church age believers. It may take us a little time, study, and effort to come to an understanding of the truth, but post-modernism has so influenced the thinking of people in our culture that especially younger people, but it affected older people as well. They say we can't really know these things and often that is an excuse for intellectually and theologically lazy people who just don't want to do the homework; and sometimes it is theologically and spiritually fearful people who are afraid that their safe secure theological system might be challenged by the understanding of the Word. So they would rather live in sort of a fog of nebulosity rather than getting into the details of the text.
But Paul makes a statement between 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 that is very specific and its purpose is seen in the last verse in 1 Thessalonians 4:18. He says, "Therefore comfort one another with these words." So he understood that what he was saying in this section was something that would bring great comfort to people whose loved ones who were believers in Jesus Christ had died physically. They were concerned about what happened to them and what would happen to their bodies and their souls in the future. So this was designed to give comfort to people at the time of loss.
This is a great passage to use therefore at a time of loss, at a funeral, at a memorial service, in talking to someone who has experienced a death in the family because this helps us to understand something about grief. Paul says, "We don't want you to be uninformed, brethren," talking to believers about those who are asleep. As I pointed out last time, the word "asleep" is a euphemism for Christians who have died. It is not talking about the Jehovah Witness' doctrine of soul sleep where the soul just sort of goes into a coma-like state until Jesus returns. We know from Scripture that when we are absent from the body we are face to face with the Lord, and when Jesus returns those who have gone died physically will return with Him, which is what this passage teaches.
Slide 9: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15
So the focus of this passage is on comfort to those who would be going through grief at the time of physical loss; and the foundation for it is in the gospel, 1 Thessalonians 4:13, "if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus." Now the point that he is making here, and I stress this, is if we believe Jesus died and rose again. The emphasis is on the resurrection. If we believe in the resurrection of Christ, then we should believe in the physical bodily resurrection of believers. He is not giving us the content of the gospel at this point. There is nothing here talking about the content of the gospel. He is saying, if we as Christians believe that Christ died for sins and He rose again, if we have a believe in the physical body resurrection of Christ, then the application of that to us is that we should also believe in the physical bodily resurrection of believers. So "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, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep."
Slide 10: 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
Explanation, "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of thearchangel 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, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words."
Slide 11: 1 Thessalonians 4
Now this is the foundation, so we want to take a little time in understanding this. As I stated already, the purpose of this section is to encourage believers in relation to the death of Christian loved ones. This is not a passage where Paul is giving us primarily a focus on or a focus on the chronology of events at end times. He is very pastoral in his concern here. He is concerned that people are comforted at the time of grief. What comforts people at the time of grief is understanding reality, understanding truth. When we understand that death is simply a temporary phase that believers go through, and it is their entry point into eternity, and that there is a certain procedure that will take place eventually where their immaterial soul and spirit will be reunited with a resurrection body, then we can have hope and confidence and not have a grief that leads to darkness and despair. We can in turn have loss because we are missing somebody. It is as if a dear friend has left us and they have moved to the other side of the planet and we know we will probably never see them again in this life, but they are still alive and we will see them again eventually. So the purpose is to encourage believers.
So it reminds him of what he had already taught them. That is important. He has already taught this. They didn't quite get it the first time, maybe not even the second time. I am not going to ask for a show of hands of how many of you have not gotten some of the things I've taught ten, fifteen, thirty times? One honest soul in the back; yes, it takes time to think through these things. So he has got to remind them again and it is from a position of comfort. Now another thing that we note here as we look at the passage is that in 1 Thessalonians 5:1 he says, "But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write you". Now that is an important verse there because that indicates that he has already taught them and he is talking about something called the "times and the seasons." This use of this phrase shows a change from the answer Jesus gave His disciples in Acts 1:6, twenty years earlier and just before the ascension, Jesus' disciples asked Him, "Lord is it at this time that you are going to restore the kingdom?" And Jesus said, "It is not for you to know the times and the seasons." He used the same words in the Greek. "It is not for you to know the times and the seasons." So He is talking to His eleven disciples at that point and He says, "it is not for you to know" these things.
Twenty years later Paul is talking to Thessalonian believers and he says I don't need to tell you anything more about the times and the seasons because you already know this. So within that twenty year gap something changed. The change was the beginning of the church. And what Jesus was essentially saying to His disciples is, now is not the time for ya'll to know and understand this. This would be naturally unveiled and disclosed to you over the progress of revelation during the next twenty years, especially by Saul of Tarsus who is going to come along and he will be given most of the revelation related to this mystery doctrine. But right now in AD 33 you boys don't need to know this. Twenty years from now you are going to have all of your questions answered via this coming revelation. So that sets the timeframe here. We already know about eschatology. We are to know about the Scripture. In fact, one out of every six or seven verses, 18% of the Bible, relates to unfulfilled prophecy. Interesting, and people say we don't need to know the Bible. Okay, let's just take our little scalpels out and cut out 18% of the Bible. We don't really need to know it. If God thought we needed to know it and He gave it to us, then this is an important aspect of our understanding of our study.
Slide 12: 1 Thessalonians 4:13
He (Paul) gives a purpose for his explanation in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 that we should be comforted. That we may not grieve, that we may not sorrow, but he is not saying "don't sorrow." One thing I always bring out in memorial services and funerals is that grief is natural in a fallen world. It is the result of living in a fallen world and experiencing death because God did not design mankind to experience death. It is not normal. (You) see normal is what was part of the experience of Adam and Eve before the fall. That was normal. From the moment that Adam ate that fruit we've been living in an abnormal creation. We have been living in a creation that is subnormal, a creation that is subject to God's judgment and the corruption of sin. So that we don't know what normal is because all we've ever experienced is that which is subnormal; death, disease, and suffering, and war, and famine, and drought, and hurricanes, and economic recessions, and depressions are all subnormal. They are all the result of living in a post-Fall world, in a world governed by corruption, and we have to learn how to live in such a world by depending upon God.
So we recognize grief. Every time someone dies we'll recognize that this is a call to remind us about the Fall. This is something God has put in our soul. We experience that loss. We say deep in our soul, maybe consciously, maybe not. This should not be happening. This is not right. My loved one shouldn't be taken from me like this. My friend should not be gone. This just isn't right. Of course, it is not right! That is the whole point; that God has put this little reminder in the souls of all of us that when things like this happen, when we see something like that horrible beheading of the journalist this last week by ISIS! This is horrible! This isn't right! We're exactly right. It is a reminder that we live in a fallen world and it has been corrupted by sin; and as Christians when we talk to people this is something that we ought to use as a hook in order to get their attention to talk about the gospel. When somebody looses someone in death and they are going through grief, we can find out ways to gently take them through the gospel. That the reason we are experiencing this kind of loss is because this is not what God intended. This is the result of living in Satan's world; and so, what Paul is saying here is not that we don't grieve, but we don't grieve like those who live in a hopeless world of darkness and despair with no comprehension of the future in eternity and a personal God Who has redeemed them from their sins.
We live in a world where there is hope, but we will grieve. That is a normal response to loss. This introduction I find is very helpful. As I have been thinking through my mind the last few weeks as we have been talking about the Rapture. I have been reflecting upon what Scripture teaches about the Rapture. I always try, each time I go back through something again, is to think it through in some different ways and try to probe the Scriptures for some different perspectives. One of the things that we often do not do, I try to do as much as I can, but most of us do not do this, is to look at the Scriptures holistically. Don't just drill down microscopically on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, but look at how this fits within the context of not only the Pauline Epistles in the NT, but all of Scripture. How does the doctrine of the pre-Tribulation Rapture fit within the panorama of God's plan, which is essentially what we are talking about in our whole study. We are looking at God's Plan for the Ages. Well, how does the Rapture fit in to this? As I was reflecting upon this I went back to this particular verse (1 Thessalonians 4:13) and focused on the fact that this is a verse in the NT that is driving our attention down to the doctrine of suffering. That is what is really referenced here in terms of grief. It is the doctrine of suffering.
Now let me ask you a question, what is the book in the Bible that God revealed that deals with the doctrine of suffering? That (suffering) is its primary focus? That is right, Job. Job I believe, was the very first book written in the OT. When Job is written there is no mention of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; there is no mention of the Jews; there is no mention of Jerusalem, the Promised Land, Canaan, any of those things. I believe that Job is written roughly about the same time as in the life span of either Abraham or Isaac. Job is not Jewish. Job is a Gentile and the Book of Job itself answers this question of why is there undeserved suffering? Where does it drive us in the very, very first chapter? It drives us to the throne of God and the involvement of Satan and the angels in human history. When Satan shows up during a regular meeting with God and the other angels, both fallen and elect, and God says, well, have you looked at my servant Job?
Now a lot of us would say Lord, please, don't mention my name in that context. I'd be a lot happier if I'm "okay," then just say good and faithful servant and pull a curtain around me. But don't point me out like you did with Job. He (God) points out Job. And Satan's answer is basically, well, You are so good to him no wonder he likes You. Just take away all the bennies, take away all the goodies and the blessings and everything, and then we will just see if Job is going to still worship You and if he will curse You. And so through various stages that we've studied, Job loses his children. He loses a lot of his possessions. He loses his flocks and his sheep. He loses almost everything except his lovely wife who tells him basically to curse God and die, and three friends who are operating on very common assumptions about why we suffer. You suffer because you've sinned. You are not really that righteous. But see from the very beginning God emphasized His servant, "Have you considered My righteous servant, Job?" He is righteous. There is nothing in Job's life that is a cause of all of this suffering. There are other reasons.
So we should ask the question why would it be that at the very beginning of revelation, the beginning of the Bible, the first thing that God talks about is how to handle suffering? Because suffering is so universal; it is so endemic to the human experience that this is the very first thing that is answered. What Job wants to know is can I really trust God to do the right thing and to bring about justice, if not in my life, over the course of time? What God provides us in the Scripture is a perspective where we think things that are unjust in our lives need to be rectified today; if not today, well, God, You certainly need to straighten this out by tomorrow! If we have lived a little bit we know that it doesn't quite work that way. What the Scripture gives us is a perspective that these things may not be reconciled by God until we get into the judgment stages at the end of history and only then will God execute justice for us. This is a picture that we see that history is driving toward a final solution to the whole problem of evil and sin. But God is working this out over a period of thousands of years and when it all comes to a conclusion He will bring about the establishment of righteousness upon the earth.
At the end of history, at the end of the Church Age, we have the Rapture. The Rapture removes the body of Christ from the earth and then what happens to them? The first judgment takes place. We are evaluated at the judgment seat of Christ and the bride of Christ, which is a term for the church, is going to be purified and prepared for our position to rule and reign with Christ during the kingdom. Following the judgment seat of Christ, we study this in Revelation 4-5, where the 24 elders who are representatives of the church pass their crowns, their STEPHANOS crowns, not their DIADAMOS crowns. A DIADAMOS crown is a crown of royalty. A STEPHANOS crown is a reward crown. They cast their reward crowns before the Lord Jesus Christ. This is before Revelation 6 when Jesus takes the first seal off of the scroll and begins the judgments in the first half of the Tribulation. That tells us that these 24 elders who show up before the throne of God in Revelation 4-5 are already raptured and rewarded. The judgment seat of Christ is taking place at this time and they are there in the throne room of God when the quest goes out, the search goes out to find someone worthy to take the scroll.
So there is this judgment that takes place and in terms of human time it takes place in a flash of an instant. After the Rapture we are evaluated and rewarded and this prepares us for the future. Then we have this judgment that takes place on the earth of the Tribulation that is going to culminate in a second half of the Tribulation when the demons are cast out of heaven. Satan is cast out of heaven to the earth. I believe we studied this in the lengthy study that we did on Revelation. The fallen angels will become visible, and elect angels are as well. The angels become visible and God is going to bring human history to a close at the Second Coming of Christ and human beings as well as angels are all judged. So it is at the end of the Tribulation that OT saints are judged. We'll see in this passage that the Rapture is for those who are dead in Christ. It doesn't include OT saints that are not in Christ. OT saints are raptured at the end of the Tribulation. Tribulation martyrs who die during the Tribulation will be resurrected at the end of the Tribulation period. Those groups will be judged. The surviving Gentiles and surviving Jews will be judged at the sheep and the goat judgment. Those who are believers will go into the millennial kingdom under the reign of iron, the reign of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.
So this is when you see the beginning of God working out His justice in terms of all of the evil that is taking place in human history and that will eventually culminate in the final judgment, which is the great white judgment that comes at the end of the millennial kingdom. So when we sit back and we see the panorama here. We see that what God is doing through out history is working out the solution of this problem of injustice as a result of Adam's sin and ultimately the result of Satan's sin, and that He is doing certain things within the human race with believers and with the angels that must be done in order to prepare us for this final reconciliation of justice that occurs before His throne. So this sort of drives us back to an understanding of this panorama of the doctrine of suffering. That we may not have all things made right in this life but they will be made right eventually and God will bring that justice to bear.
So 1 Thessalonians 4:13 drives us to the doctrine of suffering and tells us that there is a distinction between believers and unbelievers, between Christians and non Christians, is that we have a hope. And hope in the Scripture is not just sort of a wishful optimism, but it is a confident expectation. There are many unbelievers who have a false hope. They have diluted themselves in one way or another. They have imbibed of a fantasy that somehow there is some afterlife and every thing will be good and everything will be wonderful and I'll be reunited…, but they have no basis for this. They have no foundation. It is just a wish and a hope that is not based on anything other than the alternative is what they are trying to suppress. The alternative that there is a just God who will demand that His justice be satisfied. He may be a loving God, but His love works with His justice and His justice does not operate at the expense of His love, but He can't compromise either and so in His love He's provided the perfect solution for eternity, and in His justice, if that solution is rejected, then there will be eternal condemnation.
Slide 13: 1 Thessalonians 4:14
Now the basis for our future hope, the basis for our confident hope is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:14, "For if we believe" and it is a first class condition indicating that he is assuming that this is true for all of his readers. "If" and we can almost translate it "since", although that is not the best use or the best way to translate most first class conditions. Here I think it would fit. "Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again" and those two things must be taken together.
He is not talking about just the gospel here. He is really emphasizing we believe there is a physical body resurrection; if you believe in a physical bodily resurrection that is our basis of believing that we too will be physically, bodily, raised from the dead. So that is what he is stating here. "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus." So what he is stating here is that Jesus Christ's resurrection, which is called the "firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" in 1 Corinthians 15:20. He is the "firstfruits" and then we come later and we will be resurrected.
Those who have already died are with Jesus. Notice God the Father is the One who is in charge. This is important. God the Father is mentioned here and Jesus is mentioned here. God the Father's role is He is in charge. He will bring with Him, Jesus, so God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. They died physically and they are with Jesus. They are with Him when He begins to descend. They are already with Him. Their soul and spirit are with Him, but their physical body hasn't been taken from the grave yet. So it shows us that they are already with the Lord. I believe they have an interim body.
An interim body goes back to Luke 16 when you have the episode with Lazarus and the rich man. When Lazarus the beggar dies he goes to Abraham's bosom, or Paradise. When the rich man dies he is not a believer. He goes to a place called Torments and he is moaning and groaning and complaining to Abraham that he is going through so much pain and he wants, he says, please let Lazarus take his finger and stick it in the water and put some water on my tongue. He is clearly talking about some sort of physical sensory. It is not a corporal body like we have, but it is some sort of intermediate body that definitely can feel pain and pleasure because the cool water on the tip of his tongue would be pleasure in spite of the pain he is going through. So there is some sort of interim body, but it is not a resurrection body. So those who are dead in Christ will come with Jesus in their interim body. They haven't received their resurrection body yet.
Slides 14-16: 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17
In 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 we have an explanation of the dynamics of what takes place at the Rapture when that occurs. What this tells us is that there are a series of events that take place in a specific order when Jesus returns at the Rapture. Notice He returns in the clouds. He doesn't return to the earth. That is important. Paul says, "For this we say to you by the word of the Lord." When he says "by the word of the Lord" that means that he is referring some sort of revelation from Jesus. I believe that this goes back to John 14:1-3 when Jesus said that He is going to go to His Father's house and that He is going to prepare a place for us that where He is we may be also; and that He is comforting them in John 14:1-3 just as Paul is providing comfort here in 1 Thessalonians 4. So Paul says, "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, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep." What he is saying here is that we don't go up first. Those who have fallen asleep, that is those who have died in Christ, they will go up first and we will go up just a split second, a nanosecond later.
Slide 17: 1 Thessalonians 4:16
Then he describes this in 1 Thessalonians 4:16. He says, "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout." Three things happen simultaneously:
1. The Lord descends.
2. There is a shout or a command; there is the voice of the archangel.
3. There is the blast of the trumpet of God.
At that sound, those three signals that happen simultaneously, the dead in Christ, not all the dead, not all dead believers, but only "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 and thus we shall always be with the Lord." So, let's look at this. First we see that the Lord "will descend from heaven" in 1 Thessalonians 4:16. He descends from heaven. Now that is important because when He descends from heaven we know that He has been "in heaven." There is a point that I am making there. He has been "in heaven." That is going to be important when we compare this with John 14. So He's been in heaven and then He is going to descend first and this noise. Back to 1 Thessalonians 4:16, we will just continue here, the Lord descends from heaven with a shout, with this shout, so He is coming from heaven and then after that there is a shout.
Slide 18: 1 Thessalonians 1:10; John 13:3; John 14:3
In 1 Thessalonians 1:10, we read that we are "to wait for His Son from heaven." Jesus is currently in heaven. He ascended to heaven as we see. In Acts 1:9-10 He ascends to heaven. We are "to wait for His Son from heaven, whom will be raised from the dead, even Jesus, that delivers us from the wrath to come." That term "wrath to come" is a term here in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 for the Tribulation that we will be "rescued." It is not SOZO. It is RHUOMIA, indicating a physical rescue from a disastrous situation.
John 13:3 we read, "Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going to God." I am really stressing that the Bible makes a really big point about Jesus going to heaven and coming from heaven. And where are we going to go? We are going to go to heaven. Now that is not our forever domain, but we are going to go to heaven, not back to the earth.
John 14:3, "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself."
Where is He coming from? Heaven. Where is He taking us? Heaven. In a post-Tribulation (post-Trib) Rapture view Jesus comes down and we meet Him halfway in the clouds and continue to the earth. Jesus is saying that I'm coming from heaven and taking you where I have been back in heaven. So this shows that it can't be a post-Trib Rapture view because Jesus doesn't go back to heaven at the post-Trib Rapture. He comes to the earth. You will know He is in heaven.
Slide 19: Psalm 110:1; Acts 2:33
Psalm 110:1, He is sitting at the right hand of God the Father until God makes His enemies His footstool and He is given the kingdom, which is referenced in Daniel 7, when the Son of Man comes.
Acts 2:33, He is "exalted to the right hand of God," the Father.
And then there are other references in Acts 5:31; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 12:2; as well as Revelation 3:21 where He is sitting on the throne of God. Jesus is in heaven.
Slide 20: 1 Thessalonians 4:16
So He descends from heaven with a shout. That is the word KELEUSMA, which means a command. He is giving a command at that time, something like "rise" or "raise up," something like that. He is calling the dead in Christ, those bodies who are lying in the grave, to come forth from the grave, and instantly, a nanosecond, they will be transformed from corruption to incorruption, from mortal to immortality, and then they are united instantly with the soul and spirit of the person who has trusted in Christ. That is when the dead in Christ rise first. They are reunited with their new resurrection body and they will be with the Lord. So there is a shout, there is a voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God.
Slide 21: John 5:28-29
John 5:28, Jesus said, "Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice." That is the shout.
John 5:29, "and (they) shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment."
Slide 22: Revelation 4:1
"After these things," John says in Revelation 2-3, it describes the churches. But in Revelation 4 there is a shift and I believe this is an allusion to the Rapture. John says, "After these things," that is Revelation 2-3, he says, "and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet." This is the only reference to the Rapture in Revelation. "The sound of the trumpet speaking with me said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things." So this depicts, I am not saying that this is the Rapture, but this depicts what will happen at the Rapture.
Slide 23: 1 Corinthians 15:51-53
1 Corinthians 15:51-53 gives us the how. "Behold, I tell you a mystery;" a previously unrevealed truth, "we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye," one 64th of a second, "in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet." Not the last trumpet in Revelation in the Tribulation, but the last trumpet of the Church Age. A trumpet was used to signal a significant event and this is the signal of the end of the Church Age. It is not one of the seven trumpets that we see in Revelation because the seventh trumpet contains seven bowl judgments. "The trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed." That is not what happens with the seventh trumpet in Revelation. When the seventh trumpet blasts it reveals seven bowl judgments, not the resurrection of the dead. So this is a picture of the Rapture, when the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality.
So here is the order of events. They happen very quickly, as in quick succession:
1. The Lord descends from heaven and is in the clouds.
2. Three simultaneous audible events take place:
The voice of the archangel
3. And then the dead in Christ will rise first (only church age believers).
4. And then a nanosecond later, living church age believers are raptured to meet the Lord in the air.
Slide 25: 1 Thessalonians 4:17
And then he concludes, "thus we shall always be with the Lord."
So where does the Lord go? In a pre-Trib Rapture scenario He goes back to heaven. This is where He is building or preparing our temporary dwelling places now. If the Lord were to bring the church with Him back to the earth, then why is He wasting His time building these abodes for us in heaven according to John 14:1-3?
Slide 26: John 14:1-3
In John 14:1-3 Jesus is talking to His disciples. Again, notice, He is comforting them. He says, "Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places."
Now some of you may not like that because it doesn't have quite the ring of the King James' "mansions"; but actually the Greek word doesn't mean "mansion." We think of mansions when we are driving down River Oaks Boulevard looking at all those stately homes and all of the lawns. That is a misunderstanding because the English word "mansion" has gone through an evolution of meaning. In its original meaning, coming out of the Latin, it was a dwelling place. It has come to mean a certain kind of sumptuous dwelling place, but that is not what it meant in the Latin or what the original Greek means.
"In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you."
Where did Jesus go? I've been pounding this all night! Where did Jesus go? He went to heaven! What is He doing in heaven? He's preparing a place for us! So it doesn't fit for us to meet Him halfway up and come back to the earth because then we miss out on whatever He has prepared for us. This is why John 14:1-3 is clearly a pre-Trib Rapture passage.
"So if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 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."
Now one of the things that is interesting about this particular passage is that there was a study done by a Mennonite commentator on Revelation by the name of J. B. Smith. He noted that there are eight striking parallels in vocabulary between John 14:1-3 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. When he compared the vocabulary of the two passages related to the Second Coming in Revelation 19:11-12 and other passages, he found no comparison. If you will look at two passages, 1 Thessalonians 4; John 14 and compare them there are eight commonalities in terms of vocabulary. If you compare either one of those two with Revelation 19, the Second Coming passage in Revelation 19:11-12, neither John 14 or 1 Thessalonians 4 have any similarities of vocabulary with Revelation 19. That is really interesting. What we see is that these eight similarities also occur in the same order in John 14:1-3 as they do in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. You think that just happened that way? Just coincidence? Maybe Paul got out his Apple iPad and started doing vocabulary searches on the Greek text and said, okay, we have these words, I am going to match that. I not sure it worked that way.
So what do we have?
1. Both passages focus on providing comfort.
They are both designed to comfort those who are in a state of anxiety or grief.
2. Both passages emphasize belief in Christ as the key issue.
That you have believed in Me. So Jesus is emphasizing that belief in John 14.
3. Both passages focus on God the Father and Jesus the Son of God.
In both passages both the Father and the Son are involved. I point that out in 1 Thessalonians 4:14; that God will bring them, that is the dead in Christ with Him. So both the Father and the Son are involved in both passages.
4. Both passages instruct their audience. In John 14:2 Jesus says, "I would have told you." In 1 Thessalonians 4:15 Paul says, "I say to you."
So you have belief. John 14:1 says you "believe in God, believe also in Me." Both passages talk about the Father and the Son. Both passages instruct their audience that this is divine revelation.
5. The return of Jesus is mentioned in both; both passages mention the return of Jesus that He is coming back.
6. In John, Jesus says He will receive them.
7. Jesus says, "I will go and prepare a place for you. I will come again and receive you to Myself." 1 Thessalonians 4:17, "we are caught up to be together with Him in the clouds."
8. In both passages, believers will continue to be with the Lord after that event.
That is striking! This is remarkable! John 14 and 1 Thessalonians 4 are parallel passages. John 14 is clearly talking about the Rapture, as is 1 Thessalonians 4.
Slide 30: Acts 1:11
In Acts 1:11, as Jesus ascends, the angels that are there say to the disciples, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven."
So that is our destiny. This is why early dispensationalists like Darby emphasized that the church was a heavenly people with a heavenly destiny, while Israel is an earthly people with an earthly destiny. They have an earthly inheritance in the land that God promised them, but our destiny is heavenly. We are a part of the bride of Christ and we will rule and reign with Christ, but our citizenship, as Paul says in Philippians 3, "our citizenship is in heaven." We are a heavenly people. Now this is being challenged a lot today from different groups, but especially by the progressive dispensationalists. This is another area where they get a little fuzzy and a little bit off base. Now one of the things that I will talk about next time, I'll come back and we will go back to John 14 just a little bit, so we get it again in our minds before we go forward looking at the next passages. But that this is focusing on our position in Christ. We go to a dwelling place; we go to an abode that Jesus has prepared for us in heaven. Let's close in prayer.
"Father, we thank You for this opportunity to study these things this evening, to be reminded that Scripture interconnects with other Scripture. We compare Scripture with Scripture to find illumination and elucidation, and it gives us great comfort to know that when we die that is not the end; when our loved ones die it is not the end. The body may go into the grave, but the immaterial part, the soul and the spirit, is immediately face-to-face with You; and that that immaterial part will be reunited with a physical resurrected body that has some sort of continuity with our present physical body. We don't understand that; we don't know how that works, but there is a definite connection between what we have today and what we will have in the future just as Christ's physical body was connected to His present resurrection body. Now Father, we pray that You would help us to understand these things that we may be able to comfort those around us who go through loss; who go through times of death of loved ones and friends that we may comfort them with the truth of Scripture, and we pray for this in Christ's Name. Amen."