1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him”
First & Second Thessalonians and the Book of Revelation, chapters 1-3 provide us with a glimpse at Christ’s coming and our accountability to be working for Him when He does come.
Our Text – 1 & 2 Thessalonians; Revelation 1-3
Topic – “The Rapture”
Our theme – “Jesus Christ expects churches and believers to be committed to Him when He returns for them at the Rapture”
As you watch the news, do you feel as I do, that it seems like the world is coming apart at the seams? There appears to be no end to the terrible news. The killing of Christians by Muslims from Indonesia to Bangladesh to Pakistan. China tearing down church buildings. Christians tortured, beheaded and crucified in Iraq, with villages burned and churches destroyed, and much the same in Syria.
Throughout Northern Africa, the Middle East, and many other parts of the world, the church of Jesus Christ, and anyone or any group who bears His Name, is under attack. In our own country as well, there is great opposition to the church of Jesus Christ. We see this throughout the media, the entertainment industry, government and politics.
Jesus warned His disciples in Matthew 24 when they asked Him about the signs of the end of the age. He said there would be wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes and pestilence. He told them, “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9).
As I read the news on the Internet, watch the news on television and listen to the news on the radio, I can’t help but wonder if we are in the last days, months, or years before our Lord returns to rescue His church from God’s wrath on the world for the rejection of His Son.
There was a popular television program in the 1990’s called “Early Edition”. It featured a young man who received the next day’s newspaper a day ahead of time. Because he always knew the future, his mission in each episode was to save people from a tragedy or problem he had read about. If he knew a building was going to burn, he tried to keep people from entering it. Or if someone was going to be hurt by an act of violence or an accident he tried to prevent the encounter from taking place.
My beloved, if you own a Bible, you have an “early edition” of future events that God has clearly given to us in “His Eternal Word”. If there is a subject that has been historically near and dear to the hearts of believers through-out the centuries is the return of Jesus Christ. Without a doubt the return of Christ is going to be an exciting event and one that should thrill and stir the heart and soul of every person who knows Christ as Savior of their life. Through the years there’s been a lot of debate about it. There’ve been false Christ’s, false prophecies, false teachings, date setters and more, but they’ve all been wrong.
Many people spend their entire lives trying to figure out everything they can about the end times and the second coming of Jesus. They’ve got charts and graphs and a storehouse of Scriptures memorized. They can debate the debaters. I’m not one of them. I don’t mind telling you I don’t have it all figured out and frankly I’ve never felt compelled to try to figure it all out.
However, while I don’t feel compelled to figure it all out, I do enjoy reading, singing, and studying about what the Scriptures have to say about the return of Christ. There’s nothing in this world that gives hope to the believer like the return of Christ, and the older we get the more precious His return will get. The older we get, the closer we get to heaven, and the more friends we will have in heaven. We get more and more family in heaven and I know we want to see them. There’s nothing that stirs the soul in knowing that one day we’ll be with Jesus Christ! As believers in Christ we should:
(1) Anticipate His coming,
(2) Get excited about His coming,
(3) Stay prepared for His coming; and
(4) Have a great hope in His coming.
The Bible tells us that the return of Christ is a:
(1) Promised Return;
(2) Glorious Return; and,
(3) Troubling Return
FIRST THESSALONIANS THEME – (Christ’s Return)
Thessalonica was located a hundred miles southwest of Philippi in Macedonia. Thessalonica was located on a rich plain and had an excellent harbor for the shipping trade. Thessalonica was named after a sister of Alexander the Great, and was an important city, second in size of all the cities of Macedonia. The general population of Thessalonica in Paul’s day was Greek, but there was also a large number of Jews as well.
Paul arrived in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey. Acts 17:2 indicates that he only spent three weeks in the synagogue. It may be that he stayed in the city a little longer. The key words of the book are “coming,” which occurs four times, and “comfort” which is found six times. The church had continued strong in its “work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope” (1:3). However, because of the teaching of the return of Christ, some had given up their work and were conducting themselves in a disorderly manner.
Some were misusing their spiritual gifts and some were tempted to fall back into their old ways of immorality. While others were grieving over the death of loved ones, fearing that they had lost out and would miss the return of the Lord. The Lord’s word of comfort, through Paul to the members of that rather new church, is that believers’ loved ones who die in the Lord are not lost or forgotten and that they would meet them again.
PAUL’S CONCERN AND THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF OUR HOPE
1 Thessalonians 4:13, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope”
If you have lived for any period of time, you have had to bury someone you love. You probably have felt the sting of regret, the sorrow of unfinished business, the paralyzing confusion and the emptiness of loss. With the loss a person most likely found their mind flooded with questions about life beyond the grave as with the Thessalonians. In today’s lesson we read the words of the apostle Paul as he addresses some of those concerns in the church at Thessalonica. The first generation of Christians was beginning to die. Most of these people had believed that Jesus would return during their lifetime. Now, they had questions!
With this verse the apostle Paul begins his answer to another problem he learned about when Timothy returned from his trip to Thessalonica. It concerned questions and a certain amount of anxiety some were having with regard to their loved ones who had died. They were expecting the return of the Lord at any time, but what about those loved ones who had died since trusting Christ? From the content of verses 13-18, it is clear they were asking how Christ’s return would affect these loved ones who had since died. Would their death hinder or handicap them in any way? Will those who are alive at His coming have an advantage over those who had died?
As we look at this passage, it’s important that we understand something of the beliefs of the pagan world from which these believers had been redeemed. As verse 13 states, the pagan world had no real hope of life after death. There was an inscription in Thessalonica which read: “After death, no reviving, after the grave, no meeting again.” Writing about this lack of hope, Wiersbe writes, “A typical inscription on a grave demonstrates this fact. ‘I was not, I became, I am not, and I care not.’
While some of the philosophers, such as Socrates, sought to prove happiness after death, the pagan world had no word of assurance. When Paul preached the doctrine of the resurrection to the Athenian philosophers, most of them mocked him (Acts 17:32, “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked; and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter”).
IS THE END OF ONE’S LIFE A DEAD END
John 5:28-29, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation”
The couple was driving through the country roads in rural New Hampshire. Haze filled the air and the rain was very imminent. While driving they came upon a miniature metropolitan area of granite gravestones. It was a typical old country cemetery. However, this particular cemetery had one striking feature. Bordering on one side was a gravel road, and on the corner a sign which read, “Dead End”. What a graphic reminder of how some people view life! Their existence in this life is a brief drive through time that leads to a dead end. To them, death ends all.
Yet, if that is true, then Jesus was either ignorant or deceitful. He said that “all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth.” But He made an important distinction. He said that some will come forth from their graves to the resurrection of life and some to the resurrection of condemnation. Those who have accepted Jesus’ forgiveness in this life will enter heaven, but those who reject it will be separated from Christ forever. My friend, He suffered on the cross to take upon Himself the judgment we all deserved, but only those who receive Him will escape that condemnation. So, is death a dead end? Well, not according to Jesus. He lived and died to provide eternal life for all who trust Him as their Savior.
To the Greeks, being rid of the body was their great hope. Why would any man want to have his body resurrected? How could his body be resurrected, when the elements of the body would decay and become a part of the earth? To them the doctrine of resurrection was foolish and impossible. Apart from the revelation of God in Christ and in the Bible, the world today still has no assurance of life after death. All the other leaders of the various religions and philosophies of the world still lie in their graves. Only one has come forth from the grave to validate His claims and prove that He is the way, the truth, and the life, and that is the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
After discussing the believers’ holy living, Paul now deals with the state of the Thessalonian Believers who had died (4:13). Here Paul promises us that if we have placed our faith in Christ, we will one day be resurrected. Paul contrasts two kinds of people: those who grieve without hope and those who grieve with hope. Notice, both groups grieve. There is nothing wrong with being sad about someone dying. It’s a natural, normal and perfectly appropriate response to loss. There is never a reason to be embarrassed by tears or by wishing to have someone back who has died. Hope comes from knowing the truth. The first thing Paul says is that he does not want his readers to be “ignorant” concerning those who have “fallen asleep.”
The Thessalonians’ believers were no doubt in need of this information. They had suffered much for their faith through persecution (2:14-16; 3:3-4). No doubt, many in the Lord had been taken from them, not only by natural death, but my murderous persecution. The apostle Paul uses a wonderful way of describing such believers, “asleep”. He uses the word for “death” to describe them in the light of their resurrection (v. 16), but refers to them as “asleep” in the light of their hope. When someone “sleeps”, they are eventually going to “wake up”; and so, this phrase emphasizes hope (Matthew 9:24; 27:52).
The apostle Paul didn’t want his Thessalonian brothers and sisters in Christ to be uninformed about this important matter. In fact, he wanted the grieving Thessalonians to mourn as those who have hope. Their grieving would be an excellent opportunity to be a testimony to the unbelievers around them. Evidently the Thessalonians thought that those who die before Jesus returns would miss out on Heaven. Paul wanted them to be informed so they would not grieve over the deaths of loved ones as though they had no hope for the future. The Thessalonians could grieve as those who knew that their loved ones would be resurrected and would be with Jesus forever. God provides hope in a hopeless world.
Consider the following illustration of what will happen when the Lord returns for His children at the rapture. William J. Pettingill told of the time he visited a great steel factory. The owner was a devoted Christian man. Together they walked out into the scrap metal yard. Motioning to the operator of the huge electric crane, the owner instructed him to lower a huge magnet over a wide dirt road beaten hard by the traffic from trucks going in and out of the yard. He told me to watch as he gave the signal to turn on the current to the huge and powerful magnet. Up from the cracking road leaped pieces of metal, long covered and out of sight.
They were caught up to meet that powerful magnet in the air! It attracted the metal having the same nature as itself. Pettingill knew that his friend was illustrating the truth found in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, our key verse. The Lord Himself said, “I will come again and receive you to Myself” (John 14:3) and Matthew 12:40 tell us, “Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” However, we must remember that only those who want to meet Christ in the air must first meet Him at the Cross.
1 Thessalonians main teaching concerns the Rapture (4:13-18) or also known as “The Coming of the Lord”. Every generation, not excluding this one, has its prophecy buffs; that is people with a fondness for predictions. I agree that a study of end time events can be very fascinating, but trying to attach names and dates to future Bible prophecies (such as the return of Christ) can be distracting us from the spiritual warfare raging in our own little world; but more importantly – keeping us from proclaiming the Gospel to a lost and dying world.
A teacher told his class he would be going away for several weeks, and he offered to give a prize to the student whose desk he found in the best order when he came back. However, he didn’t tell them what day he would be returning. Because the prize was so big, each child was determined to get it, including a little girl whose desk was normally quite messy. Her classmates jeered, “Mary, you’ll never win. Your desk is never neat.” “Oh, I plan to clean it the first of every week from now on.” “
But,” someone said, “Suppose he comes at the end of the week?” “Then I’ll clean it every morning.” “But,” another classmate persisted, “He may come at the end of the day.” For a brief moment the child was silent in thought. Then she said decidedly, “I know what I’ll do. I’ll just keep it clean!”
If we want to receive our Lord’s approval at His return, we must always be ready. Jesus didn’t tell us to “get ready,” but rather to “be ready” (Matthew 24:44). We are to live continuously in a state of spiritual preparedness, anticipating any moment when He will appear. Thus, we need to plan as if Christ’s return were years away but live as if it were today!
Paul wrote this letter in late AD 52 or early 53 while he was still in Corinth. The theme of 2 Thessalonians is the Day of the Lord. Its key phrase is “vengeance on them that know not God” (1:8). This is the shortest inspired letter Paul wrote to any church and it deals with the end time events. Inasmuch as the situation in the Thessalonian church had not changed substantially, Paul’s purpose in writing is very much the same as in his first letter to them. He writes to:
(1) Encourage persecuted believers (1:4-10),
(2) Correct a misunderstanding concerning the Lord’s return (2:1–12) and
(3) Exhort the Thessalonians to be steadfast and to work for a living (2:13-3:15).
We can see from the content of both 1 & 2 Thessalonians that the apostle never hesitated to teach prophetic truth to even new believers. He taught them much concerning things to come. Indeed, prophecy properly handled is an aspect of truth that is vital for spiritual stability and proper living as is evident by the way Paul used prophetic themes throughout his epistle. This book, as with the first epistle, deals with the return of Christ and the gathering of the church unto Him, i. e. the rapture; and is quite obvious from the amount and nature of what is written on things to come.
Paul thanked God for the Thessalonians because their faith was growing and their love was abounding (2 Thessalonians 1:3). He was able to name them as an example of faithfulness in spite of their suffering. This church suffered more persecution during that early period than any other church Paul planted. Though this is a short letter, prayer is very prominent.
Verses 3 and 4 of chapter 1 are not only words of encouragement, but they are also a prayer of thanksgiving. Verses 11 and 12 of the same chapter are a second prayer. Paul prayed that God would count the Thessalonian believers worthy of their high calling and that Christ would be magnified in them. A third prayer is found in 2:13 and 14. And in 3:1 and 2, Paul requested their prayer. Finally, 3:16 is a prayer that God would grant the Thessalonians peace and grace.
Due to a forged letter with Paul’s name on it (2:2), the Thessalonians thought they were in the Great Tribulation. Since they were being severely persecuted, they were prone to believe it. Paul corrected them by mentioning three things that must occur before the seven-year Tribulation will get underway:
(1) There will be a great apostasy, a falling away from true religion (2:3a).
(2) The man of sin, the Antichrist, will be revealed.
(3) The Holy Spirit will be taken out of the way and will no longer hinder sin (3:7)
There are a variety of opinions concerning when the rapture will occur. Some believe that it can happen at any moment and will precede a terrible event known as the Tribulation Period. Others believe that Christ will return for His saints sometime during the Tribulation. Still others believe that it will happen at the end. Though there is much that we don’t know about Christ’s return, there are many things that we do know, which includes:
(1) CHRIST WILL RETURN
We do know that this world is not all that there is for the believer. We do know that Christ has gone away to prepare a place for us and that at God’s divine moment, Christ will return and snatch us away from this earth. The Bible says that we should, “look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.” (Titus 2:14)
(Read Matthew 24:36-42). I think it must have been a sad day when God flooded the earth. Noah had been warning people for years to no avail. Jesus said they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. In other words, they went on with life as though nothing was wrong. “We don’t want to hear that doom and gloom stuff! There’s too much life to live.” But when the flood came they were singing to a different tune. But it was too late. They had been given a chance, and when God shut the door it was shut.
Why is the return of Christ going to be troubling? Because of the multitudes of people who have heard the gospel message over and over but have refused to get in the ark of Jesus Christ. There’s a flood coming one day – but it’s not going to be a flood of water. It’s going to be the judgment of God and the only way to escape the coming judgment is to accept Christ as Savior; through repentance of your sins and by putting your faith in Him to save you. There is no other way! It’s going to be troubling because when Jesus returns there’s not going to be another chance for you to be saved. “Today is the day of salvation!”
(2) HIS APPEARANCE WILL COME UPON MANY AS A THIEF
That phrase may sound strange to some, but it was used by Paul, Peter and even the Lord Jesus to describe the suddenness and unexpectedness of Christ’s return. Jesus said, “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (Matthew 24:42-44)
(3) HIS RETURN IS MEANT TO MOTIVATE US TO LIVE HOLY LIVES
The early Christians lived with the expectation that Christ could return at any moment. Many might think that there expectation was foolish seeing that two thousand years have passed and Christ still hasn’t come. Yet their sense of expectancy caused them to live in such a way that they would not be ashamed when their Master returned. Perhaps many of them still remembered the night that they had let their Lord down by falling asleep in the garden. They promised Jesus that they would stay true, even if it meant death; yet they could not watch with Him for even one hour. If God would help them, they would never again make that mistake.
(4) TO GIVE PEOPLE THE OPPORTUNITY TO BE SAVED
Peter wrote – “And remember, the Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved.” The only reason Christ did not return yesterday was to give someone the opportunity to be saved today. Yet, one day that opportunity will come to an end. One day the Lord will return as a thief in the night and many will be caught sleeping. One day their opportunity will be snatched away and they will have to face the Judge of the universe. The knowledge of the Lord’s return is extremely important.
The knowledge of His first coming teaches us how to be saved. The knowledge of His second coming teaches us that we must be saved. For many of us, nothing would please us more than for the Lord to return today. Yet who would we leave behind? Who would be left to go through the Tribulation Period and to be lost forever? There’s a lot we do not know about Christ’s return, but there’s even more that we do know. Today is the day to act upon our knowledge.
IF CHRIST CAME TODAY
I John 2:28, “… abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed”; Revelation 22:20, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”
Donald Grey Barnhouse told of a story he read in a London newspaper about a divorce case heard in the courts of that city. A wealthy young man had gone away to war soon after he was married. His new bride wrote him of the demanding schedule she had to keep as a nurse in a certain hospital. Apologizing for her infrequent writing, she explained that she was spending a great deal of time with the wounded.
Several months later when the man was scheduled for leave, a friend suggested, “Don’t announce your coming. Slip in quietly.” Arriving in London, the young man went directly to the hospital, but his wife was not there. He then went to their house, where he was told by the servants, “Oh, she will probably be at the tea dance at the Ritz.” Going there, he found her in the company of another man. How shocked and ashamed she was at her husband’s appearing!
Nearly 2,000 years ago Jesus said, “I am coming quickly.” Since then, some have wrongly tried to predict when He will return. Others have scoffed. Was Jesus wrong? Did something happen that He didn’t foresee? Of course not! We view time from the perspective of our own brief life span. But to the eternal God, “One day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Jesus told His disciples that God had not given them specific information about “times and seasons” (Acts 1:7). He wanted them, as He wants us, to live in an attitude of expectation.
Paul echoed this when he spoke of Christ’s return as “the blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). But how do we live expectantly? Jesus instructed the disciples to be witnesses to all the world (Acts 1:8). Paul said, “Watch and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6) and love other believers (vv. 12-15). John urged us to walk in close fellowship with Jesus (1 John 2:28-3:3) and to purify ourselves so that we will “not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (2:28). My friend, the Lord’s any-moment return is no cause for date setting but for watchful expectation. When our Lord does return, we don’t want to be found flirting and preoccupied with the things of this world. So, we must ask ourselves:
(1) What if He came for us today?
(2) Would we be ready for His return?
Jesus could come at any time – so be ready all the time!