Have you ever been left behind? Maybe someone has forgotten to pick you up or maybe you have waited at a restaurant for someone and they did not show. Not a pleasant feeling. You get to wondering what went wrong. Did you get the time or the instructions mixed up? Did you not hear them properly? In some cases, you will never completely figure it out. But at the time, it is both awkward and sometimes costly.
The people in Thessalonica thought God had left them behind. They had understood that Christ would return and take them to be with Him. They understood it to happen immediately. But it did not happen. People had died and Christ had not returned. They wondered where God had been. Why He did not show up?
The problem was that their understanding of Christ’s Return was only partially correct. Yes there was nothing that stood in the way of Christ returning at any time, no event that had to take place. Something that doctrinally we call Imminence. False teachers had influenced them and had them thinking that something was wrong because Christ did not come right away. As one scholar writes, “Imminence in relation to the rapture has been defined as consisting of three elements: “the certainty that He may come at any moment, the uncertainty of the time of that arrival, and the fact that no prophesied event stands between the believer and that hour.”
Paul writes to assure them they have nothing to worry about. In God’s sovereign timing and plan Christ will return to gather His Church (all the Believers from Pentecost on) to be with Him. He writes…
“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. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV)
First, Paul writes to give them “hope.” In their grief Paul assures them God is in control - their love ones and friends are with Christ and they will come with Him from Heaven someday (v. 15). Secondly, Paul does not state a time because it is again an imminent event. It will happen within a millisecond (1 Corinthians 15:52). Thirdly, Paul says, “The Lord will come from Heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God” which will be heard by His Church (for it is a gathering of God’s people). Fourthly, the Christians that are dead will rise first in their resurrected bodies and the Christians that are alive will be instantly changed into their resurrected bodies and we will be taken up into the air to meet Jesus and His Church and return to Heaven. And Paul says, “And so we shall ever be with the Lord.”
This event is known as the Rapture (from the Latin for “caught up) of the Church. It will happen before the Tribulation period or the Time of Jacob’s Trouble. It calls us not to set dates but relax. God will never stand us up. He will never leave us stranded. He will be there to take us home when the time is right. What He simply calls us to do is live for Him by His grace. He loves us and He will never – let me say that again – never let us go! So as Paul says,”Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
“To Him be the glory forever Amen.” (Romans 11:36 NIV)
In His love – Pastor Ralph