The Rapture 1/9/00

I Thessalonians 4:13-18

JESUS CHRIST said, “I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again…” (John 14:3).

Just when we had snuggled into our warm comfortable world, along comes messengers alerting us to needs in our lives for the coming of the Lord. The uncertainty of the last couple of years has abruptly revealed that the god of materialism is an unstable and inadequate idol.

This is a time to search the Scripture for certain answers in an uncertain time.

Read the New Testament and your ears will ring with the footsteps of Christ’s return.

Two major events are spoken of in I Thessalonians chapters 4 and 5.

One is referred to as the rapture. The word itself isn’t found in the Bible. It comes from the word RAPTO meaning a sudden seizing or snatching away. It speaks of Christ coming in the air for His people. The suddenness is emphasized by Christ who said:

“I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left.” (Luke 17: 34 – 36).

The ones taken are those with faith in Christ as Savior. Those left to endure the horror of the tribulation are those who have rejected Him.

The other is the tribulation. This is a term used to describe a period during which a man of peace, known as the anti-Christ, will emerge and rule on earth. This seven year period which begins after the rapture is defined in Daniel 9: 26, 27 as consisting of three aspects:




Two things now emerging are setting the stage to enable this man of peace to gain power in order to persecute.

1. Biblically we are told in II Peter 2:1 that churches will become apostate. That is, most of them will cease to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom. There will be little Bible preaching. Already we have seen many churches turn often to good things in the neglect of their primary mission. Many have turned to social ministries. Others have been diverted to health, wealth, and prosperity theology. A church where the Bible is taught is becoming an increasingly rare oasis.

Many good people remain in apostate and dead churches because they have always been a member of it and all their friends are there. By doing so they are supporting apostasy.

2. Biblically the second essential according to Revelation 7 and 13 is a one-world government. The U.N., the United States of Europe, and New Age aficionados are all encouraging such. Europe has approved a common currency that will rival the American dollar. They are now talking about a Euro-judicial system as a prelude to an authoritative world court.

Many of the recent millennial themes related to “One World.” All of this hints of the coming cultural environment in which the anti-Christ can easily persuade the public to let him become the global leader.

This is how we are currently seeing the principle work that will eventuate in a one world government. Marietta has good fiscal policies, but Cobb County doesn’t. [This is only hypothetical.] Therefore, we need a county law. Cobb County has good money regulations but some counties do not, therefore we need a state law. Georgia has good economic policies but some states don’t so we need a national law regulating it. America has a good form of currency but not all nations do. Hence, we need an international law controlling it. Bit by bit national sovereignly is to be eroded in favor of a one world government.

In I Thessalonians there are three thrilling themes:

– There is the faith-engendering story of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.

– There is the courage-infusing of Christ’s presence and power with us.

– There is the fear-dispelling good news Christ will come back a victorious Lord of history.

On this occasion I want us to study the RAPTURE.

Subsequently I want us to study the TRIBULATION.

The first of these is spoken of in I Thess. 4 and the second in I Thess. 5. Let’s consider the RAPTURE.

Paul had been with this church previously and apparently taught about Christ’s coming again. Since having been away, he learned of two confusing concepts that had gained support in the confused congregation.

In anticipation of Christ’s coming, some had quit work and were just sitting around idly waiting for His return. Ironically, there are still some Christians who excuse their laziness by saying Christ is coming at any moment so why work.

A second bit of confusion revolved around those Christians who had died before Christ’s return. What about them?

In verse 13 Paul said he didn’t want the people to be ignorant concerning these things. Therefore, he wrote to address the issues.

A. A reality = Vs. 13 “…those who have fallen asleep.”

When the figure of sleep is used for death, it never refers to the soul but to the body. It is used to picture the peacefulness of death for a believer. How different this is from our modern concept of death. We are taught that we work through several stages from denial to acceptance. The Biblical view is to accept death as a natural part of living. For the believer, the experience goes far beyond mere acceptance. It means “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (II Cor. 5:8). This is the Biblical view of death and dying.

B. A return = Vs. 16: “For the Lord Himself shall descend…”

The verb form of the word translated “shout” is KELEUO and it means “to order,” “to summons,” or “to command.”

The Bible is quite clear that no one knows the time of Christ’s return. Christ Himself did give us signs of the time in which He will return. Note them and see if you think our era qualifies as the time for His inevitable return.

They are found in His address recorded in Matthew 24:
Verse 4: “Be not deceived…” This is a day of great deception. The proliferation of the occult and the rampant growth of the New Age philosophy have combined to deceive many.
Verse 5: There will be counterfeit Christ’s.
Verse 6: There will be wars and rumors of wars. In the last 100 years there have been over 225 major wars. Presently there are over 15 raging today.
Verse 7: Famine will be rampant. More than 10,000 persons starve to death each day.
Verses 9, 10: Martyrdom will increase. Nearly 1,000,000 Christians have been martyred in Africa.
Verse 11: False prophets will proliferate.
Verse 12: A loss of love. America experiences nearly one million divorces a year. There are 1.4 million abortions annually.

C. A resurrection = Vs. 16: “the dead in Christ shall rise first.” Being asleep implies future awakening. As awakening from sleep is to be expected, so the coming resurrection of the body is to be expected.

II. A SUDDEN RAPTURE Vs. 17a “we…shall be caught up.”

Various theories prevail regarding when the rapture will occur. Some say mid-tribulation others say after. I believe the Bible teaches it will occur before the tribulation: “… to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (I Thess 1:10).

“God has not appointed us to wrath” (I Thess. 5:9).

The question is sometimes asked, “Why are the dead caught up first?” It is because they have six feet further to travel.

The expression “caught up” has several Biblical usages that can be applied here.

III. A SWEET REUNION Vs. 17b: “to meet the Lord in the air.”

Death for the believer is a revival of sacred friendships.

IV. A SUPERB REASSURANCE Vs. 18: “Comfort one another…”

Cheer and encourage one another with these facts.

Death is no novel thing for “It is appointed for men to die once” (Heb. 9:27). Death isn’t an accident, it is an appointment.

Death for the believer is merely a summons into the Lord’s presence. Flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Ps. 116:15).

In an ancient graveyard near Windsor Castle this inscription can be found on a gravestone:
Pause, my friend, as you walk by;
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you will be.
Prepare, my friend, to follow me!

A visitor who read that epitaph is reported to have said:
To follow you is not my intent,
Until I know which way you went!

You owe it to your Lord and your friends to leave no doubt about which way you are going. Prepare now for the inevitable. Give them the comfort of knowing where you are going. Leave your friends with hope.

Emile Brunner, Swiss theologian, not one of my favorites, nevertheless, said, “What oxygen is for the lungs, such is hope for the meaning of life.”

Our current false gods have left us without hope. No longer is there an attitude that everything is going to work out OK. In this pessimistic society we have reason to share reason for authentic hope. Authentic hope must have an ultimately reliable source. Only a personal, intimate relationship with Christ affords this dependable hope.

Some ask why those who have died and been in heaven will be bodily resurrected from the grave. It is because every great historical spiritual period of history has been ushered in by a major cataclysmic event. For example, the resurrection of Christ ushered in the new age known as “the church age.” The return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead will be an introduction to another period known as “the great tribulation.”

The fact that His coming could be at any moment, and those who have not received Him will be left behind to endure the tribulation, is a primary reason to get ready NOW.

Christ spoke of calling out of this world those who belong to Him. Revelation 20 clearly teaches the tribulation will follow this.

Comfort yourself and your loved ones with the knowledge you are ready for His return or your death. Then, with that hope, you can really get on with truly living to the fullest.

Legitimately the question is asked, “How can one get ready for the rapture?”

We get ready for the last day by living for the King in His Kingdom today. Those with such a lifestyle are ready for Him today, tomorrow, or in the distant future. They live in a state of readiness.

Sir William Osler, the great pioneer Christian doctor, once said, “If we throw all of our energy, intelligence, and enthusiasm into doing superb work today, there will be nothing to fear tomorrow.”

During the uncivil Civil War Atlanta fell to General Sherman’s army, July 1864.

General John B. Hood, commander of the Confederate army in the area marched westward to attack the communications of General Sherman with Chattanooga. By doing so he hoped to draw Sherman’s army out of Georgia. One of his principle attacks was Allatoona Pass, commanded by the courageous General Corse. Sherman himself went back with part of his army as far as Kennesaw Mountain. From the summit he signaled to the beleaguered garrison: “Hold the fort! I am coming!”

Our beloved Christ has given us this hope:

“I will come again and receive you unto myself.”