The Christian’s Hope, Part 11

In our 11th message in the book of First Thessalonians we reached its climax- the day when JESUS COMES FOR HIS BRIDE! (1 Thes. 4:13-18).  The Gospel is truly good news! (John 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8, etc.). Jesus is the “firstfruits,” our pioneer who has gone before us- risen from the dead- and one day we will follow with glorified bodies when “death is swallowed up” in life (1 Cor. 15:20, 54; 1 Thes. 5:23; Rom. 8:30, etc.).  Yet no truth is mocked or maligned more than the BODILY resurrection of the dead (Acts 17:32; 26:23-25; Luke 8:49-55, etc.).  This was the hope of the early church, and it remains our hope today (John 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:3-4, 16-20- consider also the Apostles, Nicene and other early universal church creeds, etc.). 

It is important to understand the context of God’s Word here, namely that the Lord is writing “To the church” (i.e. 1 Thes. 1:1) who is the bride of Christ. (2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 19:7).   As a “mystery” previously “hidden” from Old Testament eyes, “the church” is distinct from the nation “Israel” and, for example, the prophesies written by God to Israel in the book of Daniel (Matt. 16:16–18; Eph. 2:16; 3:2-10; Acts 2:1-4; 1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 12:5 vs. Dan. 9:20, 24-27; 12:1-2, etc.). Just like the church came as a “mystery, which from the beginning of the ages [was] hidden in God,” the Bible shows us the church will likewise depart this world in “a mystery” known as the rapture that will be hidden to almost all. (Note: the English word “rapture” is from the Latin Vulgate.  It is ἁρπάζω or harpazō in the Greek and translated as “SHALL BE CAUGHT UP” in the English KJV and NKJV-  Eph. 3:5, 9-10; 1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thes. 4:17, etc.).  While scholars may debate the timing of the rapture theologically, good Christian men should not debate the fact of it because this is “BY THE WORD OF THE LORD” (1 Thes. 4:15). It is from Jesus Christ Himself! (John 1:1-3, 14; 6:63; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21, etc.). To not believe in this event when Jesus comes for us, His bride, or in the certain resurrection of our bodies at that time robs Christians of necessary comfort, and plays into the lies of the devil (1 Thes. 4:18; Gen. 3:1; John 8:44; John 10:10; Eph. 4:25-27; Rom. 10:17; John 17:17, etc.).

The Thessalonian believers were facing such a lie from “Satan” as they were under the suffocating pressure of persecution (1 Thes. 1:6; 2:18; 3:3, etc.).  As they “wait[ed for Jesus] from heaven,” many of their brothers and sisters had died (the Bible says “sleep” here which is a euphemism for the terrible occurrence of death that entered the world through sin- 1 Thes. 1:10; 4:13; Gen. 2:17; Rom. 5:12; 6:23; Heb. 2:14-15; 1 Cor. 15:26, etc.).  Apparently, brothers and sisters in the Thessalonian church were starting to believe the lie that their loved ones who had died “in Christ” (some of them probably martyred for their faith) were not going to participate in the bodily resurrection at Jesus’ return because they had failed to physically endure (1 Thes. 3:5; Gen. 3:1, etc.).  God did not want them (and us) “to be ignorant,” so He provides more details about Jesus’ coming for us here (1 Thes. 4:13). 

With the completed Bible today, we have more Scripture than Old Testament saints had (2 Tim. 1:10, etc.).  We know that Christians who have died have their soul and spirit with Jesus (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23; 1 Thes. 5:10), but their “body” at this time “sleeps” in the grave (1 Thes. 5:23, etc.).  Paul informs the Thessalonians that all who have trusted the Gospel (i.e. “that Jesus died and rose again”) will see their loved ones again when He returns because Jesus “will bring [them] with Him” at that time (1 Thes. 4:14)!  Christians have a hope that goes beyond the grave because Jesus conquered sin and death when He paid it all at Calvary! (John 1:29; 3:7, 16; 14:6, etc.)  They will see their loved ones again!!!

Not only “will [Jesus] bring [the souls and spirits of our lost loved ones] with Him,” when He comes for us, but we are promised “by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of [Jesus for us] will by no means precede” those who have died in Christ before us (1 Thes. 4:14-15).  Not only are the loved ones we have lost to death going to be included in the bodily resurrection of the Lord, but they will be resurrected first says God’s word here!  (1 Thes. 4:15).  We see this truth again in verse 16: “the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thes. 4:16). 

Now when the Bible says they “will rise first,” it is not speaking of their soul or spirit that is already with the Lord Jesus but of their physical body that is lying (“sleeping”) in the grave or wherever their DNA may be (1 Cor. 15:35-57; 2 Cor. 5:1-9, etc.).  Indeed, to have a resurrection, you have to have a body! (1 Thes. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15:51-52, etc.).  A spirit or soul will not do! If Jesus did not rise from the dead BODILY, then there was no resurrection (by definition) and we “are still in [our] sins” (i.e. 1 Cor. 15:17-18).  “BUT…Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). 

It is important for us to realize, as Christians, where Jesus is at, and that He still is the God-Man with a body (i.e. fully God and fully human).  Jesus died BODILY; He rose from the grave BODILY (i.e. the resurrection); He ascended to heaven BODILY; and is right now “at the right hand of God” the Father BODILY (Matt. 20:19; Luke 18:33; Mark 16:6; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, etc.).  Likewise, one day He will return to snatch us away as His bride into “the air” BODILY (Acts 1:11; 1 Thes. 4:17, etc.).  “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven” (1 Thes. 4:16).  That is, Jesus likewise will return BODILY from heaven descending into the atmospheric clouds out of the “third heaven” to catch His bride away from the earth (1 Thes. 4:17; 2 Cor. 12:2, etc.). 

At that time, all-powerful God who rose Himself from the dead and spoke the entire universe into existence through His Word will “shout” (1 Thes. 4:16; John 1:1-3, 14; Heb. 1:1-2; Col. 1:16-17, etc.). But unlike when He rose Lazarus from the grave temporarily during His First Coming, this time Jesus will raise the bodies of all those who have “died in Christ” permanently in a glorified state.  This will be “in the twinkling of an eye”- an almost immeasurable moment of time- when He then will likewise “change” the bodies of those “who are alive and remain” to be “immortal” catching us “up together with them… [into] the air” to be with Him forever (1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thes. 4:16-17).  Jesus came to save all of us to the uttermost, and part of the human being obviously is our physical body! (1 Thes. 5:23; Heb 4:12; 7:25; Phil. 1:6; Rom. 8:30; 1 Cor. 2:9-10; 13:12, etc.).  Once again, no truth is mocked or maligned more than the BODILY resurrection of the dead (Acts 17:32; 26:23-25; Luke 8:49-55, etc.).  This was the certain hope of the early church, and it remains our steadfast hope today (John 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:3-4, 16-24, etc.). 

The word “rapture” (harpazō in the Greek) means ‘to remove from harm’s way’ from the perspective of the person trying to do the ‘catching away’ (1 Thes. 4:17).  It is “a sudden snatching… IN EVERY CONTEXT in which it’s used… [both biblical and historical, and it means to] rescue” -Dr. Michael Svigel, Dallas Theological Seminary, Systematic Theology Chair. 

So, what is Jesus rescuing His bride off the planet from? (1 Thes. 4:17; Rev. 12:5, etc.). 

Christ answers this question when He was asked about “the sign of [His] coming, and… the end of the age” (Matt. 24:3, 21-22; Dan. 12:1; Jer. 30:7; Luke 21:35; Revelation chapters 6 through 18, etc.).  We also will look into this, Lord willing, as we continue our series in the book of First Thessalonians. 

Indeed, Jesus can come back at any time and take us away to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7; 1 Thes. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:9-10, etc.).  Paul knew that was true for him in his day and it obviously is much closer in our day (i.e. Paul wrote “we” in 1 Thes. 4:15, 17, etc.). This is our “blessed hope” when “we shall always be with the Lord” and we are to “comfort one another with these” truths- holding tightly on to them as we navigate through this dark world (Titus 2:13; 1 Thes. 4:17-18; 2 Pet. 1:19-21, etc.).