Summary: 6th is series on 1 Thessalonians (6 of 8).
THE COMFORT OF HIS COMING
INTRO: The pagan world in Paul’s day had no hope of life after death. The believers in Thessalonica were concerned about their loved ones who had died. What if the Lord should return? Would their deceased loved ones miss out? Will those who are alive at His coming have an advantage over the believers who have died? Paul answers these questions with five fundamental facts. 5 “R’s” Revelation, Return, Resurrection, Rapture and Reunion.
I. REVELATION: WE HAVE GOD’S TRUTH (vv. 13-15a).
How can man look beyond the grave and find assurance and peace for his heart? Paul solved this problem with the words of v. 15. We Christians need not worry about life after death, for we have a Revelation from God in His Word. Why substitute human speculation for divine Revelation?
It is important to note that the Revelation concerning death and the afterlife was not given all at one time. Many cults use verses from Psalms and Ecclesiastes to “prove” their false doctrines (Ecclesiastes 3:2; 12:19ff). These verses seem to teach that the grave is the end, or that the soul “sleeps” until the resurrection. We must keep in mind that God’s Revelation was gradual and progressive, and that it climaxed in the coming of Christ. We look to Christ and the N.T. for the complete Revelation concerning death.
God gave Paul a special Revelation concerning the resurrection and the return of Christ (see 1 Corinthians. 15:51-54). What Paul taught agreed with what Jesus taught (John 5:24-29 and 11:21-27). And God’s Revelation is based on the historic fact of Christ’s resurrection.
II. RETURN: CHRIST IS COMING AGAIN (vv. 14-15).
Paul applied the word sleep to those believers who died. Jesus used the same expression (John 11:11-13). Paul was careful to state that Jesus died; the word sleep is not applied to His experience. It is because He died that we need not fear death.
However, Paul did not say that the soul went to sleep at death. He made it clear that the soul went to be with the Lord. He cannot bring them when He returns unless they are with Him. It is not the soul that sleeps; it is the body. The Bible definition of death is given in James 2:26.
Jesus Christ will return in the air, and this is where we shall meet Him (v. 17). When will this event occur? Nobody knows, and it is wrong to set dates. The fact that Paul used the pronoun we in vv. 15 and 17 suggests that he expected to be alive when the Lord returned. This is called the doctrine of imminent return. Imminent means that it can happen at any moment. As Christians, we do not look for signs, nor must any special events transpire before the Lord can return. These great events will take place “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”
III. RESURRECTION: THE CHRISTIAN DEAD WILL RISE (vv. 15-16).
When Jesus returns in the air, He will issue the shout and the dead in Christ shall rise first (v. 16). This does not mean that He will put the elements of the body together again, for resurrection is not “reconstruction.” In 1 Corinthians. 15:35ff, Paul pointed out that resurrection of the human body is like the growing of a plant from a seed. The flower is not the identical seed that was planted, yet there is continuity from seed to plant.
The scriptures teach (John 5:28-29; Revelation 20:1-6) that there are two resurrections in the future. When Jesus returns in the air, He will call to Himself only those who are saved through faith in Him. At the end of time, just before God ushers in the new heaven and earth, there will be another resurrection.
IV. RAPTURE: LIVING BELIEVERS CAUGHT UP (v. 17).
The word rapture is not used in this section, but that is the literal meaning of “caught up.” The Latin word rapto means “to seize, to carry off;” and from it we get our English word “rapture.”
1. “To Catch Away Speedily.” — This is the translation in Acts 8:39 where the Spirit “caught away Philip” after he had led the Ethiopian to Christ. When the Lord returns in the air, we who are alive will be caught away quickly.
2. “To Seize By Force.” — See John 6:15. Does this suggest that Satan and his armies will try to keep us from leaving the earth? I hope that it does not mean that some Christians will be so attached to the world that they must literally be dragged away (i.e. Lot at Sodom).
3. “To Claim for One’s Own Self.” — This views the Rapture from our Lord’s point of view as He comes to claim His Bride.