Summary: A look at the state of those who have died
For the last few weeks we have been focusing on the return of Jesus Christ.. What some refer to as the Rapture. That is term which I prefer not to use because that is not a word found in the English translations of the Bible.. However, it is not totally foreign to the Scriptures. It comes from a passage found in 1st Thessalonians 4: 17After 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.
See those words “caught up”? In the Latin Vulgate translation of the scripture the word use there is “raptio” which means caught up.
Interesting it is the same word used to describe how the Spirit caught up Philip near Gaza and brought him to Caesarea (Acts 8:39) and to describe Paul’s experience of being caught up into the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-4). Thus there can be no doubt that the word is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 to indicate the actual removal of people from earth to heaven.
But why confuse people using the word Rapture which they might not understand the meaning of at all instead of just using the words “caught up” or “taken up” which they almost certainly understand.
Using the word Rapture to describe the event is like using the words “sanctification”, “remission” which the people in the church may understand but to the people we are trying to reach it is all Greek or in this case Latin.
So having said all that, I want for us to take a look about some of the misconceptions about the return of Christ and the church being caught up to meet Him.
Not so much as what will happen on that day but what happens when we die, because that was the whole reason that Paul wrote this passage to the church at Thessalonica:
13Brothers 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. 14For 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. 15According 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. 16For 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. 17After 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. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.
First thing we see is Paul says what I am about to tell you is important so that you will not be misinformed.. so you will understand.. what is to take place…. not so much as to how the return will take place but the state of our loved ones who have died and now await his return along with us.
The second thing I want you take note of is the phrase “sleep in death” makes it plain that in Paul’s writings he use the term death and sleep synonymously. This is important to correct a misunderstanding that some had then and many today have about what happens when we die. Paul is writing this to correct hat misunderstanding in order that they might have comfort in their lives and not grieve over those loved ones that had died.
Some think that when a person dies.. That is it.. They lay in the grave with no consciousness and no knowledge of anything going on around them. They base this on an Old Testament writing:
Ecclesiastes 9:5 reads, “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten.”
They take this to mean that the grave is the end..
And even those that believe in a resurrection think this means we lay in the grave until the return of the Lord… that, we are in a state of oblivion if we exist at all.
However that is not what Solomon is saying for he goes on to say.. 6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.
In other words, the living knows what is going on in this world, even knowing that one day they are going to die… but the dead?.. They no longer have a part of this world..