Summary: In this classic passage on the “Rapture,” Paul reminds us that we don’t have to grieve without hope because believers will meet the Lord in the clouds one day. These words provide encouragement to us when we’re trying to deal with the death of a believer
Will You Be Left Behind?
This past week we went with another family to an apple orchard. Upon discovering that they had a “Corn Maze,” we decided to check it out. I thought it was going to be a little field with a few paths through the corn. Boy, was I mistaken! We paid our intermission fee and then split up into three groups. We were handed some maps that we ignored, and ran into the maze. Our task was to find 12 signposts and get our card punched. It didn’t take long for us to get lost, and for me to become claustrophobic. When we didn’t know which way to turn after going in circles for several minutes, we finally consulted the map.
The map wasn’t much help because we didn’t know where we were. A map only makes sense if you can find your location first. [Let me show you what this looked like]. We eventually stumbled upon a signpost and punched our cards. We were encouraged but then we lost our way again. I heard some people up ahead of us and asked them where the next sign was (this is not easy for a man to ask for directions!). They pointed left, then right, then straight ahead. I politely thanked them but had no clue what they were talking about. Eventually, we discovered a few shortcuts through the corn where previous pilgrims had trampled down the stalks and found a couple more signposts.
As we stumbled through the maze of maize, I realized that if we could get up high enough we could see part of a pattern and the paths to our goal. When I stood on my toes, I could gain a better perspective. If we had a helicopter, or access to a Global Positioning Satellite, we would have cruised through the confusion in about 10 minutes. If we could just get high enough we could see that there was an intelligent design to everything.
As we come to our topic this morning, it’s my hope that we can get above the labyrinth of life that we’re in and begin to understand God’s divine design for the future. We might feel like we’re going around in circles but God is moving history to a grand finale, if we could just see it. We’re going to catch a glimpse today as we stand on our toes by taking a look at a wonderful passage of Scripture. Before we do that, let me address several preliminary points.
1. We need to guard against end times extremism. Chuck Swindoll hits it on the head when he writes: “For centuries, thoughtless fanatics have littered the path of Christianity, especially those who have earned the label ‘prophecy freaks’…these fanatics have consistently turned scores of people away from the Bible’s prophetic program. Many people have reacted by discounting and even scoffing at the biblical picture of the future. Christians today need to take a sane and sober reexamination of God’s plan for the events yet to come (“Contagious Christianity,” p. 44). My guess is that some of you are turned off by our topic today. A few of you may be confused by an overemphasis on date setting or maybe you’ve been tempted to follow Bible teachers who force every current event into a prophetic paradigm. My goal this morning is not to turn you off or confuse you further. Instead, I hope that you become “turned on” to a biblical view of what lies ahead.
2. The “Left Behind” series is helpful prophetic fiction. I’m grateful to Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins for their perspective on prophecy and how they have so dramatically portrayed what it might be like to be left behind when Christ returns for His church. Their depiction of the Tribulation period is chilling and their description of how some people get saved after the Rapture is intriguing. While the characters in the story are fictional, and some of their interpretation is conjecture, the prophetic premise is based on the passage we will be studying today. When Jesus returns, some will be snatched away while many will be left behind to face a seven-year period of unprecedented Tribulation as described in the books of Daniel and Revelation. Friend, I can tell you this: however it all takes place, you do not want to be left behind!
3. The Bible is filled with prophecy. In his book called, “Are We Living in the End Times?” Tim LaHaye points out that almost 30% of Scripture is made up of prophecy. More than one hundred prophesies in the Old Testament depict the first coming of Jesus as the Messiah, and He fulfilled each one. LaHaye encourages us to be confident that Jesus will come again “…because He promised He would five times more frequently than He promised to come the first time! Since His first coming is a fact of history, we can be at least five times as certain that He will come the second time” (page 3). As Bible believing Christians, we are constrained to study this sweet doctrine. And, as we’ve pointed out before, 1 Thessalonians contains a reference to the return of Christ in every chapter! When we visited Washington, D.C. this summer, I was struck by the inscription on the dome of the Capitol: “One God, one law, one element; and one far off, divine event to which the whole creation moves.” I’m not sure it’s all that far off!