Christians have debated for centuries over whether a truly saved person can lose their salvation. Probably the strongest Biblical passage for that position is Hebrews 6:4-6. This is what the text says,
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
Now, exactly what does this passage mean? It seems to indicate that a saved person who has experienced all the blessings in vs.4-5 can in the end fall away and be lost. In this blog I want to refer you to two principles of Biblical interpretation:
1) Remember that Scripture will never contradict Scripture; and
2) Remember that context rules
Scripture Will Never Contradict Scripture:
That first rule of interpretation about Scripture not contradicting Scripture comes into play because there are other passages in Hebrews which seem to teach the opposite position. Let’s take a look at a few other passages which seem to teach that a born again Christian can’t lose their salvation, because they will persevere in faith to the end.
For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end (Heb. 3:14)
This text speaks about something that has already taken place (have become partakers of Christ) if the following condition is met (we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end). The text is not saying that we will become a partaker of Christ if we go on to hold fast the assurance of our faith until the end. Rather, we have already become partakers of Christ if we go on to persevere in faith. Thus, a person who does not hold fast their assurance firm until the end never became a partaker of Christ. Thus Hebrews 3:14 seems to be saying the exact opposite of Hebrews 6:4-6. Now, two mutually exclusive positions can not both be true. Either one of them is wrong, or both are wrong, but both can’t be true. Either it is possible for a true believer to fall away and lose their salvation, or it is not possible for a true believer to fall away and lose their salvation, but it is one or the other.
Furthermore, Hebrews 10:14 says, For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (ESV).
If it is true that Jesus’ offering up of Himself on the cross has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified, then it is not possible for those same persons to fall away and lose their salvation. For those who are indwelt, regenerated and sanctified by the Spirit, they possess a perfect standing before God based on the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, and it is “for all time”! They were not perfected until they fall away, but for all time.
Hebrews 13:20-21 tells us,
Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen
This text mentions the “eternal covenant.” Well, in Jeremiah 32:40 we also read of the “everlasting covenant”, which I would presume refers to the same thing. What is the nature of the everlasting covenant?
I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.
This covenant includes two things:
1) God will not turn away from them to do them good; and
2) Those with whom this everlasting covenant is made will not turn away from God because God will put the fear of Him in their hearts.
Now, if God promises that He will never turn away from them, and that they will never turn away from Him, what is our only conclusion? That these people will never fall away and be lost.
I’ve said all of this to highlight our first principle of Biblical interpretation – “remember that Scripture will never contradict Scripture.” It appears that Scripture is contradicting Scripture. But that’s just it. It must be only an appearance of a contradiction. Our understanding of one or more of these texts must be wrong, because God who inspired all of these texts is a God of truth, and doesn’t contradict Himself. So what are we to do? We need to go back to the drawing room, and decide if we have understood Hebrews 6:4-6 correctly.
In order to do that, let’s utilize our second rule of Biblical interpretation – “remember that context rules.” So, let’s go back and look at the context of this passage to see if we can uncover any clues as to its proper interpretation.
Hebrews 5:11-14 – in this section we discover several things about the recipients of this letter.
1) they were dull of hearing
2) they should have advanced to teachers by then
3) instead they needed someone to teach them the elementary principles of the Word of God
4) they were spiritual infants and unable to consume anything except for milk
5) they were spiritually immature.
Now, remember the whole situation in which this letter was written. The Letter to the Hebrews was written to Jewish believers who were being tempted to forsake Christ and go back to Judaism. That’s why all the way through the author keeps emphasizing the word “better.” Christ is better than the angels, better than Moses, better than the Aaronic priesthood, He brings in a better covenant, a better hope, better promises, and is a better sacrifice. The author of this letter is urging these new Jewish believers not to forsake Christ and go back to Judaism, for that would mean their spiritual destruction.
Hebrews 6:1-3 – Here the author exhorts his readers to press on to maturity (vs. 1). In other words, they must make progress in their faith. They should have been at the point where they could be teaching others, but were still spiritual babies. They needed to mature.
Hebrews 6:4-6 – Notice that vs. 4 begins with the word “for”, which tells us that the author is giving us a reason why the readers must press on to maturity. It is because if they have received great and precious privileges and blessings, and then have fallen away, they are lost forever. This is a very serious and solemn passage. The author of Hebrews is urgently exhorting his readers to mature in their faith and bear fruit of their salvation, because it is possible that some of them who do not do this may “fall away” and prove that they were never truly saved to begin with.
But you might be thinking, “Brian, how in the world can verses 4-5 be speaking of a person who is not truly saved? Well, let’s look at them. What are these great blessings they had experienced?
2) Tasted of the heavenly gift (probably the gift of the Holy Spirit- Acts 2:38)
3) Partakers of the Holy Spirit
4) Tasted the good word of God
5) Tasted the powers of the age to come
Notice that these readers had “tasted” several of these blessings. Is it possible for someone to taste something, swish it around in their mouth for a while, and then spit it out? Of course it is. No doubt these readers were participating in a Christian church in which the gospel was preached (enlightened, tasted the good word of God), and the power of the Holy Spirit was manifest (tasted the heavenly gift, partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the powers of the age to come). So, if we were to boil down these blessings we could reduce them to two – the gospel was proclaimed and the Spirit was working. And these professing Christians had continually heard the Word and seen the Spirit work. Yet, there was still the possibility that they could “fall away” and find it impossible to be renewed again to repentance.
Many find the expression “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance” to be ironclad proof that these people were truly saved. After all, they had already repented. However, in 2 Cor. 7:10 Paul says, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Evidently there are two kinds of sorrow – one leading to salvation and the other leading to death. Just as there is a saving faith which ushers in a life of good works, and a non-saving faith which does not usher in good works, so there is a true repentance which leads to salvation and a worldly repentance which is merely regret for the misery their sin has caused them.
The author goes on to say, “since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” Note the little word “and.” These people had once put the Son of God to open shame by valuing other things of the world more than Him. Then they professed faith in Christ and conversion. If they fell away after that, they would be doing the same thing they had done originally, by showing that they valued the rituals and laws of Judaism more than Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 6:7-8 – Notice again that vs. 7 begins with the word “for.” That tells us that he is going to explain what he meant in verses 4-6. Here he gives a little parable of two different kinds of fields. Both of these fields received abundant rains. However, only one field brought forth useful vegetation, while the other brought forth only worthless thorns and thistles. The first kind of field receives a blessing from God, while the latter is close to being cursed and ends up being burned. The author is explaining the person in vs. 4-6 who received the abundant rains of hearing the Word of God, and seeing the works of the Spirit. However, if he did not produce fruit in his life his end would be that of being “cursed” and “burned” (Mt.25:41). This brings us to the final piece of context which we need to examine.
Hebrews 6:9-12 – The author says in vs. 9, “But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way.” The author believed that his readers were the fruitful and blessed field, not the barren and cursed field. Notice how he puts it – “we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation.” Now, what are the “better things” he’s referring to? Fruitfulness and persevering faith! And, notice that these are the things that “accompany salvation.” When an individual receives salvation, he will produce fruit, and he will persevere to the end, which is exactly what Hebrews 3:14; 10:14; 13:20-21 and Jer. 32:40 all teach.
So, to sum up, I believe that Hebrews 6:4-6 is a strong, sobering, warning for any professing Christian who seems to remain in a spiritually immature condition, rather than pressing on to maturity, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, and persevering in faith to the end. To any professing Christian who has heard the Word of God continually, and seen the powers of the Holy Spirit, and then falls away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. Why? Because they have already received all the light they can receive, and then they have turned their backs on it, and deserted Christ to go back from where they came. They have proven that the things of the world are more valuable to them than Jesus. Thus, repentance becomes impossible for them. [ The author seems to outline an unpardonable sin of falling away which seems to contradict the teaching of the Prodigal Son Luke 15:11-31 ]
I hope this blog is more than an exercise in Biblical Hermeneutics for you. I hope it gives us all a needed and sobering reminder that true saving faith always results in a transformed life, and that we “must show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end (Heb.6:11).” None of us want to hear those terrifying words out of the mouth of our Lord, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness”!
If ever there was a religious sounding word, it’s holy. Regardless of the context, most people probably hear it and think of cathedrals, stained glass, candlelight, and the sound of monks chanting. Step outside, and holiness evokes a desert landscape wandered by bearded men in sandals.
Most of the time, our understanding of God’s holiness makes Him seem unapproachable, even unpleasant. He’s up there, we’re down here, and all we can do is hope He grades on a curve. The prophet Isaiah’s vision of God fits that profile: he saw the Lord “high and lifted up,” His robe spread throughout the temple, with six-winged seraphim crying out, “Holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:1, 3). Isaiah’s reaction was fitting: he cried out, “Woe is me, for I am undone!” (v. 5).
The apostle John’s vision of the same awe-inspiring scene in Revelation 4 offers a few more details but echoes the same proclamation from the angels: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty” (v. 8). Though we might say that holiness is God’s most unpopular attribute, it is His most noteworthy one to the heavenly hosts, worth the emphasis of triple repetition.
Heaven’s cry is not “love, love, love” or “grace, grace, grace.” It isn’t “wrath, wrath, wrath” or “justice, justice, justice.” Those are all key aspects of God’s character and nature, but His only attribute that merits such a superlative highlighting is His holiness. The Bible calls God holy over 630 times. His holiness separates Him from all of His creation. There is no one like Him, perfect in all His ways. And as Isaiah discovered, His perfection magnifies our imperfection.
But Isaiah also discovered that God is not aloof in His holiness. While Isaiah lamented his “unclean lips” (v. 5), an angel touched his corrupt human mouth with a live coal from the altar. It was a symbolic gesture of purification, and a necessary one, since God’s holiness cannot abide the presence of unholiness. It also pointed to the ultimate cleansing that God would provide through Jesus Christ.
That leads us to an important truth about God’s holiness: He doesn’t destroy the unholy but declares us holy through the blood of Christ. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). In other words, God’s holiness includes paying the price required to allow us into His presence. His holiness informs His love, grace, and mercy, and it satisfies His justice and wrath.
Like Isaiah, when we have the humility to recognize the gulf between us and God, we will respond with repentance and gratitude. We’ll embrace what God has done for us in Christ, and the smoke surrounding God’s holiness will clear: we’ll see that His holiness makes our salvation possible, empowers us with purpose, and guides us to wholeness.
A relationship with God is transformative; He loves us the way we are, but He loves us so much He won’t leave us that way. This is where our sanctification—growing in holiness—comes into play. When you grow in holiness, you’re after not perfection but pursuit. You want to pursue the God who pursued you, and you want to let others know that His holiness leads to our wholeness. And just like the angels in heaven who never tire of God’s holiness, you’ll come to a place where you’re captivated by His perfection, driven to glorify Him in all things.
I remember the night I met the woman who would become my wife. I was at a friend’s apartment in Southern California, and I saw her from across the room. She confidently walked up to me, put out her hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Lenya.” On our first date, she told me about her background, her hopes, and her dreams. Thus started a long, lasting, and very satisfying relationship.
The best way to get acquainted with someone is to get firsthand knowledge from them about who they are. Essentially, that is what Moses did to God in Exodus 34. Moses asked to see God’s glory, and God answered his request not with an appearance, but with a list of attributes. In this foundational passage about who God is, we see two aspects of His personality: His designation, or who He says He is, and His description, what He says about Himself.
First is His designation: God began by naming Himself. “And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God'” (v. 6)—or Yahweh, Yahweh El in Hebrew. El is the generic term for God, but Yahweh is specific, and it means I am. This is the name God used when He introduced Himself to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3: “I AM WHO I AM” (v. 14). The repetition here was to emphasize to Moses that this was the same God who spoke to him back then.
What does the name I am tell us about God? It means He is the self-existent one, the only noncontingent being in the universe—that is, He doesn’t depend on anybody else for His existence. It also refers to his eternal nature. God is not the great I was or I used to be; He is the great I am. And it highlights His active existence—that He is involved with humanity, not detached or aloof.
In the Bible, a person’s name was far more than just an identity tag. The Hebrew people believed there was a connection between a person’s name and a person’s nature. Whatever they were named was often brought to bear with their character. So this is God’s character, reputation, and authority—His designation: Yahweh, Yahweh El.
That brings us to God’s description of who He is: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation” (vv. 6-7). What a description, isn’t it?
Here’s how Moses responded: he “made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped” (v. 8). God introduced Himself to Moses—”Hi, I’m God. Here’s what I’m like”—and Moses worshiped. All teaching of the Scriptures should lead to this; good theology is the foundation and impetus for true worship. That’s why I tell worship leaders every chance I get, “Make sure your songs are filled with good theology.”
Do you, like Moses, make haste to worship the Lord every time you learn more about Him? It’s the fitting response, and it’s one of the keys to a long, lasting, and satisfying relationship with Him.
By Ryan Foley, Christian Post Reporter| Friday, August 20, 2021
As the Taliban continue to gain control of Afghanistan following the pullout of U.S. troops, leaders of the underground Christian church are warning of the implications for religious minority groups in the country.
In a statement released Tuesday, the leader of the underground church ministering to Christians in Afghanistan and the founder of the nonprofit organization Global Catalytic Ministries, who goes by the alias Pastor X, provided a “first-hand ground report” on the situation in the country. The statement was shared by Frontier Alliance International, an organization committed to laying the foundations for the Gospel where there are none.
“The Taliban has a hit list of known Christians they are targeting to pursue and kill. The U.S. Embassy is defunct and there is no longer a safe place for believers to take refuge,” the statement reads.
“All borders to neighboring countries are closed and all flights to and from have been halted, with the exception of private planes. People are fleeing into the mountains looking for asylum. They are fully reliant on God, who is the only One who can and will protect them.”
The statement noted that “the Taliban are going door-to-door taking women and children.”
“The people must mark their house with an ‘X’ if they have a girl over 12 years old, so that the Taliban can take them. If they find a young girl and the house was not marked, they will execute the entire family,” the statement added. “If a married woman 25 years old or older has been found, the Taliban promptly kill her husband, do whatever they want to her, and then sell her as a sex slave.”
Additionally, Pastor X stated that “Husbands and fathers have given their wives and daughters guns and told them that when the Taliban come, they can choose to kill them or kill themselves — it is their choice.”
In a statement released Tuesday and shared with The Christian Post, Rex Rogers, the president of the nonprofit Christian media ministry SAT-7, elaborated on the dangers faced by Christians.
“We’re hearing from reliable sources that the Taliban demand people’s phones, and if they find a downloaded Bible on your device, they will kill you immediately,” Rogers said.
“It’s incredibly dangerous right now for Afghans to have anything Christian on their phones. The Taliban have spies and informants everywhere.”
With the Taliban’s takeover, SAT-7 reports that many Afghans have begun censoring themselves to avoid “retribution.” In the first six months of 2021, SAT-7 PARS reported an increase in audience engagement from viewers in Afghanistan. SAT-7 PARS broadcasts two Dari programs targeting Afghan viewers titled “Window of Light” and “Secret of Life.”
In an update Thursday, SAT-7 reported that an anonymous SAT-7 PARS viewer told the organization that Christians “are in real danger.”
“Sadly, in the past two to three days, my family and I have received death threats,” the viewer was quoted as saying. “In this emergency situation, I have no other way but to escape from the country.”
Another viewer who came to Christ about a year ago told SAT-7 that the situation is “dreadful.”
“My daughter’s life and my life are both in danger,” the viewer was quoted as saying. “My daughter is 8 years old. She has no one else except me. It was so difficult to find a phone to contact you.”
Joel Richardson, preacher and host of “The Underground” podcast, explained Monday that “In the rural villages, what the Taliban is doing … especially if they know that the families are Christians, i.e., infidels, they’re taking the women who are … teens and younger and giving them away as prizes” to Taliban fighters. According to Richardson, it’s not just Afghan Christians who find themselves in danger due to the Taliban’s resurgence.
The Taliban has also set its sights on Afghans who have demonstrated any allegiance to the U.S. over the past two decades. “Tens of thousands of Afghanis who worked with the American military as translators, who were part of the government, many of them are being targeted, executed,” he said.
As the Taliban gains ground in Afghanistan, leaders of Christian nonprofit agencies and pastors have called on Americans and the international community as a whole to pray for Christians in Afghanistan. Officials with faith-based refugee resettlement agencies have urged the U.S. government to admit tens of thousands of Afghan Christians and “American-affiliated Afghans” as refugees.
Although leaders of Christian organizations agree that Christians, other religious minorities and women will face much stronger persecution with the Taliban in control, they disagree about the degree of progress made in Afghanistan before the pullout of U.S. troops.
Pastor X lamented that “20 years of work and the strengthening of a nation being destroyed in a single day” while World Evangelical Alliance Secretary General Bishop Thomas Schirrmacher stressed that “we should not pretend as if everything was well in Afghanistan before the Taliban taking control of the country.” Schirrmacher asserted that because “the constitution of 2004 stated that Afghanistan is an Islamic republic with Islam as its state religion,” religious minorities never fully received equal rights in the country.
With the Taliban on the march in Afghanistan, Global Catalytic Ministries has launched a “war chest” for Christians in Afghanistan that seeks to provide them with “emergency funds and supplies to help them get to safety” as well as food, water, shelter and other basic needs. The organization hopes to raise $500,000 for 1,500 families between now and Sept. 11, which marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that led the U.S. to become militarily involved in Afghanistan to combat al Qaeda.
Some people would do almost anything to ward off ‘bad luck’ and bring themselves a little good fortune. There was a time in my life that I believed when things happened in my life it was either “lucky,” or “unlucky.”
As I have become a more mature Christian I have realized that there is truly no such thing as luck, luck is just a religion of the lazy and disillusioned. Here’s why.
A psychologistRichard Wiseman surveyed a bunch of people who considered themselves lucky or unlucky, then performed a very interesting test:
“[Wiseman] gave both the “lucky” and the “unlucky” people a newspaper and asked them to look through it and tell him how many photographs were inside. He found that on average the unlucky people took two minutes to count all the photographs, whereas the lucky ones determined the number in a few seconds.”
“How did the “lucky” people do this? Because they found a message on the second page that read, “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” So why didn’t the so called unlucky people see it? Because they were so intent on counting all the photographs that they missed the message.”
So what does this mean?
People who we often consider themselves lucky are more relaxed and open to what’s going on around them. Many people either do not see the open doors that God has provided for them or do not even believe that God will ever open a door for them. God is gracious and gives us blessings. I have learned if I can look beyond the raging storm, I can see where God is constantly blessing me and moving in my life.
This week, my primary doctor told me he was moving to another city. I will not deny that I was really sad as a unique doctor/patient relationship had formed. He has been the only doctor so far that has truly kicked open doors for me, validated me, listened to me, and truly cared for me. It is extremely hard to find a great doctor when you have chronic and rare illnesses. I can’t say enough about how much my now old primary doctor has been a blessing to me and my husband. It wasn’t by chance or luck that I got this doctor that only worked in my area for one-year. God placed him in my path. God used him to change every single one of my other doctors and now I have a great team. God used him for a short while to put some pieces together for me. God sent him to help in my journey but as life has it, God changes things up and that’s ok. I haven’t met my new doctor yet but I am very confident that God has once again moved in my best interest and is sending another person to help me get me to another point.
I had a choice this week. I could have had a meltdown and worried about the unknowns of my doctor’s replacement or I could have scurried to find someone else. Instead, I chose to find peace and solitude in my Father. I can trust that he is moving and I am not relying on luck or chance. The biggest part of trusting God is not knowing all of the answers but placing the unknowns directly in his hands and allowing him to move and bless me.
We’re all familiar with the incredible story of Joseph in the Bible. It’s a riches-to-rags-to-riches tale that shows us the massive scope of God’s providence. Providence is when God intervenes in natural law—the chain of cause and effect that governs our lives—to bring about a supernatural result.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Joseph’s story is that, while God was working out the enormous, nation-changing, top-leader-level ramifications of everything that was happening, He was also taking care of the most personal, faith-building character details, too. Nothing is too big for God to handle or too small to escape His notice.
Joseph knew that and believed that. And because he trusted God, he was able to look beyond his circumstances and live with a higher purpose. He lived in tune with God’s faithful sovereignty—but not because the details themselves harmonized; they didn’t. Betrayed by his own brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused and jailed, and forgotten in prison, Joseph couldn’t have looked at everything he suffered and said, “This all makes perfect sense.”
This is where we see the difference between looking at life horizontally and looking at life vertically. Joseph’s brothers looked at life horizontally—within their own tainted hearts and at the turmoil around them. Joseph, on the other hand, lived with a vertical view. He learned to wait on God’s timing and trust God’s sovereignty and goodness, especially when things went wrong. The contrast between these two ways of living is summed up in Proverbs 29:25: “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.”
It’s natural to slip into self-preservation mode when we’ve been wronged, but it’s supernatural to look for God’s hand in the hardship. Joseph overcame the default setting of looking out for himself by instead listening to God, trusting His promises, and obeying His words. And at the end of it all, he could tell his brothers, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).
Joseph believed that God was in charge—not him. He believed that God uses bad events to bring about good results. And he believed that God uses people to help other people. He funneled the gracious love God had showered on him to bless his brothers and preserve his father Jacob’s family—through whom the Messiah would eventually come.
God cares about the big picture, but He cares equally about you and your role in His story. Do you believe that He uses your suffering for good? That He is big enough to take the bad things from your past and weave them into something better? God is with you in your pain; let Him use it to bring healing and restoration, redeeming it into something of great value and beauty.
Quoting Isaiah 29, the Apostle Paul warned us against the wrong kind of wisdom: For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” (1 Corinthians 1:19) But that didn’t mean Paul was anti-wisdom. Instead, the great apostle points us all (especially pastors) toward true spiritual wisdom.
Of course, we know that the Bible is chock full of spiritual wisdom, but the Holy Spirit has also spoken to Christian men and women throughout history. I’ve kept a notebook of the wisest quotes I’ve ever heard from my most trusted teachers. Good pastoring and great preaching comes from collecting — and using — the spiritual wisdom of those who have gone before us. Why would you want to go it alone when there’s a great cloud of witnesses for you to draw upon?
Spiritual Wisdom – 33 Quotes from great Christians:
1. “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” ~ C.S. Lewis
2. “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” ~ C.S. Lewis
3. “God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.” ~ C.S. Lewis
4. “The provision is in the promises.” ~ Derek Prince
5. “I had been my whole life a bell and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.” ~ Annie Dillard
6. “Above all the grace and gifts that Christ gives to His beloved is that of overcoming ourselves.” ~ St. Francis of Assisi
7. “Our old history ends with the Cross; our new history begins with the Resurrection.” ~ Watchman Nee
8. “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” ~ Corrie ten Boom
9. “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” ~ Corrie ten Boom
10. “There’s nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.” ~ J.S. Bach
These are my top 10 quotes of spiritual wisdom, but there’s even more!
11. “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.” ~ Dallas Willard
12. “A carefully cultivated heart will, assisted by the grace of God, foresee, forestall, or transform most of the painful situations before which others stand like helpless children saying ‘Why?’ ” ~ Dallas Willard
13. “I’m practicing the discipline of not having to have the last word.” ~ Dallas Willard
14. “Our failure to hear His voice when we want to is due to the fact that we do not in general want to hear it, that we want it only when we think we need it.” ~ Dallas Willard
15. “When we genuinely believe that inner transformation is God’s work and not ours, we can put to rest our passion to set others straight.” ~ Richard Foster
16. “The world upon whom grace is thrust as a bargain will grow tired of it.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
17. “The preaching of grace can only be protected by the preaching of repentance.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
18. “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen
19. “Peace is first of all the art of being.” ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen
20. “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” ~ Frederick Buechner
21. “Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking.” ~ Frederick Buechner
22. “Only miracle is plain; it is in the ordinary that groans with the weight of glory.” ~ Robert Farrar Capon
23. “The Christian religion is not about the soul; it is about man, body and all, and about the world of things -with- which he was created, and -in- which he is redeemed. Don’t knock materiality. God invented it.” ~ Robert Farrar Capon
There’s an ocean of spiritual wisdom available. Keep reading for the final 10 on my list.
24. “If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.” ~ John Mark McMillan
25. “All sins are attempts to fill voids.” ~ Simone Weil
26. “To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” ~ Simone Weil
27. “A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.” ~ Dorothy L. Sayers
28. “To complain that man measures God by his own experience is a waste of time; man measures everything by his own experience; he has no other yardstick.” ~ Dorothy L. Sayers
29. “Educated Christians like myself expect God’s grace to prefer people of greater natural ability, higher standards of behaviour, and superior education in the liberal arts. In fact God mocks my expectations.” ~ Augustine of Hippo
30. “Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world” ~ N.T. Wright
31. “You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship.” ~ N.T. Wright
32. “If you’re a Christian you’re just a shadow of your future self.” ~ N.T. Wright
33. “I feel about John’s gospel like I feel about my wife; I love her very much, but I wouldn’t claim to understand her.” ~ N.T. Wright
What awesome spiritual wisdom quotes would make it into your notebook?
Please open your Bible to 1 Thessalonians chapter 4. And I want to draw your attention again to verses 13 through 18. We’ve titled this message: “What Happens to Christians Who Die Before Jesus Comes?” By the way, the details of where Christians go after they die and what happens to their spirits and what happens to their bodies is often a troubling issue to people who don’t understand, and it certainly troubled the young Christians in the church at Thessalonica. They were only a few months old in the Lord. They had no Jewish background to speak of, for the most part, having been converted out of abject paganism. It was all brand new to them. And in the few months that Paul was there in Thessalonica, and the few months since he had been gone, they had grown in Christ significantly, but there were still some troubling things that they did not understand.
And one of them was regarding the return of Jesus Christ. Paul had made sure that they understood that Jesus was coming back to take His people to be with Him. In fact, in chapter 1 you will notice in verses 9 and 10 that it says of the Thessalonian Christians that they turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven. They were living in anticipation that Jesus would come. It seems rather reasonable in this context that they actually thought He would come very soon in their life time. And that’s what posed their query because some of them died. Periodically, continually from time to time, one of the believers in the Thessalonian church would die. And because they were so eager about the coming of Jesus Christ, they had difficulty understanding what happens to that person when Jesus comes. If they’re no longer here, do they miss the great event? Do they miss the gathering together, as they called it, as Paul noted in 2 Thessalonians 2:1? Do they miss the Rapture? And they were very concerned about that.
Since they lived in such excitement and such expectation and such anticipation of the great moment when Jesus came for His people, and also since according to chapter 4 verses 9 and 10 they loved each other so much that everybody knew about their love, they were grieving over their loved ones who had died, not so much that they were dead, because they believed their spirits were with the Lord, but because they thought they might miss the great event. And so, the apostle Paul writes this section to help them.
And I said last week and I say it again, it is more pastoral than it is theological. The intent of the apostle Paul is not to give a front to back, top to bottom, reasoned detail, eschatological explanation of the Rapture, but to comfort troubled grieving sorrowing hearts. It is not a pedantic question, what happens to Christians who die before the Lord returns; it’s a painful question on their hearts because they’re suffering grief for fear that their loved ones who have died are going to miss that great event. Was their death, perhaps they wondered, a kind of judgment where the Lord chastened them, took their life and they therefore forfeited experiencing the Rapture? Was there some secret sin in their life and that’s why they died? Would they somehow not participate at all in the gathering together and the wonderful trip to heaven? Would they remain body-less spirits, never knowing the transformation of body into the likeness of Christ? Would they somehow be considered lesser saints? Are they not as loved as the rest who would live to the Rapture? The whole matter led them to grief.
So, the apostle Paul writes to alleviate their grief. Look at verse 13 of chapter 4. “We do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” He says we don’t want you to grieve; grieving out of ignorance is needless. I don’t want you to be uninformed in such a way that you grieve and that you grieve like people who have no hope of reunion: the lost, the pagans, the people outside the Kingdom of God who see death as the final, permanent parting. I don’t want you to grieve like the hopeless, who have no anticipation of a reunion. Your ignorance has led you to the grief so I want to salve your grief by turning your ignorance into knowledge.
The main group that he concerns himself with here are those who are asleep. In fact, he mentions them in verse 13. He mentions them in verse 14. He mentions them in verse 15. That is his concern because that was their concern. What happens to Christians who die before Jesus gets here? And by the way, it’s an awfully important question because they were asking it way back then. We’re 2,000 years later and a whole lot of Christians have fallen into that category and continue to.
As I pointed out last week, those who are asleep means Christians who have died. And Christians who die do not experience death in its fearful reality, because of their life in Christ death has been transformed into sleep. The difference between sleep and death is that sleep is a temporary repose and that is a fitting term for Christians. When they die, their spirit goes to be with the Lord immediately, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord. Far better to depart and be with Christ.” Their body goes into the grave not permanently but only to sleep until it is awakened someday. But they didn’t know how, or when, or where, or what, and so were grieving for their loved ones.
Paul then explains to them some of the features of the Rapture. The term in verse 17, “shall be caught up together,” is the term from which we get the concept of Rapture. It is caught up, snatched up, raptured. And it has to do with the catching away of the church, the taking up of the church. It’s, by the way, a violent word. And I pointed out to you last time that out of the Latin derivative comes the word rape, a violent act in which the church is snatched away. It’s a rescue of the first order, sudden, instantaneous. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, “In the twinkling of an eye,” that’s not how fast it is to blink, that’s how fast it is to see light flash on the pupil. That fast and faster.
Now, as Paul then unfolds to them the Rapture, remember his purpose is not to cover everything that could be said about this event, his purpose is to cover a specific issue to bring comfort to their troubled hearts. Four features sum up his teaching in this text on the Rapture: the pillars of the Rapture, the participants of the Rapture, the plan of the Rapture and the profit of the Rapture. Profit, the benefit.
Now, last time we began to look at the pillars of the Rapture. And we noted for you in verse 14, the first pillar upon which Rapture truth is built is the death of Christ. For if we believe that Jesus died, and I pointed out to you that the reason, first of all, that we can even leave this world and be gathered to Jesus Christ and taken to heaven is because Jesus died for our sins. And having been forgiven of our sins and covered, as it were, by the blood of Christ and clothed in the righteousness of Christ, we are made acceptable to God, we are made joint heirs with Christ, brothers Jesus is not ashamed to call us, and He will gather us to Himself and take us to heaven where God awaits us because our sins have been dealt with. So, the Rapture is built, first of all, not on philosophical speculation, not on theological whimsy, but on the death of Jesus Christ, which was a perfect satisfaction to God for sin. Since He fulfilled all the conditions for the forgiveness of sin, He transformed death into sleep for us. To borrow the words of Paul: He took the sting out of death.
The second pillar on which the Rapture is built is the resurrection of Christ. Verse 14, for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and here is the necessary corollary to the first. Not only did He die, but the satisfaction of His work was indicated by the fact that God raised Him from the dead. And He conquered death. He conquered sin, as it were, in His dying; He conquered, as it were, in His rising. Sin was dealt with, death was dealt with, not only for Himself but notice back at verse 14, “Even so, God will bring with Him,” that is with Christ, “at His return those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” As He raised Jesus, He’ll raise the rest who are in Jesus Christ. First Corinthians 15:23 says, “Christ the firstfruits, afterwards those that are Christ’s at His coming.” Jesus said in John 14:19, “Because I live, you shall live also.” And I said last week, and I repeat this statement again: God will treat dead believers the same way He treated Jesus by raising them from the dead. That’s His promise, bodily resurrection. And when God comes, when God comes in the great glorious return of Christ, God will bring with Him those who have died in Christ, just as He brought back Jesus from the dead.
The picture is a marvelous one. It’s first painted for us in John 14 verses 1 to 3, the only place in the gospel record where the Rapture is discussed. And all it says is, “Let not your heart be troubled,” again, it’s a comforting passage, it’s intended to comfort the troubled disciples. “You believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places, if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself that where I am there you may be also.” Jesus there promised: I’m going, but I’m going to get a place ready, I’m coming, I’m coming to take you where I am in that place. And the promise here is that in the same way that God brought Jesus out of the dead and took Him to glory, God will bring us out of the graves who are dead and take us to glory.
Now, remember, the spirits are already with the Lord, but the body will be resurrected, joined to that already in the presence of God’s spirit, and the combination of that is the glorified saint in the image of Christ who abides in God’s presence forever and ever. This is the resurrection, by the way, described in 1 Corinthians 15:35 and following.
So, those are just review points. The pillars of the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ hold up the doctrine of the Rapture. The third one is the revelation of Christ, the revelation of Christ. Paul says in verse 15, “For this we say to you, this teaching about the Rapture, by the Word of the Lord.” What he is saying is not only is the Rapture built on the death and resurrection of Christ, but on direct revelation from Christ. “This we say to you” has the tone of an inspired writer who has revealed what God has disclosed to him. That phrase, “by the Word of the Lord,” means a divine utterance. Paul was literally giving to the Thessalonians what came from the Lord. This is divine revelation. Now, what does he mean specifically? It’s interesting to note this, when he says “we say this to you” and then goes on to explain about the Rapture, “by the Word of the Lord,” what does he mean by that? Some commentators suggest that he means that he is referring to something Jesus said that’s recorded in the gospels. However, that doesn’t seem to be a valid option at all since there are no exact passages. As I said, the only mention of the Rapture specifically is just a very simple statement that Jesus said “I’m coming back,” and He said it and again a pastoral way rather than trying to cover all the eschatological theology of it. But beyond that there are no specifics about the Rapture in the gospels to which Paul could be alluding.
You say, “Well, now wait a minute. Doesn’t it talk about a trumpet here? And doesn’t it talk about a resurrection here?” Yes, but they’re very different than those times. For example, in the Olivet Discourse where the Lord talked about a trumpet and where He talked about a gathering and very different from any references in John’s gospel which, obliquely some have referred to this, such as where he says to Martha in chapter 11, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Let me give you some of the differences. In Matthew, the Son of Man comes on the clouds. In 1 Thessalonians, believers ascend in the clouds. In Matthew, the angels gather the elect from the four corners of the world. In 1 Thessalonians, Jesus Christ Himself gathers them to Himself. In the Olivet Discourse, particularly in Matthew, there is no record of the order of the ascent. That is the principle issue here in Thessalonians. And there are other distinctions as well.
And so, we can’t say that Paul is referring to anything in the gospels, because nothing states the things that he talks about here. Others have said, “Well, probably he’s referring to a word of the Lord that was said by the Lord but never written down, like the one recorded in Acts 20:35 where it says Jesus said it is more blessed to give than receive.” Jesus did say that; we know He said it because the Spirit of God revealed to Luke when he wrote that He said it, but it’s not recorded in the gospels. It’s the only quote from Jesus outside the gospels. Some say what Paul is saying here then must be what Jesus said; we just don’t have a record of it. But he doesn’t say Jesus said it. He doesn’t quote directly anything that Jesus said in the gospels, and he doesn’t specifically say that Jesus said this. He just uses that rather general term: it was a word from the Lord.
Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 15, would you notice verse 51, or just listen to it? Paul, beginning a discussion there about the Rapture says, “Behold, I tell you a mystery.” Mystery means something hidden that is now revealed. Paul is saying I am now going to reveal something that has been hidden, which leads us to the conclusion that Jesus never did reveal the details of the Rapture. It was a mystery until Paul opened it up. He was the apostle of that mystery. And here again, if Jesus had taught this, and it had been common knowledge that He taught it whether recorded or not recorded, surely then Paul would have unfolded it to the Thessalonians. But here they are in complete confusion about this event called the Rapture, and Paul again must give to them some new truth from the word of the Lord.
So, we think there is no way to associate this with anything Jesus said. If you’ll notice chapter 5 verse 2 he says, “You yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” Apparently, they knew a lot about the day of the Lord. That’s judgment. And they didn’t need to be taught about the day of the Lord, but they did not know about the Rapture, the snatching, the catching away. And Paul then is revealing to them something that has heretofore been a secret and it’s come to him by the word of the Lord.
Now, that could mean it came through the mouth of a prophet, that some prophet, New Testament prophet like Agabus mentioned in Acts 21 may have been the Lord’s spokesman to Paul and uttered it, and Paul heard it. In fact, Agabus said when he talked to Paul in Acts 21, “This is what the Holy Spirit says,” so it could have been a prophet like Agabus that was God’s instrument to speak to Paul. It could have been another means by which the Spirit of God communicated to Paul. It could have been direct like when he was on the ship in Acts 27 sailing across the sea, and an angel came to him at night, and told him exactly what the Lord wanted him to hear. But somehow, in some way, he got direct revelation which he now unfolds. So, what is the Rapture built on? Not philosophy, not some whimsical theological speculation, built on the death of Christ, sin is paid for therefore we’re acceptable to God. The resurrection of Christ in whose resurrection we rise, the revelation of Christ which unfolds its details. Strong foundation, wouldn’t you say? Strong pillars.
Now, let’s turn to the Word of the Lord. What did the Lord say to Paul about this event? That takes us to the second point, the participants of the Rapture: the participants of the Rapture. Verse 15 [of 1 Thessalonians 4], he says, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord,” and here are the two participants, “that we who are alive and remain,” and then the end of the verse, “those who have fallen asleep.” They’re the two participants. There are only two kinds of people at the Rapture: the people who are alive and remain, and the people who are dead. That is a very simple contrast. And that’s all he’s talking about. People who live and people who have died. You see, that was their burning concern: what happens to Christians who die?
Simply, he says then, let me tell you about each of the two participants. First of all, then, we who are alive and remain. Christians living at the time when the Lord comes. We who live who do not die to see the parousia. Would you please notice the word “we?” does Paul think he’ll be alive then? Does Paul think that it could happen in his life time? Surely he does. Surely he does. He certainly demonstrates what is a proper anticipation and a proper expectation for his Lord’s return without laying out a specific time for it. I’m sure he would never do that; certainly under the inspiration of the Spirit of God he wouldn’t do it. And like all early Christians, I believe he saw the event as very near. That’s why he uses the word “we,” we, who are alive and remain. We is sort of a generic term, we meaning the believers who are alive at that time. But he doesn’t say “they” as if he’s necessarily pushing it off to a future generation. He can say we and be comfortable about it because it might be in his lifetime.
There are other indications that he believed that. In Romans 13:11, “And this do knowing the time that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, the day is at hand.” Boy, there’s an urgency there, isn’t there? Our salvation is nearer. What do you mean our deliverance? We’ve already had our soul salvation but our bodily salvation, the redemption of the body that he talks about in Romans 8, it’s nearer than it’s ever been. The day is at hand; at hand means next. The night is almost over. It will be soon.
In 1 Corinthians would you notice chapter 6 verse 14 for the same kind of expression? He says, “Now, God has not only raised the Lord but will also raise us up through His power.” Did he believe he’d be in that resurrection? Did he believe that he would be in that future resurrection? It seems on the one hand at one point he believes it’s going to come in his life time. On another hand on the other point he believes he may be in the grave.
Chapter 10 of 1 Corinthians verse 11, “Now, these things happened to us as an example, they were written for our instruction. Our instruction,” listen to this, “upon whom the end of the ages have come.” He believed he was living in the ends of the ages, the Messianic times. And I’m sure he had no idea they would be as long as they have been already. Look at 1 Corinthians 16:22, “If anyone doesn’t love the Lord, let him be accursed. Maranatha.” You know what that means? “O Lord come, O Lord come.” And look at our letter, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, “They were waiting for His Son from heaven.” Chapter 3 verse 13, he says that he wants their hearts established unblameable in holiness before God and our Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. Again, the anticipation of the coming of Christ and they being blameless when He gets here. Well, if they had already been glorified they would be blameless when He got here. He’s assuming that they may be alive when He comes and they’re to be unblameable when that happens.
Chapter 5 verse 23, “May the God of peace sanctify you entirely, may your spirit, soul and body be preserved complete without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Now, the only way your body could be without blame and complete at His coming would be to be alive when He got here. And again I say, he anticipated that Jesus could come in his life time. To Titus, he said he was looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He was looking for Christ; he believed that it could happen in his life time. And yet, follow this, on the other hand, he also believed that he could die before Christ came. Chapter 5 of 1 Thessalonians verse 10, he says, “He died for us that whether we are awake or asleep we may live for Him.” And he uses “we” there. He might be awake; He might be asleep when Jesus comes. But either way we’ll live together with Him, either way.
In 1 Corinthians 15:52 he says at the Rapture we shall be changed. And he puts himself at the scene. And yet in Philippians 1 he says Christ shall be exalted in my body, whether it be life or death, to me to live is Christ, to die is gain, having a desire to depart and be with Christ. And in 2 Timothy 4 he says, I have finished the course, I’ve kept the faith, I’ve fought the good fight. The time of my departure is at hand. And he sensed his own death.
Why all of that? What I’m saying to you is: he believed it could happen in his life time. He lived in that anticipation. And you hear the hope in his heart as he talks about we and us at that great event. But on the other hand, he knew it might not and that he might die before it happened. So, he really associates himself with both possibilities. And that’s the way the church has always lived: with expectation and anticipation that it could come in my life time. And he’s using the we, because at the time he was one of the ones alive and remaining. And if Jesus had come, he would have been in that group. So, he conveys to the Thessalonians his own heart of anticipation.
And I believe that’s why they were waiting for His Son from heaven, chapter 1 verse 10, that’s why the grief. They were so excited about the return of Christ because of what Paul had told them, so sure it could happen in their life time that that’s why they grieved. And if that wasn’t the case, if that’s not what drove them, then the whole context of the passage is pointless. If they thought it was going to be 2,000 or 3,000 years away, then they wouldn’t have been grieving because they would have known not to expect it. But Paul had anticipation of it and so did they. And what does he say then? We who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, the parousia, when He comes for His own, shall not precede. What does that mean? Go before. Gain an advantage over. Those who have fallen asleep. Now, that’s what they wanted to hear. The people who are alive on the earth when Jesus comes aren’t going to have any advantage over the ones who have died, that’s his simple point. The living will not go before the dead; they will not gain an advantage. And that sums up all their questions. Would they be lesser saints? Would they be eternally disembodied spirits? Would they miss the Rapture? Would they be tag-ons? No. All Christians alive and dead when Jesus comes will be at the Rapture, nobody will be left out. Nobody.
That takes us to his third point: the plan of the Rapture. Verse 16, here he goes through the details, follow them quickly. First thing that happens detail by detail, “For the Lord Himself,” now I want to stop at that point. Not an angel, not a lot of angels, not a substitute, the Lord, emphatically in the Greek, Himself. He is coming for His bride. He is the bridegroom coming to take His bride. This again, in contrast to Mark 13:26 and 27 where the gathering of the elect saints is done by the angels. This is Christ Himself coming for His bride: the church. And it’s Himself, emphatically.
And notice the second element, “He will descend from heaven.” Why? Because that’s where He’s been. When He ascended He went to the right hand of the Father. In Hebrews chapter 1 it’s very, very clear in verse 3 that He sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high. And the writer of Hebrews says He’s seated on the right hand of God from which point He advocates for us, intercedes for our sins, functions as a high priest. And He’s in heaven. Back to 1:10 again, it says: “To wait for His Son from heaven.” He’s there, He’s waiting to descend. And that’s precisely what He will do. Notice how He does it, verse 16, “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a keleusma, a shout.” It’s a word of command, it’s a military term. It’s as if the troops are all at ease and the command is, “Fall in.” Luther translated the word feldgeschrei which means stand up, a call to the church to stand up. The church has been in repose, the bodies of the saints have been in the graves. And there’s coming a time when Jesus comes, descending out of heaven, and He shouts for those bodies to stand up. And they fall in to rank, they fall in to line, they fall in to order from being at ease and repose to filling up the ranks, taking their stand.
It says in Psalm 47:5, “God goes up with a shout, the Lord with a sound of a trumpet,” but here He comes down with a shout and the trumpet. And so, this is the fulfillment of John 5:25, just a general prophecy regarding resurrection. But listen to what John 5:25 said, the words of Jesus, “Truly, truly I say to you, an hour is coming and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear shall live.” And the first group that are going to hear are the redeemed with their bodies in the grave, the voice cries, the bodies are composed again into glorious form, rise out of the graves to meet the spirits coming back with God and Christ to that meeting place. Notice what he says then, “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout with a voice of an archangel, or the archangel.” There’s no definite article there so technically it’s the voice of an archangel. This is really a unique statement; the only mention of an archangel is here and in Jude 9. In Jude 9, the archangel is designated as Michael and it could well be that he’s the only archangel. The Jews used to believe there were seven archangels. Their names all ended with “-el” which is the term for God in Hebrew. But we don’t know that for sure, that was their tradition, Gabriel, Michael, Ariel and others. But all we know is there is an archangel here. It could well be Michael because in Daniel 12 when it’s time for the resurrection there that Daniel speaks of spoken to Israel, Michael is there at the resurrection of Israel. So, it well could be that Michael the archangel is associated somehow with this great event. And as Jesus comes down, and makes this command for resurrection, Michael is there as well with the Lord’s command. It is also attended by the trumpet of God.
What does this mean? Trumpets are all over the Bible, they have all different kinds of meanings. But we know there’s a trumpet at the Rapture. First Corinthians 15:52 says, “The trump of God and the dead in Christ shall rise.” The trump of God. So, there is a trumpet at the Rapture. Trumpets were used in Israel for all kinds of things. They were used for festivals, celebrations, convocations, judgments. They were used for triumphs. They were used any time anybody wanted to get a crowd together to say anything to them for public announcements, proclamations.
But in Exodus 19, verses 16 to 19, a trumpet called the people out of the camp to meet God. It was a trumpet of assembly and it called them out of the camp to meet God. I believe this is a trumpet of assembly. In Zephaniah 1:16 and Zechariah 9:14, a trumpet was used as a signal of the Lord’s coming to rescue His people from wicked oppression. It was a deliverance trumpet. And I believe the trumpet on that day is an assembly trumpet and a deliverance trumpet. I believe when the trumpet blows, it is to assemble the saints who have been called out of the graves to life with the living saints, and it is also to call them out, to rescue them out from among those who oppress them, men and demons. There are many other trumpets associated with the end times; they tend to be trumpets of judgment, primarily as in Revelation 8 through 11.
Then, it happens, back to our verse 16, at the sound of the voice of the Lord, the voice of the archangel, the trump of God, “The dead in Christ shall rise,” not last, but what? “First.” Somebody said, “That’s because they have six feet further to go,” but I think that’s a rather shallow perspective. The point that Paul is trying to make here is that they’re not going to lag behind. They’re not second-class citizens, not at all. In fact, you’re dear loved ones who have died are going to go first. Boy, that’s such a great truth, such an encouraging thing. The dead in Christ rise first. I love that phrase, “the dead in Christ.” If you’re ever in Christ, you’re always in Christ whether you’re alive or dead. And when you die and that body goes into the grave, that body reposes in Christ. That belongs to Him. That is His personal and eternal possession, and He will reclaim it from its decomposed dust. Paul says in Romans 8 that neither death, nor life, nor anything else shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. Death can’t do it. You live in Christ, you die in Christ, you’re dead in Christ, you stay in Christ, you’ll live again in Christ. First Corinthians 15:23 calls the resurrected, “Those who are Christ’s.” That’s the key point in the passage.
And so, the dead Christians rise first. What good hope, good news that is. There will be a reunion. That beloved wife, that beloved husband, that beloved son, daughter, that beloved friend, that dear pastor, that neighbor who meant so much in my life who is gone, should I live for the Rapture, that great event, they’ll not miss it. In fact, they’ll rise first. There will be a reunion. And what rises out of that grave is a glorified body to meet an already glorified spirit to become that eternal person in the image of Christ, like Him because they see Him as He is. Then, the next sequence in verse 17, “Then, we who are alive and remain,” the ones who live, the ones who survived, the ones who are still alive, living Christians, and again he uses the word we, because he believes he could be a part of that group. “We who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds.” Snatched up by irresistible force, plucked out of this world. And that word “caught up” is used, for example, in Matthew 11:12 referring to the kingdom taken by force. It’s used in John 10:12 of the wolf snatching the sheep, it’s used in John 10:28 and 29 when Jesus says, “No man can snatch you of My Father’s hand,” a violent act. It’s used in 2 Corinthians 12:2 and 4 of Paul being caught up into the third heaven. Acts 8:39, Philip caught up, remember when he was caught up and the eunuch saw him no more and the Spirit of God just transported him supernaturally? It’s a snatching. It’s at that moment that the transformation takes place. We who are alive and remain are here and all of a sudden we’re snatched in the moment, in the twinkling of an eye.
And having been snatched; we’re instantly transformed. Philippians 3 describes it, verse 21, “When He comes He will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory by the exertion of His power.” In a moment, we’re transformed into a glorified body like the resurrected body of Christ. Snatched from the grasp of Satan. Snatched from the fallen world and the decaying and decayed flesh. Snatched out of the grave. Snatched away from the coming wrath of God. It’s a rescue operation. “Together with them.” What does that mean? We’ll all be there. Everybody will be there. We’ll all have a part in the gathering together. The church triumphant joins the church militant to become the church glorified.
And which way do we go when we’re snatched? “We’re caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” We’ve got to go through there quick, because who is the prince of the power of the air? Satan. We’re snatched out of graves. We’re snatched out of this fallen world, and we’re literally rocketed through faster than the speed of light, rocketed through the air. And no doubt there will be effort made on the part of the adversary and his demons who control the air to stop what could never be stopped. And our movement is heavenward. “And so shall we ever be with the Lord.” Clouds are often associated with divine appearances. The divine glory of God is often spoken of as a cloud of glory, the Shekinah brightness. God is often associated with clouds. When God came down on Sinai in Exodus 19 there were clouds. When God came into the tabernacle it was filled with a cloud. When He came into the temple it was filled with a cloud. At the transfiguration the Bible talks about clouds that were there and then Jesus Shekinah glory blazed out from within Him. The cloud of glory again mingling with clouds. At the ascension, Jesus was taken up into heaven in clouds. No doubt the literal clouds mingling with the glory of the presence of Christ and the presence of glorified saints. And we meet the Lord in the air.
The word “meet” there is a beautiful word, a magnificent word. It’s often used to suggest the meeting of a dignitary or king, a famous person, people rushing to meet him. Some commentators have pushed the point extremely far. They say that word was used when a king came back to his city, a ruler came back to his city as a conquering hero. When they’d see him coming down the road the city would run out to him and escort him the last part of the distance. At a wedding, the wedding party would run out and escort the bride or the bridegroom back to the wedding. A visitor coming to a city like in Acts 28, we see some people running out to escort that visitor into the city. And some have taken that and said, well, what happens here is we go out to meet the Lord in the air and we come back to the earth for the Kingdom. And that defends a post-tribulational Rapture. We just go in the air, come right back, set up the Kingdom.
But such an analogy is arbitrary because that word is not restricted to just meaning that. All it means is to meet the Lord. It doesn’t mean that we meet Him somewhere and come down here. In fact, what’s the point of going up in the air if we’re coming back here? We might as well wait here till He gets here. We’re not just going up and down. We’re going up and up. Why bother to meet in the air if we’re coming back? And what in the world was Jesus saying in John 14? “And if I go I shall come again to receive you to Myself that where I am there you may be.” If we’re coming down, it’s where you are I may be. He’s not coming where we are, friend, He’s rescuing us out to go where He is. That’s the Father’s house. He’s been getting it ready for 2,000 years; I imagine we’re going to have some significant visit there. A better way to see the picture would be that King Jesus is coming but He’s not coming to a welcoming Earth; He’s coming to an Earth not ready to receive Him at all. He’s coming to a hostile Earth under the control of Satan, a rival ruler. And He’s coming to snatch His people out, to rescue His people, and take them to a safe place in the Father’s house. And He’ll come back later and take the Earth by force.
Once we reach heaven, verse 17 says, thus we shall always be with the Lord. Always, always, always. Never again to be separated from Him, always in His presence. Why? Because He purified for Himself a people for His own possession, His eternal possession, Titus 2:14. With the pillars, the participants and the plan of the Rapture, finally the profit. What’s the benefit of this?
Verse 18, “Therefore do,” what? “Comfort one another with these words.” He doesn’t say, therefore would you please write out a large eschatological chart. No. He just says comfort each other. This is a comfort passage, friend, exactly like John 14 was. The Rapture always appears shrouded in mystery because it is seen always from the pastoral viewpoint as the great comfort of the believer that Jesus is coming for His own. Don’t worry about the ones that die, don’t worry about the ones that are alive. We’ll all be there when He comes. The God of all comfort will send Christ, and we are thus comforted. No need to grieve. No need to sorrow.
What happens to Christians who die before Jesus gets here? They rise first, and they’ll be there at the gathering together when He snatches us out of this hostile world to take us to the place He spent 2,000 years already preparing for us. That’s our great hope. And so, as I said last time, Christians never say a final goodbye. Let’s bow together in prayer.
Death is such a fearful thing, Father, when it is shrouded in ignorance. It is such a frightening thing when there is no faith, when there is no word from You. And we ache for those in our world who have no hope, and who live with the frightening despair of final partings and hopelessness. And yet on the contrary, here we are as Christians, filled with hope for a glorious reunion in that day when Jesus comes, and all who make up His bride are gathered together to Him to meet Him in the air and be taken to the Father’s house. Father, thank You for that great hope. May it burn in the hearts of everyone here. And should there be some dear one who has not that hope, who lives in the fear of death, is in bondage to that fear, may this day be the day they see Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, turn to Him for the forgiveness of sin and the hope of eternal life and the anticipation of His blessed coming. Father, we would cry with all our hearts as John did, “Even so, come Lord Jesus.” As Paul did, “Maranatha, O Lord come.” But there’s a bitterness there because so many don’t know our Christ. May this be a day when they embrace Him. And may this be a day when our hearts are comforted who have lost those we love temporarily as they sleep, as they are at ease until the commander calls them to ranks and may we hope for that glorious day and live in the light of such hope, with joy and thanksgiving. And all this we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This morning, we come finally to the great text of 1 Thessalonians 4:13 through 18. Please open your Bible to that particular passage of Scripture. This is, of course, familiar to most of us as believers. We know it as the Rapture passage, the passage which describes the catching away of the church. It is in many ways the favorite text in this wonderful epistle that we’ve been studying here for months, and months, and months. And finally, we have arrived at the long-awaited time to discuss this great event. As we approach the text, I’ve entitled it: “What Happens to Christians Who Die?” What happens to Christians who die? I’m often asked that, even by Christians; in fact, usually by Christians. Questions like: after we die, do we go directly to heaven? Or, what happens to our bodies? The details of those kinds of questions are very, very important to us, and they can be troubling if we don’t know the answer. We want to know what happens after we die, and we would like to know what happens to the bodies of those we love when they go into the grave. Those are pressing issues and they were equally pressing issues on the young believers in Thessalonica.
Remember now, those to whom Paul wrote this letter had only been in Christ a matter of a few months and they had only had just a few weeks, really, of exposure to Paul’s ministry so they were very much babes. And they had become very troubled about this issue of what happens to Christians when they die. They believed certainly in life after death because it says in chapter 1 verse 3 that they had hope. There’s no question that Paul had told them about eternal life because he preached to them the gospel, and they believed it and they turned from idols. And so, we know they knew about eternal life. They knew that salvation was synonymous with living forever with God in heaven. And they also knew about the coming of Jesus, that Jesus was going to someday return and gather all His people together and take them to be with Him. They knew about that great gathering event.
And so, there were some questions in their minds about how that all sort of worked out, like if you die now do you miss the gathering? Apparently, Paul had made that gathering event so glorious, he had made that gathering event so wonderful that they were very worried that some of them might miss it, even though they would be living in eternal life, they would still be very concerned if they missed the gathering together. In fact, it was so much on their minds that when you go back to chapter 1, would you notice verses 9 and 10? As Paul describes them he says they turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven. Now, there you have the three dimensions of their salvation: the past, turning from the idols of the past; the present, serving a living and true God; and the future, waiting for His Son from heaven. This was a waiting group. Chapter 2 verse 19, Paul refers to them as his hope and joy and crown in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming. So, they must have known that the coming was something very special. First of all, they would meet Jesus and they were waiting for Him. Secondly, they would be the crown and joy and rejoicing of the apostle and they were thrilled about that.
Beyond that, they knew a few other things, look at chapter 5 verses 1 and 2. Paul says, “Now, as to the times and the epochs,” or seasons, “brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you for you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.” They also knew about the day of the Lord. They knew about a time of coming judgment on the ungodly. They knew then that when Jesus came He would gather them to be with Him. And He would also judge the ungodly. They were waiting for Jesus to come. They were waiting for the gathering time.
Now, in their waiting they had become somewhat disturbed. Some of them probably feared that they had missed it, that it had happened without them. How so? Well, they were entering in to persecution and afflictions and some of them probably thought that they were going to be gathered before that happened. So, in chapter 3 verses 3 and 4 Paul has to say to them, “So that no man may be disturbed by these afflictions, for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this for indeed when we were with you.” We kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction. And so, it came to pass, as you know.” He reminds them, now wait a minute, you shouldn’t be surprised by difficulty and persecution, I told you it was coming. But maybe there were some of them who thought they were going to be gathered together before that really took place. Certainly, they were living an immense expectation and would fear that they might miss such a great event. In fact, in chapter 2 of 2 Thessalonians Paul says, “We request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.”
Somebody had been spreading the word around, either by supposedly an angelic messenger, a spirit, or some fabricated letter from Paul that the great event had already happened and the day of the Lord had arrived. And so, there was an awful lot of concern, and loss of composure, and they were disturbed. Had the day of the Lord already begun? Had they somehow missed the gathering together? And then, the most imminent question was, what about the Christians who die? Will they miss it? It isn’t that they didn’t believe that they would go to heaven; it was: will they miss this great event? Will they somehow become second-class citizens in the future? Will we know them only eternally as sort of disembodied glorified spirits while we go in our glorified bodies so that they are sort of secondary? Or maybe we won’t even have communion with them at all, and there won’t even be a reunion with these two kinds of beings. All of these questions were in their minds. We can’t identify anything more specific than that.
But they were living in expectation of Christ’s return. They were so excited about it that the best way to describe their hope was they were waiting for His Son. They wanted the Lord to come. They knew it was the climax, the culmination, the great event that signaled the pinnacle of redemptive history, and they didn’t want to miss it.
It’s also interesting to note that they loved each other so much they didn’t want each other to miss it. And so, apparently they were feeling grieved as believers were dying, for fear that they would therefore miss this great event. It is with their grief and their confusion that Paul intends to deal. If you look at the text in verse 13, he mentions being uninformed or ignorant and the fact that you are now grieving about it. And then, in verse 18 he mentions the word “comfort.” His purpose was to eliminate their ignorance, thus to eliminate their grief, and thus to bring them comfort. Now, summing that up let me say this. The passage is more pastoral than it is theological. It is more intended to alleviate confusion, grief, distress, and bring comfort than it is to give a theological, eschatological delineation of every factor in the gathering together.
They were agitated. They were upset. They were confused. They were worried. They were fearful. After all, they’re baby Christians; they don’t know very much, they’re living every day waiting for the Son to come. And as some of them die in the months since Paul has left, their question is: what happens to those people? Do they miss it? And their love for each other is so strong, chapter 4 verse 9 says, “As to the love of the brethren you have no need for anyone to write to you for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren.” They loved each other so much they were grieving because some might miss this great event.
So, Paul writes to alleviate their grief, to bring them great measure of comfort. Their anticipation was very, very high about the return of Christ. And I believe it is fair to say that Paul had communicated to them that Jesus could come in their life time. If that was not what they believed, then the whole question is meaningless. Their concern was: they were believing Jesus would come at any moment, and as some were dying their fear was they’re going to miss it. The only reason they would have that fear, they would have that anticipation is because they believed it could happen soon. The major question then is: what happens to Christians who die before the Lord returns? And since they had the impression that He could come at any moment, they were deeply concerned about this issue. It may well have been that somebody could’ve suggested, “Well, according to the principle in 1 Corinthians 11:30, if some Christians fall into sin, some are weak, and some are sick, and some are asleep or dead, it may be that these people are dying because of sin in their life that we don’t know about. And God’s just laying them in the grave because of their sin, and only the ones who live a pure life are going to make it to the coming of Jesus. And maybe if they are resurrected in the future, it’s going to be some time after, and some lesser circumstance, and all of that.”
And so, Paul pens these verses. Let’s start at verse 13. “But we do not want you to be uninformed or ignorant, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” He says I don’t want you to be ignorant and as a result of being ignorant, grieving. I don’t want you to worry about those who died having missed the Lord’s return. You say, “Well, how did Paul even know they were thinking like this?” Back in chapter 3 verse 1 you’ll remember he mentions how he couldn’t endure any longer not knowing about them, and so in verse 2 he says we sent Timothy, and then in verse 6 it says Timothy has come back. And when Timothy came back, it says he brought us good news of your faith and love. I like that. Because back in chapter 1 Paul commended them for their faith and their love and their hope. But when Timothy came back apparently he only brought them good news about their faith and their love because their hope was a little messed up and it needed to be straightened out a little bit because they were so confused. So, Paul writes to deal with that confusion and its consequence, grief.
Now, would you note at the beginning of verse 13. We’re going to take our time with this, we’ll continue next week and maybe even finish it, but I want to do it very carefully because this is a very, very important passage and a very important subject. You’ll note at the beginning he says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren.” That opening statement is Paul’s favorite way to change the subject. That’s his favorite way, either in a positive or a negative format to change the subject. Sometimes he says, “I do not want you to be ignorant,” such as here and in Romans 1:13, 1 Corinthians 10:1, etc. Sometimes he’ll also say, “I want you to understand. I want you to know,” like 1 Corinthians 11:3, Philippians 1:12 and other places. But whether he says I want you to know, on a positive side, or I don’t want you to be ignorant, it marks a change in the subject to a new topic with no direct connection to the one previous. And it’s rather emphatic. “But” marks a change in course, “brethren” is a call to attention which signals something they need to give their attention to. We’re done with that and I’m calling you back again to a new discussion, brethren. It’s a term of affection, obviously, and he had immense affection for them as the end of chapter 2 indicates when it says that he was burdened, bereft really, because of the great desire he had to see their face. And so, he turns the corner with the word “but,” he grabs their attention for the new subject with the word “brethren,” and then he says, “We would not have you uninformed or ignorant.” This then introduces a new subject. This introduces not only a new subject, but in this case new teaching, new revelation indicated in verse 15 “by the word of the Lord,” a revelation that he has received.
So, here he will deal with their ignorance which has led to their confusion and grief, restlessness and lack of comfort. And what is it that he’s going to talk about? “We do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep.” Now, why does he use the word “asleep?” Why doesn’t he just say dead? Because sleep is the unique way to speak of Christians in repose, in temporary repose. By the way, the word “asleep,” koima to cause to sleep, is the word from which we get our word cemetery, which it was the early Christians optimistic name for a graveyard. It really meant a sleeping place. It really was a synonym for a dormitory, a place where people sleep.
Now, how is it that Christians are spoken of as sleeping? You’ll notice as I answer that question, first of all, that it’s in a present tense form, this participle here, and it has the idea of those who are continually falling asleep. That is, believers who fall asleep from time to time as a regular course of life in the church. They’re saying, “What about these Christians that just continue to die?” I mean, life is like that. It ends, right? And they keep dying. And he says, “I don’t want you to be ignorant about what happens to people after they die.” Now, the word “sleep” in the Bible is used of normal sleep, a recovery process by which the body goes into rest temporarily. John 11:12 uses it in its normal sense. But the word for “sleep” is also used uniquely of Christians, and it’s used a number of times for Christians, now listen carefully, and it always refers to their bodies. It always refers to their bodies. The only part of us that goes in to any state of unconsciousness at death is the body. In John, you remember chapter 11 and verse 11, our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, Jesus said, but I go that I may awaken him out of sleep. Now, everybody knew that Lazarus was what? He was dead; he had been dead for three days. His sister said, “By this time his body stinketh.” Decay had set in, he had been entombed, he was dead. From Jesus’ view he was only asleep; his soul was alive not bound in the grave, we don’t know where it was or what it experienced ‘cause the Scripture doesn’t tell us, but it does not pass out of existence since it is eternal and it is eternally conscious. But his body was at rest, and Jesus saw that as temporary. That’s why He calls it sleep. Sleep is something you wake up from. If you don’t wake up, you’re dead or you eventually will die. And so, Jesus sees the death of Lazarus as temporary repose of his body.
Look at Acts chapter 7, just to give you a full understanding of this. You remember when Stephen was being stoned it says in verse 60, “Falling on his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And having said this, he fell asleep.” He fell asleep. It was death from the human viewpoint. It was death from the clinical viewpoint. It was sleep because it was only temporary repose for his body. His spirit didn’t go in to unconsciousness. If you don’t think so, look at verse 59. He said, “Lord Jesus,” what? “Receive my spirit.” It was only his body that was to be in repose, to be asleep. A sleep, by the way, from which even his body would awaken, and that’s the main point that I want you to understand. When in 1 Corinthians 11:30 Paul says of Christians, “Many among you are weak and sick and a number sleep,” he again refers to death for a Christian as sleep because it is the temporary repose of the physical body. In chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians verse 6, it talks about Christians who saw the resurrected Christ; many of them remain until now. That is, to the writing of this epistle. But some have fallen asleep. There’s that same familiar concept. Verse 18, those who have fallen asleep in Christ. And then, in verse 51, “I show you a mystery, we shall not all sleep.” Again, referring to Christians in death. Second Peter 3:4 mentions it, “Where is the promise of His coming for ever since the fathers fell asleep all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” There, it is the wistful anticipation of unbelievers that those who have died have died only a temporary death.
But for Christians the term is accurate, for it is a temporary thing. Even for pagans there will be a resurrection. There is a sense in which the pagan bodies only sleep, for they too will be raised. However, they will be raised to eternal damnation and death. And so, thus it is not appropriate to speak of theirs as a temporary death, therefore a sleep, but as a permanent death and not a sleep at all.
Now, let me go a step further. The term “sleep” or the concept of sleep does not refer to the soul. There is no such thing as souls sleeping. When Stephen was dying he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he had the anticipation of entering into the conscious presence of Jesus Christ. Nowhere does the Scripture ever teach that at any time forever the spirit of a person is ever unconscious. That’s what makes hell so terrible. It is consciousness in the absence of God forever. That’s what makes heaven so wonderful; it is consciousness of the presence of God forever. And you remember in Luke 16 as Jesus told the story of Lazarus the beggar and the rich man that when Lazarus died he was immediately and consciously in Abraham’s bosom and comforted. And you remember when the rich man died, he was immediately and consciously in torment and cried out for someone to give him water to touch his tormented tongue. You will remember that in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, the apostle Paul looks at death for a believer, and in verse 8 he says, “To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord.” There’s no purgatory, there’s no intermediary condition, there’s no state of unconsciousness or semi-consciousness, there’s no spiritual coma. To be absent from the body, to be present with the Lord. And in Philippians 1:23 the apostle Paul says, “Far better to depart and be with Christ.” You’re either here or with Christ. There’s no intermediary condition for the saved. They go to be received into the presence of Jesus Christ. There’s no intermediary place for the damned. They go into conscious punishment and torment. But while that spirit of that dead Christian goes immediately into the presence of Christ, that body is asleep, it is in repose, it is in rest, it is in a dormitory, as it were, and a Christian in a graveyard is just sleeping in the dorm, nothing more.
Now, the question comes: well, why is Paul so concerned to tell them about these Christians who have died? Verse 13 says, “That you may not grieve.” They were grieving about it. You say, “Well, now wait a minute, anybody grieves when a Christian dies, that they know and they love and they care about. Don’t Christians grieve, and don’t they sorrow, and don’t they lament, and don’t they shed tears when loved ones die? That’s normal, isn’t it?” Yes, very normal. And certainly the Spirit of God instructs us in Romans 12:15 to weep with those that weep. There’s a normal sorrow, reasonable, sensible release of the pain of separation and loneliness that God has designed for our benefit. He’s not talking about that. Follow along in the verse. He says, “I don’t want you to grieve like people who have,” what? “No hope.” I don’t want your grief to be that dead-end grief, that grief that comes to people because there’s no contemplation of reunion. I don’t want you to think that Christians ever say a final goodbye, because they don’t. That’s a great thought, isn’t it? You never say goodbye to a believer for the last time. There will always be another time. I don’t want you to grieve like the hopeless pagans grieve.
In Ephesians chapter 2, as Paul delineates the character of being lost, the essence of it, he says, “They are separate from Christ, they are excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, they are strangers to the covenants of promise. They have no hope and are without God in the world.” Among those characteristics of the lost is that statement: they have no hope. They have no hope in life after death. They have no hope in reunion. Through the years I’ve had funerals, continue to have funerals of unbelieving people, or funerals of believing people where unbelievers are in the family and the hopelessness is terrifying. The terrible sense of finality: no reunion, no future, nevermore the touch of the hand, the sound of the voice, never again, finality. To be so consumed in life with a person, and then have the curtain drop so totally, absolutely, and finally is a cause for deep despair. The greater the love, the greater the pain, and it is the pain of hopelessness.
You say, “Well, now wait a minute. Weren’t there some pagans who could be numbered among ‘the rest’ there who taught life after death?” Yes, there were some of the mystery religions that might have espoused that. Some of the ancient cults that would have espoused that. There were some philosophers in ancient times who taught there was an afterlife. But nonetheless, the common teaching was that this was all there was, this was it. Catullus sort of wrote of the common view when he wrote, “The sun can set and rise again, but once our brief light sets there is one unending night to be slept through.” End quote. People live with hopelessness for the most part. And I might add, that even people who were believing philosophers who taught an afterlife or who were in to mystery religions that taught an afterlife could never be confident about their wish for an afterlife because they had no indwelling Holy Spirit to vouch safe that reality to them. And so, their hope was subject to the whims of their flesh and a whimsical kind of hope that’s dependent upon the flesh is no firm hope, no sound hope, and so it’s safe to say they are without hope. Non-believing but religious people who are taught there’s a life after death can cling to the wish without having the affirmation of God that it’s true. And so, in some cases it may be worse than having no hope because it’s hope and no hope, hope and then no hope, and hope and then no hope, and it vacillates. Better to come to finality about no hope and get on with life. So, people live with hopelessness, and the hopelessness, the fear of never being again together, no reunion.
Paul says, “Look, I know you’re concerned about those Christians that die from time to time and I know you’re concerned that maybe they’re going to miss the gathering together and you loved them and you want to see them again and you want them to be there and they’re not going to be there. And you’re going to wonder: where do they go? And where are they? And how can we recognize them if they’re not there in bodily form? And it won’t be like it was, and will the reunion happen?” And he says, “Look, I don’t want you to grieve like the hopeless pagans who have no comfort in the promise of a reunion.” Reunion is here, beloved, it is. It is also in the very terminology of 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 1 when it’s called “our gathering together to Him.” As we are brought to Him, we are gathered together to each other. There will be reunion. There will be a gathering together. And he says you don’t need to fear, and you don’t need to grieve about it like people who are looking at a dead end. We need to get that somehow deeply embedded in our hearts, don’t we? That is our confident hope. Partings here are just brief.
Now, he says, “I don’t want you to be an uninformed people about the Christians who are dying. I don’t want you to grieve as the rest who have no hope. Now, in order to eliminate that and to comfort you, I’m going to tell you about the gathering together.” And this is what prompts his discussion of this great event. By the way, this is one of the three passages in the New Testament which are the key passages in delineating this event. John 14, 1 Corinthians 15, and 1 Thessalonians 4, and we’ll be intersecting with all three as we go through this great text.
By the way, each time our Lord gave teaching through the Holy Spirit, each time this teaching came on this gathering together event at the coming of Christ, it was in response to certain distress. In John 14 the disciples were distressed and confused and discomforted. Why? Because Jesus was what? He was leaving. And in the middle of their distress, they were wondering what is going to happen to us, and so Jesus said, let Me comfort you, I’m coming back. In the case of Corinth, some were flatly denying altogether the resurrection and denying that there ever would be a gathering together. And the Corinthians were confused. Will there be one? Are You ever going to collect us together? Is there going to be a resurrection? And so, he writes 1 Corinthians 15 about resurrection, and verses 51 to 58 about this gathering together itself. And here you have the same thing. The Thessalonians are distressed and disturbed, maybe because of their lack of information, and also because of some misinformation being given to them. And so, in each case distress, doubt, confusion, even denial has caused the Spirit of God to put this down.
Now, I say that to say in all three cases it comes primarily as comfort. It comes as a pastoral message rather than an eschatological treatise. What is most interesting about it is if you look at the great eschatological passages of the New Testament, Matthew 24 and 25, and the book of Revelation, you don’t find a gathering together, this specific event, in either one of them. It’s almost like this was reserved as a point of comfort contact. It fits into the whole scheme, but those books which give you sort of chronological flow of eschatological events do not focus on this specific event. Here it comes in a pastoral way. It’s almost a very special, very private, very personal ministry of the Spirit of God to comfort troubled believers about their future.
So, this launches Paul then to discuss this event which we call the Rapture. You say, “Now, where do we get that concept, Rapture?” Go down to verse 17, the verb there “shall be caught up,” is the verb harpaz, snatched. Snatched. It means to snatch up, to seize; it means to carry off by force. And it has the idea of a sudden swoop of irresistible force that just sweeps us up. From a Latin word connected to this word comes our word rape, to give you the idea of the force, the seizure, the snatching concept. And so, there is coming a snatching away, a seizing by force, the swooping us off, gathering us together to the Lord in the future. And Paul says in order to eliminate your ignorance, and your consequent grief, and to bring you comfort, I’m going to tell you about it.
All right, now he’s going to tell us four things about it: the pillars of the Rapture, the participants in the Rapture, the plan of the Rapture and the profit, or the benefit, of the Rapture. Let’s at least look initially at the first one this morning: the pillars of the Rapture. What is it built on? We’ve got to have a foundation for this. It isn’t philosophical speculation, it isn’t religious mythology, it isn’t some kind of fable fabricated by well-meaning people who want to make folks feel good because of their sorrow. What is this great promise that Jesus is coming to gather us all together built on? He gives us three elements, to the three pillars, really: the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the revelation of Christ.
Let’s look at the death of Christ, verse 14. “For if we believe that Jesus died.” Stop right there. In this case the “if” could be misleading. It doesn’t suggest any doubt; it’s only there to indicate logical sequence, the logical sequence of believing, if you believe. And in this case that condition is fulfilled so you could say, “Since you believe that Jesus died.” Or, “Based on the fact that Jesus died,” that’s just simply laying down a premise. Since you believe in Christ’s death, thus and thus and thus and thus. And he follows with this statement. So, if you believe, or if we believe that Jesus died, that’s where it all begins. In order to believe in the Rapture and in order to understand the coming of Jesus to snatch away His church, you have to believe in the death of Christ. But what does he mean by that? Well, it was the death of Christ that paid the penalty for our what? Our sins. So, it was the death of Christ then that brought us into the possession of eternal life. It is because Jesus bore our sins in His own body, it is because He became sin for us, it is because in His death He fulfilled all the conditions that God required to pay the penalty for sin, it is because of that that we can be gathered together by Christ into God’s presence, right?
So, we have to start at that point. It was in His death that He fulfilled all the conditions. So, when Paul says if we believe that Jesus died, he’s not simply talking about the death of Jesus in some flat one-dimensional martyr kind of mentality. He is summing up in it the whole atoning work. If we believe, as it were, in the full implications of the death of Christ, then we know that judgment for sin has been satisfied, right? We know then that we, by virtue of that, have been made acceptable to God. And if we have been made acceptable to God, then there is a pillar on which the gathering together can occur. If we are not acceptable to God, He’s not going to gather us to Himself. If we don’t belong to His Son, by substitutionary death and faith in that person and work, then He’s not going to gather us together. But because in His death we are saved from death, we believe in the gathering together. In fact, Jesus died, and you notice he doesn’t refer to Jesus use the word sleep, Jesus died feeling the full fury of death in all of its dimensions as He bore in His body our sins, in order that He might turn death for us into sleep.
One writer puts it this way, “Death has been changed to sleep by the death of Christ. It is an apt metaphor in which the whole concept of death is transformed. Christ made sleep the name for death in the dialect of the church.” End quote. Christ made sleep the name for death in the dialect of the church. Why? Because He paid for our sins. You say, “What does that have to do with it?” The wages of sin is death. If the wages are paid, then we no longer face death, only temporary sleep. The sting of death is what? Sin, 1 Corinthians 15:56. It’s like a bee, and when the bee stung Jesus and He died, the stinger was there and there’s no sting left. And so, there’s no death. We need to say, not So-and-so died, but So-and-so in spirit is alive with Jesus Christ and their body is asleep waiting for the gathering together. That’s what happens to Christians when they die. Their spirit goes immediately to be with the Lord, fellowship. Their body goes in to repose, sleeping. That’s the first great pillar. That hope is provided for us in His death.
Second one, verse 14, for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again.” There’s the second pillar. When Jesus was raised from the dead by the Father, it indicated that the Father approved the sacrifice of Christ and that in raising Jesus He would raise those who were in Him. When God the Father raised Christ from the dead He indicated that Jesus Christ had triumphed over death not only for Himself but for every Christian. And that’s why Paul goes on to say if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, “Even so,” now there’s the bridge, those two words, “God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” See, our resurrection and our gathering together at His coming is predicated on His resurrection.
I like what I. Howard Marshall at Aberdeen, Scotland wrote, he said this, “God will treat those who died trusting in Jesus in the same way He treated Jesus Himself, namely by resurrecting them.” He will treat us the same way He treated Jesus. And when Jesus died, where was His soul? Well, it was alive, and it was proclaiming victory and triumph, and His body was in repose. But God raised that body and joined it to that eternal soul of the second member of the trinity, and that’s exactly what He’s going to do for you. When you die your spirit goes to be with the Father, and with the Son, and your body into the grave but God will take that body out of the grave in the same that He raised Jesus He’ll raise you to be joined with that eternal spirit into that final form like Christ. You’ll be like Him for you’ll see Him as He is, says John.
So, “even so” is the link between the death and resurrection of Christ and what happens to Christians when He comes. The resurrection of us all is linked to the resurrection of Christ. First Corinthians 15:23 says Christ the firstfruits and afterward, they that are Christ’s at His coming. As God raised Him up, as it says in Hebrews 13:20, God will raise us up also. You remember John 14:19, Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also.” First Corinthians 6:14 says it directly. “God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.” Second Corinthians chapter 4 verse 14 says the same thing: “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and present us with You.” That’s our hope. The pillar of the gathering together, the death of Christ, the penalty of sin is paid and God is satisfied that we are righteous in Christ and He can receive us to Himself. The resurrection, which is God’s guarantee of Christ’s perfect accomplishment and the guarantee of our resurrection who are in Christ for He will treat us the same way He treated Christ. Namely, He will raise us from the dead.
And then, Paul specifically says it in verse 14, “God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” What’s he saying? He’s saying: “Look, dear friends, you aren’t going to miss anything. Even the people who die aren’t going to miss it. Based on the death of Christ and its perfect work, based on the resurrection of Christ and the Father’s will, God is going to bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” With Him means with Christ. When Christ comes in His glory to gather His people, those who have fallen asleep are going to be there. That’s the answer to the question. Now, what is this little phrase, “God will bring with Him?” With Him means with Christ, but what do you mean God will bring? Some say it means that God will bring with Christ from heaven down the spirits of dead Christians to join their bodies. You know, it says later that we meet in the air, and so that God will bring down from heavens their souls to meet the resurrected bodies coming up, and there’ll be a joining together at that point. Some people say it means, no, God will bring with Christ back to glory all those gathered together, living and dead. Once they’re gathered, God will bring them back to glory.
You say, which is true? Well, probably both. I don’t think we need to get carried away and be too technical. Some have even said what it means is God is going to bring the spirits of these believers out of heaven all the way down to earth and they stay on the earth. That’s one view. That view doesn’t make sense. If you’re going to come all the way to the earth, why meet in the air? That’s an unnecessary trip if we’re going back. Secondly, that doesn’t square with what the Bible says. You say, “Well, what do you mean?” Look at John 14 for a moment, verse 1, “Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in Me.” The disciples again were troubled because Jesus was leaving and they didn’t know what was going to happen to them. He says, “I’m going away, that’s right, in My Father’s house there are many dwelling places, if it were not so I would have told you, I go to prepare,” what? “A place for you.” Where? In heaven, in the Father’s house. “And if I go and prepare a place for you,” there is a logical conclusion, “I will come again and take you there.” Does that make sense? It does to me. “I will come again and receive you to Myself that where I am there you may be also.” I’m going up there to the Father’s house and I am going to fix a place for you, and then I’m going to come and get you, and I’m going to take you to the place I fixed for you where I am. That has to be heaven. So, we conclude then that when Jesus gathers believers together, which way are we going? Up. We meet in the air and we continue the heavenward movement. Yes, it’s fair to say that our spirits, the spirits of Christians who have died, come down to meet those bodies, but once the meeting takes place, we are gathered together to Christ. He gathers us to Himself, and He takes us to where He is, which is clearly in the Father’s house in heaven where He’s been preparing a place for us. There has to be, then, some time interval there before to return to earth for the establishment of the Kingdom. And so, when Jesus comes, he says God’s going to bring along all the gathered together, including those who have fallen asleep, God’s going to bring them all to Himself, along with Jesus Christ. That’s the gathering together. That’s the event. And he says that those who have fallen asleep aren’t going to miss it, so don’t grieve for those who are dying, and for yourself should you die.
Again, I remind you, it really is clear that they had reason to expect that Jesus could come in their life time, right? Or all of these questions wouldn’t have existed if they thought it was thousands and thousands of years down the road. Paul had given them the impression that it could come in their life time.
One other note that I just mention to you. The end of verse 14, those who have fallen asleep in Jesus, the best way to understand that phrase is a sort of phrase of what you could call attendant circumstance. The use of dia here can reflect the idea that they died in a circumstance of being related to Jesus Christ. They died in a situation where they were related to Jesus Christ. So, all who have temporarily gone into repose in the graves as to their physical bodies in relationship to Jesus Christ are going to be there at the gathering. I just want to let you know, folks, that if you’re ever in Christ, you’re always in Christ. And you can be spoken of as being in Christ even though you’re asleep, your body is asleep. It’s a permanent designation. We have fallen asleep in Jesus, it says in 1 Corinthians 15:18. Those who died in Christ remain in Christ forever and ever, and will be risen in Christ, and collected with the rest who are alive. Now, that’s just the first part. The good part is yet to come when we see one more of the pillars and then the plan, the participants and the profit from this, but that will be for next time. Let’s bow in prayer.
While your heads are bowed for just a moment, I was reading this week about a little girl, five-year-old girl who was watching her brother die of a very, very painful disease. He was much older than she, and she loved him a lot. And after he died and the funeral was over she said to her mother, she said, “Mommy, where did brother go?” To which her mother replied, “Well, he went to heaven to be with Jesus.” She said, “Oh.” And that satisfied her little mind. Not long after that, she heard her mother having a conversation with a friend, and her mother was weeping and saying, “I’ve lost my son, I’ve lost my son, I’ve lost my son.” Later in the day, the little five-year-old went to her mother and said, “Mommy, is somebody lost when we know where they are?” Well, the answer to that question is no, nobody is lost when we know where they are. We don’t grieve as those who have no hope. Those that have died in Christ, their spirit is in His presence, their body is asleep and they will not miss the great event of the gathering together of the church when Jesus comes. That is the promise of Scripture.
Thank You, Father, for such a promise and such a hope. We pray this day that there will be no one in the hearing of this message who does not live in that hope. Father, we pray for those who have no hope, who look at death as a blind alley, a dark hallway, a dead-end street, have no hope of reunion, no hope of resurrection, no hope of eternal joy. God, bring them to the Savior this day. Save them, Lord. Save them with Your grace, that they might have the hope of those in Christ, living and have fallen asleep, that someday we shall all be gathered together to be forever with Christ, to go to the dwelling place prepared for us in the Father’s house to be where our Savior is. How we thank You, Father, that that hope is available to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ. We pray in His name. Amen.