TO CHEW ON: "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord." 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
Have you ever heard Christians talking about the "Rapture." Well, this is it. A note in my Bible explains:
"'Caught up together with them': The chief biblical source of the doctrine of the Rapture—the catching away to heaven of those, dead or living, who have trusted in Christ and await His return. The exact word "rapture" does not occur in Scripture: it was formed from a word in the Latin translation of the Bible which, for this phrase, reads simul rapiemur cum illis. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 gives the additional information that a great rebellion by humankind against God's authority and the emergence of the Man of Sin will precede the return of the Lord" - Russell P. Spittler, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1687.
First Thessalonians isn't the only place in the Bible where such things are mentioned, though.
- Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 talks about the instantaneous change that happens to believers at the "last trumpet."
- The Old Testament prophet Daniel saw a vision of "one like a son of man coming in the clouds of heaven..." Daniel 7:13.
- John, in Revelation, speaks of Jesus as "...coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him..." Revelation 1:7.
Not surprisingly, this teaching—that Jesus will come again to raise the dead and snatch the living from their activities—has attracted scorn throughout the centuries. In fact it was ridiculed already in the days of the New Testament church (see 1 Peter 3:1-13), where Peter concluded with this encouragement: "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night....Therefore since all these things will be dissolved, what matter of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness" - 1 Peter 3:11-12.
Paul, in our 1 Thessalonians passage, speaks of this sudden coming as a source of comfort (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
I ask myself, is the fact that Jesus will someday return in bodily form something that comforts me, or does it make me uneasy?
The 2 Peter passage talks about that thief-in-the-night day accompanied by the heavens passing away, great noise, elements melting in fervent heat when "the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up" - 2 Peter 3:10.
If I am too much in love with this earth and the things in it, my possessions and accumulations, then being removed from them will be a day of tragedy for sure. But it doesn't have to be. If my focus is on accumulating heavenly treasure and my great hope is being with Jesus (John 12:25-26) it can be a comfort indeed.
PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to live with the fact of Your anytime return always in mind. I want to be found expectant, waiting, and unashamed. Amen.
MORE: Views of the end
Over the centuries theologians have developed different views of how end-time prophecy will play out. (This Wikipedia article on Christian eschatology, for example, will probably make your head spin. Here is the part that details various prophetic end-time views.) Who's right? Who's wrong? Only God knows.
Personally, I don't concern myself too much with the details, but rather, focus on general themes that recur when the Bible speaks of Jesus' return:
1. It will be sudden and unexpected.
2. It will be a day when secrets are revealed.
3. It will be a day of facing consequences.
4. It will be a day of meeting Jesus!
That's enough to keep me living with sober hope.