Living Life in Anticipation – Part 2
|By: Dr. Michael Easley; ©2007|
|A quick look at the different views of when the rapture will occur. But then a reminder that our focus should not be on “when,” but what we should be doing while we wait His return.|
Living in Anticipation – Part 2
This message was recorded at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina. Through the ministry of The Cove we’re training people in God’s Word to win others to Christ. It’s our goal to develop Christians who experience God through knowing Him better, knowing His Word, building godly relationships and helping others know Him. We trust that this message will strengthen your walk with God and help you experience Him right where you are.
I was thinking this morning of Hebrews 4. Turn over there for just a minute. This is for free. This isn’t part of the program. Hebrews 4:14. I talked to several people last night and this morning about living with pain. And this passage, I memorized this passage just before my back surgery in December 2007 and took on, I don’t know if any of you memorize Scripture, but when you do, one of the techniques I learned from Navigator was that you pick a verse, you know, for instance, 14, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest,” and you start and you say every word with emphasis. So you go “Therefore, since we have.” “Therefore, since we have.” “Therefore since we,” and if you do that with one verse you’ll have that verse in just a few minutes. And that’s the way I memorize Scripture.
So I would walk on the icy roads around my neighborhood in Wheaton, Illinois, trying not to slip and re-injure my back. That was smart. And I would recite this verse aloud. I’m sure people thought I was insane, shuffling along with post-back surgery in a brace saying these words out loud. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” And then I’ve written in the margin of my Bible, “even when my experience tries to tell me otherwise.” Hold fast your confession even when your experience tries to tell you otherwise about your God. Because my experience never reinforces my understanding of my God. My experience always tries to tempt me away from what I know of the Scripture, away from what I know of God. I tend to look at my experience that way. Maybe you’re different than me, and good for you, but I have to hold fast to the confession of faith even when my experience, even when people, tell me otherwise.
What does the Scripture tell me? For why? “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses.” And for people who struggle, for people who hurt, for people who don’t understand, you know, if you have had back surgery you want to someone who had back surgery, not a physician who’s done 500 back surgeries. If you lose your sight you want to talk to someone who’s learned how to live post-losing. If you have cancer you want to talk to someone who’s had treatments. And one of the things we greatly miss is Christ has suffered far beyond our imagination. And because of that the author of Hebrews says “We don’t have a high priest who is unaware of your suffering.” We have a high priest who completely sympathizes,” sumpatheo, feels, “with you in our weaknesses, but One who was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”
“Therefore,” because we have a high priest like this, because He sympathizes with our weaknesses, because we hold fast to the confession, “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace.” We don’t come before the Oz throne, you know, and we don’t come in fear and cowering up to this big, you know, nonsense of pyrotechnics. We come “with confidence to the throne of grace.” Why? “So that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
And that passage just poured over me again and again and again as I was going through recovering from that second big surgery; about, you know, I draw near to Him and I come with confidence to the throne of grace. Why? That I may receive mercy and grace to help me. And, boy, did I need mercy and grace to help me. And some of you perhaps need that today. So all for free.
We want to talk a little bit today about the times of the rapture in this passage. And I want to remind you the book that The Cove has put together has got some extraordinary resources for you. There are three primary articles, one about a sort of basics, one about Henry Blackaby, about his view of the basically the United States and what’s happening in our future.
The next one is called “Our Hope in Grief” by Ross Rhodes. Read through this yesterday, very encouraging about, you know, how we, and he deals with this passage in some detail. And then the last one is called, “Looking for Answers: the Second Coming of Christ.” And if you’re bored with anything I’m saying today, just read this section because you’ll probably get more out of this than me anyway. And the Billy Graham Association does an extraordinary job. They produce a book on our staff here, it is called The Christian Counselor’s Handbook. Is that still out there? Is that the correct title, The Christian Counselor’s Handbook? You might probably have it in the bookstore and it’s a nice sized paperback book.
And over the years of people watching the Crusade and calling for prayer they have all these questions about anything you can imagine. And the Billy Graham Association said we need to develop some stock Q & A’s for our volunteers that we train. So when they answer these phones it is an extraordinary resource, because it has all the questions that you’ve probably asked and a very good synopsis, quick. And they’re short, but they also have some good documentation. So if you’re in a situation where you like an answer book; I like those kinds of things. It’s a very helpful tool. This I believe is an excerpt from that book, but you’ve got part of those there, so they have done a very good job to help you on your ongoing study as we try to look at some of these things.
I want to read a quote from Dr. D. Edmund Hebert. Dr. Hebert wrote for Moody Press for many years. He’s with the Lord now. Dr. Hebert and I corresponded over the years. He, in 1943 he got “undulating fever” he called it, and he lost his hearing. He was stone deaf. He taught until almost the time he died until his 80s and a remarkable gentleman. He wrote me a letter, and I’m sad to say it was lost in my move, but he wrote me a letter on his typewriter and he talked about how hard it was in his 80s to type with his arthritis. And he asked me to pray that God would ease his arthritis enough to finish his commentaries he was writing. And just a precious man. And we corresponded a number of times over the years. He’s with the Lord now, but if you ever see the name D. Edmund Hebert on an article or a commentary, buy it. He is an extraordinarily even-tempered scholar who writes on some complicated subjects.
Listen to what he says about this as we begin. Did I jump ahead on our slides? All right, forgive me. I’m going to read it anyway. It may be out of sync here; I’m going to read Dr. Hebert’s comments and then we’re going to look at some slides, probably backwards. “Equally devout and sincere students of Scripture will doubtless continue to hold different views on the question of the time of the rapture. Advocates of their respective views must avoid attributing unworthy motives or insincerity in exegesis to each other. It is appropriate and proper that diligent efforts be given to the study of the evidence for a chronology of the end times.” And so when we talk about it even in this room, there’s going to be different opinions.
Let me start with the slide from Henry A. Ironside. Now I want you to copy this chart down. I’m going to quiz you on it later. Dr. Ironside has authored over 60 books. He was a Plymouth Brethren background. He heard D. L. Moody preach in 1888 and sometime after that came to Christ. He heard him at the Temple Pavilion. He, in 1926, went to teach at the Moody Bible Institute and then after that at Dallas Theological Seminary. He spoke at Billy Sunday’s funeral. To give you a little bit of a picture of Ironside, he was the president of an organization called Africa Inland Mission.
Now Ironside, as many of the guys, a couple of them I’m going to show you, were very into charts and trying to explain these things. And you can see; the only reason I show this to you is to give you a sense of even since the 1800s how we have tried to organize. Remember, I’m not talked about systematic and covenant and biblical theology, and the challenge of trying to put this puzzle together. Listen, it’s complex. And better men than me and women have tried to do this.
Just to give you an idea of the complexities what they tried to put into the end times. Look at the next one please. Clarence Larkin, now, if you’re ever in an old used bookstore and you find this brown odd shaped book called Dispensationalism by Clarence Larkin, buy it: any price. I have one of the first edition prints. My in-laws had a copy in their home library and my father-in-law wouldn’t give it to me so I stole it and I have it. And they’re both with the Lord and I’m sure he forgave me. But they hadn’t looked at it in years and it has all these plates and they fold out. Now let me tell you a little bit about Larkin. Larkin was 21 years old, went to college and he graduated as a mechanical engineer. Hm. So you see some of the engineering coming out in the way he’s doing, right. He was a professional draftsman. He taught the blind for many years. And God called him into work. Larkin is sometimes called the father of dispensationalism, which I think is a little bit of a throw away title. I wouldn’t call him that, but he certainly looked at dispensationalism under a very unusual lens.
He pastored two churches. The first was Kennett Square, Pennsylvania and the second was Fox Chase, Pennsylvania. He was there 20 years. He was not a pre-millennialist when he began. He was ordained at an Episcopal Church. His millennial views changed as he studied the Bible. A very humble man, a very quiet man; he never would speak ill of his detractors. He would never take anyone on about their views, something lost today in the Christian debate of opinions, but he wrote scores of books. The Larkin Foundation is online and you can look at this stuff ad nauseam. He went to be with the Lord in 1924.
Look at the next one. And again, these are just to show you the way different men and Bible teachers, one more please, there. No, do we have two? Okay, but anyway, these two slides then just illustrate the challenge of trying to come from an engineering lens or a systematic lens and explain these events. This is the Hebert, what I wrote. Thank you. Let’s go to the first of the three views.
Next one, pre-tribulation. Look at it with the slide. I’ll read it. Rapture of the church takes place before the tribulation. The tribulation of course, being that seven year period, thereabouts, and different schemes between it, but pre-tribulation. There is a clear distinction between the time of the rapture of the church and the revelation of the Lord. So you’ll see different timing sequences. When does Jesus return versus when is the rapture occurring, and there’s many different views of this. But the main point is the church is raptured prior to the tribulation. With me? Very simple.
Next one, please, mid-trib. Rapture of the church occurs at the end point of the great tribulation, at the end of the three and a half years of the 70th week of Daniel. Now this is where some of the complexity of putting an eschatogical scheme comes together. Daniel, 70 weeks, along with Ezekiel’s temple complex and others, make it very complicated for most of us to say how do you get all this together? Well, if we look at the 70th week and we look at Daniel 7 carefully, there is a midpoint there, so the mid-tribulationists sees the rapture and the revelation of Jesus as two distinct events. They do not believe the rapture’s imminent. Remember last night, I talked about we wait, I believe the imminent return of Jesus, but just not in my lifetime, sort of a bad theological joke. Well, the mid-tribulationist believes there will be certain things that will happen before this tribulation occurs, and so they will watch for them.
For example, let’s say we have to have the temple stone laid and they say, “Oh, until this happens we can’t wait for the imminent return of Christ.” Or they will say the Antichrist must come up or certain nations must be joined together, and they’re going to look for markers. Until these things occur then we, you know…. So that’s why when you had a Hitler for example, in the 1940s; I’ve not studied evangelical preachers of the 40s, but I am sure you’d find a plethora of men saying this is the Antichrist and these nations are coming together and they’re marching against the United States and so forth and so on. So they’d have some elaborate schemes in mid-tribulation would hold that some prophetic events must occur before the rapture can occur.
Now, just think about that. If you’re a pre-tribulational imminent return you could have any time. And mid-trib has some valid points saying, well, wait a minute. Certain things have to take place and when you see these things and that would be, and these are very generalized. There are probably 20 mid-trib views with what I’m giving you, okay. These are just real high level pictures.
The last is the post-tribulationist. The church remains on earth through the great tribulation and will be then caught up to meet the Lord in the air at the end of the tribulation. So therefore it’s after; very simple, post-trib.
Now the next slide shows a comparison, a little easier way perhaps to see it, of the three. I hope you can,…can you make that out where you’re sitting? A comparison of the different views. And so you have the cross of Christ comes at the first point of time line. The rapture of the church happening prior to the tribulation. Then Jesus returns, and that’s what I suggested last night from the text. That’s the scheme I happen to hold, that the rapture occurs, then Christ comes. There’s some time in there, the interval, then the 1000-year, I believe, literal millennial reign and then the last judgment.
The mid-tribulationist just scoots that over a little bit. The first three and a half years we go through hell on earth, and then there’s some hybrid views, like the, what is a pre-wrath rapture on Marv, is it Rosenthal? Rosenfeld? Others who hold sort of a hybrid mid-trib view. And then the post-trib, that obviously we all go through the tribulation and then the millennium occurs. And so that, there’s some of the distinction on the timeline, but it gives you a little picture and I think to honor those people they have very good reasons for why they hold to what they hold.
All right, now, I want to take you back to 1 Thessalonians. We can turn the slides off, thank you very much. We began last night talking about those who had died. This passage in Thessalonians is what do you do with this worry about end times and the timing of the rapture and the timing of Christ’s return and did we miss on it? Did those who died miss on it? And I’m peeling that back to a layer of there’s a lot of application that says how do I live in between? And when my friends die, and facing my own death, how do I live in between? What’s happening?
And we looked at a number of things. Paul told us he didn’t want us to be uniformed. He wants us to grieve not like the world grieves. Grief’s okay; there is a good biblical grief. And to say just put on a happy face and count it all joy is to miss the fact that Christ wept, that we’re to weep with those that weep. There is a mourning period. There is a time of grief and we should not rush through that. Secondly, about Christ’s return; and the point there I think is most significant is that Jesus did not sleep; Jesus died and then rose from the dead. And that’s the point Paul’s making. And then thirdly we looked at the two different groups, those who are alive and remain and those who have died. And again, Paul’s trying to assure the Thessalonican believer, look, if your loved one died they’ll still be caught up in the rapture. You’ll still see them. They didn’t miss out on anything. And if you’re alive when Christ returns you’ll be okay. You’ll be caught up. And if you hold to the pre-trib scheme you’ll be caught up right before that event and on and on it goes.
Now let’s look at the next section, 1 Thessalonians 4, picking up in verse 16: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we shall always be with the Lord.” So fourthly then, we pick up the text about the rapture. The first thing you need to notice, Christ Himself comes to heaven. This is personal. The Lord Himself, Paul underscores it. He puts the reflexive pronoun. The Lord Himself, Jesus Himself is coming back. So this is His second coming. First coming incarnate, when He’s born; His second coming is clearly defined here.
There are many passages that talk about Jesus’ ascension into heaven and being seated at the right hand of the Father. Let’s look at a couple of them. Keep your finger in 1 Thessalonians and turn over to Acts 7:56. This, of course, the first martyr, Stephen, is stoned. He preaches the most amazing sermon ever preached and they stone him to death. It’s a warning to preachers: Don’t preach too well! In chapter 7 when he’s about to die in verse 56, let’s pick it up in verse 54, “When they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit,” this is Stephen, “he gazed intently into heaven and he saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. He said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’” And this of course is when they kill him.
Now what’s the importance of that passage? Well, this is not long after the first church is born and the vision that God gives Stephen is He’s there; He’s alive; He’s resurrected; He’s standing at the right hand of God, the hand that represents power. So there are many passages that have spoken, Christ has ascended, Christ is in heaven. Hebrews 1 is one you could jot down as well. Mark 13:26, they will see the Son of Man.
In fact, let’s look at that one, Mark 13:26. The section beginning with the questions asking him about the end times. You see in verse 24 your Bible probably says something about the return of Jesus Christ. “But in those days, after the tribulation, the sun will darken, the moon will not give its light, the stars will be falling from the heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds.” Now it’s hard to get around the return of Christ of here. “Then they will the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.”
Now again, with great respect to my mid-trib and post-trib and a-mil friends who don’t see this that way, I just have a hard time not seeing it pretty plainly and simply from a biblical theological standpoint, not presupposing a systematic system upon it. That the return of Christ seems to indicate a tribulation, seems to indicate a rapture here, that the whole thing’s going to be shaking, that Christ is returning to claim His own and to establish His millennial reign. So then they will see the Son of Man coming.
So point simply number 1, from 1 Thessalonians 16, the Lord Himself is going to descend. Secondly, there are some announcements. If you look at your Bible carefully they have three different words that tell us this. There’s a shout, there’s a voice and there’s a trumpet, three different noises. Some see them all as the same entity. I think they’re three different noises and I’ll show you why. The shout, if you hold the ESV, it says, “A cry of command.” That’s a good translation because it has a military overtone to the word. Outside the battle of the Bible it was used for a battle cry. It was used for rowing. It was the kind of shout that you yelled out when you rowed. It was used when enemies charged, when armies charged their enemies, it’s the same way the word is used. It’s a word you find in John 5:25 that says “The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” So those who are in Christ who have been buried are going to hear.
Now we talked about Lazarus’ grave last night. When Jesus speaks, the phrase there is phone megale, megaphone. That’s where we get the English word. Phone is a sound. Megale means mega, means big or large or giant. So what’s a megaphone? It’s a large sound. So in John 11:43 phone megale, it’s the same we have here. It’s a shout. So the first sound the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout. This shout will be heard around the world I believe. No one will miss it. It will be one you will know.
The second noise is the voice of the archangel. Look again at your verse. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with at shout and the voice of the,” the little article “the” is not in the Bible, “the voice of archangel.” Now “archangel” is the word archaggelos. It’s only found one other time in the Bible and that refers to Michael in Jude, verse 9. So it’s one of those words that Bible students get real excited about because you only find it once. So you have to kind of dig around and see there are one or two meanings and what do they mean, how they are used?
The voice of this archangel. Because it’s used of Michael some think this is Michael the archangel. We don’t know that conclusively, but that would be a good argument. You remember in Jude 9 Michael is prohibited from pronouncing a railing judgment. Do you remember that phrase? A railing, even Michael could not pronounce a railing judgment, but left that for the Lord to do. That word is blasphemia. He couldn’t blaspheme because that work is left to God, to the Father, to Christ to do. So this angel, somewhere in the angelic hierarchy, perhaps he’s the number two angel after Lucifer, perhaps number three after Gabriel. We don’t know for sure. But this angelic noise comes. So we’ve got this shout, this military megale phone, this megaphone from heaven. We don’t know who originates it. We have an angel, and so when you think of art, what do you often see in an angel’s mouth? A trumpet. So some of the biblical imagery they get here and other places. So an angel, so if it’s one noise then perhaps the angel is the one blowing the trumpet.
Third, then we have the trumpet of God. Now trumpets are used in Scripture many, many times in the Old Testament. Numbers 10:10 they’re used for convocations, for Israel’s feast, for the inauguration of a king, for convocations, for general assemblies, for calling people to battle, all sorts of things, the sound of the trumpets. And there’s three primary instruments; we think of the shofar, but there were other ones as well. There were hammered trumpets that were made for the Levitical priests. And if you know anyone who plays the instrument, there’s a study, it’s amazing what they have built in antiquity. If you go to Israel you can see a little of this still around in some of the filigrees and stuff, the way trumpets are depicted.
But the trumpet of God is not connected with Revelation chapters 9-11. Those are different trumpets. The purpose of this trumpet here is to raise the believers from the dead. It’s to re-gather His church. So when you look at the first shout, the military, you’re calling a convocation; you’re getting people together to go to a battle. You have a megaphone of a noise. The archangel come and makes this kind of announcement. The voice of—and again, the reason I see them as different, I don’t think a voice of an archangel is the sound of a trumpet. I think they’re distinct noises, and it doesn’t really matter. It’s not a debating point, just a way we try to figure it out. So we have the shout, which is probably some trumpet noise. We have the voice of the archangel who speaks and we have the trumpet of God. No matter what the sounds are or if it’s one or three, it’s going to wake the dead, literally, literally going to wake the dead.
In our house in Elmhurst, Illinois, we bought a home and it had an alarm system in it already. And when we’re learning how to use it—of course, everyone makes this mistake—but it had a motion system in it and I didn’t know that. Cindy had been the one to learn about it and didn’t transfer to me all the knowledge. So I get up in the middle of the night to go get a drink of water, go down the steps and this thing goes off. And I have never heard anything this loud in my entire life. I mean, you could hear it outside, it was that loud. It sounded like something in a municipal building. And, of course, everyone comes flying out of their bed—I think all six were home at that time—except for Devin. And Devin is asleep in bed drooling. He never woke up. And we have never let him forget that story. We say, buddy, I hope when the angel comes, if you’re dead, you hear the trumpet, because this is as close on earth as you’re going to hear. It did not wake you up. We laugh about that to this day.
But I think about that noise because, I mean, it just shattered my emotions. You know, a loud noise, you come awake, your heart just takes off beating. And, you know, sometimes we over-spiritualize the Bible. When these noises happen I think that’s what it’s going to be like. And to put it in laymen’s terms, we’re going to be freaked out. These noises are going to be global, and believers in Christ obviously they’re with Christ in heaven, but their corporeal remains are waking up, is what the text says. This is the noise that wakes the dead, literally. And the dead will be reunited and this begins.
So if you look at the scheme, if Christ is returning from heaven it’s accompanied by these noises one, two or three, however you want to debate it; and the point is, it wakes the dead. We know they’re not in soul sleep. We clarified that last night. Their bodies, corporeal bodies, the remains, are in the tomb or in the ocean or dust. Their presence, their soul’s with Christ, their spirit’s with Christ, but it’s waking that agency together to reunite them. Something’s happening here more than; I mean, it’s hard to gloss over a rapture. It’s hard to gloss over some sort of reanimation some call it.
And now here’s the real sticking point for those who don’t believe in a rapture or don’t believe in a pre-trib rapture. The fourth one is they’re caught up always to be with the Lord. The word “caught up” here is harpazo, and we translate it into Latin raptus, and then we borrow it from Latin, rapture. So true, the word “rapture” is not in the Bible, but “harpazo” is, and the idea is to be caught up. It is a violent term. It means a seizure of force. It means a plunder or to gain an attack over someone.
The word is used in John 10:28 where it’s the impossibility for you to be what, out of God’s hand? Snatched. That’s the word. It’s a quick action of snatching. Remember the old Kung Fu series? Some of you are old enough to remember. It opened with the thing and he had put the pebble in his hand and he said, “Grasshopper, when you know, get the pebble from my hand,” and he never could get it. He goes, “When you can take the pebble it’ll be time for you to go,” you know. He had to snatch that pebble. He had to be quick enough. That’s the same exact picture. You have to be quick enough to snatch it out. It’s also used of Philip with the Ethiopian. He’s snatched out of his place and plopped into another place. It’s violent quick term.
Further, “we are caught up in the clouds.” This is a wonderful depiction for me. Flip over to Luke 9:34-35 for a minute. This is contextually the transfiguration we talked a little bit about last night, just referencing. Peter and John and James go up to the mountain to pray, and Elijah and Moses come and spend some time talking to Jesus. In Luke 9, pick it up at 34, okay, so this is during the transfiguration: “While he was saying this a cloud formed.” You know, the cloud is a whole other piece of theology. I’d love to write a book about the cloud. You think about the cloud, the epiphany, the cloud was over them the entire time during their wanderings, by day for shade and by night for warmth.
How many of you have been to Israel? How many were in Israel like a May/June time frame? Oh, it’s just, you know it’s just, you lose 20 pounds in sweat. I mean, I remember being in Beth-She’an. It was 121 degrees in June. It’s just not the time to go. Go in March. Even though Dr. Dyer likes to go in summer; he doesn’t sweat. But when you are there and cloud comes over it’s just, it is so relieving, oh, when it’s so hot. So the cloud imagery of the cloud the Ichabod, the glory of God departing, the cloud descending, the cloud overwhelming, a lot of theology about clouds. Sorry, that’s for free.
Verse 34: “While he was saying this a cloud formed.” So Elijah and Moses and Jesus are there. Their garments have been, you know, whitened and so forth, and “it overshadowed them and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud saying, ‘This is My Son, My chosen One: listen to Him.’ And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone, and they kept silent and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen.” So this picture here of the cloud imagery often accompanies Jesus in His appearances, in His ascension, in the transfiguration, and we have the idea of being caught up in those clouds. So, not to read too much into a cloud theology; I don’t want you to go writing books on the theology of Jesus in the clouds, but the idea is there is an accompanying of this cloud that gets attentions.
So we’ve got the noises; we’re caught up in the cloud; and it’s a violent action. In Acts 1:9 Christ’s ascension is into the clouds. In Matthew 26 Jesus speaks of His own return in the clouds. On and on it goes. And do you remember the comment the angel said to the disciples as they’re gaping into heaven? He says, “Why do you stand looking in the clouds?” So there is a certain sense of well, we’ve had this association. He always goes up in a cloud, shows up in a cloud, and he’s coming back in a cloud, and that’s the way we’re going to be caught up with Him.
“In the air” is from the Greek word aer. I thought you’d like that. The word has to do with the shell between heaven and earth. It’s used in the New Testament several times, probably referring essentially it’s what we call the atmosphere. And then we’ll “always be with the Lord.” This is the glorious outcome of the rapture. It’s not merely just the act and the power technics in some of the old pictures you’ve seen of the, you know, car wrecks and planes crashing into buildings and all the nonsense in the picture and people going up into heaven and little, you know, cartoon character bodies and so forth. The rapture event is not the point. It is that we will always be with the Lord. Leon Morris writes, “Everything leads up to this and after this there’s nothing more to add, nothing more could adequately indicate the Christians’ bliss. We’ll be with the Lord.”
Number 1: what about those who died? Number 2: what about Christ’s return? Number 3: what about the two groups? Four: what about the rapture? And finally, how we are to comfort one another, to comfort one another? Verse 18: “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” Now, the benefit of studying an end time scheme and the benefit of living in anticipation is not just trying to figure out the tea leaves and the clouds and the timing of events and who’s into the Antichrist and when the cornerstone is set in the temple mount and when the temple’s been rebuilt and all these type of things. The point of the passage—and this is why I go back to a biblical theology—is comfort one another.
Why? Because when we talk about the end times, what’s our tendency? We start getting afraid. We start worrying. We start reading into the news and saying, well, he must be the Antichrist. This must be the end times. If we have one euro, if we have one dollar, if we have one economy, if we have a global people, if we start putting chips in our arms to scan or they start using barcode technology to read our retinas, I mean, if, you know, we all get all spun up and all lathered up. You remember, I forget the man’s name. He wrote the 88 Reasons for the Rapture in 1988. What was his name? And then he wrote in 1989, 89 Reasons for the Rapture in 1989. It’s a true story. And then when it didn’t happen they interviewed him and he said, “Well, I’m just going to tell the Lord I gave it my best shot.”
I had a professor at Dallas Seminary stood up in the 70’s and predicted the Lord’s return on a certain date. The next year he got up and apologized. So I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to say, one of the problems, and if you look at some of these end time schemes on the Internet it’s really quite entertaining. It’s almost as good as Christian-wrestling. I mean, these charts are just amazing how they indentify people and places. I mean, it’s just amazing some of these people and their imaginations. But the Bible says “Comfort one another with these words.”
You know, I’d like to follow the text more than man’s system. And as much as I love the Larkin and the Harry Ironside and the schemes and schisms and all, I think the point is, the benefit of studying the end times schemes is, not just to see who gets to turn the lights off, but it’s to see that Christ is acknowledged, that He doesn’t even know the precise day of His return; that’s reserved for the Father. The benefit is to comfort one another.
Now a major lesson from this text is don’t feel sorry for the dead; only feel sorry for those left behind. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us to pray for the dead, to feel sorry for the dead, to give indulgences for the dead, to pray the dead out of some interim state and get them maybe another chance. There’s no second chance after you die. You don’t pray for the dead. We don’t sorrow for those who die. We sorrow for those left behind.
Talking to someone this morning at breakfast in the line about none of our families, her family knows Christ and how you’re worried about your members of your family that don’t know Jesus. Those are who we sorrow for. Those are who we feel fear for. Most men fear death and most people fear the afterlife. But few find it interest in the text to find the comfort in between in living in anticipation.
I want you to know something, it’s a reoccurring phrase. You’ll see it in the Bible, “but one another.” But I want you to see it here in 1 Thessalonians. Turn back, if you have your Bible to 1 Thessalonians 4:9. “Now as to the love of the brethren you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves were taught by God to love one another.” See the word, “one another?” Drop down to verse 18, our current text, 4:18. “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” Jump over to 5:11. “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another.” Twice you find it there. And then the last time in 5:15, “See to it that no one repays one another for evil for evil, but always seeks after that which is good for one another.”
So we’re to love one another. We’re to comfort one another. We are to encourage one another. We’re to build one another up. And we’re to do what it good for one another. So we have these five in the text. It’s significant and this is the benefit of studying your Bible carefully, looking for repetitions and the “one another’s.” I think there’s 26 of them in the New Testament. I could be wrong on that. I haven’t checked lately, but most of them are Pauline. And these take on the body of Christ, that we are to do “one anothering,” to comfort, to encourage, to build up and when people are worried and afraid. So we’re talking about a section about death. We’re talking about a section of in between. We’re talking about living in anticipation, and what we’re to do and how we’re to comfort one another.
I mentioned yesterday I have done a lot of funerals. That’s what, you know, if you’re a pastor or minister you end up doing funerals. It’s part of your ministry, part of the job, the service that God gives you to do. And I, careful here, but I love to serve funerals. I hate death, and I hate grief—don’t hear me say I love that—but I love to have the privilege to stand at a funeral service and talk about hope. And one of the lines I use in the little messages I have is if the casket is the room, I will point to the casket and I will say, “Every one of us will be a central figure in a service like this someday. And the time to come to terms with that is not then, but today.” And so as a minister, or if you ever get a chance to have eulogy for your husband, your wife, your son, your daughter or some friend of yours and they will you give a eulogy, always say yes, always say yes. And go give them hope, and share the gospel. And say He lived, He died, He was buried, and He came back from the dead and that’s what I pin my hope on.
And the hope is not for the person in the box. I’m sorry. We can do nothing more for him or her. It’s over. But what are we to do? Paul’s telling the Thessalonicans who are worried about in between times and worried about what happened to the loved ones, worried about their own life and death and what that means. And then we all love talking about this, time, time, time. I want you to encourage one another and comfort one another.
And that’s where he lands this very attractive passage about times and schemes, and he gives us more information here than any text in the New Testament by itself, about the time of the rapture. That’s the one point; those who hold to rapture will look at the verses we just looked at, the sounds and the timing and when He comes Himself in the clouds. But the point is, “Therefore,” verse 18, because of these things, I want you “to comfort one another with these words.”
I have a friend. This morning, I have it on my calendar; I keep, not everyone, but all the people I know who have died I keep it on my calendar, and I build a reminder in and I write them notes. I used to write hand notes. For years I wrote hand notes and I’ve just gotten lazy and so now I send emails. And this morning at about 4:30 I wrote a note to a friend whose daughter died four years ago today. And I wrote a note and wrote a little prayer to them and put a few verses on it. And I knew, he’s an early bird like me, and within a few minutes—he’s in Central Time—he emailed me back and was just blown away that I remembered. I said, well, it’s on my calendar. I can’t really say I remembered, but I did pray for you and prayed for your wife and prayed for your other daughters,” because he lost his daughter young in life. And you know we’re supposed to comfort one another.
I have a friend in Virginia who’s very, very, very ill and I write these little email tomes to them about once a week and they read them and they say you’ll always be my pastor. Well, not that it’s only the pastorate, I took the time to write a note. Betty Story writes me little love notes all the time. “I’m praying for your family. I’m praying for Jessie. I’m praying for Cindy.” Boy, I keep them. I hang on to them. Encourage one another. Comfort one another with these words, because we’re all hurting. We’re all limping. We’re all wounded. We’re all gaping. We’re all bleeding. We’re all hemorrhaging at times, right.
And the point of end times is not just the schemes. I mean I’m a pre-mil pre-trib because I want to be out of here. You know what I mean. Mid-trib, post-trib, God bless you, and I’ll be smiling on the way up. And I hope I’m right and I’ll pray that you’ll come to your senses and not worry, because I want to comfort you. Why would He want you to go through all that? That seems out of characteristic with the whole passage. “Comfort one another with these words,” because you’re going go through hell before Jesus comes back? That doesn’t make any sense, not with what he told us in the context. “Comfort one another with these words.”
Well, let me pray for you before we stop.
Prayer: Father in heaven, we’re all walking toward the undiscovered country. It might be today. It might 10 years from now, 20 years from now, maybe 50 years from now for some of us in this room. But it is appointed for man to die once and we will most certainly die unless You return. Father, I’d love for You to return some days. I would love for You to send Jesus today. But we submit to Paul and Your word to him and Your will to him and to us that it’s better for us to stay, whatever that means and to serve You well. So in the midst of times that are frustrating and confusing and sometimes downright scary, don’t let us fear. Don’t let us worry. We know You’ve won. Help us to be men and women who are committed to You, who find comfort in You and Your word, not to live in fear. What a horrible way for us to live; to rest in the fact that You love us, You know about us and You use, even the person to the left or right of us to comfort one another in times of grief and sadness. May we move into those lives of friends who’ve lost loved ones. May we write them notes and call them long after the event has occurred. May we come along side and listen without comment, ask questions without answers, encourage with a hug, a word, a touch, a reminder that they’re loved, even though they’re hurting, and to know that we will all, if we live long enough, be in their shoes. Help us not to be cliché’ or trite or dismissive or judgmental about a person’s fear or hurt or anger or loss, because we too, one day will limp. So give us that compassion toward those who seem to struggle and have a hard time with it. We love You only because You loved us first. I ask that You help us love You well. In Jesus’ name, amen.