Living Life in Anticipation – Program 1
|By: Dr. Michael Easley; ©2007|
|Every chapter of the book of 1 Thessalonians deals with the second coming in some way, but intertwined is the theme: How do I live in between? How do I live faithfully with the doubts and fears and frustrations of life and sin in my own spiritual journey while I’m waiting for Christ’s return?|
Living in Anticipation – Part 1
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 want to talk with you a little bit from the book of 1 Thessalonians. Franklin Graham sent out a note last year after we had agreed to;… speakers line up a year in advance at The Cove. I will tell you this, I do a lot of conferences; I’ve never seen anyone do what The Cove does with these books, extraordinary labor they put into this thing. This is not cut and paste. This is unique every time, and they depend somewhat on the speaker to provide them a little guidance. And some speakers are better than others at doing that. I would be on the “others” side of that. But they try to help you, and they have put some resources in here. And frankly, if you have any hard questions about eschatology, just read what they have in here and don’t ask me tomorrow, because they have good answers in here. It’s a great resource. And I hope it’ll be more than fill in the blanks for you. I hope it’ll become a study guide and a devotion for you long after you have left The Cove.
But what I want to do as we think about living with anticipation, I want to go back a little bit and think about Christianity and the hope of the resurrection. I don’t know about you, but I grew up,… How many of you grew up Roman Catholic besides me? A few, well, quite a number actually, yeah, Biloxi, yeah. So a number of us grew up Roman Catholic and we’re still recovering from that. But I always looked forward to Easter even as a little boy. Easter was a big thing. You got new clothes. You got a basket. You got some eggs. You got some candy and you went to church on Easter. And everybody in my day in the late 50’s and early 60’s we all wore white for some reason. You did that at Easter time. And everybody had a hat back in the South. We were in Atlanta in those days. It was a glorious day.
The most important point of the Christian story is that Christ rose from the dead. It’s the distinctive point, obviously, and it is this anticipation. It’s more than biblical theology; it’s more than just a Bible study; it’s, the tomb was empty. If you’ve not been to Israel you must needs go; and when you go to Israel you will see where they have the so-called Gethsemane, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Garden Tomb. And you go to some of these places, we don’t know for sure, but the Garden Tomb is quite extraordinary. And you walk into what perhaps would be the kind of archeological find that bodies would have been laid in, and the Brits who run it have a clever little way on the way out as you leave, routered in the door it says, “He is not here, He has risen.”
You know, you go look in the tomb, but that’s not the point of going to Israel, because He’s not there. This is all of our hope. We could say that it is the cornerstone: that the moved-away stone reminds us of the cornerstone that all our faith hinges upon. In 1 Thessalonians chapters 4 through 5 it is an extraordinary section dealing with hope and living in anticipation of the in-between. In-between, of course, the in-between when we born and born again and when we will see Christ—or when we will die if He does not return in our lifetime. Now, we may see Him before, we may see Him when He returns.
Each chapter in this short letter deals with a reference to the second coming in some way, shape or form. In chapter 1, if you look over quickly, in verses 9-10 of chapter 1, “For they themselves report about us what kind of reception we had with you, how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead.” You’re waiting for something, anticipation of return.
Turn over to chapter 2, verses 19-20, quickly: “For who is our hope or joy, or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of the Lord Jesus at His coming?” Anticipation of Christ’s return.
Chapter 3, if you turn over to verse 13, “so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with His saints.”
Chapter 4 we’ll look at, and chapter 5 we’ll look at. Chapter 5, verse 23 looks forward to the sanctification of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. So every chapter ends with this reminder, we’re waiting for Him to return. We’re living with an anticipation.
So when you step back from the book of 1 Thessalonians, and really the theology connects into 2 Thessalonians, one of the big issues is how do I live in between? How do I live faithfully with the doubts and fears and frustrations of life and sin in my own spiritual journey? How do I live on this sod with anticipation of His return, and how do I live in between?
Now, a little bit about biblical theology versus systematic theology and so forth. Some of you come from reformed backgrounds. We come from different backgrounds. Theology is a way of trying to understand God. Now, to give you an example, John Owen, Systematic Theology, his was 22 volumes. In 22 volumes he tried to explain God. Lewis Sperry Chaffer tried in 8 volumes to explain God. Different scholars have tried. Now think about what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to say, “What do we observe about forgiveness? What do we observe about angels? What do we observe about Satan? What do we,…?” And they try to categorize it to make a systematic approach to understanding what the Bible teaches in theology.
Now, if you take one Bible over against 22 volumes that are much fatter than this, it sort of makes a statement, doesn’t it? We’re trying to explain something that in a way is inexplicable. Now that does not discourage us or say we shouldn’t try it. Systematic theology comes with a different set of presuppositions. We’re looking for a systematic approach. For example, covenant theology comes with a systematic grid that they look at the Bible through, largely generated through the Reformers Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, Zwingli and others. Each period of history has a way of doing theology.
Dispensationalists, which I would put myself in that camp, look at Scripture through times different from covenant theology, that say there were periods of revealed information that Abram had, that Moses had, that David had, and each of these build upon, they knew more than, the one before them. So you hear the phrase progressive revelation; that they had information, but what Abram heard makes a whole different story to you and me than probably Abram and the 200-300 years around him. So we talk about progressive revelation. We talk about God not dealing with humankind differently, but we know more about Him. And if we simply said law, church, grace, covenant, you know, looked at some big bands, future we would say, there seems to be information given at different times.
There’s lots of different ways to try to do theology. Biblical theology, if I can be so pedantic, is opening the Bible and reading it and letting the Bible tell us what it tells us. Now, my theology professors would throw tomatoes at me for saying what I just said. But I think biblical theology is a better way of looking at the Bible than trying to be systematic or trying to be covenant; not that those aren’t good approaches. Do not hear me disparage those approaches. I’m not doing that. They’re just different ways of looking at it, and you can’t separate Carl Henry’s view of theology or John Owen’s view of theology or Lewis Sperry Chaffer, you can’t separate their view of their background and how they were raised, what the issues were in their day, with when they wrote theology.
My friend Wayne Grudem just did a tremendous job with this systematic theology. I checked a few weeks ago; it’s one of the top 25 books on Amazon on religious books in sales. Who would buy a big old fat systematic theology book today? A lot of people. And Wayne comes at it from a perspective.
Now I say all that because when we look at end times your systematic, biblical, covenant, dispensational, theology affects greatly what you see; because if you buy the system, you’ve got to stay with the theology. Does that make sense? And so what I will give you is not the inerrant view. I will give you what I think the text says based on these two chapters. There are better people to do the big strokes, but I will try to do a good job of showing you what the text says we can depend upon when we study it.
Now, as opposed to those different theologies, let’s just look at the passage. Now, let me give you a handful of points of clarification. We’re going to look at chapter 4, verse 13 through chapter 5 today, tomorrow and the next day. And I want to give you some clarifications.
One, the passage has information about end times, but that isn’t the primary point. In other words, we’re going to see some very interesting pieces and some unique information in this text that we won’t see in other places in the Bible. That’s one of the reasons it’s so compelling when you study the end times and the coming of Christ. This passage deals with that, but the primary point is comforting believers who have experienced loss and grief and who are living in fear. That’s why we call it living in anticipation.
Secondly, the first century church believed in the resurrection, but they wondered about the end times too. The apostles wanted to know, is this the time? What do we look for? Is it at this time these things occur? Even the road to Emmaus, they wanted to know what’s happening? So the first century church had very similar questions that you and I have about what does the end times look like?
Third, we have some very important information about end times from John 14, the Upper Room Discourse, 1 Corinthians 15, those sections deal with extraordinary clarity about some events.
Fourth, the “day of the Lord” is a phrase we’ll look at in some depth tomorrow. The day of the Lord in chapter 5, verses 1 and 3 is very important in this eschatogical scene, scheme. Eschatology is the study of the end times, eschaton, the end of the age we sometimes call it. So in the eschatological scheme what does the day of the Lord mean? We’ll speak a little bit about that. Where am I?
Five, I think, the rapture. The rapture is a hot topic and we’ll look at some of that. This text will touch on it and you will see in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 they still didn’t understand. Even though Paul writes very clearly here when the rapture’s going to occur, what it means, though next time the letter is corresponding with them, they still have questions about the rapture, and so do we, don’t we.
Sixth, what this tells me more than anything about your view of the rapture is they thought there was one. And that’s very important, because people argue about the timing of it, and many don’t believe in it at all. But these Thessalonican believers, and Paul’s writing to them presupposes they believed in it; they just were curious about when and the timing and who and what about those who died.
Seventh, their concerned with their Christian friends and loved ones and spouses who died and the timing of the rapture. We’ll look at that tonight in some detail.
Now if you want a background and a little bit quick, I don’t want you to worry about it, but I wanted to give you a bigger picture of the text than just was we drill down into in the next couple of days. The real question Paul is asking and answering in this text is: what do I do in between? When I look around me and see friends dying and loved ones dying and what I know about the end times and what Jesus has said, in trying to put the puzzle together, how do I live anticipating these end time events? So, in some respects, this makes a lot more sense than trying to figure out a timeline, because we can’t as precisely as we’d like. We can know some things about it.
Well, let me read first of all 1 Thessalonians 4. Let me just read verse 13 to get us going in the text: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as the rest who have no hope.” Number 1: What about those who’ve died? What about those who’ve died? This is all in your manual there, your handbook there; you can follow along very easily. So the first thing we notice is the ancients were just as worried and had just as many wonderful questions about what happens when people die as you and I do.
It’s natural to worry about death. It’s natural to worry about what happens when people die. The unregenerate human worries about it as much as the regenerate human worries about it, I think. I don’t think it’s unusual. Now, if we listen to Oprah’s guests, if you listen to John Edward, not to be confused with John Edwards, the politician, John Edward is the one you may or may not know, has the program called “Crossing Over.” He is probably the most popular medium spiritist channeling guy today. He fills up coliseums all over the United States. And it’s interesting to watch it just to see the nonsense. But people, these events sell out and they scalp tickets for these crazy events to get a chance to have John Edward tell them what’s going on with their lives or to channel their future or to predict something, and people are taken in by this.
I don’t recommend you sitting through the whole thing, but if you catch it sometime on television, watch a little bit of it. And what you’re seeing is no matter what’s going on in the world people are wondering what happens when I die. That’s what motivates all this energy. What happens with I die? What’s happened to someone I love who’s died? I talked to an 80 something year old person within the last 10 days, two weeks who said to me, quote, “The best book I ever read was Embraced by the Light by Betty Eadie. And you may remember, she was the first one who came out with this near-death experience and a popularized view that she died and went into the light. It was all pleasant and she has this sort of Unitarian Universalist, everybody’s, you know, God’s love kind of nonsensical thing, and made a lot of money selling a book about it. People want to know what happens to those who died. The normal, natural state is to wonder about those.
Now, this phrase “asleep,” those who are “asleep.” I want you to be informed about those. There’s a negative expression and a positive expression. And when you study the Bible, especially Pauline, we call it didactic, literature for a reason. It’s because he throws outlines at us all the time if we’ll just slow down and look and see what he’s doing. He’s forever giving us little like yellow flags in the margin with words like “therefore,” and “but” and “now then.” And all these little expressions he throws at us. And you see in verse 13, you have two negatives. See them? “We do not want you to be uniformed brethren about those who are asleep,” and that “you will not grieve.” So I don’t want you to be uniformed and I don’t want you to grieve the way world does.
The word “uniformed” here is agnoeo, where we get the word “agnostic.” I don’t want you to be agnostic. You know the word gnosis means to know something, the sub-prefix “a,” we say amillennium; that’s a person who believes there is no millennial structure: “a,” without, okay. So “a gnosis”, agnoeo, is without knowledge. So the next time if a friend of yours says they’re an agnostic just smile, say that’s true, you don’t have any knowledge. That’s true, you really are stupid and we’ll pray for you. We don’t want you to be agnoeo.
We don’t want you to be grieving as those who don’t have hope. Now the phrase begins, “we want you to be,” “we don’t want you to be uninformed.” Okay, if everybody’s worried about what happens when I die, Paul says time out, I don’t want you to live that way. “You, of all people,” I would paraphrase it, have no reason to live uninformed because you get to know something as a believer in Christ that other people don’t get to know. And Paul uses this formula many times the way he writes. We want you to know, we don’t want you to worry; we don’t want you to fear. Not, not. And on and on he uses these kinds of devices, these structure devices.
Now sleep is a common metaphor today of death. The Old Testament, when the saints died they slept with their fathers. And that was not just a euphemism, it was a way of explaining, he’s asleep, he’s laid out, he’s not moving. He looks as though he’s asleep, she’s asleep. So the picture was they have slept with their fathers, the stillness of the body, the physical body looks like it’s at rest. At the Jesus and Lazarus exchange, that Lazarus is asleep. He’s dead, not sleeping. No, it’s meant sleep.
Now, it does not mean soul sleep. And I’ve talked to Christians of late that Edgar Cayce was one of the first ones to write about this nonsense, about soul sleep, you know. And that’s just heresy. It’s just made up mumbo-jumbo. There’s no such thing as soul sleep. You’re dead. If you’re not fogging a mirror, you’re not there. You’re dead. Yeah, it looks like you’re asleep, but it’s not soul sleep.
Interestingly, I stumbled across this literally in one of John Calvin’s writings. It was probably, if not the very first thing he wrote, one of the first things he actually put pen to paper. In 1534 thereabouts they date it. Now this is the title of it: Psychopannychia, or this is his title, listen, “A Refutation of the Error Entertained by Some Unskillful Persons Who Ignorantly Imagine that in the Interval Between Death and the Judgment of the Soul Sleeps together with and Explanation of the Condition and Life of the Soul and this Present Life.” That’s the title. And if you know what it means you’re smarter than me.
Some of you know John Hannah. He teaches theology at Dallas Seminary. He’s a wonderful wry professor. I love Dr. Hannah. He sort of looks like a Woody Allen kind of guy. He’s got this kind of hair and these thick glasses. And John has forgotten more than I’ll ever know in my life. He’s so smart. And John loves the Reformers. And I once asked him, I said, “Dr. Hannah, I mean you always talk about the reformers and how much you love them. Did they do anything wrong?” And he kind of turns his head and he goes, “They had the sin of verbosity.” So I thought that was appropriate: “Psychopannychia: The Refutation of the Error Entertained by Some Unskillful Person Who Ignorantly Imagine that the Interval Between Death and the Judgment of the Soul Sleeps,” 1534. It’s temporary. Our bodies are in a stasis or asleep. Our word “cemetery” comes from the Greek word koimeterion, where the bodies lie, where they sleep. It’s a place of sleeping. You’re supposed to be quiet when you go into the cemetery because they’re asleep. Nonsense! But that’s what we’re taught, right?
Now Christ promised this thief on the cross, “Today you’ll be with Me;” not asleep, you’ll be with Me. So that’s the first one we would appeal to. In the transfiguration, who’s with Jesus at the transfiguration? Moses, Elijah, Christ. Wait a minute. Moses and Elijah are dead. No, they’re there. How are they there? Are they asleep? Evidently not. Matthew 17:3, they carry on a conversation. I think they would argue they were not sleep talking; they were alive in some sense. In 2 Corinthians 5:8 Paul wrote he preferred to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord at home with the Lord.
Now when I have the unfortunate, but also sort of holy, opportunity to do a memorial service, especially for children who’ve lost a mother, years ago I started doing this. I will use three props. I’ll use a desk; I have a big hornet now that’s in a piece of Lucite; and I’ll use a tent. And I’ll talk about how the Bible’s very helpful when we die and that we get many pictures or metaphors of death. And I’ll talk about a desk and I’ll have this empty desk and I’ll say, okay, we sit by Johnny in school every day. And one day we go to school and Johnny’s not there, what do we say? We say Johnny’s absent. Well, that means Johnny’s at home with the flu or faking that he’s sick or maybe he’s in the hospital. He’s really sick. What do we mean? We mean he’s not there; he’s somewhere else. And now every kid can grab that. Oh, he’s somewhere else. He’s not there. Now Johnny will never be there again.
And I use the Lucite hornet, I’ve got this great hornet I found on the Internet. It’s got a stinger about that long and it scares me to look at it, and I talk about the sting. And the sting, if you’ve been stung by a hornet; I was stung years ago on the heel of my hand by a hornet and that thing ached for about three weeks. I’m not exaggerating. And when it first happened, nothing else in life matters. Everything stops because you have to attend to the pain of that sting. That’s death; when somebody dies everything stops. Nothing matters; you’ve got to stop and deal with it. And even when you get the stinger out and you put the anti-sting and the no-sting and the drops of Clorox, whatever else you try, it takes a long time. Good picture of sting.
And then the tent I use to explain that this perishable body we’re in is like a tent from 2 Corinthians. And I tell the story about backpacking when we got into a hailstorm up high about 11,000 feet and it just came out of nowhere. We throw the tent up and it builds up to about 12 inches on the side of this mountaineering tent. And when I got out and took pictures of this little pea, you know, pea, maybe nickel size, hail that had piled up, it looked like something out of science fiction, it was everywhere. And that tent kept us from getting, you know, very uncomfortable and hurt by the hail. But would I want to live in that tent for the rest of my life? That tent, at best, is a temporary shelter.
So I use those props to say when you and I die, we’re not here. We’re somewhere else. When we’re here it hurts those left behind. And all it is, is a shell. It wasn’t meant to be here forever. It’s a temporary situation. And that’s why Paul can say he’d rather be absent and present with Christ. He’d rather be at home with Him because of the body’s temporary condition.
Philippians 1:23, I’d rather depart and be with Christ. How can he say this? How can he speak this way? How can anybody say that? Michael, how can you say it? You haven’t lost anybody that close to you. Yeah, I have. How can you say it’s better? I’m not saying it’s better; I’m saying what the Bible says. I hate death. I hate it passionately. But we don’t grieve as those who have no hope. That’s the difference.
How do you live in between? How do you live anticipating? Because everyone loses loved ones. We’re all going to get bad news. We’re all going to have pain and problems in life. So what do we do? You and me, those who know Christ live differently. We still grieve, but we grieve not as the rest who don’t have hope. He’s not prohibiting grief. Please mark it down men and women; he’s not prohibiting grief.
The Christian community can be pretty trite. I find it funny, but also very powerful that we memorize; you know, when you’re a kid you have to memorize verses and you pick three verses. Of course you want to pick the shortest verse in them Bible which is “Jesus wept.” What’s the reference? John 11:35. He’s the only one who knew. The shortest verse in the Bible, but the longest reference. No. Anyway, “Jesus wept.” Well, what’s He weeping about? His friend was dead. But He’s going to resurrect him in just a couple of minutes. Why is He crying? Because He hates death and His friend died and He’s fully human. And if Christ can grieve over His lost friend Lazarus, I think we can too. Romans 12:15 Paul says, “Weep with those who weep.” On we could go.
The contrast here is we grieve not as the rest who do not have hope. The world’s going to grieve. They’re going to ask why? They’re going to ask things like, well, if this is all there is I’m going to be existential because there’s no point if my loved one’s dead, if my son or my wife or my little baby girl is stillborn.
We’ve had two young couples at our church since we’ve been there have both lost children. I can do almost anything in ministry because I’ve seen it all in almost 30 years now, but burying an infant is just wrong; it’s just wrong. It’s just wrong. When you bury somebody who’s struggled with cancer or who’s had problems or even an accident you’re can say, okay. But when you’re burying, you’re burying potential. You’re not supposed to bury your young. You’re supposed to bury your elders, bury your great-grandparents, not your grandparents.
So how do we process this? I came across a section from William Barclay; he gathered a bunch of different ancient writings. Listen to what he collected in this fun little paragraph. “In the face of death the pagan world stood in despair. They met it with grim resignation and a bleak hopelessness. Aeschylus wrote, ‘Once a man dies there is no resurrection.’ Theocritus wrote, ‘There is hope for those who are alive, but for those who have died they are without hope.’ Catullus wrote, ‘When once our brief life is out there is one perpetual night through which we must sleep.’ And on tombstones the grim epitaph was often carved, ‘I was not. I became not. I am not. I care not.’” To which I say, bummer! I mean, if that’s how the ancient world looked at this, no wonder we’re a depressed people.
The believer’s grief is different. I want you to grieve not as the world grieves. So it’s not like it’s easier. Don’t put on a happy face and count it all joy. I really get angry when people throw, “Consider it all joy, brethren, when you encounter various trials.” I go, “Before you throw that at me, go home and study the context and then come back and talk to me about that verse.” That verse is not a cheap verse you throw at somebody who’s wounded and hurting deeply. That’s a verse that once you’ve processed awhile says that you’re enduring pain will give you this endurance to face life with joy. It doesn’t mean smile when something bad happens.
That’s not only bad theology, it’s wrong, because we’re to grieve with those who grieve, weep with those who weep. Christ should have said, “Oh, I’m happy because I know he’s going to come back from the dead.” No, He cried. Sometimes we Christians just don’t get it, do we? But when they lose someone close they will change their theology.
Death is devastating. I hate death. When I write cards to people who are suffering with loss and really having a hard time with it, I often write 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. And that’s that passage that Paul talks about that we were afflicted for your behalf and the affliction with which we were afflicted is so that you can understand affliction. And it’s a wonderful toss of the word “affliction.” And basically he’s saying you’re afflicted so that when you grow through it you can help somebody else who’s been afflicted. And that’s the power of grieving well. Apart from that we do it so poorly.
You who have Christ are not to grieve hopelessly. I don’t know anyone who puts on a happy face for long. One of my most fascinating passages and I think it’s a glimpse at the incarnation of Christ, as well as just a real defining moment for the disciples. The backdrop of John 6 is when Jesus has had these extraordinarily hard sayings and the disciples were leaving. And Jesus says to the 12, it’s John 6:67 if you want to jot it down, John 6:67, “Jesus said to the twelve, ‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’” Now just take that sentence at the face value for a moment. Jesus sees His followers leaving and He says, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?”
Now, I think there’s a lot of layers in that phrase. I think we see the humanity of Jesus. I don’t think He’s merely saying academically, challenging their faith, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” I think Christ, the humanity of Christ, the loneliness of Christ, the fear He felt—and He did; He was human; He’s at Gethsemane; don’t forget that—and I think He’s saying, “Are you going to go away too?” It’s a haunting question to me. Do you want to leave too? And listen to Simon Peter. Bless his heart. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” And that’s the hope of the believer. Where else you going to go?
Now, I’ve seen parents do this. I’ve seen spouses do this. They bury a loved one; they get angry at God. They shake their fist at well-meaning Christians. On and on we could tell the stories. And they come around at some point and they go, you know, Christians didn’t help me a whole lot, but where else am I going to go? Because Christ alone has words of eternal life. Our grief is tempered by the hope of the resurrection. What about those who have died? Well you’re going to grieve. But don’t grieve like the world grieves. And we’ve seen it. Some of you have done it; the healthy grief of the hope beyond this world, the longing to be present with that person because they’ve left us. What about those who have died?
Well, number 1, don’t do it like the world does it, but do it like a believer. Grieve with hope. Verse 14, what about Christ’s return? “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” What about Christ’s return? If we believe, if you were holding an NIV, it drops the word “if” and just says, “We believe,” which is a confessional statement. Some Bibles say, “Since we believe.” And think about it, just look at it critically for a minute. If we believe that Jesus died is that a question? Is it a conditional clause saying if we believe? So translators fumble with it. But if we read the whole verse I think it makes perfect sense: “If (or since) we believe Jesus died and rose, even so, God will resurrect those,” basically. So the connection here is if you’ve trusted Christ, part and parcel understanding the gospel is, you’re going to go somewhere when you die.
See what I’m saying? It’s very simple. If you believe, then part of that package is you’re going to go with Him when that time of sleep comes. Christ’s death and resurrection is the great event of our faith. It’s the premise of our faith as we begin. Now the word “belief” here is the word “faith.” It’s the word pisteuo in the New Testament. It’s the one you’ll read in Ephesians 2 over and over about belief, about faith. It’s the word of choice for John, if you believe, if you have faith in. So the gospel is clear in that verse: “If you believe in Christ, that He died and rose again.” The core really of the gospel, He died and rose again. “Even so,” we might say, “your resurrection is secure.”
The atonement is loosely referenced here. If you look at it closely, “even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” If Jesus died and rose again that action is what we pin our hopes on. We read over this stuff too quickly sometimes. And when you look upon Calvary, I don’t know if you get tired of it. I don’t know if you get tired of singing “Amazing Grace.” I don’t think I could ever tire of singing “Amazing Grace.” But just whatever winds your watch. But there are certain things we tire of, and we go, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard about the atonement.”
I mean, to begin to grapple with the fact that every one of my sins—past, present and future ongoing sins—every one of them was remedied in that one event. It’s mind-boggling. I don’t know about you, but the older I get it takes very little sin just to send me into a funk. Lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, the boastful pride of life.
I had a man the other day catch me in the parking lot and, “How are you doing?” And he said, “Oh, I’m doing so much better.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I just came out of this men’s group,” and he said, “I play racquetball with a group of guys every week and we play at this club. And there’s a swimming pool there, an indoor pool. And this lifeguard who’s a very attractive woman came walking by,” and he goes, “and I just stood there and I just stared at her for a long, long time.” And he said, “It just ate my lunch.” And he said, “This morning, I got up, I’ve got to tell, so I came to these guys in the Bible study and I said, look, before we start I’ve got to ask you to help me to get forgiveness, to admit my sin, to acknowledge and not dance around. What I was doing was just looking at an attractive woman, but I was in throes of deep lust.” And he said, “I just feel so much better that I confessed it and have those brothers pray for me.”
Now, you know, the person engaged in pornography or having extramarital affairs would think that was not even a sin. But it’s already our life, right? I think Alexander White said, “It’s not an issue of avoiding sin; it’s walking closer to Christ. Because the closer you are to the light the quicker you see your sin when you start to veer off into the darkness.” Lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, the boastful pride of life. I put it under three umbrellas, money, sex and power. You can put all your sins under one of those three umbrellas, money, sex or power. Lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, the boastful pride of life.
And Jesus died and rose again for your sins and mine, all the ones I’ve committed, all the ones I will commit, all the ones I do commit. It should always make us slow down when we read those words, “He died and rose again.” 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on,” and I would paraphrase, “our, your, my behalf.”
Paul doesn’t say Jesus slept. Please observe. Men sleep; Jesus did not sleep. It’s very important in the text. He’s talking about sleep, but Jesus didn’t sleep. Jesus died. Don’t be mistaken. He’s different. When believers die, our spirit goes instantly in the conscious relationship somehow with Christ. Our bodies, of course, are separated and we then wait for the rapture.
Rose again is the most astonishing miracle of all. God accepted, the Father accepted Christ, His work, and because of that He was resurrected from the dead. We’re teaching Genesis at our church back at home in Brentwood and we are obviously in the throes of chapter 1, when you have to talk about older than/younger than creation and all this fun stuff that I love dearly. But I find Christians don’t like to talk about it, so I like to talk about it. And we get into the discussion of the 24 hour yom, the day.
I’m a young earth guy. I’m just a stupid Bible teacher, not a scientist who knows something smart. I believe that when it says there was evening and morning and a day there was a day. And I believe that every time the word “day” is used in the Old Testament it means a day. And if God wanted us to think a million years He would have said there’s a million years between verses 1:2 and 2:1. I just don’t think God’s trying to deceive us. And some say, well, science says this. Well, whoa, whoa, let’s talk about that. Now, do you think Jesus walked on water? Show of hands. Do you think Jesus cured Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever?
Do you think Jesus gave a guy a new set of eyes in John 9? Now hold on. He was congenitally blind. It wasn’t like a blindness from an illness. He was congenitally blind. And, you know, the neat part of that story is they didn’t recognize him afterwards. It wasn’t because he was seeing. It was because, if you’ve ever seen a congenitally blind person their skull, their cranium doesn’t form normally because their eye cavity doesn’t grow with the child’s eye so your head is sort of left in the pediatric state we might say. So if Jesus gave the guy a new set of eyes would it not follow that his face would change with a set of adult eyes? That’s why I think they couldn’t recognize him.
Do you think Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? Well, even if you don’t, Lazarus does. Do you think Jesus turned water into wine? Alright, now, if you believe any one of those,… We could go on and on; storms; you believed Jesus broke the laws of physics and science. If Jesus can break that, now listen, there’s any vineyard winemaker in the world, if you could turn grapes into wine that quickly they would be so happy. There are laws of chemistry you cannot hurry. It takes a certain amount of time for that grape to start to ferment, for the gasses to produce, for the sugars as byproducts from the bacteria, and as bacteria eats the sugars and the process goes along and then the wine gets to a full body and the tannins develop. It takes a long time. In fact, they talk about wines that are very old, right, and this wine is 20, 30, 100 years old. You can’t do that overnight. With the best technology in the universe you can’t do it overnight because you’d have to break the laws of chemistry.
Now, if Jesus can do that, I think He can handle light that we know are billions of years old, that light from the stars are billions of years old. So Carl Sagan says it was billions and billions and billions and billions of years, yeah. Well, Carl, He did it like that. He creates in a mature stage. Now, how does He do it? Well, let me tell you, nobody knows because it’s supernatural, meaning above nature. The notion of the supernatural is something that cannot be described naturalistically. The world has bought the lie of naturalism. Let them enjoy it.
God the Father accepted Christ’s death. And the most astonishing miracle ever is not the creation of light or the creation of the world, or the creation of a 24 hour day. The most astonishing miracle ever is life from death. And that’s the miracle you and I are partakers of. We fear death. We worry about death. We’re anxious about death. We fear about the way we’re going to die. We worry about what it’s going to feel like when we die. If you’ve been very ill and on the cusp of death you understand better than most. It is a horrible, horrifying thing. It doesn’t matter how secure you are in your faith, that threshold’s one time, baby. And it’s not going over it, it’s how we go over it that worries us so much. What is it going to be like? You know, someone said the joke, “I want to go like my grandfather did, quietly in his sleep, not screaming like the passengers in his car,” you know.
“Even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” You, just like the Thessalonians, me, just like the Thessalonians, who worry and fear and wonder about these things, say, listen, “Even so.” Great words, “Even so God will bring with Him, Christ, those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” The context of the Thessalonians, here’s what they’re worried about: they thought the rapture was upon them because they thought the tribulation times were there on their heels. They thought things were going badly, and they thought about,… let’s say my dad, Joe Easley. Well, dad died, and the rapture hasn’t occurred. What’s happened to dad? That’s the question they’re asking.
The second question is: what if it doesn’t happen before I die? That question is no different than how we worry about death today. It’s no different. What’s going to happen in between? How do I live in anticipation of my life and the events surrounding it? At the rapture God will bring all believers, living and dead, back to life. And if you’re worried about whether your uncle or your aunt or your grandfather was cremated or buried at sea, don’t worry about it. I think Jesus can handle that. I do think there’s a time interval between some of these events. And I don’t want to be bull dogmatic about it, but I think Christ returns to gather His people and then a rapture occurs.
You can jot down 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. So the second coming comes to establish the millennial kingdom, and this piece of information, what’s important here is about the discussion of the rapture, which many traditions do not believe in anymore. Let’s just read 1 Corinthians 3: “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid which is Jesus Christ.” This is 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 if you want to turn there: “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid which is Christ Jesus. Now if anyone builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw each man’s work will become evident, for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire. And the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet as through fire.”
So the question becomes, how does this relate to rapture? What happens here in this testing? And I’ll give you tomorrow a chart that will show you all the judgments and all of the different time aspects of if this is the believers judgment, the Great White Throne, the so-called bema seat, unbelieving nations, the angels, the fallen angels, the Jews. And I’ll show you a chart you can knock yourself silly looking it all up if you want. But you need to understand there are different judgments that are referred to. This one is referring to believer’s works, not a tribulation period which many will co-mingle with this text. Well, if they doubted, Paul wants you to say, look, I don’t want you to be unaware. I don’t want you to grieve the way other people grieve. I want you to understand this.
The last thing we’ll look at tonight then is about the two different groups in verse 15. Let me read it. This is 1 Thessalonians 4:15: “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of Christ”—important, “who are alive and remain until this event, until His coming”—“will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”
Now listen to my next observations here. Isn’t it interesting that the Holy Spirit of God tells Paul to write this inspiration, and He says I want you to use the phrase, “word of the Lord” here? Why? Always ask these questions when you read. Why is does He do this here? Well, it kind of makes sense. What He’s going to say is awfully preposterous apart from God saying it. When you start talking about the end of times and rapture and who’s going to go when and where and people have questions about it, it’s really nice to know if God said so. And that’s how he introduces the clause. “We say this by the word of the Lord.” Christ spoke these words at some point to Paul. Maybe He spoke it to the apostles. They’re not recorded. We don’t know that.
You know, Acts 20:35 is often called the lost beatitude. You know where Jesus says it’s “more blessed to give than receive.” Well, we don’t read that in the gospels, but it’s recorded by Luke in Acts that Jesus said that, so we call it the lost beatitude. So there are a lot of things Christ said that weren’t necessarily recorded and captured in the gospels. John even said as much.
But here he says, “By the word of the Lord,” so Christ has given Paul this information individually, or revelation, or He’s given it unrecorded text to the gospels. “According to the Lord’s word;” Moffett writes, “For we tell you this, as the Lord told us,” is a good rendering. “We tell you this because the Lord told us.”
In my devotions I’ve been studying the book of Ezekiel and it’s been a labor of love. I’ve had mornings when I’ve just love it, mornings where I just labor through it. I mean, some mornings I go, you know, “Lord, what are You trying to say? Can’t You put it in plain English?” You know, it’s so bizarre and complicated and I know enough Hebrew just to be dangerous and I’m reading this going, “My word. What do you expect people to think when they read this stuff?” So as I do, I back up and I look at the big picture stuff: 126 times, “Thus says the Lord,” in the book of Ezekiel.
And I got to thinking why? Because it sounds crazy otherwise. And so He had to remind us, because He knew Michael Easley would be an idiot and say, “This can’t be real. I mean, this is just weird, Jesus. Come on explain it to me.” “I’ll explain it to you,” God said. And isn’t that at the end of the day, as a believer comes to the text, I submit to the text; I don’t understand it all. My dear beloved professor, Howard Hendricks always says, “I don’t understand all I know.” And when I read the Bible I don’t know understand anything that I know sometimes. Thus says the Lord, 126 times. Don’t miss it.
So here “We say,” verse 15, “this we say to you by the word of the Lord.” Again, Dr. Hendricks would say, “This is not what God is saying if He was here. It is what God is saying because He is here.” When you read, “God said,” don’t rush over it. He just spoke to us. This is what God said. “By the word of the Lord, I’m telling you that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” You can pin your faith on this just as much as you can pin your salvation on the words that Christ spoke to you through the text.
We who are alive versus those who have fallen asleep. So we have two groups. We who are alive were left here. Paul understood the rapture and he understood that if my mother died and I buried her and I worried, well, what’s going to happen? Did she miss out on the rapture; because this tribulation period, so I’m worried about that. And he says don’t worry about that. You won’t precede those. We’ll get it all figured out chronologically Jesus says. “Those who are alive and remain will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”
So this is where we get into some of the more sophisticated rapture schemes and timing. How many people were raised on the day Jesus came out of the grave? How many? One? No, a lot of graves were empty, weren’t there? We don’t talk about those passages. But it was more than Jesus resurrected that day. We don’t know who they were. The text is conspicuously quiet, but I would say they got a bum deal because they had to die again. Lazarus had to die again, poor guy. I mean, I don’t know exactly where Lazarus was. I think I know where he was, but he had to die again, and that’s kind of a rip off in a way. But Jesus had to prove a point that He could handle it.
Now we believe in a doctrine called the imminent return of Jesus Christ, meaning it could be morning, it could be noon, midday. You know the old song, if you’re old enough. Now it could be any time. We’re going to live for the imminent return of Jesus Christ and we sing those songs in camp and we preach those sermons and we tell people the imminent return of Jesus Christ. And I confess to you here today and now, I believe in the imminent return of Jesus, just not in my lifetime. What am I saying? Do we really believe it? I mean, there’s days I wish He’d come. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. But do I really live in such a way that I want this to occur? We who are alive we’re left here still, so we wait for the imminent return of Christ.
The second group of those, of course, are those who have died. Listen to Matthew 24:36: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” Now, write that verse down somewhere in your notes. Matthew 24:36, “But that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” Now that’s a pretty, I mean,… and Jesus is speaking here, by the way and He says I don’t know the day. So people who give you the day just ignore them. If you read Paul’s letters consistently you will see he expected Christ to return in his lifetime. And it seems the older he got he still clung on to it, but there does seem to be a little bit of a different view. In 1 Corinthians 15 you can see it starting to pop up in 1 Corinthians 15:51, but that’s for another time.
What I want to leave you with is a thought. Christ doesn’t want you or me to worry about our death. And He doesn’t want you or me to worry about our loved ones who died. And that’s hard. In the early years of ministry when I would do funerals I would do them as green and wet as I knew how and I tried to honor the family and the people in the eulogy which means to speak good words. Eu, like euphonium, a good sound, a euphemism, a good saying, eulogia, good words. You say good words over a person who’s dead and you have people come up and say things and you do certain rituals and you bury them and you console the family. And the last casserole dish has got a name you don’t know on it. And you’ve gotten rid of everything from the remnants of the death. And then it starts to hammer in, they’re gone and it’s miserable. And it doesn’t go away. And time helps, but it doesn’t; I mean, if you think about it much, it doesn’t.
But we’re not supposed to worry about it. How do I not worry about it? I’m scared. As I’ve got older I’ve faced a number of issues myself, medically. The first time you go under anesthesia, I’m one of these guys that asks lots of questions. And so I asked this doc point blank, the first time I had major surgery, I said, “How many people die from this? Tell me.” And they give you this mumble jumbo. I said, “No, tell me how many people die from this type of surgery.” He says there’s a 1% morbidity rate. Explain it in English. What’s that mean? He said if 100 people have the surgery, one dies. So you’re telling me I’ve got 100% chance of coming out of surgery; that’s pretty good odds. I like that odds. And then when you get in different surgeries and they tell you there’s a 25% morbidity rate, there’s a 60% morbidity rate, or there’s a 60% chance that this surgery won’t help you and the recovery is going to be horrid. Oh, joy!
I wish I could tell people that about their life. Well you know, if you trust Jesus 60% likelihood if you live right you’ll go to heaven, you know. I don’t have that option. But when we fret about or death others death we’re missing the point that He overcame the grave. He overcame the grave. And for you and me to worry about how we’re going to die, or how we’re going to live, or the loss of a loved one we just recently buried, or maybe years ago that still rips our heart out. Grieve, grieve well. Grieve with those who grieve. Really important, we’ll talk about that tomorrow. And grieve with those who have grieved; but not as the world, because He overcame the grave. He performed the greatest miracle that’s ever been performed and He grants it to you and to me simply by faith.
Prayer: Our Father, in heaven, it is late and it’s tired for some, we’re full. But I would not want us to miss the point that the rapture, although entertaining as it may be, is not merely all we worry about. You want us to live not as the world lives. You want us to grieve not as the world grieves. You want us to be informed and knowledgeable about what Jesus has accomplished for us. So I pray for every man and woman or young person in this room that You’ll encourage their hearts, that you will shore them up, that they will not have an incurable wound, that they will know that they know that they know that You love them and You have rectified the situation once for all. Thanks so much You paid for our sins. Thanks that You overcame the grave and it is in that we have hope. In the resurrected name of Christ, we pray, amen.