The Hope of All Christians: The Rapture – Program 1
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©1994|
|TMore than a quarter of the Bible is prophetic material, so God intended Christians to take it seriously. What does the Bible say about the rapture and the second coming of Christ?|
The Rapture – the Hope of All Christians
Our topic today is future events, biblical prophecy, the doctrine of the rapture. Does the Church still believe the rapture today? A large portion of the Church has turned away from it. As you know, when you talk to other Christians, that some of them will say, “Well, the study of prophecy—we ought to put that on the back burner. It’s too hard to study. There are too many interpretations.” There are some people that go as far to say you shouldn’t study prophecy because it can divide a church’
I’d like to start this session by explaining why I think every Christian ought to study prophecy; it’s not something you should put on the shelf. Here’s the reason. Approximately 27% of the entire Bible contains prophetic material. If you were to sort this out, in the Old Testament’s 23,710 Bible verses, you’ll find 6,641 contain prophetic material. That’s 28.5% for the Old Testament. In the New Testament, there are 7,914 Bible verses—1,711 contain prophetic material, or 21.5%. So, of the Bible’s total 31,124 verses, 8,352 of those verses are prophetic material. Twenty-seven percent of the whole Bible is prophetic material.
There are 1,800 verses in the Bible that deal with the topic of the second coming of Jesus Christ. Every 25th Bible verse in the New Testament is about the second coming of Jesus Christ.
That means that if you were to stand before God and say, “Look, I don’t believe we ought to look at prophecy,” what you would be saying is, “Of the Bible that you gave to us, which is 27% prophetic material, I don’t think that’s important, God.” Want to say that to God? Want to get your scissors out and cut out a fourth of the Bible and say, “I don’t think we ought to read that”? I don’t think so. If God put it in there, then we ought to study it.
Now, second, the prophets are not the ones that originated or cooked up this message. The message came from God himself. Second Peter 1:20. “Above all,” Peter says, “you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of men, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” And then he says in verse 19, “We have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it.” You would do well to pay attention to it, Peter said.
Go over to 1 Peter 1:10: “Concerning this salvation”—what Christ brought—“the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted”—and notice what he predicted—“the sufferings of Christ”—Christ’s first coming, he would go to the cross—“and the glories that would follow”—that would be his second coming. They saw it all as one event. We, from this perspective, know Christ had to come in his first coming to suffer. In his second coming, he will come to go into his glory.
Peter says “it was revealed to [the prophets] that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. Therefore, prepare your minds,” prepare your minds for action. Peter said, “Look, God’s the one that gave this to the prophets. It wasn’t the prophets themselves. And you would do well to pay attention to it.”
The third thing, why I think you ought to look at prophecy, is that God says it’s important. Go over to Isaiah 45:21. God says, “Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the Lord?” He’s the One who gave prophetic information and “there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior, there is none but me. Turn to me, be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” So God says he’s the one that foretold the prophecy.
And then the fourth reason is that Jesus himself says that we ought to look at prophecy and study it. Take a look at Luke 24:25. He’s on the Road to Emmaus with his disciples, two of them, and they’re kind of blue because Christ has been crucified. They think he’s dead; he’s gone; won’t ever come back. That’s it. They’re back to their homes. He’s traveling with them. They still do not know it is he. “[Jesus] said to them, ‘How foolish you are and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!’” See, Jesus thinks that what the prophets had to say was tough stuff, was good stuff, and they should have looked at it. “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things?” Didn’t he have to go to the cross? Didn’t you recognize that from Isaiah 53 and other places? What do you think Zechariah was talking about when he says, ‘I’m the one they will pierce,’” talking about God himself. He said that he would be pierced. And then, “beginning with Moses,” verse 27, “and all the prophets, [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Jesus bawled the disciples out for not knowing the information about his first coming, and these are all tied to his work period on earth—both his suffering and his glory. They’re tied together.
We then should find it important to study these prophecies. Number one, God’s the one that gave it, not the prophets; number two, God said it was important; and number three, Jesus said it was important.
Well, this morning our topic is going to be to look at what is going to happen when Christians die, and will all Christians die? What about the doctrine of the rapture? And I want you to be able to study this yourself and to come to a clear understanding so you can tell your neighbors, and so we’re going to go through it slow. If you can remember this: there are three key scriptural passages. You get these under your belt, you’ll never have a problem with the doctrine of the rapture.
Let’s turn to the first one, all right? The first one is 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. Paul says here, “Behold, I show you a mystery.” Like a mystery? If you want, underline the word mystery and put the number 1 above that word—“I show you a mystery.” “We shall not all sleep.” What does it mean to sleep? We’ll see that in a moment. But put number 2, “we shall not all sleep.” “But we shall all be changed.” Put number 3 above the line “we shall all be changed.” Put number 4 above the phrase “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”
Four little points in this verse. What do they mean? “ Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep,  but we shall all be changed;  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” Four things.
Paul says, “I’m going to show you a mystery.” What is “mystery”? It’s the Greek word mysterion, which means it’s a new truth; it’s a new revelation that he got from God. What is the mystery? What is the new truth? That’s number two: Not all Christians are going to die. This is a totally new concept. No Old Testament believer hoped that some future generation of believers would enter into the presence of God physically without experiencing physical death. But Paul is talking about that. He is saying that sometime on planet earth there will be a moment when all of the Christians who are alive on planet earth at that moment will immediately be changed, disappear, and go into the presence of the Lord. You will not have to go via death, if you are part of that crowd.
Now, think about that for a moment. As I get older and things start to hurt here and there and everyplace else, and it gets a little tougher to live and so on, if I had my choice of going into the presence of the Lord via physical death or all of a sudden in the twinkling of an eye, I’m gone, I’m out of here, what would you choose? I’d be out of here, right? Absolutely.
Paul says, “Good news! We shall not all sleep.” We’re not going to all die. Now, why did he use the word “sleep”? Do you understand that—why he uses the word sleep? “Sleep” for most of us is laying in that bed, closing our eyes, and beaming, with a little smile on our face, “Oh, doesn’t this feel good?” If I took a picture of my wife Darlene lying down in the bed at night, putting her head on that pillow, you have never seen such a wonderful smile in your life! She loves that pillow. She loves that bed. I like to just come in there and look at her. It is like she’s having fun lying right in that bed. Is that you? Do you like your bed?
When Jesus Christ died, he was put into the grave and immediately came out of the grave on the third day and was resurrected. Since Jesus did that, death has had the sting taken out of it. You know, when a bumble bee comes at you, it’s got that stinger. The bumble bee was death. It stung Jesus Christ and Jesus got the stinger and took the stinger out of death. And ever since Jesus Christ died and rose again, the apostles changed the term for death. If you use the word death, it implies that when you see that body lying there, there is no hope that anything else will happen to it. That’s it, buddy! The apostle Paul changes it, so he says, “When you see death, we’re going to call it sleep, because really, the body is in repose, and it has a future. It will be resurrected. The same thing that happened to Jesus Christ is going to happen to every believer, just not in the same time period. But you have God’s promise that what happened to his Son Jesus Christ is going to happen to us. We are going to be resurrected. And so we call that time of death sleep. The body is just in repose, waiting for the time when we’re resurrected. That’s why he calls it sleep. Does that make sense?
“We shall not all die, we shall not all sleep but,” number three, “we shall all be changed.” Now, what does that word “change” mean? It means to change the nature of the thing. The mortal, that which is subject to death, take that off. We’re going to put on immortality—a body that’s going to last forever. It’s going to be similar, like our Lord Jesus’ resurrection body. And the older you get, the more you look forward to that, right?
I was in a conference with Dr. Walvoord, and Darlene picked up on what he was saying. And this is in the side part of the verses, you know, in the side part of the manuscripts there. But he says, in his opinion, he thinks everybody is going to, when they get to heaven, is going to be right about 30 years of age. Would you like to have your body at about 30 years of age? And he’s got the reason: that’s when Jesus started his ministry. And he’s got these other marginal readings that he brings in. But I think it’s neat, you know? Thirty. That sounds good to me, too. I don’t know if the Bible says that, but that sounds good to me. Just throw that out for you; get a little blessing from that.
But the Bible says, “Whatever happens, we’re all going to be changed and we’re going to have our new body.”
How long will the rapture take, by the way? Well, that’s number four: “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” What is “the twinkling of an eye”? Well, the blinking of an eye is one one thousandth of a second. That’s pretty quick. The Greek word here that is used is atomos, from which we get our word atom. It means you divide the period of time down so small that you can’t divide it any more. The twinkling of an eye actually means when light comes on your open eye and it’s a twinkle that flashes and your eye doesn’t even have time to blink. That fast.
Dr. Paul Meier went to school with Darlene and he wrote a book. It’s a novel on the rapture. It’s interesting. He’s a counselor, you know, a psychiatrist, and he’s got these folks sitting in a counseling office. And, interestingly enough, the only person that’s a Christian in the room is the psychiatrist. And these folks are all non-Christians and they’re talking; they’re hassling out their problems and the doctor’s dealing with them. And in this book all of a sudden, Snap! the counselor is gone. And they’re sitting there and they were just looking at the counselor. Snap! Gone! It’s an exciting little chapter that he’s got there.
But here’s what Paul is saying: all over planet earth, in a moment, some day millions of Christians all over the earth are just going to be gone. Think about it. “In a twinkling of an eye.”
So, four things. That’s all I wanted you to see in those four. Anything controversial there? I don’t think so. Not that I checked out. So that’s the first passage.
Now go over to the next passage, which is John 14:1-2. Now I want to hear what Jesus has to say about this. We have the time this morning, so let me add a P.S. When Paul said that that was a new truth, before we get to what Jesus said, let’s fulfill that a little bit; let’s broaden that out. When he said it’s a new truth, it was not known in the Old Testament. This was for the Church Age. They knew that Jesus Christ was going to return to earth, so it couldn’t have been that. How did they know that? Jesus had told them in John 14 where we’re going. He had also told them in Acts 1. Remember when he went up to heaven? In fact, take a look over there before we get to John 14. Let’s turn back to Acts 1. I want you to see this, because there’s another thing that’s important. When you’re not in a hurry you can do some of these little sidelines here.
Acts 1:9-11 is very interesting in terms of prophecy. Verse 9: “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel which also said, ‘Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as you have seen him go into heaven.’” So here, you can underline those words, “shall so come in like manner as you have seen him go into heaven.” They knew that he was coming back. He would return to earth. So what Paul was telling them had to be different from his second coming, if you want.
Also had to be different from what they knew in the Old Testament about resurrection. Well, let’s see about that. Daniel 12:2. Did they know about resurrection? Sure they did. Take a look at Daniel 12:2. “Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Daniel knew about the resurrection. So what Paul was saying, that wasn’t the resurrection; that was an old truth. Paul says, “I’ve got something new for you.” Abraham knew about the resurrection. You say, “How did Abraham know about the resurrection?” Hebrews 11. Take a look at verses 17-19. Goes back to when Abraham offered up Isaac on the altar. “By faith,” it says, “Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac; and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son of whom it was said, that in Isaac shall thy seed be called….”
Now, think about this. If the seed, the promised one, is going to come through his son Isaac, then why was Abraham going over and killing his son? Can you figure that one out? Here’s how Abraham had it figured out. “He accounted that God was able to raise him up”—a resurrection; so Abraham believed in the resurrection—“even from the dead, from which also he received him,” figuratively speaking.
Job also knew about it. Take a look at Job 19:25-27. You’ve heard this at the funerals: “For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold and not another. How my heart yearns within me.”
All I want to get to here is, Daniel, Abraham, and Job, they knew about the resurrection. Jesus said he was coming back in Acts 1. So the boys knew about the second coming. So Paul says, “I’m giving you a new truth. It couldn’t be the resurrection, because they knew that; and it couldn’t be the second coming, they knew that. So it’s got to be the rapture.
One other thing. Acts 1. Let’s turn to it, because it’s too important. Get the context, okay. Let me start at verse 1: “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach,” that’s the book of Luke, “until the day in which he was taken up. After that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandment unto the apostles whom he had chosen.” So he’s talking to the apostles. “To whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs.”
Ten different appearances are recorded in the Bible that Jesus appeared, and of course, over 500 people at one of those occasions. “Many infallible proofs were given, being seen of them 40 days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God”—what did he do? —“speaking to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. And being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem but wait for the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit, which saith, ‘Ye have heard of me.’” And then he goes on, talks about the Holy Spirit. “For John truly baptized with water but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.”
Now, look at what they asked him in verse 6. Jesus has just resurrected from the dead. He’s appeared to them over a 40-day period of time, reassuring them, “It’s me, boys! I’m the one. Check out my body, okay?” What’s the question that they asked him before he goes to heaven? What’s burning on their hearts? Look at verse 6: “When they therefore were come together, they asked of him saying, ‘Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?’”
What’s going on here? This, and the verse we’re going to in John 14, Jesus threw the disciples a curve ball. What were the Jews expecting the Messiah to do when he showed up? He was going to destroy all of Israel’s enemies. At that time it would have been the Roman Empire. He would have rebuked all the heathen nations. He would have thrown out the crooked religious leaders in Israel. He would have set up his earthly kingdom and he would have ruled on David’s throne throughout the earth from Jerusalem.
They thought he was the Messiah. Matthew 23, they thought Jesus had just got done denouncing Israel’s Jewish leaders in no uncertain terms. I mean, he just said, “Your house is left to you desolate!” And they thought, “Boy, oh boy, He’s right on schedule. He’s the Messiah. He’s now starting to clean up the religious leaders. He’s denounced them. He’s talking about the temple. And, the fact is, we’re right on schedule. It’s going to happen, maybe tomorrow, maybe next Thursday. It’s coming.” See?
So that’s why you go into chapter 24 and all of a sudden they say, “Jesus, is it this day or when is it coming now?” And in Matthew 24 is basically Jesus’ answer, which is one of the longest answers in the Bible, “Guys, not yet.” That’s Matthew 24. “And when it does come, here’s how you’ll recognize it,” talking about when he’s going to come back and establish that earthly kingdom. But they still didn’t really grasp it. And even here, when he’s just about ready to go back to heaven, what did they say? “Jesus, is it now? Are you going to set up the kingdom now?”
Now, there is a whole segment of the Church that says Israel is finished; God’s promises has been transferred have from Israel over to the Church and God has no future program for Israel. The boys didn’t seem to know that, because they were still expecting Jesus to set up the Kingdom, to fulfill the promises that he gave to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and down to David and all the way through the prophets that we looked at in our other sessions. They were still expecting that to happen.
And if Jesus really wasn’t going to have a plan with Israel and he wasn’t going to come back and establish an earthly kingdom, this would have been a great time for him to say, “You yahoos, you mean you still haven’t gotten it yet?! I mean, how many times do I have to say this? I’m finished with Israel, forget that!” He didn’t say that. They were still expecting it. And notice what Jesus said in verse 7: “He said unto them, ‘It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power.” Not yet. Not that there’s no program, it’s just not yet and it’s not for you to know when I’m going to do that.
By the way, there’s a whole group of people, some of my buddies, that are on TV saying that we as Christians have to serve the Lord and we have to bring in the kingdom. When we bring the kingdom in by exercising the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit, then Jesus will be able to come back. Jesus said, “It’s not for you to know the times or the seasons when the Father’s going to do that.” It’s not going to be us; it’s going to be the Father that’s going to do it. That’s just an aside, okay. Threw that in for free today.
Now, go back to John 14. Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled. Ye believe in God, believe also in me.” Verse 2: “In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you.” Underline this: “I go to prepare a place for you.” “I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again.” And what will he do? “And receive you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
Christ teaches six things here, and he threw them a curve ball. Number one, he says, “Concerning this thing about death,”—and the disciples in the context were afraid because Jesus was going away and so he’s really being pastoral here. He’s counseling them. He’s comforting them. He said, “Don’t worry about it. Trust me. Don’t be anxious. Those of you that are sweating death, don’t be anxious. Don’t worry about that. I’ll be with you.” And there’s a couple of ways he can do that. One is he can be with you, just in his presence through your life and the Holy Spirit of God. But there’s another way. But he said, “Number one, don’t worry about it.”
Number two, he says, “I go to prepare a place for you.” Do you realize that Jesus has a building project that he’s working on? How long has he been working on that building project? At least 1900 years. Must be some building. And what’s the building for? “For you!” “For you,” He said. “I’m going to prepare a place for you.” That’s number two.
Number three, where is this spot at? Is it in Boston? “In my Father’s house.” Where’s the Father’s house? Boston? No, last time I looked, heaven. Put “heaven” right there: “In the Father’s house,” heaven. So he’s going to prepare a place for you, and it’s in heaven; very important, as we’ll see in a moment—a very specific location around which this whole prophecy revolves.
He says, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Let’s just stop there for a moment. As you go into some of the new versions that are out, I remember some of my buddies like Hal Lindsey and Dave Hunt and Dave Breese were sitting in the back room having a cup of coffee and we’re laughing about it. And Dave Breese, he said, “You know, every time a new version comes out, we started out, “the Father’s house, he’s preparing a ‘mansion’ for us. Then the next one that came out, we’ve got ‘a dwelling place.’” He said, “The next one,” he said, “I feel like we’ve got a hut and then I’m down to a sleeping bag.” He said, “If more new translations come out, I won’t have anything!”
What’s going on here? They are trying to give a sense, and I think they’re missing the point with the people. It is a dwelling place; it is a room in the Father’s house. If you can remember, put a picture in your mind of the temple during Jesus’ own time, Herod’s temple. If you remember, the main sanctuary right in the middle, and then around it you have rooms, if you want. This is where the priests were at. I think when Jesus said that he looked over at the temple and what he was saying was, “When we get to heaven, God’s house is going to be like that in the sense that we’re all going to be in the same place.” He’s talking about intimacy. He’s talking about closeness.
You see, some of you, you feel like you are a second class Christian. Ankerberg and some of the others, they’re going to have a house right next door to Jesus, but the fact is, because of the way that you lived and who you are, you’re going to be about six miles down the road. Jesus is saying, “Wrong. We’re all going to be in the same house together. We are all going to have dwelling places, we’re all going to have rooms, that he is preparing in the Father’s house.” You will be in the house with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Why? Because he wants it that way. He doesn’t want you six miles down the road, he wants to have fellowship with you. He wants to be close to you. He wants to enjoy you and he wants you to enjoy him. So in a sense, the Father will be sleeping in the room next to you. The intimacy is what the translators are missing here. You will be in the Father’s house.
Now, in terms of, what’s it going to be like? This is not Motel 6 where they leave the light on for you! Now, I’ve traveled as an evangelist for a lot of years and, the fact is, I can remember sometimes as a teenager going out into the farmlands of Nebraska. And some of you other guys, you remember this, too. They didn’t have heat in those second rooms. My father, he was a couple of years before me. I mean, he had an extension cord that went out to his car that plugged into his battery that could heat him up, because he had the rug on him and two suits and blankets on him and he still wasn’t warm in some of those rooms. They were tough. But there are some nice motels.
I remember we went into Africa, into Rhodesia, to have a citywide crusade. And we were in the Monamotapa Hotel, best hotel in Rhodesia, and right next to the Parliament. And they gave us the presidential suite. Now, Darlene and I, we were just newly married. We came walking into this place, and I mean, the main room was just a little smaller than this room. And then off of this room—this was just the sitting room; this was where you had the guests in the presidential suite—and then that had another huge room about as big as our house. And the fact is, that was where you slept. And then you went off of that and there were some bathrooms. And I came into this one big room, and all it was was black tiles all the way around the room. And I said, “What do you do here? What’s this for? There’re no sinks, no mirrors. What do you do here?” You go and you stand in the middle of the room and they had these nozzles that hit you from all different spots. That was the shower! So, there are some spots that are really interesting.
We went and saw the president of Rhodesia. His house wasn’t bad. Billy Graham sleeps at the White House and at Buckingham Palace. I expect when you go into a room and you see a Rembrandt on the wall, you know that you’re in a pretty good room—I mean a real one, not a copy. That’s what the Queen has all the way around that place. The kind of room that you sleep in is reflective of the person that owns the place.
What kind of room are we going to have in the God’s house? I think it’s a neat spot. And Jesus says, “I’m so interested in that place being a nice place, I’m going to go and prepare a place for you.” Can’t wait to see that. Then he says, “If I go and prepare a place for you,” number four, “I will come again and receive you.” He says, “I will come again and receive you unto myself.” Now, when he says, “unto myself,” where do you think “unto myself” is at? Well, he says, “I’m going back to the Father’s house, I’m going to prepare a place for you there, and then I’m going to come again and receive you unto myself that where I am, there ye may be also.”
Where do you get the idea we’re going? We’re going back to the Father’s house. He just got done saying, “I’m preparing a place for you. I’m going to come and receive you and I’m going to take you where I am so that where I am, there ye may be also.” So I get the idea, and I think the disciples got the idea, that Jesus is coming and he’s going to take us back to heaven
And that was the curve ball. What happened to the kingdom? They couldn’t figure this one out. Jesus forgot the whole Old Testament. Loaded up with the fact is the Messiah’s going to come and establish the kingdom and rule from Jerusalem. And you’re saying we’re going back to the Father’s house and you’ve got a mansion up there for us? What’s going on here? How do you figure that one out?
You have Jesus coming at the rapture for his Church, and then we go to heaven. He presents us to the Father. We are there. We have the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. We are in the place, those dwelling places that Jesus has been preparing for us. And then a few years later, approximately seven years later, we come back with Jesus Christ and we watch as he establishes his Kingdom and takes care of his enemies on earth. Makes a lot of sense. Jesus said, “I go and prepare a place for you. I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am, there ye may be also.” In other words, wherever it is, we’re going to be there with him, which is very important.
Now, the third verse, the third passage. Go over to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. These are the three passages. They are the key. If you get these under your belt, you can explain it to anybody. 1 Thessalonians 4: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep.” What’s he saying? Here’s that word “asleep,” those that have died. The Thessalonians were new baby Christians. Paul had won them to the Lord just recently; probably three to six months before this he had been with them. He had just won them to the Lord on the preaching of hell, the Day of the Lord—which is the wrath of God coming upon the earth—and the rapture and the second coming of Christ. They had gotten saved on that. And the fact is, they are characterized, if you want—take a look at chapter 1—Paul characterizes them in verses 9 and 10, “How ye turned to God from idols” —they were pagans; they had served idols—“to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” These were people that were waiting for God’s son to come from where, Boston? No, from heaven. Same thing that Jesus said in John 14. They were waiting for that.
But in the waiting, they had a problem. They knew about the rapture; they knew they were going to be raptured up and meet the Lord; but they had a little problem because as they were waiting for the Lord to come, and they loved the Lord with all their heart and they loved each other. Somebody’s mother died; somebody’s father died. And all of a sudden they said, “Well, what happens to them? Are they going to miss out on this great event? Are they going to miss out on the gathering? Are they second class Christians? In fact, they started worrying about it. They thought, “Will we ever see them again? We’re going to be with the Lord. Did they do something wrong? What happens to them now that they’ve died before this event has taken place?” And if you love your mother, you want to know that you’re going to see her again. And they had all these questions.
So they wrote Paul, and Paul writes back to them within just a short time of the time that he was with them and he says, “Brethren, I don’t want you to be ignorant concerning [them which have died] them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe,” this is also the doctrinal basis, if you want, of the rapture, “if we believe” two things:  “that Jesus died.” If you believed that Jesus died for your sins; you said, “Lord, come into my life, I believe you died for my sins, I accept your forgiveness.  “And rose again.” Not that he was just in the grave but he came forth and he’s living now.
So, Jesus’ death and resurrection. “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, them also which sleep in Jesus.” I like that: “Sleep in Jesus.” You can never get out of Jesus, even when you’re dead, you’re in Jesus. Isn’t that neat? “Even so, them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring” now underline “with him.” He’s talking about those that have died. People say, “What happened to my husband? What happened to my wife?” They’re in the grave. And here Paul says at the time of the rapture they’re going to come “with Jesus.”
And something’s going to happen. Let’s read what it is, and I’ll tell you what happens. God will bring those people with Jesus. “For this we say unto you,” verse 15, “for this we say unto you,” and here’s where Paul got this doctrine of the rapture. He didn’t cook it up himself. “For this we say unto you, by the word of the Lord”—he got it from the Lord—“that we which are alive”—so he’s covering the two cases, the guys that are alive; those that are dead—he says, “We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [or precede] them which are asleep,” those that have died. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God,” and what’s going to happen? “The dead in Christ shall rise first.” Why do they rise first? One little kid told me, “They’ve got six feet further to go than the rest of us.”
Christ gives the shout. That word “shout” is a military command. You know, when the general walks into the room and he says, “Okay, boys, gather up,” what happens? Everybody jumps up and gathers up. Same thing. Christ, the King, comes out of heaven, gives the shout, the military command, “Gather!” Things start to happen. What happens. “The dead in Christ rise first.” But it says, “They’ll come with Him.” What happens when you die? When you die, your soul, your spirit, goes to be with the Lord. “Absent from the body; present with the Lord.” When you die, you close your eyes in this life and you open your eyes in the next life. You’re there immediately. But your body remains in the ground. It’s asleep, if you want. It’s in repose. Waiting to be changed. It has a future.
The Bible says when Jesus Christ comes back, we, our souls, our spirits that have been given a temporary body, if you want, come with Christ and we are rejoined with our bodies that have laid in the grave, but it’s changed. And we are given our resurrection bodies, if you want, the body that will be with us forever. And so this is what Paul says. God hasn’t forgotten them. And the fact is, they’re not going to miss out on this great event. They will be there. They’re coming back with the Lord. In fact, their bodies are going to be changed. They’re coming out first. Changed.
And then he says next, “Then we which are alive.” He’s covered those that are dead. “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them.” Now, here’s the neat part. If you’ve lost your husband, you’ve lost your wife, you’ve lost your kid, you’ve lost friends that are dear, when this rapture event takes place, the dead in Christ get their bodies up first, are reunited: spirit and body; and then we join them. We’ll be able to recognize them and we’ll go up together. It’s party time! It’s uniting time! It’s coming together time. You’ll be able to recognize them. You’ll be able to talk with them on the way up. “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them,” notice where it says, “in the clouds to meet the Lord,” underline the next words, “in the air.” Where do we meet the Lord? Boston? “In the air” is where we meet him. Jesus doesn’t come to planet earth here, he comes up above the earth and we meet him “in the air.” And then it says, “And so shall we ever be with the Lord. Comfort one another with these words.’
Now, the question is this: If you hook up 1 Thessalonians here to John 14, when we meet the Lord “in the air,” then what happens? Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you and if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am (heaven), there ye may be also.” I get the idea that if you hook up John 14 with 1 Thessalonians 2 here that the fact is, we will go. We will go to be with the Lord in heaven. Right?
Now, that’s the doctrine of the rapture. The entire Church believes in the doctrine of the rapture. Where the division comes is the fact of, will it take place before the tribulation, in the middle of the tribulation, or at the end of the tribulation? The whole Church believes we’re going to be raptured. I believe that—because it says “we will meet the Lord in the air,” and then John 14 says he’s going to take us to the Father’s house, the place he’s been preparing for us—that we go to heaven before the tribulation. Otherwise, you would have to say we meet the Lord in the air, make a U-turn and come right down to earth and we start to rule with Christ in his earthly kingdom here.
But then, what do you do with John 14? Why did Jesus tell us about John 14? He’s got a futile building project. We never do go to heaven then. Why would he tell us about that? I think he told us about it simply because we are going to spend some time in the Father’s house. We will be going there. And if that’s not correct, then Jesus told us all that information for no reason because “where I am, there ye may be also.” And if we only meet Christ in the air and then come to earth, we’re not going to heaven, we’re coming back to planet earth for a thousand years for the millennial kingdom. That’s just a head start for tomorrow. Tomorrow the question’s going to be: When does the rapture take place? Is the great hope of the Church going through the tribulation? We’re going to take a look at that tomorrow.
That’s what the Bible says. Are you ready to meet the Lord if he was to come today? There are no indicators that have to be fulfilled before Jesus comes from heaven to receive us. If this room was immediately vacated by every Christian because the rapture took place, would you be left? The Bible says, as clear as anything it does say, that someday all over the world those that belong to Christ, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, will be gone. Christ will take them.
I’m going to say a prayer and I invite you to say that prayer with me, in your heart, in your mind, right where you’re at. If you really mean this, if you would really like to know and have Jesus Christ make you a Christian, here’s that prayer.
“Dear Jesus, I’m a sinner. I’ve broken your laws. I believe that you’re God. I believe you died on the cross and paid for my sins. I believe you are coming again. But right now, I would ask that you would come into my life. Forgive me of the sins of my life, cleanse me, put your Holy Spirit of God into me. And I would ask that you would be pleased to make me a Christian right now. I put all of my hope, all of my trust, my very eternal destiny, into your hands right now. When I die or when you come back, I trust you that you will handle that. But I believe in you today. Thank you for coming into my life and making me a Christian.”
If you prayed that prayer, that’s the beginning relationship with the Lord. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord.” You called today. God says when you call, He saves you. Accept his promise. Get into the Word of God and let him show you what the next steps are, but trust that he has begun that relationship in you. You belong to him. He’s forgiven you of your sins.
Lord Jesus, thank you for our time together. And I pray that these words would be an encouragement to all of us. We look forward to when you will come and receive us unto yourself. It could be today. Thank you for this great hope that you’ve given to us. We thank you in Jesus’ name. Amen.