A Future Hope
Copyright © Indian Hills Community Church, Lincoln, Nebraska
The following text is taken from sermons preached by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. The text has been edited and condensed by IHCC staff and may contain some material from adjacent sermons in the series.
Review 1 Thess. 4:1-12
In our last study, we examined 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12. Paul's focus in this section was walking in a manner that is pleasing to God. In verses 1-8 Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to abstain from sexual impurity. He said, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality" (4:3). The will of God is that we be sanctified, and sanctification includes being separated from sin and living a life that is pleasing to God.
A true believer must live a pure life. Paul said if one does not live a sanctified life, then "Consequently, he who rejects" (God) "this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you." While unbelievers are controlled by their sin, believers have the power of the Holy Spirit made available to them. Those who practice sexual immorality are rejecting God Himself.
In verses 9,10, Paul commended the Thessalonians for the love of the brethren that they demonstrated, not just at Thessalonica, but to other believers as well. Paul proclaimed, "for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more." This was a reminder to the Thessalonians that they were never to be complacent. Paul exhorted them to "excel still more," even though they were already doing well.
Paul closed this section of 1 Thessalonians by addressing some of the weaknesses of the church at Thessalonica. In verse 11 he said, "...make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you." Evidently some of the Thessalonians had become lazy while they waited for Christ's return. They had stopped working and had become busy bodies. Paul commanded them to work hard, lead a quiet, tranquil life, and tend to their own business.
The reason for this command had to do with the testimony and personal lives of the Thessalonians. Paul concluded this section in verse 12, saying, "so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need." Paul was saying that when we do not live a "quiet life" as believers, we present a bad testimony to "outsiders" (unbelievers). As believers, we need to be above reproach in the way we live our lives.
Finally, we are to work hard and lead a quiet life so that we are not "in any need." We are not to be living off the work of others. Paul's command is that, whenever possible, a believer needs to work hard to provide food, shelter, and clothing for his own family. This is part of the responsibility we carry as believers.
I Thessalonians 4:13-18
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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 shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Paul changes gears in this section of 1 Thessalonians, focusing on prophecy. In fact, if one were to think of one subject that characterizes the entire letter of Paul to the Thessalonians it is "prophecy," particularly the coming of Jesus Christ to rapture His church, and the tribulation that will lead up to His Second Coming. In fact, one of the best basic passages concerning the rapture of the church is found at the end of chapter 4.
Beginning in verse 13, Paul addresses some of the questions the ] Thessalonians have concerning the rapture. What amazes me, is that Paul had taught this kind of theology to them in the short time that he had been with them. But they had questions concerning their loved ones who had passed away or were martyred for Christ. Would they take part in the rapture? In verse 13 Paul says, "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope." Paul uses the expression, "...we do not want you to be uniformed" several times in the New Testament. The King James Bible has it "..we do not want you to be ignorant." He wants them to understand this new material that he has taught to them, not to be "ignorant." He is saying, "You need to know this."
He addresses their questions concerning those who are "asleep," or dead. This was a common phrase used in a variety of religions, but it takes on special meaning to us as believers. It refers to the temporary inactivity of the body, but not the soul. As Christians, we know that when we die, our soul is immediately brought into the presence of God, while the souls of those who rejected God during their lives on earth are cast from His presence for eternity.
Paul continues, "...that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope." Paul's purpose in writing is to inform them about the death and resurrection of believers. He says that we are not to grieve, as do the rest "who have no hope." The whole world can be divided into two groups: those who have hope and those who do not have hope. Those who are outside of Christ have no hope. Their lives are centered on the "here and now." The reality of death brings fear and frustration into their lives. When a loved one dies, that loved one is gone from them for all eternity. They have a very good reason to grieve because they have no hope.
Believers, on the other hand, have a settled hope. Notice Paul does not say we cannot grieve. We certainly can be saddened by the loss of a loved one. But it is a different kind of sorrow. We have a hope that mellows our sorrow.
Paul goes on to explain this hope in verse 14. He says, "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus." This is a concise summary of biblical Christianity. A Christian is one who believes that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin, then rose from the dead on the third day after His death.
Paul draws a parallel. He says "...even so, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus." He is saying, "Just as Christ died, so too did these believers die. And just as surely as Christ was raised from the dead, so too will these believers be raised from the dead." Paul is reassuring the Thessalonians that those who are believers in the person and work of Jesus Christ have the hope of seeing their believing loved ones again.
It is the resurrection that gives us hope beyond this life. Notice how we will see our loved ones again. Paul says Christ will bring "with Him those who have fallen asleep." Christ will bring them with Him when He returns at the rapture. As James 2:26 tells us, the body without the spirit is dead. The person has left the body at the time of death. Medical doctors describe it differently. They say our brain waves have stopped, or our heart is no longer beating. According to Scripture though, when one dies, the spirit leaves the body and the body is temporarily inactive.
Paul addresses this truth in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8. He says, "..while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord-for we walk by faith not by sight-we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord." When we move out of our physical body, we go into the presence of the Lord, but while we are in our physical bodies, we are absent from he Lord. So death is a blessing, in a very real sense, for the believer in Jesus Christ, because it means that we will be present with the Lord.
(See also Philippians 1:21-23)
The person who has not trusted Christ leaves their body at death as well, but they move into a place of torment. This truth is illustrated in the account of Lazarus in Luke 16. In this account we see the comparison of a rich man who had everything on this earth, but who was not a believer and Lazarus, who was a beggar who trusted Christ for salvation. It came about that both men died, and Lazarus was carried away to heaven (verse 22), and the rich man was buried. Was that the end of him? No! Verse 23 says, "And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom." The man did not cease to exist. He went into torment because he rejected Christ during his life on earth. The truth is clear. After this life, there is continued existence for both the believer and the unbeliever-one of eternal blessing, the other of eternal torment.
The question of the Thessalonians refers to a time in the future. They have been assured that they will again see these loved ones who died as believers in Jesus Christ. But what of their physical bodies? What will happen to them? Paul continues in verse 15; "For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep." The only reason Paul knew these answers is because God had told him. He received this instruction "by the word of the Lord."
Paul then sets down an order of events. He says,''...we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep." He is saying, "You don't have to worry about your loved ones. We who are alive will not go to meet Christ before your loved ones who have died."
He explains this event in verse 16. He says, "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 shall rise first." Three things occur: the shout, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God. When these three things occur, the rapture will immediately take place.
The word used for "shout" is a military command. Some take this to mean that this is an order to believers to "move out" of this world, like an army moving out of a military base. But Scripture is not clear what the actual content of this event is.
The "voice of the archangel" is the "shout" which is like a "trumpet." The shout given forth is by the archangel, and it sounds like a trumpet. I believe it is possible to interpret the passage in this manner. The trumpet, in effect, signifies the command to believers to get ready to leave an area.
Who is the archangel? The only archangel identified in Scripture is Michael, the chief angel of Israel. What he says we are not told. We do know that this will be a dramatic time for the nation Israel because, with the removal of the church, God will resume His program with Israel in the 70th week of Daniel.
The significance of the "trumpet of God" is that it calls us to Jesus Christ. The sound issued forth is one that calls all believers to Himself at that point in time. Will only believers hear this trumpet? We do not know because we are not told for sure, but there have been instances when God has spoken and the whole world has heard. For example, When Paul was on the Damascus road in Acts 9, those who were with him heard noise, although they could not understand the words that Christ was saying.
(See also John 12)
The order is "...the dead in Christ shall rise first." I find it interesting that God decided to share this with us. It shows that He is concerned about what concerns us. He doesn't just say, "Don't worry." He goes into detail to explain the order of those taken at the rapture. And according to verse 16, those who have died as believers will receive their bodily resurrection immediately preceding ours. The Thessalonians don't have cause to worry about their dead loved ones. They will go into God's presence before the rest of them. This verse refers to New Testament saints only. The Old Testament saints will be raised seven years later at the time of the Second Coming.
Paul continues listing the order in verse 17; "then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord." The dead will go first, but it will only be a split second before we are also caught up. They don't rise and meet Christ in the air, then go to heaven for a while, and then Christ returns again for us. These events happen almost simultaneously.
Where will we meet Christ? Does He come to earth and take us? No. According to verse 17, we will be "caught up together with them in the clouds." He calls all believers forth from the earth to meet him in the air, the dead coming first in their resurrected bodies, with those who are alive immediately behind.
After these events take place, "we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words." What a reunion! We will be reunited with loved ones in the very presence of the Lord! What a tremendous hope we have, as believers in Jesus Christ. We may weep at the passing of a loved one who is also a believer, but we will be reunited with them again on the day of the rapture, and be with them for all eternity.
First Corinthians 15 is the other major passage concerning the rapture. The word "rapture" means to be "caught up." As a word, it does not appear in the New Testament. Therefore, some people say that the event of the rapture is unbiblical. However 1 Corinthians 15 proves this event to be true. In verse 51 Paul refers to the "mystery." This is a word that indicates something that has never before been revealed by God is about to be made known.
What is this "mystery?" Paul says, "...we shall not all sleep (die), but we shall all be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51). How will we be changed? Paul says "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:52). The phrase "in a moment" is a Greek word that represents the smallest interval of time. The rapture will happen so fast that if you blink you will miss it.
When will this occur? "at the last trumpet." This is the same "trumpet" that Paul refers to in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4. It is not the last trumpet in Scripture but it is the last trumpet that is ordering believers to "move out!"
Paul doesn't develop the order of the rapture, as he did in 1 Thessalonians, but it is the same. Once this event takes place we will undergo a change. Paul says, "But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on the immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory.'" Jesus Christ has conquered death by His resurrection from the dead, but that realization for you and me is yet to come. We may still have to pass through physical death. But we may also be blessed to be alive at the time Christ comes to take His own into His presence at the rapture. It is at this time that every believer will realize that death and sin has been conquered once for all.
This truth negates the claim made by some so-called Christians that God does not intend for us to be sick or suffer. First Corinthians 15 illustrates that it is God's will that every believer experience physical death until the day of the rapture comes. Those believers who are alive when the rapture occurs will be the only humans in history who don't experience physical death. The only person who ever conquered death and sin was Jesus Christ. But at the day of the rapture, the question will be, "O death where is your victory? O death where is your sting" (1 Corinthians 15:54). The defeat of death and sin will finally be realized by every believer in Jesus Christ who has lived, or lives on that day. What a tremendous hope!
When one considers it, the process we will undergo will be amazing. Imagine that we are alive when the rapture takes place. We will hear a trumpet, and in an instant we will meet the Lord in the air, and we will be reunited with loved ones. Not only that, but we will also receive a resurrection body. This will be a body that is imperishable, uninhibited by the normal physical limitations we now experience. The best example we have of a resurrected body is that of the risen Christ in Luke 24. He had the same body He was buried in, yet all the minor imperfections that He had were no longer there. He still has the scars on His wrists and ankles from the nails on the cross, but I believe those are there as a reminder to us of His sacrifice. He was not physically limited by time, space, and gravity as we are today. Yet, He was flesh , and bone. He said, "touch Me" (Luke 24:39). This verse proves that we will be able to recognize our loved ones even though I'm sure they, and we, will look a lot better.
The fact that we are going to receive a resurrection body is to impact our lives today. Paul says, "Therefore my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians15:58). We are always to be "abounding" or "overflowing" in our work for the Lord. Why? Because we know our toil "is not in vain in the Lord." The subject of the rapture should excite us because of the tremendous hope that will be realized.
It seems like some Christians get excited at first, and they work real hard, but then they begin to slack off, saying things like, "I taught Sunday school for awhile. Now it's someone else's turn." Or "I worked in the nursery for a year, but I don't have the time anymore." This indicates that these people have no understanding of the rapture. Because if the event of the coming of the Lord is truly understood, the impact that has on a believer is that he is now "steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord." Let's put it this way; Paul wouldn't use the term workaholic. It wouldn't be in his vocabulary. According to 1 Corinthians, we will never be able to work hard enough for the Lord. We are continually to be driving forward with all our might, not pacing ourselves so that we don't get tired. I wonder if we wrote descriptions of one another, how many of us would be described by other believers as one who is working to "overflowing" for the Lord?
First John illustrates the impact that the rapture is to have on our lives as believers. "See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him...we know that, when He appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And every one who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3: 1-3). When the rapture occurs, we will become like Christ Himself, receiving our glorified bodies, and residing in the presence of the Lord for all eternity. Because this is our hope, we are to live like Christ on earth. He is the standard by which we are to hold ourselves.
(See also Titus 2:11, John 14)
Are you a believer in the person and work of Jesus Christ? Have you trusted in Him as your personal Lord and Savior? If you have, how have you lived your life this week? Were you driven by the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming one day to take His own off the earth and into His presence for eternity? Is your hope fixed in the fact that you will be reunited with other believing loved ones with a glorified body, in the presence of God?
If you are not a believer, do you realize that you have no hope outside of this world? Do you realize that at the moment of your death you will be eternally separated from those you love, and even from God Himself, in a place of terrible torment? Do you want hope? Do you want forgiveness? If so, all you have to do is see yourself as God sees you, a sinner who is separated from God, and believe that He sent His Son Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for sin in your place, trusting in Him as your Lord and Savior. Don't delay!
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.
INDIAN HILLS COMMUNITY CHURCH
1000 South 84th St., Lincoln, NE 68510-4499...Phone: 402-483-4541...Fax: 402-483-6716
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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.
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