Pastor Phil Andrukaitis, April 23, 2023
The Apostle Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians
General Theme: Living Righteously While Waiting Patiently for Jesus to Return
Sermon Title: Our Blessed Hope
Sermon Text: First Thessalonians 4:14-18
Subject: the “snatching away” of the church
Complement: The rapture of the church brings comforting hope to the church, while leaving behind divine judgment upon the world.
Dominating Idea: The rapture of the church is the Christian’s blessed hope.
Overview & Review
I. Spiritual leaders prove their concern for the church. (1:1a)
II. Spiritual leaders provide care for the church. (1:1bc)
III. Spiritual leaders pray for the church. (1:2-10)
IV. Spiritual leaders pattern a life of loving service unto the church. (2:1 – 3:13)
V. Spiritual leaders prescribe exhortations for the church. (4:1 – 5:22)
A. Exhortations regarding practical sanctification (4:1-12)
B. Exhortations regarding eschatological concerns (4:13-18)
1. What happens to Christians after they die?
2. Why is the Rapture the Christian’s blessed hope? Our Focus Today
It happened this way just over 48-years-ago. One evening late in February 1975, Sally and I were invited to view a free movie at the Salvation Army facilities in Lynn, MA. The name of the movie was, “A Thief in the Night” [1972 production]. I was not prepared for what I saw or heard that night. The movie was about end times and the “snatching away” of Christians before the 7-year judgment period known as the Tribulation. The movie’s theme song, “I Wished We’d All Been Ready,” written by Larry Norman, haunted me. I knew I was not ready to meet God. However, that night, Sally cried out to God in her spirit and was “born-again” by the Holy Spirit.
One week later, on March 5, 1975, the Spirit of God convicted my soul of my sinfulness and made it known to me that I was under His condemnation. My only hope of escaping everlasting torment in hell was to call out to Jesus. At that moment, I bowed my heart to Jesus Christ and cried unto Him for mercy and to save me from my sins. Yes, I believe Jesus Christ died for me, bearing the wrath of God in my place, shedding His blood to redeem me from my sins, rising from His empty tomb to declare unto me, “not guilty,” and reconciling me to God the Father.
From that day to the present, I have been ready because Jesus has saved me. Sally is ready too! After the movie, the Spirit of God convicted her of her sins and Jesus’ love for her. Later that night, Sally was “born-again” by the Spirit of God!
Ever since that time, like many of you, I have seen the moral descent of our nation to the point that we, as a nation, are beyond the point of no return. I believe God has abandoned America to its wicked desires. Is God still working to save souls? ABSOLUTELY, YES! But not the nation. That I why we are called to preach the gospel, that sinners may repent and escape the coming judgment.
Many students of Scripture ask if America will have a role in the end times. Scripture is silent on this matter. However, I believe that America’s descent (our descent) into moral depravity will bring collapse our country, especially as Russia and China exert their influence upon our nation and the world. America has lost its “MOJO” because of its feckless and corrupt politicians, beginning with our president and including most of the congressional representatives.
Therefore, as our nation sinks into the abyss of sin and depravity and ultimate destruction, we the church are living in the most incredible time – a time where this could be the church’s finest hour. God is calling His people to share the gospel with their families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, strangers – everyone. When the Lord calls His church together to meet Him in the air, it will be too late for our loved ones and the people we know. Will they be one of the four billion people who lose their lives when God breaks open the seven seals and sounds the trumpets? What a horrible thought…
How about you? Are you ready? At any moment, Jesus Christ may “snatch away” the church [commonly known as the Rapture]. If you are not ready to meet God by faith through Jesus Christ, the days ahead of you will only be filled with fear, hopelessness, and death. Prepare your heart for the “coming of the Lord” by calling out to Jesus to save your soul.
Last week this pulpit answered the question that many Christians have asked, what happens to believers after they die? The question was answered with this truth – divine hope comforts the grieving Christian…
- …with understanding from the Holy Scriptures;
- …with the gift of hallowed assurance; and
- …with the promise of a heavenly reunion.
While God’s gracious provisions comfort the believer’s sorrowing heart, it is the last provision that is most intriguing because Paul describes in detail how God’s promised, heavenly reunion will unfold. Therefore, let us consider an overview of the rapture, ask three questions, and look more closely at the details leading up to this heavenly “reunion.”
Overview of the Rapture
I believe the rapture is a singular event that stands apart from the second return of Jesus Christ (John 14:1-3, 1st Corinthians 15:50-58, 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18). I encourage you to read these foundational passages as they describe the nature of the Lord’s promise to return for His disciples.
When the last “elect” person is saved – “…until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25b), that’s when the rapture will occur. Therefore, I believe the rapture is the next prophetic event on our calendar.
While there are varying views as to when the rapture will occur, I believe the rapture will occur before the Tribulation because of these reasons:
- First, within the following passages (John 14:1-3, 1st Corinthians 15:50-58, 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18), there is no judgment upon the church associated with this event.
- Second, since Revelation is chronologically written, the church is mentioned 19 times from chapters 1 through 3; however, the church never appears in chapters 4 through 18. But in chapter 19, John writes of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and the Church. Hmmm, it seems nonsense to drag the Bride of Christ “through the mud during the worst time on earth.” [Elizabeth Prata]
- Third, there is no specific instruction for the church to endure the Tribulation where the wrath of the Lamb is poured out upon a rebellious world. Therefore, God has reserved for the church His blessed hope (Titus 2:11-14).
- Fourth, as stated earlier, the rapture is its own stand-alone event when the church is “snatched away” into heaven to experience the Marriage Feast of the Lamb and to stand before the Lord’s “bemaseat” (2nd Corinthians 5:10). Therefore, how does the rapture, either at the mid-point or end of the judgment period mesh with the church returning with Jesus?
- Finally, look more closely at Revelation 3:10. To the persecuted church in Philadelphia, Jesus said,
“Because you have kept My word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.”
In summation, the rapture and the second coming are two, distinct events. In the rapture, Jesus comes for His church, meeting them in the clouds to bring them to heaven. However, in His second coming, Jesus returns to the earth with His church…
…to usher the Tribulation survivors [sheep] into the kingdom (Matthew 25:31-46)
…to cast the Tribulation unbelievers [goats] into hell (Matthew 25:31-46)
…to establish His millennial kingdom on earth and to bind Satan for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-9)
…to crush once and for all the final rebellion that will arise at the 1000-year reign of Christ (Revelation 20:7-10)
…to judge every unbeliever at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15)
…to remake the heavens and the earth where the New Jerusalem will dwell (Revelation 21-22)
1st Question: What is the “Parousia,” the coming of the Lord?
“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.
For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, That we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”
(1st Thessalonians 4:14-15)
The Thessalonians had been clearly taught the gospel of Jesus [i.e. Jesus died and rose again] and that faith in Christ brings eternal life and the promise of heaven with Jesus.
The Thessalonian saints had also been taught that the Parousia involved the physical presence of Jesus Who will “snatch” the church from this earth, thereby escaping the terrible divine judgment that will come upon the inhabitants on the earth. And as for Christ’s physical return with the church, Jesus will formally establish His glorious kingdom on this earth, raise the dead, and conduct the last judgment (1st Thessalonians 2:19, 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2nd Thessalonians 2:1, 8-9).
The Thessalonian saints has also been taught that those who had “fallen asleep” [died] will rise from their graves first to meet Jesus and then those who are still alive will follow.
Unfortunately, it seems that the Thessalonian saints were exposed to errant teachings, regarding the “day of the Lord,” from those who opposed the gospel. Moreover, many of the saints were concerned that believers who had died would miss the glory of Christ’s second coming. Consequently, the erroneous teachings to which the Thessalonian church had been exposed only added further distress their affliction because of the gospel they embraced.
No wonder Paul addressed these eschatological issues and reassured the Thessalonian church that the dead in Christ would go first and then those who are alive will follow.
2nd Question: What is the nature of the “Parousia,” the coming of the Lord?
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of a trumpet of God. And the dead will rise first.
Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”
(1st Thessalonians 4:16-17)
I believe to understand the Parousia, we need to return to the upper room in John 14 where Jesus is conducting His last Passover meal with His disciples. He has told them of His impending death; yet, He also said that He would take care of them through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Jesus – would bring truth, love, comfort, understanding, peace, power, wisdom, etc. to them (John 16; Act 2).
However, their troubled expressions revealed their troubled souls thereby prompting Jesus to promise His disciples that He would return for them. His promise provided great hope for them to carry on, especially after His resurrection and the Spirit’s indwelling.
Like Jesus, Paul also provided great hope for the Thessalonian church [and us too] because of God’s promise to return for His disciples. Here are several observations from the Thessalonian text:
The Lord Himself… At the Last Supper, Jesus sought to comfort His disciples and promised them that He was going to heaven to prepare a place for His disciples and would personally return for them. He would not send angels to do this work; Jesus will come for His own.
…will descend from heaven… Presently, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father having made purification for our sins (Hebrews 1:3). At the appointed hour on a specific day according to God’s calendar, Jesus will descend from heaven. Just as the disciples saw Jesus ascend into heaven, the angels standing next to the disciples said, “This same Jesus, Who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11; NKJV). Thus, His coming will be personal, physical, and visible.
…with a shout… keleusma (Strong’s #2752) Wow! Listen to John 5:28 “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice…” Lazarus, who had been dead and laid to rest in the tomb for four days, heard his name when Jesus called out to him and came out of the tomb, alive (John 11:38-44).
…with the voice of the archangel… Scripture seems to imply that there are several archangels (Daniel 10:13), but only one is mentioned by name, Michael (Jude 9). Since Michael and other angels are commissioned to “watch over” the sons of God (Daniel 12:1; Hebrews 1:14), the voice of the archangel may be a command to the other angels to guard and protect the “raptured” saints as they pass through Satan’s domain.
…and with the trump of God… Listen to the Corinthian passage…at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. While trumpets have many uses in Scripture, like calling the people together for prayer, feasts, or to sound an alarm; it appears that this trump of God is a call to assemble His people together (Exodus 19:16-19) and to deliver His people (Zechariah 9:14-17). The Church, the bride of Christ, is about to be delivered from the judgment of God, destined for this sinning and unbelieving world.
… and the dead in Christ shall rise first… Finally, the dead in Christ will be united with their resurrected, glorified bodies. For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. John wrote: “Beloved…we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1st John 3:2b; NKJV).
NOTE: There is a special order regarding God’s resurrection program.
The First Resurrection occurs in various stages:
…..at the empty tomb of Jesus Christ; He is the “first fruits” Who paved the way for the resurrection of all who believe in Him (1st Corinthians 15:20).
…..at Christ’s Parousia before the Tribulation (1st Cor.15:23b; 1st Thes.4:15-16).
…..at the end of the Tribulation / beginning of Christ’s Millennial reign [OT saints and Tribulation saints] (Daniel 12:1-2; Revelation 20:4-5). Blessed are they that partake of the First Resurrection (Revelation 20:6).
The Second Resurrection (Revelation 20:6, 11-15) is reserved for the Great White Throne Judgment.
…then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air… Listen again to Paul’s words from Corinthians:
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We all shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump…”
But how does this “change” happen? Believers are “caught up” harpazō (Strong’s #726); to snatch or catch away. Harpazō is used 14 times in the NT for situations when something is carried off or taken away (Acts 8:39; 2nd Corinthians 12:2-4; 1st Thessalonians 4:17; Revelation 12:5).
The word, rapture, is not in the English Bible but is derived from the Vulgate [Latin translation of the NT]. Thus the Greek word, harpazō, was rendered into Latin verb, rapturo. And from the verb form to a noun, rapture – thus Rapture.
The Lord will come for His disciples, without warning, like a thief who comes in the night.
Summarizing the nature of the Rapture:
It is future, imminent, distant yet near, undated, unexpected, and sudden.
Are you ready?
3rd Question: What are the purposes for the “Parousia,” the coming of the Lord?
- To receive His Bride, the Church, Who will forever remain with Him.
Jesus Christ does not have to further “purify” the Church by beating up His Bride in the Great Tribulation. His shed blood on the cross has cleansed His people from all sin. Rather, following the Rapture, the Marriage Feast of the Lamb will take place (Revelation 19:7-9).
- To complete the glorification of the Church by giving every believer their new resurrected body.
Along with receiving their glorified bodies, believers will also stand before the bemaseat of Christ and receive praise and recognition for their faithfulness to Christ (2nd Corinthians 5:10).
- To resume His “program” with Israel.
When the last unregenerate sinner is born-again, the fullness of the Gentiles will be realized, and God will resume His plan with Israel. Listen to Paul’s words in Romans 11:25:
“Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers; a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”
- To allow apostasy to reach its fullness.
The Day of the Lord will not come until the apostasy reaches its fullness. I need to study further the idea that the church may know the identity of the antichrist. Nevertheless, apostasy will reach its fullness with assistance from the antichrist, then will come the judgments.
- To deliver the Church from the Lamb’s wrath (Revelation 6:16-17).
Did you ever think about the expression, the wrath of the Lamb? It’s an oxymoron. As the Great Tribulation begins with the opening of the seals, those left behind hide themselves in caves and call to the mountains to fall on them because they do not want to experience Christ’s wrath any longer. However, even as the sixth trumpet sounds, those who are still alive in this awful time would not repent of their idolatries and murders and sexual immoralities (Revelation 9:20-21).
With this thorough explanation of this great coming event, Paul admonishes the Thessalonians [and us] to comfort one another with these words (1st Thessalonians 4:18). So, how do we comfort one another? Keith Krell suggests the following:
1. Encourage Christians in the face of death. When death comes knocking on your door, do not fear it but know that it is simply a brief transition from this earthly life to heaven’s life. And once there, we will be face to face with Jesus.
2. Encourage Christians to exercise biblical stewardship. God has entrusted us with many blessings. Therefore, remember your priorities and invest in heavenly treasures; God’s returns beat any offer earthly investments promise.
3. Encourage Christians to share their faith. Our lives are short; a wisp of smoke when compared against the backdrop of eternity. Therefore, know that the value of a person’s soul if of infinite value. That is why Christ shed His blood; for His blood is also of infinite value.
4. Encourage Christians to worship. Cultivate a lifestyle of worship. Don’t wait for Sunday and then moan and groan because we have gone over 10 or 15 minutes. Learning how to worship now will make us feel at home when we get to heaven.
5. Encourage Christians to persevere. Considering Jesus’ promise to return for you and me, press through those challenging trials with the Spirit’s power.
6. Encourage Christians to remain patient. No one knows when the Lord will come for His church (Matthew 24:36-37); therefore, walk in the spirit of preparedness and holiness (James 5:7-8). Amen.