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A Look At First Thessalonians. Part 5: The Rapture And The Day Of The Lord

In this Series we have seen that Paul visited Thessalonica and in response to his preaching a church was established. Because he was unable to visit them for some time, he wrote a letter to encourage these new believers. In chapter 4 Paul told them how to live to please God. They were to avoid sexual immorality and excel in holiness and brotherly love. In this part we will look at the Second Coming, a major theme mentioned in each chapter (1 Th. 1:9-10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:17; 5:23). The Thessalonians knew of the Second Coming as part of the gospel message. In fact, some were so sure it would be soon that they gave up their jobs to prepare for it (1 Th. 5:14; 2 Th. 3:6-12). Further teaching was needed on this topic.

Death Is Like Sleep
“We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NIV).

The Thessalonians who were expecting the Lord to return any day (1 Th. 1:10) must have been worried about those who had already died. Would they see their loved ones before the final resurrection at the end of time (Jn. 11:24)? Also Paul had probably taught them that Christ was coming back to reign and that Christians would reign with Him (Rev. 20:6). Would those who had already died miss this? Paul wrote this passage to allay their fears.

He used “asleep” three times to describe the state of the believer after death (13,14,15). When someone is “asleep” or resting, we can have contact with them again after they wake. This metaphor teaches us that death is not the end; as waking follows sleep, resurrection follows death. Paul said they were “asleep in Jesus” (4:14), meaning they were in His care. The soul and spirit don’t sleep in death, as they are “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).

When a believer dies, there is sorrow but not despair, because there is the hope of heaven and reunion (4:13). The basis of our hope is the resurrection of the Lord (4:14). Paul wrote elsewhere: “Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22). Because Christ rose, so will all believers who have died. We are assured of this because God will bring them with Jesus (4:14). When will this be? When Jesus returns in power and glory. The dead won’t miss the glory of the coming kingdom.

A Period Of Time
The “coming” of the Lord “down from heaven” (4:15-16) is derived from the word parousia. It means both “arrival” or “coming” and “presence with.” It is the opposite of absence. In the Bible, parousia is associated with: the Rapture, when Christ returns for all true believers (1 Th. 4:15); the Judgment Seat of Christ, when rewards are given to believers for service (1 Th. 2:19; 5:23); and the appearing, when Christ returns to earth in great power and glory (1 Th. 3:13; 2 Th. 2:8). The Second Coming (or “presence”) of the Lord will be a series of events that occurs over a period of time, not all at once.

This sequence of future events can be inferred from The Revelation: the Church on earth (Rev. 2-3); the Rapture, that is Christ’s return to take all believers (dead and alive) home to be with Him; the Church in heaven (Rev. 4-5); the Tribulation on earth (Rev. 6-18); the appearing, that is Christ’s return to earth in great power (Rev. 19); the Millennium, a 1,000 year kingdom (Rev. 20); and the new heaven and new earth, a new eternal universe (Rev. 21-22).

When we think of the Lord’s coming, we should think of a period of time, not an isolated event. For example, Christ’s first coming to earth (“presence”) was over a period of 33 years; that’s how long He was physically present on earth. In fact, one of His names is “Immanuel – which means ‘God with us’” (Mt. 1:23).

The Rapture
“According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).

The Rapture (4:15) was a new revelation, referred to as a mystery or truth previously unknown (1 Cor. 15:51). Two categories of Christians are mentioned – those living and the dead. The bodies of the dead will not be left behind at the Rapture. The sequence of events is in four steps. First is the Lord’s return, when Jesus will come down from heaven with a loud command, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God. The command is probably addressed to the dead (Jn. 5:28-29; 11:43). Second is the resurrection of the dead, when the “dead in Christ” will rise first, with God recreating from the remains of dust the bodies of all who have died. Third is the transformation of the living believers who will be “caught up” (rapturo in Latin) together with the dead. Fourth is the reunion, when we will meet the Lord in the air to be with Him forever. Jesus summarized the Rapture this way: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:3).

The truth of resurrection was not the mystery, since it appeared in the Old Testament; the change of the living believers at the Lord’s return was the mystery. Paul described this sudden change: “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Cor. 15:51-53).

Paul also wrote that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). When He returns, our bodies will be transformed to be like His resurrection body – suited to heaven, not subject to sickness, decay or death, and free from sin and its effects. This is called the “redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). The Bible doesn’t say whether it will be a secret or a public event. Because it takes place in a flash, some say it won’t be seen by unbelievers. Others say it will be heard. Paul’s answer to their concerns was this: When the Lord returns, your loved ones who have died will not miss His appearing or the Millennium.

The Day Of The Lord
“About times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4).

The “day of the Lord” is not a 24- hour period. In the New Testament, it refers to God’s future time of judgment of the world (Acts 2:20; 1 Th. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). It will be characterized by gloom, darkness and destruction. The sun moon and stars will be darkened (Mt. 24:29; Rev. 6:12). There will be judgments on God’s enemies as described by the seals, trumpets and bowls in the Revelation. The “day of the Lord” is used to describe events in the Tribulation, the appearing and the final destruction of the heavens and earth with fire.

The “day of the Lord” will be a time of judgment of unbelievers; note the words “them” and “they” (5:3). Paul gives three characteristics of that time: it will be unexpected, destructive and inevitable.

First, Jesus said it will be unexpected: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed” (Lk. 17:26-30). Life will go on as usual until God removes His people, and then His judgment will come on the earth.

Second, He also said it will be destructive, and described it as follows: “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equaled again” (Mt. 24:21). The great distress only ends when the Lord comes in great power and glory (Mt. 24:29-31).

Third, it will be inevitable, like the labor preceding birth. Once it starts a woman can’t change her mind, and birth follows soon after. Paul said the world cannot escape God’s terrible judgments.

Salvation Instead Of Suffering
“But you … are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5).

Paul said that there is a way of escape. The words “you,” “we” and “us” (5:4,5,9,10) tell us that Christians will not go through these judgments. Paul contrasted two groups: Unbelievers are in darkness and night, while believers are in light and day. In Scripture, “light” represents what is good and true, while “darkness” represents what is evil and false (Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 6:14; 1 Jn. 1:5-7). He said that only those in darkness will experience these judgments. “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him” (1 Th. 5:9-10).

Verses 9-10 tell us that instead of suffering judgment, believers will receive salvation; they will be with Christ where there is no sin. Other verses also show that Christians will not experience the suffering described in the “day of the Lord” or the Tribulation (Rom. 5:9; 1 Th. 1:10; 2 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 3:10). Instead, we will be raptured, that is taken away as Noah was taken away from destruction of the flood and Lot from the destruction of Sodom.

Living In View Of The Second Coming
“Let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8).

Paul urged believers to live consistently as children of the day and of the light, alert and self-controlled. We should be expecting Christ’s return at any moment, living for Him and not being lazy, careless, distracted, self-indulgent, or living in sinful behavior. We should also be sober, seeking to further the kingdom of God instead of our own entertainment, being self-controlled and not losing control of our behavior.

He then said believers should exercise faith, love and hope like armor that protects us from losing control. Faith involves depending on God. Our love for the Lord and for each other can help us live for God today. And Christ’s return is our hope. The prospect of heaven helps us live for God today.

Paul’s passages on the Rapture and the day of the Lord have similar conclusions: “Encourage one another with these words” (1 Th. 4:18). “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Th. 5:11).

Lessons For Us
The second coming of the Lord is a series of events over a period of time. The Rapture will be a great reunion of believers both dead and alive. Like the first century Christians, we should expect it to occur at any moment. Are we encouraging each other as we eagerly wait for it?

Published, May 2009

See the next article in this series: Living as a Christian
Also see summary of 1 Thessalonians: Encouragement for tough times

Does God Want Us To Be Rich? Part 3

The USE and abUSE of money

In Luke 16 Jesus told two stories about money. Both begin with these words: “There was a rich man.” The first one shows that money can be used for gain, while the second shows that it can lead to ruin.

The Shrewd Manager
In the first, the parable of the shrewd manager, Jesus gave a lesson about money (Lk. 16:1-13). It is clear that this is the purpose of this message, because afterwards “the Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus” (Lk. 16:14). Jesus had more to say about money and possessions than about any other subject. It was a theme in almost half of His parables. Since Jesus had so much to say about it, we’d better pay attention.

A rich man employed a manager to look after his business (Lk. 16:1-8). After he heard that his manager was wasting his wealth, he called him in to explain his wastefulness and dishonesty, and then to dismiss him. Maybe the manager was making money on the side and had a high expense account.

Knowing that he would lose his job, the manager then thought of a scheme to help him when he was unemployed. He went to people who owed money to the rich man and offered them a substantial discount so they’d favor him in future. The debtors were farmers who owed the master rent, which in those days was paid in goods. These debts would have been a significant portion of the annual production of a farm. When the master found out, instead of being angry about the 20-50% cut in his profit, he commended the clever manager. The rich man admired him for planning for his future by providing friends for himself. Even though the manager had been wasteful and dishonest, he was shrewd in planning for his future. Jesus commended his use of money, not his dishonest business practices. Jesus drew three lessons from this story.

Lesson 1: The Best Investment
The first lesson is: “The people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Lk. 16:8-9). He compared two groups of people: those without a personal relationship with God are “the people of this world”; those with one are “the people of light” (Eph. 5:8; 1 Th. 5:5).

Jesus used this story to teach a lesson that Christians can learn from non-Christians. He said that unbelievers provided for their physical future in this world better than Christians provided for their spiritual future in heaven. People generally use more creativity and effort to make money than Christians do to advance the gospel. Like the shrewd manager, unbelievers are usually smart when it comes to money; he prepared for his future and so do they. Likewise, Christians should prepare for their eternity in heaven. Let’s look at how.

Believers are to use money while they can. Notice that He says “when it is gone” (16:9), meaning that it won’t last forever. The manager only had a short time to act, but he used the opportunity. Facing a deadline, he made a plan and acted before the opportunity was gone. We are also facing a deadline when our material resources will be gone, or we will be gone from this life. Do we have a plan to influence our world before that deadline, or are we letting opportunities pass by? We should be using our money and resources so others will benefit spiritually and welcome us into heaven when we die. This means making friendships that will last forever by helping people accept the Savior by such means as hospitality, giving to missionary work, helping the needy.

Here’s a way to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Mt. 6:20), a way of transforming material things into spiritual things that will last forever. It’s investing in eternity – spending our money on things that will last forever. Let’s invest our material possessions that don’t last forever so people will obtain spiritual blessings that are eternal. As Christians have a future in heaven, the lesson is that we should use the resources that God has given us to ensure that we have friends in heaven. God wants us to be wise managers.

Paul also wrote that those with material resources are to use them in a way that reaps eternal dividends. He said to the rich: “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:18-19).

The Bible says that we brought nothing into this world and will take nothing out (Job 1:21; Eccl. 5:15-16). But this passage says we can take friends with us! Spiritual friendships survive death. When Paul wrote that we take nothing out of this world, he meant physical things (1 Tim. 6:7). Jesus said we should invest our money in people because they have eternal souls and can go to heaven. Our best investment is in people we’ll see in heaven. There are only two eternal things in this world – people and God’s Word. So they are the best investment.

Lesson 2: The Way To True Riches
The second lesson is: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” (Lk. 16:10-12). Each of the three sentences in this passage points out a similarity between two things: “little” and “much”; “worldly wealth” and “true riches”; and “someone else’s property” and “property of your own.” Jesus used these three illustrations to show the way to true riches. Let’s look at each one.

Why did the master dismiss the dishonest manager? Because he had been unfaithful with “very little” the master couldn’t trust him with anything. Here we see a similarity in behavior with what is “very little,” and what is “much.” In this story, the “very little” is the physical realm of money and wealth, while the “much” is the spiritual realm to which the physical is compared. If you are trustworthy with a little, God knows you can be trusted with a lot. The principle is that one who is trustworthy in managing money can be trusted with true riches of spiritual life – like peace, security and a sense of God’s presence. How we manage money, including our faithfulness in giving, is a measure of our spiritual life. How one uses money is a measure of inner character. There is a parallel between our behavior in the physical and spiritual realms.

The “who” in Luke 16:11-12 is God and the “true riches” are spiritual blessings that are certain and eternal, not uncertain and temporary, like money and wealth. So God repeats the message: if you are not trustworthy with money, God will not trust you with spiritual blessings.

All that we have – our money, time and talents – belong to the Lord and we are to use them for Him. These are “someone else’s property” that only belong to us for a while. “Property of your own” is a reward in this life and the life to come for faithful service for Christ (1 Cor. 3:8-14). The message is repeated once again: if we are disobedient with regard to the use of money and wealth and other material things, then we will not have spiritual power in our lives. This could be a significant reason for spiritual weakness among believers today.

Lesson 3: Money – Master or Servant?
The third lesson is: “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Lk. 16:13). This verse raises the issue of whom we serve. Bob Dylan wrote this refrain in his song, “Gotta Serve Somebody”: “But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed/You’re gonna have to serve somebody/Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord/But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Here he’s saying that the only choice is whom you serve.

The conclusion that Jesus drew from this parable is that we have a choice – either love God or money. Money is either our master or our servant. Jesus said we cannot live to make money and serve God at the same time. If the reason we are living and working is to make money for the things that money can buy, then that is our god, and we cannot serve the living and true God. We can’t serve God while using our money to continually raise our standard of living.

To love God is to love people, but to love money is to be selfish. If we succeed in our pursuit of wealth and a higher standard of living, we become increasingly self-centered. If we fail in our pursuit of wealth this leads to self-pity, bitterness and jealousy. Money is not given only for our benefit, but also so we will use it to help those in need. If God blesses us with money, possessions and abilities, let’s use them to invest in eternity. Let’s look now at those who abused money – the Pharisees and a rich man.

The Greedy Pharisees
“The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight’” (Lk. 16:14-15). When the Pharisees heard these lessons about money, they sneered because they didn’t accept that there was a link between one’s use of money and their spirituality. Although they were religious leaders who professed to serve God, they loved money. They were greedy – they wanted to build up wealth in this life, not the life to come.

Paul warned that the love of money leads to all kinds of evil, sadness, ruin, destruction and backsliding (1 Tim. 6:10). Jesus also said the Pharisees were hypocrites. Outwardly they behaved like spiritual men, but inwardly they were detestable and sinful. They had a good reputation, but a rotten character. They were unfaithful to the God they claimed to serve. The biggest factor in handling our three main resources of money, time and energy is our attitude.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees from their own Scriptures (Lk. 16:16-18). The New Covenant began when John the Baptist preached about the kingdom of God. Until that time the Old Covenant teaching of the Law and the prophets applied. Many responded to the message brought by Jesus and the early Church. But while Jesus was proclaiming the kingdom of God, the Pharisees were teaching the Law. Paul wrote, “All who sin under the Law will be judged by the Law” (Rom. 2:12). Jesus knew that they were breaking the commandment against coveting by loving money (Ex. 20:17). He judged them guilty of a sin as bad as adultery – unfaithfulness to God.

The Rich Man
Next Jesus recalled the life and destiny of two men (Lk. 16:19-31) on the opposite ends of the social spectrum. One was a rich man who lived in great luxury, the other a beggar named Lazarus who begged for food at the rich man’s gate. Clearly, the rich man felt no need to help Lazarus.

But death changed everything. When Lazarus died his body was most likely carted away to the dump and burned with the rubbish. The rich man also died and was given the finest funeral money could buy. Yet when they died an amazing reversal occurred. Lazarus’ spirit went to “comfort” in heaven, while the rich man’s spirit went to “agony” in hades. They had different eternal destinies because Lazarus had trusted God while the rich man had trusted in his wealth.

There was a great chasm between hades and heaven. Their choice on earth determined their eternal destiny and there were no second chances. It’s too late to help someone after death. The rich man was conscious after death. He was tormented in hades and communicated with Abraham who was in heaven. He even became concerned about the welfare of others, something he neglected while on earth.

Jesus also said that the desire for wealth is a barrier to following Him: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Mt. 16:26). The rich man lived for money, but he went to hell. He had no time for God. The size of his bank account didn’t impress God. In this passage we see that hell can be avoided if a person listens to God and repents (Lk. 16:29-30).

Constructive And Destructive Aspects Of Money
Luke 16 teaches us about the use and abuse of money. The parable of the shrewd manager teaches that we should use money for eternal purposes – to further the kingdom of God. The best investment is in people that we’ll see in heaven. Don’t just pray for the unsaved; “pay” for them as well. This is a long term investment that brings the dividend of friends in heaven. It is a way to transform our money into the spiritual realm. This brings spiritual blessings into our lives and rewards in heaven. Our management of God’s money determines if He can trust us with spiritual blessings. In fact, how we use money is a measure of our spiritual life. For each of us, money is either our master or servant.

On the other hand, loving money is a barrier to loving God; it leads to spiritual weakness. This is a short term investment that we can’t take with us after death. Unfortunately, anyone, whether religious or not, can abuse money. The Pharisees were greedy and hypocritical in their love of money, and the rich man lived for it. So if money is our master we are in danger of missing out on heaven like the rich man, and it’s too late to find this out after we die.

Published, April 2007

See the first article in this series:
Does God Want Us To Be Rich? Part 1