Torch, Spring 1985

10 the future, since God's Word has been given so that we might know a great deal about His program. Such knowledge provides for confidence in the Lord , especially in the face of perplexing problems which come our way. This knowledge is seen very clearly in the Apostle Paul's writing to the church at Thessalonica. During his missionary ministry there, Paul had evidently taught the church founded by him that the Lord's return was near. Later some of the members of the church died between the days of his ministry there and the writing of his first letter to them. A question arose about the status of those believers who had died with regard to Christ's return. Had death excluded them from that glorious event? Paul answered that question in a paragraph of his first letter to the Thessalonians (I Thess. 4: 13- 18). The Apostle immediately dealt with the perplexing question by affirming clearly that the dead in Christ would indeed participate in Christ' s return (I Thess . 4:I3-1 5). The bodies of those believers who had died are in a condition likened to physical sleep. When the Lord returns, their bodies will be aroused from death as one would be aroused from sleep (I Cor. 15:51 -54; Phil. 3:20-21) . Paul wanted the Thessalonians to know about this hope of the dead in Christ so that they might be a testimony for Christ even in their bereavement (I Thess . 4: 13). Paul assured the Thessalonians that this promise concerning the dead in Christ is to be believed with the same certainty that a Christian believes in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (I Thess . 4: 14). The authority for Paul's promise is the Lord Himself, who had revealed this precious truth to him in a special revelation (4: 15). It goes really without saying that all Paul wrote in the paragraph dealing with this question is to be believed with certainty and recognized as God's Word . As Paul previewed Christ's return for His church, he gave the order of events and showed precisely how the dead in Christ would share in it (I Thess . 4: 16-17). Paul outlined four particulars of the rapture . He first pointed out that the Lord will return . The Lord Jesus Himself will "descend from heaven" (4: 16). Jesus Christ's descent from heaven will be accompanied by three sounds (I Thess . 4:16) . There will be a shout. This may be a summons to Christians like the summons of Christ to Lazarus when He stood before his grave and cried, "Lazarus, come forth" (John 11 :43). Christ's summons will be a general call to all Christians to come forth to Him. The voice of the archangel Michael will be the second sound heard by believers . He will also summon Christians on that occasion. The third sound will be the sound of the trumpet of God. This too will be used of our God to summon the church on that great occasion (I Cor. 15:52) . It seems that the rapture will be a rather noisy event. One can imagine that he can hear the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God while meditating in a quiet moment on the Lord's return . Someday it will not be imaginary. We shall hear those summoning sounds when Jesus Christ appears to take us up to be with Him . The second particular of the rapture will be a resurrection. Paul stated that "the dead in Christ shall rise first" without any qualifications or possible contingencies (I Thess . 4:16) . The dead in Christ will be resurrected regardless of the physical disposition of their bodies prior to the time of His return (I Cor. 15:41-44) . The resurrection body will be a glorious one. This resurrection will be "first" because the dead in Christ will have a part in the event before those believers who are alive at the time of Christ's return (I Thess . 4: 15). The third particular will be a rapture. The living believers will be "caught up" after the dead in Christ are raised (I Thess . 4: 17). The word for "caught up" means "to carry off," or "to rapture ." Technically, it is only those believers who are physically alive at the time who ~ill be raptured, although the particulars which Paul previewed are together commonly referred to as the rapture. Paul anticipated the possibility of the return of the Lord in his own lifetime . He indicated this by twice using the first person pronoun in his reference to "we who are alive and remain" until the very coming of the Lord (I Thess. 4: 15, 17) . This suggests to Christians the possibility of the Lord's return. Since Paul wrote from the standpoint of God's truth , God's people today should make it a matter of fidelity to God's truth to believe that Christ can come for His church within their own lifetime. In fact, His coming may be at any moment (Phil. 4:5 ; Jas. 5:8). For this reason, each day should be lived as a day in which the Lord could come. The fourth particular will be a reunion . The resurrected and the raptured believers shall be reunited "in the clouds , to meet the Lord in the air" (I Thess. '4: 17). Once reunited , believers will be with the Lord in His very presence forever . The whole event will take place precisely as God has said and in the smallest portion of time . Faith receives what God has promised. Faith in God also recognizes that such truths as Paul wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians were meant to have practical effects upon lives. The promise of Christ' s return and all that will accompany it is to be a source of comfort (I Thess . 4: 18). In giving his preview of Christ's return for the church as a source of comfort , Paul has also indicated clearly and in order those things which constitute our Lord's return for us. "Even so , come, Lord Jesus." Dr. Jack Riggs is a professor of Bible at Cedarvi lle College. He holds a Th .D. from Dallas Theological Seminary and is the author of Hosea's Heartbreak, recently pub– lished by Loizeaux Bros. He also has written Sunday school materials for Regular Baptist Press and Union Gospel Press.