The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Second Coming

The Living Dead

Jesus will come in our generation!

That’s what early converts to Christ envisioned.  Paul, too.  He wrote to the Thessalonian church:  “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 (1 Thessalonians 4:15).  (Several years later, he apparently revised his thinking:  “ . . . knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us [this is, from death]with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence”—2 Corinthians 4:14.)

No convert questioned the promise of Christ coming again.  No apostle either.  Nor do we Bible-believing Christians today.  We’ve pages of questions about when and in what relation to other end-time events and so on (not to mention all sorts of “certainties” about details).  But the New Testament is clear:  he’s coming.  The Thessalonians, too, had a question, which they apparently relayed to Paul via Timothy’s visit.  (From Athens, Paul had sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to encourage these new converts in the faith—3:1-3,6.)

Question:  Will fellow-believers who’ve died miss some of the glory of Christ’s second coming because they won’t be alive when he comes?  That’s the implicit question Paul answered:    “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”  He had taught them about Christ’s return (1:10); but this question probably arose when some of their number died (maybe in the persecution?).  What will happen to them?  Will they miss the explosive beginning of glory?

What’s so important about knowing the answer?  Because Paul isn’t writing a theology of Christ’s Second Coming.  He’s not answering every eschatalogical question.  Why is it important to know that?  Because unless we limit his answer to what they’re asking, we  may carelessly read into Paul’s words what he never intended, trying to establish a more complete end-time theology.

Example:  Let’s suppose I’ve just had back surgery and you, my friend, email me from California to ask how everything went.  Together with my health I include the procedure they used.  My explanation is accurate, but it doesn’t include everything about even my surgery, let alone all back surgeries.  We should keep that in mind in Paul’s text here.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep (a common euphemism for death), that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (4:13, ESV).

Paul writes this, not just to give them  knowledge about believers who’ve died, but “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”  This isn’t a theology lesson (though the theology is correct); it’s pastoral encouragement for the grieving.

A 2nd century condolence letter to a couple who had lost a son contained these words:  “I sorrowed and wept over your dear departed one as I wept over Didymas (the son he’d lost) . . . but really, there is nothing one can do in the face of such things.  So, please comfort each other” (1 & 2 Thessalonians, F. F. Bruce).  That’s grieving without hope.

These days, however, it seems virtually everybody has the idea that after death comes heaven.  In the 2nd century the error was “no heaven for Jesus’ followers”; in the 21st century “heaven’s the next stop on the journey for everyone.”

“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (4:14, ESV).

Here’s why the Thessalonians and we “may not grieve as others do who have no hope”—“ . . . we believe that Jesus died and rose again.”  The resurrection of Christ’s Second Coming is founded on Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection in his First. “God will bring with [Jesus, when he comes again] those who have fallen asleep.”    Jesus’ historical resurrection will be repeated over and over and over again as every believer is raised out of the grave!  This is our hope (expectation, future).  Grieve?  Yes.   But not as the hopeless.

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” (4:15, ESV).

Those who’ve died believing in Christ won’t miss any of the glory by being bodily resurrected after the living are bodily raised. The opposite will be true.  Those who died will rise first. 

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ 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” (4:16,17, ESV).

On that day, writes Paul, will come “the Lord himself”.  Not a vision or an angel, but “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command.”   That’s not a whisper in the ear; it’s a military term that raises the dead!  Philo, a Jewish philosopher who lived during the time of Christ, spoke of God gathering his people from the ends of the earth with one shout of command.

Together with that command-call will come “the voice of an archangel” and “the sound of the trumpet of God.”  The blast of a great trumpet called the Jewish exiles home from Assyria (Isaiah 27:13).  And even now these words are spoken in synagogue worship:  “Sound the great trumpet for our liberation; lift up the ensign to gather our exiles . . . “  So on that day the great trumpet will call us “exiles” home to our Lord.

Those who died “in Christ” (that is, “connected to Christ by faith and by the Spirit” will rise first.  Those alive who are left will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air . . . “  The Greek arpazo, translated here “caught up”, is used of the crowd that tried to take Jesus by force; therefore, it can also be translated “snatch, seize, take away (forcibly)”.  The Latin term for arpazo is repere, from which we get the English “rapture.”  That word has nothing to do with time in relation to other events; it has to do with the manner in which we believers will rise. Our Lord will enter again a seething, corrupt world and “snatch us up” to be with him.

And rapture raises a question:  Does Paul here teach a “secret rapture” of believers before the Great Tribulation?  (If that question means nothing to you, good!)  For what it’s worth, here’s my understanding  in this brief quote from F. F. Bruce:  “When a dignitary paid an official visit (parousia) to a city in Greek times, the action of the leading citizens in going out to meet him and escort him back on the final stage of his journey was called the apantaysis (the meeting).”  Paul doesn’t say if Jesus then leads the risen believers to earth or to heaven.  (I think to earth.  We’ll all find out the correctness of our eschatology some day!)

In any case, we believers will meet the Lord in the air and from then on “always be with the Lord.”

Therefore encourage one another with these words” (4:18, ESV).

Thessalonians grieving over departed loved ones?  Will they miss out on some of Christ’s glory when he comes again?  Take courage!  Be comforted!  The Lord himself is coming!  And they will meet him in the air first!

Who-goes-first isn’t our problem.  Ours is that groundless view that virtually everybody who dies goes.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is the dead “in Christ” who will rise.  Therefore, the most important eschatalogical question is this:  “Have you turned your life over by faith to the crucified, and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ?”

The final issue is this: 
Except for that last generation, we will all die,
most enduring the harsh aging process. 
But we can be confident of this: 
At the end of this life,
what’s coming is not the grave
but our Lord whom we’ll meet in the air.

 

 

 

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Coming Christmas Morning

O PreacherChristmas morning.  Lois in the kitchen preparing for children and grandchildren coming later.  A few quiet moments for me to pray and ponder.  Reminiscing about long-ago Christmases when our son and two daughters were children.  A familiar reminder to you who have young children:  enjoy them this Christmas season.  They will soon celebrate in their own homes with their own little ones.

For some reason, woke this morning with these fascinating words from the apostle Paul . . .

The night is far gone; the day is at hand.
(Romans 13:12a)

It’s his reason for urging us to live morally upright lives as Jesus’ followers . . .

. . . you know that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.
For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
The night is far gone; the day is at hand.
So then let us cast off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light.
(Romans 13:11,12)

I’m not thinking of Paul’s exhortation as much as the far-gone night and at-hand day.

I tend to see this world as “day.”  What lies out there in the future, even though Jesus promises glory beyond comprehension, seems “night” both because (unless Jesus comes first) I have to pass through the “night” of death and the future beyond death is unfamiliar territory.  But here Paul writes of life in this world as “night” and the future in the world to come as “day.”

It reminds me of Christmas morning when my brother and I were kids.  How hard to fall asleep the night before!  Too excited!  Too much anticipating what would be under the tree!  (Our parents never put our presents out until we were safely in bed.)  Struggling to sleep made Christmas Eve the year’s longest night.

But then the night was over!  I opened my eyes in record time (not like on school days).  I think my brother and I had it in our genes to naturally be as noisy as possible to wake up Dad and Mom.  Finally they rolled out, warning us to wait in our rooms until they made sure everything was ready, turned the tree lights on, and called us.  “Okay, kids.  Al.  Glenn.  Come on.”  Down the hallway we hustled toward the living room and the thrill of Christmas morning around the tree half-hidden behind piles of presents.

This world—the world where we live, the world we know, the only world we know—is “night.”  It’s filled, as Paul writes here in Romans, with “orgies and drunkenness”, with “sexual immorality and sensuality,” with “quarreling and jealousy.”  It’s also marked by disappointment and dissatisfaction and disability and death.  It never delivers on its promises.  Its “toys” always break down or wear out.  Oh, there’s goodness and joy to be sure.  After all, despite sin’s ravages, this is still my Father’s world.  But the evil one and our fallen natures corrupt and darken even the best of what God has made.

It is night.  But it’s “far gone”!  The day is at hand!  Christmas morning like none other is about to break into this darkness.  Jesus, born that first Christmas day, is coming again.  He who is the Light of the world will split the night with his glory.  He will call us:  “Okay, children.”  He’ll call us by name.  “Allan, Glenn, come.”  And we will rise with pounding hearts and wide-eyed looks and breathless hearts at the thrill of this “Christmas morning”  around the One who gave his life for us and comes now to gather us home to a world where it will never be night.

That day is at hand! 

Merry Christmas!

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The Empty Christmas Chair

O PreacherAround many tables this Christmas an empty chair will sit.  A most-loved one will be missing.  Nothing will fill the chair nor the heart.  If all your chairs are full, some Christmas soon they won’t be.

” . . . it is appointed for mortals to die once”
(Hebrews 9:27, NKJV)

My brother died this year.  My sister-in-law wrote recently how some things don’t seem to change for the Christmas season, “but others are oh, so different.”  I can’t fathom the depth of the loneliness.  I’m not even sure that’s the correct word, nor that I can find it.  After so many Christmases, especially those with her son, how does she—how do they—“celebrate” Christmas?

It comes like a blow to the stomach, the thought that their story is replayed again and again and again.  Sometimes the circumstances of the passing are far worse, sometimes less so.  But surely all bear some brokenhearted void.

I dread the thought of Lois’ chair being empty, as I know she dreads the thought of mine.  After 53 years of a loving marriage beyond our dreams, how will one of us endure it?

Christmas tree in front of window

We’ll all come to that Christmas with the empty chair.  But  , , ,

. . . there was a baby in a manger . . . a sinless God-Man on a cross . . . an empty grave and an ascension into heaven.  Without the baby, we have no hope.  Without the cross, we’re  dead in our sins.  And . . .

. . . if we have hope in Christ only for this life,
we are the most miserable people in the world
(1 Corinthians 15:19, NLT).

Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
. . . he was buried,
he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
(1 Corinthians 15:3,4, ESV).

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
(John 3:16, NIV)

“There are many rooms in my Father’s home,
and I am going to prepare a place for you.
If this were not so, I would tell you plainly.
When everything is ready, I will come and get you,
so that you will always be with me where I am.”
(Jesus, John 14:2,3, NLT).

There is, because of Jesus, another emotion, when we see the Christmas empty chair.  Emptiness, yes, but also longing.  C. S. Lewis wrote of it . . .

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy,
the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.

It’s our desire “for our own far off country”, he wrote, saying that sometimes we call it “Nostalgia” or “Romanticism” or “Adolescence” or “Beauty”.  But . . .

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—
are good images of what we really desire;
but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols,
breaking the hearts of their worshipers.
For they are not the thing itself;
they are only the scent of a flower we have not found,
the echo of a tune we have not heard,
news from a country we have never yet visited.

At present we are on the outside of [that]world,
the wrong side of the door . . .
But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour
that it will not always be so.
Someday, God willing, we shall get “in” . . .

And when by God’s grace through simple faith in Christ we do, we will find the empty Christmas chair filled with the one we love—forever.

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