Last week we began to open up the wonderful theme of the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory by concentrating on verses 13 & 14. They are about
Paul’s teaching about Death calling it the sleep of the saints.
a. The dead have fallen asleep.
To be asleep is to be at rest. Just as each night we sleep in order to rest ourselves after a hard day’s work, so at the end of life we sleep at rest after a lifetime of labour. Sleep is a word that promises a great deal. It reminds us that physical death is not the end. The dead whose remains are in our cemeteries are awaiting a waking experience. Death is in the end of physical life in THIS body – but it is not the end of our existence. We have souls – and God has plans for our souls!
Next Paul goes a little further in his comforting by saying
b. The Christian dead have fallen asleep in Jesus.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
Christian believers when they die go immediately to heaven to be with Jesus Christ. When He returns He will bring them back to earth to be reunited with their bodies. In this they identify with the Lord Jesus Christ – who died, was buried and rose again – bodily. This glorious person is going to return again to the place that He left just after His resurrection. And in the text before us this morning, in the last 4 verses of 1 Thessalonians 4 we are given the details.
The first thing to say then is this
Those who are alive when Jesus Christ comes again will have no advantage over those who have already fallen asleep, died in Jesus Christ.
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
Let me remind you about the Apostle’s motive for teaching these things to the Christians at Thessalonica. They were worried that their dead brothers and sisters would miss out on the Parousia – the second coming of Christ. They may have thought that the souls of their departed loved ones, though enjoying the glories of heaven, may never be reunited with their buried bodies. This fear was a reflection of the pagan beliefs, from which they had been delivered, but yet must have had some influence on them – pagans had no hope whatsoever with respect to the body.
Scripture does not reveal their exact anxiety. But Paul leaves them in no doubt that there fears were unfounded and that they could dismiss them.
And this verse introduces Paul’s teaching about the Sequence of events in the Second Coming.
Before we look at the sequence let us not miss a phrase in this verse 15
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord,
What is Paul referring to here? Is he quoting the Lord Jesus Christ from some statement in the Gospels or Acts? No – there are no parallels that can be identified.
Paul is bold and clear that he has a word from the Lord – the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul does not want to calm his readers with his own opinion or logic, and still less with wishful thinking. There can be no more comforting word of comfort than a “word from the Lord.” The word of the Lord Jesus Christ puts all doubt to an end.
We can say this morning that these words of comfort came to Paul in a special revelation from the Lord Himself. There are several evidences that the Apostle Paul received divine truth directly from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Galatians 1 v 10 For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. 11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. 12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
This is Paul’s testimony as to the source of the truth which He preached – in both the Gospel message of salvation and the teaching about many things – including what we have here in 1 Thessalonians 4 about the return of the Lord.
1 Corinthians 11 v 23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
Paul received from the Lord the information and meaning of the events during the Last Supper which pointed to the Lord’s Supper, which we practice together week by week. We remember the Lord in His death according to His command through Paul.
1Corinthians 15 v 3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
Paul was faithful in delivering to believers through his preaching, teaching and his letters, those things that the Lord Jesus Christ had given to him in secret by special revelation. It was a feature of the band of the Apostles in the first century before the New Testament was completed.
Paul had the awesome responsibility of communicating the Word of the Lord to others. And for this encouragement to the believers at Thessalonica he has no less a word than Jesus’ word.
This is why when we need a word of comfort, a word of direction, a word from the Lord we now come to the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, to find it and receive it. Martin Luther said “It is a miracle how God has so long preserved His book! How great and glorious it is to have the Word of God.” The Bible can be depended on in every situation. C.H. Spurgeon said this, as eloquently as ever – “God writes with a pen that never blots, speaks with a tongue that never slips and acts with a hand that never fails.”
All of the human authors of the Bible wrote only of the words that they had received from the Lord God. So that when we read the Bible we read God’s Word. And He has given us this reminder in the midst of this series in 1 Thessalonians to assure us again that all scripture is the word of the Lord – the Lord Jesus Christ.
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord,
Do we have confidence in the word of the Lord my friends? When something comes along to challenge you in your faith what is the first thing that you do? Do you weigh for yourself prevailing opinion, even the opinion of fellow Christians? Do you decide what to do based on the inner feelings and inclinations that you have? Or do you go to the Bible, to God’s word, to His revelation of Himself and His will – to guide you – to comfort you? Paul knew that these dear Christians in Thessalonica needed to be assured that this teaching was not his ideas – but the word of the Lord Jesus Christ, which they could then trust.
So then there was no advantage to those who had not died and were still alive should the Lord return in their lifetime. Neither was there any disadvantage to those who were in their graves, sleeping in the cemetery and who waited with the Lord Jesus Christ to return with Him at the last day.
And it is to the last day that we turn next in the text to examine
The Sequence of Events in the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
The second Coming, the Parousia or simply the RETURN of the Lord Jesus Christ on the last day of the world is an exciting prospect for every believer. We should be expectant for His return. If a loved one has to go away from home surely our thoughts should be filled with his or her return home – for that person is missed. As we shall be reminded in a minute the Lord Jesus Christ left this earth 2000 years ago – and ever since His true children by faith have longed for His coming. But HOW will the Lord Jesus Christ return?
1. Our text says something very important at the beginning.
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven
At the end of the age the Lord will not send an angel to act as a messenger – He will come HIMSELF.
He will not send a holy man such as a Prophet – He will come HIMSELF. He will not speak in a voice or produce a vision of some kind – He will come HIMSELF. Personally and bodily, audibly, majestically and unmistakeably He will come HIMSELF. He will come for His own sheep as the personal shepherd that he is. Those who have been united to Him by faith, not by sight, will see Him because He will come HIMSELF.
What a wonderful prospect! The old Gospel song says
Jesus my Saviour shall come from on High – Sweet is the promise as weary years fly; Oh, I shall see Him descend from the Sky, Coming for me, for me! Jesus is coming for me.
Can you say that this morning my friend? That at the last great day you will lift up your eyes and see Christ coming for you, personally? Will He be coming for YOU? Only those who have trusted Him for salvation in this life, repenting of their sins, will be able to see Him in the way described here – for this tells us of the coming of Christ first for His people – for Christians.
2. The Lord shall descend from Heaven.
Jesus Christ the Almighty saviour will come down in the reverse of how He went up. Let us remind ourselves of the way that he left earth at His ascension.
Luke 24 v 50 And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. 51 And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: 53 And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.
There are more details in Acts 1 v 1 – 11. Jesus was taken up – a cloud received Him – majestically He rose into the sky until he could be seen no more. The disciples were told that they could expect the Lord to return in the same way that He had departed into heaven. We know therefore that much – He will come from above – where He has been since that day sitting at the right hand of God.
In Matthew 24 we read some of the Lord Jesus’ own words about this –
30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Once more we have from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ that He will come Himself – for the tribes of the earth shall see Him coming in the clouds with power and glory. The Lord shall descend from heaven and will be seen!
2. The return will be marked by an Urgent loud summons.
with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God:
Three elements are listed here about the Lord’s descent
a. A shout.
The word here in the original is KELEUMA – which in the Greek language means a stimulating cry. It can refer to a charioteer ordering his horses to run faster; a Regimental Serjeant Major barking his orders on the parade ground; a hunter calling his dogs to gather the prey or a Galley Master shouting to the slave rowers in the ships powered by oars. It is a commanding shout with no doubt that it has authority in it. And it is the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God Himself – the same voice that wakens the dead in their sins. It is the voice that quickens the spiritually dead to awaken from their deadness. The Lord Jesus said so in John 5 v 25
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
The shout is from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
b. With a voice of an Archangel.
We do not know much about the hierarchy of angels – spirit beings who ever serve the Lord and do His will. We know the names of 2 archangels – Michael and Gabriel. But neither are actually named or indicated here in this passage. We are simply not to know which archangel – we just are told here that alongside Jesus’ voice there will be an angel’s voice.
c. With the Trumpet of God.
Two voices and a trumpet. Trumpets were used to gather people together in Old Testament times. Exodus 19 v 16 tells us about the day when Moses went to get the Law on Tablets of stone from God –
And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.
The people were SUMMONED to meet with God when they heard the trumpet.
Trumpets were also used to sound or signal their deliverance from oppression – as in Zechariah 9 v 14
And the LORD shall be seen over them, and his arrow shall go forth as the lightning: and the Lord GOD shall blow the trumpet, and shall go with whirlwinds of the south.
Then in Leviticus 25 a trumpet sounded to proclaim liberty throughout the people of Israel at the end of a 50 year period called a Jubilee –
8 And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. 9 Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land.
Trumpets therefore mean something important – a summoning of certain people; a deliverance from something that held people and a proclamation of release from bondage!
At the Return of the Lord Jesus Christ these three things sound simultaneously. What is common about all three?
NOISE! The loud command! The voice! The Trumpet! This tells us that there will be no mistaking the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ – everyone will hear it! You will hear it – I will hear it! Even deaf people will hear it – so amazing will be the sound that even the ears of the deaf will be miraculously opened to hear this noise!
It will be a colossal eruption of sound which will impinge on the consciousness of every human soul both the living and dead. My friends there are some people who have great difficulty in waking up in the morning. They set their alarm clocks to make a noise at getting up time – but they sleep through the noise! But one thing is certain – the noise of the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ NO ONE WILL SLEEP THROUGH!
We quoted from John 5 earlier – in verse 28 it says this –
Jesus said - Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
This spoken summons will have a radically different effect on those who hear it. To some it will be a call to rise to an eternity of joy; to others it will be the prelude to their being despatched to endless loss and misery.
For the Christian Thessalonians who had been anxious about their brothers and sisters who had died would hear a joyful summons to enter into the blessedness of their Lord.
My friend – when YOU hear the noise – what will it mean for you? As has been said it can only mean one of two things – heaven with Christ – or hell without Him.
This then is the RETURN – the spectacular and unmistakeable return of the Son of God to earth from heaven. And we need to be ready for it to happen at a moment’s notice.
The next thing to happen in the sequence is
and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
What is it to be in Christ? To be in Christ is to be a Christian – born again by the Spirit of God. This was the spiritual state of Paul’s readers at Thessalonica who had been worried that their departed loved ones would miss out on the Parousia. Paul quickly reassures them that –
Those who have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ and have died, and whose bodies have been buried – will rise – be reunited with their bodies which would be transformed bodies FIRST! The Resurrection would start with those who were dead. This is because nothing can part the Christian from Christ. Those who had died had souls that had gone to be with the Lord. These souls were brought with Christ to be reunited with their resurrected bodies. Death does not part a soul from Christ. Death might part a soul from other people left behind in their bodies – such is the sadness of death for us. But notice what Paul says in Romans 8 v 38
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Nothing, not even death, can separate us from the Lord Jesus Christ once we belong to Him, once we are His child, once we have had our sins forgiven and new life is in our souls. Oh my friend if this is not your experience, if this is not what has happened to you – God’s gracious dealing with your soul so that you know that you are safe in Christ, then seek it today with all of your heart. Go to the Lord Jesus Christ and ask Him to save you. Turn to Him – turn from your sin. Seek His pardon and forgiveness and enter into that relationship with Him that will mean no separation ever for the genuine believer – for all eternity!
This blessed resurrection, the dead in Christ rising first, is a wonderful thing to look forward to. When the great day arrives, they will first be raised. The Thessalonians needed to read this to be reassured.
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
We have established from the text that the dead believers who died before the Parousia and have been raised will be transformed. Looking at Paul’s other teaching in 1 Corinthians 15 confirms this –
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
Changed! A wonderful word – a word that denotes a little mystery because we cannot say HOW we will be changed – but only that we will!
But Paul continues with his explanation that the living believers at the Parousia will also be transformed – the next verse of 1 Corinthians 15
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
After this, however comes the Rapture.
Both groups of changed believers will be simultaneously snatched up – into the clouds – to meet the Lord between earth and heaven. In this region the Lord will assemble the elect saints of God in the air.
Why is this called THE RAPTURE?
Rapture today usually means a state of deep emotional intensity. But here it means something else. The Latin root of the word is the same as the word for SEIZE – it is a forcible seizure. It is a sudden removal of the believers from the earth. The sense is of a sudden removal of persons from one place to another.
Now we have to sound a word of caution – simply because I remember being taught many years ago when I was a young believer that this snatching away, this Rapture, was a secret affair. It was reinforced by such films that were shown evangelistically as “The Thief in the Night.” We were told that planes would crash because the pilot was likely to be raptured away when the Lord came again. Suddenly people would not be there – leaving a bewildered unbelieving population alone without a Christian in sight.
This was an attempt to say that the Rapture of the Church would be SECRET! Have you heard this, my friends? No one would know about it except believers because they would be involved. It would be secret.
To the human race at large it would seem that the troublesome Christians had all simultaneously disappeared without trace.
What this theory is asking us to believe is this. That there will be 2 second comings – the first which is neither audible nor visible and the second which is both!
But I have to ask you don’t you agree that the shout the voice and the trumpet blast, and the visible appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself will make it the most public event in the history of the planet? How can it be secret when these verses show it to be most public? The purpose of the Rapture is that we might MEET THE LORD. And that leads us to the final step in the sequence
We will meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
What a prospect this is! The living, the dead and the Lord will meet together! And the way that Paul records this is to use a word for meet in a technical term – APANTESIS. When a dignitary paid an official visit (called a PAROUSIA) to a city in these times, the action of the leading citizens in going out to meet him and escort him back was called the APANTESIS.
So when the Lord returns descending in the clouds with his saints who have died, He will be united with the ascending saints – and so shall we all ever be with the Lord! We will meet Him in the clouds. Clouds are usually a symbol of God’s presence. They serve as His royal chariot according to Psalm 104 v 3.
For Paul the reunion of believers with the Lord Jesus Christ in the air forms the prelude to His coming to judge the world. We cannot speak of this here because the text does not refer to unbelievers.
What we are to do is this –
v 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
We are to be comforters of each other. We are to take the words and teaching of this passage and use it to cheer each other up. When things get really hard and tense – then we should comfort one another with these words.
When persecution comes – then we should comfort one another with these words.
When we begin to fear our own death – then we should comfort one another with these words.
And when we wonder where everything is going to end in the world – then we should comfort one another with these words.
Christian comfort is grounded in more than sympathy. It is based on the hope conveyed by truth. The very best thing that we can do to comfort the grieving is to share with them, sensitively, at the right time and in the right way, the promises contained in the Gospel.
Those promises of Jesus’ return are so precious – may they remain so to all of us – until He comes with clouds descending once for favoured sinners slain!