Study 9 THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH
THE LETTERS TO THE THESSALONIANS
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portions: 1 Corinthians 15: 51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18
In both the Thessalonian Letters the principal theme is the rapture of the saints. The word ‘rapture’ means ‘to be caught up’ or ’snatched away’, and that is precisely what will happen to all believers as soon as the Church is complete.
We must point out that there are two phases or stages of the Second Coming of Christ clearly taught in God’s Word. All the prophecies of the Old Testament tell of His coming in power as the Son of Man to reign and to rule, but there are two passages in the New Testament that state that before our Lord returns to the earth (Zechariah 14:4), as Son of Man (Matthew 24:27 and 30), for Israel’s deliverance (Zechariah 14:3), publicly (Revelation 1:7), and to take vengeance on His enemies (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8) - before He comes like this, He will come into the air and gather to Himself all His saints. His coming in power and glory will be ushered in by signs (Matthew 24); but His coming into the air for His Church could happen at any moment.
This ’any moment’ return of the Lord, the first stage of His coming, is called The Rapture of the Church, because He will catch away all His people and take them to be with Himself (John 14:3). The two important passages that show this truth are: (1) 1 Corinthians 15:51-54, and (2) 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
The word “mystery” in 1 Corinthians 15:51 needs some explanation. A ’mystery’ in the New Testament always refers to truth that was unrevealed in the Old Testament. A ‘mystery’ is something only known to the initiated. The truth of the rapture was not revealed in the Old Testament; it was promised by the Lord Jesus (John 14:3), but it was only fully revealed and explained by (or through) the Apostle Paul. There are six mysteries to look up: Romans 11:25; 16:25-27; 1 Corinthians 15:51; Ephesians 1:9-11; Ephesians 3:3-12; and 1 Timothy 3:16. The mystery spoken of in 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4 is the fact that before the Lord returns to the earth to reign He will come into the air to gather His own to Himself.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 gives us all the teaching about the rapture of the Church. Notice seven truths contained in verses 16 and 17:-
1. The Lord’s Coming will be PERSONAL.
Verse 16 tells us this – “the Lord himself”; not another Jesus but “this same Jesus” (Acts 1:11); the unchanging One (Hebrews 13:8) - the same glorious One who in the days when He was on earth was so loving, gracious and kind, who died for us on Calvary’s Cross, and is the one who is coming again for us. It is not the Holy Spirit who will come, or an angel, but ”the Lord himself”.
2. The Coming of the Lord will be SUDDEN and DRAMATIC.
Verse 16 tells us it will be accompanied by ”a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call…” We cannot say if the world will hear these sounds or if it will be a secret rapture, but every believer will hear them. Divine intervention has always been sudden - the Flood, the Exodus, the Day of Pentecost. The Ascension was dramatic - look up Luke 24:51!
3. When He comes “the dead in Christ will rise first” (verse 16).
This will be the first resurrection (Revelation 20:4-5). All who were saved before Christ came to die and all who have been saved since and who have ’died’ will rise from the dead in their glorified bodies. Until He comes their bodies ‘sleep’ (1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15); but when He comes their spirits which are with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:8; Ephesians 3:15; Philippians 1:23) will be clothed with bodies that are imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:52).
4. Every living Christian will be CHANGED and CAUGHT UP (verse 17).
Compare verse 17 with 1 Corinthians 15:51. This means that when the Lord comes there will be millions of Christians on earth who will never die (1 Corinthians 15:52-53). They will be clothed “with immortality”, and all this will happen in the twinkling of an eye; they will suddenly disappear, like Enoch (Hebrews 11:5); Elijah (2 Kings 2:11); the Lord Jesus (Acts 1:9). Left behind will be the unbelievers and those who only professed to be Christians but never possessed Christ (2 Timothy 3:5). What confusion and panic there will be in the world then! How zealous we should be to win the lost while there is time (John 9:4)!
5. Then will follow a time of glorious REUNION for the Saints.
Verse 17 tells us that we shall be “together”, and what a gathering that will be! - for to be “together” implies recognition of our loved-ones, and indeed of all the saints of God.
6. Above all, we shall meet with the LORD HIMSELF.
Verse 17 tells us that we shall “meet the Lord in the air”. What a meeting this will be! What great joy we experience as we anticipate meeting our loved-ones and friends, but that is nothing compared with the joy that will be ours when we shall meet our own Lord and Saviour!
7. Then we shall be “WITH THE LORD FOR EVER”.
Verse 17 states that this is the goal at the end of the road, and it ties up with Psalm 23:6. Compare also Psalm 16:11 and John 17:24.
What comfort we find in these verses. Notice verse 18 and compare Titus 2:13! After our Lord has returned for His saints He will return with His saints in power and great glory to reign on the earth (Luke 1:32-33) - but in connection with all these wonderful events there are Dark Days Ahead for this poor world and for those who do not know the Lord - and this will be the subject of our next study.