This past Sunday we talked about the rapture.
One of the first things we covered is the fact that the word rapture doesn’t appear in the Bible. But that’s OK. The word trinity doesn’t appear in Scripture, either, but that doesn’t diminish the complete legitimacy of the trinitarian nature of God when it comes to our faith as Christians.
We also looked at what the word means. Rapture communicates the idea of being “snatched away” without warning — in the same way a thief comes in the night and suddenly takes away what he wants, and you never knew what hit you. That’s what the rapture of the church will be like. Suddenly. Instantaneously. No emergency broadcast system. (Sounds pretty exciting so far, doesn’t it?)
Then there’s the how. How will the rapture happen? Well, Paul tells his readers in 1 Thessalonians 4, verses 15 through 17, the following process. First, Jesus himself will descend from heaven with a “cry of command.” If you recall the gospel account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the tomb, he literally gave an order to his deceased friend to “come forth.” And with that, Lazarus — dead as dead can be — walked out the tomb. That’s what Jesus will do when he comes for the church in the rapture. And what will his command produce? Well, all the Christians we’ve known who’ve died (and those we’ve never known) will rise first. And what about believers who are alive when the Lord comes back? This is the exciting part, assuming we’re alive when it happens: We’ll be “caught up together” with the now formerly dead in Christ “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”
Given all the strife and worry and disease and fighting and killing and hatred going on in our world at this very moment — and turned up to an intensity few, if any, of us have ever known — wouldn’t it be glorious to suddenly leave all our troubles behind and be with Jesus forever? It without a doubt will be the most amazing thing to ever happen on earth, save for Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead and ascension into Heaven. And some of us, someday, may get to experience it.
Another way to understand the rapture is the biblical account of Jesus’ last moments on earth, which took place a good month or so after he rose from the dead. In the book of Acts, we’re told the disciples asked Jesus when he would come again, and his reply was that no one knows the hour or the day. It’s a hidden entry on God’s calendar, and one of our only tasks is to live each day as if “this will be the day.” Even more clues about the rapture came when Jesus was blessing his followers on the mountain amid that Acts passage — and he was taken from them into the air and covered by clouds. Boom! Gone. What an indescribable sight that must have been. But then two man dressed in white — angels — appeared and asked why they were staring into the sky — and that Jesus would return one day in the same way he departed from them. (So, if you’re wondering what it will look like when the Lord himself descends with a word of command, we might want to consider what Scripture says about his ascension.)
Our passage in 1 Thessalonians also tells us that as a church we should “encourage one another with these words.” Indeed, beyond all our present troubles, the promise this passage brings is the best kind — especially for those of us who’ve lost loved ones in the Lord. The rapture means we’ll get to see once again those we’ve lost to death. And all of us together will be with the Lord — always. Which also explains the early part of the passage which says we should “not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”
Paul continues with his discussion of the rapture in chapter 5 and gives yet another clue — that when people are feeling full of “peace and security,” a “sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” Ouch. That is a sobering truth to digest. But fortunately, as believers in Jesus, we can put on the “breastplate of faith and love” and the helmet of “the hope of salvation.” We have nothing to fear, as “God has not destined us for wrath but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”
So, let us live like the rapture could arrive at any second. Indeed, it could happen right now — exactly at the moment you read these words — but also let us live without distractions. Let us live the truth that we all have purposes in Jesus moving forward — right now — that can be marked by our witness and spread of the gospel.
Get ready to fly.