1st Thessalonians 4:13-18


“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.  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.  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:  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.  Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”


The Church Should Live In Expectancy Of The Return Of Christ


1st Thessalonians chapter 4, beginning in verse 13, Paul says, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep,” no it isn’t that he doesn’t want us to be ignorant, it’s concerning something, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.  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.” (verses 13-17)  preventis the old King James word for “precede”, ‘we shall not precede or go before them which are asleep.’  “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:  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.  Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” (verses 14-18)  Paul now coming to instruction to these Thessalonians about their loved ones that had become believers, that had died.  Evidently when he was there, he talked to them about the Kingdom of God and about the return of Christ and the end of the age [man’s or Satan’s evil age], the fact that Christ was coming, something the Church embraced since its inception.  Even the unsaved world today, when something happens, catastrophic, you’ll see in Time Magazine and Newsweek and so forth all of the articles about Armageddon, ‘and is this Armageddon?  And are we headed towards Armageddon? and even the unbelieving world knows the Bible has something to say about “the Last Days,” it has something to say about the “Close of the Age,” it has something to say about the fact that man will be destroying himself, at some point.  Jesus said things will get so bad that if he wouldn’t return when he did there’d be no flesh left alive, on the planet (cf. Matthew 24:22).  So these Thessalonians, hearing Paul talk about the return of Christ and the Kingdom, are now thinking to themselves, because this is all brand new to them, they don’t have the benefit that we do of having the entire New Testament, of having combed through these things for years of so much of the teaching, and Christian bookstores, tapes and media.  Paul had been there [for only three Sabbaths, remember], Paul had left.  And now some of their loved ones had died, and they’re thinking ‘Are they going to miss out on the Kingdom Age?’  ‘We’re waiting for Christ’s return, this is something that’s immanent, it could happen at any time.’  We know Paul taught them that, because he says down here in verse 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.”  Personal pronoun, including himself, “we which are alive and remain shall be caught up…” Paul expected to go.  He expected Christ to return in his lifetime, he said to the Corinthians, ‘You young men that are single, if you marry that’s not a problem, you have to tend to the needs of your wife.  But I would rather have you remain as I am, single, the Lord is coming.’  If all of the single men in the Church would have listened to Paul the Church would have died out in the first century.  But the point is, he was expecting the Lord’s return, and he spoke that to the Church, that the Church should live in expectancy of the return of Christ for his Church.  The return of Christ with the Church is a different thing, and we’ll talk about that.  So here are these Thessalonians, they’re new believers, some of their loved ones have died, and they’re thinking ‘Well does this mean they’ve missed out?  Are they missing out on the Kingdom, what’s going to happen when Christ comes?’   And Paul has to address that issue and talk to them. 


What Is “Soul-Sleep”?


He says “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” (verse 13)  ‘I don’t want you to be uninformed,’ that’s Paul’s way of saying that, ‘I don’t want you to be uninformed in regards to those who sleep.’  Now he’s not talking about what we do every night, it’s the Christian designation for death in the New Testament.  Because the Christian doesn’t die, Paul says ‘To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, I’d rather die and be with Christ. But it’s needful for me to be here with you.’ And the New Testament teaches us that when the believer dies the body is in the grave, it decomposes, sleeps.  It’s gonna be raised again, but it sleeps.  But the consciousness [spirit-in-man, cf. 1st Corinthians 2:9-13) is with the Lord.  That’s physical death to the believer.  [And Calvary Chapel’s teach that that spirit-in-man component of Christians stays conscious upon death, and goes to heaven to await the resurrection and re-uniting of it to it’s body at the 1st resurrection to immortality]  To you and I, physical death is the separation of our consciousness from our physical frame, from this space-suit.  Some people want to take this and turn this into “soul-sleep” [which is based upon what the Bible says in Ecclesiastes where those who believe in “soul-sleep” believe the spirit-in-man goes unconscious at death and goes up to heaven], the fact that when you die, you lay in the ground, in the coffin, your soul’s asleep till the resurrection, which anybody with a first grade reading level should be able to get around.  Paul doesn’t say ‘I’m excited, I can’t wait to die, oh that’s gain, just love to sleep in the ground until Jesus comes, be trapped down there, sound’s wonderful.’  Elijah, when he lays on the widows son and prays three times for this young boy that had died, it says ‘his soul came into him again,’ which clearly tells us that his soul had departed.  It wasn’t sleeping in the body [but it could have still been unconscious up in heaven with the Lord, and that would fit Ecclesiastes and the LORD merely sent this boy’s spirit back into him].  Revelation chapter 6, we see the souls of those that were martyred for Christ at the altar of God, saying ‘How long Oh Lord, before you avenge our death?’  They weren’t in their bodies, they were in heaven.  And you can read through the New Testament and see that for yourself.  So, for the Christian, physical death, when our body dies, it is the separation of the consciousness from the physical frame, the physical frame goes in the grave, and sleeps.  That saying, “sleeps” probably came from Jesus in John chapter 11, you remember when he got word that Lazarus was sick.  Mary and Martha had sent for him and said ‘Lord, come.  Your friend, Lazarus, the one you love, he’s sick unto death.’  And Jesus tarried, he waited, he didn’t go right away.  And the disciples said ‘Lord, don’t you think we should get down there to Bethany, Lazarus is…’ and Jesus said, ‘He’s sleeping.’  And they said, ‘Well, that’s good if he’s sleeping, he’s probably getting some rest, he’ll be getting over this, no sense going down and waking him up,’ and it says, ‘Then Jesus had to say to them, ‘no, no, Lazarus is dead.’  But Jesus’ view of Lazarus, because he knew Lazarus was getting up again, was that he was sleeping.  [Jesus said that same thing about Jairus’ daughter when she had died, he said she was sleeping, and all the mourners laughed him to scorn it says.  Same words, because to Jesus, she would be getting up again, which she did minutes later.  She was dead when Jesus said this.]  And you remember, he went and called him forth.  But Jesus used that term, I’m sure the apostles were very impressed with that miracle, picked up on that, and then to them the believer, entering the death of the physical body, consciousness goes to be with the Lord, the body sleeps.  The unbeliever, is not the separation of the physical frame only, but it’s the separation of the consciousness from the presence of God.  That’s spiritual death.  The believer dies once, that’s physical death, but not spiritual death.  The body dies, you go to be with the Lord.  At the resurrection the physical frame is raised again to be joined with the consciousness in the presence of the Lord forever.  The unbeliever dies twice, he dies physical death, and then at the Great White Throne, he dies an eternal death, his body is raised and then cast into outer darkness forever, and there’s eternal suffering. [There are various beliefs held within the greater Body of Christ about soul-sleep, whether the spirit component within each human remains conscious or unconscious upon the death of the human body, or about the fate of the “unsaved dead.”  To read about some of these, see http://www.unityinchrist.com/plaintruth/battle.htm.  Personally I don’t know which is true, will wait and find out.  Good rule to go by: “Our individual beliefs and interpretations on a prophecied subject will not change the reality of it’s intended outcome by the Lord.”]  That’s not intended for man, anyone here this evening who doesn’t like that idea, I don’t blame you, gives you the heeby-geevies, I understand.  That’s good, means you’re using your brain.  God has made a provision through his Son where you can only die once.  If you’re born-again, you can only die once, the physical death, but not die eternally, not die twice, not die spiritually. 


Don’t Sorrow Like Unbelievers At The Death Of A Love One


Paul is addressing these Thessalonians saying, ‘Look, concerning those that are asleep, I don’t want you to sorrow as others who have no hope,’ and that was the problem is they were sorrowing like unbelievers.  They were sorrowing like they had lost somebody forever.  They were sorrowing hopelessly.  And the New Testament teaches us that our sorrow, when we lose a loved one, is not a hopeless sorrow, if we lose someone whose a believer, but it’s a selfish sorrow.  It’s ok to be sorrowful, Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.  Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus and wept.  There was sorrow.  It doesn’t say we’re not spiritual because we mourn or because we weep.  Sadly, there are too many Christians that are under that impression, that if they grieve and they weep over the death of a loved one that’s gone on to be with the Lord, that therefore they’re not spiritual, because they go through that process.  The Bible doesn’t teach that at all.  If you didn’t sorrow I’d worry more about you when you loose a loved one.  But it shouldn’t be hopeless, it shouldn’t be tombstone vigils where you find people in the cemetery crying by the grave, and they’re tortured and it goes on for years.  No, no, they’re asleep, Paul says.  We know where our loved ones who believe in Christ are.  In fact, imagine what they’re looking at right now.  I did a funeral yesterday, a wonderful man in the church, he’s gone on to be with the Lord.  And whenever that happens I think, ‘You know, I really don’t enjoy doing the funeral of an unsaved person, it’s so difficult.’  Because you have to get away from the person as quickly as you can and get to the Scripture, so you can challenge those who have opportunity to receive Christ [ah, that’s like walking through a spiritual/emotional minefield, don’t envy you, Pastor Joe].  But when it’s a believer whose gone on, it’s so remarkable, you hear the family laughing and talking, ‘He’s probably doing this in heaven, he’s probably straightening out his mansion, putting on a few finishing touches, when we get there he’s going to introduce us to everybody,’ you know, all of that personality lives on, it’s not ended, and it’s remarkable to hear those things, when there are tears mingled with laughter, and memories that are sweet and strong, and hope attached to the whole process.  What a wonderful thing.  And your loved ones who have gone on before you, imagine what is before their gaze, right now.  [that is if the spirit-in-man remains conscious upon death.]  Try to imagine what they’re looking at right now in glory.  And if you tried to talk to them, ‘Dad’  ‘Leave me alone,’ just imagine what’s before their gaze, no sorrow, no death, no sadness, looking at the face of Christ and the glory of God, a scene in heaven that’s unimaginable.  But Paul says, ‘I don’t want you to sorrow as others who have no hope, a hopeless sorrow.’  Theocretus, in this day a Roman philosopher, said “Hope is for the living.  The dead have no hope.”  Well, that’s not true, of course.  What is our hope?  Many of the tombstones in Thessalonica said ‘No hope.’  There were some philosophies that embraced some form of an afterlife, some ethereal realm.  Many of them said there was no hope, no hope of marriage continuing beyond the grave, no hope of relationships continuing, there was no hope. 


What Is The Hope Of The Believer---“the Blessed Hope”?


So, what is the hope of the believer [called “the Blessed Hope” by many]?  Well he goes on in verse 14, “For if” now the class condition is not “if we believe” he knew as Christians we do believe, so you could more properly read that “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.”  So, because we believe that Jesus died and rose again, we have this hope.  So we shouldn’t sorrow in hopelessness.  Our hope is not just afterlife in some ethereal realm, we’re Christians, we believe in resurrection, not just afterlife.  We don’t just, you know you hear of all these kind of near-death experiences, ‘I saw light, I heard music, and oooh, I was going close to the light, and I got sent back,’  Look, who knows.  You can’t build anything there [doctrinally speaking].  Jesus didn’t have a near-death experience, he had a dead-experience.  You and I are not going to have a near-death experience, we’re going to have a dead-experience.  I don’t want to hear about near-death experiences, because I ain’t just getting near it, I’m getting thrown into it at some point in time.  I’m getting nearer to it than I want to, I’m going all the way into it.  And I’m going through it, into the Light, into glory, closing my eyes in this world and opening them up in the next.  And the remarkable hope that we have in regards to our loved ones is not just afterlife but it’s resurrection.  Jesus said when he was risen, ‘Touch me, doth a spirit have flesh and bone?  Feel me.’  He had to say to Mary, ‘Let go of me, stop holding on, I haven’t ascended yet.’  So what we believe in is “resurrection”, that we’re going to be transformed, the Lord is going to raise our physical frame and it’s going to be joined again to the consciousness [spirit-in-man that it was separated from], so that when you see your loved one, you see your grandma in heaven [in the Kingdom of heaven], you’re not just going to go ‘Oh grandma’ and run right through her, you know, go ‘aaah,’ right through her.  You’re going to have this, [he’s slapping his chest].  Jesus said, ‘Touch me, doth a spirit hath flesh and bone as you see I have?’  They embraced him.  They handled him, they held onto him.  Mary hugged him and wouldn’t let go of him.  But what we’re looking forward to with our loved ones, with our children that have gone on ahead of us, is to put our arms around them, and feel them again, and the warmth, to bend over and smell that smell again.  It’ll smell like incorruption, not corruption, don’t get me wrong in any way.   But transformed.  [Comment:  Different parts of the Body of Christ have different interpretations about what our immortal bodies will be like and composed of.  If we are composed of spirit as God and the angels are, it may be that spirit is more solid than physical matter, and is also eternal.  Personally, we’ll all have to wait and see.]  Our grandparents, our husbands and wives that are gone on before us, our parents.  Not lost, not hopeless, selfish, that’s how we sorrow, selfishly.  We wish they were right here so we could hold them, but they’re not.  But we’re not hopeless.  That’s the unbelieving world.  There’s going to be a reunion that’s going to be remarkable.  And in that reunion, we’ll be transformed.  You won’t even need name-tags, because then we will know fully, even as we’ve been fully known.  I know if your dad went on to be with the Lord and he was bald, he was 80 years old, and he was overweight, when he get’s to heaven he’s the tall thin guy with all the hair, but you’re gonna know him when you see him, you don’t need name-tags.  Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, and Peter and those guys knew who they were, saw them, on the Mount of Transfiguration.  I heard a story about an old farmer that came in from upper Saskatchewan, and just lived in the boonies his whole life, no electricity, none of the modern conveniences, there was some thing with a property deed, an inheritance, and he comes in to a big city in Toronto, and he’s amazed at everything he’s seeing, and his wife, she’s looking in a clothes store next door, and he and his son see this giant tall building, his son says ‘I’ve never seen anything like this, let’s look at this,’ so they go in the ground floor and their looking for stairs, he sees these two metal doors, this old woman walks up with a cane, she walks up, pushes a button, these doors open up, she kind of hobbles on, the doors go closed, they watch, they see this thing go up, two, three, four, five, six, seven, up to thirteen, and they just stand there watching and it comes back down again, and the doors open up, and this beautiful [laughter] staggering young woman walks off of the elevator and walks out the door.  And the old farmer looks at his son and says “Son, stay right here, don’t let them shut this off, I’m going to go get your mom and run her through here once!’  [laughter]  Heaven, transformed.  I imagine we’ll all be again around thirty-something, around there.  I think Adam was around there when he was created, Jesus was around there when he was crucified, it says ‘Our bodies shall be fashioned like unto his glorious body,’ David was that old when he took the throne, great age from what I remember.  “But I would not have you be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” (verses 13-14)


Let’s Take A Closer Look At The Event


Verse 15 says, “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 [precede] them which are asleep.”  Now, verse 15 is not looking back, it seems that the grammar looks forward to verses 16 through 18.  He’s encouraging now these Thessalonians, “we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep.”  And that’s what they were worried about, ‘Well, the Lord’s going to come, Paul told us that Christ is returning, we’re waiting for the Kingdom, it’s going to be remarkable, our loved ones have died, they were believers, are they missing out on this?’  ‘No, we’re saying this by the Lord, that we which remain until the coming of the Lord, we’re not going to precede, go into the Kingdom before those who are asleep,’ “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:  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.  Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (verses 16-18)  We’re supposed to comfort one another with these words, because of the hope we have, the resurrection, of reunion.  But it relates to us even today in this sense, that there’s comfort in us in regards to these things.  Yesterday I watched family, relatives, friends, tears but he’s with the Lord, gonna see him again.  Look what’s happening in the news, it could be soon.  Imagine what he’s seeing, comfort one another with these words.  What great comfort they have been for generation after generation of believers.  “And the Lord himself” I like that, he’s not sending a butler, you know, you get picked up in a limo, they send the chauffer to get you.  No, “the Lord himself shall descend”, what he’s saying is “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout,” out of heaven, atho, into the atmosphere, notice we’ll be caught up into the clouds.  So, it seems ‘the Lord descending into the lower atmosphere,’ if Satan is the prince of the power of the air, here’s Jesus stepping right into that territory to take us.  And he’s going to come into that realm and it says, “with a shout.”  Now, that’s a word that has a lot of force behind it, it relates to a command, it’s a word that relates to purpose.  What will that shout be?  Will it be audible?  I don’t know that.  You remember when in John’s Gospel the Father spoke from heaven, and some thought that it thundered.  It was God’s voice.  When he shouts, will it be audible, or will it just be heard by believers?  We don’t know.  And what will he say when he shouts?  I don’t care.  Because it’s going to be something like ‘Come on home!  Now!  Get on up here!’  one of those things, I don’t care.  The Lord himself is going to descend with a shout!  He’s been waiting for a long time to come get his Bride.  ‘Honey, I’m home’ that’s what he’s going to say.  Wedding day, he’s going to say with a shout.  “with the voice of the archangel”, that’s an interesting piece mingled in there, I don’t understand it completely.  The archangel is only mentioned one other time in the New Testament, that’s in the Book of Jude, and he’s named there, it’s Michael the archangel.  Now “archae” tells us he’s one of a kind, whenever we read about Michael the archangel, there’s always a definite article there for his name, there’s only one archangel.  We don’t have to wonder who this is here, this archangel the Lord sends, voice of the archangel, that’s Michael.  What he has to do with this process I’m not sure.  [keep us from all flying off into outer-space in shear joy and then need rounding up?]  We know from Daniel chapter 12 that he is the prince that watches over the people of Israel.  Maybe because there’s an exchange in hominines at this time [huh?].  The Church is being taken out, God beginning to work with his people Israel to fulfill the 70th week in a miraculous way, perhaps there’s some intermingling of that, I don’t know.  But the archangel, that’s an interesting combination here.  And it says “and with the trump of God.”  Now, this is not the Trumpet that happens before the vials, after the seals in the Book of Revelation, but there are people who want to put it there [post-trib Rapture interpretation], saying it’s the last Trump, the Trump of God is something that happens there.  Well, if you read clearly, those are not trumpets of God, those are trumpets of angels.  In Revelation chapter 8 it says the last three angels were about to sound, when one of them flying through the sky said Woe, Woe, Woe, in regards to the next three trumpets there about to sound, they were three woes.  This says “Comfort yourself” in regards to this trumpet.  So this is not a Woe, Woe, Woe trumpet.  This is something that sounds to gather God’s people, 1st Corinthians chapter 15, beginning in verse 51, ‘We shall not all sleep,’ that means as a Christian, we shall not all have the death of our physical body, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,’ we have that sign on our nursery back there, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” [laughter]  It’s a different application of 1st Corinthians 15, ‘We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the speed of light, twinkle of an eye, an atamos, at the last trump.’   [Comment:  1st Corinthians 15:52 says “at the last trump:  for the trumpet shall sound…” The last trumpet of the seven last trumpet plagues is at the end of all the trumpet blasts of God, at the point in time when the Seven Last Plagues begin.  This is where the various prophetic interpretations don’t agree with each other, and I personally don’t know whose right, correct at this point, and suspect no one has the right interpretation yet for these prophecies.]  “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”  A remarkable picture this is giving to us here about these things taking place.  And we’re to draw comfort from them, as we look at them.  Now, why?  Because it says we’re going to be caught up, in verse 17.  “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up” when this happens, the dead in Christ shall rise first, I don’t know what that’s going to look like.  Are they going to blow out of the ground in the cemetery?  [I’m hoping we all blast out of the ground like MX Missiles J]  I’ve got a lot of people who go through this question, ‘Should I be buried or cremated?’  And some people just have the heeby-geevies about getting cremated.  ‘You know, it sounds like judgment, you know, I don’t want to be cremated.’  Well there were a lot of Christians who were burnt at the stake.  A lot of Christians eaten of lions.  And even if you get buried, in three or four years you’re going to look like you got cremated.  [laughter]  You know, I’m not trying to sell anything here, whatever you’re conviction is, it’s cheaper, I tell Kath all the time, ‘Just cremate me,’  I’m not gonna do that, it’s terrible.’  I think, ‘You got four kids, what do you mean, save some money for once, please!’  [laugher]  ‘Well if you die Honey, you know, leaving me with four kids, you’re gettin’ cremated.’  ‘Don’t you do that!’  ‘You won’t be here to do anything about it.  Next time I see you it’ll be in heaven, Jesus will be there and you’ll have to act like a Christian, you’ll have to be nice to me.’  [laughter]  ‘You won’t be able to yell at me about this.’  But people go to these ridiculous, in unbelief, raises all of these ridiculous questions.  ‘What about people that are cremated?  What about people that are eaten of sharks?  What about donor, organ donor things, what, what about if you got somebody else’s liver, a Christians liver when the Rapture happens?’  [laughter]  ‘Does your liver disappear?’  I’ll stop there…there that’s safer.  You know, people raise those ridiculous questions.  “The Lord himself will descend with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God:  and the dead in Christ shall rise first:” (verse 16) whether they’ve been dead a thousand years or two weeks.  They will come with him, spirit and soul, consciousness, and their physical frame, Jesus body was raised from the grave on the third day, our bodies will be fashioned like unto his glorious body, his body passed through the walls, he appeared and his disappeared, new model---we’ll be raised incorruptible, those of us who have gone on before us. 


We’re Caught Up In The Clouds


Then, those of us that are alive and remain until that day will be caught up to meet them in the clouds, some argue in clouds, which can mean in groups, that Jesus would come and say ‘Okay, Northie Philly, South Philly,’ I mean, however it happens, that’s fine with me.  But if I’ve been waiting that long for my bride, she’s going with me all at one time.  And that’s what I tend to think, that we’re just caught up into the clouds to meet him in the air.  “Caught up”, that’s our word “rapture.”  You know, if you’ve been coming here, and you’re new at all this, you’ve heard us give, you know, sometimes Christians just talk about that, the Rapture.  They put bumper stickers on about the Rapture.  People are scratching their heads, ‘Well what does that mean?  Is it a saucer thing?  Is it a UFO thing?  Is it an abduction thing?  What is this?’  But we’re going to disappear.  And then they get home and they get out their Concordance, ‘I knew it.  It ain’t in the Bible.  Can’t find it.’  Well, those of you here this evening that are reading the Latin know that it’s from the Latin, the old Latin, the Vulgate, Raptus, which means “to be caught up.”  It’s harpodzo here in the Greek, our word, “caught up.”  And it’s a word we find throughout the New Testament.  I’ll look at a few places, I’ll read them so that they’ll be on the tape, you don’t have to get blisters turning.  In Matthew 11, verse 12 it says “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent, harpodzo, take it by force.”  Again, Matthew chapter 13, verse 19, it says, “Then when someone hears the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away, harpodzo, that which was sown in the heart.”  John chapter 6, verse 15 says, “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and, harpodzo, take him by force.”  Again, John chapter 10, verse 28, “I give unto them eternal life, they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them, harpodzo, out of my hand.  My Father which gave them is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them, harpodzo, out of my Father’s hand.”  Acts chapter 8, I’m just going to run through several verses here, and then we’ll come back to our text.  Acts 8, verse 39 says, “And when they were come up out of the water,” this is Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, “the Spirit of the Lord, harpodzo, caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more.”  Again, Acts chapter 23, verse 10, says, “And when there arose a great dissention, the chief captain fearing lest Paul should have been pulled to pieces…to command of the soldiers to go down and, harpodzo, take him by force…”  Jude 23 says this, it says, “and of some have compassion, making a difference, others save with fear, pulling them, harpodzo, out of the fire…”  pulling them out.  Revelation 12,  verse 5, the man-child is caught up, harpodzo, to heaven.  So where we find this word in the New Testament, it speaks of being taken away, being jerked away, being plucked away, by force.  Paul says here, “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up, plucked away, pulled away, taken by force, and that is our word Rapture.  So when we speak about the Rapture, Paul is saying that the Lord is not going to wait until the entire earth disintegrates to the point where there’s no one alive, and morally it’s so measured there’s nothing worth redeeming, the Lord will come for his Bride before that, the same way anyone who loved his children or loved his bride would come to take them out of a desperate situation.  And when he comes, those who have died in faith will be raised, as he descends with a shout, the voice of the archangel, the trump of God, and those Christians that are alive at that time will be caught away, with force, from the face of the earth, plucked up. That’s the Rapture, that’s what’s going to happen to us that believe, when Christ comes.  And I think, what a testimony to an unsaved world.  And comfort in that for us, for a reason.  It says ‘Comfort yourselves, with the fact that this is going to take place.’ 


God Measures Time Morally


Revelation says this, ‘And they said unto the mountains and the rocks, fall on us, hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.  For the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand.’  You’ll find it in Revelation 14.  Revelation 19 says this in regards to the day of his wrath, ‘And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God.’  The point is, this world is headed for judgment.  God measures time morally.  Remember he said to Abraham that the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full, in fact I believe Genesis 18 or 15, but he said ‘in four generations, 400 years, then I’ll bring the children of Israel into the land.’ [Genesis 15]  And God used the children of Israel to mete out judgment on the Canaanites.  But God waited for 400 years, there were those who turned, Rehab the harlot turned and was saved.  Any of those people could have turned.  But God measures time morally.  And when it comes to a point, he doesn’t use a clock or a calendar, he measures time morally, and when it comes to a point where he realizes ‘There is no longer anything that can be redeemed in this,’ then he moves.  [Comment:  meditating on this, when there is no one else that God feels he can save, no one else who is willing to come to Jesus for salvation, no one else who will accept the call to salvation, then the gig is up, time has run out.  Rehab and her family were saved in the nick of time, just at the beginning of the conquest of Canaan.]  Because of his holiness, because of who he is, he can’t be benign in regards to that point, when it comes.  He can’t just be static, because he’s moral and he’s holy and he’s righteous.  And when righteousness in the sense of judgment comes in contact with unrighteousness, then we have judgment.  Happens every day across this city, when a policeman catches someone speeding, and justice comes in contact with injustice, with unrighteousness, something is meted out, in a courtroom, whether there’s a trail for murder or for something when justice, when a righteous judgment comes in contact with a lawbreaker, with something that’s been done in rebellion that’s unrighteous, judgment takes place.  And God is coming to mete out his judgment on the world.  Now he’s going to do that in his wrath.  When we read about that, and it isn’t like God’s up there cooking, steam coming out of his ears, fire coming out of his nostrils, and he’s just gonna come and start, heads are gonna fly.  That’s you and I.  That’s what we do with anger.  And that’s usually thumos, and it deals with emotion.  That’s the kind of anger that explodes, there’s an outburst, and then it calms down and subsides again.  If you’re married you know about that kind of anger. [laughter]  It’s not right, but it happens.  And occasionally there’s a place to describe God’s emotion in a place where the word thumos is used, but most often we have this word orgae that’s used, and that is more mental than emotional.  And orgae happens by decision, by watching, by waiting.  The wrath of God is patient, it is in its motion now, there are those, Paul says, who are treasuring up wrath unto themselves.  It says that you and I were at one time the children of wrath, that we were the children of disobedience, destined for wrath.  That God is looking at this world and its injustice and all that’s going on, the movies that are put out that mock him, the legislation that’s being passed that flies in the face of all that’s good, holy and right, those who misrepresent him and fleece God’s people for money, constantly in the name of God, the murder, the war, the injustice and bigotry, that God is observant in all of those things, and that he is watching, and that his wrath is building.  And when it comes, it comes with a purpose.  It doesn’t just come to smoke everybody.  That’s you and I.  It has purpose, it has thought, it has decision.  And as we look in the Book of Revelation we see first those Seals being opened.  It’s measured.  There’s a governor on it.  Because even then God is hoping to turn men and women to himself.  Then it intensifies with trumpets, and then finally it’s seems unmeasured as vials are poured out on the earth.  But God’s wrath will come, his justice coming in contact with unholiness and unrighteousness, judgment will come, but it comes with purpose, God longing even in those days when his wrath begins, to draw the hearts of men and women.  And I believe that maybe the greatest ingathering the world has ever seen happens in the first three and a half years of that tribulation period.  But for you and I, it tells us this, in chapter 1, verse 10, that we’re to wait for his Son from heaven, “whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.”  Here in chapter 5 of 1st Thessalonians, verse 9, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,”  There’s thought, this is deliberate.  Ephesians chapter 2, verse 3 tells us that we were children of wrath. Colossians 3, verse 6 by nature                                       we were children of wrath, children of disobedience.  You remember John the Baptist said ‘Who warned you to flee from the wrath, the orgae, to come?’ the day of God’s judgment.  But there’s a warning.  And part of the comfort, and part of the Good News, part of what we’re to take to heart as we look at this text, is that we’re not appointed to wrath. 


Death Is Not The End Of It All


Concerning those that have died, our loved ones, we have great hope in regards to resurrection.  We’re not ignorant concerning those who are asleep, and our sorrow is not a hopeless sorrow, as those who carry on and carry on, broken, without hope.  You know, I can’t imagine that.  Every time I go to a funeral, I can’t imagine being an unbeliever and facing death.  I remember being 8 years old when my Grampa died, he lived in the house with us.  And I wasn’t a believer yet, I was a child.  And the emotions, the strangeness of the viewing, at 8 years old, for somebody I sat next to day after day, and talked to and asked a thousand ridiculous questions that an 8-year-old would, and he delighted in it.  I think he made up answers sometimes.  Somehow I guess he knew the Lord was going to take him, he died on Thanksgiving, but before he died he bought a Bible to give to me on Christmas day, it was under the tree.  I was completely confused about how that happened.  It wasn’t until I got saved I thought that this man was probably a believer.  And I’m so looking forward to seeing, he’ll be the guy with the long white mustache and suspenders, the pipe, I’ll smell him before I see him.  I know that smell.  I sat next to him many hours.  But I remember seeing my father at the graveside just break, and weep.  My dad grew up in the Depression, went through World War II, that generation just didn’t act like that.  But I watched that.  [I know what he’s talking about.  My dad served in the Navy at Pearl Harbor during part of WWII, quiet, stoic type, strong, silent type.]  It was hopeless, was hopeless.  I’m thankful my mom and dad are saved now.  I can’t imagine facing death as an unbeliever.  I want to encourage you if you’re here this evening, and you don’t know Christ, you don’t have to do that.  Look, Buddha had some good stuff to say, he’s in a pot in a temple, his remains are in a pot somewhere, bones or dust or whatever, he’s in a temple somewhere.  Mohammad is in his tomb.  Zoroaster is in his tomb.  Confucius is in his tomb.  Grant’s in his tomb [laughter].  There’s an empty tomb in Jerusalem.  [applause]  And that’s what we believe, that he died, and he got up again, on the third day.  He got up, arose, incorruptible, and said ‘Death, where is your sting, grave where is your victory?’  And that’s at the center of what we believe, that he paid the price for our forgiveness, he died for our sins, he was raised for our justification, the demonstration of God accepting the payment of our sins in that resurrection, God’s acceptance, God’s endowment, the power of God demonstrating it raising him from the dead, and we believe that our sins are paid for, and we believe that if the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in you, he’s also going to quicken your mortal body, that that’s going to be the process for us.  You know, what a great thing.  When that time comes, if the Lord tarries, you know, I have my preference.  I want to die in a rocking chair, rocking, rocking and rolling.  I don’t want to die hooked up to tubes somewhere.  Some people do good there, I just would be a bad witness, after trying to be a good witness my whole life.  I’d just be a bad witness, ‘Don’t stick me with that!  Don’t do that!  Just pull the plug outa the machine.’  My preference is to just be there, maybe have my Bible, cup of coffee, ‘OK Lord.’  I love Jacob, props himself up, prophecies over his 12 sons, it says he pulls his legs up in the bed, blasts off.  What dignity.  The life, filled with the Holy Ghost at the last.  Instead of being tortured by death it tells us in Hebrews, there are those who spend their entire life tortured by the fear of death.  You know, it’s only man that says ‘What is this all about?  Why am I here?  Where is it all going?’  Cows do not stand in the field saying, ‘Isn’t this strange?  What’s the purpose of all of this?  Do you think there’s an afterlife?  You know that big gray cow over there, had that near-death experience the other day [laughter], drove past the slaughterhouse and came back again.’  It’s only man that measures these things out, and God’s able to minister to our hearts in those things.  You know, everyone here needs to think about that who doesn’t know Christ.  I think about it in the context of resurrection, in the context of hope.  It tells us in 1st Timothy that in Christ, in his death and resurrection, death has been abolished.  The power of it is gone.  Because, you know, for the unbeliever, death is the end of things. It’s the end of hope and dreams, it’s the end of relationships, it’s the end of plans, it’s the end. [Comment:  Within the body of Christ there are a few different interpretations about death, heaven and hell.  To read some of them, see http://www.unityinchrist.com/plaintruth/battle.htm]  For the believer, it isn’t.  For me it’s not the end of relationships, so many of them I’m looking forward to seeing again.  When I do a funeral I spend the next day thinking of all the wonderful people I love here in this church that have gone on to be with the Lord.  I think of my Grandpa.  I think of Whitfield, Spurgeon, and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Noah.  It’s the beginning of relationships, not the end, for me.  It’s not the end of my hopes and dreams.  Because the Bible describes heaven so vividly, says we have an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, that fadeth not away, reserved for us in heaven, so part of my dreams and aspirations are to step through and to see that.  [Comment:  the Kingdom of God is coming to earth with Christ at his 2nd coming, and earth will become the Headquarters of the Universe when the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven to forever reside on earth, cf. Revelation 21:1-23.]  To behold Christ, to stand around his throne in a great throng, and in an eternity to be there.  It’s not the end, it’s the beginning, for a believer.  Death has been abolished.  It’s not the end of my plans.  I’m planning on all of this.  I don’t know when.  But I’m planning on it.  I don’t imagine, I can’t, for an unbeliever to face this.  Paul says ‘I don’t want you to be ignorant concerning those who have fallen asleep, that you sorrow not as others who have no hope, because since we believe that Jesus died, and he rose again, there’s an empty tomb in Jerusalem, that because the same Spirit that raised him from the dead dwells in you, we’re going to experience the same thing.’  Then we need to know that those who have gone on before us, that God is going to bring those with him when Christ returns.  ‘And this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that the Lord himself shall descend with a shout, for us that are living,’ we’re looking at a war in the Middle East, we’re looking at injustice, we’re hearing about anthrax and smallpox and terrorism.  Jesus said in the last days the world would be filled with perplexity, the word means “no way out.”  Men’s hearts would be failing them for fear, looking at the things that are coming on the world.  But Jesus said when these things begin to take place, ‘Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.’  That word “redemption”, used eight times in the New Testament speaks of the redemption of the physical frame.  When these things begin, that’s our signal.  If you don’t think they’ve begun, go home and watch the news tonight.  It’s time to get out on your launch-pads, Jesus is coming, he’s coming for his Bride, and he’s going to reach down, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, the trump of God, and he is going to snatch us away with force from this world.  [applause]  Now I know there’s somebody sitting here steaming, ‘This guy’s been reading Margaret McDonald and John Darby, and he doesn’t know anything about Church history…bup, bup, bup, bup…baa.’  Look, the beauty of this is, if I head into the tribulation, I can change my position.  You’re gonna be wrong forever.  [Now that’s not true.  If we believe the Rapture isn’t true, but it turns out to be true, it just means those of us who don’t believe in this particular doctrine are gonna be pleasantly surprised by being Raptured up to the Sea of Glass pre-trib, for the Wedding Feast, a 7 year long Wedding Feast before Christ returns to earth, that’s all.]  I am an avowed pre-tribulationist.  I was a post-tribulationist, early-on.  But you start to look at God’s wrath, how it is thought out, it isn’t just flying off the handle, his anger, how it’s measured, the purpose of it.  It is for the children of disobedience, that have been storing up wrath unto themselves, and to a Christ-rejecting world.  And even early-on then, to turn.  And the wrath doesn’t begin three and a half years through the 7-year period, it begins at the beginning, when the first Seal is opened, and the antichrist is allowed to go forth and deceiving, it begins right at the beginning, the wrath of God.  In fact there are uses of the wrath of God in the present tense, right now it’s happening.  It says in Revelation chapter 11 the two prophets that die, it says that they tormented all of the earth for 1260 days, that’s the first half [no, some believe it’s the 2nd half of those 7 years, so there’s disagreement within the Body of Christ over this one too].  We’ll do that next week.  Hopefully we won’t be here and you’ll understand all of this.  But our hope, as believers, is in the coming of Christ for his Church, not with his Church, but for his Church.  The miracle isn’t when it happens, it’s that it happens at all.  For any thinking Christian, the miracle isn’t pre, mid, or post-tribulation, the miracle is that he has the power in the twinkling of an eye to take our physical frames, to snatch them away from the surface of the earth, with power and authority, and to change us in an atomos, incorruptible, immortal.  I’m not amazed that he loves me enough to take me out before he judges a Christ-rejecting world.  The miracle of it is the power of the transformation, not the timing of the transformation.  We’re to treat our wives the way Christ treats the Church.  He doesn’t dump fire on it, let demons go on it.  Some of you might feel you’re married to post-tribulationists, ladies, I know.  He nourishes it and cherishes it.  ‘We’ll be caught up in clouds to meet the Lord in the air, so shall we ever be with the Lord.  Wherefore comfort one another with these words.’  Maranatha, the Lord is coming, his return is immanent, it says many times in the New Testament.  Well Church history, let me tell you something about Church history, it’s a mess.  If you want to know what to believe, don’t go back to Church history, go back to the New Testament.  [I tried to do that, as well as using the most modern of Church history research authors, and wrote about it at http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/index3.htmenjoy, you’ll be in for some surprises.]  Biblical theology is what we want, not history theology [which is basically Catholic theology, is what he’s saying].  Great men were killed because they said they thought Romans and Galatians taught justification by faith, they were murdered.  Because that wasn’t historic [Catholic] Church doctrine, that was Biblical doctrine.  And when they tried to bring simple truths back to the Church, justification by faith, they paid with their lives.  And the Lord coming for his Church, and the imminence of that, it can happen at any moment, is not history Church doctrine, it’s Biblical doctrine.  Paul said “we”, when we are caught up to be with the Lord.  You can’t embrace a post-tribulation Rapture, or a mid-tribulation Rapture and an imminent return at the same time.  The Lord says ‘Whose this wicked servant that says in his heart ‘the Lord delayeth his coming?’ that that kind of thing, putting off the coming of Christ bears bad fruit, eating and drinking and fist-fighting.  It says ‘Any man who has this hope purifies himself, even as he is pure.’  If we believe the Lord could come at any moment, that has a dramatic effect on our lives, on our evangelism, on our priorities, on the way we live.  Maranatha, the Lord cometh.  Serve that way, live that way, hope that way, don’t be hopeless.  In the twinkling of an eye, in a moment, you’ll be reunited with children, with parents, with loved ones, so shall we ever, we ever be with the Lord.  Wherefore comfort one another with these words…[transcript of a connective expository sermon given on 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18, given by Pastor Joe Focht, Calvary Chapel of Philadelphia, 13500 Philmont Avenue, Philadelphia, PA  19116]


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