February 26

The Rapture of the Church

Bible Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

The passage for today’s Bible reading has to do with what is commonly referred to as the “rapture.”  The term “rapture” itself does not appear in the text, but is from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Greek harpazo (translated “caught up” in verse 17).  Harpazo means to “catch or snatch away.”  The term speaks of something which Jesus will one day do for His church.  At some point in the future the Lord will come and snatch away from earth all those who belong to Him.  This “rapture” is imminent (i.e. it could happen at any time inasmuch as there is no other event in God’s prophetic timetable which must precede it).

The context of the passage indicates the believers in Thessalonica had not been informed of this important truth, because Paul hadn’t yet had the opportunity to instruct them about it (1 Thessalonians 3:10, 4:13).  Some of their fellow believers had died and those still alive wondered about the status of their loved ones with respect to the Lord’s coming.  So Paul instructed them to alleviate their concerns.

The passage represents the ultimate basis for the hope of the believer in Christ.  The “blessed hope” is the hope (“confident expectation”) of Christ’s return (Titus 2:13).  It is that to which we are to “set our hope fully” (1 Peter 1:13).  Two separate groups of believers are referred to in the passage, the rapture applies to both.  As the hymn puts it, “I know not when my Lord may come, At night, or noonday fair, Nor if I’ll walk the vale with Him, Or ‘meet Him in the air’” (“I Know Whom I Have Believed”).  There are those “church-age” believers who will have died previous to the time of Christ’s return.  They have walked “the vale with Him” (i.e. “those who are asleep;” 1 Thessalonians 4:13).  Yet there are those who will “meet Him in the air” (i.e. “who are alive” at the time of His return; 1 Thessalonians 4:17).  A great heavenly reunion of both groups will take place on that day—“so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

It is because of this truth we as believers do “not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).  Yet this does not mean we do not grieve.  Jesus Himself wept at the tomb of Lazarus.  Paul was spared from “sorrow upon sorrow” when God showed mercy towards Epaphroditus who was “ill, near to death,” but recovered (Philippians 2:27).  There is a difference between those who grieve having no hope and those who grieve possessing it.  In one way or another the Lord will bring those who belong to Him “safely into his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18). 

There is a genuine and abiding reason for hope bound up in the glorious truth represented to us in this passage.  There are troubles and trials in this life, yet they quickly fade from view as the assembly of believers takes flight.  As the hymn “I’ll Fly Away” puts it, “Just a few more weary days and then, I’ll fly away, to a land where joys shall never end.”  No longer will they experience death or mourning or crying or pain or tears (Cf. Revelation 21:4).  Face to face with Christ, He will then be “marveled at among all who believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 John 3:2). 

“Therefore encourage one another with these words,” the passage says (1 Thessalonians 4:18).  John Walvoord commented on the comfort we find (and can share) in the expectation of Christ’s coming: “Oh the prospect, the joy of looking forward to the coming of the Lord, and of resting in these precious truths!  There are so many ills of life that nothing can heal except the Lord’s return.  How many loved ones are on the other side and how many problems of this life, incurable diseases, pain, sorrow, difficulties will be made all right. As we face the duties and the challenges and the trials of life, God has given us this blessed hope, this hope of the Lord’s return.  May we take it to our bosoms, may we live in its reality, and may our hearts be refreshed by this precious truth!”

Lord, it is because of You we have strength to face our tomorrows, possessing this certain hope of future blessings!  There is much sorrow in this world, yet You are coming again to take us home–to a place where there will be no more sorrow or tears.  The greatest of all reunions lies just beyond the horizon and in that reunion there will be no more parting.  Amidst our sorrows, grant us the grace and wisdom to encourage one another as we eagerly await Your return!  Help us to set our minds on things above, not on things upon the earth.  Help us to weigh our present troubles against the eternal weight of glory You’ve prepared just for us!  Amen.

I’LL FLY AWAY

Some glad morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To a home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away, oh, Glory
I’ll fly away
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by
I’ll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then
I’ll fly away
To a land where joy shall never end
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away, oh, Glory
I’ll fly away
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by
I’ll fly away

Author: looking2jesus13

Having served as pastor at Lewis and Clark Bible Church, in Astoria, Oregon, for almost three decades, my wife’s cancer diagnosis led to my retirement and subsequent move to Heppner to be near our two grandchildren. I divide my time between caring for Laura and working as a part time hospice chaplain and spending time with family and spoiling my chocolate lab.

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