Reading 1 Thessalonians Ch. 4 v 13-18.
Preached By Ken Humphries.
Cookstown Baptist Church. N.I.
A world of sinners lost and ruined by the fall have no hope of life after death. The philosopher, Socrates tried to prove there could be happiness after death, but he found it very difficult to persuade a pagan world.
The believer, that is those born again of the Spirit of God, has great hope within his or her breast. Titus Ch. 2 v 13-14.
"Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a people of His own, zealous of good works."
The believers in Thessalonica had such a wonderful hope but suddenly someone had thrown a spanner in the works and upset their belief, they had become confused! Why? Paul had taught them that Jesus was coming back again to take them to heaven. They were saying that Jesus was coming back again to take them to heaven but the confusion arose when some of their friends and family had died before Jesus had returned so they thought, these dear ones had missed the coming again of Jesus. So Paul writes this first letter of Thessalonians to remind them of the true facts of the teaching of the coming again of the Lord Jesus to the air for His church. He writes to restore lost hope.
Some would say that "hope" is a silly thing, an unrealistic entity. 19th century U.S. lawyer Robert Ingersoll called hope the "only universal liar," End quote.
A liar which nonetheless unfortunately seems never to lose its reputation.
The English poet Lord Byron wrote that hope is "nothing but the paint (or the makeup) on the face of existence; the least touch of truth rubs it off, and then we see what a hollow-cheeked harlot we have got hold of." End quote!
Yet Scripture makes it clear that "hope" is one of the cornerstones of living the Christian life.
So Paul sets about to renew their once fastly held hope in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to the air to receive them unto Himself whether alive or in the grave.
In fact they really had a three-pronged problem in Thessalonica. Ignorance, sorrow and hopelessness, and Paul must deal with all three. They, like the rest of us needed to learn a vital lesson through all of these bad times. Ignorance looks within for an answer, sorrow looks back for an answer, and hopelessness looks around for an answer. It's Faith, and only Faith that looks up for an answer to every problem. Wherever there is a problem in the life of a Christian God will always give Faith the task of solving it.
So let me give you some great and timeless truths to implant into your heart and mind so that whether it's a lack of understanding, whether it’s the depths of sorrow, or whether it’s the emptiness of hopelessness you will be able to renew your hope and comfort.
We Can Rely With Assurance on His Coming! v 13-14.
And the Apostle gives them two very precious evidences that make this an unshakeable truth upon which they can rely.
He Calls Them to Rely on the Saving Work of the Lord: v 14.
"For 'if' or 'since' we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also who sleep in Jesus will God bring with him."
Paul says, listen, you can absolutely rely on and have confidence in the saving work of Christ. As he reminded the Corinthian Church in chapter 15 v 3-4.
"For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures."
Living he loved me, dying he saved me,
Buried he carried my sins far away
Rising he justified freely forever
One day he's coming, O glorious day.
During the presidency of Andrew Jackson, George Wilson, a postal clerk, robbed a federal payroll from a train and in the process killed a guard. The court convicted him and sentenced him to hang. Because of public sentiment against capital punishment, however, a movement began to secure a presidential pardon for Wilson (first offence), and eventually Jackson intervened with a pardon. Amazingly, Wilson refused it.
Since this had never happened before, the Supreme Court was asked to rule on whether someone could indeed refuse a presidential pardon. Chief Justice John Marshall handed down the court's decision: "A pardon is a parchment whose only value must be determined by the receiver of the pardon. It has no value apart from that which the receiver gives to it. George Wilson has refused to accept the pardon. We cannot conceive why he would do so, but he has. Therefore, George Wilson must die." George Wilson, as punishment for his crime, was hanged. Pardon, declared the Supreme Court, must not only be granted, it must be accepted.
George Maronge, Jr., Birmingham, Alabama. Leadership, Vol. 12, no. 3.
That’s the kind of gospel in which we believe said Paul and upon which we can rely. You might well say, well what in the world has that to do with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ? Well, He died for us, He was buried for us, He rose again for us, He ascended up on high for us and He is coming again for us. Without His coming again for us the gospel would be incomplete. His crucifixion without His Coronation would be incomplete; our justification without our glorification would be incomplete. It would be like East without West, up without down, dark without light.
The gospel is incomplete without His coming again! Do you believe that Jesus rose again? Have you received willingly that eternal pardon? Well the proof of His resurrection is a token proof of your resurrection.
In the Old Testament they have a ceremony called the offering of First Fruits. What would happen was, the harvest would begin to ripen, they would go out into the fields and take a sheaf of corn, wheat or grain and cut it down, carry it to Jerusalem then lay it on the Altar. Firstly as a token of thanks to God for a good harvest, secondly as a token that all the harvest belonged to God. Anyway, it was, on their part, a celebration. It was called the Offering of First Fruits! Then later when the whole harvest was gathered in they would return to Jerusalem and celebrate the gathering of the full harvest. But that first ripened sheaf was a token of the coming harvest.
1 Cor. 15 v 22-23.
"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive; but every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ's at His coming."
Dear folks, there is going to be a resurrection because Christ is the first fruits, or the token, or proof of that resurrection. The star of hope was that Jesus has taken the sting out of death, in His rising from the dead He took the crown of death's head and destroyed it. He also took the keys of death, and because He lives all that die in Jesus Christ will live also. With this wonderful truth He comforts their hearts. They can at all times rely on His amazing work of Salvation.
B. He Calls Them to Rest on the Sure Word of the Lord! v 15.
"For this we say unto you by the Word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them who are asleep."
Paul is saying, listen, listen; you can rest on the Work of the Lord and the Word of the Lord. This is not supposition, this is not guess work, this is not hearsay, this is not the imagination of human kind, this is the sure Word of the Lord.
A clergyman took a seat in a dining car on a train travelling along the Hudson River. Opposite him was an atheist who, seeing his clerical collar, started a discussion. "I see you are a clergyman." "Yes," came the reply. "I am a minister of the gospel." "I suppose you believe the Bible." The clergyman, orthodox in his views, responded, "I certainly do believe the Bible to be the Word of God." "But aren't there things in the Bible you can't explain?" With humility the minister answered, "Yes, there are places in the Bible too hard for me to understand." With an air of triumph as though he had cornered the preacher, the atheist asked, "Well, what do you do then?" Unruffled, the clergyman went on eating his dinner--which happened to be Hudson shad, a tasty fish but noted for its bony structure. Looking up, he said, "Sir, I do just the same as when eating this shad. When I come to the bones, I put them to the side of the plate and go on enjoying my lunch. I leave the bones for some fool to choke on. James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 43.
And in a day when we have all kinds of prophets, seers, mediums, etc, we should be thankful we do have the sure Word of God.
Someone who did not believe in the blessed hope approached one preacher, who had preached a message of the certainty of the Coming of the Lord to the Air. "Man" he said to the preacher, "You can't get that out of the Bible!" "Your quite right" said the preacher, "it's in the Bible to stay and you can't get it out." We can rely on the certainty of His coming!
The primitive church thought more about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ than about death or about heaven. The early Christians were looking not for a cleft in the ground called a grave but for a cleavage in the sky called Glory. They were watching not for the undertaker but for the uppertaker. Alexander Maclaren.
2. We Can Rest With Comfort on His Coming! v 16-18.
"Wherefore, comfort one another with these words."
One of the reasons for preaching this wonderful truth was to bring great comfort to the people of God. There is wonderful comfort in believing and being ready for the coming of the Lord. So Paul paints four wonderful pictures as to the events that should lead to that comfort.
His Return Will Be Majestic! v 16a.
"For the Lord Himself shall descend"
You see Jesus Christ is the central figure in this great event! Don’t try to spiritualise it, don’t try to explain it away. Jesus Himself said in John 14 v 1-3.
"In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also."
It would be that Jesus, who turned the water into wine, fed the five thousand, healed the sick, walked on the water, did many wonderful miracles, who would come. Not this time the little babe of Bethlehem, rather the Bridegroom for His Bride, the Lord for His Church, this coming would have a majesty about it never before seen. On this occasion there would be an eager, excited looking for His return knowing that at that moment when we would see Him we would be like Him and be with Him forever more.
Our Resurrection Will Be A Miracle! v 16b.
"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."
At His coming there will be a shout! It will be the word of command. What will He say? I don’t know! But this much I do know, all those buried in the sand, in the sea or in the soil will come forth at that amazing shout.
And that amazing shout will echo throughout the Kingdom of Satan signalling its end. What a miracle, bodies from all nations, from all ages, from all places, in Christ being brought out of their graves, redeemed and made ready to be reunited for all eternity with their eternal soul.
Then will come the voice of the Archangel! Who is the Archangel? Why it's Michael! Why is Michael involved here? Well, we know from Scripture, Satan is a fallen Angel and Michael is still his superior, and when his voice sounds all the demons of Hell will give way for the children of God. Remember, Satan is still the prince of the power of the air, but on this amazing occasion they will have to step aside as the saints go marching in. No hindrance from Satan on this journey!
Next comes the sound of the trumpet. During these days in history trumpets were of greater importance than today, they were sounded for two reasons, worship and warfare! And we need to know, this trumpet will signal the call to eternal worship for all the saints of every tribe and tongue and nation and peoples who are in Christ. This trumpet will single the preparation for the beginning of the greatest warfare of all time, the great day of God's wrath.
Praise God I am not looking for that day of great tribulation, for then I would be looking for the Anti-Christ and not the Christ. What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see! You might well ask, what are we going to be like in that miraculous resurrection? Wonder of wonders, I will be like Jesus! Explain that? If only I could! I only know it's going to be so and I am getting to a point, I just can't wait.
Our Rapture Will Be A Mystery! v 17a.
"Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up."
There are going to be millions of saints alive and on planet earth at this coming, what will happen to them? Now I know the word rapture is not found in Scripture, but then neither is the word trinity, mission, sovereignty, nonetheless, they are all great Bible truths. The word rapture come from the Latin word "rapto" which means to seize or to catch away, or caught up, and the Bible says we are caught up and neither soil, sand, sea or gravity will keep us back. It means to take from one place to another, in a moment in the twinkling of an eye, like the metal to the magnet we will be caught away to Christ. Those who share the nature of Jesus will be caught up with him. WILL YOU BE AMONGST THAT GREAT NUMBER?
Our Reunion Will Be Marvellous! v 17b.
"Together with them"
The infant church were worrying about those who had died already, they were gone before the coming. Did that mean they had missed it? Paul says, listen we are going up in the coming together, there will be the most wonderful reunion in the sky. Dr. Robert Lee tells as a boy he lived on a farm. One day on our back porch sitting with mother, I asked her, "what was the happiest day in her life"? She told me, Said Dr. Lee, of one day, grandfather who had gone to war was reported missing, presumed dead. Some months later she and her mother were sitting on that very same porch when mother saw a man come up the river road. She looked and looked and said, "there's a man who walks just like your father." She looked again, and with great excitement she ran shouting, "it is your father, it is your father". She ran and greeted him with hugs and kisses, "what a reunion that was." She thought for a long moment, then said, "that was the happiest day of my life."
What an eternal homecoming there will be for the saved of earth!
We Should Respond To The Challenge Of His Coming!
"To meet the Lord In The Air."
That word "meet" does not merely mean a casual meeting, it’s the word used for meeting a returning ambassador.
When he shall come with trumpet sound
O may I then in Him be found
Dressed in His righteousness alone
Faultless to stand before His throne.
You see only His return will fulfil the hope of the saints. Our Heavenly Father is not in the business of giving His people false hope. He knows what we are waiting for. He knows the deepest longing of our hearts and His precious Word gives us every reason to long for the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, and He will not disappoint that blessed hope.
Paul characterises all Christians as those who "love His appearing" 2 Tim. 4 v 8. Instead of being taken up with the hysteria about current events and newspaper headlines, are you looking beyond the commotion of this world with the wonderful realisation that you could soon meet the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. Do not despair about what is going on around you; rather prepare your heart and soul for that amazing meeting in the air. Look for His coming, long for His coming, fill your soul with expectancy, and watch with eager anticipation.
The second coming is not supposed to make us stop what we are doing to wait for the Lord's return, rather it should cause us with a purifying heart and life to live and work the more earnestly for the master and seek to win the lost for His kingdom. Let us rise to the challenge!
The only way to wait for the Second Coming is to watch that you do what you should do, so that when he comes is a matter of indifference. It is the attitude of a child, certain that God knows what he is about. When the Lord does come, it will be as natural as breathing. God never does anything hysterical, and he never produces hysterics. Oswald Chambers.