Just Passing Through
Our world is a real mess. Watching the news is seriously depressing. First we hear of all the murders, attacks, robberies, and corruption that have transpired locally. Then, during the national segment, we are told of all the unrest on the planet, as terrorism looms large, nuclear threats abound, political upheaval is prevalent, and a global financial collapse seems imminent.
For Christians, it is comforting to know that this life is not all there is. While the news is depressing, God’s Word is encouraging. Jesus promises that someday, perhaps soon, He will return in the clouds for His church; “and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Th. 4:17). This imminent (literally, “at any moment”) return of Jesus for His own is often identified as “the blessed hope” or Rapture of the church.
The apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, told the believers in Thessalonica, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope” (v. 13). The Thessalonian Christians were afraid their loved ones who had died in Christ would miss the Rapture. Paul sought to allay their fears and, in so doing, gave lasting hope to centuries of believers who struggle with this evil world.
The words fallen asleep refer to physical death, not soul sleep. At death, the soul is separated from the body. The bodies of Christians who pass away are pictured as sleeping because the souls go immediately to be with the Savior. Absent from the body is present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8).
Not only will the dead in Christ be raptured, but they actually will be the first to depart:
Even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep….The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Th. 4:14–17).
The Latin word for “caught up” is rapturo, from which comes the term Rapture.
How will this event unfold? “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (v. 16). The Lord will descend from heaven but will not touch down on Earth. He will not visibly return until the end of the seven-year Tribulation, which will begin sometime after the church is removed.
As He descends, an angel will shout and a trumpet will blast—sounds that appear to be for believers alone; no one else will hear them.
Can you imagine if Jesus were to come on a typical morning while people are driving to work, flying in air-planes, talking on phones, or merely walking on busy streets? Though unbelievers apparently will hear nothing, they certainly will experience the result. The Rapture’s effects will keenly impact society.
Where will the raptured go? From the first Jewish people who responded to the apostle Peter’s preaching on the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) in Acts 2 to the last person to come to Christ in the future—all will “meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (v. 17). Wherever He will be, His church will be as well. At the Rapture, believers will receive resurrection bodies (1 Cor. 15:52), and “we shall be like Him” (1 Jn. 3:2)—unable to die and unable to sin.
The Rapture is for the church alone. Old Testament and Tribulation saints appear to receive their resurrection bodies after the Tribulation but before the start of the 1,000-year Messianic Kingdom (Rev. 20:4). The unsaved dead are resurrected at the end of the 1,000-year Kingdom, are judged at the Great White Throne (vv. 11–15), and are cast into the lake of fire for eternity (v. 15).
The world is on a collision course with its Creator. As things get worse (and they will), evil will increase. Yet this world is not all there is. Believers are waiting for the city “whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10). This is not our home. We’re just passing through.