In this episode, we continue to study the epistles to the Thessalonians, with particular attention on how they relate to the afterlife and the rapture. We discuss Paul’s source of knowledge and inspiration. These prophetic lessons and imagery are tools. They are meant to encourage us all to live lives full of urgency, taking every day as an opportunity to live by faith.
Circumstances are fairly neutral. Paul says if you’re a slave, and you want to be free, and you get the chance, go for it; but it really doesn’t matter that much. What matters is your sanctification. Particularly, that you should abstain from sexual immorality;
that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,
not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God;
that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother—Be honest! —in this matter because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified.
For God did not call us to uncleanness, but to holiness.
Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.
But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another;
and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more;
that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you,
that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.
What happens to those who died before comes back?
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep—What does that mean, “fallen asleep”? Died. —lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, 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.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And 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. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
Therefore comfort one another with these words.
You’ve got this whole situation here with the Thessalonians. They’re in intense persecution, in fact, Dr. Anderson tells me the Nero persecutions are going on during this timeframe. Anybody remember what Nero did? What are some of the things Nero did?
Impaled them and set them on fire. Used them as torches! Dipped them in tar and set them on torches to light the way so they could have parties. Instead of using, whatever, candles or a torch or something. It was really horrific.
You’ve got this really bad persecution going on. They’re standing strong, and they’re looking to Jesus’ coming.
But they’ve gotten concerned about something. What is it? The people who died are going to miss him. What happens to them? They’re not going to see Jesus.
When are they expecting Jesus to return? Any day.
In fact, we’re going to see in a minute that Paul says, “You know those people that aren’t working, that are just sitting around doing nothing? Don’t feed those people. If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” What were they doing? They were just waiting. “Why work? I’ve got a refrigerator full. Jesus is going to be back any time.” This is how imminent the return of Jesus was to them.
Their concern is, “Well, what about the dead in Christ?”
They’re really concerned about this. And Paul says, “Hey, don’t worry.” Jesus is going to come with a shout, and the dead in Christ rise first; but did you notice who else is in this picture? Who all is in this picture when Jesus returns? Who’s Jesus with when he returns? The archangel and all his saints. It’s interesting, isn’t it?
This, to me, is fairly conclusive.
He then goes on—the first question I had is well, what happens to the people who die before Jesus comes back? They’re expecting it any day.
When is it going to be?
Then the next question is, “Well, when is it going to be? This persecution stinks. We’re glad to endure it, but we’d like for it to be over, and if Jesus comes back, it’ll be over. We want him to come back.
He says in chapter 5, But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you.
For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.
When does a thief in the night come? Unexpectedly, right? Does a thief write you a note and say, hey, I’m coming to rob you tonight? I just wanted to let you know. They come at a time you’re not expecting.
For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them—
The Thessalonians wonder if they missed the rapture
Let’s flip over to 2 Thessalonians. Same group of people. Let’s go ahead and skip over to chapter 2.
Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ—something else has happened now. They’ve got another question. —and our gathering together to Him, we ask you,
not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.
What are they worried about now? They missed it.
What would make them think they missed it? During the time of Nero. What do they think they might be in the middle of? The Tribulation. I mean, it’s going on all around them. And, apparently, someone had told them, hey, you missed it. You’re in the Tribulation.
Verse 3. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
Nero’s bad, but he’s not the guy because he hasn’t done this.
Do you not remember I was telling you this stuff?
This seems fairly conclusive that you’ve got this group of believers that are expecting Jesus to come back any day. How could that be true if there’s not an imminent rapture?
Then they say, “Arg! We missed it! We’re in the tribulation.” How can that be true if there’s no Tribulation?
Paul said no, no, no. The Tribulation hasn’t happened until you see these things in Daniel take place, and he has to sit on the throne in the temple in Jerusalem.
How did Paul know all this?
How did Paul know all this? What would you say? How does Paul know all this?
You can’t find this, really, in the Old Testament. You get some sense of rapture in the Old Testament from Elijah and Enoch. They’re pictures of the rapture. But even resurrection. Anybody know an Old Testament verse that tells about the resurrection?
Isaiah 26:19. Daniel 12:2. There’s one more. Job. I know my redeemer liveth and at the last day—if you know Handel’s Messiah “I know that my redeemer—”
Everything we see in Revelation, more or less, is told to us in Daniel.
But really, to my knowledge, there’s only three verses in the Old Testament that explicitly talk about the resurrection. So where did Paul get all this stuff?
He had about 13 years of training.
Look at 2 Corinthians 12 for a minute. It says, It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord:
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven—which is the idea of the very presence of God.
And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—
how he was caught up into Paradise—And here we are in Abraham’s bosom now. Or wherever it is now. —and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
Of such a one I will boast—
It goes on. Verse 7. And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me—Paul heard things, some of which he’s not allowed to tell. What does that tell us? We’re not supposed to know it all. He trusted Paul, didn’t he? I’m going to tell you this, but I don’t want you to tell.
It’s really humorous. There’s a place in Revelation where it says, “The thunder spoke.” And then the angel says, “Don’t write that down.” There’s all these books about, what did the thunder say? We don’t know! That’s the point. There’s stuff that he’s not telling us.
Paul knew. He had first-hand knowledge of all this stuff, and he’s fitting it in with scripture.
How can you have the-thief-in-the-night-can-come-any-minute, and at the same time have the-day-of-the-Lord-won’t-come-until-you-see-this? How can both those things be true? There’s the rapture. That’s where I think the compelling evidence for the rapture is.
The rapture is a hated teaching
It’s very interesting that this is such a hated doctrine by so many people.
I’m going to tell you why I think it’s a hated doctrine. Satan spoke through Peter. Remember? “Get behind me, Satan.” So, if you look at 2 Timothy, he says to Timothy, hey, you need to be able to sit with someone and help them gently to be able to repent so they can escape the wiles of the devil.
Just because we’re in Christ and have the Holy Spirit in us doesn’t mean that we can’t be deceived into following the world in the satanic system. That’s what we’re struggling against, in large part.
What’s going on is this historic game plan that Satan has had to displace the Jewish people. To displace Israel. All the culmination of everything that happens, happens through Israel.
Unfortunately, for most of church history, at least the last 1500 years, the dominant thinking has been that the church has replaced Israel. So God’s promises are irrevocable except in the place that he can replace them. He can substitute.
I promise to Keith I’m going to do something, but I’m going to do it for Eric. I kept my promise! I just shifted who it was for. I’m OK. Which, I don’t think really works at all. That’s really where the whole sequence is.
The idea that Jesus is going to come back, have an earthly kingdom, it’s going to be in Israel with a temple, and it’s going to fulfill all the Jewish promises is a very hateful thing to Satan. That’s one of his main things that he targets. I just think it’s part of trying to displace them.
The truth is, and we’ve seen in Romans, the Jewish root is the very sustenance from which we as Gentiles drink; and we are wild olive shoots grafted in. What we have is—we are sons of Abraham because we are the children of promise because we just believed. By believing, we have all these promises that have been given to us that are just there for us to possess and inherit. I think that’s what’s going on.
The rapture in Matthew 13, the wheat and the tares
There are two more raptures, I think. Let me show them to you. Look at Matthew 13.
Now the first one, I would pound on the table for. This one, I would say, this is my best read, but if you don’t like it, I would say just don’t worry about it. This is highly interpretive.
Matthew 13:36. Let me go ahead and read 24 and read the parable; and then we’ll read the answer to the parable.
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. Does anybody know what a tare is? It looks exactly like wheat with one difference: no wheat kernel. It doesn’t have anything that’s useful. No fruit.
But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared.
So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’
He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’
But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them.
Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
Then in verse 36. Then Jesus sent the multitude away—He’s telling that to everybody. The multitude goes away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”
He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. Who’s that? Jesus.
The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. Who’s the wicked one? Satan.
The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels.
Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age.
The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire.
This could just mean that there’s going to be a judgment of the wicked. As we look at the resurrection—there’s actually more than one resurrection. There’s a resurrection unto life, and there’s a resurrection unto death. It could just mean that he’s going and getting all unbelievers and putting them in the lake of fire. It could mean that.
The specific instance here makes me think that he’s talking about the nation itself. And my guess is what this is talking about is that at some point along the way there’s going to be a group of evil people that are actually going to be raptured right into the lake of fire or right into the judgment of God somehow. Which, I don’t know exactly how that would fit in, but it’s kind of fascinating.
The rapture of the two witnesses
The third rapture that I’ll go through I think is readily apparent; and that is in Revelation 11. The two witnesses.
Verse 3. And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.”
Verse 5. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner.
These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.
When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.
And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. So they’re going to be in Jerusalem.
Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves.
And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.
Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.
And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them. That’s a pretty awesome sight, isn’t it?
There’s at least two raptures coming. This third one, I think, is more speculative.
Satan may be preparing the public to blame the rapture on UFOs
I’ve spent some time thinking about, what’s Satan up to? I think that there’s a constant stream of movies about alien abduction that’s always going on. I think the reason is that he’s setting up a counter narrative for the rapture. When the rapture comes, he’s going to have this whole story about alien abduction.
I won’t be surprised if we didn’t start having physical manifestations of demonic presences and UFOs.
Do you know that 23 percent, or something like that, of Americans believe in UFOs? There is a pretty wide-spread conversation about things in space. We’ve got a whole space program oriented toward finding life on other planets. I suspect that there’s going to be a narrative about that. That’s going to be what’s going on.
Conclusion: hope and urgency
I think we can take great hope from this, but also a sense of urgency. Jesus is coming. He could come anytime. When he does come, our opportunity is done. We never get the opportunity again to live by faith. This is it. Only this time. Our time on earth is a tiny speck compared to all of eternity, and faith is not going to be up there. You can’t believe in what you see. This one tiny instance we have to know God by faith, it will be over. What’s done is done.
We should live every day as if it’s our last day, every moment as if it’s our last moment. When affliction comes, we have an even greater opportunity to grow, serve, and know God, just like the Thessalonians did.