The Second Coming Of Christ

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 6 Jan 2012

 

16 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: 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” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

Thessalonica was a very important city in the days of the apostle Paul. Because it was located at a very strategic position by the Aegean Sea, it had a rather cosmopolitan population. There were native Greeks, Romans, Jews and others. Now the Jews were of course monotheistic, but they had become legalistic and in some sense idolatrous since they were going about to establish their own righteousness by superstitious methods. The Greeks and Romans were no better. They were both polytheistic and idolatrous. In fact, by and large, they have the same set of gods, just different names. Zeus and Jupiter are the so-called kings of the gods. Artemis and Diana are both goddesses of the hunt. Ares and Mars are both the god of war except that the former is more malevolent while the latter is more benevolent.

It was in this circumstance that the apostle Paul first preached the gospel in one of the Thessalonians synagogues during his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 17:1ff). Although, the response of the Thessalonians Jews were not very encouraging (cf. Acts 17:11), a Christian church was founded amongst the Greeks. In fact, Luke tells us that a great multitude of Greeks were converted apart from a few Jews (Acts 17:4). This is why, in 1st Thessalonians, the apostle Paul acknowledged how the members of the church had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1Th 1:9).

But now, the apostle Paul and Silas had to flee the city because the unbelieving Jews had stirred up a riot against them (Acts 17:5ff). No doubt, these same people began to persecute the new believers too. Paul refers to this persecution in chapter 2, verse 14.

Indeed, Paul was so concerned about the situation in Thessalonica that when he was expelled from Berea and went to Athens, he decided to send Timothy back to see what the situation with them was. Timothy was able to bring encouraging news when he rejoined Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:1, 5; 1 Th 3:6-7).

It was when he heard the good news that Paul wrote 1st Thessalonians to encourage the congregation and perhaps also to answer a few questions that they posed through Timothy.

Now, the congregation at Thessalonica comprised young believers, and they were already being persecuted. How did Paul encourage them? Paul sought to encourage them by a short and simple letter with an emphasis on the Second Coming of Christ to vindicate His people. You can’t miss this theme when you read this letter. Look at the last verse of chapter 1; the second last verse of chapter 2; the last verse of chapter 3; the last paragraph of chapter 4; and verse 23 of chapter 5.

This being the case, in this study, the Lord helping us, as part of our series on the great and precious promises of God, we must consider a promise that has to do with the Second Coming of Christ! And which verses shall we look at but the most famous of all verses concerning the second coming of Christ to be found not only in this letter, but perhaps in the whole Bible.

I am referring to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17—

16 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: 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.

Let’s discuss this statement under three heads. First, let us disabuse our mind of what the apostle is saying. Secondly, let us clarify what he is saying. Finally, let us consider how we should respond to the promise it contains.


1. A Rapture Ruse

Our text is the favourite proof-text of those who believe in the theory of the secret rapture. According to this theory, when the Lord Jesus first came, His original intention was to build an earthly kingdom with Israel. However, Israel rejected the Lord’s offer. As such, Plan B came into action.

Under Plan B, Israel would be set aside for a season known as the “times of the Gentiles” (Lk 21:24). During this time, Christ would build a Gentile Church. But in the fullness of time, Christ will come again in several stages. The first stage involves Christ coming half way to call the gentile church unto Himself in a secret rapture. According to those who believe the theory, this is what Paul is talking about in our text.

They say that after the church is raptured, Israel will endure a great tribulation period of seven years known as “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer 30:7). This tribulation period will culminate with the Battle of Armageddon (Rev 16:16), at which time Christ will come just in time to rescue Israel. Then Israel will repent of her sin of rejecting the Messiah, and there will follow 1,000 years of peace on earth. But this will end in a massive revolt known as the battle of Gog and Magog (Rev 20:8).

Now, according to this theory, believers can derive comfort from the fact that they will not need to go through tribulation. We will be spared all the trouble. According to them, this is a major part of the promise in our text.

But there are a few problems to this view. In the first place, the apostle Paul himself says that the “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” The Dispensationalists acknowledge that these words are difficult to interpret. But really, whatever details you may draw out, it is clear, isn’t it, that the apostle Paul and the Holy Spirit would have us to understand that is a very public event rather than a secret rapture. A secret rapture makes for a nice movie with cars and planes and trains crashing into one another because their Christian pilots are taken away. But it is simply not a biblical reality.

The second problem with the view is that our text says nothing about escaping from tribulation. In fact, Paul himself made it a point to teach in various churches that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

But now, what is the correct interpretation? I believe the correct interpretation is Paul is describing…


2. A Regal Return

Paul is describing what will happen at the Last Day. The Last Day is not the start of the Tribulation or of the Millennium. The Last Day is the day that Christ returns to vindicate His people and end all suffering of His people for His people forever. After the last day, the world would be completely restored and an eternity of perfect peace, joy and love would begin.

On this day, the trumpet shall sound (v. 16, cf. 1 Cor 15:52), and the archangel will shout to proclaim the coming of the King. Like in the Parable of the Ten Virgins, Christ is coming for His bride.

At that moment, the graves will be open. The dead in Christ will be resurrected, and they will be caught up! This is the key to understanding what Paul is saying. Our hope is not that we will be delivered from Tribulation, but that those who died in Christ will be raised from the dead (cf. v. 13)! But they will be followed by those who are alive. In the twinkling of an eye we,—if we are still alive,—will be changed. We will put on immortality and a glorified body and we will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air.

What happens after this? Our text says “and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” What does that mean? Does it mean that we will stay in heaven with Christ while the earth goes into the convulsion of the Great Tribulation as some suggest? Well, no! You see, the word translated ‘meet’ in verse 17 is rather special word (ajpavnthsi").

It occurs only 4 times in the New Testament: once here, once in Acts 28 and twice in Matthew 25.

You see, in the days of the apostle, whenever someone important is coming to a village or city, people would go out to meet him, to accompany him on the rest of his journey.

They would do that for a king returning victorious from war. They would do so for a visiting dignitary. They would do so for a bridegroom coming to receive his bride. Now, the word that would be used to describe this meeting is the word used in our text, namely, apantēsis.

In Acts 28:15, Luke uses the word to describe how the disciples in Rome went out as far as Appiiforum to meet Paul when he arrived in Rome. They would accompany him the rest of his journey. In Matthew 25, the word is used twice,—verses 1 and 6,—to describe how the virgins in the Lord’s Parable were to meet the bridegroom when the cry was heard at midnight. The virgins would accompany the bridegroom the rest of his journey into the village.

Now, it is clear then, that in our text, we will be caught up to meet the Lord as welcome party for His Second Coming. Our Lord did not appear in the clouds only to return to heaven with His saints. Rather, He would come “with all his saints” (1 Th 3:13) or as Jude puts it, “with ten thousands of his saints” (Jude 14).

And He will come, Jude 15,—

To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.

It would, beloved brethren and children, be a day of conquest, judgement and vindication. It would be the beginning of everlasting peace, joy and love, for we shall forever and ever be with the Lord in paradise restored. This is the promise.

But how shall we respond to this promise?


3. The Realistic Response

It is sad that this text has been a source of contention. But really, this text is intended for the comfort of the church. Paul says, verse 18,—“Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”

And oh how we need comfort! The Thessalonians were persecuted. They were persecuted by the Jews and by the Gentiles. Today, we will also face some degree of persecution. “Yea,” as Paul puts it, “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2Tm 3:12). If you walk according to the world, you will not face persecution. But if you refuse to compromise and your life testify against the world, you can be sure that you will face persecution. You will face it from professing believers and from the world.

But let the promise that Christ will come and He will restore all things, and vindicate His people comfort you.

Therefore, may I exhort you not to allow the troubles of this present life drag you down and discourage you. If your troubles are a result of serving the Lord, then be sure that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18).

Lift up your head, and look unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). And He is coming again for you. He is coming to vindicate and to reward you for your labours of love. Amen. W