The End Times According To Paul, Part 2, 1 Thessalonians 4-5

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series End Times According to Paul

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thes. 5:9

A Bible Study by Jack Kelley

We’ve begun reviewing Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians and have found that these letters contain the Lord’s first official announcement of the Rapture of the church. We’ve seen several hints already but now in chapter 4 Paul brings this almost inconceivable blessing into the open for all to marvel at.

Remember, Paul used these letters to underscore his teaching on the End Times and to answer their questions about prophecy. And now in chapter 4 we get to their primary concern, their uncertainty about the disposition of believers who die before the Lord returns. Somehow Christians in Thessalonica had come to believe that only those alive at the Lord’s return would qualify for the blessings of the Kingdom. Those unfortunate enough to have died before the 2nd coming would miss out on everything, they feared, perhaps even their salvation. Paul put their minds to rest.

“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope, ” He said. ” We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

And then he laid it on them. “According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thes. 4:13-18)

Contained In The Old, Explained In The New

Scholars search the Gospels in vain for the words from the Lord that Paul claims to be quoting here because they’re looking in the wrong place. The Lord’s promise is found not among the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, but in a passage from Isaiah.

“But your dead will live;” Isaiah said, “Their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”

“Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. See, the LORD is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. The earth will disclose the blood shed upon her; she will conceal her slain no longer.” (Isa. 26:19-21)

Here in the Book of Isaiah lies the clearest prophecy of a pre-trib rapture of any, although I’ll grant you that without already knowing about the rapture you might not see it. But that’s the way of God, isn’t it, to hide things in plain sight? It’s part of His secret wisdom (1 Cor. 2:7) (With tongue planted firmly in cheek, I’ve always maintained that the only 100% sure way of interpreting prophecy is to wait till a passage is fulfilled, and then say, “Oh, so that’s what that means.”)

Read the Isaiah passage carefully and you’ll see it previews Paul’s disclosure to the last detail. First comes the resurrection of the saved dead, and then the disappearance of the living. In Hebrew, the word translated go in verse 20 has several meanings (including come) and my favorite, vanish. And to where do we vanish? Into the rooms prepared for us in His Father’s house, Jesus said. (John 14:1-3) And when do we do this? Sometime before the Lord comes out of His dwelling to punish the people of Earth for their sins. It seems clear. Before the Great Tribulation begins, the Lord’s people will vanish into our “mansions in the sky” and stay there until it ends.

(Notice how Isaiah speaks in the 2nd person to us about our resurrection and rapture, but in the 3rd person about the people of Earth and the Lord punishing them for their sins? Like Paul, he’s removing us from the time, the place and any relation to the Great Tribulation.)

Come Up Here!

And so one day soon without any prior warning at all, you’ll suddenly hear a loud voice calling your name and commanding you to “Come up here!” just as it was with John in Revelation 4:1 (another preview of the Rapture). As the trumpet blows you’ll be shot across the dimensions of space and time as if on a rocket, and before you can even blink an eye, your mortal body will become immortal, all your imperfections gone, and you’ll find yourself standing in Heaven in the presence of the Lord, never again to leave Him. Hallelujah!

And so Paul revealed, for the very first time, the incredible news of the secret event we now call the Rapture. And just as it would have been with us, Paul knew their next question would have to do with the timing of the event. Heading them off, he wrote:

“Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”

“But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” (1 Thes. 5:1-5)

As Daniel had foretold, (Daniel 8:23-25) Paul confirmed that the antichrist will initially appear as a man of peace before bringing astounding devastation to the Earth. His antics will catch the world off guard, and they’ll think the great era of Peace on Earth has finally arrived.

But here’s another case where you need to pay careful attention to the pronouns Paul used to see who he’s talking about. He starts out using the 3rd person (them & they) to indicate who’s being surprised, then switches to the 2nd person (you) and finally to the 1st person (we) to say that believers should know what’s coming and when and therefore should not be surprised.

Once again the church is being separated from the world, this time in terms of awareness. We have the Word of God, Who knows and tells us the end from the beginning. We should not be caught by surprise as events signal the nearness of the End of the Age. We’ve been told what to look for, and as Jesus warned His disciples, “When all these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28) Though we won’t know the day or hour, we are admonished to know the times and seasons. And as the signs we see tell us that the end is drawing near we’re told to watch and wait.

Watch And Wait

In researching the literal meanings of those two words, I found that watch implies expectation and wait implies belief. I get a mental image of a person at a bus stop. Having decided where he’s going and being familiar with the schedule, he gets there close to his bus’s arrival time, watching with expectation because he knows it’s coming soon, and waiting with the belief that when it arrives it’ll take him to his destination.

So it is with us where the rapture is concerned. Having read the prophecies and knowing that the time is near, we watch with expectation because we know He’s coming soon, and we wait with the belief that when He arrives He’ll take us to our destination.

Unlike others who are asleep, we’re alert and self-controlled. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep (alive or dead), we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thes. 5:9-11) In saying this, he offered another hint like the ones in 1 Thes 1:10 and 1 Thes 3:13 that the Rapture of the Church would precede the Great Tribulation.

Before we go on, let’s address the claim being made by some that verse 9 is not about the end times but is simply a promise that if we are saved we’ll go to heaven instead of having to endure the eternal suffering reserved for unbelievers.

In 1 Thes 1:10 Paul indicated that Jesus will rescue us from the coming wrath.  The Greek word translated from refers to both the time and place of the coming wrath and denotes a physical separation.  If you believe the letter has significance beyond the Thessalonian Church and is meant for the Church in general, then the only wrath that the entire Church can be rescued from both the time and place of is the Wrath of God at the end of the age.

The same is true in 1 Thes 5:9-10 where the context is clearly the Day of the Lord (1 Thes. 5:1-2).  Therefore we can logically conclude that the wrath Paul was speaking about in both places is the wrath of God associated with the Day of the Lord.

Bringing his letter to a close, Paul encouraged them to “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.”

“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

“Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (1 Thes. 5:16-28)

Our God, Who has called us, will sanctify us and keep our whole spirit, soul and body blameless at the Lord’s coming. He is faithful and He will do it!

Next time, Paul’s 2nd letter to the Thessalonians, and proof positive that he taught them that the rapture would precede all of the Great Tribulation! See you then. 06-27-04