“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: 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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words,” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18.
The first epistle of Paul to the church of the Thessalonians is one full of references to the return of Christ to this earth.
Each chapter ends with a reference to that wonderful event.
“And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come,” 1:10.
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” 2:19.
“To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints,” 3:13.
Then we have the verses at the end of chapter 4 which we will consider.
“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” 5:23.
Such constant referring to the Saviour’s return suggests:
1. Paul’s great interest in this wonderful subject. We owe much of our knowledge of the end times and the second advent of Christ to the writings of Paul. Peter acknowledged this. He refers to the return of Christ and events at the end of this age and goes on to say: “Even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction,” 2 Peter 3:15-16.
2. Paul’s desire to acquaint the saints of God with details of the return of Christ. His frequent references to this blessed event in this letter surely shows that he was most anxious to impart knowledge of the subject. Indeed, Paul’s desire is but a reflection of God’s desire to have His people instructed in events surrounding the glorious return of Christ. The Saviour’s willingness to fully respond to the disciples’ questions: “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” Matthew 24:3, likewise demonstrates this truth. Chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew contain the fullest of details regarding that longed for return of the Saviour.
3. I believe that Paul’s fulsome instruction in this epistle indicates not only the need for such instruction but also the readiness of the Thessalonians to receive instruction! “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. . . . Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? . . . And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,” 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3-5, 8-9.
Paul was only three sabbaths amongst the Thessalonians and yet in that short time he deemed it important to teach them in a detailed fashion about the end-time ‘falling away’ (apostasy) the Antichrist and his setting himself up as ‘God’ in the temple of God and also his destruction by the Lord Jesus at His coming again.
There surely is a lesson there for the emphasis that preachers ought to place upon eschatology! Paul says to the Thessalonians that he would not have them to be ignorant regarding this topic, 1 Thessalonians 4:13.
Is there not much ignorance of these truths today amongst God’s people? Sadly, I think that is so!
Let us come to the words of our chosen verses.
I. THE RETURN OF CHRIST WILL BE ACCOMPANIED BY MUCH NOISE!
Look, indeed ‘LISTEN’, to verse 16. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.”
There is a multiplicity of noises mentioned here.
1. There is the SHOUT of the Lord Jesus. The Saviour did not often raise His voice. Indeed, it was said of Him: “He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street,” Isaiah 42:2. But here we have Him shouting!
Interestingly, Psalm 47:5 says: “God is gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.” These words are generally understood to be a prophetic declaration of the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ and the shout that heaven gave to welcome Him from His victory at the cross. C H Spurgeon wrote of these words: “We doubt not that angels and glorified spirits welcomed him with acclamations. He came not without song, shall we imagine that he returned in silence?”
2. The Greek word for ‘shout’ is linked to the shouted command of an army officer to his soldiers, readying them for battle. What a rousing of a far from triumphant church there will be on that day. The wondrous event was foreshadowed that day when young David slew Goliath. “Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled. And the men of Israel and of Judah arose, and shouted, and pursued the Philistines, until thou come to the valley, and to the gates of Ekron. And the wounded of the Philistines fell down by the way to Shaaraim, even unto Gath, and unto Ekron. And the children of Israel returned from chasing after the Philistines, and they spoiled their tents,” 1 Samuel 17:51-53. David’s actions transformed the Israelite army from a collection of frightened men into a host of ‘lion-like’ warriors. Before the appearance of David they had been cowering at the very sound of Goliath’s voice. “And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together. When Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid. . . . And David left his carriage in the hand of the keeper of the carriage, and ran into the army, and came and saluted his brethren. And as he talked with them, behold, there came up the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, out of the armies of the Philistines, and spake according to the same words: . . . And all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him, and were sore afraid,” 1 Samuel 17:10-11, 22-24.
What a wonderful picture of that glorious event about which Paul is instructing the Thessalonian believers!
3. The shout of Christ is echoed by the archangel. The chief of the angels is permitted to shout along with Christ as He comes in glory. The word ‘voice’ is the Greek word _— which appears only in this one place in the New Testament, underlining the uniqueness of the event — which is ever so common in our English language, for it is the word ‘phone’! It is used today of that instrument by which we ‘transmit’ our voice across the land and sea to communicate with others. Many will hear the ‘voice’ of the archangel sounding forth in triumph the return of the Saviour in glory and great power.
4. There is also the sounding of the ‘trump of God’. The word first appears in that instructive chapter 24 of Matthew where the Saviour says: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other,” 24:30-31.
Yes, these verses certainly indicate that this earth, so filled with the sounds of the devil’s and man’s making will be made to hear a very different sound indeed!
II. THE RESURRECTION OF THE SAINTS WILL TAKE PLACE AT THIS SOUND
“The dead in Christ shall rise.”
1. It is the time for which the saints of ages past rested in faith and patiently waited for. Job, that poor troubled saint, said: “If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come,” Job 14:14. He later said: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me,” Job 19:25-27. Paul is here telling us of the day Job and myriads others in ages past, have been waiting for.
The apostle gave us more details of this longed for event in 1 Corinthians 15:51-57. “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
2. Notice that it says that the dead in Christ shall rise first! This is the first resurrection for there are two resurrections. “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt,” Daniel 12:2.
The saints shall be raised ‘to everlasting life’ and then, one thousand years later, a second resurrection takes place when the unsaved will be raised ‘to shame and everlasting contempt’.
This one thousand year ‘gap’ between the resurrections is confirmed for us in Revelation 20:5. “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.” Thus our text complements John’s words in Revelation 20.
3. The saints being resurrected ascend to meet the Lord in the air along with the saints alive at the moment of the Saviour’s return and then, all glorified, shall descend with Him, sharing in His triumphant return. “ . . . and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 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.
III. WE HAVE HERE THE ‘RAPTURE OF THE SAINTS’ BUT IT IS NO SECRET AFFAIR!
Many have been taught by preachers who proclaim the notions of J N Darby that the saints will be raised from the grave and go to meet the Lord in the air in such a manner that none see it. The empty place in the home, the office, etc, once occupied by the Christian leaves the world perplexed! This view of the return of Christ was ‘invented’ in the mid-1800s and has been circulated amongst Christians by the ‘footnotes’ of the Schofield Bible, the ‘standard’ Bible of today’s ‘dispensationalist’!
However, as these verses show, such a notion comes not from God’s Word.
The return of Christ for His saints will be an event seen by multitudes. Most certainly, as Revelation 1:7 states: “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him.”
I would have the opinion that the ‘every eye’ here refers to all in the vicinity of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives, to which Christ will return. It may well be that, as His first advent took place with many in the world only hearing of it by the preaching of the gospel after that event, so His second coming will likewise be seen only by those in the region to which He returns. Afterwards they shall hear as the glorious witness of this wonderful event is spread out across the world.
What we read in Zechariah 8 suggests that. “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: and the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts: I will go also. Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD. Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you,” verses 20-23.
Isaiah 2:3-4 would tend to support my opinion. “And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Irrespective of just how many witness the return of Christ, it is very obviously a very VISIBLE event. It will be in marked contrast with His first advent when only a tiny remnant were aware of His coming.
“And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ . . . . And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; and she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem,” Luke 2:25-26, 36-38.
It is true that even now there are but ‘few’ who look for that fulness of redemption which will accompany the Saviour’s return. I speak of that wonderful entering into the ‘all’ of what it was Christ purposed for His people at the cross. There is but a small evidence of Christ’s accomplishment for His people evident in the life of even the best of saints for at best “we are unprofitable servants,” Luke 17:10. John wrote: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is,” 1 John 3:2. No Christian can fully comprehend just what we will be like when the Saviour glorifies us at His coming.
We can say in faith like David: “Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!” Psalm 31:19. But we have very like conception of that ‘great goodness’! Is it not said: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him,” 1 Corinthians 2:9. It is revealed in Holy Scripture that at His coming He “shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself,” Philippians 3:21. But of that ‘change’ we truly understand and perceive little, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known,” 1 Corinthians 13:12. A full understanding of what we shall be awaits us at the glorious, triumphant and visible return of Christ.
IV. FINALLY NOTE THAT WHAT PAUL SETS FORTH IS FOR OUR COMFORT.
“Wherefore comfort one another with these words,” 4:18.
Here is that which will ‘console’ and lift the hearts of God’s people in the midst of this ‘vale of tears’! The Lord Jesus says to us all today: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world,” John 16:33. We are cheered by the fact that our Saviour has overcome the world BUT we are limited in the ‘cheer’ we enjoy for we have a very limited understanding of just how wonderfully and extensively and eternally He has overcome the world and that ignorance will not be fully lifted until we enter into His victory and we are gloried with Him at His return.
The truths Paul sets forth were meant to ‘comfort’ God’s people. Those who remain in ignorance of these truths rob themselves of comfort. Ministers who do not seek to emulate Paul, indeed the blessed Saviour, and set forth the Bible’s teaching on the return of Christ, rob their flock of that comfort which the Lord would have them enjoy.
This is especially a day of distress for God’s people. It is that time Paul spoke of in 2 Timothy 3:1. “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” God’s servants are required to impart ‘knowledge’ of the time Paul speaks of. Indeed, both the ’sheep and the shepherds’ are obligated to inform themselves of the details of the warnings issued by God regarding the last days and especially listed by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:2-17.
We see ignorance of these warnings every day exhibited in the lives of professing Christians who persist in remaining in those denominations which are thoroughly corrupted by this apostasy and by others professing faith in Christ but who yet willingly associate themselves with the most abominable wickedness within the realm of politics, aye, and put forth their energy in publicly advancing the cause of these abominations.
This can only be so when Christians take no need to those words in Scripture akin to the verses we have been examining.
May the Lord stir up again an interest like that of those in Berea who, “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so,” Acts 17:11.
Sincerely in Christ’s name,
Rev Ivan Foster (Rtd)
29th May 2023