God's End Game - Part 39

Series: God's End Game

September 22, 2019
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

We are now nearing the end of God’s End Game, or at least we are a whole lot closer. I looked back and realized we started this series one year ago this month. To put things in perspective, though, the late, great British preacher Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones preached the book of Romans over 366 messages. That’s seven years! We won’t be doing that with this series, I promise.

We are winding down this study by looking at the big picture of the end times, the last days as they are referred to in the Bible. Most importantly we are interested in the Last Day. That’s the day Jesus comes back. It’s also known as the second coming. If the major play in God’s End Game was the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the final play is his return.

The doctrine of the second coming describes the expected return of Jesus Christ at the end of time, when he will come to judge the world and usher in the fullness of his kingdom.

Last week we lightly unpacked Jesus’ discourse on the last days in Matthew 24 where he talked about the events surrounding his second coming and how to tell when they are near.

Remember, the discerning of the times is done in a Farmers Almanac kind of way not Doppler radar.

Above all the second coming of Jesus is about him setting up his kingdom in this dimension forever, destroying the unholy kingdom set up by the devil and all the other divine beings who rebelled against God.

One key text on this big day is found — kind of by accident — in Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica. He’s wrapping things up and wants to mention something he’d heard the Thessalonians were wresting with: what happens to those who died in the Lord? Will they see them again? If so, when? They were grieving over their loved ones and needed assurance.

I think we all wrestle with that, never more so than when we lose someone close to us. Paul, shows his pastor’s heart by including words of comfort and in so doing gives us a hint of what happens on the Last Day, Jesus’ second coming.

1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 (ESV) — 13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 

Sleep was a common euphemism for death in Greek, Jewish, and Christian writings. I think using sleep as a way to describe death is especially appropriate for Christians because even though it feels like the end for those left behind, Jesus’ victory over death that first Easter Sunday empowers us (like Paul) to say…

1 Corinthians 15:54–55 (ESV) — 54 … “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

As CS Lewis put it, that day death started working backwards!

Let me tell you something Paul is not saying: Christians should not grieve. He says we should not grieve as others do. Christians are devastated and torn to pieces just like anyone else when someone dies, but deep down inside there’s a hope the world cannot give. A hope (the for sure kind) that it’s not the end, that they will see their loved ones again in the Lord.

Paul goes on…

14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.

Ah, now we know he’s talking about the second coming. Paul connects those who have died in the Lord with the second coming of Jesus. On the Last Day he’s bringing them all with him in tow. Why? For what purpose?

Let’s read on…

16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 

Does this sound familiar? The trumpet gives it away.

Matthew 24:29–31 (ESV) — 29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

That as last week’s text.

Look for the trumpet in another text we’ve already covered…

1 Corinthians 15:50–53 (ESV) — 50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.

That trumpet helps us connect the dots.

Jesus comes back to set up his kingdom but also to give those who’ve died in him their resurrection bodies. This is the harvest following Jesus as the firstfruits of the resurrection.

So Jesus’ return is inseparably linked to the resurrection of all believers.

Now we know what Paul’s talking about. What happens next?

17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 

Those believers who are alive at his return will rise up to meet those who’ve already died and get their new bodies too.

So we get a pretty good picture of what will happen on the  Last Day, at least as far as it concerns us:

  • Jesus will descend from heaven (dimension not altitude) at the sound of a trumpet.
  • He’ll have with him those believers who have died.
  • They will get their new resurrection bodies first.
  • Then those who are alive at his coming rise up to get their resurrection bodies as well.
  • We all will forever be with the Lord

We could leave it right there, and I probably should. But I want to share something with you. I have had to change my thinking some on this particular text and the teaching it presents concerning the Last Day.

Like most all here I’ve always seen 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (as well as 1 Corinthians 15:50-53) as referring to something called the rapture. That term, and the teaching that goes with it, has become a huge part of the End Times doctrine for modern Western Christians for the last hundred years or so.

It’s what I call the Left Behind scenario of the rapture. You know what I’m talking about. If not I’m referring to a best selling series of books called Left Behind and two movies, one with Kirk Cameron and One with Nicholas Cage both of which are a testament to Christians’ inability to make good cinema (apart from a few exceptions).

In this interpretation of end times events, Jesus returns secretly with dead in Christ, and in the twinkling of an eye snatches all those believers alive at at the time into the air with them, whisking everyone away from the coming troubles on the earth. Poof! People are gone. Airplanes crash. Buses run off the road. Empty clothes are strewn along the sidewalk.

One day we’ll trick you when you fall asleep in church.

But a while back, with the help of a few Bible scholars, I began to see things somewhat differently. That’s the the thing about doctrine and theology. Some of it’s pretty straight forward. Some not so much. Show me a Christian who hasn’t at some point changed their thinking on some non-essential doctrine and I’ll show you a shallow believer. Just sayin’.

Here’s what got the wheels of my brain turning. If the Left Behind scenario is true, it means Jesus has to come back twice. One time to secretly take away God’s people in the rapture (no one sees him) and another time to actually set up his kingdom (everyone sees him).

When you read all the trumpet texts they seem to indicate the universally visible return of the king and the resurrection and the setting up of his kingdom are simultaneous and certainly not secret. Plus, you have to do a bit of interpretive gymnastics to find that second, second coming in Scripture.

Now those who support the Left Behind teachings rightfully ask why would Jesus snatch them up to meet him in the air and then come down to the earth? Wouldn’t his taking them into the air imply they were going back to heaven with him? Just reading this verse it seems that way, but when you do some digging you discover something interesting.

That word meet in verse 17 is translated from a Greek word used only two other times in the NT.

It’s found in Jesus’ parable about the ten virgins, a parable that in context follows Jesus the discourse on end times and his return we studied last week in chapter 24!

Matthew 25:1–13 (ESV) — 1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

The virgins went out to meet the bridegroom and not to follow him away from the wedding but to escort him to the wedding.

The second use is in…

Acts 28:15 (ESV) — 15 And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage.

Just outside Rome brothers came to “meet” Paul and his companions not to follow them out of the city but to escort them into the city. Hmmm.

One Bible scholar writes…

“In secular Greek the word [used for meet in these texts] was a technical term for meeting a visiting dignitary. A delegation honored the visitor by going outside the city and meeting him and his entourage on the road. Together the entire party would then proceed back into the city with great pomp and fanfare.”

I know. I’ve stirred a hornet’s nest. But stay with me. Think back to the trumpet thing and listen to what that same scholar says…

The Lord’s descent is also “with the trumpet call of God.” A trumpet call was used for a variety of purposes in the ancient orient but “was not much used as a musical instrument; its main task was to give signals.” It could herald a great event [such as the arrival of a dignitary or king] or issue a warning to the people. It was often used in military settings.

Jesus’ second coming could also be called what? THE RETURN OF THE KING. And what instruments are used to announce the arrival of the king? Trumpets. And what do the people do when the king comes to town? They go out and meet him to escort him into the city.

Now, answer this silently. When was the only time in Jesus’ life on this earth he was treated like the king he was and is?

The triumphal entry in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday…

John 12:12–15 (ESV) — 12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

The people came out to meet him and his entourage to escort him and them back into Jerusalem like a king should be. I can’t help but wonder if that might be a picture of what will happen on the Last Day. 

Keep all that stuff in mind and listen to the words of a well known pastor commenting on our Thessalonians text…

It says we will meet. We will be caught up together with them. “… we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord …” The word meet is a Greek term that was a technical term for coming out of the city and getting into the entourage of a conquering king who was coming in. You know, imagine the king of your city had gone out, and he had been victorious. He had won liberty for you. He was coming back with all of the spoils of war.

Instead of you waiting for him to come back into the city and hail him and all that, you would go outside the city and meet him and then come into the city with him and, therefore, participate in the conquest, participate in the victory. Do you know what this is saying? This is not talking about how we are being caught up, especially with all the emphasis on the resurrection and the new bodies anyway.

We’re not being caught up and taken out of the world into heaven. We are being caught up with him on his way to earth to make it everything it ought to be. All the emphasis here is on the body. All the emphasis is here on the resurrection and having a body the way Jesus had a body. Remember what Jesus’ body was like? He ate. He was touched by the people he loved. “Put your hand here.” He taught them. He loved them.

Our future is not an ethereal, immaterial future. You are not going to float in the kingdom of God. You’re going to walk. You’re going to eat. You’re going to hug. You’re going to love. You’re going to sing, because you’re going to have vocal cords. In realms and degrees of joy and of satisfaction and of power you cannot now imagine, you’re going to eat and drink with the Son of Man.

I don’t see 1 Thessalonians as a text on the rapture (as we modern Western Christians have come to understand it) as much as it is a text on the resurrection, something that coincides with Jesus’ return. And from what we’ve already learned the resurrection is about real flesh and blood bodies living in a real, physical place the Bible calls the New Heavens and Earth, which we’ll get to soon.

Conclusion: Don’t get so enraptured in the rapture that you miss the bigger picture of what the second coming and the end of all things is about at its heart. Will there be a secret rapture that takes us away from the terrible times coming? I don’t know. Maybe. 

But here’s one thing I do know that’s not a maybe: there will be a resurrection! I know that on the  Last Day:

  • Jesus the King will descend from heaven at the sound of a trumpet.
  • He’ll have with him those believers who have died.
  • They will get their new resurrection bodies first.
  • Then those who are alive at his coming get their resurrection bodies second.
  • We all will forever be with the Lord.

I’ll end with verse 18…

18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Will you be a part of that?

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