Always With the Lord
Read 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (ESV)
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. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
What can we be sure of according to these verses?
In 1995, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins released a book called “Left Behind” that launched a fictional multimedia franchise based on their interpretation of end time events. In the book, Christians suddenly disappeared. They were instantly taken up to heaven and as a result chaos ensued for those left behind. The Great Tribulation began. A political antichrist and a false prophet rose to power. But some of those left behind became believers and fought to stand firm in the faith while they endured 7 and a half years waiting for Christ to come back and establish His kingdom.
This interpretation of end time events is called pretribulational premillennialism. In this view, Jesus returns to rapture His true followers to spare them of the terrible pain and suffering of the tribulation period. That is the pretribulation aspect of this view. The premillenial aspect is that Jesus will then return again after the Great Tribulation but before the millennial period to set up His literal thousand-year reign on earth.
But there is a second premillennial view that was widely accepted by the early church fathers and has a long history in the church. This view is called classic or historic premillennialism. Proponents of this view also believe that Jesus will return before the millennial period. But they do not believe Jesus will first return before the tribulation to rapture the saints. Instead, they believe that Christians who are alive when the tribulation begins will have to endure suffering until Jesus returns to set up his millennial reign.
Today’s passage of Scripture is one that many view as support of a rapture event. But classic or historic premillennialists also believe that this event will happen; it's just that they believe it will happen after the tribulation, not before. Another key distinction is that pretribulational premillennialists believe that the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the rapture of the saints to meet with Him in the sky will be a secret event leaving the rest of the world to wonder where all of these people disappeared to. Classic or historic premillenialists believe that this event will be public, not secret. The watching world will see Jesus descend from heaven and hear the cry of command and the trumpet sound. The world will witness the dead rising and believers joining Jesus up in the clouds.
So, to review, there are 3 primary views of when Jesus will return. We discussed the premillennial view today which is split into classic/historic and pretribulational. Both groups believe Jesus will return before the millennium but only the pretribulationists believe Christians are raptured before the Great Tribulation. Yesterday, we studied the amillennial view that there is no future millennial period but that it is happening right now. Yesterday, we also discussed postmillennialism which states that Jesus will return after the millennium.
So, are the fictional Left Behind books correct in their interpretation? Will Christians have to endure the suffering of the Great Tribulation or will we be raptured first? When will Jesus actually come back? Will He reign for a literal thousand years or a symbolic millennium? The answer is, we don’t know for sure and that is the cause for the great debate.
But notice what Paul says at the end of this passage in verse 18, “Encourage one another with these words.” He doesn't say “argue with one another about these words.” He doesn’t say to “be afraid of the future because of these words.” Paul’s intention with writing about the trumpet call, the dead saints rising, and the living saints meeting Jesus on the clouds was to comfort us and motivate us to persevere. These words weren’t meant to divide us over matters of interpretation.
Friend, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, if you trust in Him for the salvation of your soul, then you can be certain that no matter what the timeline of end time events, you will forever be with the Lord. Always. And on that issue, there is no debate among believers. So be comforted and encourage one another.
Lord, I don’t know when You are going to return and I don’t know how it will exactly play out. But I trust You. I am longing for the day when the saints who have gone before will rise and the believers who are alive will meet You on the clouds. Thank You for the promise of being with You forever and ever. Amen.