Ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, news in this world has been decidedly more negative than positive. But lately the steady stream of life quakes (events that shake our world universal and/or personal) could discourage even the most positive of positive thinkers and dampen the hopes of the most hopeful. A World War II type lunatic dictator lobs ballistic missiles toward peaceful countries and dares anyone to stop him. Two of the most powerful storms on record smack US head on and a third devastates Puerto Rico. Islam is rising and the Church in America declining. Hugh Hefner’s passing is lamented; disrespect for the flag is congratulated; the rule of law is fragmented; and any who think there’s something wrong with that – especially evangelical Christians – are dated and maybe even dangerous.
Unlike “Home on the Range” discouraging words are heard every day in the news and in the world we live in. It certainly was that way for Christians in the ancient Greek city of Thessalonica. Acts 17 tells of Paul’s spreading the gospel (good news) and planting a church there against fierce opposition. Persecution quickly became so intense that the apostle had to flee before giving the fledgling congregation much needed instruction. So he penned two separate letters to them ( 1 & 2 Thessalonians) to teach and encourage them. Central to what Paul encouraged them about is the Lord’s coming for His Church – the Rapture:
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. 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. 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. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 NIV)
Here is the most vivid description in Scripture of the Rapture – that moment when Jesus fulfills His promise from John 14:1-3 to return from Heaven receive His disciples (the Church) unto himself and take them back to Heaven to be with Him forever. Jesus made that promise specifically to encourage the apostles against His imminent departure and the suffering that lay ahead for them (John 14:1; 15:20). And Paul tells the church of the Thessalonians to likewise encourage each other with these words (v.18).
Although we do not know the day or the hour of Jesus’ promised return (Mark 13:32) and even its timing might be debatable (pre-trib, mid-trib or post-trib); the fact is Jesus promised to come again – and Jesus always keeps His promises! The blessed hope of every believer (living and dead) is the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). The Christians at Thessalonica had it bad – they had it really bad! Two millennia later, world conditions are bad and getting worse; but our hope is not in the world. Our hope is in the Lord and His promise to come and get us. It may sound stock, even worn out – but it’s what Jesus promised to do. And believers in every generation should encourage each other with these words!