It is not uncommon to read about religious groups that set dates and times for the return of Christ. All of those groups that have set dates and times have all been wrong. Why would we expect to know the date or hour when Jesus said that He didn’t even know the time, only the Heavenly Father knows. Jesus said we will know the season, which simply means that we will have an idea of when the end of time is approaching. The beauty of our faith is that we are to live our lives as if Christ were coming back today.
When the Apostle Paul sets down to write the small young churches in Asia Minor, about 30 years has elapsed between the writings and the ascension of Christ into Heaven. For a new Church, 30 years was a long time. When Paul rises to the front of the church they have one question, “When will Christ return?”
Writing to Thessalonians, Paul says that it will be like a thief in the night. It will come at an unexpected time. To the Corinthians he likens death unto the unexpectedness of Christ’s return. “…we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye…”
Over Sunday dinner, a family discussed the sermon of the morning “The Second Coming of Christ.” The teenager said that he still had a lot of questions about the Lord’s return. The father tried his best to answer him, but after a while He concluded by saying, “We do not have all the answers we might like, but we do have all we need to know. The best preparation is simply to live each day as if it were your last.” “I tried that once,” the teenager replied, “and you grounded me for a month!”
Paul has two views on how to get to God following death. Paul struggles between “theology,” that which he can scripturally substantiate and his “personal view,” that which can’t be proven scripturally or historically but is what Paul believes.
For Paul, there is a difference between what is in the head and what is found in the heart. That is why in some of Paul’s writings we find the phrase “my view” as opposed to “God’s view.”
This first view is Paul’s own personal death. He personally believed that at the moment of his own death he would be with God. “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”
Paul’s theological view was very different, because he could not separate what he had learned in his Jewish faith about the great resurrection. 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. “Fall asleep,” Paul doesn’t use the term death for the Christian. The Christian doesn’t die, they merely sleep. In that statement lies part of his heritage. There was the Jewish belief of a great resurrection that was coming. In the Old Testament, good and bad alike, following death went to Hades (this is where Catholics get their concept of Purgatory.) This is why in the tiny book of Jude, God sends Michael the Archangel to get the body of Moses. Paul’s message is clear, as Christians we have a very different hope! That sounds so permanent, but we only sleep. Just like in sleep, with death, in a short time we open our eyes. For the non-believer, death is permanent. The non-believer has 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. We believe that Jesus rose from the dead, because there were witnesses to the fact. If God has the power to raise His own Son from the dead, then when He tells that we too will be raised from the dead, we can believe it. It is important to note that at Christ’s return, He is bringing those who have fallen asleep in him. These are those who have died prior to the resurrection of Christ. (These are the ones Jesus visited during the time entombment when descended into Hades to convert the unbelieving.) 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. This is phase two, all of those who have died since the resurrection of Christ will come to life. It must be noted that we are not talking about a physical resurrection, but a spiritual resurrection. 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. It is not all of those who have died but only the Christians. As Paul writes, “the dead in Christ,” which Paul considered only sleeping. 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. Phase three is all of those who are alive at the time of Jesus’ return. They will be caught up in the sky to meet our Lord. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
British recluse named Ernest Digweed died in the early 1980’s and left the equivalent of $57,000 in his will for Jesus Christ if he should return to earth before the end of the 20th century. Digweed’s heirs asked the courts to invalidate the will and divide the money among them. The judges agreed but ordered that they take out insurance with Lloyds of London for the amount just in case Christ does return within Digweed’s stipulated time. “When Christ returns, how awful to know that all of it was true, and that it is too late to do anything about it.”
“What will He say when He shouts?” Asked a student at the West African Bible College. Students can ask some of the most penetrating questions about minute details of Scripture. “Reverend, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says that Christ will descend from heaven with a loud command. I would like to know what that command will be.” I wanted to leave the question unanswered, to tell him that we must not go past what Scripture has revealed. The man, a high school principal, told me how he was apprehended by a two-man death squad. After several hours of terror, as the men described how they would torture and kill him, he narrowly escaped. The escape cost him dearly: two of his children lost their lives. I also saw flashbacks of the beggars that I pass each morning on my way to the office. I am haunted by the vacant eyes of people who have lost all hope.
“Reverend, you have not given me an answer. What will he say?” The question hadn’t gone away. “`Enough,'” I said “He will shout, `Enough!’ when he returns.” A look of surprise appeared on the face of the student. “What do you mean, enough?” “Enough suffering. Enough starvation. Enough terror. Enough death. Enough indignity. Enough lives trapped in hopelessness. Enough sickness and disease. Enough time. What does the rapture mean? Enough!”