In The Twinkling Of An EyeJune 1, 2017
I Thessalonians 4:13-18
A series of End Times messages by Adrian Rogers is airing during June. And in our online study this month, we’ll focus on a familiar passage in First Thessalonians dealing with the Rapture, the Second Coming, and the end times. These days, the Rapture is one of the most talked-about subjects among Christians who believe in the literal return of Jesus Christ. One third of the Bible is about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The first and last promise in both the Old Testament and the New Testament deals with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Our study is going to tackle the What, Who, When, Why, and Where of this most mysterious event, the Rapture.
But first, let’s look at a companion passage in 1 Corinthians 15.
1. a. Turn to 1 Corinthians 15:51-53. Fill in some key words which are important in this study.
51 Behold, I shew you a ________________; We shall not all sleep [die], but we shall all be changed,
52 In a moment, in the _______________ of an _______, at the last trump: for the ______________ shall sound, and the ________ shall be raised incorruptible, and ___ shall be changed.
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this ___________ must put on __________________.
Paul calls this coming event a mystery. This is where we get our lesson title from: Behold, I show you a mystery.
b. In verse 52, Paul indicates that there are two groups of people when the mystery begins to unfold. At the time he wrote this, which group did Paul identify with as being a member of that group?
This tells us Paul believed the return of Christ for His church could happen at any moment. Even in Paul’s lifetime.
2. Turn to Acts chapter 1, the account of Jesus’ ascension into Heaven. This is after the resurrection, and the Lord is with His disciples for the final time on earth. Pay attention to something said—by angels—at His ascension that relates to our study of the Rapture.
6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of Him, saying, “Lord, wilt Thou ____ ______ _______ restore again the kingdom to Israel?”
7 And He said unto them, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in ____ ______ __________.
8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
9 And when He had spoken these things, while they beheld, He ______ ________ _____; and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
10 And while they looked steadfastly toward Heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
11 Which also said, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into Heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into Heaven, shall so ________ in _______ ____________ as ye have seen Him go into Heaven.
What did the angels reveal about (1) Jesus and (2) His return?
(1) That He was going to ______________
(2) That His return would be just the same as _________________________________
The Sacred Mystery of the Rapture
First Thessalonians will be the central passage for our study of the sacred mystery of the Rapture.
The setting for Paul’s letter is this: Put yourself for a moment in the 1st century. You’re a follower of Jesus Christ. Your decision has possibly come at great cost to you. Perhaps you’ve lost your family—maybe you’ve lost friends, business associates, even your way of life because you’ve become one of those known as “The People of the Way.” You know that Jesus Christ was a real person who lived on earth and ministered in public among the people for 3 years. He lived, He taught, He healed—yet He died. Then He was resurrected. And then He ascended!
But the Christians in Thessalonica were concerned. Jesus had said, “I’m coming again.” The angels had confirmed that. And they were expecting Him in their day, at any moment. Meanwhile, some of their family members and brothers and sisters in Christ had died and were buried, and they began asking, “Are they going to miss the kingdom? Where will THEY be when Jesus comes again?” You see, they were expecting Jesus in their lifetime.
Paul is writing to answer the Thessalonians’ logical question: “What will happen to our loved ones who’ve already died when Jesus comes again?”
WHAT—THE “WHAT” OF THE RAPTURE
The word “rapture” comes from the Latin word rapto, the Greek word herpaso.
Both mean the same thing, a “catching away.” We’re going to be changed, transformed in an instant, then caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
Some say the word “rapture” is not found in the Bible. That is true. The English word
“rapture” is not found in the Bible. But neither is the English word “trinity. Or “missions.” But I guarantee you, the Trinity, missions, and the Rapture are all taught in the Bible.
FOUR INSTANCES IN THE BIBLE WHEN “RAPTURE” IS USED
3. Turn to Acts 8:39
You remember what happened to Phillip, right in the middle of a great revival in the city of Samaria (v. 5). God suddenly had an important side mission and directed him to go out into the desert to encounter the Ethiopian eunuch. Phillip witnessed to this officer of the court of Queen Candace of Ethiopia. The eunuch believed the witness of the prophet Isaiah (whom he had been reading), and Philip’s personal testimony sealed the deal. He asked to be baptized into the faith immediately. And the Bible says,
39And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord __________ _________ Phillip, that the eunuch saw him no more and he went on his way rejoicing.”
Did you catch that? The Lord caught him away. The Bible uses the word for “rapture” here, meaning “to catch away speedily.” He’s just gone, suddenly vacant from that place.
4. Turn to John 6:15
When Jesus therefore perceived that they would _______ ______ ___ _______ to make Him a king, He departed again into a mountain Himself alone.
Here, some misguided people were coming to seize the Lord Jesus and “take Him by force” to make Him an earthly king. The word “to take by force” is the same word also translated “caught up” in other places.
One day we’re not only going to be caught away speedily, like Phillip, but we’re going to be seized by force and taken away. That means neither the grave (if we have already died in Christ) nor gravity (if we are “alive and remain”) will be able to hold us. We’re going to be caught away! Nothing can keep that from happening.
5. For the 3rd place this very same term is used, turn to 1 Corinthians 12:1-2.
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that ye were Gentiles _____________ ________ unto these dumb idols even as ye were led.
This adds a different layer to the concept of being carried away. The Gentiles were caught up in devotion to idols, but the concept of devotion applies: believers in Christ are carried away by the love of our Savior and our devotion to Him, the one who is our Beloved, our Kinsman Redeemer.
INSTANCE # 4
6. Turn to Acts 23:10. The situation here is that Paul is in danger (again). In Jerusalem, witnessing to his fellow Jews, Paul is being hunted by assassins!
And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing Paul should be pulled in pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and to ________ ______ ____ _________ from among them and bring him into the castle.
The same word again. In this context it means to rescue from danger. Paul was in great danger until the soldiers, under orders, whisked him out of there.
When the Rapture comes, we are going to be
- caught away speedily
- taken away by force
- carried away—transported—moved from one place to a new place
- rescued—delivered from danger
This world is not our home. We’re going to be carried away.
First an illustration from my boyhood. When I was a little boy, near our house there used to be a scrap yard. There was a great magnet on a crane that would move that metal from one place to another. Let’s imagine there is all kind of metal lying there on the ground—lead, iron, silver, aluminum and steel. Some of the metal is lying right on top of the ground. Some of it, over time, got buried beneath the ground.
Now if you were to take one of those great magnets and sweep it across the ground, pass it over all of that, not every piece of metal would rise. Only iron or an iron alloy would rise. Why? Because the iron has the same nature as the magnet.
If you have the same nature as Jesus Christ, when He comes again, you’re going up, whether you’re beneath the ground or on top of the ground. You’re going up. If you’ve been Heaven-born, you will be Heaven-bound if you share the nature of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
7. Turn to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. We’ll take this verse by verse.
13 But I would not have you to be ________________, brethren, concerning them which are asleep [those who have already died], that ye ______________ not even as others which have no ________.
A CLOSER LOOK AT “THOSE WHO HAVE NO HOPE”
Three great enemies of the unbeliever are
The person who doesn’t know Jesus Christ doesn’t understand what the book of Thessalonians is talking about. They’re living in ignorance, they’re filled with sorrow, they experience lives of despair—they have no hope. Hollywood stars, celebrities, “A-listers” who appear to lead charmed lives—without Christ, they fight despair. Think about it. Why would a person who has wealth, fame and an adoring fan base suddenly end their life as a suicide? Or turn to drugs, alcohol or other addictions to blunt their pain and quell the haunting feeling that something’s missing? Inwardly they know there must be more to life than this.
16 For the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven…
8. Who is the central person of the Rapture?
THE SOUNDS OF HIS COMING
There will be some sounds.
9. a. with a ____________...”
The shout is the Lord’s voice Himself.
b. Turn to John 11, the account of the death of Lazarus. See v. 43. Jesus says,
“____________, _______ _______.”
And Lazarus came forth.
When Jesus descends from His lofty heights in glory and is there in the clouds, He’ll give a shout, and the whole church will come forth. The dead in Christ will rise first. The shout is pointed primarily to the church.
c. …..with the voice of the _________________,
This is the chief angel in charge of Heaven’s armies. This is a different voice speaking to a different group. Why does he speak at this time? He’s not speaking primarily to the church, but to Israel, because God has called “time-out” for Israel.
After the church is taken out, God begins to move again with the nation Israel. He’s moving now with individual Jews, but at this time He’ll begin to move nationally with the nation Israel. The archangel is speaking to martial the angels of the world for the Great Tribulation coming upon the earth that both Jews and Gentiles will endure.
So while the Lord speaks to the church, the archangel is speaking primarily to the angels who will be dealing in the world.
d. and with the ___________ of _______.
This trumpet of God deals primarily with Israel. God begins to assemble Israel for these last days. Numbers 10:9-10 says, “And if ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you, then shall ye blow an alarm with the trumpets.”
Our Lord is coming
- with a shout
- with the voice of the archangel
- and the trump of God.
10.and the dead ____ ___________ shall rise first:
Will every person who has died be raised at that moment?
If not, who will be raised ?
17 Then we __________ ____ _________ _____ __________ shall be caught up ________________ _______ them in the clouds…
a. What is the second word of this verse?
This tells us that the apostle Paul, as he wrote this, was expecting to be alive when Jesus Christ comes again because he included himself.
17 …to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we _________ be with the Lord.
b. If we are alive at the time of the Rapture, when will we be reunited with our loved ones?
c. Will we ever again be separated from the Lord?
12. Look again at the companion passage, 1 Corinthians 15:51-53a.
51 Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep [die], but we shall all be changed,
52 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.
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
a. Who does Paul say (v. 52) will be changed?
b. Who are the two groups of people he mentions in verse 52?
The “WHO” of the Rapture is a select multitude of the Savior and the saints. Don’t get the idea that there is a general resurrection. No, there’s a first and second resurrection. It is only the dead in Christ who will be raised at the Rapture.
13. Turn to a key passage about this, Revelation 20:5-6
“But the ______ of the _______ live not again until the __________________ ________ were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the ________ resurrection. On such, the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”
These verses make it very clear that it is the dead in Christ who are going to be raised, those in the first resurrection.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE DEAD IN CHRIST
There are only two ways to die: in Christ or out of Christ. The dead in Christ will be raised.
If you are born twice, you can only die once. If you’re born only once, you’re going to die twice. And if you die twice, the time will come when you’ll wish you hadn’t been born at all. Just as there is a not a general resurrection, there is not a general Rapture. Not everybody will be caught up to meet the Lord. Only we (the church) who remain, if we are alive at that moment.
WHO WILL AND WHO WILL NOT
14. Turn to Luke 17:34 and following.
a. Who is speaking?
“‘I tell you, in ________ ___________ there shall be two men in one bed. The one shall be taken, the other left. Two women shall be grinding together. The one shall be taken, the other left. Two men shall be in the field. The one shall be taken and the other left.’ And they answered and said unto Him, ‘Where, Lord?’ And He said unto them, ‘Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.’”
When Jesus comes, on one side of the world, it will be night. On the other side, it will be the middle of the day. That’s why He says some will be in bed sleeping, the others, at work in the fields. Two people are in the field, one taken, the other left. One of two pilots in the cockpit may go. The star quarterback on the field may go. Who knows where you will be at that moment, but there is a select multitude. Not everybody is going and you need to be careful that you are not left behind.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God _________ ______ Him [Jesus].
15 For this we say unto you by the Word of the Lord, that we which are ____________ and _____________ unto [until] the coming of the Lord shall not______________ them which are asleep.
A CLOSER LOOK AT “PREVENT”
The English language in 1600s England was far different from our language spoken today and for the last 300 years. Today, the word “prevent” means to stop something from happening. Or it can mean to intercept something before it happens. The translators under the command of King James used “prevent.” In 1600, pre-vent meant “to go before.”
How is that? It comes from the Latin:
pre—a prefix meaning “before” or “in front of”
vent—the main part of the word, is a verb whose root meaning is “to go.”
Thus in the Elizabethan English of the 1600s, “pre-vent” meant “to go before.” This makes it all the more difficult for the reader of today and the last two centuries to make sense of what Paul is saying, unless you understand that He is not saying the believers who are alive at the time of the Lord’s return will be foiled in some sort of attempt to stop those believers who have died and are already with the Lord from coming back with him.
Far from it. It means those who are alive will not be the first to rise. Rather, those who are already dead and whose spirits are alive in Heaven with the Lord will be first, for they will be raised from their graves to join Him, and believers on alive on earth will then meet them (“in the twinkling of an eye”) in the air.
16. Glance back at 1 Corinthians 15:52 again:
We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment….
A CLOSER LOOK AT “MOMENT”
Did you know the word translated “moment” is the same word we get our word “atom” from? At the time, the translators only knew the atom as the smallest indivisible particle of matter. They were saying, “This is the most indivisible thing our language can describe. In a moment, in an atom, “in the twinkling of an eye,” all this will happen.
It’s said that the average person blinks his eyes between 15,000 and 20,000 times a day. So every day there are at least 20,000 opportunities for the Lord Jesus to return.
The dead in Christ are going to rise first, and then we which remain are going to be seized, we’re going to be caught up by force, we’re going to be moved to a new place, and it’s going to happen just as quickly as you can bat your eyelash. We’re going to be leaving here, we are going up and we are going to glory.
17. What is our reassurance of this? What is your assurance of these things? Here’s my assurance.
a. Go back to our passage, 1 Thessalonians 4, and look again at verses 14 and 15. Paul realized that there would be those who would have some questions, so he says,
14For if we ______________ that Jesus died and rose again…
[If you believe that, then you don’t have any trouble with the supernatural. If you have trouble with the Rapture, why would you not have trouble with the resurrection?]
“If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, ________ _____, in _______ manner, them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.”
Paul is saying that if Jesus Christ died and rose again, just as surely as THAT occurred, so will our rapture and coming with Him when He returns once again to earth.
We have that assurance because we have:
- The saving work of our Lord. Jesus died and rose again. The Gospel itself is supernatural, and God is not finished. If God raised Jesus from the dead, then He’s going to raise us from the dead. You see, it all hangs together. Jesus Christ, this same Jesus who came the first time literally and rose from the dead literally, is coming back the second time literally. The same Jesus who was born of a virgin, walked on water, fed the 5,000, is coming back again, just as the angels at the Ascension testified He would. His return is necessary to fulfill the purpose of God. The incarnation without the coronation would be like height without depth and east without west. His resurrection is the pledge of our resurrection. That’s our first assurance that all this happens: Jesus has already come out of that grave.
- the sure Word of our Lord.
15For this we say unto you by the _________ of the _________.
That’s what makes the difference. We have all kinds of soothsayers, self-styled prophets, mediums and prognosticators predicting the future, but they don’t know. Not one of them knows. The devil himself doesn’t know. Only God knows the future.
That’s the reason the apostle Paul says, “This we say unto you by the Word of the Lord.”
The saving work of our Lord and the sure Word of our Lord tell us this is true.
It is a sudden moment, “in the twinkling of an eye.” You don’t know and I don’t know when.
I do know it is close.
You say, “Pastor, how can you tell it is close? It may be fifty years.” It is still close. It may be a thousand years. It is still close. Please see the sermon “Living on the Edge of Eternity” where I dealt in detail with this.
We are always living on the edge of eternity. The Bible says, “The time is at hand.” The Second Coming of Jesus is always close and it is always certain. Paul was expecting Christ in his day. Was he wrong? No, he was right.
b. Let me give you some Scriptures.
- Matthew 24:36. Jesus said, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels in, in Heaven, but My Father only.” If anybody gives you a date as to when Jesus Christ is coming again, he is a liar. He doesn’t know. You can’t set a date. If I were God, and someone happened to guess the right date, I’d change it. “That day and that hour no, no man knows.”
- Matthew 24:38-39. “For as the days that were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day that Noah entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”
- Now that’s very interesting. He says just like the days of Noah. Some people have the idea the Church is going to be in the Great Tribulation when the Rapture comes. Or the Church will have gone through the Great Tribulation. No. That’s not what this Scripture says. They’re eating, drinking, marrying, the daily round of life is going on, then suddenly—just like that—Jesus comes.
- That’s the reason He says in Matthew 24:42, “Watch, therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”
- Matthew 24:44, “Therefore, be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh.” Not in the time that you figured it out, but in the time when you haven’t figured Him out. I’ve always thought He’d come on Monday. I can’t think at all on Monday. “In such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh.’
You should always be ready for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
We’ve talked about WHAT, WHO, WHEN—now, let’s look at WHY.
The Rapture is a strategic motive of rescue, reunion, and reception.
18. Thessalonians 4:18 says:
Then we which are alive and remain shall be ___________ _____ together with them in the clouds to ________ the Lord in the air and so shall we ever ____ with the Lord.”
The Great Tribulation is about to begin, but before God allows the Great Tribulation here upon earth, He takes the church out. I believe the Rapture will come before the Great Tribulation. But let me give you some verses.
19. a. Turn back 3 chapters to 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10.
For they themselves show us that what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the true and living God and to wait for His Son from Heaven whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which _________________ us from the ___________ to ________.
Jesus has delivered us from the wrath to come. There is wrath coming, but He has delivered us.
b. 1 Thessalonians 5:9
For God hath ____ appointed us to _________, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
When a nation is about to declare war upon another nation, first it issues the call to its ambassador: “Come home. Close the embassy. Return home.” And to its citizens living there: “Leave and come home. We are about to declare war.”
When God declares war on this world, He’s going to call His nationals home beforehand.
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up _______________ with ________ [the dead in Christ] in the clouds
What a reunion this will be! We’re going to be caught up together. The Thessalonians were wondering about the dead who had died. Had they lost them forever? Paul says, “Oh, no. We’re going to be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air.”
Jesus is coming to receive us to Himself.
19. Turn to John 14
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and ______________ you unto Myself, that where I am, there ye may be also.”
In the air.
20. Look at 1 Thessalonians 4:17 once more:
17 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.
This is not the Second Coming of Jesus. This is the Rapture.
At the Second Coming, His feet are going to touch upon the Mount of Olives. That’s when He comes to reveal Himself in glory. But this is secret, this is secluded, a secluded meeting of the bridegroom and the bride. What do a bridegroom and bride want? They want seclusion; they want to be, uh, left alone for a period to consummate the marriage.
In a wedding in the Middle East, in Jesus’ day, the groom would take the initiative, negotiate for the bride, and pay a price for the bride. They would call that the betrothal. They would have a cup of wine over which a betrothal blessing had been given, and they would drink from that cup together. Then the groom would go back to His father’s house to prepare a place for her. The bride would remain in her home and begin to prepare her trousseau and her wedding gown. Then at a particular time known to the bridegroom, not known to the bride, the groom set the date in conjunction with his father. She didn’t have the joy and pleasure of setting the date. He would come, often with a torchlight parade, and there would be one who would go before him and shout, “Behold, the bridegroom comes!” And she would gather her things and be ready. It was exciting. They would come with torch lights, if it were at nighttime, and take her away. Then she would be caught up in his arms, and they would be together.
That’s what’s going to happen. We are the bride of Christ, and we’re going to be in a secluded place with our Lord.
21. For our last Scripture passage in this study, turn to the Song of Solomon chapter 2 and verse 10.
My Beloved spake and said unto me, “_________ ____, my love, my fair one, and come away.”
This is what is going to happen in the twinkling of an eye.
Let me just say this.
Suddenly, perhaps before we conclude this study, there will be the shout, the voice of the archangel and the trump of God. We need to learn of His coming. We need to live for His coming. We need to long for the coming of our Lord and Savior, our Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ. Are you waiting, watching, longing for His coming?
We always take special note of the last words a person says before they die, don’t we?
At the end of his life, knowing his departure was near, the apostle Paul wrote the last words he would ever pen on this earth. In these last words to his disciple and companion in ministry, he tells Timothy:
6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
7 I h