The Rapture of the Church is called “the Blessed Hope!” “Why?” you ask. Because, in the words of the song writer: “One glimpse of His dear face, all sorrow will erase…when we see Christ.” Furthermore, it is the believer’s only hope of deliverance from the awful holocaust of man’s destructive devices and the wrath of God that is coming upon this world! The time is coming when the whole world, especially the ancient land of Israel, will be caught in the grips of a life and death struggle with the Antichrist. Our prospect of being delivered from this is the resurrection and Rapture. In view of the pain, suffering, war and bloodshed that lies at our door, this is indeed a “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13)!
“It may be at morn, when the day is awaking, When sunlight thro’ darkness and shadow is breaking, That Jesus will come in the fullness of glory, To receive from the world His own.
“O Lord Jesus, how long, how long, Ere we shout the glad song, Christ returneth! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Amen, Hallelujah! Amen.”
(H. L. Turner)
The revelation, reality and rhapsody of this marvelous hope is found only in the doctrine of the Mystery! It is here that the Apostle Paul gives the world divine information of God’s secret plan concerning the Church which is the Body of Christ (Eph. 3:5-10; Col. 1:25-26; Rom. 16:25; 1 Tim. 1:16; 1 Cor. 9:17, cf., Gal. 3:23). One of the major features of the Mystery is the disclosure of a coming of Christ not mentioned before (1 Thess. 4:16-17): a coming that is independent and separate from Christ’s coming to rule as King of Kings on earth.
Beginning in Verse 13, the student finds the Apostle Paul discussing the future of the believing dead. It is in this context that he delivers the good news of verses 16 through 18, that:
“The Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
Several observations come to mind, at this point, which will help identify the blessedness and uniqueness of this event:
(1) That “Jesus died and rose again” (Vs. 14) is the basis for the Grace-age believer’s blessed hope (i.e., “hope”/elpis = confident assurance of future good: the Rapture).
(2) The Apostle Paul’s remark, “…by the word of the Lord” (Vs. 15 cf., 1 Cor. 15:51), is of special interest since Paul never received any of his apostleship, authority or apocalypse from Christ while He was on earth. Rather, any “word”/revelation that Paul received and passed on to us was from the living, resurrected and glorified Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:11-20 – some eight to ten years after Pentecost)! If this information about the Rapture was not unique, Paul could have cited some Old Testament Scriptures to make his point.
(3) The phrase “in Christ” (Vs. 16) identifies the participants in the Rapture. There is only one place and event, in the entire Bible, that explains the mechanics of the believer being placed into the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13). It is that marvelous work of God the Holy Spirit, Who, as the baptizer, places the believer into the receiving element, i.e., the Body of Christ. This baptism by (not with) God the Holy Spirit was absolutely unheard of in the pre-Pauline Epistles. Paul is drawing fresh waters from the pool of Mystery revelation.
(Note): It is true the Old Testament saints were in Christ, but only in the sense that they were in a saving relationship to Christ and citizens of a Kingdom over which He is King. But Church-age saints are in Christ, in the sense that they are in His Body, over which He is the Head, and thusly, made citizens of Heaven and saved for eternity (Phil. 3:20).
(4) The events described in Verses 16 and 17 may accurately be likened to a long-awaited, joyous, comforting, praise-filled reunion (cf., 1 Thess. 2:19), when the Church is gathered together to “meet the Lord in the air!” As Christ comes for the saints, the action moves from earth to Heaven. However, by way of contrast, Christ’s return with the saints, as referred to by the Old Testament prophets, shows the movement to be from Heaven to earth (Zech. 4:4-7; Jude 1:14).
(5) The living and the dead saints are linked together in resurrection, transformation and translation at Christ’s coming. There is no equivalent for this teaching outside of the Pauline Mystery (Vss. 13-15, cf., 5:10; Phil. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:51-53).
(6) The absence of specific signs, time qualifiers or intervening events concerning this promised hope, distinguishes it from the pre-Pauline teachings concerning Christ’s second coming (Lk. 21; Mt. 24). The exception to this might be Paul’s warnings about the deteriorating spiritual condition of the Church as found in 1 Timothy 4:1-4 and 2 Timothy 3:1-7.
Our world is speeding out of control and toward judgment! The thinking man cannot watch TV, read the newspaper or rub shoulders with the man on the street, and not wonder, “What’s going to happen next?”
There was a time when preachers were ridiculed as “Doom’s-Day preachers” for their warnings of impending judgment. Today, however, his voice is not heard alone. The air is charged with growing tension and anxiety. He is joined in concert with many educators, scientists, politicians and military men who believe that we are heading toward a suicidal world war. However, it is in this tense atmosphere that we are reminded of the reality of the “Blessed Hope” (1 Cor. 15:51-52). We cling to that hope and need not fear the future (1 Tim. 1:7-15).