Turn on the news and what do you see? Suicide bombings, children slaughtered, ethnic cleansing, civil wars, domestic violence–the results of hatred at every turn. The “perilous times” that the apostle Paul wrote about are upon us. The Savior said as much. “In the world you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” And He promised that we could overcome also.
But what constitutes this overcoming the world? How did He overcome the world? We will find the answer in the power of His resurrection. This power spearheads the ultimate victory that He promised His followers. “You shall overcome also.”
You shall become like Me, He is promising. You shall walk with Me and be like Me in My immortal state. You shall receive an immortal spiritual body just like mine. John confirms this. “When He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man who has this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3: 2-3). Our hope is to be like Him–immortal.
Let’s savor these words a moment. “When He shall appear, we shall be like Him.” Christ is immortal, and so will we be when He shall appear. So when will that be?
When will Christ appear?
Christ Himself said that He will appear upon His return to earth “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (Matt. 24: 29). Which tribulation? It will be “great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no nor ever shall be” (24: 21). It will be so destructive that God will have to intervene and stop it before all mankind is wiped out. “But for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (v. 22). God’s precious elect, His sons and daughters, will evidently be in danger, for He cuts the tribulation short to spare them from collateral destruction.
Furthermore, during this great tribulation period, deception and delusion will permeate the earth through the teachings of the false Christs and false prophets. They will be so convincing that it will almost deceive God’s elect, who are obviously still here on earth. For they could not be deceived by Satan if they were already with God in heaven. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Matt. 24: 24.
This is the environment of Christ’s return to earth. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven…and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He shall send his angels…and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds…
It is a time of “great tribulation” in the earth. Christ returns at the end of this tribulation. In fact, His presence brings peace and tranquility to the earth.
And when He shall appear at this time, then “we shall be like Him.” His Spirit will be living in us fully. And this is our hope. We shall receive immortality and become just like Him–right here on earth. Not in the sky by and by. No. Right here. How can I be sure of that? Because He has promised in His word that He is coming back to earth, the same way He left earth!
Our hope is to receive immortality, thus escaping a certain physical death that stalks humans on this earth.
Our hope of everlasting life
Paul admonished the church of the Thessalonians to have this very hope of receiving a new immortal body. He mentions that if you are sorrowful because of brethren who have died, you are acting like you have no hope (I Thess. 4: 13). Hope of what? He speaks of Christ dying and rising from the dead. The same power that raised Him from the dead will give the dead in Christ a new body when He comes back to earth. Those who die or “sleep” in Jesus (Yahshua), “God will bring with Him” (v. 14).
God will be bringing with Him His saints who have died before His return to earth. Where will He be bringing them from? And to where? The answer is found in verse 16: He “shall descend from heaven with a shout.” He is coming from heaven to this earth, and the dead in Christ will be coming with Him.
Those of us who do not die before His return will not precede the Christians that have died. “We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [precede] them which are asleep” (v. 15). Precede them in what? Those of the elect who are still alive at His return will not go before the dead in Christ in getting their immortal, spiritual body (See I Cor. 15: 23). They will get theirs first, then we will receive our immortal bodies, and we will join them, “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet Christ in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (v. 17).
Rapture doctrine erroneously based on one verse
The rapture doctrine has been built upon one major verse: I Thessalonians 4: 17. Of course, “rapture” is not in the scriptures. A closer study of this passage reveals events quite differently than what those waiting for the “rapture” envision. They imagine that they will be conveniently whisked away from the “time of trouble,” the great tribulation period, that shall ravage the earth at the time of His return. They base this primarily on one verse.
But let us dig deep into it and see what it really says. First, He is coming back to this earth. When He gets into the atmosphere of this planet, the dead in Christ will receive a new immortal, spiritual body, rising up to meet Him. Those of us who are still living will join them “in the clouds…in the air.”
So there is a “catching away,” a rising up into our atmosphere. “Clouds” and “air” are components of the very atmosphere that we mortals breathe as we stand here on earth. The dead in Christ will join Him upon His return, and then those alive in Him will be changed and “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet Christ in the air.” Our change, when “this mortal shall put on immortality,” shall take place in the very atmosphere that we now breathe.
There will be air and clouds there. The Greek manuscripts are clear on this. Now take note of the next line in v. 17: “And so shall we ever be with the Lord.” This part of the passage is never quoted. We will join up with Him in our atmosphere rising in our new spiritual bodies from the earth, and then we will come right back down onto terra firma! We will come back down to earth after that short ride because He is immediately coming back to earth. And we are coming back down to earth with Him, for we shall “ever be with Him.”
This is our hope–to be eternally with Christ
We will forever be with Him at this time–all of His people down through the ages and those of His who are alive when He returns. That is our hope! The first step that He will take will be right here on earth.
Paul continues to explain to the Thessalonians about how Christ’s return will be “as a thief in the night” to those who walk in darkness. “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.” Those in spiritual darkness will not know when He is coming back, but the elect will know and not be overtaken. “You are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness’ (I Thess. 5: 2-9).
God’s children will be changed into immortals and will not be taken in the “sudden destruction” coming upon all those in darkness. Paul says that at the time of end, the world system will be trying to induce an artificial man-made peace throughout the globe. They will say that everything is fine now. “Peace and safety” will be the talk of the land, but real peace will not reside in the hearts of the earth’s inhabitants. In reality, a godless darkness will cover the land.
Yet, this earth in all of its end time spiritual darkness will be the stage for man’s greatest disaster and greatest triumph. The New World Order and its enforced peace will crumble under the onslaught of God’s missiles, His heavenly bodies that will literally crash down onto this earth, wiping out whole civilizations. It will be a “time of trouble” never seen before on earth.
Rising out of the ashes
But, rising out of the wasteland will come striding God’s chosen ones, His elect, His sons and daughters, His ambassadors–the princes and princesses of God’s kingdom. They will have God fully formed in them. Nothing will harm them, for they are from another dimension–a heavenly one that has transcended earthly matter. They will no longer be of this earth. They will have been “changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump.”
This at once terrible and glorious day will come on the world as “a thief in the night.” Darkness will envelop the land, literally and spiritually. But, as Paul exhorts, you are “the children of light…we are not of the night, nor of darkness” (I Th 5: 4-5). The very fact that we have the Spirit within us, will make us where we can see the “thief” who operates out in the night of the world system. God’s elect will know. We will know by the signs of the times, for we will be “sober, armed with the armor of God, “the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation.” This “hope of salvation” is the hope of our deliverance from the dusty tombs of our mortal earthy existence. This “hope of salvation” is the looking forward to us receiving our new spiritual body at His coming–whether we be dead or alive upon His return.
At the end of this present age, the earth, totally immersed in the evil world system, will be a crucible of wrath, bathed in fire and blood. Yet this earth’s most painful travail will with supreme irony give birth to the sons and daughters of the great Father Yahweh. They will be the first immortals to take up residence on this earth since Christ Himself did for 40 days after His resurrection. They will have His Spirit fully residing within, and they “will build the old waste places” (Isa. 61: 1-4). Paul and the Thessalonians looked forward to this day, our day. In fact, their spirit still looks forward to the day of Christ’s return, which will fulfill our hope–our hope for immortality.