In the last five weeks, my wife and I have attended three funerals for relatives and in-laws on her side of the family. That’s enough funerals to last me for awhile. Don’t need any more anytime soon.
This past Saturday was the last of these three. The pastor who preached the eulogy sought to comfort those attending with Paul’s words from his letters to the church at Thessalonica on the subject of death. Paul talks about death as merely being sleep, and he assures Christians that we will see our born-again loved ones again.
The preacher correctly explained that the moment we Christians die our spirits separate from our bodies and enter heaven. Our bodies, on the other hand, remain buried until the day Jesus returns to call them to Himself. On that day, Paul explains, those bodies will ascend first, and then Christians who are alive at the time will follow.
I thought this pastor did a wonderful job of explaining what happens at death and what will happen in the future—except for one thing. He said several times that this ascension of the dead bodies, followed by that of live Christians, would take place at the Second Coming of Christ.
You may accuse me of picking at nits if you like, but I think this explanation is a grave misstatement of future events. I don’t claim to be an expert on eschatology, but this is not difficult stuff. This ascension, called the Rapture, will take place when Jesus calls us up to meet Him in the clouds, which is a completely separate event from His Second Coming.
Second Thessalonians 2:3-7 says:
Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.
Paul is talking about Jesus’s return to earth—His Second Coming. He says it will not happen until the man of lawlessness (the antichrist) is revealed, takes his place in the seat in the temple of God and claims to be God. This is what we generally refer to as the great tribulation. Jesus will not return until after the great tribulation takes place.
But he goes on to say that this “mystery of lawlessness” is already taking place, only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Most Christians, at least most students of prophecy, understand this “restrainer” to be the Holy Spirit. As long as the Holy Spirit is at work here on earth, the antichrist cannot set up his kingdom and bring about the great tribulation.
Paul didn’t spell out his meaning here in clear a, b, c form, but we know the Holy Spirit will be here at work on earth as long as Christians are here, because He is sealed in each of us (Ephesians 1:13&14). Therefore, the antichrist cannot set up his reign and bring down the great tribulation as long as Christians are here. We must be Raptured before this happens.
Before anyone claims I’ve just given all Christians a free pass from all tribulation, I didn’t say that. There will have to be tribulations to make the situation dire enough for people to accept the rule of the antichrist, and we will go through these beginning tribulations. In fact, I think we’re already in the midst of them. But we won’t be here for the great tribulation, because the restrainer must first be removed.
Jesus’s second coming will take place at the end of the great tribulation period. John makes this plain in the book of Revelation. Jesus will defeat satan and the antichrist at that time, but we will have already been with Him for at least seven years at the time that happens.
As I mentioned above, this may seem like nitpicking to some of you, but like Paul, I don’t want any Christian to be ignorant of these events to come. Jesus will come back as King and set up His millennial kingdom, but only after the great tribulation, which in turn can only happen after the rapture of the church.
If you abide in Me and My word abides in you, then you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
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