For 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. — 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
When I was a young child, the neighborhood kids and I spent many happy summer evenings playing “Hide-n-Go-Seek.” The one who was “it” would cover his eyes while counting to some predetermined number, giving the other players time to hide. When he had finished counting, the grace period was up, and the search was on. To signal this fact, the one who was “it” would shout, “Ready or not, here I come!”
In today’s focus verse, we are alerted to an event of great importance: the coming of the Lord. We have been given ample time to prepare for this momentous occurrence. We know His return will be very soon — the countdown, as recorded in God’s Word, indicates that it could happen at any moment. And it will happen, whether we are ready or not!
If we are prepared for Christ’s return, this is not a frightening thought. Rather, it is a source of great comfort in this time of world unrest and upheaval. However, to the person who knows about the Lord’s return but has delayed making preparation, the thought of this event brings no comfort. That one wishes Christ would not return for a long, long time.
What does it take to be ready for the coming of the Lord? This could be the subject of myriad Bible teachings and sermons. Some good clues are found in chapter 4 of 1 Thessalonians, where Paul challenged the Thessalonians to please God in their daily living by avoiding all sexual sin, to love one another, and to live as good citizens in a sinful world.
It is interesting to note that Paul exhorted these believers to “abound more and more” (verse 1) and to “increase more and more” (verse 10). The Christian way is a living, vital way. If we are truly connected to the Lord and are flourishing spiritually, we will be ready when He returns to this earth. As we continue to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord, we will continue to be ready.
Verses 1-12 of chapter 4 include practical instruction on daily living, and are a key part of this book. The Apostle Paul was careful to label them as “commandments,” which showed their importance.
The social environment in the Roman Empire was characterized by immorality, rather than morality, and the Thessalonians’ culture was corrupt. Yet, Paul let the Thessalonian believers know that even in such a society, they needed to live holy lives.
God’s will on the subject of sexual purity is clear. Sexual desires and temptations have always been strong (and perhaps even more so in immoral cultures such as that of Thessalonica at that time), but they must deliberately be put under God’s control.
Paul instructed the people to show responsibility in every area of their lives. Paul wanted them to work and to do their best to live quietly. While being Christians might have made them part of civil disturbances at times (Paul experienced that often), he did not want them involved because of failure to live responsibly. Respectability was and is a necessary element for an effective Christian testimony.
Verses 13-18 contain great hope for the Christian. Paul made it clear that those who die in the faith will be raptured. He comforted the Thessalonians so that they would not grieve as those who had no hope. The basis for their hope was the resurrection of Jesus.
Our term rapture comes from the words caught up. In the original language, this word meant “to snatch” or “to seize.” It indicated a sudden, violent taking away. This event will have a three-part announcement: a shout, the voice of the archangel, and a blast of God’s trumpet.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
III. Paul’s instruction for the Thessalonians
A. Concerning Christian maturity (4:1-12)
1. Concerning moral looseness (4:1-8)
2. Concerning love for the brethren (4:9-12)
B. Concerning the dead (4:13-18)
1. The problem of dead believers (4:13)
2. The promise for dead believers (4:14)
3. The privilege of dead believers (4:15)
4. The program for dead believers (4:16)
5. The program for living believers (4:17)
6. The instruction (4:18)
As we walk in the light of God’s love, abounding more and more, we find that the Christian way is a great way to live, and we are comforted by the hope that the Lord will soon return to take us to Heaven.