When The Trumpet Of The Lord Shall Sound

Bible Book: 1 Thessalonians  4 : 13-18
Subject: The Rapure; The Return of Christ; Reunion; Heaven

I want you to imagine something that you have probably experienced. A man is seated at a table in a restaurant having breakfast and reading the morning newspaper. His breakfast is punctuated with deep groans of discouragement. Each page of the newspaper brings a more profound sigh expressing the man's frustration with the world. The waitress is sensitive to his frustration. And as she pours him another cup of coffee, she asks, "Is everything all right, sir? You seem to be very upset about something." He responds, "You bet I am. Haven't you read the morning paper? I'm sick to death of all the bad news." With a certain amount of timidity, the young woman says, "Well, you've just got to have hope!" The man looks up at the waitress. His expression mirrors anger mingled with frustration as he asks the question, "Hope? How can you have hope in a world like this?"

Now, how would you answer a question like that? The truth is that we cannot have hope in our world, but we can have hope in the world. The one thing that the world could never provide is hope. Hope is elusive. You can never find it by searching for it. It is inadvertent, coming from something else. The world - possibilities, people, progress - are all unreliable sources of hope. They always let us down. The reason for the hopelessness of our time is that it has finally dawned on us that no leader, no negotiated peace, no armed might, no human cleverness can bring the utopia that we have believed was the goal of history. The only way that we can live with confidence in any period of history is to have an ultimate conviction about what will happen at the end of history. Where is it all leading? Authentic hope must have an ultimately reliable source, and only Jesus Christ can give that kind of hope in a world like this. Now, as we look at our text for this evening there are five things that I want us to see. First of all, I want us to consider,

I. The Revelation

In verse 13 Paul says, "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren." And then in verse 15 he says, "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord." Jesus may have spoken this during His ministry and it is recorded here rather than in the Gospels, or it might simply be a revelation straight from God. Whichever, it is clear that this is an eternal truth spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ himself. So what we have here is a statement from the Lord that addresses the riddle of death and the afterlife. I am so glad that the Lord has addressed this subject. Why? Because for centuries philosophers have wrestled with the question of immortality. Mediums have tried to communicate with those who have gone on beyond. Scientists have investigated the experiences of people who claim to have died and returned to life again. But Paul solved the problem when he wrote, "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord" (4:15). Those of us who are Christians need not wonder about death or life after death, for we have a revelation from God in His Word. Why substitute human speculation for divine revelation?

And then, based on this revelation, Paul says that there is a distinction to be made between those who die as believers and those who die as unbelievers. Notice verse 13 (read). Those last two words, "no hope," should make cold chills run up and down our spines. These words picture the undesirable condition of those who die outside of Christ. Those words are used because once death occurs the eternal destiny of the individual is sealed. There are no second chances. Jesus made this abundantly clear in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Abraham says to the unredeemed dead rich man, "between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us" (Luke 16:26). There are no second chances. The words "no hope" describe the eternal condition of every person outside of Christ.

But in contrast to that, the apostle Paul declared, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 15:55-57). You see, Jesus Christ gives to the believer a hope that is steadfast and sure. But apart from Jesus Christ there is no hope beyond the grave. So Paul was saying, "I want you, in contrast to a helpless world, not to sorrow as though you had no hope." He did not say that they should not grieve, but not to sorrow as though there were no hope. You are not to grieve like those who are outside the cause of Christ.

II. The Return

If you'll notice in verse 15, it talks about the coming of the Lord. Now, as we have mentioned, the apostle Paul ends each of these five chapters in I Thessalonians with a reference to the return of Christ. In chapter 1 he related Christ's return to salvation. In verses 9 and 10 he said, "...ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven...." The doctrine of Christ's return should be a motivation for folks to get saved. I mean, if I knew that the final curtain was about to be drawn and time would be no more, and that my opportunity to get saved would come to an abrupt halt, I'm absolutely sure that I would want to get saved. And then in the last part of chapter 2 Paul relates Christ's return to soul winning.

If you will remember, we talked about the "crown of rejoicing." What is the crown of rejoicing? The crown of rejoicing is the soul-winner's crown. And so when the Lord returns, I don't want to meet Him empty-handed. You know, there was a time in my Christian experience when I thought that witnessing was mandatory, that it was something you had to do, that you had to go witnessing. And then after several years I got to the place where I thought it was optional. And I thought, "Well, some people have the gift of evangelism and some people don't. And if that's your thing you just do it, and if that's not your thing you find some other gift." But I have come to the place in my Christian experience when I am convinced that it is not mandatory and it is not optional, but that it is inevitable. Jesus said, "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me." And it's not just something that you do; it's something that you are, a living witness.

Brother Marty Godfrey has been teaching the men something, which I really like. It's a process that can be applied to practically every area of life. And I want you to look at this on the screen. Notice the first two letters, U I. That stands for unconscious incompetence. In other words, you're incompetent and you don't even know it. The next two letters, C I, stand for conscious incompetence. At this point you have progressed to the stage where you are incompetent, but at least you are aware of it. And at this point you are at least aware of a problem. And then as you begin to deal with your incompetence, you get to the place of conscious competence. Now you're dealing with your problem. You're working at it and you're beginning to have success. It's an effort, it's a struggle, but you're dealing with it.

Now, in terms of Monday night outreach in our church, I want to say that that is for the conscious competence. You need motivation, you need direction, you need training, and you need a structure in order to help you to do what you should be doing. And then finally you get to the place of unconscious competence. In other words, you're doing what you're supposed to be doing. You're doing it right, and you're not even conscious of the fact that you're doing it. It's a lifestyle; it's a way of life.

Now, these folks, the people who have entered upon the level of unconscious competence, may very well be present on Monday night for outreach, but they have even gone beyond that. They take advantage of every opportunity to share their faith. It is a way of life for them. They are constant witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ. Everywhere they go their life is a testimony of God's grace and they share their faith as a natural course of life. And in view of the Lord's imminent return, we need to get to the place of unconscious competence in terms of soul winning.

And then in the last part of chapter 3 Paul relates Christ's return to stability. You may just want to look at verses 11-13. But in this passage of Scripture you discover that the person who lives in view of the second coming of Jesus Christ does not waiver. He is not fickle. He is not an up-and-down, namby-pamby, off-and-on, good-Lord-good-devil Christian. He's consistent. He has stability in his life.

But notice, if Paul relates Christ's return to salvation in chapter 1 and soul winning in chapter 2 and stability chapter 3, he relates it to sorrow here in chapter 4. He is simply showing us how the doctrine of Christ's return can comfort the brokenhearted. The fact of our Lord's return is a comfort to us in bereavement because we know that He will bring with Him His people who have "died in the Lord."

Have you ever heard anyone say to a friend, "I hear you lost your wife. I am so sorry," and the friend replied, "No. I didn't lose her. You can't lose something when you know where it is, and I know where she is!" You see, on the authority of the Word of God we know where our deceased loved ones are if they have trusted in Jesus Christ. And Jesus will one day return and bring His people with Him. And in this great truth there is comfort in a time of sorrow. And so in this chapter Paul relates Christ's return to sorrow. But now, having considered the revelation and the return, let us consider,

III. The Resurrection

Look in verse 16 (read). Jesus' death assures us of God's love and it spells defeat for death. It is as though death used up all its power in putting the Son of God to death so that it does not have power to conquer us permanently. For it is as though Christ took the sting of death into His own body and formed a vaccine so that death can no longer destroy God's people. In verse 15 Paul uses the term "sleep" for the Christian's death. Christ died, and drank the whole cup of death, that death might lose its power and permanence and be changed into an experience akin to sleep. When faced by God's power, death has no more strength than sleep. We can have hope that lasts because Jesus died to show God's love and to defeat the power of death.

Now, at the point of death, as far as the physical body is concerned for the Christian, there is rest. But as far as his soul is concerned, there is a glorious awakening. In II Corinthians 5:8 Paul says, "Absent from the body...at home with the Lord." So you and I who have loved ones who are dead in Christ need to recognize that though their bodies are at rest in the grave, they themselves are wit the Lord.

Now, in our text we discover that there are going to be three sounds accompanying our Lord's return. First of all, there will be a shout from the Lord himself. This will be heard by everyone who is asleep through Christ. Do you remember in John 11 when Jesus stood outside the tomb of Lazarus? He shouted, "Lazarus, come forth," and Lazarus came forth. Well, when Christ returns He's not going to specify Lazarus or anyone else. He is going to give the signal and the shout for all those who have died in the Lord and they will emerge victorious over the grave.

The second sound will be the voice of the archangel. Hebrews 1:14 suggests that the moment a person becomes a Christian he is assigned an angel to minister to him. As the Lord returns, the archangel would be giving orders to the ministering angels to take care of those to whom they have been assigned, making sure that every detail has been cared for in preparation for their resurrection from the grave.

The third sound will be that of the trumpet of God. In the Old Testament days trumpets were used to call the people of Israel together to a holy convocation. It is in this manner that the trumpet of God will be used in that day. Gabriel will sound the trumpet and all of God's people will respond. What a holy convocation that will be. At that time we shall look upon the face of our Lord and adore and worship Him. This is what Paul meant when he wrote in I Corinthians 13:12, "now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face." Now by faith we see our Lord dimly, but when the rapture occurs this will all be changed. We will see Him face to face.

During the Korean conflict in the early 50s Billy Graham was in Korea. He visited a naval hospital. There he went from bed to bed meeting the boys, talking to them and praying with them. While doing this he came to a Marine who had been wounded in the back and consequently was forced to lie face down. As Billy talked to Him, the young man said, "I have heard you preach over the radio, but I have never seen your face, which I would very much like to do. You are an inspiration to me. I have come to know the Lord through your preaching." Quick as a flash Billy laid down on his back under this man's cot. In that position the two viewed one another face to face, and the Marine said, "Thank you, Billy, for what you mean to me."

As Christians you and I have heard the voice of Jesus through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and this has been wonderful. But when He comes for us, it will be even better, for then each of us will be privileged to look into His face.

IV. The Rapture

Look in verse 17 (read). The word "rapture" is not used in the Scripture, but that is the literal meaning of "caught up." The Latin word "rapto" means "to seize, to carry off" and from it we get our English word "rapture." Now, the word that is translated "rapture" here is actually translated in a variety of ways in the New Testament. For example, it means, "to catch away speedily." This is the idea that is conveyed in Acts 8:39 where the Spirit "caught away Philip" after he had led the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ. When the Lord returns in the air, we who are alive will be caught away quickly, in the twinkling of an eye. This means we should live each moment in the expectation of our Lord's return, lest He come and find us out of His will. In John 6:15 the same word is translated to mean, "to seize by force." Does this suggest that Satan and his armies will try to keep us from leaving the earth? I hope it does not suggest that some of the saints will be so attached to the world that they must literally be dragged away. Like Lot being delivered from Sodom, they will be scarcely saved. In Acts 23:10 this same word is used in such a way that it suggests "a rescue from danger." In that passage Paul was rescued before he was pulled in pieces by a hostile crowd. Perhaps this suggests that the church will be taken home before the time of tribulation that will come into the world.

Warren Wiersbe, in his little commentary on I and II Thessalonians, said that one summer his church camp staff staged an elaborate "rapture" while the camp director was off the grounds. When he returned everybody was missing. Clothing was on the ground as though people had "passed through" it. A motorboat was circling on the lake without pilot or passengers and everything in the kitchen was functioning without a cook. A carefully timed phone call from town where the caller said, "Hey, what's happening? Everybody's missing over here!" only added to the effect. The camp director said, "I've got to admit. It really shook me up for a minute." Well, just think of what effect this event will have on a lost world. But whether we Christians live or die we have nothing to fear because Jesus will come either with us or for us. The fact of His return is a comfort to our hearts. Now, we have considered the revelation, the return, the resurrection and the rapture. But let me say a word about,

V. The Reunion

A great reunion will take place. Paul says in verse 17, "caught up with them" we shall rise with the departed saints who preceded us in death. This is a very strong testimony to the reunion that is ours in Jesus Christ. Have we lost loved ones? We will be together again. We will know them again. We shall worship with them again. We will serve God with them again. We're going to be raised up to meet the Lord in the air with those who have gone before, and so shall we ever be with the Lord in wonderful fellowship.

By the way, do you know who is going to be in heaven? In I Kings 8:30 it says that God's going to be there.

In Hebrews 9:12 it says that Jesus is going to be there.

In Psalm 39:7 it says that the Holy Spirit is going to be there.

In Matthew 18:10 it says that the angels of God are going to be there.

In Matthew 25:34 it says the righteous are going to be there.

In 1 Corinthians 15:51 it says the changed are going to be there. In John 3:5 it says the saved are going to be there.

In 2 Peter 1:10 it says the called are going to be there.

In Revelation 2:7 it says the overcomers are going to be there. In Revelation 22:14 it says the obedient are going to be there.

In Revelation 19:8 it says the holy are going to be there.

And we're all going to gather around the throne of God and worship Him and have a great reunion for the first 10,000 years. Can you say with absolute conviction tonight, "When the roll is called up yonder, I'll be there?"