Suppose an angel showed up in church this morning and told us that Jesus was coming back tomorrow. How would you respond? What might you do different today?
Some – get their spiritual house in order
– Maybe they would try to reconcile some broken relationships
– Perhaps they would confess some secret sins
I’m sure that many of us would spend the better part of the afternoon calling and visiting lost friends and relatives, pleading with them to be saved before it was too late.
Many of those who are lost would come to Christ. Maybe they’ve known for a long time that they have needed to make a decision, but for some reason or another they’ve found it convenient to keep putting it off. Perhaps the altars would be full in many churches with those who were seeking salvation. The pastor’s phone would ring off the hook this afternoon as folks would be seeking his spiritual guidance.
Some would be saved, but others would shrug it off. They might actually laugh in scorn and say that they didn’t believe it and even if was true, they didn’t care. The Bible says that a man can put off his salvation to the point of where he no longer feels the need to be saved. The Bible says that we can reach a point of where God’s Spirit no longer strives with man. (Gen 6:3) We can reach the point of where we are hopelessly lost. How sad it would be for these individuals who would be left behind.
I. The Fear of Being Left Behind
2 Thessalonians 2:1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, 2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. 3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition…
It appears that there was a rumor circulating in the early church that Christ had already come for His church and anyone who was still here had been left behind. You can imagine how this must have troubled many believers.
“How could this be? What did I do wrong? I thought Paul told us that during the Rapture the dead would rise first and then we which are alive and remain would be ‘caught up’ together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so would we ever be with the Lord. How could we have possibly missed the Rapture?”
My friend, we won’t miss the Rapture if we’re ready; but we will if we’re not. It’s just that simple.
One day a young preacher was preaching on Revelation 22:12 “Behold, I come quickly!” Each time he read that verse of scripture he would pound his fist on the pulpit for emphasis. It startled a lady sitting on the front pew and the young man took that to mean that he was doing a good job. So a little later he decided to try it again. “Behold, I come quickly!” and again he pounded the pulpit and again the woman jumped. Finally, near the end of his message, he thought that he would end with a blaze of glory and so quoted the verse one last time; and this time, when he went to hit the pulpit, he missed and his momentum caused him to fall face first right into the lap of that lady. He was so embarrassed. He got up and apologized to her for falling into her lap. “That’s alright young man”, she said. “You tried to warn me twice before and I didn’t have the sense to get out of the way.”
“Behold, I come quickly…” Jesus says at the close of the book of Revelation. “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” (Revelation 22:11) The Bible says that Jesus is coming again someday, and when He does, He will give to every man according to what that person deserves. The Bible says – “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” (Revelation 22:11) What does that mean? It means that we will spend eternity fixed in whatever state we leave this earth. Those who leave this life in a state of holiness and righteousness, will spend eternity in a state of holiness and righteousness; and those who leave this life in a state of sinfulness and filthiness, will spend eternity in a state of sinfulness and filthiness. “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” (Revelation 22:11) Are you ready for Christ’s return?
The church of Thessalonica probably knew more about end time events than any church of the New Testament period. Both of Paul’s letters to them contains detail about the end times and it appears that Paul may have even taught them personally about it on his first visit. Though they didn’t know all there is to know about the end of time, they knew enough to know that anyone who is left behind after the Rapture is going to go through a terrible, terrible time period known as the Tribulation. Therefore there was fear in their hearts, and rightly so, when they heard that they had been left behind.
Had they been left behind? Were they destined to go through the Tribulation Period? No.
II. The Facts About the Lord’s Return
Consider what Paul wrote to these believers in his first letter.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 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: 17 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. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
A. The Promise of the Rapture
Jesus promised to return and take His bride out of this world.
John 14:1 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
The the promise of Christ’s return and the rapture of the church is meant to be a word of comfort. Jesus said: “Let not your heart be troubled…” Paul wrote: “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” In other words, remind each other of these truths and reassure each other that everything is going to be ok.
Last week I shared with you that the early church had a password. Do any of you remember what that password was? “Maranatha!” What does maranatha mean? It means – ‘The Lord is coming.’ The early Christians who were going through times of difficulty and persecution, often said these words to each other. “Maranatha! Hang in there brother. The Lord is coming soon.”
Consider what Paul wrote about the Lord’s return.
1 Thessalonians 5:1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. 2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. 5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
To be sober means to be alert and active. Live each day with the hope of Maranatha! The Lord is coming again!
7 For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. 8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober…
To be sober means more than don’t just be drunk with alcohol. It means to be awake and actively engaged in the work of the Lord. Peter tells us to be ready and fervent in prayer. (see 1Peter 4:7)
8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ…
Jesus is coming again and those who are ready will be rescued from that terrible time period known as the Tribulation. But those who aren’t ready will be left behind.
Zephaniah 1:14 The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly. 15 That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness…
The book of Revelation gives us a glimpse into what it will be like for those who are left behind.
Revelation 6:15 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 16 And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17 For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
That’s a strange phrase, isn’t it? “The wrath of the Lamb.” We normally don’t think of a lamb showing wrath. A lamb is weak and helpless little animal. What does this phrase mean? The first time Jesus came, He came as a helpless little lamb. As a sheep stands before those who shear him and never makes a sound, so our Lord allowed wicked men to take Him and to nail Him to a cross. But He did not do so because He was weak and helpless. He did so because He willingly laid down His life for our sins. But the next time the world sees that sacrificed lamb, they will not seek a weak and helpless animal. They will see God who is ready to judge them for their rejection.
B. The Process of the Rapture
Last week we studied about the process of the Rapture.
1. The Lord will return with the souls of the saints who have already died.
2. The Lord will resurrect their decayed bodies from the ground and change them into glorious bodies like His own. He will give them bodies fit for heaven.
3. The Lord will rapture (catch up) those who are living at that moment, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
C. The Placing of the Rapture
The question that many struggle with today is not so much – “Will there be a Rapture?”, but “When will the Rapture occur?” Let’s let Paul answer that question for us.
2 Thessalonians 2:1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, 2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. 3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; 4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. 5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? 6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: 9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders…
Three significant things are going to happen at the end of the Church Age and the beginning of the Tribulation Period:
1. The Revealing of the Antichrist
1 John 2:18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
Antichrist is both a man and a movement
a. The Movement of Antichrist
We live in a culture today that is becoming more and more antichrist. Way back in 1964, the Saturday Evening Post did an interview with a growing phenom called – The Beatles. In that article the interviewer stated – “They’re completely anti-Christ. I mean, I am anti-Christ as well, but they’re so anti-Christ they shock me which isn’t an easy thing.” (1)
I don’t blame everything on the Beatles, but they were a huge part of an introduction of antichrist that we are still feeling today. The Bible teaches us that the movement of antichrist is only going to increase and one day lead from a movement to a man called the Antichrist.
b. The Man of Antichrist
There is a movement that can be called antichrist, but there is also coming a man who will be called Antichrist.
2 Thessalonians 2:3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
The word ‘perdition’ means utter destruction. He is the son of destruction. That could mean that he will ultimately be destroyed. It could mean that he will bring destruction. It could also mean that he is a ‘son of the devil.’ The Bible says that the king of the bottomless pit is named ‘Apollyon’ which means – Destroyer.
4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. 5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? 6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: 9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,
c. The Mastermind of Antichrist
Who is behind all of this? Where does this movement to oppose Christ come from? Paul tells us –
2 Thessalonians 2:9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders…
Satan is the mastermind behind all of this. He began opposing God when he was an archangel and tried to overtake God’s throne. (see Isaiah 14) He planted the seed of his antichrist movement when he deceived Eve in the Garden and led her to believe that God wasn’t good and that He was withholding His best from them.
3. The Removal of the Holy Spirit
In connection with the revelation of the Antichrist will be the removal of the Holy Spirit.
2 Thessalonians 2:6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed…
Notice – He who is holding back the sin in this world will continue to hold it back until it is time for the church to be removed and that wicked one who is the Antichrist to be revealed. That’s what the word ‘letteth’ means. It means to ‘restrain’ or to ‘hold back.’ Today the Holy Spirit is holding back the forces of evil. That might be hard for some of us to believe, considering how wicked this world is becoming; yet the world could be and will be much worse once the Holy Spirit stops holing back the flood of evil.
a. Why Does the Holy Spirit Hold Back Evil Today?
The Spirit is holding back the forces of evil so that the door might remain open for us to share the gospel. One of the signs of the end of time is that mankind will become more and more resistant to the gospel. Paul wrote to Timothy –
2 Timothy 4:1 …I solemnly urge you before God and before Christ Jesus — who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom: 2 Preach the word of God. Be persistent, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. 3 For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear. 4 They will reject the truth and follow strange myths. (NLT)
At the beginning of this message I asked you what you would do if an angel came and told us today that Jesus is coming tomorrow. I’m sure that many of us would do everything we could to talk with our friends and loved ones and to encourage them to get ready before it’s too late. That’s what Paul is telling young Timothy. The door is only going to be open for so long and then it’s going to shut. Therefore, take advantage of the opportunity you have today.
b. How Does the Holy Spirit Hold Back Evil?
How does the Spirit hold back evil? I believe that He does so primarily through the church. Jesus said:
Matthew 5:13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. 14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
3. The Rapture of the Church
In conjunction with all of this will be the Rapture of the church. One day our Lord is returning to take His bride away from this earth so that she may be by His side forever. When the church is removed from this world, the Holy Spirit’s restraining work will be stopped and Satan will have full reign to bring his evil upon the earth.
III. The Faith That Will Prepare Us For the Future
The Thessalonians had heard the rumor that Christ had already returned and they had been left behind. Paul wrote them to assure them that they hadn’t been left behind and that they wouldn’t be left behind if they put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Note how Paul begins his first letter to them-
1 Thessalonians 1:5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance…
A. What is the Gospel?
What is the gospel? The gospel is God’s good news that although we are sinful and deserving of His judgment, God loves us and sent His Son to die on the cross and suffer for our sins. (see John 3:16-17; Rom 3:23; 6:23; 1 Cor 15:1-4)
B. How Had the Gospel Affected Them?
The gospel of Jesus Christ has a dramatic effect upon the Thessalonians. It changed their lives in two dramatic ways:
1. It Caused Them to Trust Christ as Their Savior
1 Thessalonians 1:9 For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;
2. It Caused Them to Serve Christ as the Master
The Thessalonians didn’t simply make a profession of faith and go about living as they pleased. They turned from idols (sin) and served the living and true God. Their relationship with Jesus Christ became the core of their being.
3. It Caused Them to Faithfully Wait for Christ’s Return
1 Thessalonians 1:10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
Jesus did not return during their lifetime. Does that mean that they wasted their time looking for Him? Not by any means. The Bible says –
1 John 3:3…every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
Their constant looking for Christ influenced the way they lived. In addition, it brought them reward.
2Timothy 4:8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
I’d much rather look for Christ every day and Him not return during my lifetime, than I would to not be looking for Him and He return tomorrow.
So what if an angel came to us today and told us that Jesus is returning tomorrow? How would you respond? What might you do different today?
Do you need to get your spiritual house in order? Do you need to lean out some closets and confess some secret sins? Would you be more aggressive in sharing your faith with those you love?
Would you get saved? Would you come and talk with me and make sure that you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? Or would you simply shrug it off and scorn it. Would be one of those who were left behind?
(1) Saturday Evening Post, August 8–15, 1964, p. 25