The Purpose of the Promise
Thibodeau, Brody (PEI)
We begin this series of articles on the return of our Lord Jesus Christ by considering the promise of His coming. We do well, however, to not only look at the fact that God has given us this promise, but to consider the purpose of it. We want to understand the desired effect of this heavenly revelation. We are aware that this event will seal the doom of those who have rejected Christ, clear the way for the confirmation of the covenant beginning the 70th week of Daniel’s prophecy, and bring glory to our Savior and to God. But why does the Lord see fit to reveal this truth to us? Answers to this question may vary, but surely there is one predominant theme, traceable throughout the New Testament, a theme that we will call the comfort of His coming.
Comfort in Sorrow – John 11:17-44
Using the epistles to help us interpret the historical books, we scan the Gospels for events and words that speak of the Lord’s return to the air for the Church. Most agree that the first indication we have of the Rapture is when the Lord Jesus approaches the tomb of Lazarus. A picture of our Great High Priest emerges as we see Him touched, not by His loss of a good friend, but by their feeling of grief and sorrow. While the Lord indeed was aware of all that was going on, mark the fact that He was moved to tears not by Lazarus’ passing, but by the weeping of the mourners (John 11:33-35), thus displaying to all, the character of the One who is “touched by the feelings of our infirmities” (Heb 4:15).
Just before this touching scene, we are allowed a glimpse into the discussion between the Lord and Martha. Martha’s frustration and heartache become obvious when she questions the timing of the Lord’s arrival. It is at this point, near the grave of a man who literally and physically died, that the Lord Jesus reminds us of a literal, physical resurrection that will take place for all believers.
However, while a future bodily resurrection was obviously already known to Martha (v24), the wording of the Lord’s message to her unveiled truth that had never been revealed up to this point. That a dead believer would be raised now coincides with the fact that, at the same point in time, there will be those who are living and believing in Him that will be able to claim that they will never die! Certainly this would seem strange to her at first, but in light of what we have given to us in Paul’s letters, this points forward to the Rapture. The return of Christ and the involvement of both the living and sleeping believers is, by its nature, designed to give comfort to grieving saints who mourn the loss of a loved one.
Comfort in Fear – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
This naturally leads into the words of 1 Thessalonians 4, where Paul is addressing a similar issue, with a slightly different concern. There is still the idea of loved ones who have already been put to sleep in Jesus, but in this passage, there is less sorrow, and more fear – the fear that those who have gone before have somehow missed the blessing that comes when He returns. God uses this opportunity to outline for us the order of events at the Rapture, putting to rest the fears that had overtaken many. Far from missing the return of the Lord, those who are in graves will be the first to go up! Notice certain phrases that allay this fear and give peace to the troubled heart. First, it is the Lord Himself that descends for us. Then we are exposed to that glorious word of permanent reunion, “together,” followed by the heartwarming “forever with the Lord;” and then “wherefore comfort one another with these words.” Certainly we now see that comfort from this promise of up-calling is not meant only for times of sorrow, but also for times of fear.
Comfort in Uncertainty – John 14:1-7
There is another aspect of consolation received by the Lord’s people when, through John’s gospel, we join the small group of men in that upper room on the night in which He was being betrayed. These men found comfort in His presence through all types of circumstances, learning by experience that the Master was in control of every possible situation. They were being faced with uncertainty, as they were now aware that there was a betrayer (13:21), and that their Leader was going to a place where they would no longer be with Him (13:33). Panic begins to set in as the hour draws closer, and we hear the God of Comfort say “let not your heart be troubled.”
He now employs imagery with which they would be quite familiar. His statement, “I go to prepare a place for you,” would immediately bring to their minds the idea of a bridegroom and his longed for return. These men would know the terms involved in betrothal and eventual marriage, and would easily see the parallels drawn by the heavenly Bridegroom. They would remember that a bride was first chosen and then purchased with a dowry. At that point, the future husband would leave his dear one with a promise that, after preparing a place for them, he would indeed return for her, taking her to be with him forever in that prepared place. In view of the impending chaos, these men were shown that the departure of the Lord was not imposed upon Him. Even under these circumstances He remained in control, carrying out His purposes. In times of uncertainty, let us never lose sight of the fact that He is in control of all things and will fulfill His promise to return for us.
There are other practical implications of the coming Rapture, including the sanctifying effect it should have on us and the encouragement to steadfast service which flows from the events surrounding it. Let us not fail, however, to enjoy the comfort of His coming.