By Kevin Shrum
Pastor, Inglewood Baptist Church, Nashville
Samuel Beckett’s 1948 bestselling book entitled, Waiting for Godet, tells the story of two men, Vladimir and Estragon, talking about life as they wait for a mysterious character to arrive named Godet, yet Godet never arrives.
Many believed at the time that this was Beckett’s subliminal way of talking about the God who teases us with the promise of His appearing, but never shows up, an almost agnostic or atheistic statement of faith. I Thessalonians 4:13-18 reminds us of a promise Jesus has made to us — He is returning. But unlike Godet, Jesus will make good on His promise.
Hope (I Thessalonians 4:13-14). The second coming begins with hope. Knowing that Jesus will return for His church and to right every wrong is our hope.
This is why the Christian ought not to be sad or morose. It is what we yearn and wait for. This hope is grounded in the belief that those who have died will rise again, even as Jesus Himself rose from the dead. Paul notes that the believer should not be “ignorant” concerning these issues (v. 13).
Further, when Jesus returns He will bring with Him those who have already died in the Lord. This is what we believe — Jesus died, rose from the dead, ascended to the Father, intercedes for us now and one day He will return with His church to gather His church.
Return (I Thessalonians 4:15- 16). But what is the order of these events?
First, when a believer dies they immediately go into the presence of the Lord (II Corinthians 5:1-10), Yet, not all things are complete. When Jesus returns, believers alive at that time will not be taken out before the resurrection of the bodies of those who have died in the Lord (I Thessalonians 4:15).
Second, those who have already died in the Lord and are now present with the Lord will return with the Lord Jesus, receiving a resurrected body, able to perfectly accomplish all God asks them to do in the new heaven and new earth.
Third, the return of the Lord will be preceded by “a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God” (v. 16). So there will be no mistake as to who has returned.
Reunion (I Thessalonians 4:17- 18). Fourth, when the Lord returns with all the saints who have already died in the Lord, those who are alive at the time will 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” (v. 17), immediately receiving their resurrected bodies. While the Bible affirms the “rapture” of the church, there is no specific term in the Bible for rapture. Instead, I Thessalonians 4:17 uses the terminology of the “catching away of the church.”
Finally, these great truths encourage us and call us to “comfort one another with these words” (v. 18).
In summary, Jesus returns with the saints preceded by an angelic shout, the dead will receive their newly resurrected bodies, believers alive at the time will then be caught up as they too receive their newly transformed bodies and we will be together with the Lord forever, ruling and reigning with the Lord Jesus. This is our encouragement to live in the here and now. Unlike Beckett’s Godet, Jesus will arrive! B&R