“Word for Today” – 1 Thessalonians 4 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

November 27, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

There’s nothing that a copy of an ancient Mayan calendar can’t help you with if you’re trying to figure out the exact date and nature of the end of the world.  At least, that’s what the producers of the apocalyptic blockbuster 2012 want you to believe.  Yes, the plot line is thin.  Yes, the lines are cheesy.  Yes, what is stretched into a three-hour taedium vitae could have been compacted into forty minutes.  But on the upside, who doesn’t want to see Los Angeles fall into the ocean?  Or Las Vegas sink into the earth? Who doesn’t want to watch every beloved national landmark get blown to smithereens?  Besides, it’s not like everything gets destroyed.  The G8 has an escape plan for a fortunate few:  Arks have been hidden in the Himalayas, complete with animals, for the reseeding and replenishing of our fair planet.

Although I, from the standpoint of sheer mathematical probability, would venture a guess that the world won’t end in 2012, I’m guessing that more than one moviegoer, while sitting through this unpropitious hodgepodge, wished that, at the very least, this movie would end.  For, in the final analysis, it all seems to be just a little too much doom and too much gloom.  Although disaster might light up the silver screen well, no one would want to live through such terrors in real life.

It is this kind of apocalyptic horror that leads us to our reading from 1 Thessalonians 4.  For Paul speaks of the end of the world:

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (verses 13-18)

For those who harbor horrendous notions concerning the world’s end, these verses from Paul have been regularly marshaled to teach the doctrine of a secret rapture.  That is, before the world’s final demise, believers in Christ will be secretly “caught up” to God to dwell with him in safety while the rest of unbelieving humanity gets microwaved in a 2012-styled apocalypse.  This, however, is far from what Paul actually teaches.

To begin with, the rapture of Christians will be anything but secret.  Verse 16 dispenses with any such notion when it speaks of “a loud command…and the trumpet call of God.”  When believers are “raptured,” everyone will know it.  Second, this so-called “rapture” will not happen before the end of time.  Again, verse 16:  “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven.”  This rapture happens at Christ’s second coming and not before.  Third, what Paul describes in these verses is not a rescue from a crumbling planet, but a joyful welcome of our coming King:  “We who are still alive and are left will be caught up together…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”  The “rapture,” then, is not some divinely ordained escape hatch from this world, but a “meet and greet” of our Lord Jesus.  Indeed, it was common in this day for people to leave their city and travel down the road to meet and greet a visiting dignitary to warmly usher him in to their town.  Josephus records one such instance when the high priest of Israel, Jaddua, does just this for Alexander the Great:  “And when Jaddua understood that Alexander was not far from the city, he went out in procession, with the priests and the multitude of the citizens” (Antiquities 11.329).  Josephus goes on to recount that Alexander was so impressed by Jaddua’s welcome that he salutes the high priest.  This is the picture which Paul paints of the coming of Christ.  We, as Christ’s subjects, will go forth to meet him and welcome him to this earth, at which time he will judge the nations and usher in his new creation.

What is the upshot of all this, then?  Paul answers, “Encourage each other with these words” (verse 14).  That is, rather than trembling at hoary visions of apocalyptic doom, we ought to be anxiously anticipating Christ’s final advent.  The end of the world is meant to be encouraging, not scary.  This is why the earliest Christians faithfully prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20)!  The end of the world will not be riddled with complete carnage; rather, it will be marked by a King named Christ.  What a marvelous day it will be.

Entry filed under: Word for Today.

“Word for Today” – Thanksgiving Day – www.concordialutheranchurch.com “Word for Today” – 2 Thessalonians 1 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

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