WE SHALL NOT PRECEDE . . .
Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
When we read the famous "rapture" passage in the fourth chapter of First Thessalonians we are struck by the fact that these verses do not resemble the manner in which they currently are interpreted. The "rapture" passage says nothing about the Church going to Heaven. It has nothing to do with our escaping Antichrist or the great tribulation. It does stress that Christ is returning with millions of His saints so they may reclaim their bodies from the grave.
Actually, the emphasis of the verses is on the fact that those of us who are alive at the coming of the Lord shall not enter the Kingdom of God before the deceased saints do. This is what Paul is talking about.
WE SHALL NOT PRECEDE . . .
According to the Lordís 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. (I Thessalonians 4:15óNIV)
Last night I was teaching from Matthew, Chapter Twenty-four. You may remember that this is probably the most complete description in the Bible of the Lordís return.
One point I emphasized was that the Greek term parousia used in Matthew 24 for "coming" ("what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?") is the only Greek term used for coming in the Books of First and Second Thessalonians.
For example: "we who are still alive, who are left till the coming [parousia ]of the Lord, . . . ." (I Thessalonians 4:15).
The common use of parousia in Matthew Twenty-four and First Thessalonians Four tells us that these are setting forth the same event.
Which brings us to a problem, because Matthew Twenty-four informs us that the coming of the Lord will occur after the great distress, or great tribulation, and this is not commonly taught.
Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. (Matthew 24:29)
"Immediately after the distress (tribulation) of those days."
I went on to say that it does not matter whether the great tribulation comes before or after the catching up ("rapture") of the dead in Christ because the Bible teaches that the wheat and tares will come to maturity side by side. Where sin abounds grace shall much more abound. As Antichrist comes to maturity in the wicked, Christ will come to maturity in the righteous at the same time.
Our protection during the great distress will not be that of escape but the filling of us with the fullness of God through the Lord Jesus Christ.
And to know this love that surpasses knowledgeóthat you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:19óNIV)
The filling of us with the fullness of God fulfills the type of the feast of Tabernacles that follows the feast of Pentecost (Leviticus, Chapter Twenty-three). After we have experienced Pentecost we need to press forward to Tabernacles.
God walked with the three Hebrew young men in the fire. He did not rescue them by removing them.
God was with Daniel in the lionsí den, and the lions became as pussycatsóuntil the wicked were thrown in. Then the lions got their appetite back.
God did not have to remove Shadrach or Daniel. He was with them in the fire.
What have we to fear?
Then we come to the actual "rapture" passageóFirst Thessalonians, Four, starting with Verse 13. What is this passage about anyway?
The central emphasis of the "catching-up" passage is: "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."
"Will not precede."
This is the emphasis of the catching-up passage. The passage has nothing to do with rescuing believers from the great tribulation, so it does not matter whether the catching up comes before or after the tribulation.
Now, letís think about "will not precede," since this is the point of the passage.
John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Apostles of the Lamb all preached the soon coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth. Paulís comments in the first chapter of Second Thessalonians lead us to believe Paul thought the Kingdom was going to come while he was still alive on the earth.
And give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. (II Thessalonians 1:7óNIV)
Paul taught the Thessalonians Christians that the Lord Jesus was going to return with His mighty angels and destroy Antichrist. The coming of the Lord would deliver the Thessalonians, and Paul as well, from persecution. The Kingdom of God was at hand, as Jesus and John announced!
Time went on. Some of the Thessalonian believers who first received the Gospel died of sickness, old age, or persecution. How do you think the living believers felt about this?
You are right! They had not been taught a great deal about how wonderful it would be to live in a mansion in Heaven. They had been instructed concerning the return of the Lord to set up His Kingdom on the earth.
Their concern was that the Christians who had died would not experience the joy and power of the return of Jesus to the earth in His Kingdom.
This is why Paul wrote the catching-up passage.
Paul was telling the living Christians that they would not precede the deceased believers into the Kingdom. This is the emphasis of what is being said here. It has nothing whatever to do with rescuing the living believers from the great tribulation. This should never be preached. It is not scriptural and it prevents the American Christians of today from preparing themselves to stand in Christ during the trouble that is coming. The "pre-tribulation rapture" is a totally unscriptural mythónothing more!
Now, let us think carefully about what Paul wrote.
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 Jesus died and rose again and so we believe God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (I Thessalonians 1:13,14óNIV)
You can tell from what Paul said ("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") that Paul had not spent a lot of time telling the Thessalonians how wonderful it would be to die and go to live in a mansion in Heaven. Going to Heaven when they died was not their hope!
The hope Paul is offering is remarkable. It is that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.
God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him. Think of it!
Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration showed us what the Kingdom will be like.
There were two saints from the Old Testament, three from the New, and Jesus in the middle.
If I am correct, when the Lord returns He will bring with Him all of the righteous dead from the time of Abel. I donít think too many scholars would disagree with me on this.
If such be the case, the overwhelming vision of the return of the Lord is not the catching up of the living saints but the appearing on the earth of the saints of all history.
When the Lord returns, the dead in Christ will rise.
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. (I Thessalonians 4:16óNIV)
The word rise does not mean rise into the air. That comes later. It means rise from the dead, just as the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day.
How many people are we speaking of? Undoubtedly several million. Those of us who are left alive on the earth when the Lord appears may number only a few thousand. We see therefore that the main part of the coming of the Lord is not the catching up of the living believers but the resurrection of deceased believers.
We shall not precede them into the Kingdom. This is the hope about which Paul is speaking.
Have you ever pictured in your mind what it will be like on the earth when several million of the saints of all history come forth from their graves and stand once again on the earth?
Antichrist and the wicked peoples of the earth will see this Divine act. It will not be done in secret. It shall be, as the Lord told us, as the lightning that comes from the east and shines to the west.
The Lord warned us that His coming would not be a secret. Yet today we are preaching a secret rapture. Will we ever learn?
How do you think Antichrist and the wicked will feel when they see the saints of all ages standing on the earth in glorified bodies? The Lord spoke to me about this and said: "If this was all that took place the wicked would destroy themselves in their wrath and frustration. But this is just the beginning of their sorrows."
So the dead in Christ enter the Kingdom first, for we enter the Kingdom of God in the fullest sense when we are raised from the dead.
I do not believe the resurrected saints will be caught up immediately. Jesus was not caught up immediately after His resurrection but had the enjoyment of roaming the earth He had just purchased with His blood.
First of all, I think the resurrection will be an individual experience for each person raised. Whether Nehemiah, or Daniel, or Paul, it will be the fulfillment of the hope they have had all alongóthat of living once again on the earth.
Godís heroes of faith are in the spirit realm with Jesus at the present time. They cannot live on the earth because they do not have a flesh-and-bones body that would permit them to live here.
We would imagine they are happy to be in the spirit realm without a body. But this is not the case. Do you remember where Satan preferred to live? Read the Book of Job. Satan, the cherub, spent his time walking in the earth. Do you know why this was the case? It was because the earth is a better place to be than the heavens.
When Jesus raises Paul from the dead, restoring to him the flesh-and-bones body that was decapitated in Rome, it will be an act of the most intimate love between the Lord and Paul.
You may ask, "How long will it take for Jesus to raise each saint if He deals with each one on an individual basis?" The Lord Jesus could personally take charge of the raising of each saint in a matter of minutes, if He so chose. So great is the Lord!
Then the newly resurrected saints will need some time to get used to the fact that they no longer are floating about in the spirit realm but are alive once again in their body on good old planet earth. At some point their resurrected body will be clothed upon with the body that has been reserved for them in Heaven, a body fashioned from the decisions they have made on the earth.
I think they will shine, and their light will extend from the east (the morning of the Day of the Lord) to the west.
Can you imagine the glory and power of this stupendous act of Divine love?
Now, you tell me. Do you think these resurrected saints will have to be caught up into the air to escape Antichrist and the great tribulation? I seriously doubt it. I do not believe Antichrist will be able to harm them at all.
But what about the remnant of Jews and Gentiles who have survived throughout the dark days of the great tribulation?
Thessalonians states that we shall be caught up together with the millions of newly resurrected saints to meet the Lord in the air.
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. (I Thessalonians 4:17óNIV)
"To meet the Lord in the air."
One time when Bob Marley and I visited a village in India we were met outside the village by a welcoming committee. Then a garland was place around our necks, and to the beat of a drum we were led into the village.
I read somewhere that it was a custom in the towns of the Roman Empire that when an important figure was approaching the town, a committee of elders went out to meet the party that was coming, welcomed the visitors, and escorted them into the town.
The Bible says we are going to be caught up together with the newly resurrected saints to meet the Lord in the air. It says nothing whatever about His then turning around and bringing us all to Heaven. This is an unscriptural teaching, and violates what the Lord said in Matthew, Twenty-four, that His return would not be a secret but an open manifestation to the world.
Letís go strictly by the Bible and we shall be safe.
So now we have a problem. If the saints who are alive on the earth at the time of Christís return are to be caught up together with the millions of resurrected saints into the air, we first must experience a change in our body.
First Thessalonians, Chapter Four does not mention the change in us because it is not emphasizing our resurrection and ascension but the resurrection and ascension of the believers of history. To understand our resurrection we have to go to the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians. Since the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians, the "Resurrection Chapter," is not speaking of the dead whom Christ brings with Him, it does not mention their resurrection and ascension, only the resurrection of the living. It does not speak even of our ascension.
The reason the Resurrection Chapter does not speak of our ascension is that the ascension is not a work of redemption. It is an act of Kingdom power that follows the ultimate work of redemption, which is the resurrection of the body from its place of interment.
We have it backwards today. We are overemphasizing the catching up and neglecting the resurrection. The truth is, the resurrection is the all-important ultimate act of redemption, the destruction of the last enemy, and is mentioned in both Testaments. The catching-up is of minor significance, being only our change of location so we can descend with the Lord in the Battle of Armageddon. The catching-up is a demonstration of Kingdom power, not at all a part of redemption.
Buying a new car might be a significant act on your part, especially if you were quite poor. But where you drive it is not part of that significant act. Can you see this? Attaining to the resurrection was the goal of the Apostle Paul. Paul said nothing whatever about the catching-up being his goal. That idea is ridiculous!
Neither the Old Testament nor the New emphasizes the ascension but both speak of the resurrection. The reason we of today emphasize the ascension rather than the resurrection is that we are carnal. We are not interested in being with Jesus, only with escaping trouble. Right or wrong?
First Corinthians, Fifteen informs us we shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye.
This change is totally important if we are to be caught up along with the resurrected saints to meet the Lord in the air.
Consider the change that will have to be made in our body if we are to be caught up with millions of resurrected saints to meet the Lord high in the air, where it is freezing cold and the air is too thin to breathe.
Remember, the transformation will take place while we are still flesh-and-blood human beings.
The blood in our veins and arteries will dry up and vanish.
All the organs that use blood will change so they can function by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Lungs will no longer be needed. The purpose of lungs is to bring oxygen to our blood.
We no longer will need food, at least not as we know food, because the Holy Spirit will provide our energy.
(Yet, the resurrected Christ ate fish in the presence of His apostles!)
Jesus said, "Remember Lotís wife." Why is this? Because when we begin to feel these changes from mortality to immortality we will be frightened. If our faith does not hold strong in faith we will turn back, just as Lot's wife did.
Enoch was translated by faith. Unless we have been prepared by a lifetime of trusting God we will withdraw from the process of being made eternal in body.
I know personally of a high-school girl who was lame. She was prayed for and instantly healed. When she went to walk she became frightened because she felt so different.
She asked the Lord to withdraw the healing, and He did.
In order to keep a healing the Lord gives us we must be whole in character with faith in the Lord. Otherwise we will draw back.
This is why Jesus said, "Remember Lotís wife."
There are people in wheelchairs who ask for prayer to be healed. But in their heart they do not want to be healed because they have become accustomed to being waited on. This certainly is not true of every sick person or every person in a wheelchair.
Change is difficult for people, because no matter how painful their experience may be, it is familiar. Some are ready for healing while others are afraid.
So it shall be when the trumpet sounds. Some will be ready to leave the familiar flesh-and-blood metabolism while others will be fearful, thinking of what this might mean to their familiar lifestyle.
It is amazing how human beings at times clutch their pitiful rags because they are so afraid of change.
Many believers in the Christian churches of today believe they are ready for the Lord to come and transform their bodies from the conventional human state into a transcendent human state. But any change the Lord asks of them today they resist with all their might, being afraid they will lose something of value.
Yet they suppose they are as Enoch who was taken from the earth and carried up to God while still alive.
I guess this immature attitude toward God and His salvation results from our belief that the events of the last days, such as the catching up, will take place as a Divine intervention independent of our response. No faith will be needed, no obedience, no prior preparation.
If we have followed God for any length of time we know it ordinarily is not Godís way to suddenly, without preparation, bring us into a strange, new setting. Sometimes when we are deceived we think God is going to bring us into some kind of "Hagar" experience, into that which is romantically, exotically different from the commonplace. But if we stay with God we find Him in the ordinary day-to-day struggles that always have been true.
Our view of Heaven and mansions often tends to be fantastic. We would like to be suddenly lifted into Oz or Disneyland, but usually that does not happen. I think we will find the future to be more of what we have been used to than we imagine at the present. All experiences with God require faith, patience, trust in Godís love and integrity. The resurrection will be no different.
So the trumpet sounds, but we have been prepared by the falling of the stars, the darkening of the sun and moon, the shaking of the heavens. We know these are the fig tree putting forth its leaves and the coming of the Lord is imminent.
We will still be what we always have been, either interacting with Jesus on a moment by moment basis, or a nominal believer who serves the Lord only when it is convenient, only when it does not cost too much.
We will be instantly ready to be changed and rise to meet the Lord in the air, or we will behave as we always do, hedging, dodging, delaying, questioning, fearfully clinging to the familiar until it is too late. Our prior experiences have guaranteed that, like Lotís wife, we will not be delivered from the judgment of God.
Let us say the newly resurrected saints are standing around us, their glorified bodies shining as the sun. We ourselves have been transformed physiologically from flesh-and-blood metabolism to Holy-Spirit metabolism. Then our body from Heaven has clothed our Spirit-driven flesh and bones.
Now, think about this picture. Do you believe Antichrist and the wicked will have any power of such saints?
Do you believe God will have to carry them to Heaven because they can be harmed by Antichrist or the great tribulation?
They cannot be injured, tortured, starved to death, suffocated. There will be holy angels among them who will take care of the monsters of the spirit realm.
Thus the teaching of the pre-tribulation "rapture" is a myth, being neither scriptural nor logical. It is amazing that it ever gained ground among devout, intelligent believers. It is an error that came out of the spiritual ferment in the British Isles of the nineteenth century.
In any event, belief in the unscriptural "pre-tribulation rapture" of the believers in Christ prevents the churchgoers of today from becoming serious about preparing themselves for the age of moral horrors we are approaching.
The emphasis of the fourth chapter of First Thessalonians is not at all on our escaping Antichrist and the great tribulation. Paul is stressing that we who are alive at the coming of the Lord will not go before or have any advantage over those who have died and are with the Lord. We shall not be resurrected and glorified before they are, entering the Kingdom of God before they do.
Christ will bring the deceased believers with Him and they shall descend and regain their bodies from the ground or from wherever they died. Then, after all of the Lordís purposes have been fulfilled in the resurrection, we, having been changed, and perhaps clothed with our body from Heaven while we are yet alive and standing on our feet, shall be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air.
There is no indication in this passage or any other that the Lord shall then turn around and go back to Heaven with us. It is true rather that this is the historic coming of the Lord and the time of the first resurrection from the dead. We shall meet Christ in the air because it is from the air that the spiritual atmosphere of the earth is governed.
It is likely that we shall be assigned to the spiritual thrones recently vacated by Satan. Since we, just like our Lord, will have the power of multiple presence, we will be able to remain on our throne on the air while we descend with the Lord to wage war against the wicked in the churches, against Antichrist and the armies of the wicked nations, and against unclean spirits in the earth.
The Lord Jesus today is at the right hand of the Father. Yet where two or three are gathered together, there He is in the midst. It is likely that we shall have that same power of multiple presence because, according to the Scripture, we shall be like Him when He appears and shall see Him as He is.
I think you will agree with me that this is a far more glorious vision than the idea of being caught up because we are too weak to face Antichrist or the great tribulation, spending seven years in Paradise doing we know not what, and after that being summoned to mount the war stallions and return with Christ to face Antichrist and the fallen angels.
Let us hope the hour is not too far off when the Christians of America, because of what they see happening in our nation, will realize we need to prepare ourselves by praying until we really are living in iron righteousness, fiery holiness, and stern obedience to the Father.
If we were to be caught up in our present immature silliness, and then spend seven years playing with the angels and eating strawberry shortcake, would we then desire to mount the war stallions, come hurtling down through the clouds, and judge the wicked church people, as Jude says; deliver the Jews from Antichrist, as Zechariah portrays; and govern the nations of the earth with the rod of iron, as Revelation promises?
We are not ready to ride with the Lord now, and if we do not repent of our sins and begin to keep Christís commandments, we will not be ready then.
It is clear that the need of the hour is for the Christian churches, and all others who name the name of Jesus Christ, to start living righteous lives. We must pray every day. We must read the Word if we have a Bible.
Above all we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow the Lord Jesus.
We cannot overcome Satan by sallying forth in our presumption and confronting the demons. We can overcome the accuser only by our trust in the blood of the Lamb, by conforming our testimony to the Bible, and especially by loving not our life to the death.
Of these three requirements, the most important in the present hour is that of loving not our life to the death. This can mean many years of imprisonment, of being denied our most fervent desires, of being compelled to do that which we detest, of sacrificing our Isaac. It is not easy to give everything to God, to put our treasures beyond the grave, to get rid of all our idols and put God in first place in our life.
But until we die in the Lord we are vulnerable to the attacks of Satan. All it takes is for us to hold back some treasure from the Lord and it then becomes impossible for us to overcome Satan. No matter how many demons we rebuke, Satan will overcome us in the end if we do not give everything to the Lord.
There will be a warlike remnant who will trust in the blood of the Lamb, who will conform their speech, actions, and thoughts to the Bible so their testimony of Godís Person is accurate, and who will be willing to live or die that Christ may be glorified. Because of these, Michael and his angels will receive the strength to pin Satanís shoulders to the mat.
Will you be one of these who overcome the accuser of the brothers? Until God has such a remnant Satan cannot be overcome.
We understand therefore that the purpose of the catching up is not to rescue us from trouble, it is bring us up to the Commander in Chief that we may take our place in the army of the Lord.
We who are alive at the time will not be transformed and glorified ahead of the millions of saints whom the Lord will bring with Him. It is true also that they without us cannot be made perfect. We all shall be resurrected, or transformed, and then rise together so we may appear with Jesus Christ and install the Kingdom of God on the earth.
How does that sound to you?