I remember a wise preacher once saying: “God has given us everything we need to know about how to have a relationship with Him.” It is one of those statements that has stayed with me from that day until this, and will likely stay with me the rest of my life. It is a favorite saying of mine. The reason I bring it up here is because this preacher made this statement while dealing with doctrines like election and grace. I am being careful to say election and grace, because the arguments over these doctrines often devolve into debates about election versus grace. That is not how the Scriptures present them and it’s why I refer to these truths (and other Bible doctrines like them) as balance beam doctrines, because if you lean too far to one side or the other, you are in danger of falling.
Paul’s Concern for the Thessalonians
When Paul wrote his epistles to the Thessalonians, he had two major concerns:
- He wanted to assure them of his love and concern. Because of the controversy stirred up by his preaching, Paul had to leave Thessalonica abruptly. There were a number of occasions where he tried to return but was providentially hindered. His naysayers took advantage of Paul’s absence and used it to accuse him of being a charlatan preacher, interested only in what money he could make from his hearers. Paul dispels these notions by writing his two epistles and affirming his love for the Thessalonians.
- His other concern regarded doctrinal error, not error in the teaching of it, but in its application. Knowing the truth and applying the truth are two very different things. The Thessalonians knew the truth about the Lord’s return. Paul clearly taught it to them. What they were struggling with was how to apply it. Some took the Lord’s soon return as an excuse to become idle and disrespectful. Others feared they had missed the Lord’s return because they were witness to some terrible persecutions as a result of their faith. Paul’s letters were written to get the Thessalonian believers back on balance.
Key Doctrines Paul Addressed: The Lord’s Return and Election.
When the topics of the Lord’s return and election come up in the Thessalonian epistles, they are always in the context of “comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18; See also 5:11). Are there differences of interpretation? Yes. But getting back to the relationship aspect of why God gave us the Scriptures in the first place, these doctrines are not given to us as topics of debate. They are given to us believers as sources of encouragement and hope.
What I Believe Regarding the Lord’s Return
In short, I believe in a pre-Tribulation, pre-Millennial rapture of the church. The word “rapture” does not appear in Scripture, but the doctrine is clearly taught. In the Thessalonian epistles, the concept of the Church being raptured is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Verse 16 says that the “dead in Christ shall rise first,” and then in verse 17 it says that the living believers will be “caught up together with them in the clouds.” The term “rapture” comes from the Latin translation of the Scriptures which translates the phrase “caught up” (snatched away) with the Latin word raptio.
Are there differences of opinion on when the rapture will occur? Of course, and I respect those differences, even though I do not agree with them. Some say the rapture will happen in the middle of the Tribulation. Others say it will happen after the Tribulation. There are those who say the rapture will occur after the Millennium. What we need to walk away with ultimately, though, is the comfort in knowing that this is not the only life there is, and that as a believer, I have a living Savior Who is strongly intent in coming back for me, and that He is going to give me a permanent home in Heaven one day:
(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.
I love that line: “If it were not so, I would have told you.” It speaks volumes about the Lord’s boldface honesty with His followers.
Now, if the Lord comes back during or after the Tribulation, as long as I get to go, I’m not going to argue with Him about the timing! I’m just going to be praising Him for the opportunity that I get to go!
(We’ll talk next time about why I believe in a pre-Trib rapture and what we should come away with regarding election and grace. Stay tuned!)