Those who who divided the Scriptures into chapters and verses did a great service to help us locate a desired statement of truth much more quickly. However, it sometimes presents a problem of segregating parts of a continuing presentation of a topic, with a chapter break. Minds tend to also make a break in the continuity of the topic, as if a new subject is being introduced.
A case in point is the break between chapters four and five of 1 Thessalonians. If one reads this presentation of the Rapture description without regard to the chapter break, Paul gives us an idea and an answer for those silent questions we inwardly ask, of “when” and “how” that event at the end of chapter four might happen.
Here is the passage without the chapter break, 1 Thessalonians 4:15 through 5:4:
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive andremain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.”
The continuity of the narrative can hardly be ignored when the chapter break is left out. (The context actually continues for several more verses in chapter five.)
True to what Jesus had said, Paul did not know, either, the day or the hour, but he had taught the Thessalonians these things:
· This resurrection activity he had just described that the Rapture would herald the beginning of the day of the Lord—an appointed time on God’s calendar when judgment of the earth’s inhabitants would begin.
· It would happen without announcement, quietly (to the world), as the arrival of a thief in the night.
· It would be connected to an outcry of “Peace and safety,” from people who would not be among those resurrected.
· For “sudden destruction” would take place and come upon those who had made the outcry.
· And finally, as in verse 4, believers will not be surprised at this turn of events, nor will they be victims in the sudden destruction.
Paul’s description of that personal transformation is called a mystery, and so it is:
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:50-53).
Solomon describes the pattern of life for mortal Man in Ecclesiastes 3:20 and 12:7, in particular those who die in the Lord and their spirit goes to Him:
“All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust. Then the dustwill return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”
The mystery of the resurrection extends to returning of that “dust” to immortal individuals, as well as changing living mortals into immortal individuals.
When Jesus rose from the tomb on that day, it was on the day of the Feast of First Fruits, the third feast of the series of seven which God had given to Moses in the law. Jesus is called the “first fruits of the resurrection,” which by its very description indicates the beginning of an ongoing process. This resurrection described in 1 Thessalonians 4 is the second phase of that “first resurrection.”
The final phase, then, is told to us in Revelation 20:4-6:
“Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”
It is clear here that those who have received the mark of the beast cannot be saved, as plainly indicated in chapters 13, 14, 15 and 16 of Revelation. Some apparently believe those who have received the mark can be saved, but the Scripture clearly indicates otherwise.
The rest of the dead who do not live again until the thousand years are over will be the unsaved who will suffer that second death.
These who are in this final phase of the “first resurrection” apparently are those described to John in Revelation 7, who are the results of the ministry of those ordained 144,000 witnesses from the tribes of Israel:
“After these things [ordaining the 144,000] I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
“Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’ And I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’
“So he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9-10, 13-14).
The thoughts of this article arose from hearing, in the first instance; a prophecy teacher declaring that the word “but” that begins chapter five of 1 Thessalonians means the writer has changed his topic and the content of chapter five has nothing to do with the Rapture. I suspect that the chapter break has a lot to do with his apparent fixation on the day of the Lord discussed in chapter five as having nothing to do with the Rapture described in chapter four.
He also decided there is no indication in chapter four that the resurrection of the dead in Christ and living believers are resurrected together in the same event. He surmises that the living believers may even be resurrected much later.
Yet, when one reads verses 16 and 17 closely, it clearly tells us that the two groups will be together in the clouds when they meet the Lord in the air. It makes one wonder how an interpretation could be so easily mistaken.
Second, another prophecy preacher of the post-tribulation Rapture proponents has declared that the statement in Revelation 20, “this is the first resurrection,” proves that the taking away of the saints, the Rapture, comes at the end of the Tribulation period.
He apparently has not remembered that Jesus’ resurrection was the “firstfruits” of the resurrection,” thus starting the first resurrection that includes the Rapture and ends with those mentioned in Revelation 20 and are described in Revelation 7.
(It is certainly worth questioning his “post-Trib” Rapture position when we see God ordaining 144,000 Jewish evangelists to preach the gospel of the kingdom to the whole world. If believers in Christ are still here during the seven years of tribulation, why does God ignore the Great Commission which He has given to the Church?
Notice, too, that when referring to the preaching of the gospel during the Tribulation years it is called “the gospel of the kingdom” and not the gospel of grace.
Apparently there is some kind of difference. It also is called before the crucifixion of Christ, indicating that the message of the gospel during the age of the Church was particularly defined as Paul did in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. Even before His death, burial and resurrection, Christ’s own preaching was of the “gospel of the kingdom.” (See Matthew 4:23 and 9:35, then Matthew 24:14.)
Again, I am reminded of the manner in which the Lord laid out His Word to the people of Israel in Isaiah 28:13—a format that suggests cross-referencing the topics to arrive at the whole counsel of God on the subject:
“But the word of the Lord was to them, ‘Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little…’”
Along with that is Psalm 119:130, telling us, “The entrance of [His] words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple,” in which “simple” means uncomplicated. In another context Paul mentions a universal truth, “if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for battle?”
In these last days Jesus said there would be many false prophets; none want to admit that their wrong doing misleading others. Or perhaps these false prophets does not even realize that they are misinterpreting the Scriptures. Luke’s description of the Bereans in Acts 17:11 has long been the baseline on how to determine whether or not the teacher is rightly dividing the Word of God:
“These were more fair-minded [noble] than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures dailyto find out whether these things were so.”
(This article began as a single presentation but there is more to be said about “Times and Seasons” in a second part.)