Scripture has become my lifeline these days. Even so, I often feel heaviness in my soul as I witness the response to COVID-19 in my state and nation. I see so much unnecessary suffering and loss.
I find myself returning again and again to God’s Word and its precious promises that we need for the time in which we live. I mentioned Psalm 46:10 in an earlier post; I go to Psalms 46 and 47 at least a couple times each week.
For this article, however, I want to focus your attention on two particularly encouraging promises from 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”
- Our Blessed Hope
The first promise, from verse 9, assures us that the rapture will happen before the Lord’s wrath overwhelms the earth. Jesus will come for us before the start of the tribulation.
The “wrath” Paul refers to in verse 9 is not that of hell, but of the day of the Lord. In 1 Thessalonians 5:3-8, Paul’s topic is the “sudden destruction” that will overtake the world at the beginning of this time of God’s wrath described by many prophets in the Old Testament. They repeatedly warned that this day would be a prolonged time in which the Lord would severely judge sinful humanity.
The prophet Isaiah, for example, tells us this day will be a time when much of the earth’s population will perish (13:9-12). Zephaniah says this about the coming day, “A day of wrath is that day, / a day of distress and anguish, / a day of ruin and devastation, / a day of darkness and gloom, / a day of clouds and thick darkness (1:15).
This day of the Lord includes all of the tribulation which the apostle John wrote about in Revelation 6-18 about forty-five years after Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians.
Even though the horrors of the tribulation seem ever so close, we have this reassuring promise: the rapture will happen before the Lord pours out His wrath on the unsuspecting world during what Scripture refers to as the day of the Lord.
This is our blessed hope: the rapture will happen before the seven-year tribulation begins.
- Our Blessed Assurance
There’s a second wonderful promise in these verses that is often missed because the English language does reflect the differences between the words Paul uses in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 and those he uses in verse 10, “. . . who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”
In chapter 4, the apostle distinguishes between living and dead saints. In verse 10, he differentiates between those who are spiritually awake and those who are not. Let me explain how I arrived at this conclusion.
The Greek verb Paul uses for “awake” in verse 10 is gregoreo, a word that denotes moral alertness. In 5:4-8, Paul uses the word along with that of being “sober” to portray the idea of temperance in our walk with the Lord versus that of drunkenness or carelessness. “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (v 6).
Jesus used the word gregoreo in Matthew 24:42 and Mark 13:35 as that of watchfulness for his return. It’s this same sense of watchfulness and sober living that the apostle characterizes believers as being “awake” in 1 Thessalonians 5:6-10.
What about those whom Paul characterizes as being “asleep” in verse 10? Who are these people?
The word Paul uses for believers who are “asleep” in in 5:10 is katheudo. This word refers to someone who is physically asleep, not dead. Of the 22 times this word appears in the New Testament, it only once refers to someone who had died, and then Jesus used the word to refer to the girl He intended to raise from the dead. In 1 Thessalonians 4:17, Paul uses the Greek word zao to refer to living saints at the time of the rapture.
In the context of 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8, Paul uses katheudo with moral implications, applying the word to believers who are asleep in their walk with the Lord (v. 6); it’s the opposite of someone who walks in the light of Scripture, i.e. the sober saint or the one who is gregoreo.
Based on the context and Paul’s change of words from chapter 4, we know that the sense of 1 Thessalonians 5:10 is that when Jesus come for His church, He will take those who are alert spiritually as well as those who are asleep in their walk with Him as evidenced by their lack of watchfulness for His return or their care about the way they live.
This is incredibly good news as well as an amazing promise. Our inclusion in the rapture does not depend upon our behavior at the time Jesus’ appears; it depends solely upon whether or not our sins are covered with the blood Jesus shed on our behalf.
1 John 5:10-12 spells out the only condition for your inclusion in the rapture. If you belong to Jesus, you are going up regardless of your behavior at the moment! If Jesus is not your Savior, your feet will remain earthbound.
This is our blessed assurance!
Please know I am not saying that our behavior does not matter. It absolutely does! What I am saying is that those who teach the doctrine of a partial rapture advance a doctrine that not only contradicts the heart of the Gospel, but Paul’s specific promise in 1 Thessalonians 5:10.
The New Testament teaches that all believers will give an account of their lives to Jesus (Rom. 14:12; 1 Cor. 3:10-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 4:12-13). Faithful service will be rewarded (1 Cor. 15:58); saints who neglect their spiritual gifts and opportunities to serve the Lord with those provisions will suffer loss at the judgment seat of Christ, but they will not lose their salvation, nor will they miss out on the rapture.
So yes, our behavior matters; but our good deeds do not merit our salvation nor do they merit our rapid heavenward journey when Jesus appears to take us home. Those whom God justifies, He also glorifies (Rom. 8:30); this is an unbroken chain. Once God justifies us, it becomes an absolute certainty He will glorify us at the return of His Son. That is the promise of Romans 8!
You see, when Jesus gives us eternal life based on His work on the cross, it means we will never perish (John 10:27-29). The Lord forever seals our fate, eternity in paradise, the moment He brings us into His forever family.
Why do I emphasize these promises from 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10? It’s because so many churches err on one side of the other. They either ignore our blessed hope or they ignore our blessed assurance. Both represent grievous errors in these last days.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, the apostle Paul assures us of two precious promises in regard to our eternal hope. Jesus is coming for us before the tribulation, and our inclusion in our trip to His Father’s house in heaven depends solely on His blood shed on our behalf, not our behavior.
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