David Jeremiah - The Rapture of the Redeemed
I developed a friendship with a California pastor by the name of Tim LaHaye. Shortly after I met him, I actually was called to be his successor at what was then called the Scott Memorial Church in San Diego, California. Today, that church is called Shadow Mountain Community Church, and I am still, after 35 years, its pastor. And most Sundays until his death, Dr. LaHaye and his wife, Beverly, would come to church, I knew exactly where they would sit. They consecutively, along with Donna and I, pastored this church for over 60 years, just the two of us together.
Dr. LaHaye was flying home once from a conference where he was speaking in the early 90s, and God placed a burden on his heart. He had been studying the Scriptures, and he had come to the conclusion that the church, made up of God's people, would be raptured or rescued out of this world before the tribulation came upon the earth. He came to know the event that would make that happen as the event called the Rapture.
As he was flying home that day, he couldn't help but notice one of the plane's pilots flirting with a flight attendant. He also noticed that the pilot was wearing a wedding ring. And Dr. LaHaye thought, "What if this were the moment that God had picked to remove the faithful from the earth, leaving behind only their clothes and a lot of bewildered unbelievers"? And it was at that moment that he decided to write a fictional account of what would happen when the Lord returned and took all Christians to heaven. So he teamed up with the experienced ghostwriter Jerry Jenkins, and their first book was called "Left Behind". And it was published in 1995. The book was a runaway bestseller. I mean, the sequels that followed kept topping the charts.
And I believe one of the reasons the book sold so many copies is because the Rapture is the central event through all the series. The Bible simply teaches us that there's coming a day when an event will happen, when all of those who have put their trust in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior will be suddenly caught up from this earth into the heavens, and there they will be reunited with their loved ones who have gone before them in death. They will then be met by the Lord himself, and he will take them into heaven, where they will live with him forever in his presence.
There are three passages in the New Testament that teach this truth. We only have time basically to look at the main passage, but those passages are John 14:1 to 3, 1 Corinthians 15:50 to 57, and 1 Thessalonians chapter 4. Paul's writing to the church in Thessalonica, and he says:
I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain 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, and with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. And 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.
There are a number of truths in this passage that I want to unpack for us in this session to help us wrap our arms around this incredible hope that awaits us as followers of Christ. First of all, you need to understand that the Rapture is a signless event. What I mean by that is that nothing has to happen before that happens. And that's what the Scripture teaches us about the Rapture. Without any sign, without any warning, Jesus Christ could come back to this earth and take all of his followers to heaven with him. Today, tomorrow, or someday in the future, he is going to fulfill that promise. Not only is the Rapture a signless event, it's a surprise event. That is, you're going to be surprised when this happens. "But of that day and that hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only".
If you hear or read someone who says they know when Jesus is coming back, you should make it your purpose to stay away from that person, both in thought and in deed. To claim knowledge of the exact time of the Lord's return is to know what even the angels do not know and what the Lord did not know when he was on this earth. So if the angels don't know it and the Lord doesn't know it, how'd you find out? Well, you don't know because the Bible says it's going to happen, and no one knows when it's going to happen. The Lord God has set the timetable in his own mind, and only he knows the day and the hour. So it's signless, it's a surprise event, and this goes right along with the other two, it's a sudden event.
The Apostle Paul emphasizes the suddenness of the Rapture. And he says it will happen, "In a moment, and in the twinkling of an eye," 1 Corinthians 15. Now, when I first read that, I thought that meant the blinking of an eye. That's pretty fast. I mean, you blink your eye, it's really quick. You could say blinking your eye is sudden. But the twinkling of an eye is even more sudden than the blinking of an eye because the twinkling of an eye refers to the amount of time it takes for light traveling at 186,000 miles per second to be reflected on the retina of your eye. The whole idea is that this event is going to happen so quickly, so suddenly, in less than a nanosecond, the Lord will call all believers to himself to share his glory. It's sudden.
In his book on the Rapture, my late friend, Dr. Tim LaHaye, vividly imagines what the unexpected suddenness of the Rapture will be like. Sometimes, you have to use your sanctified imagination just to get an idea of what will happen. He imagines the following things. A million conversations will end in the middle of a sentence. A man will turn with a laugh to slap a colleague on the back, and his hand will move through empty air. A mother will pull back the covers of a bassinet, smelling the sweet baby smell one moment, but suddenly kissing empty space and looking into empty blankets. The Rapture will happen just like that, in a moment. The entire world will be immediately changed.
The fourth thing you learn about the Rapture if you study the Scripture is that it's a very selective event. Whether you know it or not, the Rapture is not for everybody. The Rapture is for a selected group of people. You say, "Well, that doesn't seem fair". Well, it's very fair because we are told how to get in the selected group. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul affirms how selective this is. First of all, he opens his description of the event by referring to his readers as brethren, brethren. And he describes them in verse 14 as those who believe that Jesus died and rose again. And in verse 16, he describes these family members as those who have died in Christ.
This leaves no doubt that the Rapture is restrictive completely for believers in Jesus Christ. Only those who are followers of Christ will be taken up into heaven when he returns. So here's my crucial question for all of you. Are you a follower of Christ? Because if you are not a follower of Christ, you will fall under the heading of Tim LaHaye's title. You will be left behind. Nobody wants to be left behind when the church is taken to heaven. And then I'd like to point out that the Rapture's also a very spectacular event.
Now, when you read about prophecy, there are two parts of the Lord's return to this earth. He comes, first of all, for his church and takes them to heaven. And then there's some time of tribulation on this earth. Then he comes again at the end, and he brings his saints with him, and that's when the battle of Armageddon happens, and the earth comes to its conclusion. Most of the time when you talk about spectacular, you're talking about the second advent. But here in the Scripture, I'm reminded that the Rapture itself will be pretty spectacular itself. The Bible says there will be a shout, and there will be an angel, and there will be a trumpet.
Let me just talk about those three things for a moment. The sound of the Lord's command. The Greek word that is used to describe the word "shout" is that of a military officer commanding his soldiers. When the Lord returns at the Rapture, the shout that believers will hear will be his voice. Just as he stood one day outside the tomb of Lazarus and shouted, "Lazarus, come forth," he's going to come back from heaven and shout to all of us, "Come forth from your graves, and come up to heaven to be with me". And along with the shout will be the sound of Michael's voice, Michael the archangel. The Bible says that the only archangel in the Bible is a guy named Michael. There's no other one by name. He's the only one. Michael will shout at the Rapture right after Jesus does, almost as if he is supporting the command of his commanding officer. And then finally, there's going to be a trumpet sound.
The third sound is the trumpet of God. The Rapture trumpet will call all Christians to rise from the earth and meet the Lord in the air, and then they will go to heaven. The first sound of the Rapture, the shout of Christ, is a call for believers to rise from the grave. The voice of the archangel is a sound of protection and safe passage. And the blast that believers hear will be his. Just as he stood outside the tomb of Lazarus, he will command all believers whose bodies are in the grave to come forth.
And then I want to break down what's going to happen in that moment step by step, the sequential aspect of the Rapture. Here's what the Bible says. Number one, the first thing that's going to happen is Jesus will come out of the heavens and descend into the atmosphere above the earth. And Paul describes this as, "The Lord himself descending from heaven". And then, when that happens, the Lord Jesus Christ himself will be prepared to receive us. Here's what the Scripture says about him, however. Listen to these words. The Scripture says that God will bring with Jesus those who sleep in Jesus.
Now, what does that mean? Let me pause for a moment and see if everybody understands what happens when a person dies. I have all kinds of people come, "You say he went to heaven. I just saw him in the casket. He's not in heaven, he's here". Well, did you know the word "death" is a word that means to be separated? When somebody dies, their soul and spirit is separated from their body. So, when a Christian dies, what happens is their soul and spirit, the real them, goes to be with Jesus, and we put the house they lived in in the grave. What happens then is, when Jesus comes back in the Rapture, the Bible says when he comes back, he brings with him the souls of those Christians who already died.
Why does he do that? Well, hang on, because after the return comes the resurrection. When Christ descends from heaven, he will begin by summoning to himself those who are asleep. That's the word that Paul uses to describe death. So, as soon as Jesus comes back, the next thing that happens is the bodies of those who have died are going to be resurrected. They're going to come out of the grave, and they're going to go up to meet the Lord, and be reunited with their soul and spirit that went to heaven when they died. That's what this Scripture says. These bodies, when they are resurrected, are going to be made new.
You're going to get a makeover, sister. You may not be able to afford one now, but one day, you're going to get one. And this makeover, I mean, it's going to be unbelievable. You know what you're going to be like? You're going to be just like the body of Jesus when he came out of the grave. Not only that, though. There's a redemption. The Bible says that those who are alive and remain will also be taken up, and we will be changed. Paul speaks of this change that will take place as the redemption of our body. And in his letter to the Philippians, he described it this way. God is going to transform our lowly body so that it is conformed to his glorious body. In other words, we're going to get body number two, and it's going to be a body just like the risen body of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So let's review what's happened so far. Jesus has come back. Those who have died in Christ have been risen from the dead, and they've caught up with the Lord in the skies. And their bodies and souls are united. And then those who are alive and remain, if Jesus should come tonight, all of us who are Christians here in this room, we would be raptured up to be with the Lord. Some people I have heard say, "I don't want to accept Jesus Christ. I'm going to wait until the Rapture. And when I see the rest going up, I'll make my decision and get caught up with them".
You ain't going to have time to do that. There's no 3-minute warning. And remember, this happens in the twinkling of an eye. So don't wait till the last minute. You don't have a second chance. Don't wait to the last minute. And then the Bible says what's going to happen in heaven is there's going to be a reunion. It says in verse 17, "Then we who are alive and remain will 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". All who have died already, all who are still living, we'll have a reunion in the air.
So, what that means is that my mom and dad, who have been dead now for almost a decade, they're not going to get to heaven before I do. They're going to get caught up to be with the Lord, and together we'll be ushered into heaven. They're actually with the Lord now, but they haven't been ushered into heaven. How many of you know it's a whole lot more fun to see something great when you get to do it with your friends? So much more fun to celebrate with somebody when something great is going to happen. And one day, when the Lord comes back, we're going to be caught up into the heavens. Those who have gone before us, the ones we love, our parents, grandparents, some of our contemporaries, we're going to meet them in the air. And then together, we're going to go and see the beauties of heaven for the first time.
Now, all of this is very important as it talks about the future, but I want you to think about it as it speaks to us in the present. Because the Rapture is a strengthening event. How does our certainty of the coming of Christ affect how we live now? Let me just suggest two or three words. First of all, it gives us consolation. Paul explicitly communicated the truth of the Rapture to the Thessalonians so that they would not worry about what happened to their loved ones. The resurrection, and the Rapture, and the return of Christ is a wonderful truth, so that's why Paul says at the end of all of that, he says, "Therefore comfort one another with these words".
I cannot tell you how many times I have been blessed and privileged to comfort people with the words of this passage that we're talking about today. Not only is there an opportunity for there to be consolation, but the Bible also teaches us that we should have a sense of expectation. If the Lord Jesus could come at any moment, we should be prepared, you know? I've been at home sometimes when Donna has been away on a trip, and I'm running the show. And someone rings our doorbell, you cannot imagine how fast I clean things up between doorbell ringing and getting to the door.
Well, we won't have the opportunity to do that when the Lord comes back. When he comes back, we go immediately. When I grew up, men and women, I grew up in a very conservative home. Some of you know what I'm talking about. And we were not allowed to do a lot of things, among which was go to the movies. But I wanted to go to the movies. And I almost went many times, but just as I would get ready to go, I would think, "As sure as I go to this movie, Jesus is going to come back right in the middle of the movie, and I'm going to be in trouble". And we laugh about that, but isn't it true? We should live our lives in such a way that we will never be embarrassed if the Lord comes back.
Live with expectation. And then we should be consecrated as Christians. When I think of the fact that the Lord Jesus could come back at any time, it puts a sense of urgency in my soul. Why do I do what I do? Most men my age have quit a long time ago, and I continue to do what I do through radio, and television, and events because, as I mentioned to you earlier, my goal in life is not only to go to heaven, but to take as many people with me as I can. I want you to go to heaven. If one more sermon or one more radio broadcast or one more television program gets one more person in heaven, it's worth every effort that we put forward. And I think that's the way all of us should feel. If we do believe that Jesus could come back at any time, we shouldn't be passive.
People say, "Why do you keep working at this stage of your life"? And I tell them when I went through cancer 20 years ago, and God saved my life, I realized he didn't give me my life back to go sit on a beach. He gave me my life back to serve him. For as long as I can do that, that's what I plan to do. And I believe eternity is at stake for many people today. The fourth word is the word "examination". Suppose that the Lord Jesus chose this very moment to come back to this earth. Would you be ready? Jesus said that his coming is quick. When the moment strikes, there will be no time for you to get ready for heaven.
So the question you must ask is, have I committed myself to Jesus Christ, and submitted myself to him as my Lord and Savior? And that brings me full circle to the end of my message, back to where it began, and Dr. LaHaye's blockbuster series called "Left Behind". That's not a comforting title. It wasn't meant to be a comforting title. In fact, it expresses the ultimate tragedy. So, I speak to you here in this audience here in New York, and I urge you not to be among those who are left behind when Jesus comes. Make today the day of your salvation. Today is your opportunity to be sure you are ready if the Rapture should come today. And it could happen at any moment.