James Meehan - Reading Someone Else's Mail
James Meehan: Well, we're kicking off a brand new YouTube show on our channel titled Switch Uncut, where we wanna explore all the different questions and situations and challenges that arise from the scriptures, from God's Word, from understanding who Jesus is and how we're meant to live as his followers in our modern world, because we know that you have a lot of questions, and so do we! The goal of this new show is to be a space where we can really wrestle with and explore those questions in more depth than maybe we can in other places. And so, as you have questions regarding the Bible, Jesus, God, what it means to be a follower of him, make sure that you're leaving those as comments. Make sure you're submitting those, sending them our way, because we wanna wrestle with those. We wanna explore them with you. And the goal of this series is not to give you all the answers. This is not going to be an academic exploration about all things the Bible. What it's meant to be is an exploration on how we as followers of Jesus can think more wisely about the things and the truths that he has shared and called us to live. And so, joining with us on this first episode of Switch Uncut is the one and only Caitlin Caffrey. She's a part of our Switch team here at Life Church. She contributes to all things, Switch content, Bible plans, messages, and now, this show. And so, what she's gonna do is she's going to introduce us to the question that you all have been asking, and then together, her and I are just going to explore it, wrestle with it, so that by the end of this conversation, you can have more confidence when it comes to this idea and how you're meant to live it out in your everyday life. So with that being said, Caitlin, what is it that we're talking about today?
Katelyn Caffrey: Awesome, yeah, I'm super excited to talk about this. It's a big one, get ready.
James Meehan: Come on.
Katelyn Caffrey: We have gotten so many questions about the rapture.
James Meehan: Mm, that's good.
Katelyn Caffrey: Yeah, so what does that word even mean? How are we supposed to understand this? Go.
James Meehan: Well, I love it, because it's just so funny how common the questions around the rapture are, because I actually know that there's a lot of people that I'm close friends with, a lot of adults that are part of our church, that are like, doing all of these deep dives into Revelation to try to understand the end times, and they're asking themselves the question like, "Okay, is Jesus about to come back? Is it about to be the end of the world? I'm seeing all these things in the news, all this craziness that's happening in our world. Like, does this mean that the end is near"? And I think that those are super fair questions. They're questions that Christians have been asking since the beginning of time. And one aspect of our understanding of the end times is this event known as the rapture. Now, the rapture is this idea that whenever the end of all things comes, there will be a moment when everybody who's a Christian, all of the believers, will be caught up, that's what the word rapture comes from; rapture is the Latin word for to be caught up, will be caught up and will go and meet with Jesus before the end of everything takes place. Now, the thing that's really difficult about this topic specifically is the fact that a lot of people's ideas of the rapture have been more informed by the Left Behind book and movie series than actually the writings of scripture, and I think this has led to a lot of confusion in the modern imagination of what all of this is supposed to be like and how we should think about it. I think that's one of the things that, maybe we should just start there, like, with the rapture. It's this idea that we'll be caught up, we'll meet Jesus, and then the end of the world is gonna take place, and while we're not gonna fully dive into all the details of that, because we're not qualified to, I think that we can just start with, what is the rapture? What does it mean? And this idea of the rapture, a lot of it comes from Paul's writings to the church in Thessalonica, where he talks about when Jesus will return and how the believers will be caught up to meet him in the air. Like I said, though, that has kind of evolved into this very elaborate picture of all of the things that are gonna be associated with that moment. But I think that's usually where we get a little bit off track, because Paul doesn't give us a ton of details about all of the things surrounding the rapture.
Katelyn Caffrey: So if he doesn't give us all of the details, what is he even getting at with telling us about this? Like, is it just so we can like, freak out or look forward to it? Like, why doesn't he give us more?
James Meehan: Well, okay, so I think that's a great question: why does Paul say what he says, and why doesn't he say more things? And this goes back to something that we talk about pretty frequently in Switch, which is this idea that the Bible is not meant to be a textbook with the answers to all of our questions. More than anything, the Bible is a story that leads us to Jesus and invites us to become more like Jesus. So in the New Testament, that's the last third of the Bible, there are a series of letters that some of the early Christian leaders wrote known as Epistles, and Paul was the author of a bunch of those letters. The one we're talking about is the letter he wrote to the church in Thessalonica, where what he's really trying to get at is not answering every question about Christian faith. What he's trying to do is to help those early Christians deal with the specific problems they were experiencing and help them understand what it means to be followers of Jesus in their culture and their context. So when we read Thessalonians today as modern Christians, we gotta start by remembering that every one of the Epistles is a letter written by somebody to a specific group of people in a specific time, place, dealing with specific issues. So when we read the New Testament letters, the Epistles, we are literally reading somebody else's mail. Imagine for a moment that you have a friend that is texting somebody else, and they asked you to help them navigate that text message conversation, except for some reason, whenever they bring that text message conversation to you to show you what's been happening, all of the other person's messages are missing, so you can only read what they've been saying. And so, you've got to try to piece together the entire thing just based off of one person's messages without knowing the other person, the challenges they're going through, or the things that they might be saying to your friend. That's sort of the ground-level starting place of how we need to think about the Epistles. So when we approach them with this idea that oh, it's just gotta mean whatever I think it means, we're literally setting ourselves up to get into trouble and misunderstand what's going on here.
- Wow, that's really good. What a great analogy of reading someone else's mail. So what was going on in the church in Thessalonica that talking about like this, "Hey, Jesus is coming back," why was that important to them?
— Yeah, and this is a thing where we don't know for sure what the whole situation was, but there are some really great historians and scholars and theologians who have done a lot of work to come up with the best guess as to what was going on that inspired Paul to write these words. Now, there's a number of people who think that in that Thessalonian community, these early Christians kind of had this assumption that Jesus was gonna come back any moment, and because of that, it didn't really matter what they did or how they lived. That led to them, instead of being active in their faith, of sharing the good news of Jesus with others, of doing acts of good and service and bringing justice to their communities, they were sort of just like, sitting on their hands waiting for Jesus to return. So it seems like maybe what Paul might be trying to do here is to encourage those early believers with the fact that hey, we don't know when Jesus is coming back. We believe he's coming back, but when he does, man, we want to be able to show him, hey, we've been doing what you've asked us to. We've been faithful to you in the meantime. Now, what's interesting is, the entire idea of the rapture primarily comes from this passage in I Thessalonians chapter four. I'm gonna read a portion of it to you. It's verses 16 through 18, where the apostle Paul says this. He says, "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. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together," that caught up is where the word rapture comes from, "with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. So we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore, encourage one another with these words". So what Paul is doing is he's describing that there will com a day when Jesus returns. There will be a trumpet to announce his arrival. When he returns, we will be caught up to meet him as he's on his way down back to earth, and whenever that happens, it's gonna be a great thing. That's why Paul ends by saying, "Encourage one another with these words". Now, what's super interesting about this is Paul is using the same language and the same sequence of events that would describe the return of a Roman emperor to one of the Roman cities after that emperor had previously visited and invested a significant amount of money and resources into that city. So there's a lot of people who think that there was a number of significant earthquakes and different disasters that took place in Thessalonica. So the emperor would go there and invest a bunch of his money or the money of the empire into this community so that they could rebuild. And eventually, the emperor would return to check on that community and see, great, how are they doing now? This event is described as the parousia, which is this Greek word that describes the return of the emperor. And so, it seems like what Paul is doing is he's mirroring that very real and familiar event with what is going to happen when Jesus returns. So he's talking about this idea that hey, someday, Jesus, who visited us at one point, invested his Spirit, the truth of God's Word, into us as believers, someday he's going to return, and when he does, we will go out to meet him as he's arriving to celebrate his coming. And so, this idea of the parousia, Jesus returning, Paul seems to be getting at the importance of us as followers of Christ not sitting on our hands waiting around for Jesus to return, but actually taking the investment he's given us, putting it into work, so that when he returns, we can say, hey, here's been the return on your investment.
— That's so good, wow. We've talked about before like, Jesus beginning this restoration process.
— Yeah, absolutely.
— And that's what is sounds like Paul is challenging us to step into. What did that look like for them in their time, and what does that look like for us now, to kind of jump in on that restorative process?
— Yep, I think what's so important for us to even maybe take a step back and talk about first is understanding what the good news of Jesus is all about. Because the whole concept of the rapture is really informed by the common understanding of the Gospel that says, hey, we're all sinners in need of a Savior, so God sent Jesus to die on a cross so that we could be forgiven of our sins, we could be made right with God, and then when we die, we can go and spend eternity in heaven with him. Now, while a lot of that understanding of the Gospel is true, it's actually incomplete, because the biblical claim, the announcement that Jesus made of the Gospel was not repent and believe so that you can go to heaven someday. He announced his ministry by saying, "Repent and believe, for the kingdom of heaven has come near". This is what we've gotta get our minds around, is the idea that heaven is not someplace we go when we die, but heaven is the realm where God rules, and that that rule and reign of God through Jesus, through his announcement, through his life, through his death, through his resurrection, is now invading our world, that the goodness and justice of God came into the world through the ministry of Jesus. Now every single one of us that calls ourselves his disciples have been invited to play a part in bringing heaven to earth. This is why in Jesus's teachings, the Sermon on the Mount, he kind of has this moment in the center of this teaching where he says, "Hey, this is how you should pray. You should pray, Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven". So when Jesus was teaching his followers how to pray, he was literally teaching them to pray that the kingdom of God would come on earth as it is in heaven. This is what the Gospel is all about, that God, who is the rightful ruler of the world, is stepping back in and taking charge of the world. So when we think about the kingdom of God, what we've gotta think about is the society where God is in charge. It's a community of people where we live as if God really is our King, because he really is. This is why the Gospel is such good news. It's the announcement of a new King and a better kingdom. So all of that being said, when we think about this idea of what it would have meant for the church in Thessalonica to hear this message from Paul about Jesus returning, they would have understood that, okay, if that's what's taking place here, then we've gotta do the work that Jesus preached about, that Jesus demonstrated during his three-year ministry that we read about in the Gospels, which is to go into the world and make disciples, to demonstrate the power of God through the way that we live by loving others, by serving others, by making wrong things right, by practicing generosity and hospitality and showing up for those that are in need, having compassion on those that are struggling, looking for any and every opportunity to bring the goodness of God into a situation that looks really, really bad. And so, that's how they would have understood it, is, hey, we've got work to do, because Jesus is coming back, and when he does, we wanna be able to celebrate and say, "Hey, that thing that you invested in us, look at all that we've done with it! Look at all that we've accomplished to bring honor and glory to your name".
— That's good, that's good.
— Because that's what would happen when an emperor would return at the parousia. They would return, and the people would say, "Hey, look at all the incredible things we did because of your generosity, because of your investment in us". So what Paul is getting at is how much more should we be intentional about taking the gift that God has sown in us to produce a harvest of goodness, of justice, and righteousness.
— That's good.
— In our communities.
— That's good. You keep using the word investment, and that reminds me of that parable that Jesus told.
— Come on, yeah.
— With the talents, where there was this guy in charge, and he divvied out some talents, some wealth, some of his wealth and resources, to some of his servants, and then he left, went on a little trip, and came back and found out what they did with that investment. You have those two moments where it's like, two of the servants ended up investing, using it wisely, doubling their investment, and they get that, "Hey, well done, good and faithful servant". Like, "I trusted you with this little, and now that leads to being trusted with more".
— Then there's the one guy who just takes it and buries it, does nothing with the investment, and he gets a, "You wicked, lazy servant. Get outta here".
— Yes! Everything you're saying is I think so much of what Paul is trying to get at here, is this idea that our King, our Emperor, Jesus, has made an investment in us. He has invested in us his life, his Spirit, and his power. Now, the question is, what will we do with it? The way that I often try to like, call myself out is by reminding myself that Jesus didn't die on the cross so we could sit on the couch.
— Come on.
— It's this idea that, because of what Jesus has done, we've got work to do. We can invest what's been given to us in ways that are gonna bring more life, more truth, more hope in the lives of other people that are desperate for it. I think the thing that's so crazy about this is, the more that we talk about this and the more that we begin to understand how Paul's original audience would have received these words, the more mind-blowing it is how often I was afraid of the rapture, how much time I spent worried about the end times, because I had this idea in my head that it was just gonna be like, terrible and horrifying. The more that I've started reading different thinkers that are way more brilliant than I and trying to better understand what these words would have meant to the original audience, the more I start to realize, oh, this is still just good news.
— Yeah, that's so good! I think that I relate to that, 100%. I feel like my previous understanding is like, there's so much doom and gloom surrounding this moment.
— Yes, that's good.
— Like, kind of freaking out a little bit. But what I keep hearing us saying is like, talking about the rapture, Paul introducing us to this idea, even Jesus talking about this idea, it was not meant to inspire fear. It was meant to inspire continued hope and faithfulness in us.
— And that's what's so beautiful, is Paul ends this passage where he talks about us being caught up, meeting Jesus, coming back with him, he ends it by saying, "Therefore, encourage one another with these words". These words are meant to be an encouragement to the believers in Thessalonica, and they're meant to be an encouragement to us, because the thing that's crazy to me is the fact that so often, we can find ourselves frustrated and worn out, beat down, and honestly, full of doubts, because of all of the things that are wrong in our world that we just wish God would make right. And the promise of the Gospel is that there will come a day when every wrong is made right, that when Jesus returns, that heaven and earth will be reunited, that all that is evil, all that is dark, all that is sin, will be removed from God's creation, that what will take its place is goodness, light, hope, shalom, the peace of God. So what all of us are desperate for, what we all long for, is the injustice in the world to be made right, and this is the answer to that longing. The answer to that longing is Jesus's return, that he will show up at some point in the future, and until that day, we're actually supposed to be the answer. We're supposed to be the people who see what's wrong in the world, and then, empowered by the Spirit of God, filled with the hope of the Gospel, bringing that goodness to all the places where darkness is currently reigning. And so, I think that's the thing that I wish I would have understood sooner, this mentality that in Jesus, hope is coming, that because of the Gospel, I don't have to sit around terrified about the end of the world. Like literally, I remember when I was in, probably fifth or six grade, I saw this show on the History Channel where it was all of these prophecies of the end of the world and how they were predicting that 2012 would be the end of everything. And I remember literally having nightmares, because I was so terrified of the end of the world, 'cause I'm like, "I don't want the world to end! I don't wanna die"! I was so freaked out about it. And now, it's like, no, no, no, it's good news. It's the Gospel. It is the announcement that there will come a day when the kingdom of God is here in full, where all that we see is God's goodness everywhere. I think that's the thing where it's like, man, I hope that we can begin to ask better questions of the biblical text, because when we learn to ask better questions, we're gonna find more true answers. All of the things that we're talking about right now, I just get fired up about it because of how much of an impact it's made on my own personal relationship with Jesus, my own personal discipleship to him, my own personal ministry as I'm trying to love and care for the people that God's placed in my life. So I don't know, I could ramble all day long about this.
— I got you. Something that I have been learning recently is just the beautiful fact of like, Jesus finishes what he starts.
— Come on, say that again.
— Every time. Jesus finishes what he starts. And so, I can have hope and confidence that the work that he started in me, he will bring it to completion. And what that does, again, it gives me this confidence where I'm not gonna be apathetic, but I'm also not gonna be anxious.
— Come on.
— 'Cause I have confidence that he finishes what he starts. And actually, it's cool; when Jesus is on the cross, right, and he says "It is finished," what I learned was that the Greek word that he uses there is in the present continuing tense.
— Interesting, yeah, yeah.
— So what that means is like, it's finished, and it will continue to be finished.
— Come on.
— What I'm doing right now, it's done, and it can't be undone. So, I love that. I love the confidence that it inspires in me to not be apathetic, but also to not be anxious and just get to be part of what God is doing.
— Come on. Yeah, the thing that I think about at this point in our conversation is the fact that this is hopefully helpful for you as you're trying to understand the event of the rapture, but obviously there's so many other questions about all things the Book of Revelation, the end of the world, what is that gonna look like, what do we do with all the crazy imagery and writings that take place in Revelation about this beast and this dragon and the Antichrist and the Mark of the Beast. All of that, maybe we'll tackle in a future episode. But for now, what I hope you'll take away from this conversation is the fact that all of this is not meant to inspire fear, but to give us hope, hope that in the end, Jesus will do exactly what he said he'll do, that he will return to make all wrong things right. Until that day comes, he's invited us, he's entrusted us, he's empowered us, to be his hands and feet in this world, bringing justice and goodness and peace wherever we go. And so, that's kind of all I've got on this conversation. Caitlin, any other questions or thoughts or things that you think might be helpful for us to tackle?
— I think that that's fantastic. I hope that this first episode was super helpful for everyone, and yeah, if you've got any questions about any further diving into this topic or a completely different topic, God, the Bible, faith, all the things, shoot them our way, 'cause we'd love to wrestle this down with you guys.
— Absolutely, and if there's any part of this that you're like, man, I got a question about that specific thing that you said, comment down below. We would love to take some time to just wrestle with it, explore it, because one of our favorite things is to do the best we can to be in dialog with you, because we don't just do this because I like talking into a camera. We do this because we wanna help you become all that God's created you to be. And so, yeah, send your comments, ask your questions. Also, don't forget to like the video, subscribe. We will be having more conversations like this in the future, and if there's somebody that you think that this would be helpful to, make sure you share it, send 'em a link. We're looking forward to seeing you soon again in the future! See y'all.
— Bye, guys.