Michael Youssef - Until Christ Returns - Part 5
A comment that is often made by nominal Christians and nonbelievers when they come to a funeral or a memorial service for a believer in this church, the comment is often made, "We have never been to a funeral like this before". And if I heard this once through the years, I've heard it a hundred times. While they often do not know, and don't even ask or comprehend why the reason for having an uplifting and great worship time and celebration, we know the secret, and it's found in verse 13 of chapter 4 of 1 Thessalonians. Turn to it with me as we continue in this series of messages. Verse 13 says, "We do not grieve like those who are without hope". Can we say that verse together? "We do not grieve like those who are without hope".
See, the Bible does not say we do not grieve. Paul does not say that we don't grieve over our loved ones when they go to glory, that we don't share tears over our loss, or that we don't feel deep sorrow in our hearts, or that we don't feel that emptiness that their departure brings. No, he said we just don't grieve like those who have no hope. Our grieving is very different. Our grieving is saying goodbye to someone who we're going to meet again. And meeting again, make no mistake about it, we will.
I've been saying throughout this series of messages from 1 Thessalonians, the reason for writing this epistle to begin with is the Thessalonian believers in that church were deeply troubled. They were confused about this whole issue of Christ's return to take the believers home to heaven. Their trouble and their confusion created deep anxiety, not only about the return of future, but the future of their loved ones in Christ who die. They were really concerned. What happened to them? Those were the questions posed to the Apostle Paul, which he is answering in this epistle. What happened to them? Where are they now? Will we see them again?
And the Apostle Paul does not go... as I've been showing you, does not immediately go and answer their questions. He takes three and a half chapters of saying other things before he gets to answering their question. He first begins by showing them how to live this life in the light of that great day, how to live in sexual purity, in moral purity, how to live faithfully, how to be a steward. And he goes on and on, as we have been saying, and telling the believers that they've got to live every moment of every day of this life in the light of that great day. And then finally, he gets to answer their questions, beginning at verse 13 of chapter 4 of 1 Thessalonians.
You see, Paul begins by showing deep understanding and sympathy for their bereavement over the loss of their loved ones. Paul does not rebuke their profound emotional shock over death. He doesn't do that. In fact, he does not minimize the fact that when we lose a loved one, we lose part of ourselves. He does not minimize the pain of having to radically readjust one's life after the loss of a loved one. He does not minimize the anguish that is accompanying those questions that they pose to him. And the truth is, every time a believer goes to heaven, it should be a reminder for every one of us of our own mortality. It should be a reminder. It should help us to undermine this false sense of security that we're gonna live forever, that we're gonna be here forever, that we're never gonna die, it's not gonna happen to us. But in addition to all of that anxiety, some of the Thessalonians actually thought the return of Christ must be around the corner, so they gave up their jobs and they became idle.
They just said, "Well, if he's gonna come back, might as well not get up in the morning and go to work". And to top it all, some of them thought that the Parousia, that's the Greek word for the return of Christ, that the Parousia has come, has happened, and they missed out on it. But that's why in verse 13, Paul begins by saying, "I don't want you to be uninformed. I don't want you to be ignorant". I know it's a politically incorrect word, but let me tell you something: ignorance is not a bliss. I know we joke about ignorance, but ignorance is not a bliss. Far from it. Ignorance brings about disastrous consequences. We're seeing it all around us. Ignorance brings confusion, but enlightened knowledge brings a blessing. In fact, enlightened knowledge is a key to many blessings in life.
Let me give you examples. Knowledge of God and the character of God as you get it from the Word of God brings you closer to him. You'll know him more. So, when somebody who's confused and tells you God did this or God doesn't do this, and you say, "No, I know God". Knowledge, enlightened knowledge about our identity in Christ and who we are in Christ, brings about true, healthy self-esteem, not the phony ones. Knowledge of our eternal destiny causes us to live in peace, even when we're facing troubles and turmoil in life. And what the Apostle Paul is saying, he's saying that we should not grieve, because ignorance can cause us to grieve, but knowledge, enlightened knowledge, does not grieve like them. And so, we don't grieve like them, but rather our grieving is not a hopeless grieving. And that's what knowledge does, it gives us that ability to grieve not like the hopeless ones. And that is the believer's death. He calls it sleep. It's a metaphor to saying death for the believer is like sleep.
The Bible teaches clearly that the moment the believer checks out of here, goes straight to heaven. Example number one, 2 Corinthians chapter 5, verse 8, "Absence from the body is at home," where? "With the Lord". Philippians 1:23, Paul expressed a desire to depart and be with Christ, why? It is far better. If his soul goes to sleep, how can it be better? He's better staying alive and commune with the Lord through the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us. Luke 23:43, Jesus promised the repentant man on the cross next to him, he said, "Today you'll be with me in paradise," not when your soul wakes up from its sleep. In Matthew 17:3, we see that Moses and Elijah were on the Mount of Transfiguration, so much so that Peter and the other two disciples recognized them. They were not ghosts. They were not floating souls. They were in a glorified body.
How else would they have recognized them? In Revelation chapter 6, verse 9, the Apostle John tells us that the martyrs are speaking in heaven. Above all, in Luke 16:19, the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us that the redeemed will immediately be in the presence of the Lord, while the unsaved immediately go into a state of conscious suffering, and torment, and pain. Immediately, not after the soul wakes up. And that is what Paul is talking about, that the death of the unsaved is without a hope. And that is why it is a hopeless death, and hopeless funerals, and hopeless memorial services. Their end is so terrifying hopelessness. Their end will have no place to escape from where they are. But those who are in Christ, they will experience blessed hope right away, glorious reward right away, and joyful eternity right away.
See, that is what the Christian death is all about, and that is why it's not hopeless, it is not helpless. And so, what does Paul really say about this Parousia, this return of Christ, that rapture? Well, you see it, verses 14 to 15. Look at it in your Bibles. He says, "We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. We tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep".
Far from fearing that those who have died will be at a disadvantage, far from it, they'll be already with him. They're gonna show up with him. They will be with him on that great rendezvous in the sky. Because I wanna tell you what the Apostle Paul is saying to every one of us is this, that our hope in the return of Christ to take us home to glory is not based on the shifting sands of philosophical speculation. It is not built on some religious mythology. It is not founded on fable that just makes people feel good about death and feel at little easy. No, no, no, no, no, the truth is the Lord's return is based upon three unshakeable foundations, three unshakeable historical evidences: the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and the revelation of Christ.
If you believe that Jesus died on a cross and rose again, even so, hear me right on this one, by virtue of his substitutionary death on the cross, by virtue of his death on our behalf on the cross, by virtue of him paying for the wages of our sin that we should have been paid, by virtue of redeeming us on the cross, we have become accepted by God the Father and welcomed into his presence. That's what he's saying. It's not complicated. But here's something that's gonna bless your socks as it blessed my socks, ha ha. When Paul refers to the death of the believer, he calls it what? Right, but then when he refers to the death of Christ, he calls it death.
Do you know why? Do you know what that means? It means that Jesus experienced the full fury of death with all of its dimensions so that we may only sleep; that Jesus experienced the punishment of sin so that we may live to righteousness; that Jesus experienced death fully so that we may experience sleep; Jesus experienced death with all of its horrors so that we may experience joy in death; that he rose from the dead so that he may assure us of our own resurrection; that Jesus triumphed over the grave so that we can have his triumph; that Jesus was never abandoned to the grave, and now we too will never be abandoned to the grave.
So, whether you fall asleep or you're gonna be around when Jesus comes back, it makes no difference. That's really the point Paul is making. It makes no difference. On that great day, we're all gonna be united together. On that great event, we will all join in this momentous occasion. On that day, we will be united together without the possibility of separation ever again. Of that moment, the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, he said, "Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a flash, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed".
The most exciting part, verses 16 and 17, as Paul describes what happens on that great day. "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven". I'm getting ready to shout it 'cause I know what I'm gonna say. He says, "The Lord himself". He did not say he's gonna send a deputy, or he's gonna send a representative, or he's gonna send a prophet, or he's gonna send an angel. No siree, the Lord himself is gonna show up, and every eye is gonna see him. And whether those who believed in him or not, they will see him. Some will mourn and some will rejoice, just like the angel told the disciples on that great day of ascension after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When their jaws were dropping, seeing their beloved Jesus ascending up to heaven, he said to them, "Why are you looking up? This same Jesus," not another Jesus, not some mahdi, not some messiah, but that same Jesus, "whom you have seen taken from you, he will come back in like manner". But that's not all. He says there's gonna be a shout. There's gonna be a shout. Let me tell you about that shout. That word has a military connotation. It has a military tone about it, and it is used by a commander who is summoning his troops. That's really where it's borrowed from. It's from the military world, that the commander is gonna call his faithful soldiers, and they come immediately running.
What that means to us is this, listen carefully, every one of Jesus' faithful soldiers are gonna hear that shout. Every one of his faithful soldiers are gonna respond to that shout. Every one of his faithful soldiers are gonna rejoice for that shout. Every one of his faithful soldiers are gonna leap for joy when they hear that shout. And then there is the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet is gonna sound, and this is gonna be universally heard. Ain't gonna be on CNN, it's gonna be heard by everyone. The believers in Australia, and Asia, and in Africa, and in Europe, and in the Americas, and the Pacific Islands, from every corner of the globe where there are faithful believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, they're gonna hear the voice of the archangel. They're gonna hear the trumpet as the trumpet sounds.
And in the Bible, the trumpet always used for a variety of reasons, but on that day, it's gonna be all of the above. Trumpets were used in the Old Testament to assemble people. It was used at times of feasts. It was used in the time of celebrations. The trumpet sounded when they were getting ready to make big announcement. The trumpet sounded when they make it clear that the time has come. The time has come for us on that day to say goodbye to this fallen world, to say goodbye to temptations and grief, to say goodbye to anxiety, and fear, and worry, to say goodbye to tears and to sorrow, and to cancer. This time will come when we say goodbye to Satan's harassment of the believers, a time we'll say goodbye to sin and the ravages of sin.
Frederick William Faber got so enraptured with the thought of the rapture and he wrote his famous hymn. Among other things, it says, "Great things he has taught us, great things he has done, and great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son. Oh, but purer and higher and greater will be our rapture, our transport, when Jesus we see".
Some of you have said to me, "How come, on the one hand, with one breath, he says they come with Jesus, and then the next thing it says the dead will rise first"? Is this double-talk? What does it mean? I know even some who have cremated their loved ones are even more troubled by that. You know, what about cremation and all this stuff? Listen to me, listen, listen, listen. Here's the important thing that you must understand about this great day. Listen carefully. We have already established that the believers in Jesus already in heaven in a glorified body with him, rejoicing, right? We already established that they're already there with him.
And again, here it says they're gonna come with him. So, what does it mean? In fact, the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, if you've never read it, go home and spend time and read it. He talks about the believers when they go to heaven. He said they're not naked, meaning they're not souls floating around not clothed with the glorified body, but they're already clothed, he said. So, they already have their glorified body. You see, they say they can't go to space without a space suit, and you will never be able to go to heaven without a glorified body.
So, you have to have that, whether you get it on the way up or you get it when you sleep. And so, what does it mean they came with him, but then they rose from the dead? It's much simpler than you think. It really is. They will come with him in a glorified body because they're already with him, but for us who's still alive, or whoever's gonna be still alive, whether us or next generation, it doesn't matter. But those who have said goodbye to their loved ones and laid 'em in the grave, or took them to a crematorium, whatever happened, to us, they're resurrected from the dead.
You see, we'll see them alive, and therefore they were raised, because they were raised first. They're already into the church of Jesus Christ in heaven. You see, it is that simple. It's far simpler than you think. It's not very complicated. They're gonna come with him, and to us, they are alive. They were risen from the dead. They're no longer in that grave. They're already with him. And that's all it means. The point that Paul is anxious to make, for Thessalonians here and for us, is this: it is the wonder of that great moment. Don't ever lose wonder of that great moment. Don't even lose sight of that great moment. That's why he goes on to say, "Encourage one another". Talk about this. Don't think it's a morbid thing and don't talk about it in polite company. It's only in polite companies you can talk about this.
Did you get that? This reunion with those who went earlier and those who are caught up with him. But there's something else I don't want you to miss, something very important. When he said, "We'll meet them in the air," it's not just meaning the space. Who is the prince of the air? Ephesians 2:2, the devil and his demons, the prince of the air. It's his domain. It's the place where he operates freely. It's the place from which he misguides and misleads. It's the place from which he tempts. It's the place from which he deceives. That is the domain of Satan, and that is why we're gonna meet each other in the air. We're gonna take over his domain. His domain will be our domain. His kingdom will be our kingdom and the kingdom of our God. That's the ultimate reunion, the reunion of all reunions.
"Therefore," verse 18, "encourage one another with these words". There may be one person here today who has not experienced the joy of knowing that whether you die today or Jesus comes back today, you're gonna be with him in that great reunion. Ask yourself that question. If that rapture happens today, will I be in the air, in the place of authority and power, reigning and ruling with Christ? Will I be left behind to face the judgment? Don't rest until you answer it. There's some people who say, "Well, yeah, back yonder, I made a profession of faith. I've taken care of that". No, no, no, that's not the Christian faith.
We've been seeing this throughout the message here, through messages from 1 Thessalonians. It's walking with Christ, living for Christ, serving Christ, loving his appearing. That is the question, and if you haven't got to that point, you can today. You can begin today and continue the walk. But then, for the believers who get so bogged down with this life, with bitterness, and hatred, and anger, and frustrations, there's a reason why he said, "Encourage one another with these words". I can tell you, thinking and remembering this great day, it doesn't matter how many problems I'm facing, it doesn't matter how many difficulties I face, it doesn't matter how many attacks I might receive, it doesn't matter what happens, I think of that day, all of my problems becomes minuscule in comparison. And that's what he's saying here.