Robert Jeffress - Not Left Behind
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. A look at the evening news reveals that we are truly living in ominous days. Nations are rising up against other nations. Hostility abounds against Christians. And tyrannical leaders are aiming their missiles at the nation of Israel. From the Christian perspective, it's clear that the end times are upon us. So here's the pressing question. When will Jesus return to gather his church? And what signs will precede that epic moment in prophecy known as the rapture? My message is called, "Not Left Behind". On today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
The subject of the end times always produces varying responses among different people. When I was in high school, our English teacher assigned us a project. It was a semester project. She said, "You can select any book you want to and then I want you to as creatively as possible present the contents of that book to the class". So this was the early 1970s and I chose the book, "The Late Great Planet Earth". Remember that book by Hal Lindsey? Millions of people bought that book on Bible prophecy. I thought, now here's a great way to witness to my class by sharing "The Late Great Planet Earth". And I thought it'd be a really good opportunity, especially to witness to my teacher who happened to be Jewish.
And so when the day for the presentation came, I went through the content of the book and talk about all of the events that would lead up to the second coming of Jesus. And I focused especially on what is going to happen during the tribulation. When revelation says, "The king of the north will attack Israel". And how Lindsey was saying that was going to be Russia. Now that was particularly interesting at that time because we had very tense relationship, with the Soviet Union president Nixon.
"At the day I was giving my report, was actually in Moscow trying to ease tensions with the Soviet Union. So I went through all of this, about the end time events. Now, what nobody in my class knew, including my teacher, was that I had arranged with the assistant principal to come over the intercom at the appropriate time and interrupt my presentation. And so at the time we had agreed upon while I was giving the presentation, the principal came on the loudspeaker and did the little chimes, ding, ding, ding. Came on and said this announcement".
He said, "We have just been informed by united press international, that Russia has invaded Israel. President Nixon is on air force one now returning to Washington D. C. for Moscow. All students and faculty are dismissed immediately to go home and seek shelter. At that moment, my Jewish teacher cried out, 'my God, my God, it's true, it's true'. All of the students raised up in the class. They started heading toward the exits and I quickly stopped them. I assured them that this wasn't true, that it was just an illustration of how current events fit with Bible prophecy. Unfortunately, the assistant principal made a mistake and instead of piping the announcement just into our classroom, as he was supposed to do, he accidentally sent it throughout the entire high school, Richardson high school, 3000 students. Suddenly I heard lockers slamming all over the school feet shuffling out as everybody headed toward the exit, preparing for the end of the world".
Today I'm telling you 40 years after that event, some of my former classmates still kid me about that day in the spring when everybody thought the world was coming to an end. The truth is the end time events are gonna be very frightening. And it's gonna consist of economic turmoil. There'll be wars, there'll be unprecedented persecution. But fortunately Christians don't have to fear that period of time. Because of the event we're going to talk about today, the rapture of the church.
Now, I know many Christians do not believe in the rapture of the church. But today and next week we're going to see what the Bible says about the rapture and I think you'll understand at the end, especially of next week, why a rapture, a snatching away of the church is both biblical and it's essential. If you have your Bibles, turn to Ephesians chapter three. Ephesians chapter three, you can never really understand the rapture until you understand this period of time, we are living in right now called the church age. And let me just remind you about what the church age is all about. We said a few weeks ago that Nan and Genesis one through 11 moved further and further away from God, but in Genesis 12 God instituted a rescue plan for mankind. And it all started with a man named Abraham.
God made a covenant with Abraham. He said, "Abraham I'm going to give you and your descendants a land, a seed and a blessing". That is a piece of real estate. I'm going to give you a great nation and you're going to be a blessing to the entire world. And then he said, "Abraham, this promise is a literal promise. It's an eternal promise. And remember it's an unconditional promise". So God started his plan of redemption through this Abrahamic covenant.
Now you say, well that's great if you're a Jew. But what about those of us who are not Jews, gentiles? How does the Abrahamic covenant benefit us? Throughout the Old Testament, there were hints, strong hints that God's promise to Abraham would spill over to people like you and i. That is gentiles. You see that for example, in non-Jews being saved, Rahab the harlot. Ruth, the residence of Nineveh. All non-Jews who were saved through God's promise to Abraham. You see the same thing in the New Testament through the teaching and ministry of Jesus. Remember in Matthew 22 Jesus told that story about the king who had the banquet for his son and he invited all of his closest friends and when they turned down the invitation he sent his servants out into the highways and the byways and invited anyone and everyone to come join in the banquet. That was a hint that not only Jews but non-Jews would be invited to become a part of the Kingdom of God.
You said, "Now Robert, you're reading a lot in that parable to get that out of the parable". Not at all. The Jews understood exactly what Jesus was saying in that story. In fact, in Matthew 22:15 it says, "Immediately after Jesus told that story, the pharisees were so angry at the idea of gentiles being a part of the kingdom that they went out, counseled together about how they might trap Jesus in what he said". But even though the Old Testament hinted at it, even though Jesus hinted at the idea of gentile blessing, it was the apostle Paul who was given the task of explaining what was called a mystery that gentiles like you and I are going to be a part of the Abrahamic blessing. And that's what we find in Ephesians 3 beginning with verse 3. Look at this with me.
"That by revelation there was made known to me, Paul, the mystery as I wrote before in brief, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit". And what is this mystery? He says in verse 6, to be specific that the gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body and fellow partakers of the promise and Christ Jesus through the Gospel. Now what does he mean a mystery? Whenever we think about a mystery, we think of, you know, one of those old Alfred Hitchcock thrillers. I watched one the other night on TV north by northwest. You know, we think about a thriller like that, or we think about the latest Patricia Cornwell novel, something eerie, something creepy. Mystery you know. That's what we think of when we think about mysteries!
There's nothing creepy in the New Testament about a mystery. The word mystery simply means, a truth which was previously hidden in past generations that has now been revealed. And Paul said, "God gave to me the task of revealing this mystery, this truth which other generations didn't understand, that God has told me now to reveal". And the mystery specifically is, that gentiles are going to be fellow heirs to the Abrahamic blessing. They are going to be recipients of that blessing.
You say, "What does that have to do with the rapture of the church"? Listen, this explains why the Old Testament doesn't talk about the rapture. It explains why even Jesus himself never mentioned the rapture. The rapture is the end of the church age. The reason Jesus never mentioned the rapture is he never mentioned the church. He never talked about this mystery of the church in specific detail like the apostle Paul. This was something that was reserved for the apostle Paul. And therefore this explains Matthew 24 and 25. Remember the disciples came to Jesus and they said, "Lord tell us, when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of your coming and the end of the age"?
Now, why didn't Jesus say, "Well, the first thing that's gonna to happen is, there's gonna to be a rapture, followed by a tribulation"? He never mentions the rapture. Instead of Matthew 24 and 25, the next thing Jesus tells his apostles, that is on God's calendar. Look at this first chart I see here. Here's the end times according to Jesus through his apostles. He said, "The next thing is going to be wars and rumors of war. The tribulation, the antichrist who's going to commit the abomination of desolation which Daniel talked about. There's going to be finally the return of the son of man as it was in the days of Noah so shall it be in this coming of the sons of man, and then there's going to be judgment, and finally the kingdom". Never once did Jesus mention the rapture. Why? Because Jesus was talking to Jews. He was talking to his apostles.
As far as Israel is concerned, the next event is going to be the Great Tribulation. You see, beginning in Genesis 12 God started dealing with the nation of Israel to draw Israel to himself. But when Israel rejected Jesus Christ, God temporarily halted his dealing with Israel and he turned his attention to people like us gentiles who could become a part of the Kingdom of God. Now has God given up on Israel? Not at all. Israel has a hardness of heart toward Christ right now. Now, there are a few who are being saved. Obviously there are great ministries to Jewish people right now, but as a nation, they have a hardness of heart toward the Gospel. But that's a temporary hardness of heart.
The Bible says, "That this is a time when God has turned his attention away from Jews towards those of us who are gentiles, giving us an opportunity to be saved". But this hardening is not going to be forever. God has one final period in history when he's going to get Israel a chance to be saved. That period of time is the last seven years on God's time clock. It's the time of the Great Tribulation. And so when the apostles said to Jesus, "What shall be the sign of your coming in the end of the age"? He talks to these Jewish apostles about the Great Tribulation, which is called Daniel 70th week. The time of Jacob's trouble. It is a time of severe punishment, but it's a time of redemption for Israel that will be followed by the Lord's return.
Now, Paul talked about this partial hardening that has come upon Israel and has resulted in our salvation. Turn over to Romans 11:25. I want you to see this and the teaching of Paul. Romans 11:25. Paul writes, "For I do not want you brethren to be uninformed of this mystery". People who say, "Well in time events we don't need to know about all this". Paul said, "I don't want you to be uninformed". The literal word is ignorant. I don't want you to be ignorant about these things. Paul says the same thing in 1 Thessalonians 4, "I don't want you to be uninformed about the rapture. I don't want you to be uninformed of this mystery lest you be wise in your own estimation".
And what's the mystery here? That a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the gentiles has come in. There's the church. That is, God has temporarily set aside Israel because of her hardness of heart so that people like you and I can be saved. That's the gentile blessing. Do you realize you and I have benefited from Israel's hardness of heart? Because Israel hardened her heart against God. You and I have been given the opportunity to be saved. But don't forget this. Paul says, "That hardness of Israel's heart is only a temporary hardness". God is one final time going to give Israel a chance to be saved, and when the last gentile has been saved, who God has planned to be saved, then the final last seven years of earth's history will begin the Great Tribulation.
Now I know that's a lot of theology to go through in about 10 minutes here. So we're going to take a break right now. Okay? And I'm gonna to tell you a story from my love life. It's a sad story. It's really a sad story, but it has a happy ending to it. When I was 12 years old, I met Amy Lyon Reynard in miss Denny's math class. Seventh grade at West Junior High School in Richardson. And I was head over heels, I mean immediately in love. And we became fast friends when we were 12 years old and best friends in the seventh and eighth grade. And then the ninth grade we started dating and I really fell in love and I mean she was the best thing that ever happened to me. But when we became sophomores in high school, Amy did the unthinkable. She broke up with me. She wanted to start dating other guys.
Can you imagine anything like that? I mean, I just cannot imagine what possessed her to do that. But I tell you I was absolutely crushed. As the old country western song said "She done stomped on my aorta". She did. I mean, I was so upset and suddenly I found that I had all this free time on my hands. And so I got involved in student government at our school. I started leading some Bible studies and there was this girl who was a mutual friend of ours who is a friend there was anything Romantic but she was a friend and she wasn't a Christian. So I invited her to a few church functions and started talking to her about Christ. And she eventually came to faith in Christ that year. And then later in our sophomore year, Amy came to her senses and... no, we got back together again. And it's been eternal bliss ever since that time.
But you know, it was interesting that girl who came to Christ during that time, a few years ago, she wrote me a letter and she was reflecting on how she became a Christian and what had happened in her life since that time. And she said, "You know, if you and Amy had not broken up in our sophomore year, I doubt you would have ever had time to pay attention to me, and give me an opportunity to hear the Gospel". Now what she was saying was, because of the hardness of Amy's heart, a temporary hardness, I'm hoping dear. But anyway, because of the hardness of Amy's heart, this girl had an opportunity to be saved, but it was a temporary hardness and we were reconciled back to one another. That's really what the church age is. Paul is saying, "Because Israel hardened, it's heart toward God temporarily, gentiles have had the opportunity to be saved". That's the church age we're living in.
Now you have to understand the church age to understand the end of the church age, which is the rapture of the church. The fact is, after every gentile has been saved, who is going to be saved, then God starts that countdown clock, the final seven years called the tribulation. Look at the second chart that I put on your outline, the rapture of the church ends the church age, and it begins the period of time known as the great... As the rapture of the church. The rapture of the church precedes that seven year period of time called the tribulation.
Now where do we find this rapture of the church? Turn over to 1 Thessalonians 4, the passage we read just a few moments ago. 1 Thessalonians 4, this is the most definitive passage in all of the Bible about the rapture of the church. A little background is helpful to understand. Paul was writing to the Christians at Thessalonica. Thessalonica is the second largest city in Greece next to Athens. Some of us were there this last summer and spent several days in Thessalonica. It is a thriving city and there was a large community of believers there. And those believers, like most New Testament believers, thought that the Lord was going to return in their lifetime. You realize that I think even Paul believed that secretly he doesn't come out and say it. But when you read between the lines, I think Paul thought the Lord was coming back in his lifetime. These Thessalonians believed that. And then something started to happen.
As the Lord's return seemed to be postponed in their minds, their loved ones who were Christians begin to die. And so they had this question. They said, "Paul, what about our loved ones who've died before the Lord returns? Are they going to miss out on the resurrection? And what about us? When do we receive our new bodies that God has promised"? So Paul writes this letter, especially chapter four to answer those questions about what happens to Christians who die before the return of the Lord. And what about us? When do we receive our new bodies as well? Look at verse 13 of 1 Thessalonians 4. But we do not want you to be uninformed. There it is again, people who say, "We don't need to know all this stuff". No, Paul doesn't want us to be ignorant about those who are asleep. Let me stop there and say a word about this word asleep. He is talking about what happens to the bodies of Christians who die.
Never in the Bible is it said that our soul or our spirit goes to sleep when we die. It's always the physical body that is said to go to sleep. The Bible's very clear, if you as a Christian die today, your spirit, the essence of who you are doesn't float around in nothingness, it goes immediately into the presence of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:8 says, "For a Christian to be absent from the body is to be immediately at home with the Lord". When he talks about asleep here, he's talking about the bodies of Christians who die. He said, "We don't want you to be uninformed about those who are asleep so that you may not grieve as those who have no hope".
Don't worry about your loved ones who are Christians who have died. Look at verse 14, "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus". Don't worry about your loved ones, but God's going to take care of them. Where you say, how is God going to do that? He describes it in the rapture of the church beginning in verse 15.
What I want you to notice and jot down on your outline, there are four components of the rapture of the church. First of all, the descent of Christ. The descent of Christ. Look at verse 15 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 shall not precede, that is, we shall not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself, verse 16, will descend from heaven with a shout with the voice of the Archangel and with the trumpet of God and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Paul is saying, "Don't worry about your loved ones who have died". God is so concerned about them. He's going to raise them first. We will not precede. We will not go ahead of the dead in Christ. Those who have died in Christ.