1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 17
(16) For 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.
(17) After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
For Christians, the Rapture of the Church will be dramatic and unmistakable. To keep The Hope alive in our hearts, we should take the time to visualize this impending event. Our reality stems from the Word of God, as The Rapture will not be a Hollywood production with Frankie Avalon singing a “Rapture theme song” as he descends a spiral staircase. Jesus doesn’t need props; he will shout with an authoritative voice and raise dead Christians up from the grave. God’s choice of an accompanying instrument is the trumpet, not the pan flute, so that should get everyone’s attention. Surely it will sound skilled and professional, unlike the tentative squawks and squeaks of a novice grade school band. This unimaginable moment will be followed by the gathering of Christians in the clouds when Christians who are alive on earth are taken into the air and are instantly given new bodies.
I have often flown through the clouds in a plane, but I have rarely imagined what it would be like to be in them with my Lord and other Christians from all times. Having inquisitive young children has made me delve further into this concept. Will we be able to walk in the clouds, and if so, will there be an adjustment period, during which we stumble around until we get our “cloud legs”? Will there be a meet-and-greet, where we get to see Paul, Peter, John, and other venerable saints? How long until we get to talk to Jesus face to face? Will former airport employees be with him, instructing us to “stay behind the yellow line”? How will we find a voice to speak when we fall on our knees before our Lord?
The timing of the Lord’s return will be according to God’s plan, and it will happen like a “thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2). How often do we look up at the clouds in expectation that our Lord could return at any given moment? When we peer out of our rain-splashed windows, do we wait with eagerness for his possible arrival? Most of the time, clouds are simply a reminder to us that we’d better bring along a raincoat or umbrella. The kids and I sometimes play the “Clouds” game while lying in the grass on a breezy summer afternoon. If the clouds are billowy, their shapes might remind us of a majestic castle or a cottontail rabbit. So far, no one has said, “That one looks like Jesus–could this be him?”
Early one Easter morning when our daughter was three, Dave entered her bedroom and heralded some joyful news: “Jesus is risen!” he announced. Grace, who usually greeted the dawn with the speed of a snail crossing an interstate highway in a blizzard, leaped out of bed with excitement. “Is he in the living room?” she asked breathlessly. Before Dave could explain, she bolted out of her room, barreled down the hallway, and stopped abruptly when she didn’t find our Lord sipping orange juice at the breakfast table. The Hope of Christ’s return was alive and well in our young child.
The return of our Lord is so prevalent in Grace’s mind that she actually makes plans for the event. The self-appointed Cruise Director of the Kingdom, she is already making comments such as, “When Jesus comes back, I’m going to dance with him forever!” As she demonstrated the dancing for me, I watched with awe as she freely and joyfully pirouetted around the living room. Yes, I realized, he probably will dance with us, and it won’t be the Hokey Pokey or the Chicken Dance. Grace’s Paradise is one in which Jesus spends one-on-one time with her, engaging in all of her favorite activities: playing with dolls, practicing ballet, and jumping on a King-size bed. What would The Hope be, if it wasn’t something that we could eagerly anticipate?
All of this Hope-building did have a down side one afternoon, when Dave decided to distract our kids from their contest entitled, “Who Can Whine the Loudest?” He pointed outside and gasped dramatically, “Look who’s out on our deck? Could it be? Is it…is it JESUS?!!!!!!” Admittedly, this announcement did distract them for a nanosecond, but the whining was quickly replaced by blood-curdling shrieking as Grace dropped what she was doing and ran for the hills. She was frightened beyond words at the thought that the time had come and our Lord was at the door! After the neighborhood dogs finally stopped howling at her high-pitched squeals, Dave realized that his ruse did not exactly bring the desired effect. We had a good laugh, but the whole episode made me question how prepared we really are for our Lord’s return.
What if we lived every moment as if Jesus was going to return in that instant? I certainly wouldn’t want it to happen during an awkward or embarrassing situation. (Oh, Hi, Jesus! I was just, uh…um…thanking that driver for cutting me off so abruptly. Yes, I know, that was a rather unusual way to show my gratitude, but…uh…) God was wise not to give us a clue as to the timing of Christ’s arrival. Imagine if God left a gigantic clock in the sky that showed a countdown until the return of Jesus. Wouldn’t our behavior change according to how much time we thought we had left? Students never study for their finals at the beginning of the year, but they sure are cramming on the night before exams! Not knowing the time of Jesus’ return forces us to stay alert and vigilant at all times.
1 Thessalonians 5:4-6
(4) But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.
(5) You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.
(6) So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.
Jesus advised his disciples to “keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matt. 25:13). Even Jesus did not know the time of his return, probably so that he wouldn’t have to endure his disciples begging for hints. If we all knew the exact time and date of his return, our lives would cease to run on hope and faith. All of our focus would be aimed toward the final event, and we might lose sight of the present.
When our kids know that a holiday or birthday is coming soon, they lose focus on the day to day activities and concentrate on the future special event. As soon as Thanksgiving comes to a close, they are counting down to Christmas. God, knowing that we are all kids at heart, lovingly concealed the time of Christ’s return so that we can focus on our daily walk.
2 Peter 3:10-12a and 14
(10) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
(11) Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives
(12a) as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming…
(14) So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
Until our Lord’s return, we are to look forward to his arrival and dedicate our lives to holiness, love, and service. While we are waiting for Jesus, we should do what he asked us to do. He rebuked the people because they called him “Lord” but did not do what he said (Luke 6:46). His life instructions can be found in The Bible, an effective training manual that contains everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), unlike today’s useless manuals that lead us to assemble a bicycle in ten hours, only to find two extra screws and an upside-down seat. Jesus wants us to eagerly anticipate his return without falling asleep on the job. He rebuked his disciples when they couldn’t stay awake for an hour during his time of distress. He exhorted, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Matt. 26:41).
God understands our weaknesses, and He lovingly gave us The Hope of our Lord’s return as an “anchor for the soul” (Heb. 6:19). No matter what trials we are experiencing, we can respond with, “But, Jesus is coming back!” Every day that passes brings us one day closer to the return of our Lord. If only we watched for Jesus with the same zeal with which we watch the weather forecast. Wouldn’t it be something if one day the forecast was cloudy with a chance of Rapture?
The Apostle Paul believed that he would still be alive when Christ returned. He wrote as though he was definitely planning on having a front row seat for the event.
1 Thessalonians 4:17
After that, WE who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so WE will be with the Lord forever.
We are not expected to walk around looking up at the clouds in constant anticipation of the arrival of Jesus. For one thing, we would all have stiff necks, and people would be bumping into walls and having all sorts of accidents. But are we planning for the event of his return? If he shows up today, will I shriek in surprise or treat him as a welcome guest whom I have been eagerly expecting? When I look up on a cloudy day, I don’t want to think of impending rain. I pray that my heart will reflect the beautiful verse at the end of the Bible, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20 KJV), for there is hope in the clouds.