In the weeks preceding our Easter celebration, we have spoken about the Gospel message which includes the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Regarding His death, I believe there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind, if you heard the scientific and forensic evidence given, that Jesus Christ really did die on the cross. This is critical because the detractors of Christianity claim He only “swooned” or fainted , but did not die. If that were true, then Jesus did not die for our sins and no sacrifice was made for us. But He did, and that’s the purpose of verifying His death.
We also discussed His activities during the three (3) days in which His body was in the tomb, which resulted in His freeing Hades of believers at His resurrection ( Matt, 27:51-53), and leading “captivity captive” at His ascension (Eph.4:8). After His resurrection, He proved Himself alive to over 500 eye witnesses during a forty day (40) period. (I Cor. 15:6)
A short time after Christ’s ascension to heaven, the Holy Spirit descended and anointed the Christians in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) This miracle of God’s power given to all believers began on that specific day, and holds true today for all believers in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. That Spirit joins them in God’s holy family as His own children.(Jn 1:12) This bestowing of the Holy Spirit upon believers, instigated the beginning of the Christian Church, which has continued for almost two thousand years. That same Holy Spirit also indwells all true believers today.
Yet in spite of all these miraculous and wonderful things, one more amazing miracle remains to take place for believers. WHAT IS IT? It is the return of Jesus Christ for the purpose of the resurrection of all believers and removing them from this world just prior to the great, seven-year Tribulation. That earth shattering event will, in my opinion, likely take place in the near future. You can be sure of this one thing, His return is imminent – meaning it could take place any time.
In 600 B.C. the prophet Daniel gave this prophecy regarding the resurrection of men. You will note that while all men will eventually be resurrected, not all will be blessed. Yet, for those who are raised to glory, it will be their entry into everlasting life.
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt. Daniel 12:2
Daniel’s words closely match those of Jesus, who spoke of a future resurrection of all men:
Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. John 5:28-29
THE PROMISE (Turn to John 14)
Shortly before His arrest and crucifixion would take place, Jesus assured His followers of His return for them. When He said “I will come again and receive you to myself”, He was referring to His coming (Grk. parousia) as in His personal presence.
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.In My Father’s house are many mansions;[dwelling places] if it were not so, I would have told you. [For] I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” John 14:4
We can trust this promise because His words are emphatic and sure, since He is the only means of our salvation. You can be sure of that.
Jesus said. . . . “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6
THE PROCESS (Turn now to 1 Corinthians 15) j
In a Bible study one evening, a person new to the group asked this question: “Why is it necessary to be resurrected in a new body?” That may seem like a simple question, but it is a good question. For, apparently the same question was asked of the apostle Paul in his day. This is what he said:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. (I Cor.15:50)
The simple reason is this, eternity is a long, long time – longer than we can even imagine. It is timeless. For that reason, your body will not last for eternity, even under the best of conditions. But God who created our bodies in the first place, did so that we might enjoy His great blessings. He wants us to be able to do that with Him – forever! Therefore you will need a new body capable of enduring and enjoying all of eternity – life without end !
If you did not have a new, eternal body you would not be able to sing God’s praises, eat of the Tree of Life, drink from the river of life, (Rev. 22: 1-2) see the wonders of the new Heaven and Earth, have your tears dried by the Lord (Isa. 25:8) , nor would you be able to embrace friends or touch Jesus. God made the body to enjoy life and it is one of the main sensory parts of our being which allows us to experience those Divinely designed joys.
We must further remember that Adam was originally created as a man who was not intended to die. In fact, he was warned about death being the penalty for disobedience: “For in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:17b) Yet, the resurrection of believers transforms us from the inherited sinful body of Adam, into a sinless body like that of Christ. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” (I Cor. 15:22)
But what is the process by which the resurrection takes place? “How does the resurrection happen?” Is it a gradual experience, or is it rather sudden? Paul continues to explain this miraculous event as the Holy Spirit gave him instruction:
Behold, I tell you a mystery: . . . We shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. I Cor15:51-52
We are further enlightened by Paul’s words which help us understand that our weak bodies which are so easily subject to dying, are suffering under the curse of sin. For death is the mark of sin, and if we are to be free from sin in heaven with God, the last vestige of that horrible curse must be removed. When that dripping, vile curse of death which clings to our human bodies is removed, we will be fully free and completely redeemed by our Savior. Not until we are totally released from the power of death in a resurrected body incapable of dying, will we fully realize our redemption. The life we will experience in heaven, will be in a new, uncorrupted body capable of fully experiencing God for eternity with all His blessings. It is a marvelous plan and it is intended by God for our ultimate enjoyment and His Divine pleasure. Our new, eternal body will be the final evidence of the conquest of death – we no longer have cause to fear or worry.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” I Corinthians 15:53-54
THE PROCUREMENT – GATHERING (Turn to I Thessalonians 4:13-18)
Are there any details telling us what the resurrection of Christians will be like when Christ returns?
Again, the happy answer is, “yes”. That’s the reason Paul wrote to the Church at Thessalonica. Some of the Christians had died, and there was great concern about whether they had missed their resurrection since Christ had not returned while they were alive. Thus, his answer is designed to give both them and us, an answer of comfort. In this passage, he also explains that there is an orderly sequence to the resurrection. But, let’s break it down in verse segments:
Vs.13. But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.
He is encouraging Christians to not lose hope about the eternal salvation of fellow believers and relatives who died in faith, trusting Christ as Savior. Sadly, those who have no hope in salvation by faith in Christ, are destined to eternal damnation, and that concern causes great fear. Thus their unsaved relatives and friends “have no hope” of being saved from Hell. In contrast, the Christian has a great hope, for death is only a door through which we pass into eternal life.
Vs. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus [died in faith in Jesus].
The Bible assures us that when a Christian dies, their soul departs from the physical body, but goes to be with the Lord. “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” ( 2Cor. 5;8) That being the case, there are millions of souls of departed believers who are with the Lord right now! When the Lord Jesus returns for us, they will come with Him. For they have not yet experienced their physical, bodily resurrection and require eternal bodies as well.
Vs. 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 will by no means precede those who are asleep.
Because other Christians have died before us, they will be the first to receive a newly resurrected body. Paul states this strongly when he says that believers who are alive at Christ’s return, will not be resurrected before (precede) those who have already died.
Vs. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.
One of the ancient traditions regarding a Jewish wedding, was the groom coming at night at an unknown time, to collect his bride. As the groom and his party neared the home of the bride and her attendants in waiting, a trumpet was blown to announce their arrival. A great shout also went out and everyone knew what was happening. It was a great time of celebration. That tradition was referred to by Jesus in the parable of the ten virgins with lamps. Some had oil, others did not. Those with oil represented those who were saved, those without – the unsaved. (Matt. 25:6-13) In this verse (16) we see a reference to the bridegroom (Jesus) coming for His bride (the Church).
16b. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
Again, the orderly sequence of the resurrection is stated, saying that those whose bodies had died would be resurrected first, before those who were alive at Christ’s return.
17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the
clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
At last we come to the part that pertains to us – that is, if we are alive when He returns. If not, you will be resurrected before those living anyway, so either way you will be delightfully resurrected to eternal life. And most happily, we will be reunited with our Christian loved ones who have died before us. Thus, this great congregation of believers will gladly and joyfully embrace each other as they enter into the presence of the Lord, who will be there standing among us in the clouds. What a wonderful picture of our reunion with Christ, and our Christian relatives and friends in the very presence of the Lord Himself.
17b. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
At this very instance – the incredible time of our resurrection, realized in the midst of this happy congregation, will mark the beginning of our eternity, where we will always be with the Lord Jesus.
18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Having set forth both the order of the resurrection and the delightful view of the reunion of all Christian believers, we are encouraged to embrace God’s marvelous plan which looks beyond the veil of our immediate concerns. These words give us images of life, and glory, and rejoicing, and should produce a delightful sense of joy within us. It is the realization of what it will be like when we are in the presence of Jesus Christ, with a new, eternal body. The few words used in these grace filled verses, give us this wonderful thought. And with that, I think we are free to let our imaginations create a glorious picture from what is revealed to us.
For that reason, we can find a greater peace than the world knows. It is a peace based on the fulfillment of our resurrection at Christ’s return. Armed by faith of this matchless event, we can be released from the worrisome threat of death to us and our loved ones. That’s why we are told to “encourage one another with these words.”
FINAL WORDS FROM CHRIST
At the end of the Easter Pageant, the actor portraying Jesus, appears high up on the rocks above the audience and loudly proclaims “I am the Alpha and the Omega”. It is a striking and emotional moment for many. Yet, for some, this has little or no meaning, mainly because it is not understood. For it is the Christian’s exclusive promise of total and final victory over death, executed by the King of kings and Lord of lords. We see the power of Christ’s proclaimed in His title as the Alpha -Omega. The Greek words literally translate “the beginning and the end”. In the first chapter of Revelation, we see this affirmation of His continuous and overshadowing presence, strongly affirmed:
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, [God]“who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Rev. 1:8
This is the authoritative statement of the Son of God, who was present at the creation of the world and the universe (Jn1:1-3). Yet, in spite of man’s disobedience and the presence of the evil one, Satan himself, all will come to fulfill God’s ultimate plan. And that includes the complete dismissal of death itself when it is thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone. (Rev. 20:14) That plan also includes the full and complete redemption of all believing people, who by faith, put their trust in Jesus Christ as their only means of salvation. That trust will result in eternal life with the Lord Himself. It fulfills Jesus statement to Nicodemus recounted in John 3:16, shall not perish but have everlasting life.
However, before we can experience our resurrection, the Lord Jesus must come back. Upon His return, we will be lifted up (collected) into the clouds to meet Him in the air, and will instantly receive our new, eternal bodies. Yet the question comes to all of us: When will He come back?” However, the Bible says: “. . .of that day and hour no one knows.” (Matt. 24:36) Therefore, we must be ready for the time when He does return.
Three times in the last chapter of Revelation the words “I am coming quickly” are pronounced. They are designed to give us a sense of immediacy, a sense of “get ready”. Yet with each verse, a special thought is also contained:
The exhortation to be faithful:
Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy _ _ of this book.” Rev. 22:7
The promise to you who are faithful:
And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. _ Rev. 22:12
The assurance given by Christ Who is faithful:
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! Rev. 22:20
We have the PROPHECY, the PROMISE, the PROCESS, and the PROCUREMENT of Christian believers being rescued from this evil world. And, at the same time we are given new bodies capable of enjoying all of eternity. Knowing and embracing these promises of God’s plans for you and me, should instill a sense of deep peace within us. At the same time it should also reduce our fear of death.
Death has no permanent hold on the Christian. The promise of our resurrection at Christ’s appearing insures that. And, in the meantime, being convinced of His “quick” return, we are called to be faithful in serving Him while expecting His imminent appearance. What a joy to know our redemption is drawing nearer day by day.
May God’s trusted Word on this vital issue, bring you a quietness within your soul, as well as joy and peace both now and in the days to come. Amen.