The Lord's Coming
13My friends, we want you to understand how it will be for those followers who have already died. Then you won't grieve over them and be like people who don't have any hope. 14We believe Jesus died and was raised to life. We also believe that when God brings Jesus back again, he will bring with him all who had faith in Jesus before they died. 15 Our Lord Jesus told us that when he comes, we won't go up to meet him ahead of his followers who have already died.
16 With a loud command and with the shout of the chief angel and a blast of God's trumpet, the Lord will return from heaven. Then those who had faith in Christ before they died will be raised to life. 17Next, all of us who are still alive will be taken up into the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the sky. From that time on we will all be with the Lord forever. 18Encourage each other with these words.
Paul’s readers were worried about the technical details of the second coming of Christ, and in particular one question. What would happen to the people who died before Jesus reappeared? Were they included in the resurrection of believers or did they somehow miss out because they died too soon? Were they in a hopeless category, to be grieved and abandoned eternally?
No, says Paul. When Jesus comes again, he will raise up to himself all who keep faith, those who have died and those still alive. No one has precedence over anyone else, whether in time or in status. God will bring those who have died in Christ and those still living all together to meet the Lord. No one gets left behind.
I think we need to be wary of an overly literal interpretation of “coming down” and “going up” and “clouds.” I remember how our own children worried about what would happen if it were a sunny day without clouds when Jesus returned! And did you have to be on the ground in Jerusalem to make it work!
I’m quite happy to leave the technical details to God as producer and director, script writer and stage manager. I am happy to rest my hope in the truths of identity and purpose. It is the Lord Jesus himself, the one we know from scripture and history, who will appear. It is the people who live, and who have died in Christ who will meet him. And so “we will always be with the Lord.”
And whatever heaven turns out to be in the end, we know that it is made holy by the presence of God, and that we will be with him forever and ever. Which is more than just a very long time: it is the very destination for which we were born.
Dear Lord of the Second Coming, grant that we are able to let go of our insatiable need to know details, master technologies, manage and control. Grant that we trust you: and wait patiently and calmly for your sudden appearing.