The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Jesus is Coming Back For You

Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord"

-         I Thessalonians 4:17

When Paul planted the church in Thessalonica he only stayed there about one month. When you read the Thessalonian epistles it's striking to see the depth of the spiritual foundation Paul (under the empowerment of the Holy Spirit) was able to lay at this church. What is also striking is the emphasis on Christ's return. If you had to instruct people on their faith and only had a month to do it, I'm sure you would focus on the most foundational points. That's what Paul did. One of the most prominent points he taught was that Christ would return. Paul wrote, "Therefore, comfort one another with these words" (I Thessalonians 5:18). May this issue comfort and excite you in your faith.

No one would dispute that Christians experience trials and tribulations in this life. Jesus said we would (John 16:33). The Bible explains that such trials serve a vital purpose in maturing the believer's faith (James 1:2-5; I Peter 1:6-9). God in His sovereign will permits trials because they serve his purposes (Job 1-2; I Peter 4:12-19).  However, it is Satan and the world under his grip that implements such trials and his motivation is to destroy the believer's faith (I Peter 5:8-11).

The trials the believer experiences are not God's wrathful judgment. The trials we face are the result of remaining in a sinful world environment as God awaits the last Gentile to accept His Son as Savior (Romans 11:25; I Peter 3:9). Only God knows the exact number that will complete the phrase, "the fullness of the Gentiles has come in". At this point in history the Bible declares that a final seven years of God's judgment will begin. This is referred to as, "the time of Jacob's trouble" because Israel will go through it (Jeremiah 30:7), and the seventieth week of Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27). The last half of this seven year period is referred to as "the Great Tribulation" (Matthew 24:21; Mark 13:19; Revelation 7:14). The Great Tribulation is a time in which God pours out His wrathful judgment on an unbelieving world (Revelation 6:17; 11:18; 16:1). This is going to be a terrible time on the earth. So terrible will those times be, that people will "seek death" but God will not permit them to escape in this way (Revelation 9:6). The Great Tribulation is described in the book of Revelation chapters 6-19. But what about us? Will we have to experience God's wrath?

Whether or not believers will have to experience God's wrath raises an important question about the integrity of God's revealed nature. Would it be just, fair and in line with a holy God to pour out His wrathful judgment on believers and unbelievers alike? The answer to this is found in the Old Testament book of Genesis. In Genesis 18 the Lord appeared to Abraham to confirm the promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah even in their old age. As the Lord is leaving, He shares that He intends to judge Sodom and Gomorrah in order to teach Abraham to "keep the way of the Lord" (18:19). God wanted to teach Abraham that He is a righteous Judge. Abraham's nephew Lot lived in Sodom so he then asks, "Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?" (18:23). Abraham, the man of faith (15:6), "friend of God" (James 2:23) knows it is contrary to God's nature to "destroy the righteous with the wicked”. He states, "Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (18:25). The Lord confirms what He has put in Abraham's heart by saying, "I will not destroy it for the sake of ten" (18:32). And as we study further, God did not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah until Lot and his family were removed. Indeed the implication is that judgment cannot occur until the righteous are removed (19:22-24). On top of this, a study of the life of Lot reveals that he was only minimally righteous. Lot wasn't what you'd call a pillar of faith (13:10-13; 19:1-14). God is merciful. God will not destroy the righteous with the wicked!

The God who is so much for us that He gave His only Son to save us, and says He will "freely give us all things" (Romans 8:31-32), will not pour out His wrath on those who put their faith in His Son. There are clear statements to substantiate this. Listen to God's word: ". . . Wait for His son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come" (I Thessalonians 1:10; "For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thessalonians 5:9); "Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth" (Revelation 3:10). Furthermore, in Luke 21 Jesus is concluding His Olivet Discourse on the End Times and instructs His disciples (who were to become the pillars of the Church) to: "Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:36).

Jesus would not instruct His disciples to pray for something unless He wanted them to receive it. These verses are conclusive proof that God doesn't desire His people to experience His wrath. God will not pour out His wrath on those in the Church!

Now this raises another question. If God is going to pour out His wrath on this world, and we are living in "this world”, how do we "escape" the wrath to come? Where will we be when God pours out His wrath on this world? The answer is we'll be with Him! How can this be? How will God accomplish this? Jesus is coming back for His church, before the tribulation occurs. The Bible refers to this as the Rapture: "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord" (I Thessalonians 4:16-17).

The word "rapture" doesn't appear in Scripture. But that doesn't discount this doctrine any more than the doctrines of the "Trinity" or the "Millennium" whose words also are not found in Scripture. We get the word "rapture" from the Latin translation of I Thessalonians 4:17. The phrase "caught up" in the original Greek is translated from one Greek word, harpazo. When the Latin Vulgate translation was made harpazo was translated by the Latin word raptus. This is how we got the word rapture which refers to Christ's coming for His Church.

The Rapture of the Church is not taught in the Old Testament. This may be in part because the idea of "the Church" is also not taught in the Old Testament. Jesus introduced the idea of the Church in Matthew 16:18 when He said, ". . . On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it". The word "church" is ekklesia in the original Greek text and refers to a general "calling out" or gathering of people to discuss the affairs of state. The word "church" became particularly associated with the gathering of believers early on in Christian history (Acts 2:47). The Church was a "mystery" revealed in New Testament times (Ephesians 3:1-12). Therefore, since the Rapture pertains only to those who comprise the Church, it stands logical that the Rapture would only be revealed when God revealed the purposes and plans for the Church in the New Testament.

While most of Christendom believes Jesus will return for His Church, not everyone agrees that Jesus will rapture the Church before The Tribulation. Those who believe Jesus will rapture the Church midway through the Tribulation are referred to as holding a Mid-Tribulation view. Those who believe Jesus will rapture His Church after the Tribulation are referred to as Post-Tribulationists. Faithful people can be found in all three camps and whatever view you hold to should not become a source of division in the Church.

Some liberal scholars as well as Jehovah's Witnesses and New Age proponents opt for a spiritualized interpretation of End Times Scripture. Liberal scholars who hold to an amillenial view of Scripture do not believe in taking the Bible literally and see such doctrines as the Rapture in a symbolic way. Amillenialists tend to see the promises of Israel fulfilled in the Church. It's my opinion that such a view destroys the original intent of the Scripture and opens the door to the twisting of Scripture to one's own subjective predispositional whims. Roman Catholicism tends to opt for an amillenial view of Scripture. Jehovah's Witnesses spiritualized the Coming of Jesus after their numerous prophecies of His Coming didn't appear. New Agers believe "Jesus" and "Christ" are separate. They believe Jesus was a "Christ" in that he was a reincarnated avatar (i.e. a messenger or channeler who connects mankind with the reservoir of cosmic consciousness). To them Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and Confucius were "Christs”. They believe there is a "Law of Avatars" in which each "new age" is ushered in by "The Christ" of that age who will give new revelation which will guide one through that age in an ascending evolutionary path. (Sounds like a good deal for someone who would want to set themselves up to be Anti-Christ!)

There was a time in my spiritual walk when I held to a Post-Tribulation view. But as I have studied, clarified, and "rightly divided" (2 Timothy 2:15) God's Word, I have come to believe firmly in the Pre-Tribulation position. What changed my mind? The following are three basic reasons for my change of heart.

First, the pre-tribulation rapture coincides with God's nature. Nowhere in Scripture does God pour out His wrath on the faithful! I used to mistakenly believe that Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego were examples of going through tribulation like circumstances. But God didn't light that fire! Nebuchadnezzar lit that fire and turned the heat up in an attempt to destroy the three faithful of God. God will allow us to go through fiery trials, but He will never be the direct Source of them. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him" (Romans 5:8-9).

When that Scripture says, "from the wrath to come" that includes any wrath whose source is God whether during the Great Tribulation or in eternal hellfire!

Second, the pre-tribulation rapture exalts Christ. If you hold to a Post-Tribulation Rapture position the natural consequence is to look for the appearing of the Anti-Christ because he is the mark of the beginning of the final seven year period preceding the coming of Jesus. A Pre-Tribulation view puts our focus on looking for Jesus' return. I'd rather be looking for Jesus than Anti-Christ, wouldn't you?!

It should also be said that if you believe in a Post-Trib position, you have a host of markers that must occur before Jesus returns. That means the Rapture couldn't be imminent or coming at any time. That contradicts what the Bible says. The Bible says no one knows the day of Christ's coming and that the Rapture could occur at anytime (Mark 13:35-37; Luke 21:36; I Thessalonians 5:1-2). The Bible implies that if you knew when Jesus was returning you could bide your time (Matthew 25; I Thessalonians 5:4). But you don't know the time and therefore the believer should live in a constant state of readiness: "For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. But you brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief…. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober" (I Thessalonians 5:2, 4, 6; see also I John 3:2-3)

Finally, the pre-tribulational view is logical Scripturally. In his book No Fear the Storm (p.240), Tim LaHaye states, "When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense, but take every word at its primary, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context clearly indicate otherwise." Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (5:21). If the Church is to go through the Tribulation why is there no instruction on how to survive it? If the Church is to go through the Tribulation why in Revelation 6-19, (which contains the most elaborate details of the Tribulation period) is the Church not mentioned? In fact there is good reason to believe that the first three chapters of Revelation give the full history of the Church up to the point of the Rapture and then in Revelation 4:1 John, who may be representative of the Church is called to "Come up here" - "After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me saying, 'Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this" (4:1).

From that point on the Church is mentioned as in the heavenly presence of Jesus in the book of Revelation. Would the Rapture be a "blessed hope" if Christians had to go through the Tribulation? Paul wrote to Titus to teach about the "blessed hope" of Jesus' "glorious appearing" (Titus 2:13). What makes the Rapture blessed is the fact that God will save us from "the wrath to come"!

In I Thessalonians 4:13-18 we have one of the clearest references to the Rapture of the Church. The Rapture is something Paul did not want people to be "ignorant" of (4:13). The Rapture is something you need to know about! Those who die in the faith before the Rapture will be "with" Jesus at the Rapture (4:14-16). Those of us who are alive at the Rapture will be "caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (4:17). This distinguishes the Rapture from the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the Tribulation period. At the Rapture Jesus comes for His Church who meets Him "in the clouds . . . in the air". At the Second Coming, Jesus will return with His saints (Jude 14), and come upon the earth to judge the earth and set up His 1000 year reign (Zechariah 14:1-7; Revelation 11:15; 20:4). These are words that should be a comfort to us (4:18).

Is the Rapture a "comfort" to you? Are you ready? You may hold a different view than stated in this piece. There is a lot more evidence than what was presented in this short article. Just remember, God is for you and

He's coming back for you. If you don't hold to a Pre-Tribulation view now, those of us who do will explain it on the way up! He could come tonight.

Rapture References
Second Coming References
Luke 21:36
Daniel 2:44-45; 7:9-14; 12:1-3
John 14:1-3
Zechariah 14:1-15
Romans 5:9
Matthew 13:41; 24:15-31; 26:64
I Corinthians 1:7-8; 15:1-53; 16:22
Mark 13:14-27; 14:62
Colossians 3:4
Acts 1:9-11; 3:19-21
I Thessalonians 1:10; 2:19; 4:13-18; 5:9,23
I Thessalonians 3:13
II Thessalonians 2:1
II Thessalonians 1:6-10; 2:8
I Timothy 6:14
II Peter 3:1-14
II Timothy 4:1
Jude 21
Titus 2:13
Revelation 1:7; 19:11-20:6; 22:7,12,20
Hebrews 9:28
James 5:7-9
I Peter 1:7,13
I John 2:28-3:2
Jude 21
Revelation 2:25; 3:10; 4:1



[1] For further information -
Hunt, Dave. How Close Are We? Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Pub., 1993.
Missler, Chuck. From Here to Eternity. Coeur d'Alene, ID: Koinonia House, 1995.
LaHaye, Tim. No Fear The Storm. Sisters, Oregon: Multimomah, 1992.
Ludwigson, R. A Survey of Bible Prophecy. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1973.
Smith, Chuck. The Tribulation and The Church. Costa Mesa, CA: Word For Today, 1994.
Walvoord, Dr. John F. Prophecy - 14 Essential Keys To Understanding The Final Drama. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1993.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Words of Comfort Concerning Death

“Therefore comfort one another with these words.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:18


Every human being will one day die. The only exception are those people alive at the Rapture of the church by Jesus. But the Bible says each person will die and then face judgment (Heb. 9:27). David in Psalm 39 spoke of the transience, the frailty of life when he was inspired to write:  Lord, make me to know my end, And what is the measure of my days, That I may know how frail I am” (Psalm 39:4-13).  In another Psalm it states, “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). In Psalm 139 it tells us God has created each person with an allotment of days saying, “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Psalm 139:16).  Our days are in God’s hands.


So what can we know about our end? How do we measure our days? In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians he is inspired to provide words of comfort death. He writes: “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. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.  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. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 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. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).  


We will all inevitably experience death both on a second hand and first hand basis. We all know people who have died, and we ourselves will someday die.  Death is a 100% certainty. In response to the question, “How many people die per day?” Yahoo Answers recorded, “According to the CIA World Fact Book, as of July, 2005, there were approximately 6,446,131,400 people on the planet, and the death rate was approximately 8.78 deaths per 1,000 people a year. According to our nifty desktop calculator, that works out to roughly 56,597,034 people leaving us every year. That's about a 155,000 a day.[1] The online Wiki Answers estimates that “6098 people die each hour. . . .102 people die each minute.”[2] Death is all around us. People died in the past. People are dying in the present. People will die in the future. Death is inevitable.

To some death is a deep dark frightening mystery to be dreaded and held off for as long as possible. Thanatopia is the fear of death. In the movie Star Trek Into Darkness two prime characters die; Rear Admiral Christopher Pike (played by Bruce Greenwood) and Captain Kirk himself (played by Chris Pine). What is interesting about the two deaths is that in the last gasps before death both express their fear of death. Apparently with all the advances of the future there has been a distancing from God. The result? Fear of death. Death doesn’t have to be merely an into darkness experience.

People go to great extents to hold off death. We live in a society consumed with the health and physical condition of our bodies. Part of this is motivated by a fear of death and desire to hold it off as long as possible. Each human being inherently knows there’s a ticking clock of age that one day will sound the alarm of death. No matter how much we humans try, there is no way to escape from death.

For many, death can be a very troubling fact of existence. The inevitability of death, when a person is unsure and in the dark about it can be a source of great fear and dread.  The things Paul had to say can be a great comfort for those considering the reality of death. He shared about death and then said, “Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

How can we be comforted about death with these words of Paul? What is it that Paul is inspired to tell us to be conscious of in these verses that will give us comfort?

First, be conscious of the fact that death is a reality (4:13). Paul says, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, . . .” The word “ignorant” here (ἀγνοέω agnŏĕō, ag-no-eh´-o ) means, “uniformed; to lack information.” Another English term is rooted in this word which is “agnostic.” (Interestingly, we also derive the word “ignoramus” from the Latin translation of this Greek term.) The opposite of being ignorant of something is being informed and knowledgeable about it. By stating his desire that they not be ignorant he implies it is possible to be ignorant about these things. Don’t be ignorant about these things, be informed.  Paul wants us to be conscious of something here.

What does Paul want us to be conscious of? Everyone dies, we all know that, but Paul calls us to be conscious of how to face and understand death. It is possible to understand death and face it fearlessly with hope. Paul’s choice of words in speaking about death are important.

Paul doesn’t want his readers to be ignorant “concerning those who have fallen asleep.” In the New Testament believers who died were referred to as having “fallen asleep” (Mark 5:39; John 11:11). This is not “soul sleep” but the “sleep” of the physical body in the earth until it is resurrected to a glorified body (1 Corinthians 15:35-57; 2 Corinthians 5:1-9). The reason Christians who died were spoken of in this way was because death for the Christian is only a temporary transition to being united with Jesus.  Therefore, right from the start Paul helps us to be conscious of a hope in the face of death.

Some people live a kind of ignorance is bliss attitude toward death. They put off thinking about it as though they could actually put off death and prolong life. Some people live as though they are the exception to death.

Before his death in 1981, American writer William Saroyan telephoned in to the Associated Press this final, very Saroyan-like observation: "Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?"  [3]


Is that your way not-thinking about death?  There are no exceptions concerning death, we’ll all experience it.

On a tombstone was written:

Pause, stranger, when you pass me by; As you are now, so once was I; As I am now, so you will be; So prepare for death and follow me.

An unknown passer by scratched in some additional words which said:

To follow you I’m not content, until I know which way you went.

What we need to know about death is not just that it is inevitable but that there is a way to be prepared for it. And this is so very important because death brings with it a final decision about a person’s eternal destiny. There is an existence after death. The decisions we make in this life now, have a direct bearing on our eternal destiny which we embark upon at the point of death.

Second, be conscious of a hope available in death (4:13). Paul continues, “lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.” Paul tells his readers that death doesn’t have to be a dark unknown that produces despair. We can have hope. Despair is the absence of hope. Sometimes when a loved one dies, those left behind despair because death to them is dark and uncertain, the great unknown in human existence. To them their loved one has passed on forever into that unknown never, (they think) to be seen again. Paul here tells his readers, it’s alright to sorrow, but don’t sorrow hopelessly, sorrow hopefully.

What is “hope”? Hope is a faithful expectation of future good. How can we face death with hope? First we need to consider why some face death despairingly or without hope. The Bible tells us that those who do not have a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are those who have no hope:

  • Ephesians 2:12 - that at that time you were without Christ, . . . , having no hope and without God in the world.


The Bible teaches clearly that without Christ there is no hope. This is because every person has sinned at some time in their lives and sin separates us from God, the only source of hope (Isaiah 59:2; 53:4-6; Romans 3:23).

Sarah Winchester's husband had acquired a fortune by manufacturing and selling rifles. After he died of influenza in 1918, she moved to San Jose, California. Because of her grief and her long time interest in spiritism, Sarah sought out a medium to contact her dead husband. The medium told her, "As long as you keep building your home, you will never face death."


Sarah believed the spiritist, so she bought an unfinished 17-room mansion and started to expand it. The project continued until she died at the age of 85. It cost 5 million dollars at a time when workmen earned 50 cents a day. The mansion had 150 rooms, 13 bathrooms, 2,000 doors, 47 fireplaces, and 10,000 windows. And Mrs. Winchester left enough materials so that they could have continued building for another 80 years. Today that house stands as more than a tourist attraction. It is a silent witness to the dread of death that holds millions of people in bondage because they have no hope in death (Heb. 2:15). [4]


How can a person receive hope, a hope that comforts us in death? Is it a matter of building earthly monuments to leave behind us? Is it a matter of going to church, of performing a ritual, of keeping the Ten Commandments, of being a good person, of being religious? No, none of these things measure up to God’s requirements to enter heaven. They all fall short of His glorious standard (Romans 3:23; John 16:8-11). There is only one way to receive hope and comfort with which to face death.

Third, be conscious of Christ’s hope (4:14). It states, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” The condition laid down here by Paul to receive comfort and hope with which to face death, is believing “that Jesus died and rose again.” To “believe” means simply to put your trust in something, accept it as true and follow through on that belief.

Here Paul tells us we must believe or trust in the fact that Jesus died. Jesus’ death was an atoning death. He died like all people do, but because He was the sinless Son of God His death atoned for or paid the just penalty for our redemption. Jesus paid a debt He did not owe for those who owed a debt they could not pay. And because of this when we accept and believe that “Jesus died for me,” to pay our debt, our death penalty (Rom. 6:23) and on the basis of Jesus substitutionary death we ask God’s forgiveness for our sins, God justly forgives us on the basis of Jesus death on the cross (cf. Rom. 3:23-26; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 1:18-19).

Why did God send His Son Jesus to die for our sins? God sent His only Son Jesus because He loves us (Rom. 5:8). And when such love is perfected in us, when it is fully matured, such perfect love casts out fear of judgment (1 John 4:17-19). Paul’s words imply there was a question amongst the Thessalonians about death and those who die before the return of Jesus. This may be further evidence of what Paul alluded to earlier as lacking in the faith of the Thessalonians (cf. 3:10). If they were perfected or fully mature in the love (agape) of God, they would not fear judgment or the apparent issues associated with death. We are human and will naturally question or have interest in the afterlife. But those who are fully mature spiritually in the love of God put fear associated with death aside through faith in Jesus Christ. This is what the apostle John taught (1 John 4). This is what the apostle Paul teaches here. We should aim to be able to say with Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

How do we overcome the fear associated with death? What is the basis of victory over such fears? It is the belief and trust in the fact of that Jesus rose again from the dead. The resurrection is the exclamation mark of God indicating the atoning work of Jesus on the cross completely satisfied His just requirements of the law and was entirely sufficient to pay the penalty for the sins of the world. That Jesus rose from the dead also demonstrates victory over the final enemy, death! And Jesus is the first fruit, the One who goes before. He leads the way for us so that all those who trust in Him can have a hopeful prospect of resurrection too (1 Cor. 15). The resurrection is the proof in the pudding. It’s where the rubber meets the road. It’s where God put up and skeptics must shut up.

How can this be applied to our life? Hope can we appropriate this hope in Christ? Receiving hope from God through faith in Jesus Christ is as simple as ABC:

A – ADMIT – that you have sinned (even just once is enough – Gal. 3:10; James 2:10) and broken God’s Law. ACKNOWLEDGE – that because the wages or penalty of breaking God’s law is death (Romans 6:23a) you are deserving of death. ACCEPT – by faith that Jesus paid the penalty for sin for you by dying on the cross as your substitute (John 1:12; Romans 6:23b; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24).

B – BELIEVE that Jesus’ death on the cross for you is sufficient to reconcile you to God, for Him to justly forgive your sin and apply Christ’s righteousness to you (2 Corinthians 5:21). Believe that as you Admit, Acknowledge, and Accept His gift of salvation, that He fills you with His Holy Spirit (John 3; Romans 8:5,9; 10:8-10; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

C – COMMIT your life to Him; to walk in obedience to His Spirit with Jesus as Your Lord and Master (Galatians 5). Just give Jesus your life and trust Him with everything.

Through faith in Jesus we have hope, an assurance of future good coming to us as we pass through the door of death into eternity. Those are comforting words of hope. When we have a hope in Christ that does not disappoint, we are comforted in the face of death.


Fourth, be conscious of the hope found in God’s word (4:15). Paul wrote, “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.” This passage in 1 Thessalonians speaks about the return of Jesus. When Christ returns at the “coming of the Lord,” true believers in Christ upon the earth will be gathered to Him. Those who die before that return “precede” or go before those who will be taken at the return of Jesus. But notice a very practical point here.

Paul directs his readers to “the word of the Lord,” because it is God’s word that fuels our faith, and hope is a faith applied to the future (Romans 10:17).

If you want God’s hope, He offers it in His word. The Bible says, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). There is great hope to be found in God’s word (e.g. Lam. 3:22-23; 1 Cor. 1:3; Rom. 15:13; Phil. 1:21; Col. 1:3-5; 2 Thess. 2:16-17; 1 Pet. 1:3). If you’re feeling hopeless, the most practical way to get your hope up is to go to God and His word. Prayerfully take it in and He will give you His hope.


Fifth, be conscious of Christ’s coming (4:16-17). Now Paul substantiates his words by writing, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 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. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” This passage in 1 Thessalonians deals with prophecy, predictions of the future. Did you know that the Bible is unique in this regard? Only the Bible has prophecy of future events. Other religious writings have nothing that compares to the prophetic content of the Bible. There were over 300 prophecies fulfilled by Jesus at His first coming. God uses prophecy to put His finger print on His word. God sees the end from the beginning so that when He inspires a human writer in the Bible to share prophetically He  is only speaking naturally for Himself. We are limited by time, God is not. Therefore, when God speaks through human agents the words are often prophetic in that they speak of things yet future, sometimes centuries or thousands of years ahead of time (Isaiah 42:9; 46:9-10; 2 Peter 1:20-21). God has spoken prophetically in the Bible and what God says is certain to come to pass just as it always has (2 Peter 1:19). Paul tells his readers about a blessed hope for the future that Jesus is coming back to earth (4:16-17).


Paul in another letter refers to this as the blessed hope of the Christian saying, “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” (Titus 2:13). Jesus is coming back. He is coming for His flock of true believers at the Rapture. And then with His flock at the 2nd Coming of Jesus. When He returns He is going to remove all injustice and make all things right. His glory will cover the earth and peace will finally be established upon the earth. That is a blessed hope for believers, but for those who do not know Christ there is only the anticipation of the just wrath of God.


Our End Time

We don’t know when Jesus will return, but what we do know is that our “end time” might come before His return. Each of us has their own “end time” at the point of death. Death without Jesus is dark, despairing and destined to lead to eternal separation from God in an eternal place of darkness, pain and torment (Luke 16). If we die in our sins without having a personal relationship with Jesus as our Savior and Lord, then we really will experience hopelessness. But death with Jesus gives a glorious hope.

Paul wrote in another passage, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Believers have hope and don’t sorrow like those who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Believers approach death differently. Believers never have to say “I’ll never see them again”; but instead can say “see you later.”  Death is only a temporary separation for believers. Death is a peaceful sleep or rest; it’s a door to a better place.


This is not the case for the one who is unsaved from their sins or who does not have a saving relationship with God through faith in Christ. For the unsaved, death leads to eternal darkness and separation from God and everything good. Dying without Jesus is a reason to despair, for if you die without having received Jesus as your Savior by faith, there is no longer any hope for you. Those who die without having had their sins forgiven by God in Christ, will be judged for their sin and the sentence is eternal separation from God and all good. This is not something God desires for anyone. God prepared hell for the devil and his angels, not people. But those who reject God, in effect choose to rebel like Satan and will spend eternity in the same place of torment. In reality, those who spend eternity in hell have chosen to be there. That may offend you, but that is the truth everyone needs to consider. If you disagree, your argument and disagreement is not with me, but with God and His word. No one has ever or won or ever will win an argument with God. (See Matthew 10:15; 25:30, 41, 46; Romans 1:18, 32; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Peter 2:17; 3:9-10; Revelation 19:20; 21:8.)


Lastly, be conscious of Christ’s comfort and comfort one another (4:18). Paul concludes, “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” The word “Therefore,” points us to what precedes and conveys the thought of, “What should we do with this information from God’s revelation?” Paul says, “comfort one another with these words.” There is comfort in our relationship with Jesus Christ. There is comfort from God’s word. There is comfort from the hope of Christ’s return. And there is comfort that God gives through fellow believers.


What does “comfort” mean? “Comfort” (παρακαλέω parakalĕō, par-ak-al-eh´-o ) occurs 109 times in the New Testament and is translated “beseech” 43 times, “comfort” 23 times, “exhort” 21 times, “desire” eight times, “pray” six times, “entreat” three times, and “besought” once.  The idea here is to come together to exhort, encourage, strengthen, instruct, console and comfort. [5]

What is there to come together and be comforted about in this passage? In review we see:

1.)    We are comforted when we are conscious of the fact that death is a reality, but through faith in Jesus we can have a sure hope that death is not the end but only the beginning of a better life, eternal life. Christians don’t view the death of another Christian as “I’ll never see you again,” but “See you later.”  (4:13-14)

2.)    We are comforted when we are conscious of the hope and comfort offered in God’s word (4:15)

3.)    We are comforted when we are conscious of Jesus return. He’s coming again. He’s going to make things right, and that is a reality to give us great hope and comfort (4:16-17).


Our departed loved one in Christ is with the Lord right now. We shouldn’t be sad for them, we should be glad for them. They have left behind all the shackles of an earthly body. They have left behind all earthly cares. They are in the presence of the Lord Jesus and experiencing joy inexpressible and fullness of glory. When that is our hope, it is a great comfort.


A Christian railroad engineer was speaking to a group of fellow workers about heaven. He said, "I can't begin to tell you what the Lord Jesus means to me. In Him I have a hope that is very precious. Let me explain. Many years ago as each night I neared the end of my run, I would always let out a long blast with the whistle just as I'd come around the last curve. Then I'd look up at the familiar little cottage on top of the hill. My mother and father would be standing in the doorway waving to me. After I had passed, they'd go back inside and say, 'Thank God, Benny is home safe again tonight.' Well, they are gone now, and no one is there to welcome me. But someday when I have finished my 'earthly run' and I draw near to heaven's gate, I believe I'll see my precious mother and dad waiting there for me. And the one will turn to the other and say, 'Thank God, Benny is home safe at last.'"


The person who dies in the Lord is in a much better place. They are safe at home. They are enjoying the Lord and enveloped in His worship. With Jesus there are no more groan producing bodily ailments. There are no more health problems to hold them down. They are happier in the presence of Jesus than they could ever be here on earth. In fact, (don’t be offended) the departed loved one is probably not even thinking of those left behind. They have their eyes where they longed to put them all along, on Jesus. And if we were able to pry our departed loved one away for a moment from their worshipful gaze on the Lord, they would tell you how “GREAT!!!!!” heaven was. How happy they would be if we would all someday join them in the presence of Jesus.  What joy they would have to know they played a small part in your following their lead. The comfort the Christian has is that it’s never “Goodbye forever,” but only “See you later.”




[3] Today in the Word, April 11, 1993.
[4] Our Daily Bread, April 2, 1994.
[5]Strong, J. 1996. Enhanced Strong's Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship: Ontario

Friday, May 17, 2013

In His Image – Grace, Faith, and Love

“So God created man in His own image” – Genesis 1:27

We are created in the image of God. What does that mean? In part it means we are a reflection of God and who He is. We get a picture of who God is and what He is like when we look at the human makeup. Of course, that image has been marred by sin. Adam went from being created in the image of God to having offspring “in his own likeness,” that is, in his own fallen sinful nature likeness (Gen. 5:3). But there is still a lot we can learn about God and His ways by looking at His image in us. 

We see; God sees. We hear; God hears. We touch; God touches. “So do animals,” you say. Some would argue that primates are very human-like. They would go so far as to say they are simply less evolved than humans. That is a discussion for another day. Suffice it to say that humanity is so far beyond primates in intellect, creativity, and volition as to make comparison gross. Humanity is uniquely created by God in His image. What really sets humanity apart?

I like the comment of Pastor Chuck Smith in the Word for Today Bible for Genesis 1:26. He states, “What does it mean to be made after God’s likeness? The chief governing characteristic of God is His self-determination – His will and His ability to choose and to determine His own destiny. So man was created a self-determinant being. The chief emotional attribute of God is love. God made man in His image with a beautiful capacity to love – both to give it and receive it.” [1] The image of God in us is most clearly seen in our will and capacity to love.

Understanding the image of God in humanity is important because it sheds light on our accountability before God. Because we are created by God with the capacity to make decisions and to love others, we are accountable before Him for those decisions and our love or lack thereof.

Our existence is completely due to the sovereign determination of God. We exist because He chose to bring us into existence. “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” (Colossians 1:16b, 17). “You are worthy O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created” (Rev. 4:11). That is grace. We don’t deserve to be created. But God created us by grace; undeserved favor. Grace is God acting according to His own nature of love. God created us graciously; according to His own nature of love. He created us in His image.

Created by His grace and in His image we have the capacity to make decisions. God’s image in us manifests itself in our capacity to choose right from wrong. We trust this or that. We exert the faith He has built into our being. “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). “’How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ But the people answered him not a word.” (1 Kings 18:21).

The greatest decision we make is to love. “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD our God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Mat. 22:37-40). The love God speaks of is not cheap love. It isn’t a love that is in word only. Love is not mere lip-service. “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.” (John 14:21a). “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18).

Human choice and love are inextricably connected. If humanity does not have the capacity to choose, it cannot love. Love forced is an oxymoron. That’s important because some theology discounts the human will. It removes the image of God in humanity that provides the capacity to choose and make decisions. There are some who would remove human decision from the equation of salvation. And yet Christ’s call to repentance screams for decision (e.g. Mark 1:15). I understand the motive of those who discount human free will and the capacity for decision. I understand the desire to exalt God and make salvation completely and totally of Him, of His grace. But even if the salvation plan of God is viewed as incorporating a decision from human beings, salvation is still totally of God. God created us in the first place. He created us in His image with the capacity to choose. He reasons with us and draws us to Himself (Is. 1:18; John 6:44). He persuades us and convicts us of our sin (John 16:8-11). It’s all by His grace. We wouldn’t know we fall short of His glorious requirements unless by grace he revealed and exposed our depravity (Rom. 3).

Removing the decision required of humanity by God from the salvation equation serves to desecrate the image of God He has placed in the human creation. It makes God’s creation less than He created it to be. It diminishes God’s creativity. It doesn’t exalt God’s sovereignty, it lessons it. Is God only able to rule those He has programmed a certain way to be ruled? Or is God so great and glorious that He can field humanities’ questions and even their accusations and then respond, “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me” (Job 38:2-3).

To say humanity must respond to the gospel with faith or trust should not be viewed as incorporating a human “work” in salvation. Faith is not a work. When a person repents and puts their faith in Jesus they have nothing to boast about. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9). Faith is part of God’s image in humanity. It is there by grace. But humanity is responsible for using that capability.

Some say salvation circumvents a willful decision by people. Some say people cannot make a decision one way or the other. They affirm the only people who are saved are those who have been predestined to salvation by God beforehand. They say salvation is separate from any decision on the part of humanity. Such a view removes the image of God from humanity. Such a view reduces humanity to automatons; robots. Unable to choose, we are unable to love. Thank God this is not the truth! For God has given us a will and capacity to choose. Praise God we can choose to receive Jesus as our Savior and Lord! Praise God we can love! By His grace we can choose. By His grace we can love. Choose wisely.



[1] Pastor Chuck Smith,  Word for Today Bible. (Costa Mesa CA: Word for Today Pub. 2012)  note on page 3 for Genesis 1:26.