Among the early Christians, there was an earnest expectation of one specific event. They believed God’s promise that Jesus Christ could return at any moment – even during their lifetime – to take His people to heaven.
The imminent return of Christ is a powerful theme throughout the New Testament. For the early Christians, faith in the truth of Christ’s imminent return produced strong hope and encouragement. It profoundly impacted how they lived their lives. It should impact our lives as well. But first, we must have a good understanding of what Christ’s return actually means.
Christ’s return for His people is a distinct event from what the Bible calls “the day of the Lord”, which is always associated with God’s wrath and judgments against sin. On that day, “the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8).
As Christians, we have God’s promise that He “has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). We are told to “wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
The promise of Christ’s return for His people is meant to be a source of strong hope and comfort to those who belong to Him. Jesus used this beautiful promise just hours before His crucifixion, to comfort His struggling disciples (John 14:1-3).
“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 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.”
Christ’s return is commonly referred to as “the Rapture”, meaning the “catching away” of God’s people to heaven. The word “Rapture” is not actually in the Bible, but it conveys the suddenness of the dramatic event described by the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
“13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 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. 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 not precede those who have fallen asleep.
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
How will Christ return?
Christ “will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God”. His people will rise to meet Him “in the air”, to be with Him forever (vv. 16-17). We are not to be deceived by the many false messiahs who claim to be Christ. When Christ returns, it will be a very supernatural event and we will know who He is.
Who will be caught up to Heaven with the Lord?
Believers from every generation will be caught up – first those who have died, then those who are alive at the time Christ returns (vv. 14,16). Christ will take those who are “in” Him, meaning those who have turned from sin and are following Him.
As exciting as it will be to rise to meet Christ in the air, God has even more awaiting us… Romans 8:29 says that God has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son. When Christ returns, He will supernaturally transform our body, heart, mind, will, and emotions to be perfectly conformed to His own.
1 Corinthians 15:50-52
“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will 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 imperishable, and we will be changed.”
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”
1 John 3:2
“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”
The early Christians knew that the return of Christ is the climactic event in God’s great plan of redemption. They wanted to make sure they wouldn’t miss it.
What Do You Think?
If Christ returned today, would you be ready? What attitudes and actions would you change to prepare for His coming?
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