When we have to say “good bye” to Christian friends who have come to visit and are leaving, or maybe to some who are moving to another part of the country, we often find ourselves saying, “If we don’t see you before, we’ll see you on the way up!” We refer, of course, to that future event we believers call the “rapture,” when, as Paul relates, “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall 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. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thes. 4:16-18). We call this the “rapture” which is taken from the Latin word for “caught up.”
It’s a great encouragement to know that any earthly separations we experience with Christian family and friends is only temporary. If we don’t have opportunity to meet again here on earth, we will for sure meet “on the way up,” when Christ returns in the air to catch His Bride, the Church, the Body of Christ, to be with Him forever. And on the way up, we will be reunited with our believing family and friends, even those who have died and whose souls have gone to heaven. That’s why, as believers, when a loved one dies, we don’t “grieve, as do the rest who have no hope” (v. 13). So, we really never have to say any final “good byes” to those who are part of the “family of God.” What a blessed comfort and hope that brings.
We all have times in our lives when we are separated from those we have grown to love so much and will really miss them. It happens to our physical family as our children grow up, leave home and establish their own families and home. It happens when good Christian friends have to move to another location for employment. It happens when one of our dear friends or family members is killed or dies from illness or old age. “Good byes,” are really hard aren’t they! We all struggle with them, because love really binds us together and these folks have become an integral part of our lives. Well, the good news is–those “good byes” are just temporary. We may have to be apart for awhile, but one day we will again be together–forever–and that’s a long, long time!!
The background of the passage quoted above is that when Paul had first ministered in Thessalonica, he had obviously taught about the return of Christ to take believers to heaven, but now some of their loved ones had died and they didn’t know if they’d get to see them again. Paul assured them that when the rapture took place, they would be reunited with their loved ones who had died. Their souls which went to heaven would return with Christ and their bodies resurrected and those who were alive at the rapture would be transformed with new, glorified bodies and join their departed loved ones. No wonder he could say, “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” That was great news! It still is!
The Apostle Paul also mentioned this event, the rapture, when he wrote to the believers at Corinth, saying: “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep (die), but 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 imperishable, and we shall be changed…Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (I Cor. 15:51,52,58).
Although the disciples couldn’t fully comprehend what He was saying in the Upper Room prior to going to the Cross, Jesus gave these words of comfort and promise to them: “Let not 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 the Cross) 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” (Jn. 14:1-3). That is the “blessed hope” of the believer (Tit. 2:13).
So, we may have to say our “good byes” here to those we love, but if they are believers, we know that it is only temporary and even if we don’t get to see them again here on earth, we will see them “on the way up” and for eternity. Now that’s something worth getting excited about. Amen?