The past couple weeks have been quite interesting here in northwest Montana (and in other locations of the West), as we have been surrounded by forest fires and have faced extremely smoky conditions and the possibility of having to evacuate should the fires get too close. Last Friday, high winds which swept through Oregon and Washington were expected to hit our area. So, the folks living on the West side of the highway out our way were given pre-evacuation notices because the fire in the Cabinet Wilderness just a few miles to the West of us could conceivably have crowned and headed our way. Those who lived closest to the mountains actually were told to evacuate. Others living along the Bull Lake Highway 56 were also told to be ready to evacuate (some, including one family from our church had already evacuated). Well, praise the Lord, the winds weren’t as bad as expected and they brought rain and lowering air temperatures and the fires actually subsided for the time being.
If you were given an “evacuation notice,” what items would you quickly gather up to take with you? It is interesting here to see what the first things are that people gather up to save—their guns! We live in an area where a great percentage of the people hunt and many of them depend on wild meat for a big portion of their diet. So, their guns are not only valuable from a cost stand point, but from practicality as well. Of course most would try to save some special jewelry, photo albums, etc. I would surely want to save my study Bibles with all my recorded notes! I guess the computer hard drive would be a priority too.
I couldn’t help thinking about the “Pre-evacuation Notices” we are given in Scripture, and the purpose isn’t so we can gather up the things we want to take with us when we leave, but rather so that our lives will be ready for when it happens. The New Testament speaks of an event that we might call “Operation Evacuation,” or “The Great Snatch.” We usually refer to it as the “Rapture,” which is a word that doesn’t actually appear in the English translations of the Bible, but does in the Latin in I Thes. 4:16,17, which in the NASB translations says: “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 shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” The Apostle Paul, writing to comfort believers who had lost loved ones through death as to whether or not they would ever see them again, spoke of being “caught up with them.” The term “rapture” comes from the Latin for “caught up.” It speaks here of believers, both those who have died and those who are alive, being caught up together to meet the Lord and then being taken to heaven.
This is the event which Jesus alluded to in the Upper Room as recorded in John’s Gospel: “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 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). Jesus was soon to go to the Cross, and then 40 days after His resurrection would ascend back into heaven, but He promised He would return to take believers to live with Him in heaven. As you put together all the passages in the Bible regarding the Second Coming of Christ, it indicates that He will first come to take believers (referred to as His “Bride” or the “Church”) to heaven and then will carry out a period of judgment on the earth called the “Great Tribulation” or “The Time of Jacob’s Trouble,” during which God will again deal directly with His chosen people, Israel, to bring them to repentance. Then, at the end of that time, Jesus will return to the earth, bringing His “Bride” with Him, to set up the earthly Kingdom that He promised to Israel throughout Scripture (called the “Millennial Reign”).
As Jesus spoke of the final events that would take place before He comes to set up His earthly kingdom, He warned that people need to be ready, because His coming would be “like a thief in the night” (Mt. 24:43). He said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mt. 24:36). His coming will be sudden, catching many unaware and unprepared. Paul spoke of the suddenness of the Second Coming in his first letter to the Corinthian believers: “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, 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” (I Cor. 15:51,52). The Greek word Paul used for “moment” (atoimos) means “an individual particle, “ or “an indivisible particle,” i.e., “an atom of time,” indicating it will be too instantaneous, too small to measure. “the twinkling of an eye,” refers to the time it takes light to pass from the pupil to the retina, which is infinitesimally small. So, when the evacuation (the “Great Snatch,” or “Rapture”) happens, there will be no time to get ready. It is a matter of “ready or not, here He comes.” He has already given us the “pre-evacuation” notice several times in Scripture, warning us “be prepared.” And that doesn’t mean to gather up any of our precious belongings to take with us, for as Job observed, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there” (Job 1:21). Solomon also wrote: “As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand” (Eccl. 5:15). You don’t ever see a U-haul behind a hearse (unless they are carrying digging tools)! We prepare for “evacuation” by trusting Christ for eternal life, by acknowledging our sinfulness and that Jesus died for our sin and was resurrected to prove that God was satisfied with His atonement on our behalf. We also prepare daily by walking with the Lord, living a life pleasing to Him, seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness (Mt. 6:33). John gives us good exhortation: “And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (I Jn. 2:28). It is my desire to live such that I will hear one day—soon—“Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord” (Mt. 25:21).
How about you? Jesus has issued each of us an “pre-evacuation” warning. Are you ready?