RESCUED FROM THE BODY OF DEATH
RESCUED FROM THE BODY OF DEATH Copyright Š 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright Š 973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Paul was approaching the Gospel from a point of view somewhat different from our own. We accepted Christ so we would be forgiven and go to Heaven when we die. Paul was looking for an actual righteousness of behavior he was unable to obtain under the Law of Moses. Until we realize this thoroughly we will keep on with our destructive interpretation of Paul's doctrine that we are saved by faith and not by works.
RESCUED FROM THE BODY OF DEATH
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24—NIV)
Usually when a Gentile is approached with the Gospel of Christ he is told that he is a sinner; that the soul that sins shall die; that he cannot save himself; that if he accepts Christ all his sins will be forgiven and he will go to Heaven when he dies.
I think Paul and the Jews he preached to were coming to the Gospel from a somewhat different point of view. The Jews had been taught that any transgression of the Law of Moses was sin and they must keep the Law if they desired to live in the sight of God. I am not sure they had going to Heaven in mind. At least there is very little said in the Old Testament or the New about God's salvation having to do with gaining eternal residence in Heaven when we die.
In the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans Paul reasons with those who know the Law concerning the conflict between the sinful nature of the body and the Law of Moses. Paul concluded that the Law produced death because it underscored sin without providing a means of deliverance from sin.
Paul was seeking a salvation that would rescue him from his sinful body, his body that caused death because it would not obey the Law of Moses.
"Who will rescue me from the body of death?"
Notice carefully that Paul was not seeking forgiveness. He was looking for deliverance from the power of sin.
For two thousand years Christianity has been preached as a means of the forgiveness of sin. The Lamb of God is presented as the One who forgives the sin of the world rather than the One who takes away the sin of the world.
It certainly is true that there is forgiveness of sins through the Lord Jesus Christ. But there also is deliverance from the power of sin, and this not as well known.
Forgiving the sins of people does not solve the problem of the people or the problem of God.
If all God is going to do is forgive us, then He is going to usher us all back into the Garden of Eden where the same problem will still be present. People will still be sinful.
God wants people who are righteous. I think we would all agree with that. People want people who are righteous. I think we would all agree with that also.
God would not want to walk in the Garden of Eden if all around Him people were slandering one another. Neither would you or I want to be in the Garden of Eden if people all around us were slandering one another.
One of our fondest hopes of Heaven is that the people are righteous and living in love and peace. Am I correct in this?
This is what I mean by saying forgiving their sins does not solve God's problem or their problem.
If every believer on earth were suddenly lifted into Heaven, nothing would be solved. It would only bring millions of sinful natures into Paradise; unless, of course, sin were automatically removed from us by virtue of our dying and going to Heaven.
But there is no basis in Scripture for such an automatic moral transformation. A painless moral transformation produced by dying would be a wonderful idea, except it would not provide God with experienced kings and priests to govern the ages to come.
The Apostle Paul asked the question: What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from the body of death?" Who will deliver me from the sinful nature that dwells in my flesh?
Well, once we die and leave our flesh in the ground, won't we be free from the sinful nature? No. Our sinful nature, although it dwells in our flesh, is spiritual in substance. Rage, drunkenness, jealousy, pride, lying, treachery, deviousness, self-will, the seeking of preeminence, slothfulness, indifference to God, abound among the rebellious angels and the demons. This is why unclean spirits try to inhabit people. It is so they can fulfill the lusts that burn in them. Dying does not deliver us from sin. What we are we are, and this is how we enter the spirit realm.
But won't Jesus deliver us when He comes? Only if we have been really serving Him, taking up our cross and following Him. We see in the parable of the talents and that of the ten virgins that the foolish were not changed by His coming. Rather at His return they were judged and punished.
The Bible says it is appointed to people once to die and after this the judgment, not after this the deliverance.
And so the Apostle Paul, after crying out for deliverance from his sinful nature, proceeds, in Chapter Eight, to tell us how deliverance comes through the Gospel.
First of all, Paul assures us that even though we are not observing the Law of Moses, we are without condemnation, without guilt. But this assignment of righteousness comes only as we obey the Spirit of God rather than our sinful nature. The mammoth error of today's Christian preaching is that Christ assigns righteousness to us merely because we believe in Him. This is not so. Paul taught us that imputed righteousness is based on our obedience to the Holy Spirit rather than our sinful nature.
In order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:4—NIV)
The righteous requirements of the Law of Moses are fully met in us only on the condition that we are not living according to our sinful nature but according to the Spirit of God.
So the first step in being rescued from the body of death is that of receiving forgiveness based on living according to the Spirit of God.
After stating this fundamental truth, Paul proceeds to discuss the idea of living in accordance with the Spirit of God rather than according to the sinful nature.
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (Romans 8:5—NIV)
Entering the Kingdom of God is very difficult for those of us who are Americans. Our culture is too rich in material wealth and objects and situations of interest. Particularly damaging is the array of media with which we are barraged daily.
We see from the verse above that the battle is in the mind. Where does our mind dwell? Does our mind dwell on the things of the sinful nature or does our mind dwell on the things the Spirit desires?
It seems to me a native in a village, in Africa or India, would have an easier time keeping his or her mind on the things of the Spirit than we do in America. I may be incorrect in this never having lived in a remote village.
This is why people enter monasteries and convents. They are trying to get away from the temptations and distractions of the material environment.
It is the will of God that some of us live and work in the midst of this material death. We have to pray continually throughout the day in order to keep our mind stayed on the Lord, to keep our affections and interests fixed on heavenly things.
The world is in a turmoil today. It is very, very easy to devote the main part of our thinking to that which is taking place in the various countries. How easy it is to forget we are in this world but not of this world. How easy it is to fret about the various confrontations and political maneuvers taking place.
One of the worst problems we have is that of judging according to our own thinking. The Lord Jesus never judged according to what He saw or heard on the earth. Jesus judged according to what He saw and heard with the Father. This we must learn to do if we are to perform God's will. It is a mark of maturity when we pray over every judgment we make until we have God's peace.
Where is your mind dwelling? Is it on the things of earth or the things of Heaven? If you pray, God will help.
Remember, we are answering the question about being rescued from the body of death.
We have been forgiven through the blood of Christ, we have left the Law of Moses, and now we are learning to live under the law of the Spirit of life in Christ.
The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; (Romans 8:6—NIV)
When we think continually about the things of the world, when we are unduly influenced by the media, we are dwelling in spiritual death. In America we are surrounded with spiritual death. The emphasis on material success and the acquiring of great amounts of money is spiritual death. The excess of entertainment is spiritual death. Much of the television programming is spiritual death. The pornography on the Internet is spiritual death. Much of what is taught in the public schools and universities is spiritual death.
As Paul exhorts, we are to come out of the world and touch not the unclean thing. We can work in the world and go to school in the world, even in America, and yet in our heart and mind be separate. It is not easy but it is possible as we go to the Mercy Seat in Heaven and ask for help in our time of need.
The world is seeking life and peace. The world will never obtain life and peace—never! The only path to life and peace is through the Spirit of God. When our mind is controlled by the Spirit of God, then we have life and peace.
Such life and peace are certainly a step toward being rescued from the body of death.
The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. (Romans 8:7—NIV)
The public schools of America came into being as an effort to educate the citizens, many of whom at that time could not read. The idea was that if the citizenry were educated crime and poverty would be eliminated
It has not turned out that way. If you want to get your bicycle stolen park it on the campus of a major university. In spite of the billions poured into public education, crime and poverty have not been eliminated in America, nor shall they be, by this means.
The reason is, the sinful mind is hostile to God and cannot be conformed to God's laws. Education strengthens that which is hostile to God. More than one Christian youngster has gone to college as a Christian and returned an agnostic or a rebel against Christian values.
The most highly educated nations are not the most Christian. It appears more often than not, particularly in America, one is more likely to find faith in the poor and uneducated.
Life and peace, and rescue from the body of death, are not found through education.
Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. (Romans 8:8—NIV)
Remember, Paul in the seventh and eighth chapters of Romans is speaking to the Jew, attempting to convince him or her of the superiority of the new covenant. Paul is showing that righteous behavior is not obtained by trying to obey the Law of Moses but by avoiding, through the life and righteousness found only in the Spirit of God, the sinful nature that resides in our body. The Law of Moses cannot overcome the sinful nature. The Spirit of God can overcome the sinful nature.
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. (Romans 8:9—NIV)
The above verse is a good example of how prima facie evidence is used in biblical interpretation.
On the face of it the verse appears to be saying if we are a true Christian the Spirit of Christ, of God, is living in us and we are not being controlled by the sinful nature. By taking this verse out of context, and adding a few other verses taken out of context, we can "prove" that by merely taking the "four steps of salvation" we automatically are living in the Spirit; we automatically are an overcomer.
After all, isn't that what the verse is saying?
But since Paul, starting with Chapter Six, is urging Christians to live in the Spirit we understand we are not automatically in the Spirit because we have "accepted Christ." If that were true, the surrounding verses would make no sense.
What then does Paul mean? Paul means if Christ is living in us we ought to be being controlled by the Spirit of God rather than our sinful nature. Such an interpretation would fit precisely the context.
The problem with the Christian teaching and preaching of today is that verses are taken out of context and employed as axioms from which doctrine is deduced. These are often referred to as "proof texts." Paul did not write "proof texts." He wrote letters, just as you and I do. How would you like someone to take one of your letters, isolate a sentence, and then use it as a "proof text" deducing your intention from it?
If you want to understand any given verse of the Epistles, read the entire Epistle and try to get the sense of it. Then interpret the verse. If you do this you will discover many contemporary Christian doctrines are suspect at best.
No, we are not automatically in the Spirit of God just because at some point in time we made a point of professing faith in Christ. But we can be in the Spirit if this is what we desire above all else. And we shall be if we will look always to Jesus, bringing every decision to Him to obtain His wisdom and power.
Looking always to Jesus for assistance in every area of life, great and small, is a giant step toward rescue from the body of death.
But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. (Romans 8:10—NIV)
Now here is something to consider. Our physical body is spiritually dead because of the sin nature that dwells in it. It is cut off from the Life of God.
We have to make our body serve God. We have to make it our slave. Its whole nature is contrary to God's law. We are dragging around a body of death. How are we to be rescued from it?
But our spiritual nature, our inward nature is alive because the righteousness of the Law of Moses has been ascribed to it. Also Christ has been conceived in our inward nature. For these two reasons our inward spiritual nature is righteous, and eternal life always follows righteousness.
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:22—NIV)
Freedom from the guilt and the compulsion of sin, plus slavery to God and to righteousness, lead to holiness. The result of such righteousness and holiness is eternal life. The gift of God to us is freedom from sin and the ability to become a slave of God. This leads to holiness. Eternal life is the result.
This is why our inward nature is alive with the Life of God.
We see, then, that we have eternal life on the inside but death on the outside.
We have arrived now at the answer to the question, "Who will rescue me from the body of death?"
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:11—NIV)
If the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead is dwelling in us. This is a big if, and everything depends on it.
How do we know if the Spirit of God is dwelling in us? If the Spirit of God is dwelling in us we are bringing forth the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
If we are living in the appetites and passions of our flesh we are bringing forth the fruit of the flesh: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like.
We currently, in Christian preaching, are placing far too much emphasis on doctrinal belief. The emphasis is to be on our personality and behavior. If our personality is characterized by love, joy, and peace, and we are worshiping Jesus, then we have some assurance that the Spirit of God is dwelling in us.
But if our personality is characterized by sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, covetousness, dabbling in the occult, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, envy, drunkenness, then the Spirit of God is not living in us.
We can speak in tongues, go to church, "lead souls to Christ," sing in the choir, serve, give, talk about the Lord, prophesy, pray for the sick, and do everything else we equate with the Christian life. But if we are causing strife and division everywhere we go, if we are an immoral gossiper, given to anger, seeking preeminence, causing trouble when we do not get our own way, then we are not living in the Spirit of God. We are not a Christian. We are a child of Satan and are doing his works. There is no eternal life in us.
No one who hates his brother has eternal life in him.
Eternal life is not endless existence. Satan has endless existence. Eternal life is life lived in the Presence of God and Christ.
Back to our key verse, the verse that gives the answer to "Who will deliver me from the body of death?"
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:11—NIV)
Deliverance from the body of death depends on our living and growing in the Spirit of God, the resurrection Life that raised Jesus from the dead. If we "accept Christ" and then do not live in the Spirit we can forget about being rescued from the body of death.
If the Spirit is living in us the Spirit will give life to our mortal body.
When will this take place? When will the Spirit give life to our mortal body, thus rescuing us from the body of death?
The rescue will take place when the Lord appears. This deliverance is the resurrection from the dead, the resurrection that will take place in advance of the resurrection of the dead, which will occur at the end of the thousand-year Kingdom Age. The advance resurrection is the redemption of the body, of which Paul spoke.
I know I have written much on the topic of the first resurrection from the dead. But if I were to write all day and half the night to express the urgency of this truth it would not be adequate.
The resurrection of the dead is split into two parts. The first resurrection is actually a resurrection out from among the dead. This resurrection must be attained. It is the resurrection the Apostle Paul was seeking to attain.
The second resurrection will include everyone else. It does not have to be attained. It will take place whether we want it to or not.
Here is where the split is announced.
I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4-6—NIV)
Can you see from the above that the resurrection of the dead is split into two parts? The first part comes before the thousand-year Kingdom Age. The second comes after the thousand-year Kingdom Age.
Here is the second part, the general resurrection of the dead.
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. (Revelation 20:12—NIV)
If I understand our Christian teaching, the belief is held that the first resurrection is the resurrection of salvation and the second resurrection is that of the lost.
I do not think this is true. It does not follow the Scripture. The emphasis of the first resurrection is on the blessedness and holiness of the royal priesthood. It obviously is for God's victorious saints, those who will rule with Christ during the thousand-year Kingdom Age. There is nothing said about salvation, only about rulership. We know from the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation that only the victorious saints, the overcomers, will rule.
By the same token, there is no statement concerning the second resurrection that all are lost. In fact, the opposite is implied.
So there is no clear scriptural basis for the teaching that all saved persons will participate in the first resurrection, the resurrection that will take place when the Lord appears from Heaven. The opposite is implied—that the first resurrection is for victorious saints, not for those who are "saved by fire" because their works have been burned.
There is no clear scriptural basis for the teaching that all persons raised in the general resurrection, the second resurrection, will be cast into the Lake of Fire. The opposite is implied.
Now think. If only the ruling priesthood is to be saved, then every other person born on the earth will be cast into the Lake of Fire. Can you see how ridiculous such a doctrine is? There would be no people for the priesthood to govern and serve. There would be no inheritance for Christ and His coheirs.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. (Psalms 2:8—NIV)
The concept that all believers will rule with Christ on the basis of grace, and that all who have never heard of Christ will be cast into the Lake of Fire, is based on the current extreme view of grace—that it is a magic formula that makes us royal priests; and too bad for those who never had an opportunity to be saved by grace. Into the Lake of Fire they go to be tormented forever because they never heard the Gospel.
You can believe this if you want to. But I will tell you one thing. The idea that people who never heard the Gospel will be cast into the Lake of Fire because they never believed the Gospel goes against the sense of justice of every reasonable person. But then religion has a way of perverting reason and justice.
We said Paul was striving to attain to the resurrection from the dead, not of the dead but from the dead.
And so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:11—NIV)
Yet Jesus said everyone would be raised. There is no need to attain to the resurrection.
"Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice And come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned." (John 5:28,29—NIV)
"And so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."
"All who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out."
Obviously there is a difference here.
If we follow Revelation, with the first half of the resurrection taking place at the beginning of the thousand-year Kingdom Age, that is, at the time of the Lord's appearing, and the second half taking place at the end of the thousand-year Kingdom Age, then it is reasonable that the first, emphasizing as it does rulership and the holy priesthood, would need to be attained and the second would be composed of the rest of the dead.
Now, let's tie these thoughts back to the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans and the answer to the question, "Who will rescue me from the body of death.
We have found in the opening verses of Chapter Eight of Romans that Paul stressed rejecting the sinful nature and following the Spirit of God.
Then we noticed that if the Spirit is dwelling in us God will make alive our dead body, thus rescuing us from the body of death.
In verse twelve of Romans Eight, Paul tells us that because the rescue will come through our living by the Spirit of God, we do not owe the spiritually dead body anything. We are not obligated to live by its passions and appetites. Our body is dead and is leading us away from God, away from righteousness and eternal life.
Then in verse thirteen, Paul claims that if we as a Christian continue to live according to the appetites and passions of our dead body we will die.
Since our body is already spiritually dead, what does Paul mean by saying we will die if we live according to the desires of our physical body?
Paul says, also in verse thirteen, that if we choose instead to put to death the deeds of our body by the Spirit of God, we will live. Since our inward nature already is alive, what does Paul mean by saying we will live?
I think the answer is found in verse eleven. If we choose to live by the Spirit of God we will build up our inner life. Then, in the Day of the Lord, the Spirit that is in us will make alive our body, thus rescuing us from the body of death.
But if we choose to live according to the desires of our dead body, we will lose our inward life. In this case there will be no Spirit in us to make alive our mortal body. Thus we have destroyed our own resurrection.
What a tremendous issue! We are saying if the believer does not live according to the Spirit of God his body will not be made alive at the return of Jesus Christ. We are saying multitudes of American Christians will not be changed into immortality at the coming of the Lord. Therefore they cannot be caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
What will happen to them? I do not know. I do know as soon as the victorious saints, the witnesses of all ages, are caught up to meet the Lord in the air, the wrath of God will fall on the wicked of the earth, particularly on hypocritical Christians. Jude tells us this. Maybe this is when some will be saved by fire.
I realize full well what I am declaring. I understand how different this is from current thinking. I am blowing the trumpet in Zion. I am saying our grace-rapture-Heaven teaching has left multitudes of believers unprepared for the return of Jesus Christ.
By no stretch of the imagination are most of the churchgoers in America living in the Spirit of God. They are living in the flesh, many of them. And according to the Book of Romans they are not prepared to be rescued from the body of death.
Verse fourteen says as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. Not children of God, sons of God. What are the sons of God led to do? They are led to put to death the works of their dead body in preparation for the redemption of their body, as discussed in verses eleven and twenty-three of Romans, Chapter Eight.
One of the major doctrines of the Christian churches of America is the pre-tribulation rapture of the saints. Some, however, place the rapture at the middle of the tribulation while yet others insist on the end of the tribulation.
You know what? It doesn't matter when the catching up takes place because it has nothing to do with the great tribulation or the Antichrist. It is the concept of the rapture itself that is destructive.
In the first place, we should not use the term "rapture." The Greek term means catching-up. The English word rapture primarily is used to mean a lofty emotion or ecstatic feeling. It reminds one of the Catholic doctrine of the "Immaculate Conception." Such specialized terms take on a life of their own.
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is not found in the Protestant Scriptures. Neither is the rapture, as it is currently preached.
If we would employ the term catching-up we might be able to come back down to earth with this event.
The Greek word translated "caught up" is used only a few times in the New Testament, and only once when referring to the believers. You would think it was a major doctrine of the New Testament from the way it is preached. It is not a major doctrine of the New Testament.
In fact, in the "rapture" passage of First Thessalonians, the emphasis is on the return of Jesus Christ with His saints, not on the going to Heaven of the believers.
We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (I Thessalonians 4:14—NIV)
The doctrine of the "rapture" of the believers, meaning an escape to Heaven, is not found in the Scriptures. It is not typified by any of the major Old Testament types. It is not even mentioned in the "resurrection chapter" of the Bible, the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians.
The origin of the rapture doctrine indeed is suspect. Why is the origin suspect? It is suspect because the doctrine is unscriptural and destructive. It is destructive because it does away with the important doctrine of the resurrection.
The resurrection is typified in the Old Testament by the breaking of the clay vessels and the shining of the inner lamp, in the episode concerning Gideon. The story of Gideon is one of the major types of the first resurrection.
If you do not think the unscriptural stress on the rapture of the believers has done away with the scriptural doctrine of the resurrection, ask any believer in the rapture about the resurrection. You most likely will find that he or she has very little understanding of the resurrection from the dead or its relationship to the catching up of the saints into the air to meet the Lord Jesus at His return.
Ask him if our body will be raised from the dead or if this is important.
Ask her if we have to be resurrected or changed before we are caught up?
Salvation has to do with the change of the individual. Salvation has nothing to do with the movement of the person from one place to another.
The grand event of redemption is the resurrection of the body from the grave and the clothing of it with eternal life. This marks the conquest of the last enemy, physical death. This is the climax of redemption.
But don't we have to be raptured to go to Heaven?
No. We go to Heaven by dying.
But won't we be resurrected so we can go to Heaven? No. After you have been resurrected you can go wherever God puts it into your heart to go.
But will I escape Antichrist and the great tribulation?
Do you think after you have been raised from the dead and swallowed up with eternal life you could be harmed by Antichrist or the great tribulation?
Do you think the millions of saints that will return with Jesus and claim their bodies from the grave could be harmed by Antichrist or the great tribulation?
Can you see that a rapture to escape Antichrist and the great tribulation is not only unscriptural but nonsensical?
But everyone believes it. No, many distinguished Christian scholars have rejected this unscriptural emphasis. In any case, everyone used to believe the earth was flat!
But maybe we will be raptured before the day of resurrection.
Wrong on two counts.
First, we could not be caught up into the air to meet Jesus before our body was changed in some manner. And there would be no need for Jesus to come and bring just our spirit to Heaven. He can do that by killing us. This past week the spirits of thousands of people of Nicaragua and Honduras passed from the physical realm into the spirit realm. No rapture was necessary.
Also, the concept that only our spirit is raptured is unscriptural.
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (I Thessalonians 4:16—NIV)
The dead in Christ will rise first. This does not mean rise into the air, it means rise from the dead just as Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.
The dead in Christ are not caught up first, they are raised from the dead.
Do you see there is no need for the dead in Christ to ascend to Heaven? They have just come from Heaven? Only a relative handful of God's witnesses will be on earth at this time. The great multitude who are raised are the deceased saints of all ages, including the deceased relatives of the grieving Thessalonians.
Nowhere, nowhere, nowhere in the Bible will you find any passage that tells us God will deliver the dead and living saints from Antichrist and the great tribulation by carrying them to Heaven. This is woefully unscriptural and illogical.
The doctrine of surpassing importance is that of the resurrection.
Paul was seeking to attain to the resurrection. Can you imagine Paul seeking to attain to the catching-up?
Read carefully the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians. See if you can find any indication that it is important we are caught up, that it is a major doctrine of redemption worthy of being preached every Sunday.
Is our resurrection important?
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (I Corinthians 15:19,20—NIV)
Can you see that in the above verse Paul does not emphasize our life in Heaven? Paul is saying our hope in Christ extends from the present life to the life we will have when we have been raised from the sleep of death. We are not making a case for soul sleep, just pointing out that Paul is claiming here that if we are not to be raised from the dead we are pitiable. He makes no reference to our being caught up to Heaven.
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (I Corinthians 15:21,22—NIV)
Paul's emphasis here is that we really will not have eternal life until we are raised from the dead through Jesus Christ. Thus we see that the raising of the physical body is what salvation is all about. The promise of eternal life is the restoration of what was lost in the Garden of Eden, that is, immortality.
We have constructed a great mythological scene of what Heaven will be like. But the Bible emphasis is on the redemption of the body and the resumption of life in the form in which God meant man to be: spirit, soul, and body.
But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (I Corinthians 15:23—NIV)
Paul goes on in this chapter to talk about the resurrection of our body. He makes no mention of the catching up, which he certainly would have if it were a major doctrine.
It is the change in us that is salvation, redemption, the rescuing of us from the body of death.
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (I Corinthians 15:42-44—NIV)
Raised in imperishableness. Raised in glory. Raised in power. Raised a spiritual body.
Do we really believe such people can be harmed by Antichrist or the great tribulation?
Do we really believe the Lord Jesus Christ, as He came forth in glorified flesh and bones, could be harmed by Antichrist or the great tribulation?
For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." (I Corinthians 15:53,54—NIV)
The above must take place before the catching up. The dead will be raised and transformed and the living will be transformed. Then they all will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. There is no scriptural basis for their returning to Heaven. Most of them have been in Heaven for hundreds or thousands of years. They would have no desire to return. God has made them kings and they are waiting patiently for their opportunity to govern the earth.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." (Revelation 5:10—NIV)
They are not reigning in Heaven. Their kingdom is in the earth.
We may want to escape to Heaven, but I have the feeling these future kings are anxious to get on with the job in the earth. How do you feel about this.
Again let us emphasize that in the only resurrection chapter of the Bible, the catching up is not mentioned or even implied. This would not be the case if the catching up were a major aspect of the resurrection. We must leave the catching up as what it is, a movement of the saints from one place to another after they have attained to the climax of redemption. No more than this; and certainly, since it is not emphasized in the Scriptures, not to be preached Sunday after Sunday as an escape from trouble and a diversion that turns people away from the all-important work of learning to live in the Spirit of God.
But what is the problem if people want to believe they are about to get a ride to Heaven to escape the problems of the earth and find comfort in this thought? The problem is that they are not preparing themselves for the resurrection by turning aside from the sinful nature and following the Spirit of God. They imagine God is just about ready to remove them from the troubled scenes of earth and there is no need for them to change their careless, undisciplined lives to participate in the ride. In fact, there is no pressing need for them to attain to the redemption of the body. They do not groan, as Paul did, for the redemption of their body.
Then too, the idea that God will remove American Christians from suffering is ridiculous. Throughout history, and today as never before, Christians are being tortured and killed for the Gospel. Why are they not raptured? What is so special about the carnal Christians of America that they should be carried to Heaven so they won't suffer. Yet many believers just as worthy have suffered terribly and are suffering today. Make sense of this if you can.
The bottom line is, God is warning us in America to turn aside from our sinful nature and start living in the Spirit of God. This means coming out of an extremely wealthy and colorful culture and taking time to pray each day and give our decisions to the Lord. The American way is the way of death. David Wilkerson said recently the Lord told him that America, because of her sin, has lost her place as the leading nation of the world. She already has died in the sight of God. I went to prayer about this and believe I received confirmation that this indeed is the Word of the Lord.
You and I know how Americans are behaving. God has never tolerated such behavior for very long and will not tolerate it in America.
We had better prepare ourselves and our loved ones to be ready for whatever is coming, whether famine, or persecution, or weather catastrophes, or war, or economic collapse, or whatever else.
God does not want us to be afraid of dying. But we had better be afraid of dying if we are living according to the sinful nature; if we are running out of oil; if we are not using to build the Kingdom of God the talent we have been given! The Scripture states we shall reap corruption if we sow to the flesh.
If we will choose to live in the Spirit of God, then, if we should die, we will return with the Lord and pick up our body from the ground. We will find in that day that it no longer is a body of death but a body of life. Then we shall be gathered together with the saints who are alive at that time and caught up to meet the Lord in the air. We shall descend with Him, appearing to the world as the revealed sons of God, ready to help with the establishing of the Kingdom of God on the earth.
This is the answer to Paul's cry: Who will deliver me from this body of death?"