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The Lord’s return is what the Bible refers to as the ‘blessed hope.’  The believers in Thessalonica were commended by the Apostle Paul because they actively waited for the return of the Lord as we read in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, “For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.”  Although we don’t find the word, ‘rapture’ in the Bible, it is a truth that is clearly taught.  The Lord Jesus Christ will come again one day to take all believers to be with Himself. 

So, what happens to those who have put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but are called home before the rapture takes place?  Where are they right now?  Let’s begin by reading 2 Corinthians 5:8which says, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”  Paul teaches us here that when we, in death, are absent from the body, our soul and spirit go to be with the Lord in Glory.  The term ‘death’ refers to the condition of the body when the soul and spirit has departed.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians from a Roman prison.  Concerning his condition, he wrote in Philippians 1:23, “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.”  Again, Paul here teaches us that to depart from the body is to be with Christ.  We have the perfect example of this in a beggar named Lazarus.  It is said of Lazarus in Luke 16:22, “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom…”  In this great account, we see that Lazarus, upon his death, was escorted by angels into Abrahams’ bosom, which is synonymous with Heaven.

What is the condition of those believers who, in death, have entered the presence of the Lord?  We read in 2 Corinthians 5:1-2, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.”  Those dear saints are indeed in the presence of the Lord, but they are in spirit form…their bodies still lying in their graves.  They are unclothed and desire to be clothed.  They long to be reunited with their bodies. 

With that in mind, let’s consider 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17which says, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”  Paul wants us all to have knowledge of what will happen when the Lord returns.  He points out that we should not sorrow for the believers who have died, as if there was no hope for them.  He goes on to explain this incredible order of events that should inspire, encourage, and comfort every believer.

When the Lord Jesus returns for His church, He will bring all those who sleep, or have died, having their faith in the Lord Jesus.  These dis-embodied spirits come back with the Lord and retrieve their bodies.  No matter what shape these bodies are in; whether they have decayed after years of being in the ground; whether they were burnt up; whether they were lost at sea.  It doesn’t matter, these departed saints will retrieve their bodies.  When that happens, we read in 1 Corinthians 15:42, “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption.”  Those corruptible and corrupted bodies will be changed into incorruptible bodies that are fit to inhabit Heaven.  As these believers are reunited with their bodies, now incorruptible, they will be joined by all living believers as they return to the clouds to rejoin their savior.  1 John 3:2tells us, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”  At that point all believers of the Lord Jesus are changed to have bodies just like the Lord’s.  As we just read in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”  What a blessed hope, indeed!  (145.1)