Last year, Harold Camping predicted that the rapture of the church would occur on May 21, 2011. When that date came and went, Camping explained that a spiritual rapture had in fact occurred, but predicted the physical rapture would occur on October 21, 2011. When that date came and went, Camping told an associate that nobody could predict the date of Christ’s return.
Ah, now he tells us…
The Second Coming of Jesus Christ is an article of Christian orthodoxy. Summarizing the biblical evidence, the Nicene Creed says of Jesus, “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” One of the earliest written New Testament passages to deal with the Second Coming in any detail is 1 Thessalonians 4:15–18, where Paul, Silas, and Timothy wrote:
According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
The missionaries did not write these words in order to encourage speculation or promote confusion about the future. They did not write them, in short, for the benefit of Harold Camping and his ilk. Rather, they wrote them for ordinary Christians who grieved the deaths of their friends and fellow believers. They wrote them to encourage those ordinary Christians with the thought that their friends’ deaths were penultimate, not ultimate—a comma in a sentence that ends with an exclamation point.
When Christ returns, the missionaries explained, the faithful dead will be raised and join the faithful living in the air to meet Jesus Christ. The important point of that meeting is not where it is but who it’s with. Obviously, there is a reunion with dead believers. The living will be “caught up together with them,” that is, the dead who have been raised to life. But even that reunion is not the main event. Rather, the important point is that all believers—whether dead or living—will meet Jesus Christ himself.
Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to seeing my grandparents again, as well as other Christian friends who have died. But they’re not “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). They’re not “the pioneer and perfecter of my faith” (Heb. 12:2). They’re not “the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13). But he is.
Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “All real living is meeting.” The most real living is meeting him. Now that’s an encouraging thought.