The interesting thing about this prophecy found in Luke 17 and it is also found in Matthew 24 is that it has not yet happened. But Jesus speaks of a time coming when people will be taken away. When this happens, it will happen very quickly. There is no warning, there is no time to say goodbye, and there is no time to even go back into the house to get your phone or your wallet. It will be a life changing event.
We could be sitting down eating a meal with someone, we could be at work right next to someone else, or we could just be taking a walk through a field with someone. And without any warning we would not be there.
This is not something that we should be afraid of because this will be the moment that we will be taken and gathered together with those who died in Christ. This is the moment that we will get to see the same people who use to sit in these seats, the same people who use to sing the same hymns we sing and same people who once prayed with us.
By the time we are taken, the resurrection will already be over. What we don’t know is how long it will take to raise those who sleep in the dust of the earth. In Daniel 7 we read of a vision about the Judgment Seat of Christ. It speaks of thousands of thousands attending to Christ and ten thousand time ten thousand standing before him. I am not sure if these are literal numbers but these same exact numbers are repeated again in the bible. If they are literal then that would mean that at the Judgment Seat of Christ there will be one hundred thousand angels and one hundred million people will stand before him.
One hundred million people out of the billions that lived on this earth is less than 2% of the people who have ever lived. It’s a very small percent. Jesus was obviously very aware of this and that is why he told us that the gate to life is very narrow and only a few find it. We can see that in our own experience. The message is out there. The bread and wine before us is available to any who seeks it. But as time goes on people lose interest and these emblems are no longer important in their life. There is no interest in the things that are taught here. There is no desire to be together with believers. And even we ourselves can feel that temptation to pull away from these things. It is pretty strong and pulls away many, especially in the times we are living.
One hundred million people is still a very impressive number. It’s a lot of people. It is a lot of people to be judged. We always imagine ourselves standing before the judgment seat and giving an account of our life to Christ, to explain the things we do and the things we don’t do. As it is written in 2 Corinthians 5: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive his due for things done in the body, whether good or bad”.
But if each of the one hundred million people is given just one minute to do this, and if the judgment lasts 24 hours a day, it would take almost 200 years for Jesus to hear everyone. Of course God has the power to slow down time and to squeeze this into two or three years if he wanted. Or perhaps the judgment seat of Christ might be different than what we imagine.
We know that when Moses was on the mountain for 40 days speaking face to face with the angel of God, that when he came down from the mountain and the people saw him they were afraid because skin of his face shined, so much so that he had to wear a veil.
Christ has been in the direct presence of God for 2000 years. When he returns to earth there is no doubt that his face will shine. Wherever the judgment takes place, Christ will be on an elevated throne or hill when we see him for the first time. If the people were so afraid of Moses – and they knew and had seen Moses before, but they were afraid. Certainly when we see Christ for the first time, when we see his face shinning like the sun, when we see his garment that is white like snow, when we see the 100,000 angels all around, and the many people standing in awe before him, there is no doubt that we will be afraid and our knees will shake and it will be very difficult for us to say anything.
This will be a sight that billions of people who once lived on this earth and died will never see. They are gone; they are completely gone. Even the atheist doesn’t expect to see this event. They feel that when they die they will never rise again, and they are correct.
But the promise is that if you sleep in Christ, he will come and raise you up. This is found in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 (let’s turn there, verse 16). We read “the dead in Christ will rise”. But this same passage also talks about those that will be still alive in that day and taken. This passage doesn’t use the term taken, but uses the word “caught up” and it means the exact same thing. (To be caught up is to seize, to snatch, and to take). Believers that are still alive at that time will be taken.
It is important to point out a word that is used here to define who will be taken. The word is found in verse 17 and it says those who are alive and REMAIN. The verb used here means those that alive and are surviving, those that are alive and endure. This is consistent with Matthew 24 where Jesus said “he that shall endure unto the end, the same will be saved”.
I know that we all wrestle with our own issues. I know that sometimes we feel unworthy and just can never seem to get our act together. We continue in habits that are not spiritually healthy and we are not really enduring to the end. If this is where we are at, if this is what our life has become, then let us wake up and get over it. We need to hold onto this hope that we have, hold on to it tight, because the time is short and the promise is for those who endure.
Now let’s be very clear about something else, when this resurrection happens it will happen somewhere on the earth. People are not going to be taken to up to heaven. People are not going to be there without bodies. We know this because this same passage makes it very clear. Well you may say where does it talk about where the resurrection going to be and where does it say that our bodies will be resurrected?
Keep in mind what Paul says about this passage. He begins in verse 15 that what he is about to share with them is “by the word of the Lord”. That in itself makes this passage in scripture more powerful than many others in scripture, because these words come direct from the Lord himself. So every phrase, every word is critical to teach us and help us to understand. And there are three words in this passage that were not put there by accident, but where put there to make it very clear what the truth is. Those words are “in the air”.
The meeting with the Lord will take place “in the air”. What does that mean? Well, the definition of air is breathable air, it refers to the lower atmosphere, and it is another way of saying that it will take place on earth. This is important because in the resurrection we will still be a living soul or more properly interpreted a breathing frame. We need to breathe to live and that will not change in the resurrection. These three little words make it clear that we will not become spirits that just float off into heaven.
This is not the only place in scripture where this is taught; it is also found in the book of Job and says it more directly so that there can be no misunderstanding. Job chapter 19:25-26 talks about this exact same event. “I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last (in the end) he will stand ON THE EARTH, and after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God. Job testifies that he would see Christ (his redeemer) ON THE EARTH and that he even though it would not happen till after he died, he would be resurrected and IN HIS FLESH.
Back in 1 Thessalonians, when Christ comes to raise the dead, this same passage tells us he will descend with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God. Again, these three things are not put here by accident, but these words are here to help us appreciate the resurrection that is coming.
First he shouts. Other translations have it as he gives a loud command. This loud command is his call to those in the grave to come out. Remember when he raised Lazarus that it says he called out in a loud voice. The very first thing Christ will do when he descends from heaven is to shout out loud. He will shout out to the dead and bring them to life.
It also says he speaks with the voice of the archangel. We know of one archangel mentioned by the prophet Daniel. That is Michael. The role of the archangel is to watch over and protect the people. So one of the purposes of Christ is to protect the people of God. It says before the time of trouble that Michael the great prince will stand up. In the same way, Christ will stand up and be there to protect us, to deliver us from the trouble that is coming.
The third symbol, the sound of the Trumpet of God is used to signify a great gathering. This trumpet of God will sound to gather His people together for judgment.
Even though we will still be breathing frames and we will still have fleshly bodies at some point something will change. Our bodies right now are not perfect. They get sick, they get worn out, and they get bruised, they die. We know that the bible speaks of a time coming when in the twinkling of an eye we will be changed. It will happen in the blink of an eye. It will just happen without us doing anything. This body which we now have will become immortal. It will gain new strength, we will be able to move like the angels do, and we will run and not get tired, walk and not get weary.
We will be changed. All we know about when this will actually happen is that it will be at the last trump.
There are various trumpet calls mentioned in the bible. We have already talked about the trumpet that sounds to gather the saints together for judgment. There is another trumpet mentioned in the bible which just happens to be the last time the word trumpet appears in the bible. But it also is specifically stated that it is the last trumpet that will sound. We read about it in Revelation chapter 11:15. There are 7 trumpets mentioned in the book of Revelation and when this 7th trumpet blows it is said that “the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ.” This last trump is blown at the beginning of the thousand year reign of Christ. Whatever this change is that will happen to our bodies, it is going to happen then. After the resurrection, after the judgment, at the time when the call goes out to the world that Christ has come.
There are accounts in the bible of quite a few people that have been raised, such as Lazarus. But there is only one recorded account of someone who has been raised to everlasting life. Jesus alone has been given immortality. So to understand what will happen to our bodies, we need to look at what happened to his.
Without going into a lot of details, here are some specifics:
- Eight days after his resurrection Jesus told Thomas to look at his hands, and to reach out and put his hand on his side. There was no doubt that Jesus had the same body because it bore marks of the crucifixion. Therefore it’s important to note that the immortal body we have may still bear blemishes and scars from the life we have lived, perhaps as a reminder.
- On the day of his resurrection we know that two disciples were heading to a village about 7 miles from Jerusalem and Jesus walked with them but they did not know it was Jesus because it says that their eyes were kept from recognizing him. But as soon as they sat down to break bread their eyes were opened and they then recognized him. It is clear from that account that Jesus physically looked the same. This means that the immortal body looks like the body we now have.
- Later that night when he appeared to the disciples and they first saw him they were afraid and thought they were looking at a spirit. But Jesus told them look at my hands, look at my feet, touch me and see, a spirit doesn’t have flesh and bones like I have. The immortal body has flesh and bone.
- Not only did Jesus have the same exact body, but he also did the same things he did before he died. He asked them for food and he ate right in front of them. The immortal body enjoys food and drink.
- Later he met the disciples while they were fishing and he cooked them breakfast. The immortal body doesn’t change a person. You still retain all the skills and abilities you now have.
- All the things that made Jesus who he was stayed the same after his resurrection. His memories were still there, he recognized his disciples, he talked with them, ate with them.
- And this same exact Jesus, who they had grown to love, who they knew personally, physically and spiritually, the angels made it very clear that same person, this same Jesus will so come.
For those that are raised from the dead it will be quite the experience. Like us, they will be gathered very quickly. To bring them out of the dust it is likely that the earth will shake and the ground will be opened. But there will probably not be any lingering at the place of burial. If others have been buried nearby they may travel as a group all led by an angel of God. Like with us, the angel will be there to provide them comfort so that they won’t be afraid. As their minds start to come to life again, they will begin to remember the last moments before they died. They will begin to think about the people that have been important in their life. So when we are gathered, when we are brought to be together with them – they will already be looking for us.
But each of us will still need to stand before the Lord to give an account of ourselves. If we have any fear about what that means, let us strive for the strength of Paul who before he died said:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7)