Sunday, September 4, 2011

Signs?



"Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. "[It is] like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. "Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming--in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning-- "lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. "And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!"
Mark 13:33-37 NKJV


In this passage, Jesus tells His believers to “watch” for His return, yet He also makes it clear that the reason they are to do so is that they do not know when He is coming back. Now many have debated the subject of which return Jesus is referring to here, the rapture of His church or the Second Coming, but rather than joining that debate I would rather address something else that I believe is important here. Notice the last sentence? “What I say to you I say to all”? I think it's safe to say that we are part of the “all” that Jesus is addressing this command to.

So what does it mean to watch? The Greek word for “watch” is agrypne┼Ź: 1) to be sleepless, keep awake, watch, 2) to be circumspect, attentive, ready. Now when I read this definition and then look closer at the passage where it is used, the part that really stands out to me is the part that says to be “attentive”. Now I am not much of a hunter, but there are two seasons I choose to partake in every year and that is pheasant hunting and duck hunting. Now although hunting with me is often described as “entertaining” by my hunting partner, there is something I have learned from it, and that is the importance of being “attentive”.

Why? Because most often I can hear them long before I see them. My partner is one of the best duck callers I have ever seen, and probably the only reason he takes me with him is that I can usually hear them long before we ever see them and then he does his thing and calls them in. It probably looks funny to others but as we sit in our blind and he and everyone else is looking, I have my eyes closed and am listening.

What has this to do with Jesus' command to watch? To me, I believe many are too focused on watching for certain specific events to occur rather than being “attentive” to anything which might be a clue to the nearness of His return. It seems to me that Jesus is telling us He wants us to be aware of everything that is going on around us rather than just focusing on particular events as a sign of His return. It is my belief that if we adopt the attitude of being aware of everything that is happening around us we might just see clues we would otherwise miss.

If you study the event we call the rapture, one of the first things you learn is that when it occurs, it is accompanied by the sound of a trumpet. This particular trumpet is called a "shofar". Are you familiar with what they look like? If not, I have (hopefully) included one for you to see. I also included a picture I took on Thursday afternoon of a cloud in the sky which to me, at least, seemed to look a lot like a shofar. A sign from God? Well, I will let you decide but to me personally, why not? After all, who am I to tell God what signs to give His children? God can speak to each of us any way He so chooses, and if I am to be "attentive" as Jesus commanded, I at least should consider the possibility.

I want to repost a study we did last year about this time concerning the rapture of the church. Hopefully it will encourage you to read a little about what we all are waiting and watching for.

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 NKJV


One of the things I enjoyed most when teaching young people were the questions I often got from them concerning the things we were studying in the scriptures. One of my favorites, and one I got repeatedly when teaching the rapture of the Church is if we will know or be aware that we are being raptured, or do we simply find ourselves suddenly in heaven without a clue that it was about to happen? That really is a great question and one I think many of us have thought about at one time or another, so I thought we might take a little time this morning to look closer at the event we call the rapture.

This verse in Thessalonians is probably the best one we can use in describing exactly what God says will happen on that day. If we look closely at what it says, we find that we are told there are actually three distinct things which will occur in sequence when Jesus returns for His Church. These are a shout by the Lord Himself, the voice of an archangel, and the sound of the trumpet of God. So let's look closer at each of these three and see if there is a clue to the answer to our question “will we know”?

The Shout. In this verse we are told this shout is from the Lord Jesus Himself. Now at first, it would seem understandable that Jesus might want to shout since He has been waiting over two thousand years to come get His bride, yet there may be more to it than that. We are also told here that “the dead in Christ will rise first”. So there is a sequence of events, and the first is the resurrection of the bodies of those believers who have already died to be reunited with their souls which went to be with Lord at the time of their death.

We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 5:8 NKJV


When a believer dies, his soul goes to be with the Lord in Heaven while his body is left behind. At the time of the rapture, the Lord apparently commands their bodies to rise from the grave just as He did with Lazarus.

Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!"
John 11:43 NKJV


So the first thing to happen at the time of the rapture is the resurrection of the dead in Christ. Like one of my kids said during Sunday School, “dude, would it be cool to be in a cemetery when that happens?” We laugh, but I just wonder if he is right?

The Voice. The only angel in the Bible to receive the title of archangel is the angel Michael, so I think it is safe to assume that is who is being talked about here. As opposed to the Lord's “shout”, we are told that we only hear the “voice” of Michael, so we are left to wonder exactly what his role here is. If you have studied this passage, or study it further, you will find there are a few opinions as to what might be going on. Although any of them might be right, I am going to go as far as to suggest a new one which may or may not be accurate, but feels the most comfortable to me. As I sat and thought about why Michael might be involved, I decided to look at the other occasions where he is mentioned in the Bible. A very interesting place I found is in the book of Jude where we are told this;

Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!"
Jude 1:9 NKJV


Now I certainly found it curious that here we find a situation involving Michael that, along with the account of the rapture, is concerned with a body belonging to a believer. In this account in Jude, the only explanation that makes any sense is that Satan was disputing “possession” of the dead body of Moses. We can find an account of this in the non-canonical Book of Enoch, which Jude is obviously referring to. In that account Satan laid claim to the body for two reasons. The first was that Moses was a murderer because he took the life of an Egyptian, and the second was that Moses body was buried on earth, and he, Satan, is the lord over the things of this world. So my thoughts are these; if Satan has in the past disputed over the ownership of the body of one believer, just what will his reaction to the resurrection of all dead believers bodies be? If in fact this is what happens, doesn't it make sense that the same scenario will repeat itself and the voice of the archangel is Michael again saying “The Lord rebuke you” to Satan? As I said, there are other ideas concerning this portion of the verse, but since both of these accounts of Michael concern the ownership of believers bodies, to me this seems to be a logical conclusion.

The Trumpet. Actually, we are told here that what we hear is the "trumpet of God". Just what exactly is this trumpet sound and what if anything makes it special? In another account of the rapture, Paul tells us this;

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:52 NKJV


Here Paul refers to this trumpet as the "last trump". This helps us identify it for from studying rabbinical sources we see that this use of the term "last trump" means it is the shofar, or ram's horn which is being used. The shofar is related to the account of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, and rabbinical tradition regards the left horn as the "first trump" and the right horn as the "last trump". There are two ways to blow the shofar, with the first being a series of short blasts which signify an alarm or bad news, and the second being one long blast which is meant to signal victory or good news. It is this last long blast which is identified as the "last trump". According to rabbinical sources the "last trump" or "tekiah gedolah" lasts as long as the blower has the lung capacity to blow. In this case, where the "trumpet of God"is being blown, one has to wonder just how long the blast will be? My personal opinion is very, very long.

The shout of Jesus calling for the resurrection of all dead believers bodies to rise, Michael rebuking Satan in the Lord's name for possession of the bodies, and the tekiah gedolah which lasts as long as the blower has breath, certainly gives rise to the thought that the answer to our original question might well be; yes! Yes we will know that the rapture is occurring because there is a sequence of three events which must take place before we go. I suspect the last trump will last long enough for all believers to know and understand that the time has come for the bride to go with the bridegroom and to rise and meet Him in the air. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Keep watching. (and listening)