"And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable."

I Corinthians 15:14-19

The Apostle Paul said it as well as it can be said. One cannot overstate the profound importance of the reality of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus to our faith as Christians. If Jesus had not risen from the dead as the Bible states, then all who had and have fallen asleep (died in Christ) are perished and our hope for eternal life is gone. If Jesus had remained in the grave so would we - but praise God He is risen.

Think about what happened when Christ rose from the grave? What was left behind? All they found in that sepulcher was our Lord's grave clothes. What's the significance of that?

In I Corinthians 15:23, it says, Christ is the "firstfruits" of the Resurrection. The first fruits. Isn't that plain? Then in the text it explains that afterwards, or later, "they that are Christ's at his coming" will follow. It's there in God's Word. What it means is that since His clothes were left behind, ours will be also. Those that belong to Christ at the time of His coming will be bodily translated into heaven just as Jesus was - leaving behind the rags of sin for new robes of righteousness.

When Jesus Christ comes to call us home at the Rapture, He will come exactly as He left. How did He leave? He left bodily into the clouds. Acts 1:9 says, "And when he (Jesus) had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go.'"

In other words, if I can prove that He went bodily, then I don't have to go any further to prove that He's coming back bodily. Why? Because the Bible says He's coming back exactly as He left. How did He leave? After spending three days in the grave, He rose and stood on the earth in His new body. In Luke 24:39, He says to some of His followers, "Behold, my hands and my feet. It is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." In verse 41, He says, "Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them."

This is Christ in His new resurrected body - a body that could be seen, a body that could be touched, a body that could partake of food. It's a picture of what we will have at the time of the Rapture. How quickly will it happen? "Behold, I show you a mystery," the Bible tells us in I Corinthians 15:51-54. "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 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. For this corruptible (the dead) must put on incorruption, and this mortal (the living) must put on immortality."

This is going to be a glorious event. We shall be changed to be like Jesus. The Psalmist said in chapter 17, verse 15: "I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness." In Philippians 3:21, Paul says that God will change our vile bodies - not leave them behind, change them - that they may be fashioned "like unto his glorious body." In I John 3:2, it says that when we see Jesus, we shall be like Him, "for we shall see him as he is."

Did you know that Jesus wasn't the first person to be "raptured" out of this earth? In fact, when the Rapture occurs, it will be the fourth one documented in the Bible. The first was Enoch in Genesis 5:24: And Enoch walked with God; and he was not; for God took him. In Hebrews 11:5, Paul adds, that Enoch was translated by faith so that he should not see death. He was "raptured" - caught up in the twinkling of an eye, without dying. The second documented "rapture" is Elijah in II Kings 2:11. Elijah was caught up by a whirlwind into heaven. He, too, never saw death, foreshadowing what we believers will experience on the day the Lord catches us up in the clouds. Then, of course, Jesus was "raptured" away in Acts 1:9: "And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight."

When Elijah was caught up, angels and chariots of fire came to get him. I personally believe that, in a similar way, angelic hosts may come after those of us who ascend in the Rapture. Why? Because every believer - not just Elijah - has his own ministering angel. They could come to whisk us home in the twinkling of an eye. Luke 16:22 provides a precedent for us: "And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom."

Is all this something that should frighten us? Excited, yes. Frightened, no. So many people today are facing the future with dread - with fear and foreboding. There is an anticipation - even in the secular media - that we may be nearing the end of the world. There is anxiety and hopelessness everywhere. The world seems to get just a bit uglier every day as crime increases and wars break out and immorality reigns.

This is not the way believers should feel - especially in this season when we are remembering what Jesus did for us on the cross of Calvary and how He victoriously defeated the last enemy, death, I Corinthians 15:26. What could be more exciting and encouraging than the idea that some of us will never die? In Titus 2:13, Paul calls the Rapture our "blessed hope." In I Thessalonians 4:18, he says, "Comfort one another with these words." "Comfort one another," he says, not frighten one another.

I've got news for you. The world is not - I repeat, not - coming to an end. The world is not going away in the year 2012, nor even a thousand years after that. It is clear from scripture that the world will not even end after Christ's 1,000-year reign on earth. The world will never end. Isaiah 45:17 is unequivocal: It's a world without end. "Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen," Paul writes in Ephesians 3:21.

Skeptics will no doubt point to Matthew 24:3 which states: "As he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" Let's recall that the New Testament was written in Greek. The Greek translation of that last word is "age," not "world." Once again, the world is not coming to an end. But this epoch, this age, is closing.

Long before Christ was born, the Jewish rabbis taught a six-day theory about the future of the world. They believed that the world would face several eras lasting a total of 6,000 years, from Adam's creation until the Messiah would come. This theory was based, in part, on Psalm 90:4: "For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday." Since God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day, they reasoned, the world would go on for 6,000 years followed by a 1,000-year millennial "rest" period presided over by the Lord himself.

Think about this. From the creation of Adam until the birth of Christ a period of 4,000 years - or four days passed. From Christ's time on earth until now represents approximately another 2,000 years - or two days. This total of six days is just one more reason to believe that Jesus could return very, very soon.

Six-day periods, followed by remarkable transitions, have been important throughout scripture. Look at Matthew 17:1, for example. "And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And he was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light." Jesus was giving them a preview of what it would be like when He comes back as King of Kings and Lord of Lords as described in Revelation 19:16. When they came down from that mountain, He told them not to tell anyone of these things until after His Resurrection.

Not only did the ancient Jewish rabbis teach this six-day theory, but so did the church during the first 300 years of Christendom. The church leaders based their belief on II Peter 3:8: "But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." St. Victorinus, the bishop of Petah, wrote a commentary on the book of Revelation in 270 AD. He said he saw another great and wonderful sign - "Seven angels having the last seven plagues, for in them is completed the indignation of God. And these shall be in the last time when the church shall have gone out of the midst." In other words, St. Victorinus was talking about the Rapture! This teaching is not a present day innovation but a doctrinal statement dating back 17 centuries to St. Victorinus and 20 centuries to Jesus and Paul.

In the 16th century there were those expressing assurance of the Rapture. Hugh Latimer, burned at the stake for his faith in 1555, said: "It may come in my days, old as I am, or in my children's days, the saints shall be taken up to meet Christ in the air and so shall come down with him again." Joseph Medde, the great 16th century literalist understood I Thessalonians 4:13-18 to teach the catching up of the saints and even used the word "rapture." So this is not some new idea.

However, understand this: The Rapture is not taught in Matthew, Mark and Luke. You can find it twice in the Gospel of John. Any other time you are reading about Christ's return in the gospels, it is not referring to the Rapture. Instead, these are references to the second phase of Christ's return - when He physically comes back to earth to rule over it after a seven-year Tribulation period and it's called, in theological circles, "the Revelation" or the revealing of Christ upon earth.

Where are the two Rapture texts in the Gospel of John? John 14:1-3: "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." This is not His coming to the earth. This is the point at which He receives us unto Himself at the great Rapture - the snatching away - to be with Him in heaven as the seven years of torment occur on earth. The second reference is in John 11:25,26. I quoted this passage for years but didn't really understand it. Christ said: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?"

Jesus is contrasting those who experience death and live again ("for the dead in Christ rise first," I Thessalonians 4:16) with those who never experience death (because "we which are alive and remain" are caught up without dying, I Thessalonians 4:17).

It's a fact that God always spares His own from judgment. When the horrendous worldwide flood came in Noah's day, Noah told those who were prepared to COME INTO the ark, Genesis 7:7. When the judgment fell on Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:14, the angels told Lot and his family to COME OUT of the city. Notice this trilogy: In Noah's day, it was COME IN. In Lot's day it was COME OUT. In our day, it will be COME UP, Revelation 4:1.

But, of course, as always, only a select group will be saved - rescued from the worst period in human history. During the Tribulation period that follows the Rapture, all hell is going to break loose on planet earth. It will be a furious time because the hindering power of the Holy Spirit will be temporarily removed.

How bad will things get? In Revelation 9:18, it indicates that a third of mankind will be killed by fire, smoke and brimstone. That, my friends, is nothing less than a first century way of explaining all-out thermonuclear warfare. Imagine. But that's just the beginning. In Revelation 6:8, the rider on the fourth horse brings with him a worldwide plague of disease that causes another fourth of humanity to perish. So half the human race will be annihilated in this relatively brief period. This pictures the judgment predicted by Jesus in Matthew 24:41 and 42.

As terrible as that fate sounds, there is still hope for those left behind. I used to believe and teach that if one hadn't accepted the Lord before the Rapture, all was lost. I was wrong. As long as one is alive there's hope. Joel chapter 2 and Acts chapter 2 describe the calamitous tribulation period. In the midst of all the carnage and destruction Joel 2:32 and Acts 2:21 states: " whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."

There's always hope in Jesus. That's what we need to reflect upon, not only during this victorious resurrection season, but all year long.

This wonderful share is by the Jack Van Impe, I love his program!