“…to establish your hearts unblamable in holiness in front of our God and Father, in the presence of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:13)
Paul used virtually the same phrase, “the presence of our Lord Jesus,“ in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1. The subject of all three references is a literal, physical place and time: “in the air” at the return of Christ, when the members of the Body of Christ — “those who are Christ’s in His presence” (1 Corinthians 15:23) — have had their bodies changed into incorruptible, immortal bodies like His!
“For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:23)
In what some experts believe was the first among Paul’s 13 New Testament letters, he introduced an idea that was unheard of up to then. The only resurrection known to the circumcision apostles was “a resurrection of life” that Jesus spoke about in John 5:29, aka “the former resurrection” that the Apostle John wrote about in his “revelation”:
And the souls of those executed because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who do not worship the wild beast or its image, and did not get the emblem on their forehead and on their hand — they also live and reign with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead do not live until the thousand years should be finished.) This is the former resurrection. Happy and holy is he who is having part in the former resurrection! Over these the second death has no jurisdiction, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will be reigning with Him the thousand years. (Revelation 20:4-6)
The distinction between “a resurrection of life” and the resurrection Paul wrote about is important for at least three reasons:
- They take place at different times (Paul’s is first, followed by John’s. The amount of time between them isn’t known; but what is known is that between the two events is an extraordinarily difficult period, “the indignation” (Revelation 6:16).
- Two completely different qualities of “life” await the participants.
- “A resurrection of life” mentions no change of body for those who are living.
- Paul’s picture of “the presence of our Lord Jesus” includes an “extreme makeover” for the Body of Christ — whether alive or not — at the time of His coming.
“…for the Lord Himself will be descending from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the Chief Messenger, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall be rising first. Thereupon we, the living who are surviving, shall at the same time be snatched away together with them in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And thus shall we always be together with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)
The importance of Paul’s declaration to us is that the Body of Christ has an earlier, higher, and surpassingly more glorious expectation than could be realized in an earthly body. As wonderful as Christ’s kingdom on the earth will be, and as interesting as it may seem to rule and reign with Christ for 1,000 years, the members of His Body are headed for a meeting with Him in the air — in the celestials — “in the presence of our Lord Jesus.” The dress code is strictly formal: a glorified immortal body like His…the same kind of body that blinded Paul on the road to Damascus!
Paul’s declaration of a literal, physical change for dead and living saints at the Lord’s coming — in His presence — is the first shocking secret that Paul revealed to liberate and impart worth to men and women who, until they heard Paul’s revelation of God’s saving grace, were pagan, living ignorant, purposeless lives.
Even if it were an option — and it isn’t — why would we consider settling for an earthly expectation when a celestial one is not only in view…it’s what the word of God promises? What a grand spectacle it is, and what a grand expectation we share!
Blessings and joy in the journey.