And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Dear God, where did Paul get this? Was he always right about some of these things? Did he misunderstand any of this end-of-time stuff? I think it’s safe to say that he thought Jesus would return much sooner than 2,000 years after his ascension. But did he have the rapture wrong? And I’m not trying to question Jesus’s ultimate return. I just wonder if it might be in a paradigm or reality that is beyond our human comprehension.
My own personal theory, which is not to be taken as truth is that death is at the intersection of when we cease to experience our “time” and we start to experience your “timelessness.” I know of too many stories of people experiencing heaven immediately, only to return. But I actually have one that is greater than that. When my mother-in-law died, my niece, who was, I think, 2 at the time, saw my mother-in-law in her home within minutes of her death. It was about 5:00 in the morning, she was with her mom, and she said, “Ama?” (That was her name for her grandmother.) Her mom asked her why she saw, and she said to yer mom, “Ama’s not scared.” It was only a few minutes later that her mom found out that AMA had just died.
I remember my mother talking about my grandmother being on her deathbed in the hospital and she reported seeing dead relatives in her room. I completely believe all of these stories.
There’s even one from Jesus’s own life. He got to hang out with Moses and Elijah. Now Elijah never died so we can see how he might be there, but if Moses was waiting for either Jesus’s death and resurrection or Jesus’s return in the rapture, how did he get there?
Father, at the end of the day, I don’t have to understand any of this as absolute truth. Frankly, I don’t think I’m capable of comprehending the absolute truth. What gives me peace is that I believe the reality you provide is for my good, and I can be at peace in my life, my death, and the lives and deaths of my friends because you have provided Jesus for my and our reconciliation, and your love is bigger than my ability to screw it up.
In Jesus’s name I pray,