KEY TEXT: 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
KEY THOT: Our ultimate hope in Christ is not success in this life but participation in God's kingdom when it comes in its fullness at Christ's return. Two things will happen at Christ's return: firstly, the resurrection of the dead: "And the dead in Christ will rise first". While Scripture does provide much details about how this will work, but I think those departed souls who are already with Christ in the heavenlies will return with him to earth to be clothed with new resurrection bodies.
After that has happened, the bodies of believers who are still alive will be translated from mortality into immortality and then rise to join the descending Christ and His Bride: "Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). Death will not be the end of this earthly life, but the door into the new resurrection life with Christ.
This is our ultimate Christian hope: resurrection or rapture. But the end point of this hope is this: "so we will always be with the Lord" (v.17). If all we have is hope in this life, then it is a pitiable life: "If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Corinthians 15:19). What God has allowed us to experience in this life (its joys, blessings and healings) are just foretaste of the eternal hope we have that lasts forever. God has allowed us to experience His blessings of renewed life in Christ on earth to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel. We should never despise nor denigrate them. Instead, they are signs pointing to the truth of the coming Kingdom that is to come: "And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs" (Mark 16:20).
As one hymn-writer puts it: "If Thy works on earth be sweet, what will Thy glory be?"
Abba-Father, what a glorious hope You have reserved for all who put their trust in Christ. And You have allowed us to experience a foretaste of the world to come in our earthly life. For that, we give You thanks. Amen.