Text: 1Thessalonians 4:13-18
This is a verse-by-verse study of the imminent [could occur at any moment] resurrection of “the dead in Christ” (1Thessalonians 4:16) and the simultaneous change of the saints “which are alive and remain” (1Thessalonians 4:15, 17).
ASLEEP IN JESUS
1Thessalonians 4:13-14 “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.”
Returning to put on immortality—The bodies of the “dead in Christ” (1Thessalonians 4:16), them which “sleep in Jesus,” are in the grave, but their souls and spirits are now in heaven and “present with the Lord” (2Corinthians 5:8). When the Lord descends from heaven (1Thessalonians 4:16), he will bring these souls “with him” to receive new bodies. God will give every soul “a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body” (1Corinthians 15:38):
“There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body” (1Corinthians 15:41-44). They are returning with Christ because “this mortal must put on immortality” (1Corinthians 15:53).
Physically dead—”…them which are asleep…which sleep in Jesus” (1Thessalonians 4:14) speaks of believers who have died physically. They are called “the dead in Christ” (1Thessalonians 4:16). When Lazarus died, the Lord Jesus said to his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep…Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead” (John 11:11-14). Isaiah and Daniel both speak of the dead as being awakened at their resurrection (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2). When Stephen was stoned to death by the Jews, the scripture said that “he fell asleep” (Acts 7:60).
Dead or alive—The Lord “died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep [whether we are alive or physically dead], we should live together with him” (1Thessalonians 5:10). The soul and spirit of the born-again believer will “never die” (John 11:25-26) but will forever live with the Lord. While alive on earth, the children of God who walk in the light of the word of God are blessed to enjoy fellowship with the Lord (1John 1:7). Nevertheless, like Paul, they are “willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2Corinthians 5:6-8).
Paul wrote: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart [to leave the mortal “body of this death” (Romans 7:24)], and to be with Christ; which is far better” (Philippians 1:21-23).
The witness of other scriptures—The scriptures make it clear that the soul and spirit depart the body at death. When the Lord Jesus raised the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue from death, “her spirit came again…” (Luke 8:55). When Rachel died at the birth of Benjamin, “her soul was in departing, (for she died)…” (Genesis 35:18). When Elijah prayed for a dead child, “the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived” (1Kings 17:22).
Our blessed hope—The “others which have no hope” (1Thessalonians 4:13) are “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12)! But the LORD is the hope of all of his redeemed people.
The word of God declares the glorious mystery of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27; 1Timothy 1:1; Joel 3:16; Jeremiah 17:7; Hebrews 6:19-20): “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1John 3:3), “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Philippians 3:20-21; Titus 2:13).
No ‘soul sleep’—The false doctrine of “soul sleep” is the belief that after a person dies, his soul “sleeps” until the resurrection and final judgment. According to the scriptures, the soul never sleeps. For example, during “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7), when the fifth seal was opened, John wrote: “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled” (Revelation 6:10-11).
These souls were not dead, for they put on robes and communicated with God!
1Thessalonians 4:15-16 “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [precede or go before] them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.”
Resurrected and changed—The resurrection of the church fulfills the promise the Lord Jesus made to his disciples, saying: “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” (John 14:2-3).
The Lord’s promise is remarkably similar to what a traditional Jewish groom would say to his bride. The groom would then leave her in her own house as he went to build an addition to his father’s house before returning to get his bride. Then he would return for his bride “as a thief in the night” (1Thessalonians 5:2), at some unexpected hour (Matthew 24:44), with a trumpet blast and a procession with a loud cry, saying: “Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him” (Matthew 25:6).
A mystery—This wonderful event is one of “the mysteries of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:10), over which believers are to be “stewards” (1Corinthians 4:1). In Paul’s first epistle to “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1Corinthians 1:2), he wrote: “Behold, I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1Corinthians 15:51-53).
Suddenly, without any warning signs, the Lord Jesus Christ will descend from heaven, at which time the living and dead members of his bride the church “shall be caught up…to meet the Lord in the air” (1Thessalonians 4:16-18). The words “caught up” are translated from the Greek word ‘harpazo,’ which means: ‘to seize, carry off by force…to snatch out or away’ (Strong’s Concordance). The most commonly used term for this sudden catching away of the church is rapture, which comes from Medieval Latin raptura, which means ‘a carrying off, abduction, snatching away’ (Etymonline.com). ‘The Latin translation of this verse uses the word rapturo.’ (Bible.org).
THREE STAGES OF THE FIRST RESURRECTION
The “first resurrection” (Revelation 20:5-6), also known as: “the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14; Acts 24:15): “the resurrection of life” (John 5:29): and “the resurrection from the dead” (1Corinthians 15:12-49; Hebrews 6:1-2), is divided into three distinct stages, each of which is associated with the command, “Come up hither.” When the LORD completes all three stages of the first resurrection, he will have gathered to himself all of his redeemed people who lived before the beginning of his thousand-year reign (Revelation 20:1-6). Following is the chronological order of these three stages:
Resurrection of the church—The conversation of all born-again believers “is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20-21).
John, who is a type of the church, wrote: “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter” (Revelation 4:1). After his translation to heaven, John saw the redeemed church already in heaven praising God (Revelation 5:8-10). After seeing the church there in heaven, John saw the Lamb take the book sealed with seven seals and begin to open the seals. As each seal is opened, the book reveals the chronological events of the tribulation, called “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7). At the opening of the first seal, the antichrist will come on a white horse to deceive many with a false peace (Revelation 6:1-2; Daniel 8:25; 1Thessalonians 5:3).
The Wicked revealed—According to the scriptures, “the day of Christ…shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition…And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way” (2Thessalonians 2:1-7).
At the present time, the Holy Ghost permanently indwells all of the members of Jesus Christ’s “body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). They were called by “one Spirit” (Ephesians 4:4). They have been “born of the Spirit” (John 3:8), and they are sealed by the “Spirit” (2Corinthians 10:22) “unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). We believers have the Lord’s promise: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5). Therefore “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1John 4:4)!
The very presence of the Holy Ghost in the world withholds the revealing of “that man of sin…the son of perdition” (2Thessalonians 2:3), also known as the “antichrist” (1John 2:18). But when the Holy Ghost is “taken out of the way…then shall that Wicked be revealed” (2Thessalonians 2:7-8). While it is certainly true that the Spirit of God is omnipresent: present everywhere (Psalm 139:1-12), he was not working in the office of “the Comforter” on earth among believers until after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then he was sent into the world to comfort and teach the church (John 15:26-27), and to “reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:7-13). So when the Holy Ghost leaves this world, he will also take all of the born-again believers up with him to meet the Lord Jesus in the air!
A beautiful “similitude [likeness; similar account]” (Hosea 12:10) of this great, soon coming event is given in the historical account recorded in Genesis chapter 24. As Abraham sent his servant to a far country to get a bride for his son Isaac, so God the Father has sent the Holy Ghost into the world to get a bride [the church (John 3:29)] for his Son Jesus Christ. After Abraham’s servant told Rebekah about Isaac, of her own free will, she decided to go with the servant to marry Isaac based on the servant’s testimony. Then she traveled with the servant to meet and to marry Isaac.
One rainy day in June of 1979, I was reading a Bible when the Holy Ghost spoke to me through “the word of the gospel” (Acts 15:7) and told me about God’s only begotten Son Jesus Christ. By God’s word and Spirit, I was invited to come to him and receive him by faith as my Saviour. Of my own free will, I believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and was saved by his grace through faith in him (Ephesians 2:8-9; Acts 16:31)! Now, over forty years later, the Holy Ghost is still with me! And one day soon, the Lord Jesus Christ will descend from heaven, and I will be changed and caught up by the power of the Holy Ghost to meet the Lord in the air!
We know that when the Holy Ghost is taken out of the way, the church will go up with him “to meet the Lord in the air” (1Thessalonians 4:17)! “And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders” (2Thessalonians 2:8-9). Now I am eagerly “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
Resurrection of the tribulation saints—The apostle John saw two groups of these saints:
Jewish virgins—John saw the Lamb, “and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads…And they sung as it were a new song before the throne…These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins…These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb” (Revelation 14:1-4).
Many from all nations—John also wrote that he saw, “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands” (Revelation 7:9). One of the elders identified them to John, and said, “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).
God’s two witnesses—During the first three and a half years of the seven-year “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7), God will give power unto his two witnesses, “and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days…And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.
And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them…And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them” (Revelation 11:1-12).
It appears that the two witnesses and all the tribulation saints will be caught up to heaven “out of great tribulation” (Revelation 7:14) at the same time.
Resurrection of Israel at Christ’s second coming—Jesus told his disciples: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:29-31).
Some of the people of Israel saw the Lord (Genesis 17:1; 26:2; 32:30; Exodus 33:11; 24:9; 1Kings 22:19; Isaiah 6:1; Ezekiel 1:26); therefore, the scripture is speaking of Israel when it declares: “For better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen” (Proverbs 25:7).
“Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
Hidden from trouble—After the church has been caught up and taken out of this world, the man of sin will be revealed (2Thessalonians 2:6-8). He shall then “confirm the covenant [“with death and with hell” (Isaiah 28:15)] with many for one week…” (Daniel 9:27). This “week” of seven years is specifically called “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7). This is the last week of Daniel’s seventy-week prophecy (Daniel 9:27), during which time, according to the Lord Jesus Christ, the world will suffer “great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21)!
Several Old Testament saints wrote about the LORD protecting his people from this “great tribulation.”
Isaiah wrote: “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead. Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain” (Isaiah 26:19-21).
Zephaniah declared: “Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’S anger” (Zephaniah 2:3).
David wrote: “For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock” (Psalm 27:5).
In his letter to the church in Philadelphia, the Lord promised: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (Revelation 3:10).
David declared to the LORD: “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake with thy likeness” (Psalm 17:15; 1John 3:2).
Job testified: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me” (Job 19:25-27). The New Testament also has many comforting words on this subject (2Corinthians 4:17-18; 1Corinthians 13:12; Jude 1:24; Revelation 22:5).
ARE YOU READY FOR HIS COMING?
The “glorious gospel of Christ” (2Corinthians 4:4), “how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1Corinthians 15:3-4) “is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Romans 1:16).
If you have never been saved, then read the gospel according to John, which was “written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31). I pray that you will trust Jesus Christ to save you today, for the scripture says: “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2Corinthians 6:2)!
This may be the day when the church will be “caught up…to meet the Lord in the air” (1Thessalonians 4:17)!
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31).