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1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 – Will Deceased Believers Miss the Rapture?

There are times in every person’s life that are very difficult. One of those times is when a loved one is sick in the hospital. We know several people who are currently going through that right now. Another of those difficult times is the passing of a friend or relative. The loss of that person is often very difficult to handle. The loss of companionship and the flood of memories cause us to grieve over the loss.

Apparently, this was something that bothered some of the first-century Christians in Thessalonica. As you may recall, the Apostle Paul was only with them for three weeks before leaving for his next missionary destination. In that time, they had learned a lot and several had been saved. But they still had questions. For instance, what happens when a believer dies? Does he miss out on Jesus’ return? The Bible passage we will look at today is Paul’s answer to their questions.

  1. What does it say? (1 Thess. 4:13-18)

    Summary: Paul didn’t want them to be ignorant about what happens when a Christian falls asleep as they could become sad and lose hope. He made it clear that in the same way that we believe Jesus died and rose again, so God would bring with Him those who are asleep in Jesus. Paul spoke according to what the Lord had revealed to Him. Those who are alive and remaining until the coming of the Lord will not go before those who are asleep. The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. Those who are dead in Christ will rise first. Then those who are alive and remaining will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. This is how we will always be with the Lord. Because of this, we should comfort one another with these words.

    The reason for writing (13) Paul wanted Christians to be informed about Christians who had fallen asleep (died) so that they wouldn’t be sad or hopeless.

    The facts about the future (14-17) Just as Jesus rose after dying, so God would bring with Him those who were asleep in Jesus. Christians who are still alive when Jesus returns will not precede those who are asleep. The Lord will descend from heaven with a shout, and archangel’s voice, and God’s trumpet. The dead in Christ will be the first to rise followed by those who are still alive. Both together will meet the Lord in the air. All of us will be together with the Lord forever.

    The comfort from knowing (18) We should comfort each other with these truths.

    Concise Summary: Paul was trying to give hope and comfort to Christians when a believer died by revealing the future return of Christ when He will gather all believers, living or dead, to be with Him forever.

  2. What does it mean?

    Jesus’ return is for believers (1 Thess. 4:13-15,17).

    To whom was Paul referring in this passage? He talks about people who are asleep or alive and remaining. He was talking about believers in both cases.

    Those who are asleep in Christ (13-15) – One thing that may sound strange in this passage is Paul’s reference to those who are asleep in Christ. He uses this description in verses 13, 14, and 15. Besides those who fall asleep during the message, who is he talking about? Paul was referring to “the dead in Christ” (see v. 16b). When someone dies, their body is no longer active but is at rest. So it is with believers who die. Their body is no longer alive because their soul has gone on to be with the Lord.

    “This is not sleep of the soul, however, because Paul wrote elsewhere that a Christian who is absent from his body is present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8; cf. Phil. 1:23; 1 Thes. 5:10). It is rather the ‘sleep’ of the body in the earth until it is resurrected, changed into a glorious body, and reunited with the soul (1 Cor. 15:35-57; 2 Cor. 5:1-9).”1

    Those who are alive and remain (15,17) – Paul was writing to the believers in the church at Thessalonica. So, when you read “those who are alive and remain,” it is referring to Christians who are still alive and remain. If you look back at verse 12, Paul differentiates these living believers with “those who are outside” of Christ (v. 12).

    In this context, Jesus’ return is an event that will give hope and comfort to believers.

    Jesus’ return is as sure as His resurrection (1 Thess. 4:14).

    Paul in this verse begins the statement with “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again.” “If does not imply doubt and uncertainty concerning Christ’s death and resurrection but instead assumes it as a recognized truth.”2 In other words, he is saying that since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, we also believe that God will raise the bodies of our brothers and sisters who have gone before us.

    Consider some questions to clarify what Paul is saying. Did Jesus die? Yes, He did. Did Jesus come back to life? Yes, He did. Have some believers died? Yes, they have. Will God raise their bodies in the future? Yes, He will. Jesus’ return and the resurrection of believers are as sure as His own resurrection.

    Jesus’ return will be spectacular (1 Thess. 4:16).

    When we read Paul’s description of Jesus’ return, it is filled with wonderful things. It will be a spectacular event that will be like none other.

    The Lord will descend from heaven, with…

    A shout – “The noun rendered shout means ‘a shout of command’ and implies authority and urgency. It was variously used of a general shouting orders to his troops, a driver shouting to excite his horses to greater speed, a hunter encouraging his hounds to the pursuit of the prey, or a captain or rowers exciting them to more rigorous rowing.”3 Can you imagine what that shout will be like? I tend to think that it will be Jesus calling to all of us to come up!

    The voice of an archangel – Paul doesn’t tell us what this means. But he does say that along with the shout, the voice of an archangel will be heard. Is it any wonder that others might be a part of the triumphant return of Christ? Jesus shouts and then and archangel calls out as well.

    The trumpet of God – Paul doesn’t tell us here what the trumpet of God is. But in another place, it is also mentioned.

    1 Cor. 15:51-52 – “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 incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

    The sound of that trumpet will resound throughout the world and raise the dead. What a sound that will be. Since believers have been buried all around the world, the sound must fill the earth on that wonderful day!

    But what will happen after Jesus descends with a shout, the voice of an archangel, and the trumpet of God?

    Believers dead and alive will respond…

    “Whatever the procedure in detail may be, it is clear that the signal from heaven will have great significance for the saints. They will hear and instantly respond to the summons when it goes forth.”4

    The dead in Christ (14b,16b) – Did you notice what Paul said in verse 14? God will bring with him those who are asleep in Jesus. We learn elsewhere that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6). So this means that God brings the souls of deceased believers with Him on that day. In verse 16, we learn that it is their bodies that are raised first. What this means is that the bodies of Christians who have already died will be raised and reunited with their souls. Somehow, God causes their bodies to be put back together and reunited with their departed souls. When Jesus shouts, the dead bodies of believers will break through the soil and respond to the Lord’s call.

    The living in Christ – Christians who are still living at that time will be caught up together into the air with the reunited bodies of deceased believers. You may have heard of the term The Rapture. According to Ryrie’s Basic Theology, “the English word comes from a Latin word, rapio, which means to seize or snatch in relation to an ecstasy of spirit or the actual removal from one place to another. In other words, it means to be carried away in spirit or in body.”5 It really doesn’t matter what term you use to describe this. The truth is that all believers living and dead will be caught up together into the air when Jesus calls to them on that wonderful day.

    Jesus’ return will be a reunion (1 Thess. 4:17).

    Caught up together with them – While the dead in Christ will be raised first, we learn here that they will be gathered with those believers who are still living. It will be a reunion of believers from all ages. Just think of that. We will see people like Peter and Paul and other deceased believers in their new bodies right beside us in the air.

    in the clouds … in the air – Do you remember what happened when Jesus ascended into heaven? He was taken up and disappeared into a cloud.

    Acts 1:9-11 – “Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, 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, who also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.'”

    It is interesting to compare that passage with this one in 1 Thessalonians 4. The angels told the disciples that Jesus would return in a similar way. Since Jesus was taken up into a cloud, it seems what the angels said will be fulfilled when Jesus returns in the clouds of the air to gather all believers.

    to meet the Lord – While many cartoons have been drawn about people living on clouds, this is not what the Bible teaches. The meeting with Jesus takes place in the clouds, but the final destination is not mentioned here. Most probably, “the Lord will take living believers to the place He is presently preparing for them (John 14:2-3). But the place where Christians will be was not so important to Paul as the Person with whom they will be.”6

    We shall always be with the Lord – Note that this is what should give us comfort. “The important thing is not the place but the fact of the permanent union with the Lord. Wherever the Lord is, there His glorified church will be.”7 From that day on, every believer will spend eternity with the Lord who loved them and gave Himself for them. What a reunion that will be!

  3. How does it apply?

    Do you have hope for the future?

    This wonderful hope that Paul talked about is only available for some people—for believers. If you are a believer, what you have learned today ought to give you much hope when it comes to the death of a believer. “Christians do grieve over the loss of loved ones; this is a normal human experience which even Jesus shared (John 11:35). But the grief of Christians differs from that of unbelievers, for the latter have no hope of bodily resurrection to glory with Christ (1 Thes. 4:16).”8

    Do you believe that Jesus will return?

    There may be some who hear about Jesus’ return and who still do not believe it. Peter talked about these unbelievers in 2 Peter 3. The scoffers will say that this promise was made long ago and nothing has happened in almost 2000 years. But they are wrong. God’s understanding of time is different than our own. A thousand years are like a day to Him. But there is one more reason why Jesus has not yet returned.

    2 Pet. 3:9 – “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

    Perhaps the reason why Jesus has not returned is because the Lord is waiting for one more to repent of his sins and put his trust in Jesus. If that one is you, will you turn to Him today?

    Do you know if you will be with the Lord?

    If you are a Christian today, rest assured that all believers will take part in this upcoming event. We don’t know when it will take place. But we do know that when it does, we will spend eternity with the Jesus, our loving Lord. Will you be there with Him?

    Do you have words of comfort to share? (1 Thess. 4:18)

    Paul tells us to comfort one another with these words. When a believer dies, it is a sad thing. But it doesn’t need to be a hopeless time of mourning. Since God has promised to come back for all believers, dead and living, we can find comfort in these words. We will see our Christian loved ones again. We will be with the Lord forever. These things ought to comfort us and should also be comforting to other believers.

    Do you believe what Paul has told us in these verses? What he says is true. And knowing these things should enable each of us to give comfort to those who have lost a Christian friend or relative.

Conclusion

When a loved one passes away it is difficult to handle. But for those who know the Lord, it doesn’t have to be a hopeless situation. We have learned today that Jesus will come back. We have learned that all believers will be caught up together to meet the Lord someday. And we have learned that we will spend eternity with our loving Lord. Those facts about the future should give us hope and comfort today.

Bibliography

Constable, Thomas L., “1 Thessalonians,” USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Thessalonian Epistle, A Call to Readiness, Chicago: Moody Press, 1971.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 5, 1 Corinthians through Revelation, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

Footnotes

  1. Constable 703. ↩︎
  2. Hiebert 191. ↩︎
  3. Heibert 198. ↩︎
  4. Hiebert 199. ↩︎
  5. https://bible.org/question/where-did-term-8216rapture%E2%80%99-come ↩︎
  6. Constable 705. ↩︎
  7. Hiebert 203. ↩︎
  8. Constable 703. ↩︎