1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Stephen Caswell © 2000
Hide and Seek
As the kids have grown up we have played a number of games with them. Soccer and cricket are popular now. There is one game that I love to play with them, and it is called hide and seek. First of all someone is chosen to do the seeking and they go away into a particular room of the house. Then they begin to count while everyone else hides. When the number twenty is reached the person doing the seeking yells out, " coming, ready or not. " And then the search begins. God will one day search out His people all over the world, only when He does so, they will all disappear simultaneously. When God's time is up Christ will come. Ready or not!
The Thessalonians were concerned about their loved ones that had died. Some thought that only those alive at Christ's return would receive a new body and would therefore miss out on some of the blessings associated with Christ's return. So Paul addresses this. Paul encourages them with the message he received directly from God. He was given direct
I. Revelation - The Lord's Precept
1 Thessalonians 4:13-15a says this: But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord.
Paul uses a negative statement to emphasize the positive teaching that he wants to impart. He is literally saying, " I want you to know this about those who have died in the Lord. " Paul does not want them to be ignorant about this important truth. Non-Christians have only uncertainty and judgment to look forward to when they die. Non-Christians can only speculate about what lies beyond the grave on the other side. We know that hell awaits all who reject Christ! Paul on the other hand confidently states because of God's revelation, Christians have great hope, and certainty beyond death. Therefore they need not sorrow about those who have died in Christ, like non-Christians do. For to be with Christ is far better than to be here on earth.
What does Paul mean by sleep?
Paul says that some have fallen asleep. Why does he use this word to describe death? Do believers sleep in the grave until the resurrection, as the Jehovah's Witness' claim? The literal translation of this verse is, those which have been laid asleep, or fallen asleep. But what is Paul referring to here? Is it the soul, as Jehovah's Witnesses claim, using this verse to support " soul sleep? " Or is Paul referring to the body that rests in the grave? The Scriptures never use the term sleep to refer to unbelievers. They use it, referring to believers bodies and not their souls. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 says: So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
Paul says this following on from the idea that God has a new tent for us kept in the heavens in the first 5 verses. Paul says that if we should put off this tent, or our current bodies that God has a new tent for us in heaven. And again in Philippians 1:23: For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.
The Certainty of Revelation, Christ's Death and Resurrection
Paul now gives the content of his revelation and why we have such certainty. It is because Christ has conquered death and promised us that we too shall overcome this enemy through Him. Verse 14 can be literally translated, Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again. Paul is stating this is a fact. Christ has risen from the dead. He has borne the punishment we should have received. Notice it doesn't say that Jesus slept, but that He died. Christ was separated from God the Father when He bore our sins on the cross; Hebrews 2:9 says: Christ tasted death for every man. He has taken our death so that we can come to God through Him. Since He overcame death, then we too will overcome death.
But Paul Reveals not only did Christ die and rise again He will also:
II. Return - The Lord's Person
Paul has just explained how we shouldn't sorrow for those who have died in Christ. Now he focuses on the Lord's return and how Christ will bring the departed saints with Him. If Christ brings the departed saints with Him then only their body can be in the grave, their souls and spirits must be with Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 and Philippians 1:23 harmonize perfectly with 1 Thessalonians 4:14-15:
For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.
Christ will bring the Saints
When Christ returns, He will bring the souls and spirits of the dead saints with him. Death is not limbo or unconsciousness, but the separation of soul and spirit from the body. Paul assures the Thessalonians that the living saints, who are alive and remain, will not receive the blessings of the resurrection before the departed saints. Paul reveals that the departed saints will enjoy all the blessings of the resurrection when they come with Christ. There is a generation of believers who will not die since Christ will come back for before they die. Whilst on earth Christ promised to return and take His disciples to glory. We read of this in John 14:2-3.
When Christ comes back He will bring our departed loved ones who have trusted in Him too. Paul was able to encourage the Thessalonians, by revealing these marvelous truths to them. Ignorance brings uncertainty and fear, but God's revelation brings hope!
The Jewish Wedding Ceremony
The Jews took marriage very seriously. A wedding ceremony was a big event in the life of the Jews. In Jewish wedding ceremonies the bridegroom would go to the brides home and then take her to the celebration, held at his home. The Church is called the Bride of Christ and He is called the Bridegroom. In the same way, Christ will come back to earth to collect His bride, the church, and take her to the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven. In Ephesians 5:22-33 Paul compares the husband and wife relationship to the relationship between Christ and the Church. 2 Corinthians 11:2 says this: For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
The Timing of Christ's Return
But when will Christ return? Do we know the date of His return? Many have set dates only to be proven wrong. We don't no the day or the year! Jesus said that no one knows the day nor the hour. Paul expected the Lord to return in His day and that is why he said we in verse 17. The fact of the matter is that even though we don't know when He will come, there is no prophecy that needs to be fulfilled before He can come. Are you ready for Jesus Christ's return? He will come one day, ready or not! If you don't know Jesus Christ as your Savior then you need to prepare today, since tomorrow could be too late. * (story of the fishermen and wives).
Paul revealed that Christ would return with His saints, but also that they would be first in the:
III. Resurrection - The Lord's Provision
1 Thessalonians 4:15-16 says: For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
The Sounds at the Resurrection
At His return, Christ first raises the bodies of the dead saints and joins them to their souls and spirits He has brought with Him. This is referred to in the Bible as the resurrection. Paul says the dead in Christ will rise first. There are three distinct sounds made at this time. The Lord will give a shout, the archangel will speak, and the trumpet of the Lord will sound.
Shout of Command : When the Lord comes He will give a shout of command and the dead will receive new resurrected bodies. Christ summoned Lazarus from the grave with a loud voice. But unlike Lazarus who received a resuscitated body these saints receive a resurrection body.
The trumpet of the Lord: Trumpets were used to warn the people of an invading army. They were used to summon a solemn assembly. They even celebrated a feast of trumpets every year. The Jews also believed that trumpets would be associated with the resurrection of the dead.
The voice of the archangel: This is probably Michael since he is the only archangel that we are told about in Scripture. Michael has a special ministry to the people of Israel. He may be involved in a ministry to them here. However, Jesus Christ will raise the dead. Jesus said I am the resurrection and the life in John 11:25.
What is the Resurrection Body like?
But what sought of body will they receive? 1 Corinthians. 15:35-38, 42-50 speaks about this:
But someone will say, "How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?" Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain -- perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.... So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, 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.
And so it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 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 Natural and the Spiritual Body
Paul uses the analogy of sowing a grain of seed. He says that the grain is not the same as what the plant eventually looks like. The grain dies in the ground as it changes into a another form. The resurrection body is just like this. Our body now is a physical body, but God will raise it up a spiritual body. Paul states this in verse 44. He says it is sown in weakness and corruption but raised in power and incorruption. God will raise up from our old body a new one that is far superior, not being subject to sickness, sin, weakness and death.
We are told this in 1 John 3:2: Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. In 1 Corinthians 15:44-46 we find that just as we had a natural body, we shall also have a spiritual body.
Paul's next Revelation was something of a mystery in the Old Testament. They knew about the resurrection, but not the church and it's associated doctrines. So Christ gave Paul the responsibility of revealing this mystery, this new truth to the church. Paul now revealed the:
IV. Rapture - The Lord's Power
1 Thessalonians 4: 17: Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
What is the Rapture?
After the dead in Christ are raised incorruptible, the living saints will be caught up together with them in the clouds. The Latin word for the verb caught up is rapto and means to seize or carry off in estacy. Christ will demonstrate His great power when He snatches living believers from the earth to the clouds. This will happen suddenly and without warning. The time sequence between the dead in Christ rising and the living being caught up is but a twinkling of an eye. But there is more to it than that. We will also be changed and given new glorified bodies just like those given to the dead saints. Only we won't die to receive them. Paul says this in Philippians 3:20-21: For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.
The church will be snatched into glory before the great tribulation begins on the earth. Revelation 3:10 says that God has not destined His people to wrath but to obtain salvation. 1 Thessalonians 5:9 says this too: 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. The people of God groan awaiting the deliverance of their bodies so that they might know the liberty of the children of God. (Rom 8:19-23). Paul says this in Romans 8:18-19: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.
How Will This affect Life on Earth?
Can you imagine the effect that such an event will have on the earth. when millions of people suddenly disappear. Pilots and bus drivers suddenly taken away. People in elevators suddenly taken away in the twinkling of an eye whilst those left behind try and explain what has happened. A day is coming when men will invent all sorts of explanations to answer the question, Where have 300 million people disappeared to? This day will be one that is long remembered in history. When the Lord's bride is complete and the last member has been added to the church, Christ will come and it will all be over in less than a millisecond. But that is just the beginning for Christ's Church. For then we will spend eternity with Christ. The final revelation in God's plan is:
V. Reunion - The Lord's Presence
1 Thessalonians 4:17: Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
Story of Class and Family Reunion's
Maybe some of you have ever been in a family reunion. Or perhaps you were invited to a class reunion. The amount of preparation that goes into one is enormous. You have to find the addresses of all the relatives or classmates. Then you send out all the invitations and start the plans to cater for the event. Normally you can't get everyone to come since some have other engagements or have died. It is a big job. But the biggest reunion of all will pail into insignificance when compared to the one that the Bible describes here. Every person who has believed in Christ from the Pentecost until the rapture will be present.
Paul says that after we have been glorified and caught up into the clouds we will then meet the Lord in the air. We will see Him in all His glory, and His prayer in John 17 will be answered. We will share His glory having received glorified bodies like His. This will be a marvelous reunion and one that will never be broken. From that point on we will always be with the Lord. And not only will we be united to Christ, but also we will be reunited with our loved ones who have died in Christ. This will be the greatest reunion of all times. And the Lord Jesus is the one who has arranged it. Nothing will be able to separate us from God from then on. At present we walk by faith but then we shall walk by sight. Verses 16 & 17, reveal the 4 steps in order.
1.Return, Christ descends with His saints from heaven.
2.Resurrection, Christ raises the dead imperishable
3.Rapture, Christ reconstitutes our body.
4.Reunion, Christ is forever with His saints.
VI. Reassurance - The Lord's Comfort
Now, Paul says this in 1 Thessalonians 4:18:" Therefore comfort one another with these words." The word comfort is actually a command. Ignorance produces anxiety and fear, but the revelation of God's plans for His people gives solid grounds for rejoicing and remaining steadfast in their faith. The word of the Lord is that Christ will return to raise up His departed saints. They will not miss out on any spiritual blessing, but will participate in the resurrection and then reign with Him in the kingdom. The word of the Lord is that He will rapture the living saints and then there will be the greatest reunion of all times. W hat comfort and assurance to those saints who have lost loved ones or face suffering!
Conclusion - What should our response be?
1. Be Steadfast
Because of God's revelation, we need not fear death nor be concerned about loved ones who have died. But rather be comforted as Paul commanded us and live boldly for Christ. After his revelation on the resurrection to the Corinthians Paul said this 1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
2. Be Saved , ie Ready
When Christ comes back He will rapture His Church in the twinkling of an eye. There will be no time to make a decision then. Will you be ready? Do you know Him as your Savior? Or will you be left behind to go into the great tribulation? Christ knows those who are His, He will not take those who are lost!
3. Be Sanctified and Holy
1 John 2:28 & 3:2-3 The apostle John says this: And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Are you abiding in Him? Are you living a holy life? Will you be ashamed at Christ's coming?
4. Be Serving and Waiting
The Thessalonians turned from idols to serve the living God and wait for His Son to come from heaven. In 2 Timothy 4:7-8 Paul says this: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
Are you looking for that day? Or will you be reluctant to leave like Lot was in Sodom? Are you serving the Lord? Those who serve the Lord are usually the ones looking for His return!
1. Are you worried about death or loved ones who have died? Be comforted and steadfast!
2. Are you ready for His return? Is Christ your Savior? Will you be raptured or ruined?
3. Are you abiding in Him? Are you living a holy life? Will you be ashamed at His coming?
4. Are you serving the Lord? Are you watching and waiting for His coming?
Christ is coming, Ready or Not! Are You Ready?
Rev 22:20-21 He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming quickly." Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.