Study Notes

1Thessalonians 4:13-18


Remember that Timothy had come back from a visit to see how the new Thessalonian church was doing. He told Paul and Silas about the wonderful fruit that was being borne by the believers in the church. They were working by faith, their were laboring in love, and they were steadfastly hoping for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul had taught them that Jesus Christ would rapture the church, that the world would undergo the Great Tribulation, that Christ would then rule and reign on earth for a thousand years. Finally, the dead would come to life and be judged by their works at the Great White Throne judgment (Rev. 20).

But somehow the Thessalonians had misunderstood the teaching. You see, with that steadfast hope and eager expectation of the Lord's return, there came a concern. In the past year, one or more of the believers in the church had died. This started the Thessalonians thinking: "Oh no! Since brother Bob died before the Lord's return, he's missed the rapture, and he's missed the Millennial Kingdom!"

So these next six verses of Paul's epistle are going to address that concern of the Thessalonian church, and set straight their improper impression.

4:13 Asleep

Paul says,

1Ths. 4:13 ...We do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep...

All through the New Testament, believers in Jesus Christ who die are referred to as being asleep.

Stephen, one of the first deacons in the church, was called before the High Priest and the Council to answer charges that he had blasphemed. He gave an incredible speech that made them all very mad, to the point of killing him. They dragged him outside the city, and began throwing rocks at him to kill him.

Acts 7:59-60 And they went on stoning Stephen as he called upon {the Lord} and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" And having said this, he fell asleep.

It is obvious that he died from the stoning, but the Bible says he fell asleep. Remember when Jesus received word from Mary and Martha that their brother Lazarus was sick. He waited two days before saying,

John 11:11-14 This He said, and after that He said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awaken him out of sleep." The disciples therefore said to Him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover." Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. Then Jesus therefore said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead,

So the believer is said to have fallen asleep. This has led some to believe in the doctrine of "soul sleep." This is the teaching that says, "When a believer dies, it is as if they have fallen asleep. So your born-again grandma hasn't gone to be with the Lord yet. She's just asleep in the grave." What a terrible thing to think!

But the Bible clearly refutes that teaching. The Scriptures tell us that the body is merely a shell, a tent, in which our spirit resides. When the body dies, our spirit departs. As James said,

James 2:26 ...the body without {the} spirit is dead...

And Paul tells us that we...

2Cor. 5:8 ...prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.

He told the Philippians,

Phil. 1:21-24 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if {I am} to live {on} in the flesh, this {will mean} fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both {directions,} having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for {that} is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.

Paul knew that when he died, his spirit would depart from his dead body and go to be with Jesus. So it is our body that falls asleep, and our spirit enters the presence of God.

Grieving Without Hope

Because we know that the believer goes to the presence of the Lord, we don't have to grieve as others who have no hope do.

You see, the world at large has no true hope of what happens after death. Many people say, "Well, once you die, you die. You rot in the ground and are eaten by worms. You simply cease to exist." If I believed that, I'd do what the Bible says:

1Cor. 15:32 ...If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.

Others claim that they believe your consciousness is either absorbed into the universe and that you become one with everything, or that you enter a wonderful paradise of higher consciousness. Those two ideas sound really nice, but you can see at their funerals that they don't really believe that. They wail and moan over the death of a loved one just like the rest of the world.

But believers are not this way. When we understand what happens to a believer when they died, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Oh, that is not to say that we don't grieve when a believer dies. We do grieve, but it is not for the dead. We grieve for the living. When I die, I want everyone to remember that I went to be with the Lord. This shabby tent was retired, and I've entered into glory and eternal life with my Lord. You may cry because you'll miss me. You may cry because I owed you ten bucks, but don't cry for me - I'm in a much better place!

4:14 The Resurrection Is The Foundation

Paul tells them, "hey guys, since we know that Christ was raised from the dead, then we know that believers who die will be raised from the dead." Remember that when Christ emerged from the tomb, He was the first of many to be resurrected.

1Cor. 15:20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.

Christ was the first of many to be resurrected. The resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith in eternal life and resurrection.

1Cor. 15:17-18 ...If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

The resurrection is the foundation.

Bringing With Him

When the Lord comes, He's going to bring all those people with Him. This is not the army of angels and saints that will come to the earth at the end of the Great Tribulation. This is a meeting in the air, when the church is raptured and reunited with all who died before. It is also a reunion of spirits with their bodies, which Paul will address in the next verses.

4:15-17 The Rapture

Paul now reminds them of the rapture, and informs them about what will happen to those believers who died before the rapture. Let's take these things one at a time.

What is the rapture? Some contend that the word "rapture" can't be found in the Bible. That's true if you're reading an english Bible. But in verse 17, Paul says

1Ths. 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

The Greek word for "caught up," is "har-PAD-zo." It means "to seize, carry off by force, to snatch out or away." When the Bible was translated from Greek into Latin, the Greek word "har-PAD-zo" was translated into the Latin word "raptus." So we get the English word "rapture" from the Latin word "raptus." So you would be justified in reading verse 17, "

1Ths. 4:17 ...we who are alive and remain shall be raptured...

What happens at the rapture? The church is snatched up and away. At that point, your body is going to be miraculously changed.

1Cor. 15:50-53 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 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. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.

Our bodies will change from earthly to heavenly.

1Cor. 15:35-44 But someone will say, "How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?" You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 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. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

Our bodies now are simply the seeds of the glorified bodies which we will have. At the rapture, these bodies will be transformed into our glorified bodies.

Not Preceding

Now, if you dug up any Christian's grave, their body would still be there. And that's why Jesus is bringing back everyone who has fallen asleep in Christ: so they can get their glorified bodies too. At the moment of the rapture, the dead in Christ shall rise first: every born-again believer's grave will be emptied, and their bodies transformed.

1Cor. 15:52 ...for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

The dead's perishable bodies will be raised imperishable, transformed, glorified.

The Shout, The Voice, The Trumpet

The biggest controversy in the Christian church is not whether the rapture will happen, but when. There are three main views: the Pre-Tribulation rapture, the Mid-Tribulation rapture, and the Post-Tribulation rapture.

Both in 1Corinthians 15 and 1Thessalonians 4 we have read about this trumpet at the rapture. This gives us a clue as to when the rapture will happen in relation to end times events.

Back in Leviticus 23, there were seven holy convocations that the Lord gave to his people: Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, the Feast of Weeks, Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles. They were given to celebrate certain things on certain days. But each of them also pointed forward to certain prophetic events about Christ that would be fulfilled on the days they were celebrated. This is interesting, because the word "convocation" in Hebrew is "mik-RAW," which also means "rehearsal."

As we examine them, we see that they also are fulfilled in the order that they fall on the calendar. First there was Passover, when Jesus the Lamb of God was Killed. Then Unleavened Bread, when the sinless body of Christ was buried. Then First Fruits, when Jesus, the first fruits from among the dead raised from the dead. Next was the Feast of Weeks, or as we know it, Pentecost, when Jesus birthed the church.

Then there is a big span of time on the calendar without a convocation. Then suddenly, there is the Feast of Trumpets, when the Lord will assemble his people together in the rapture. Then the Day of Atonement, when the Jews will cry out at the end of the Great Tribulation for Jesus Christ to return. Finally, there will be the Feast of Tabernacles, when God will once again tabernacle among His people during the Millennial Kingdom.

You can see that in the prophetic scheme of things, the rapture has to occur before the end of the Great Tribulation - the Post-Trib theory does not fit into this prophetic timeline.

That of course leaves the Pre-Trib and Mid-Trib views.

We read of another voice like a trumpet in the book of Revelation. Jesus appears to the apostle John and says,

Rev. 1:19 "Write therefore the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall take place after these things.

Three things are detailed: chapter one describes what John saw, chapters two and three describe the things of the church. Then we read,

Rev. 4:1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door {standing} open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like {the sound} of a trumpet speaking with me, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things."

After the things of the church, John hears a voice like a trumpet saying, "Come up here," and is caught up to heaven. The rest of the book describes the seven year period known as the Great Tribulation. And even though the word "church" occurs 19 times in the book, it doesn't occur even once during the description of the seven year period. This eliminates the possibility of the "Mid-Trib" view. The only one left is Pre-Trib.

Now there are certainly more extensive Scriptural debates and discussions that people will use to "prove" that their Mid-Trib and Post-Trib views are correct. They say that we must prepare, because the church will go through these terrible years of famine, death, disease, and judgment. But never do they quote the very next verse that Paul writes,

4:18 A Doctrine Of Comfort, Not Fear

Comfort one another with these words. Those of you who studied the Great Tribulation with us as we went through the book of Revelation know how horrible that seven year period is going to be. By the time everything is said and done, billions of people will be dead, most of the others will be suffering, and the earth will be decimated. Can the Mid-Tribbers or Post-Tribbers possibly describe their views and say,

1Ths. 4:18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

Of course not. Once again, let's be reminded of how the first chapter of 1Thessalonians ended:

1Ths. 1:10 ...wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, {that is} Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.

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