V1313But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.. Paul had already told the Thessalonians several things about the coming of the Lord. They had received teachings about the fact that the Lord Jesus will come with all His saints (1Thes 3:1313so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.). But how was that going to happen? Then there was the question about those who were already asleep. How was that going to be with those if the Lord came right now? Imagine that they would miss the coming of the Lord!
Paul puts an end to this ignorance. In that way he also makes an end to their despair. They were sad, like there is always sorrow when a loved one dies. But if you have no hope, like the unbelievers, then that sorrow is a desperate, inconsolable sorrow.
V1414For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.. The answer leaves room for sorrow, but with a shimmering hope. This hope is the result of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (1Pet 1:33Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,). That’s what Paul is pointing at. Just as He has risen, also all who have died in faith in Him will rise. He will return together with them.
Here you find four important truths of faith:
1. Jesus died and has risen.
2. You ought to believe that, because otherwise you are not a Christian (Rom 10:99that if you confess with your mouth Jesus [as] Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;).
3. He will return and
4. will then bring all with Him who have fallen asleep in Him (in the following verses the apostle will tell how He will do that).
“Fallen asleep” is a nice expression. The believer doesn’t die, but falls asleep, because death has been robbed from its power. Death has become a servant to bring the believer to the Lord Jesus (Lk 23:4343And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”), in order to be with Christ (Phil 1:2323But I am hard-pressed from both [directions], having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for [that] is very much better;). After falling asleep the believer comes into an interim situation. That doesn’t mean that he has no awareness of anything in such a way that he finds himself in a so-called soul-sleep. That is in contrast to the Scriptural places that I just mentioned. Also the history in Luke 16, where the Lord Jesus grants us to have a look inside the hereafter (Lk 16:19-3119“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day.20And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores,21and longing to be fed with the [crumbs] which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.22Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.23In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.24And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.26And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and [that] none may cross over from there to us.’27And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—28for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’29But Abraham *said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’30But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’31But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”), makes crystal clear that the doctrine of soul-sleep is a false doctrine.
V1515For 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 not precede those who have fallen asleep.. It must have been a great comfort for the Thessalonians to learn that their loved ones will be united again with them by the resurrection. But still the question is left about how the Lord Jesus will return with all His saints. To be able to respond to that question, Paul received a word from the Lord, that is a revelation.
Paul tells about it in what you could call a parenthesis (verses 15-1815For 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 not precede those who have fallen asleep.16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of [the] archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.17Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.18Therefore comfort one another with these words.). It is something that in Old Testament times was a mystery (1Cor 15:51-5251Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed,52in 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 will be changed.). Briefly said, he tells that the Lord Jesus can return with all His saints (including you and I), because He will have caught up all those saints in heaven before that time.
There was not a special word needed from the Lord concerning the coming of the Lord Jesus to the earth. In the Old Testament it has already been said about that (e.g. Zec 14:3-53Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle.4In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south.5You will flee by the valley of My mountains, for the valley of the mountains will reach to Azel; yes, you will flee just as you fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD, my God, will come, [and] all the holy ones with Him!). But there nothing is said about the coming of the Lord for catching up the church first. Only the New Testament speaks about that.
You find that in four places:
1. In John 14, where is emphasized that He will come personally (Jn 14:1-31“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.2In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.3If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, [there] you may be also.);
2. In 1 Corinthians 15, where the emphasis is that those who are alive will be changed (1Cor 15:51-5751Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed,52in 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 will be changed.53For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.54But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.55O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;57but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.).
3. In Philippians 3 that deals with the redemption of the body (Phil 3:20-2120For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;21who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.).
4. Here (1Thes 4:15-1815For 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 not precede those who have fallen asleep.16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of [the] archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.17Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.18Therefore comfort one another with these words.), where the emphasis lies on the fact that the dead will be there also and that they will even precede those who are alive, for they will rise first.
It appears that Paul already expected the coming of the Lord in his days. He speaks about “we who are alive”. Still, many ages have already passed and the Lord has not come yet. That is not because He is slack with the fulfillment of His promise “I will come soon”. The reason why He has not come yet is because of His longsuffering, for He does not want that any should perish, but that all will come to repentance (2Pet 3:99The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.).
Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that it will last a lot of centuries more. A lot of signs indicate that the Lord Jesus will soon start again His dealings with His people Israel. Before this could possibly happen it is necessary that the church is caught up. So that event is even closer!
V1616For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of [the] archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.. Now the church is seen in a special way in this portion. You may imagine that the Lord Jesus takes the church as His bride with Him. In itself it is true of course, but still I imagine that differently than I read here. Here I read that the Lord will catch up the believers with “a shout”. That doesn’t seem much to me like a way to approach a bride, don’t you think so? Therefore the believers are represented here as an army of warriors that is commanded by the Commander to leave the battlefield, in order to enter into the rest.
Isn’t that remarkable to you too that in this portion the word “Lord” appears five times? That indicates the relationship between all who belong to the church and their Lord. The Lord Jesus is not Lord of the church, but of each individual believer. And who are the ones that are called by the Lord? All the believers who belong to the church and all believers from the Old Testament.
I think that “the voice of an archangel” especially regards the believers of Israel. In the Bible there is mention of just one archangel, which is Michael (Jude 1:99But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”). He is specially related to Israel (Dan 10:13,2113But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia.21However, I will tell you what is inscribed in the writing of truth. Yet there is no one who stands firmly with me against these [forces] except Michael your prince.; 12:11“Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands [guard] over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.).
And then you hear also “the trumpet of God”. Just like the shout, this is a normal language that is fitting for an army. In the Roman army there used to be three trumpets. The first trumpet meant: ‘Pack all your things’; the second meant: ‘Stand on the front line to march out’; the third and final trumpet: ‘Forward march!’
The trumpet of God is the final trumpet. The silence of God is broken. The moment of the entry in heaven of all who are His, has come. The shout, the voice and the trumpet are the supporting sounds for the coming of “the Lord Himself”. How wonderful is that: the Lord Himself. He doesn’t send his principal angel, that is a mighty prince, no, He Himself is coming.
His first act is to raise the dead in Christ. That’s how mighty He is (Phil 3:20-2120For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;21who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.). He has shown His power by His victory over death by His resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:44who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,). It is as David defeated Goliath. Due to His victory they sang about him to have defeated his ten thousands (1Sam 18:77The women sang as they played, and said,
“Saul has slain his thousands,
And David his ten thousands.”
). He actually defeated only one person, but he who ever defeats such an enemy, defeats the greatest army.
He Who has defeated death, will therefore raise those from the dead, who went into death. Here it is yet limited to the “dead in Christ”. All the unbelievers will rise at the end of the millennial kingdom of peace (Rev 20:55The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.) to appear before the great white throne and to be judged (Rev 20:11-1511Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.12And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.13And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one [of them] according to their deeds.14Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.15And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.).
V1717Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.. By His commanding shout (cf. Jn 5:28-2928Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice,29and will come forth; those who did the good [deeds] to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil [deeds] to a resurrection of judgment.; 11:4343When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.”) they will appear from all places wherever they may be, wherever the separate body parts may be scattered. The might of His shout merges all parts together and gives them a new appearance. That new appearance will also be received by the living believers. Paul doesn’t speak about that very transformation here. He does that in 1 Corinthians 15 (1Cor 15:51-5751Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed,52in 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 will be changed.53For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.54But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.55O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;57but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.). You need to have both portions, in order to see what is going to happen when the Lord comes.
Then the resurrected and the living transformed believers will be “caught up” together. This word ‘caught up’ is connected with the thought of ‘the sudden vigorously taken away and bring from the one place to the other place’.
And then the great encounter with the Lord will take place “in the air”, in the space between heaven and earth. The air is the territory of satan and his demons (Eph 2:22in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.). It will take place in their power territory. The Lord shall approach us.
“And thus we will always be with the Lord.” You can be sure that you will never ever be separated from Him anymore. There will never be any situation in which you have to find your way in faith without seeing Him and tested by evil spirits. The war is over. The rest has now come.
V1818Therefore comfort one another with these words.. We can encourage one another by pointing at the near coming of the Lord, to persevere the struggle until the moment comes that our duty time is over. Maranatha! (which means: the Lord is coming).
Now read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 again.
Reflection: Do you expect the Lord daily?