This is a Bible study on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

Source: The Outlook, 1980. 3 pages.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 - Concerning those who Died before the Lord's Return

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

As we have said before, the Apostle had covered a large number of subjects in the brief period of time he had been permitted to work in Thessalonica. This is instructive for the church of later ages because it is thereby advised as to the method of preaching the whole counsel of God. Of course, Paul had spoken to the Thessalonians concerning the work accom­plished by Jesus Christ while He was here on earth. He had emphasized the need of repentance and faith. He had instructed them in the kind of life which is to be the product of faith. But, he had done more. No gospel is complete which fails to deal with all the events which have taken place or are to take place in our redemption. Consequently he had also spoken to them about the return of Christ.

Worry about Christians who have Died🔗

It need not surprise us that these Thessalonians did not immediately understand all the things in which he had instructed them. Nor should it sur­prise us that various problems arose among them when they reflected upon the teaching which they had received. There was also the possibility that they might have misunderstood some of the things which they had been taught. This passage deals with one of their misunderstandings. They seem to have received the impression that Christ would return soon — in their own life-time. Some of their brethren who had been converted as a result of the Apostolic preaching in their city had died. Their concern is: are those who have died going to be at a disadvan­tage when the Savior returns? They have no doubt concerning the salvation of those who have died, but, will they not have the glorious experience of welcoming the Christ of God when He returns to take His people to Himself? Paul answers this par­ticular problem in this section.

He introduces the subject in a manner which is common in the Pauline writings. He does not want them to be or remain in ignorance concerning this matter. Such ignorance would rob them of the com­fort which they ought to possess. Their concern re­garding this subject gives evidence of a real love relationship which they have toward those who have passed away. They want these to share the same benefits which they themselves will enjoy when the Savior returns. They fear that those loved ones who have departed from this life will not share the same blessing which will be theirs. However, this rests on a misunderstanding and the Apostle will not allow them to continue in this ignorance.

Hope for those Fallen Asleep🔗

He speaks of the departed ones as "them that fall asleep." It is significant that the New Testament reserves this figure of speech for the believers who have died. Death is not final for them, no more than sleep is final. Sleep is a necessary experience for a healthy life. Sleep gives rest and also gives the promise of awakening! Ignorance concerning these must be removed because otherwise there is the danger that the Thessalonian Christians will sorrow for them in the same way that the heathen who have no hope sorrow. Wrong views always rob the indi­vidual of the riches which have been given him to enjoy. The rest, i.e., the heathen, have no hope. Theirs is an impoverished life. Their view of the body, both in Greek and Roman thought, is that it will perish. They had considered the body to be the "prison house" of the spirit. But, they also have no hope concerning the spirit! Because they have no hope they, of course, have no comfort. Surely, such a view may not be entertained by those who have learned to know Christ!

Dependence on Christ's Resurrection🔗

Paul now seeks to lay a firm foundation for the Christian hope and comfort. He refers to the resurrection of Christ. That is the only hope. The words he uses are translated as though the matter is condi­tional — "If we believe." This is not his purpose at all. It is a form he often uses whereby he takes for granted that those to whom he is writing believe it without a doubt. It is certain that Jesus died and rose again. What is the effect of this resurrection? If you believe that He rose — you must conclude that those who are His will also rise. The original has "through Jesus" instead of "in Jesus." Grammati­cally there are problems in this verse, but the clear meaning is: when the resurrected Jesus comes again God will bring those who have fallen asleep in Jesus with the Lord! In other words, their departed loved ones will accompany Jesus when He returns! There­fore, they are not excluded from the blessings and glory of His return!

The Lord's Revelation🔗

The subject with which he is dealing and concern­ing which he will have much more to say later, is one which is tremendously important. It is still future so that it is more difficult to understand than those things which have already happened. Paul is not going to give his own view on this subject, but real­izes that only the Lord Himself is able to speak to this subject. He now refers to a word of the Lord which we cannot find in the gospels. This is no prob­lem, however, to those who take the Bible seriously. John tells us at the close of his gospel that there were many other things which Jesus did which are not recorded in his gospel (John 21:25) and, no doubt, there were also many other things which were said by our Lord which have not been recorded. Acts 20:35 is an instance of this as well as verse 15 of this chapter. This word of Jesus was known to Paul. The Lord had made it clear that those who would be alive at the time of His return would not precede, be ahead of, those who had fallen asleep. These Thessa­lonians may therefore rest assured that their departed loved ones will not be at a disadvantage when He returns.

The Sound of His Coming🔗

The writer now describes, in a general way, the manner of the return of Christ at the last day. We must note that he is here describing that return only as it has reference to believers. This is a very impor­tant passage dealing with our Lord's return and must not be overlooked when we consider other pas­sages such as those in the book of Revelation. The first coming of the Lord was in humiliation — the second is not. Few realized that the Son of God had come into this earth at the time of His first coming — the whole world will know it at the time of the second coming. There are, of course, many other dis­similarities. He begins by saying that the Lord will descend and utter a shout! It is really a shouted com­mand. It is a word used in military circles where the leader gives such a shouted command to his troops. It is used of leaders calling those under them to action. So Christ will descend and shout His com­mands. It will be a shout which is creative and life-giving. At that shout the dead will rise! It is a shout which penetrates where no word of anyone has penetrated before. It is a shout of victory and by means of it He claims all that which He has earned with His redemptive work.

The voice of the archangel will also be heard. Al­though we are by no means certain concerning the orders of the angels, Scripture leaves no doubt re­garding the first importance of the archangel. Michael is called archangel in Jude 9 and he is the only one so named in Scripture. Daniel calls him one of the chief princes (Daniel 10). This mighty angel now raises his voice as the mighty Christ descends from heaven to earth. The shout of Christ and the voice of the archangel make it clear that the return of Christ will be public and open and audible. No one will have to be told: lo He is here! The shout of Christ reaches into the graves and it will then cer­tainly reach the ears of those still living. The voice of the archangel resounds through the whole uni­verse. The trumpet of God will also sound. Christ shouts; the archangel raises his voice; and God blows the trumpet! The "day of days" has arrived! All heaven rejoices! The mighty "Conqueror" comes to claim all that is His.

Christ's Dead Rise First🔗

Having given this brief descripion of the manner of Christ's return, the writer now returns to the sub­ject he had begun to treat. When He so returns, the dead in Christ shall rise first! This is just the oppo­site of their fears. Instead of being at a disadvantage — they are the first to profit from His return! All their fears are groundless. Now they can have true comfort concerning those who have preceded them in death. From this point of view, it is no advantage to be still alive at the time when Christ returns in glory.

What of the Living?🔗

"Then we that are alive, that are left..." There is, of course, no neglect of those who will still be living at that time. They also shall share in that glori­ous renewal. The fact that Paul uses the word "we" in this connection has led some to believe that he thought he would be among those still living at the time of the second coming. However, this is unwar­ranted. It is rather: we, the living — in contrast with those who have fallen asleep. In other places Paul has made it very clear that there are various things which must happen before the Lord returns, which things could scarcely happen during the short time he would still live.

The "Rapture"?🔗

The following words have become the occasion for all kinds of fanciful interpretations. A rapture? What kind of rapture? We must listen closely to the words which the Apostle has written. He indeed speaks of both those who had previously died and those believers still alive at His coming being caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. This is Scripture! The emphasis falls on the sudden­ness. It includes both groups of believers and noth­ing is here said about unbelievers. The two groups of believers are not caught up to Him at different times. Nothing is done in secret. There will be no time left to convert. The die is cast, He comes to judge.

Believers shall meet Him in the air. This is the kind of welcome which is reserved for dignitaries of the highest rank. Ever since they believed they were the property of Christ. Paul speaks time and again that the true believers are "in Christ." But, the relationship in which they will stand to Christ after His return will be much more glorious. "So" shall we ever be with the Lord! Their bodies have been resurrected or have been completely changed in the twinkling of an eye. Now with redeemed bodies as well as souls — "so" shall they ever be with Him. Never shall this glorious union be dissolved.

They must now comfort each other with this truth. Ignorance of these truths had brought much misery into their lives. Now that they know the truth — they will be able to go their way rejoicing.

Questions for Discussion:🔗

  1. Does ignorance of the truth often rob us of com­fort? Can it also give ungrounded hope? What does considering these questions teach us regarding the importance of true doctrine?

  2. What is the present state of "those who fall asleep in Jesus"? Is it a "perfect" state? Explain.

  3. Does one who questions the historicity of Christ's resurrection have any hope?

  4. Is it a loss for us that we don't have all the words Jesus spoke? Explain.

  5. What is the work of angels? Has enough attention been paid by the church to the Scriptures' teach­ing concerning angels?

  6. Do you think that modern day evangelism pays sufficient attention to the doctrine of the second coming of Christ? If not, is it a full gospel?       

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