Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 presents a powerful statement of belief regarding the resurrection and everlasting life.
Do not be Ignorant
In his introduction Paul emphasizes that he does not want believers to be ignorant about what happens to loved ones who are now dead. Paul refers to these loved ones as being ‘asleep in Jesus,’ or ‘dead in Christ.’
Here is what he says.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 I would not have you to be ignorant concerning them ‘which are asleep’, that you do not sorrow as others do who have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also ‘which sleep in Jesus’ will God bring with him.
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we ‘which are alive’ and remain until the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them ‘which are asleep’.
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the ‘dead in Christ’ shall rise first:
17 Then we ‘which are alive’ and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
The Living and the Dead
Within this passage Paul identifies two groups, those who are dead, and those still living.
Note in the Table below, how Paul refers to the Living and the Dead.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-17
|1 Thess 4:13-17||The Dead||The Living|
|13||which are asleep|
|14||which sleep in Jesus|
|15||which are asleep||which are alive|
|16||dead in Christ|
|17||which are alive|
Paul’s clearly identifies which group is dead and which is alive.
He makes it equally clear that ‘all believers who have died’ before the Lord’s return will not miss out on a place in his kingdom. Amen.
First Thessalonians and the Nicene Creed are Complementary
First Thessalonians chapter 4 and the Nicene Creed complement one another beautifully. They totally agree concerning the momentous events at the close of this world’s history. The coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the gathering of all believers into all the beauty, fullness, and glory of God’s eternal kingdom. So shall we ever be with the Lord.
The Nicene Creed deals with —
1) Jesus’ coming again
2) judging the living and the dead (sometimes rendered as ‘the quick and the dead’)
3) the resurrection of the dead
1 Thessalonians 4 in verses 13-18 deals with the same points.
1) Jesus’ coming again (15-17)
2) the ascension of the living (15,17)
3) the resurrection of the dead (13-14,16)
First Thessalonians 4 in verses 13, 14 deals with the dead. In Christian terms they are asleep — they sleep in Jesus. Although being dead they may be awakened — by Jesus.
Repeatedly in Scripture, God presents the dead as simply being asleep.
Jesus said to them, our friend Lazarus sleeps; but I go, that I may wake him out of sleep. Then his disciples said, Lord, if he sleeps, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spoke of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking a rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, Lazarus is dead.
David fell asleep, he was buried, and his body decayed.
1 Thessalonians 4:13
Do not be ignorant concerning them which are asleep.
They shall awake
They shall awake from death as if they arose from sleep.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”
1 Corinthians 15: 52
In the resurrection — at the last trump the dead shall be raised.
Sorrow or Hope?
First Thessalonians 4 in verses 13, 14 deals with the dead. Paul did not want the Christian believers to sorrow as do those who have no hope. So he continues the narrative and explains in verse 16 the glorious resurrection of those who had died trusting in Christ.
1 Thessalonians 4:16
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.
The Lord himself shall descend from heaven
- with a shout
- with the voice of the archangel
- with the trump of God
- the dead in Christ shall rise first. (16)
The dead in Christ rise when they are called by the Lord. They are resurrected at the time they are called, not before. In God’s eyes they are simply sleeping waiting for the wakeup call.
This event is reminiscent of an earlier resurrection where Jesus stood outside the tomb of His friend Lazarus. Jesus cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. (John 11:43) At Jesus’ command a lone figure emerged from the tomb. It was Lazarus — alive!
Jesus lovingly restored Lazarus to his family. What a glorious reunion!
In what ways does the joy, the glory, and the wonder of Lazarus’ resurrection reflect the coming majesty of the resurrection of the redeemed of all ages? Who can compare it? The first is glorious — the latter infinitely glorious.
And all this is made possible because Jesus holds the keys of hell and of death. Amen. (Revelation 1:18)