1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are
asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which 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 unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede 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."
Believers are given a revelation from God of the sure hope of a glorious future with Christ. Just as certainly as Jesus died and was resurrected by the Father, God will unite the resurrected dead in Christ with their Savior at His coming in the air.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are among the best-attested facts of history. Since Believers know these events took place, they can be equally certain that the souls of believers who have died will return with Christ when He comes for His living saints. The prophecy of the Rapture is as sure to be fulfilled as the prophecies of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Verse 13. "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope."
In writing to Believers, Paul introduces a new subject that is entirely a New Testament teaching. The Rapture isn't an Old Testament teaching. God offered the Jews their Messiah and His reign here on earth and when He did come, they rejected Him. God then turned to the Gentiles. Christ was crucified, resurrected, and the Church Age was ushered in. John said, "He came unto His Own and His Own received Him not."
The Kingdom age that could have occurred at that time will follow the Rapture of the church and the Tribulation. God has not forgotten His chosen earthly people, the Jews.
Mankind in general is Bible illiterate. Man doesn't seem to understand that we are without hope outside of Christ. We were born sinners because our parents were sinners so we didn't become sinners by anything we did, and we can't become righteous through anything we can do.
Paul told these folks that the Lord's return was imminent and they mistakenly believed that meant immediately. They thought those who were saved and had died would miss the Rapture.
I'm glad they thought that, because Paul took the occasion to explain just what we could look forward to.We should expect the Lord's imminent return. Imminent means "at any time, or at any moment." Also, he didn't tell us not to sorrow for your loved ones who are asleep in Jesus. He said not to sorrow as those who have no hope. The unsaved have no hope and are destined for hell. Asleep here and elsewhere in the New Testament refers to the physical death of a Believer. In the New Testament, when sleep is used figuratively of death, it always refers to the Believer. The unsaved are never said to sleep.
Old Testament believers had imperfect knowledge of what happened to a person at death. Sheol was an all purpose word used to describe where deceased believers and unbelievers alike would be until the resurrection. Some believed there would be one great resurrection at the end of the world followed by the final judgment.
Martha had this understanding concerning her brother, Lazarus. JOHN 11:24: "Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
Job did, too. JOB 19:25-26: "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: 26: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:."
Since Christ died and is resurrected, and with our enlightenment from the New Testament, we know there is more than one resurrection. At the time we call the "Rapture," all the Believers of the church age who have died, as well as those who are living at the time, will be taken to heaven.
1 Corinthians 15:23: "But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming." The wicked dead, (non-believers) will be raised at the end of the thousand year reign of Christ here on earth. Revelation 20:5: "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." No non-believers will be living at the time of the final resurrection. Verse 14: "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him."
This resurrection of believers was revealed to Paul by Jesus Christ Himself. How it was given isn't known, but it was a direct revelation. Not only will the souls of the dead in Christ return with Him (verse 14), but their bodies will also be resurrected at His coming. The bodies of believers who have died will be resurrected just before the living Believers receive their new bodies.
We know from several incidents in the scriptures that only the body dies, and the soul and spirit live eternally. The body returns to the dust that it came from. The spirit returns to God where it came from.
Ecclesiastes 12:7: "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." Only the body can die so only the body need be resurrected. This is why Paul, as a Believer, said in 2 Corinthians 5:8 "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord."
The certainty of the Believer's resurrection is based on the fact of Christ's resurrection. God is going to bring the souls of all believers who have died since Christ's resurrection to meet their new bodies in the air. He'll also take up all the living Believers at that time and give them new bodies.
If Christ is "coming again" then He must certainly have been resurrected from the grave like the Bible says.
VERSE 15. "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep."
Where did Paul get the authority to make all these statements? It tells us in verse 15. "For this we say unto you by the Word of the Lord." The Lord gave it directly to him, just as the prophets and Moses got their information. He doesn't tell us how it was conveyed to him, but it firmly says "from the Lord."
Clearly Paul believed that he and his Thessalonian readers might well be alive when the Lord returned. He believed the Lord's return was imminent.
Verse 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:" That will be our bodies if we have passed
away before He comes.
1 Corinthians 15: 42-44: "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in
corruption; it is raised in incorruption: 43: It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in
weakness; it is raised in power: 44: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a
natural body, and there is a spiritual body."
Our present bodies can be likened to a seed that is planted in the ground and from that seed springs a new plant. The body is the seed, the flower that comes from that seed is our resurrection body.
Death and the grave aren't the end for the Believer. When the body goes to sleep, the soul goes to be with the Lord. This is why Paul wrote this in Philippians 1:21: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
When the Lord returns, He'll bring the soul with Him, will raise the body in glory, and unite the body and soul into one being to share His glory forever.
The Lord Himself will give a command or shout, along with the Archangel. As part of the God-head, the Lord's shout takes full authority over all the souls that are His as He announces His return for us.
There will be a voice from the archangel. At that time, the work of the angels is done on earth, the church is Raptured, and the saints are in glory. The church is then the Bride of Christ, and will be for eternity.
God used the trumpet to call His people to gather at His approach in the Old Testament. Here God is calling His own from the church age to assemble in heaven as the Bride of Christ. Until then, Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of God in heaven.
Look at these scriptures: Romans 8:34: "Who is he that condemns us? It is Christ that died, yes, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also is making intercession for us."
Ephesians 1:19-20: "And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20: Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,"
Hebrews 1:3: "Who being the brightness of His [God's] glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high."
He's going to leave this position and descend toward the earth to meet us in the air. It will be the same Jesus who ascended through the clouds when He left earth.
The sounds mentioned in this verse, a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, are difficult to interpret, but one thing is clear: Christ’s return for His saints will be announced from heaven forcefully and dramatically.
I repeat, the dead in Christ of the present dispensation which is called the "church age" will be resurrected at the Rapture. Old Testament saints will evidently be raised at the end of the Tribulation just in time to be on this earth for the 1000 year Reign of Christ .
God had promised those Old Testament Believers they would reign with the Messiah on earth for 1000 years.
Daniel 12:2: "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."
The phrase “in Christ” used in several of these scriptures refers to Church-Age saints. The bodies of the dead in Christ will rise before the living Believers are caught up to meet the Lord in the air (Verse 17).
How will God raise the bodies of people who were buried hundreds of years ago? What about the bodies of those Christians who were burned to death in early church times by the Romans? What about those whose ashes were thrown to the wind, and the Christians who perish at sea? The resurrection of the dead posed a problem of faith to some. Maybe that's why Paul stressed that this revelation came from Jesus Christ Himself and that it is as certain of future fulfillment as Jesus’ resurrection is a fact of past history.
The God who created the universe by speaking a word is able to renew the bodies of all His saints in a moment of time. Remember how He created man out of dust?
VERSE 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 so shall we ever be with the Lord." Verse 17 pertains to Believers living at the time of the Rapture.
1 Corinthians 15:51-52: "Behold, I show 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and - we - shall - be - changed."
After the bodies of Believers who have passed away are raised, those who are alive will instantly be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Again Paul, by using the words “we who are alive and are left” showed his desire to be in that group. He thought it a possibility that Christ would return in his lifetime.
Only the twinkling of an eye will separate the resurrection of the dead and the ascension of the living. After the dead in Christ have risen, and those who are alive are caught up, this world will be totally dominated by the ungodly and Satan.
The air is Satan's sphere. Ephesians 2:2 describes this world as his.There's going to be a triumphant gathering in defiance of the devil right in his own back yard.
I doubt that the unsaved on earth will see us going up, but I'm quite sure that Satan and his angels will see the saints going through the air on the way up to heaven. Satan and his angels will know that their reward of eternal damnation is coming soon. I think we'll go into the visible clouds and when we get above them we'll be in the presence of God for eternity. Remember the Shikanah cloud that shielded man from seeing God in the Old testament? That barrier won't be there anymore. "So shall we be forever with the Lord."
The events described here, and in 1 Corinthians 15, differ considerably from those associated with Christ’s return to set up His earthly kingdom. This substantiates the difference between the Rapture and the Second Coming. The bodies of all the resurrected Believers and of those translated will be united with Christ and with each other at the Rapture. From that time on and forever after we will be with the Lord. The Lord will take believers to the place He is preparing for them: (John 14:2-3 "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3: And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.").
VERSE 18. "Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
The Bible doesn't reveal all the details of the Rapture. We know we'll meet our loved ones who have died in Christ. We'll be with Him, we'll know other saints, even those we never knew here on earth.
Peter, James and John knew Moses and Elijah when they met on the Mount of Transfiguration. Our minds don't understand all that is waiting for us.
1 Corinthians 13:12 says, "For we see now through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known."
Death is a fact we can't deny. The only way we can escape death is to be alive when the Lord comes. Death isn't an accident, it's an appointment. Hebrews 9:27. "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." What time and on what day is your appointment? Are you ready for that appointment?
The revelation of the Rapture is comforting and encouraging. Verse 18 calls on us to "encourage each other with these words." The reasons for rejoicing are the fact that Believers who have died will be resurrected when Jesus comes, that they will precede those who are alive in that day, that those who are alive will join them, and that all Believers will all be with the Lord forever.
Believers don't grieve like non-believers because we can actually look forward to that great day of reunion. This is the great hope of the church, to see the Lord and be united with Him forever.
In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul warned the unsaved of this return of Christ. Right now is a good time to examine our own hearts to see if we're ready to meet the Lord. One mark of a true Believer is to be eager for the coming of Jesus Christ. He even tells us there are rewards in heaven for those who believe.
2 Timothy 4:8 "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing."
I read this on a tombstone in Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood, South Dakota. "Pause, my friend, as you walk by; As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so soon you'll be. Prepare, my friend, to follow me." Someone had added this: "To follow you is not my intent, until I know which way you went!"
Believers have the wonderful assurance that Jesus will come back and meet us in the air, and "thus shall we ever be with the Lord." Until that time, we can "comfort one another" with these Scriptures:
HEBREWS 12:2-3: "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set
before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of
God. 3: For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be
wearied and faint in your minds."
JAMES 5:8: "Be ye also patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draws nigh."
TITUS 2:13: "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ;"
HEBREWS 9:28: "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation."