And take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17
Volume 24, Number
In this issue:
Joe R. Price
13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus (1 Thess. 4:13-14).
What is going to happen when Jesus returns? Bible teachers tell us all sorts of different things. Some say Jesus is coming back invisibly before a great tribulation, later to return visibly to defeat evil and reign on earth 1,000 years. Others deny the future bodily resurrection completely. Many beliefs of what will happen are somewhere in-between. We believe we can learn from the Bible what will happen when Jesus returns. By letting more simple passages enlighten us on the more complex, we can understand God’s word and live by faith (2 Pet. 3:16-18). In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the Holy Spirit gives us snapshot of what Christians will experience when Jesus returns. (Other passages explain events that will include unbelievers, like Matt. 25:31-46, Rom. 2:5-11, Heb. 9:27, and many more.) Christians are not overwhelmed with hopeless sorrow when fellow-Christians die (fall asleep). Those who “sleep in Jesus” (dead Christians, v. 14) will certainly rise again, just as Jesus did.
For 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 by no means precede those who are asleep (1 Thess. 4:15).
The authority of Christ’s word must support what we teach. Paul knew this, and so he made it very clear that he was not giving his opinion about what will happen to Christians who die (vss. 14, 15). What we teach, including things about the return of Jesus, must be in harmony with His word (Matt. 28:19-20). With that assurance, the apostle tells why we do not hopelessly sorrow over the death of Christians (v. 13). It is because they will not miss out on anything that happens with Christ returns! In fact, the dead saints “will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16). Then, the living saints will be “caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17; 1 Cor. 15:52). We do not know when the Lord will come, but we know that when He does, every saint – dead or alive – will fully participate in the glory of that moment (Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:4). But, it will also be a moment of fiery indignation – a fearful expectation of judgment – for His adversaries (Heb. 10:27; 2 Thess. 1:7-9). Do not be the Lord’s adversary. Serve the Lord faithfully, and you will be ready for the day He returns (1 Thess. 5:1-11).
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Thess. 4:16).
With clarity and authority, the apostle affirms the events of the return of Jesus. Paul systematically explains what will happen on that great day. The return of Jesus will be personal (“the Lord Himself”). It will not be invisible. There will not be a representative standing in His place. Just as He ascended, so shall He “descend from heaven” (Acts 1:9-11). With a shout, He will command the dead to arise (Jno. 5:28-29). The archangel will lead Christ’s angelic attendants in this moment of power and victory (2 Thess. 1:7). The trumpet of God will sound, signaling liberty from death and the gathering of God’s people (1 Cor. 15:52; cf. Lev. 25:9-10 and Num. 10:3). Then, the dead Christians will rise first (before the living Christians, v. 15). Remember, Paul’s context concerns informing and comforting Christians about the saints who die before Christ returns (1 Thess. 4:13-15). Truly, every person will be resurrected from the dead when Jesus returns (1 Cor. 15:21-22). But, this passage gives particular comfort to Christians, assuring us that death will not deter our hope in the eternal glory we will share in with the Lord on that day (Col. 3:4; 2 Thess. 1:10). We do not sorrow without hope when death comes because we anticipate the coming glory of eternal reward (2 Tim. 4:8). Do you?
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 thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:17-18).
Paul continues to describe the return of Jesus Christ from the Christians’ point of view. What will happen to Christians when Jesus Himself descends from heaven “with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (1 Thess. 4:16)? The dead Christians will rise, and then the living Christians will be caught up from the earth. Together, they will meet the Lord in the air. This is not an invisible rapture that so many believe will happen. No, the Lord is visible here (not invisible), the voice of the archangel is heard, and the Christians visibly join each other to meet the Lord. (This is the “change” from mortal to immortality of 1 Cor. 15:52-53.) The rapture is a false doctrine. “Thus” in verse 17 gives further proof of its error. “Thus” is an adverb of manner that means “in this way,” or after this fashion. So, in this resurrected and immortal state “we shall always be with the Lord.” There is no coming back to earth (it is no more, 2 Pet. 3:10-12). Death is abolished and the kingdom is delivered up to God the Father, not delivered back to earth seven years later (1 Cor. 15:24-26). We are comforted by the expectation of a glorious reunion with the Lord Jesus and the saints who sleep in Him. This truth consoles us when death comes. The world can never offer such comfort (1 Thess. 4:13).
Joe R. Price
1 But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. 2 For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3 For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief (1 Thess. 5:1-4, NKJV).
Then, as now, people want to know when Jesus will return. They want to know the designated time and occasion of this great event. Some even predict when Christ will return. All these predictions have failed, and all will continue to fail. Christians who trust the word of God do not fret about when the Lord will come. We know He will come unexpectedly. Just as a thief does not break into a home when the homeowner is watching, Jesus will return when least expected. His return will be sudden, without warning. Like the onset of labor pains from which there is no escape, we will not elude the sudden return of Jesus and the events that transpire on the day of the Lord. Christians remain ready for that day by living holy lives (2 Pet. 3:11, 14). Sinners are not ready, but the gospel calls sinners to repent and obey – to get ready for that day. Why? Because sudden destruction waits the unprepared. Are you ready?
Joe R. Price
5 You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night (1 Thess. 5:5-7).
The return of the Lord will not overtake Christians suddenly and unexpectedly, because we “are not in darkness” (1 Thess. 5:4). Paul uses light and day to describe the moral readiness of Christians concerning the coming of Jesus. What does it mean to be “sons of light” and “sons of the day?” The gospel called us out of sin’s darkness (1 Pet. 2:11). By the redemption we have in Christ we have been delivered from the power of darkness and conveyed into the Son’s kingdom (Col. 1:13). We used to live in the darkness of sin, “but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8). Darkness and night describe the moral slumber of living in sin. Just as we are unaware of our surroundings in sleep, the darkness of night gives cover to sin and its excesses. We must refuse to be lulled to sleep by the enticements of sin. Let us live vigilantly in truth and righteousness, abstaining from everything that intoxicates the mind and soul. Sons of light are sober, diligently living with self-control and not indulging the flesh with sin. That is why sons of light are ready for the Lord’s return. Walk in the light of truth, not in the darkness of sin (1 John 1:5-10). Be ready for His return.
Joe R. Price
8 But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. 11 Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing (1 Thess. 5:8-11).
Paul returns to soberness as he exhorts Christians (sons of light, sons of the day) to live so as to seize and preserve the salvation to which we have been appointed. It is necessary to protect ourselves from sin with faith, love, and hope as we live for Him who died for us. Wrath is appointed for those who indulge themselves in the darkness of sin, choosing to reject the richness of God’s salvation for the futility of the flesh. Christians prepare for Christ’s return by living soberly. We are strengthened and comforted by the assurance of the eternal salvation to be obtained when Christ returns (2 Thess. 2:14; Heb. 10:39; 1 Pet. 1:6-9). You will never find comfort in the darkness of sin. Come out of your sin and live for Jesus. When He returns, Christians will live together with Him forevermore. If you are a faithful Christian, whether you are alive or dead on that day will make no difference. The difference will be whether you lived soberly in the light of truth and obtain salvation, or in the darkness of sin and obtain wrath.
Created by Chuck Sibbing, last updated. 07/09/2022
The Spirit's Sword is a free,
weekly publication of the Mt. Baker church of Christ, Bellingham, WA