THE BOOK OF 1 THESSALONIANS
J. Deering, AncientPath.net
Chapter 4, Verses 13-18 "The Lord Returns for Believers"
"The Lord Returns for Believers"
4:13 Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope.
Paul states right off that it is God's desire to communicate truth to you so that you would not be uninformed. In this instance the issue of concern over whether or not other believers (and even family relatives) would be left behind after death. They believed they would be taken to heaven at His return.
The Thessalonians believed in the immediate return of the Lord Jesus Christ. In that belief they also worried that those who had already died would not be taken to heaven with them upon His return. "What about the dead?" would be the obvious question. The dead of the Old testament went to the place of the dead "Sheol" (Hebrew) or "Hades" (Greek). They were thinking that their fellow believers in Christ would somehow be forgotten there.
The discussion here revolves around the resurrection of the body - not the spirit. Those who died "in-Christ" would have their Spirits ascend to be with Christ but their bodies would have been left in the ground - awaiting resurrection. Their question was about the bodies of the "in-Christ" believer. They could see clearly that certain believers, who were alive at the return of Jesus "to the air" would have their bodies translated into new spiritual bodies in the process of going to Heaven with Jesus. But, what about their brothers and sisters who had recently died? What would happen to their bodies?
4:14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians.
In this verse we learn that those who have already died, as believers, will have their bodies resurrected and changed into spiritual bodies, and ascend to the heavenly realms BEFORE those who were still alive would have their living bodies be translated (changed) into new and living spiritual bodies after those who had already died.
4:15 For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep.
Paul gives this assurance "by the word of the Lord." First the dead in Christ, then the alive in Christ.
4:16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
So then this is the process. Jesus will come down from heaven. Whether you see in this verse a loud shout, or just the fact that it is the result of an important command the process is by decree and will be accompanied with some fanfare. Then comes the resurrection of the Dead in Christ.
4:17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord.
All those who are dead in Christ will be resurrected and raised up to be together with Jesus in the air. At some point when they (the Lord and those who were dead in Christ) will have "left" us on their journey to heaven, and then at that point, we will be translated into new spiritual bodies and "caught up" with them who have gone on before us. We will all arrive in heaven together - and be with Jesus - Always - Forever in His presence.
4:18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
The result of these words should be a great encouragement to all believers. The Lord has explained the process so that we should not worry. He has it all under control, and we need to trust in His words and be encouraged by them.
Simplified "Bible Timeline" chart, Captivity through End of Millennium