1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
‘’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.15 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. 16 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. 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’’.
What is the rapture? Rapture means snatched up. The rapture speaks of the day when Jesus will return from heaven and Christians will be suddenly caught up to meet Him in heaven. Matthew 24:40-41, ‘’Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left’’.
In this passage, Paul explained the rapture to the Thessalonians Christians. Paul visited Thessalonica on his second missionary journey in Acts 17. He was there for about 3 weeks. He spoke in the synagogue in Thessalonica on 3 sabbaths, Acts 17:2. Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians from Corinth in 50 AD. Scholars believed these two to be his earliest epistles. An outline of this passage is as follows. 1). V13, Appeal 2). VV14-17, Explanation- v 14, promise, v 15, resurrection, v16, rapture, v17, reunion, 3). V 18, Application.
# 1. Appeal
V 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’’.
Paul appealed to the Christians in Thessalonica not to be ignorant and not to be worried about those Christians who had died. He addressed them as brethren or brothers and sisters in Christ. They expected Jesus to return but many of them had already died and Jesus had not returned. For those who had died, Paul used the word fallen asleep. For Christians, death is nothing more than falling asleep because as soon a Christian dies, he will be reunited with the Lord. Paul said in 2 Cor 5:8, ‘’ to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord’’. When Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus died, Jesus said they had fallen asleep. It is interesting to note that the word cemetery means a sleeping place. Unlike non-Christian who had no hope, Christians had the hope of resurrection and heaven after death.
# 2. Promise
V 14 ‘’For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus’’.
Jesus had conquered death. 1 Cor 15:54 b, ‘’ death is swallowed up in victory’’. Jesus’ resurrection from death, is our guarantee that Christians will be resurrected from death. Jesus said in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live’.
# 3. Resurrection
V 15 ‘’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’’.
Paul explained the resurrection negatively. Christians from the time of Pentecost in Acts 2 until today, who had died will be resurrected first followed by Christians who are still alive at the rapture.
# 4. Rapture
V 16 ‘’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’’.
Paul explained the rapture. The Lord Himself will personally descend from heaven and Christians who had died will be caught up to heaven to see Him face to face. 1). There will be a shout. 2). There will be a voice from the archangel Micheal. 3. There will be a trumpet (shofar) call of God. 1 Cor 15; 51-52, ‘’Behold, I tell 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed’’.
V 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’’.
Christians who have died will be raptured first, followed by those who are alive. There will be a reunion among Christians who are alive and their loved ones who had died, and a reunion of the Lord with Christians. John 14:3, ‘’And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also’’.
We do not know when the rapture will occur but it can occur at any moment, in the twinkling of the eye. The rapture is not the second coming. The rapture will be followed by 7 years of tribulation when there will be no more Christians left on earth. This will be when the unbelieving Jews will be converted, Romans 11. The second coming of Christ will take place at the end of the tribulation. This position is called, pre-tribulational, dispensational, pre-millennialism. Although there are many views on this, I find this view to be the most acceptable.
# 6. Application
V 18 ‘’Therefore comfort one another with these words’’.
Christians should encourage each other with the good news of the rapture and encourage non-Christians with the same.
Do not hold on too tightly to material things- At the rapture, you will leave everything behind forever. You enter the world with nothing and will leave the world with nothing.
Don’t worry too much about sorrows and trouble – No storms will last forever, not even COVID 19. Life on earth is nothing compared to eternal life in heaven.
Make sure you are born again. Confess and repent of sin. Believe that Jesus died for you and surrender your life to Jesus.
The rapture can happen at any time. Rev 22: 20, ‘’even so come Lord Jesus’’.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the wonderful truth and hope of the rapture. Help us to encourage one another with this hope and live each day in the light of it. I pray for all those who are not born again to confess, repent, believe, and surrender to You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.