In the 4th chapter of First Thessalonians we find the Apostle Paul writing to the church about the Lord’s saints who had passed away. The people Paul was writing to knew that God’s Very Elect did not ascend to heaven upon their deaths, but that they remained in the earth where their bodies had been placed. There was, however, a question among some in the church concerning what would happen their deceased friends and loved ones in the future. Paul wanted to assure them that, upon the return of Jesus Christ to earth the dead in Christ would be raised from their graves as living beings. We pick up the narrative with verse 13 where he is telling them not be concerned about “those who are asleep (dead), so that you do not sorrow as do those who have no hope (for the eternal future).”
In the previous verses of chapter 4 Paul had reminded the people how the Lord directed them to live so that they could receive salvation and live forever. He noted that they were to walk (live) so as to please the Lord (vs 1), to obey His commandments (vs 5), to be sanctified (set aside for holiness) and to live honorably–vs 4,5. In verse 7 he reminds them that God had called them to holiness (vs 7). They were to love the brethren (vss 6, 8-10), to study to be quiet, to mind their own business, to do their work in an honorable way (vs 11) and to be honest and fair with those outside the church (12). They were not to live as did the Gentiles (Heb.–heathen) who did not know God (vs 5), and still do not know God. Those in “the church” have only been introduced to the concept of God. Those who truly know Him fear Him and are careful to obey Him. Those who do not obey Him are not known by Him. To these Jesus will say at judgment: “In never knew you. Depart from Me, you who work INIQUITY (Lawlessness)–Mat. 7:22,23. Note that these will have CALLED HIM THEIR LORD and will have told Him how many wonderful works they had done IN HIS NAME. An example of Satan’s control of the Institutional Church was spoken by a pillar of a local church who said to my mother: “Don’t be concerned about sin (breaking of the Law–1 Jn. 3:4), God will forgive you. He doesn’t like it (sin), but He won’t do anything about it.” That is a quote. That “Biblical truth” is believed by the whole of professing Christendom. Is it any wonder the world, including the church world, is rotten to the core and becoming moreso every moment. Truly, things are today as they were in the time of Noah when God summarized the spiritual condition of the world thusly: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Recall that He killed off the whole of mankind except for eight people (1 Pet. 3:20/ 2 Pet. 2:4). Read 2 Peter 2:4,6 and recall that He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the Lord who does not change.
Beginning with verse 13 Paul tells the church about the future of those who had died, who had obeyed God according to what he (Paul) had taught them as recorded in verses 1-12. Evidently there were some in the church who did not know the truth about the resurrection of the saints (the 1st resurrection). As Paul had told them in the previous verses, these would be God’s Very Elect saints who had obeyed His Law and lived in holiness throughout their post-conversion lives. Read Romans 5:21;6:22 and Life After Death. Key word–After.
In verse 14 Paul tells them why they were not to worry about their dead loved ones. He explained that, because Christ died and rose again, He would return to earth and would bring with Him those who were ASLEEP IN JESUS. Those who believe that we are saved in this life, and that the supposedly saved dead go immediately to heaven, a question is in order: are they asleep in heaven? If so, what is the point in being there? Some will respond, “But Scripture says that when Jesus returns He will bring those who had died with Him. We know that He will come from heaven. Will He not those who had died from heaven where they have been since their deaths? The explanation is that Paul and the people he was writing to were on earth. He was telling them that Jesus will bring those true saints who had died prior to His return with Him TO EARTH. This is brought out in Zechariah 14:4 where we are told that when He returns “His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives” which is located just outside of Jerusalem. Again the question arises: If the dead saints come with Him to the Mt. of Olives, from whence did they come? Let us study the remaining verses of chapter 4 for the answer. Welcome to the Lord’s “fine print” where He explains his “headlines.”
Verse 15 tells us that the Lord has given His Word that those Very Elect saints who are alive when He returns will not leave the earth prior to the resurrection of those who are in the graves (in heaven?). Paul explains the order of the resurrection in verses 16,17: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, AND THE DEAD IN CHRIST WILL RISE FIRST.” Those who are alive when Christ arrives in the clouds/air above earth will rise TO MEET THEM (Jesus and His angels–2 Thes. 1:7) IN THE AIR/CLOUDS AFTER THE DEAD HAVE RISEN FROM THEIR EARTHLY GRAVES TO MEET THEM. The English expression describing the saints’ rise into the air is “caught up.” In the Greek language the term is “harpazo,” from which we get the word “rapture,” meaning to snatch up. Therefore, there will indeed be a RAPTURE as both the dead and the living rise (harpazo) to where Jesus and His angles await in the clouds. Contrary to universal opinion, Jesus will not take them with Him to heaven. As Zechariah 14:4 tells us, Jesus, His angels and His saints will immediately descend to earth, to the Mount of Olives which is located just outside of Jerusalem. From there they will enter Jerusalem where they will establish the Kingdom of God. Read The Kingdom of God. Key word–Kingdom.
That they will descend to the Mount of Olives is proven in Zechariah 14:4 and Acts 1:11,12. In the first chapter of Acts we find that, following His ascension to heaven following His death and resurrection, Jesus has returned to meet with His 120 or so disciples where, for 40 days, He teaches them His Gospel about the coming Kingdom of God (Acts 1:1-3). Afterwards he begins His ascent back to heaven. As the disciples watched Him ascend, two “men” (angels) appeared and told them that Jesus would return to earth EXACTLY AS HE HAD DEPARTED, THAT HE WOULD RETURN TO THE EXACT PLACE FROM WHICH HE ASCENDED–THE MOUNT OF OLIVES as is shown in Acts 1:11,12. By these two sources we know that JESUS AND HIS SAINTS WILL RETURN TO THE MOUNT OF OLIVES. Now let us momentarily return to I Thessalonians 4:16.
We have been told time and again that Jesus will one day return from heaven to take His people back to heaven with Him where they will live forever. We are told that this “rapture” will be a SECRET event. Stories have been told, books have been written and movies have been made about this supposed SECRET RAPTURE that will leave the world in a state of astonishment as cars will suddenly be without drivers, airplanes without pilots, chairs without occupants, etc. as people suddenly disappear. Clothing will suddenly collapse to the floor. Forks will drop to tables as diners will suddenly depart into the heavens to meet the Lord. Suddenly, people will simply disappear, having been taken to heaven in one silent, secret snatching away of those in THE church who will then join their loved ones who had supposedly been taken to heaven following their deaths. Listen to the words of verse 16: a “shout,” a “trumpet blast”, the “voice of the archangel,” a flash of light like lightning from east to west (Mat. 24:27). Does this sound and look like a silent, secret event? Read The Resurrections. Key word–Resurrections. The Lord’s Very Elect who have obeyed His Law under the direction of the Holy Spirit will be the first to be resurrected. It is they who will descend to the Mount of Olives, enter Jerusalem, help establish the Kingdom of God, rule the earth for 1000 years, then the universe forever. In verse 17 we are told that God’s Very Elect will “forever be with the Lord.” The Scriptures tell us that the Lord will forever be on earth in the Kingdom of God from whence He and His saints will rule the universe throughout eternity. Read God’s Very Elect: Future Caretakers of the Universe. Key word–Caretakers.
In summary: the dead go to the earth as did Abel, Noah, Abraham, David, etc. Along with them they will remain until Christ’s return. Jesus Christ is the only human being in heaven now. No one preceded Him and no one will join Him. The spirit of every human ever born is with the Lord. However, the Scriptures tell us that the persons themselves–their souls (flesh)–ARE DEAD AND WILL REMAIN DEAD UNTIL THEY ARE RESURRECTED FOLLOWING THE RETURN OF JESUS CHRIST. L.J.