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I THESSALONIANS (14)
What about the Dead in Christ?
I Thessalonians 4:13-18
Victor M. Eskew
A. One of the prevalent teachings of the New Testament is the Second Coming of Jesus (Acts 1:10-11).
And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.
B. Apparently, this was a teaching that intrigued the church at Thessalonica.
1. Every chapter of Paul’s first epistle mentions the Second Coming (I Thess. 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:15-16; 5:2).
2. As the saints contemplated Paul’s teachings, one question came to their minds: “What will happen to the dead in Christ when Jesus returns?”
C. There is no telling what type of things came to their minds as they thought about the answer to this question.
1. Thus, Paul writes I Thessalonians 4:13-18 to deal with this topic.
2. The title of our lesson is: “What about the Dead in Christ?”
I. THE CONCERN OF PAUL (I Thess. 4:13a)
A. He wants to DISPEL THEIR IGNORANCE (I Thess. 4:13a).
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep…
a. Definition: not to know through lack of information, not to understand
1) A person can be ignorant in just one or two areas
2) Ignorance is not a healthy state. It can bring trouble and worry to a person’s life.
2. The ignorance at Thessalonica involved “them which are asleep.”
a. The word “asleep” refers to those who are dead.
b. It is an accommodative term because when a person is dead, he looks like he is sleeping.
c. NOTE: Some teach a doctrine called “soul sleep.” This is one of their proof-texts.
B. He wants to DISSIPATE THEIR SORROW (I Thess. 4:13b).
…that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
1. Because of their ignorance, they were sorrowing over the dead. Perhaps they thought the dead would miss the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
2. Paul’s words were intended to eliminate their sorrow.
a. The child of God, whether dead or alive, has hope. Paul was about to instruct them about this hope for the dead in Christ.
b. LESSON: There are some “which have no hope.” This should be a distressing thought for all those who have yet to find the salvation which is in Christ Jesus.
II. THE CLARIFICATION BY PAUL (I Thess. 4:14-17)
A. The dead will come back with Jesus (I Thess. 4:14)
1. The doctrine about Christ (I Thess. 4:14a)
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again…
a. The core doctrine of the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (I Cor. 15:1-4).
b. This doctrine is the foundation of so much in the Christian faith.
c. Death is not the victor. Christ defeated death when He rose from the grave.
d. When Paul said: “For if we believe,” he was not indicating uncertainty. He knew they believed this. It was pivotal in their conversion.
2. The denotation of the dead (I Thess. 4:14b)
…even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
a. The dead in Christ were presently in the hadean realm in a place called Paradise.
b. NOTE: These spirit beings are still living.
c. When Jesus returns, He will bring these spirits back with Him.
B. The dead will rise before the living (I Thess. 4:15-16)
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 prevent them which are asleep. 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.
1. The divine authority of Paul’s message: “For this I say unto you by the word of the Lord.
a. Paul, and other inspired men, knew they were speaking by inspiration.
b. It is inspiration that makes their message authoritative.
c. These were not just Paul’s words. These were the words of God Himself.
2. The dead in Christ rise first.
a. This is directly stated at the end of verse 16: “the dead in Christ shall rise first.”
b. Paul also says it in the first part of the passage as well when he says that the living will not prevent those who are asleep.
a) Strong (5348): to be beforehand, precede
b) Thayer: to come before, precede
c) Vine: to come sooner
2) The spirits of the dead will be united with the bodies that come forth from the graves. This will happen before the living will go to be with the Lord.
3. The declaration of Christ’s coming
a. Paul associates the resurrection with the Second Coming of Christ.
b. This will not be a silent event
1) “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout.”
a) Several views:
- Some that it will be the Lord who shouts.
- Others believe that it will be those who see Him who will begin to shout.
- Still others believe that it will be the shout of the heavenly hosts who are with Him.
b) The key is the word “shout.”
+ Strong (2752): a cry of incitement
+ Thayer: an order, a command…to soldiers by a commander
+ Vine: a call, a summons, shout of command
- As the conquering Commander, He will summons the dead from their graves (John 5:28).
Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice.
2) The voice of the archangel
3) The trump of God
C. The dead will be joined by the living (I Thess. 4:17).
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.
1. After the dead in Christ are raised to meet the Lord in the air, the righteous living will be caught up into the clouds with them and meet the Lord there.
2. NOTE: The premillennialists refer to this event as “The Rapture.”
a. They believe the righteous dead and living will be raptured to be with the Lord for a seven year period.
b. The unrighteous will continue to live on the earth during this time which is referred to as The Great Tribulation.
c. At the end of seven years, the Lord will return with the righteous and will cast Satan into the bottomless pit, set up His kingdom, and will rule upon the earth for 1000 years.
3. Answer: The text says that when the righteous are caught up to be with the Lord in the air that “so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
a. So: in this manner, that is, with the Lord in the air
b. Ever be: The righteous will ever be in the air with the Lord. They will never return to the earth again.
III. THE COMFORT FROM PAUL’S WORDS (I Thess. 4:18)
Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
A. As we noted earlier in verse 13, the Thessalonians were sorrowful about those who had died in Christ.
B. Paul’s words should have corrected their misunderstandings, alleviated their fears, and filled their hearts with gladness.
C. Now they could rest assured by the authority of Christ that the dead would not miss the Lord’s return. In fact, they would be the first to be with the Lord when He comes again.
A. Death is not the end.
B. The Lord is going to return.
C. The dead will be raised to be with the Lord.
D. The faithful who are living will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air.
E. “And so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
1. Trouble will be no more.
2. Sin will be behind us.
3. Death will have been conquered.
4. All we will need to do is live in glory forever and ever and ever.