1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 Paul wraps up his discussion of what happens when Jesus comes. He’ll be coming personally – no angels or other representatives – the King Himself is coming for His followers. “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” The ancient Greek word for shout here is the same word used for the commands that a ship captain makes to his rowers, or a commander speaking to his soldiers. Morris explained “Always there is the ring of authority and the note of urgency.”

Apparently, there will be some audible signal that prompts this remarkable event. Paul uses three descriptions for sounds – shout, voice, and trumpet – which may refer to the same sound; or there may be three distinct sounds. The rapture will not be silent or secret, though the vast majority of people may not understand the sound or its meaning. In the same way as those with Paul on the road to Damascus head a sound but did not understand the words, so the entire world may hear this heavenly sound but have no idea what its meaning is. It will connect with those who have made Jesus Lord and Savior but likely not mean anything to the rest of the world.

Paul’s point to the Thessalonians is clear. The prior dead in Christ will not be left out of either the resurrection or the return of Jesus. In fact, they will experience it first. There will come a day, when in God’s eternal plan, the dead in Christ will receive their resurrection bodies. Yet until that day, we are confident that the dead in Christ are not in some kind of soul sleep or suspended animation. Spurgeon wrote “However God will do it, we are confident that His promise is true. Though the bones be scattered to the four winds of heaven, yet, at the call of the Lord God, they shall come together again, bone to his bone… We doubt not that God will guard the dust of the precious sons and daughters of Zion.”

Those alive and remaining until this coming of Jesus are caught up to meet Jesus in the air, together with the dead in Jesus who have already risen. “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” This passage is the basis for the New Testament doctrine of the rapture, the catching away of believers to be with Jesus. Paul’s statement, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is both dramatic and fantastic. Jesus was in the miracle business so we can trust these words to be true. And because of this promise, we can encourage each other as well. “Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

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