1Th 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 1Th 4:14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 1Th 4:15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 1Th 4:16 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. 1Th 4:17 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. 1Th 4:18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
In preaching through 1 Cor. 15 I have been studying the events of the 2nd Coming, in particular the resurrection of the dead. If anything, it has confirmed my understanding that the Bible never speaks of these two events as happening apart from each other. In short, the next event on the biblical calendar is the 2nd Coming of the Lord, the general resurrection of all mankind.
The text above lays this out for us. In vs. 15 Paul refers to the “coming of the Lord” and the NT always presents this as the thing we in the church age are waiting for. He even says as much when he says, “We who are alive, who are left until the coming…” Many in Paul’s day assumed it was going to happen during their life time. By definition this must be the 2nd Coming.
Verse 16 also says the Lord will descend. In other words he is coming down here to get us. I know the Dispensationalist make a lot of the fact that we are caught up in the air with him as if this is to be taken as Jesus not actually touching the ground so therefore it isn’t technically the 2nd Coming, but that is mere eisegesis in my estimation; reading into the text. Paul refers to this as the time of the last trump in 1 Cor. 15:52, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. So clearly in these two texts he is speaking of the same time period and the 2nd Coming of the Lord which is the next thing on his calendar and that which all Christians are looking for.
I believe the Dispensationalist have a problem here. What if you are reading this during the supposed Tribulation or during the Millennial Reign? It has already happened! Even men like John MacArthur end up saying that this isn’t really the last trumpet; just the last one for saints in the church age. In his commentary of 1 Corinthians he says there are 4 and possibly 5 different resurrections in order to fit them all into the Dispensational scheme. I am left wondering why Paul doesn’t explain the events at the end of the supposed Great Tribulation and coming Millennial Reign so that those saints can know what is going to happen. I believe the answer is because no such periods exist.
A couple of other things to note: If the 2nd Coming is really at the end of a tribulation period then really that would be the 3rd Coming since Paul refers to this as also a coming of Christ. To separate the Rapture from the “2nd Coming” is unbiblical since Paul says the 2nd Coming is the next thing to happen which would make Jesus’ coming at the end of the tribulation period the third one. Of course one of the great weaknesses of Dispensationalism is the many comings, resurrections and judgments that come at the many “ends” yet to come.
This and other passages don’t even hint that this coming is only for the saints of the church age and that there are other resurrections to come. Yet John MacArthur for instance says that at the Rapture only those saints who died since Pentecost are going to be raised, all other saints from the OT and Tribulation will be raised at the end of the Tribulation. Pretty soon one has to sit back and see how convoluted this begins to be.
The other thing I find interesting in this passage is that Paul makes a point that those who have died will be raised before those who are alive when Christ comes back; in fact he mentions it twice. There seems to be a point of honor that the dead get beyond those that do not die. Allow me to speculate.
We sometimes joke that the dead are six feet further down so they need a head start or they have decayed and so they need some extra time for their bodies to be put together, but I think probably that is not the reason and there might not be any specific reason. But the thought has occurred to me that perhaps it is a point of honor in that they have all died in the Lord while those who are alive at his coming will not have the opportunity to die in the Lord.
They have done one thing that those alive have not; they have remained faithful even unto death. They have continued unto the end; they have laid on their deathbed in many cases and have not denied the Lord but have died in hope. Perhaps for this they have this special honor. Nothing will testify of what the Lord means to us like how we profess him in the face of death. Many die in accidents and suddenly and wouldn’t fall into this category and I suppose that would be an argument against what I am saying, but Paul finishes with these words, “Therefore encourage one another with these words”.
I want to die in the Lord, not kicking and screaming, not full of fear but with the sweet smile of anticipation. I mean, if a child can go to sleep anticipating getting gifts on Christmas morning, certainly we can die with much greater hope and with much greater excitement that we are going to see Jesus.