1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: It Won’t be Long!
This is the classic New Testament passage about Christ’s 2nd coming. The Thessalonians’ ignorance about the rapture caused them to grieve. So Paul writes to give them hope and to comfort, by speaking of Jesus 2nd coming!
It won't be long till we'll be leavin' here
It won't be long we'll be goin' home
Count the years as months, count the months as weeks
Count the weeks as days, any day now, we'll be goin' home
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 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.” (John 14:1-3).
The Bible is God’s Word, it is absolute truth! I stand on the inspired (God breathed), infallible, inerrant, and absolutely true Word of God. “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). “Every word of God proves true” (Proverbs 30:5-NLT).
So when Jesus says, “I will come again” you can take to the bank! It will happen!
Verse 13a: “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren…”
“Ignorant” in Greek is agnoeo, meaning to not have information about, to not know, to be unaware, uninformed.
“The Thessalonians had clearly been expecting the return of Jesus before any of them died. This was a moment-by-moment expectancy in the early church. First century Christians never entertained the thought that death would occur for them. They believed the Lord was coming within days, or weeks at the most. In the first chapter of this letter Paul commends the Thessalonians for ‘waiting for God's Son from heaven,’ (1 Thessalonians 1:10). That is what they were looking for.” –Ray Stedman
Ignorance is not bliss in regard to what happens when a believer dies!
Verse 13b: “… concerning those who have fallen asleep,
The very first generation of Christians was beginning to die. Most of these people had believed that Jesus would return during their lifetime. Now, they had questions: Did death mean those who died would miss the Second Coming of Christ and His reign on the earth? Would these people miss all the glory that had been promised?
Paul is writing to a bereaved church. He has preached to them the hope of the Gospel of Christ, and, while Paul has been away, some of their beloved family members have died. Their own hands have buried them and laid them away. And they are asking, “What about those who have died and there still is no appearing of the Lord; there's no presence of Jesus; there's no consummation or fulfillment of the wonderful promises in Him? What of these who have been buried?
The words “fallen asleep” are frequently applied in the New Testament to the death of saints. (1 Corinthians 4:13; 11:30; 15:6,18). They used to call it a graveyard, but when the Gospel of the Son of God began to be preached, the Christian people began to use the Greek word koimeterion, (the root of our word cemetery) a sleeping place.
“Their concern for those who had died shows that the Thessalonians believed the return of Christ was imminent and could happen in their lifetime. Otherwise, there would have been no reason for their concern. The Thessalonians’ fear that their fellow believers who had died might miss the Rapture also implies that they believed in a pretribulational Rapture. If the Rapture precedes the Tribulation, they might have wondered when believers who died would receive their resurrection bodies. But there would have been no such confusion if the Rapture follows the Tribulation; all believers would then receive their resurrection bodies at the same time. Further, if they had been taught that they would go through the Tribulation, they would not have grieved for those who died, but rather would have been glad to see them spared from that horrible time.” –John MacArthur
Verse 13c: “…lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.”
Apparently some of the saints in Thessalonica, despite having clearly been taught on some eschatological topics had ignorantly come to the conclusion that the saints who died would miss the Lord’s return and thus they were grieved over their absence at such a glorious event.
Only believers have a sure hope (absolute certainty) of life after death. The speculations of pagan philosophy do not amount to a hope but "I hope so". The odds are eternally against this type of hope, for the only sure, steadfast hope of eternal life with God is a hope that is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness…1 Timothy 1:1, “the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope…”
The Christian's hope that is not shared by non-believers is the “Blessed Hope” of the return of Christ for His own just as He had promised. Jesus, Himself said in John 14:1-3, “I will come again…”
Titus 2:13, “…looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…”
1 Peter 1:3-5, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
In marked contrast, in the face of death the pagan world stood in utter despair and abysmal hopelessness which enshrouded them as it rightly should. They vainly attempted to meet the certainty of death with grim resignation and bleak outlook as stated by the pagan Aeschylus who wrote (incorrectly), “Once a man dies there is no resurrection.” And Theocritus wrote, “There is hope for those who are alive, but those who have died are without hope.” Another pagan, Lucretius wrote, “No one awakes and arises who has once been overtaken by the chilling end of life.” Note: There is a resurrection for unbelievers but it is unto death, not life. On pagan tombstones you can read the hopeless carvings of their grim epitaphs.
The hope (certainty) of Christ's return at His Second Coming is a…
•Living hope (1 Peter 1:3).
•Blessed hope (Titus 2:13)
•Joyful hope (1 Thessalonians 2:19).
•Comforting hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
•Anchoring hope (Hebrews 6:19).
•Purifying hope (1John 3:3).
Verse 14: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.”
The certainty of our hope is the death and resurrection of our Lord. Christ’s resurrection marks Him out as both God’s Son and our Savior, our solution to sin and both spiritual and physical death. The return of Christ is as certain as His death and resurrection. Our hope for the future is grounded in the certainty of the past.
This verse is makes it clear that those who have “fallen asleep in Jesus” (died) will return with Him. When Stephen was martyred his spirit went to be with the Lord (Acts 7:60). After death, the thief on the cross was with Jesus in Paradise (Luke 23:43). When a believer dies, his or her spirit goes immediately into the presence of Christ. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” The moment a Christian dies, their spirit leaves the body and is immediately with the Lord.
Verse 15a: “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord…”
Paul here introduces not only a new subject but also new revelation he had received from the Lord. This is not Paul's idea but comes from and with the authority of the Lord Who gives us one of the most detailed accounts of His return for His Bride, the Church. The Lord is the Source of this truth. The Word of the Lord is a Word of promise. Believe it and be blessed.
Psalm 18:30, “God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true.” Psalm 33:4, “For the word of the Lord is right…" Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is alive and powerful…” 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed …” 1 Peter 1:25, “But the word of the Lord endures forever.”
Verse 15b: “… that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.”
“We who are alive” clearly indicates Paul was living in the light of the imminent return of His Lord. How do we reach this conclusion? The use of the plural pronoun we indicates that Paul himself expected to be alive at the parousia. It supports the teaching that the apostle Paul believed that the rapture was imminent (about to occur) and implies that no preceding signs or events had to occur prior to the Bridegroom's return for His Bride, the Church.” –preceptaustin.org
The coming of Jesus Christ is portrayed as an imminent event. This means that Jesus can come at any moment: there is no event which must transpire before He comes. Imminency makes it impossible to know when He might come so the believer must remain constantly on the lookout in case the Lord were to return and find him unprepared.
Matthew 24:33, “So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!” Matthew 24:3, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” Acts 1:7, ““It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.”
“The last day is hidden, that every day may be regarded” –Augustine.
Dear believer in Christ, does you day to day conduct indicate that you are living as if you might see your Bridegroom today? Do your choices reflect an upward look or are you tethered to this present world which is passing away? Beloved, don't waste your life! What you are looking for will determine what you are living for. Look for Christ and live accordingly. Let our Lord's words motivate you to strive to maintain a future focus.
1 John 2:28 MSG, “And now, children, stay with Christ. Live deeply in Christ. Then we’ll be ready for him when he appears, ready to receive him with open arms, with no cause for red-faced guilt or lame excuses when he arrives.”
Verse 16a: “For the Lord Himself…” He will send not emissaries, envoys, or angels but will come Himself as the Bridegroom for His bride, the church.
Verse 16b: “will descend from heaven with a shout…”
“Shout” is keleusma in Greek, means to command or order. It is only used here in the New Testament where it refers to a shout of command or an order. This word was used in the Roman army, at the sound of the third trumpet a herald, standing at the right of the commander, called out times to ask if the soldiers were ready for war. The troops shouted loud out lustily "We are ready!"
“Keleusma…implies authority and urgency. It was variously used of a general shouting orders to his troops, a driver shouting to excite his horses to greater speed, a hunter encouraging his hounds to the pursuit of the prey, or a captain of rowers exciting them to more vigorous rowing. The shout is left undefined, no definitive genitive being added. Nothing is said as to who gives the shout, or to whom it is directed.” –Hiebert
Verse 16c: “…with the voice of an archangel…”
“Archangel,” is an angel, envoy, messenger, one who is sent, and it refers to the first or highest angel, the archangel, leader of the angels. In the celestial hierarchy, an archangel would describe a spiritual being in rank above an angel. “Archangel” denotes a definite rank by virtue of which one is qualified for special work and service.
Verse 16d: “…and with the trumpet of God.”
Matthew 24:31, “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
1 Corinthians 15:52, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.”
In the Old Testament, trumpets can signify an alarm of war, a call to assemble, or a command to march, and to announce His victory. That is, a military clarion that proclaimed the Lord inspired and empowered the victory on behalf of His people. “The Lord said to Moses: ‘Make two trumpets of hammered silver, and use them for calling the community together and for having the camps set out’” (Numbers 10:1,2).
Some commentators believe the trumpet here is the voice of God. In Revelation 4:1, the apostle John writes, “After this I looked, and there in heaven was an open door. The first voice that I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.'” And since we see Revelation 4:1 as a picture of the rapture, it is possible that the trumpet in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 is the voice of God.
Verse 16e: “And the dead in Christ will rise first.”
“The dead in Christ are those believers who have died prior to the second coming of Christ. “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). They will rise first and return with him. They are “in Christ,” a designation of being a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
This phrase equates with Paul's earlier description of those who have “fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). 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. They will be the ones who will rise first.
Verse 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.”
We refer to this as the rapture of the Church. The word “rapture” does not occur in the Bible. The term comes from a Latin word rapturo, meaning a carrying off, a transport, or a snatching away. In our Bible, the same Greek word, harpazo, is translated “caught up” which means “to seize upon with force” or “to snatch up.” At the rapture, those who are “in Christ” (dead and living) will be changed into new glorified, immortal bodies and then we are “caught up…to meet the Lord in the air.”
Did you know that 27% of the Bible is prophecy? In the Old Testament there are over 1,800 references to Christ’s return. One in every thirty verses in the New Testament describe Jesus’ Second Coming (Three-hundred-nineteen references in the two-hundred sixteen chapters of the New Testament). Paul writes about Jesus’ coming fifty times. More than one half of the Old Testament references to Christ refer to His second coming. 23 of the 27 New Testament books give prominence to this subject. For every biblical prophecy concerning Christ’s first coming, there are eight prophecies about His second coming.
Verse 18: “Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
I have heard many sermons on the 2nd coming of Christ, most are not particularly comforting. Many beat us up with threats of God is going to do to us when Jesus comes again. The Scripture does say in 1 John 2:8, , “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” And in Mark 8:38 Jesus says, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
But it is a comfort to those who are suffering, those who have lost loved-ones; those who are just plain tired of this old world and all the pain it brings. They are looking forward to His appearing. May we say with John, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).
The Greek word for “appears” is “parousia,” “To arrive, to be present.” Sometimes used in classical Greek to announce the arrival of a king to a village. That reminds us of Bill Gaither’s song,
“The King is coming, the King is coming,
I just heard the trumpet sounding and nor His face I see,
The King is coming, the King is coming, praise God He’s coming for me.”
So I have the confirmation of God’s Word that Jesus is coming to earth again! If we only had one passage to prove His coming, we would still have to believe. That one passage is John 14:3, where Jesus Himself said, “I will come again.”
“People get ready, Jesus is coming, soon we’ll be going home,
People get ready, Jesus is coming, to take from this world His own.”
Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).