#198 “Are You Rapture Ready?” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

The apostle Paul mentions the rapture in every chapter of his letter to the Thessalonians: 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-11, 23.

John Walvoord, Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain Times,

“If one can accept the supernatural event of Christ’s dying for sin and rising from the grave, one can also believe in the future rapture of the church. This is defined as their faith “that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (v. 14). Though the general truth of the resurrection of the dead is variously stated in Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments, a special revelation of the rapture of a particular body of saints and the translation of those living at the time is nowhere linked to the doctrine of the second coming when Christ comes to establish His kingdom. At the rapture, believers are caught up to heaven. At the second coming, believers remain on earth. Accordingly, the event that Paul was describing here is quite different from the second coming of Christ as it is normally defined.”

  1. 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.The euphemism for death is sleep. Paul is not speaking of “soul sleep”—which teaches that after a person dies, they remain in a nonconscious state in death and awaken at the resurrection. The Bible is clear that once a Christian dies (absent from the body) their soul-spirit goes to be with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23; 1 Thess. 5:10). James 2:26 affirms that the body is dead without the spirit. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary, “When biblical authors want to focus on death as an entrance into the intermediate state and therefore as something temporary, they use koimaō. After the tragic stoning of Stephen, Luke tells us that he simply “fell asleep” (Acts 7:60); physical death is not the true end for Stephen. Paul likely has a pastoral motive when he uses koimaō in 1 Cor. 7:39; 11:30, where he touches on the “sensitive” topics of the death of a spouse and death as a result of judgment. The bodies of the saints who have “fallen asleep” were raised at the death of Jesus (Mt 27:52). Jesus says that “our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him,” before he raises him from the dead (Jn 11:11).” In this section, Paul isn’t addressing the intermediate state of believers who previously died, but the event of bodily resurrection in the Parousia.
  2. 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.Paul’s first reason of hope is the resurrection. The resurrection is not to be mistaken as a “reconstruction” of the body. In 1 Cor. 15:35-42, Paul describes the dead body as a “seed” and the resurrected body as a “flower” that blossoms. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we too can believe that loved ones who were believers and died—will be resurrected at the return of Jesus for his church. Resurrection of the saints:
    • John 5:25-29, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”
    • 8:11, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
    • 1 Cor. 6:14, “And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.”
    • 1 Cor. 15:16-23, “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
    • 1 Cor. 15:42-44, “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”
    • 2 Cor. 4:14, “knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.”


3. 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.Paul is given a special revelation from Jesus regarding the rapture of the church. An imminent return of Christ that takes place prior to the Second Coming. Coming of the Lord—The Gk. word is Parousia, a common term used in the NT to designate the return of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom on earth (2 Thess. 2:1). The First Coming, known as the rapture, is Jesus partially returning for his church in the air. We, the church, will meet him in the air and receive our resurrected bodies. The Second Coming is Jesus and his saints returning to the earth to establish his kingdom on earth. Both comings (rapture and Second Coming) of Christ are to be taken literally. With a literal Garden of Eden—a literal Adam and Eve—a literal fall, and Christ literally coming down in a physical human body and dying and rising from the dead. Therefore, the rapture and Second Coming are both future events that will take place literally. Much of what Paul mentions in 4:13-18 regarding the coming of the Lord parallels to what Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse: (1) Son of Man will return in the clouds (Matt. 24:30), (2) a trumpet call will be heard (Matt. 24:31), (3) gathering the saints from the ends of the earth (Mk. 13:27), (4) no one knows when the Lord will return for his saints (Matt. 24:42), and (5) the return of Jesus is like a thief in the night (Matt. 24:43). The rapture completes God’s dispensation of the church prior to the tribulation. In Revelation 1-5, the church is mentioned nineteen times. But in Revelation 6-19, nowhere is the church mentioned. It is absent from the text. The only mentioning of the church is the 24 elders in Revelation 4:4; 5:5-6, 8-14. Which, in fact, are heavenly events (not earthly ones) that occur during the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (which is with the church saints). Furthermore, no other NT passage that describes the tribulation period mentions the church (Matt. 24:15-31; 2 Thess. 2:1-11). The tribulation is God’s judgment upon Israel, not the church. This is a preparation time for Israel’s restoration (Deut. 4:29, 30; Jer. 30:4-11; Dan. 8:24-27; Mal. 4:5-6).

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.Notice, when the Lord returns for his church, there will be a cry of command, a voice of an archangel, and finally, the sound of a trumpet. Cry of command (Shout of the Lord)—It is hard to interpret what the sound will be. A more likely view, one that supports various passages, is Jesus gives a command to raise the dead. In Jn. 11:43, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” In Jn. 5:28, Jesus said those “in the graves shall hear his voice.” Voice of an archangel—Scholars debate whether this is a reference to Michael the Archangel mentioned in Dan. 10:13 and Jude 9. The voice from the Archangel is probably a shout of triumph. Trumpet of God (1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:16; Rev. 4:1)—This is not the same trumpet mentioned in Rev. 11:15-18; Joel 2:1; Matt. 24:31. In the Bible, the sound of trumpet means two things: a summon for battle and/or a summon for worship (Num. 10:1-3). Most scholars believe the trumpet at the rapture carries both meanings. Prepare for heavenly hosts for the battle to come with Satan, the Antichrist and many of the Gentile nations, as well as a call for the church to be “caught up” to heaven to worship the Lamb (Rev. 4-5).

The rapture trumpet is distinct because in 1 Thess. 4:16 it says the “sound of the trumpet” comes after Jesus gives a “cry of command” and the “voice of an archangel.” At the rapture, Jesus is accompanied by an archangel and at the Second Coming, Jesus is accompanied by angels (2 Thess. 1:7). We are also told by Paul that at the last trumpet sounds (1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:16), Christians will be translated into their resurrected bodies (1 Cor. 15:52-58; 2 Cor. 5:2-4) prior to the tribulation period (Rev. 4-19). In Isa. 27:12-13, the prophet announces a coming gathering after the trumpets are sounded: “In that day from the river Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt the Lord will thresh out the grain, and you will be gleaned one by one, O people of Israel. 13 And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain at Jerusalem.”

5. 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.Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, “The Greek word from which we take the term ‘rapture’ appears in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, translated ‘caught up.’ The Latin translation of this verse used the word rapturo from the Greek harpazo, which means “to snatch or take away.” Elsewhere it is used to describe how the Spirit caught up Philip near Gaza and brought him to Caesarea (Acts 8:39) and to describe Paul’s experience of being caught up into the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-4). Thus, there can be no doubt that the word is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 to indicate the actual removal of people from earth to heaven.” Those who are alive at the rapture will be translated into their resurrected bodies. 1 Cor. 15:52 says the rapture will be in a “blinking of an eye.”

    • Jesus departed to prepare a place for us and promised he would return (Jn. 14:1-3)
    • The rapture is a picture of a Hebrew wedding. A covenant is made, Jesus goes to prepare a place for his bride (Jn. 14:1-3), and when ready, he will come get his bride (the church) unexpectedly (Jn. 14:3; Rev. 19:6-16). The marriage supper of the Lamb will happen before the Second Coming and prior to the Millennial kingdom.

6. Meet the Lord in the air—The word meet, apantēsis, signifies a delegation party that gathers outside the city to welcome and honor a dignitary. Thus, the concept addressed by Paul indicates that after the church is raptured—we will escort the Lord to the earth. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the New Testament, “Such processions of leading citizens going out to welcome and accompany a visiting ruler or official back to the city were common in Hellenistic times. The term apantēsishas this same sense in its two other New Testament occurrences: The wise virgins with their oil-filled lamps meet the bridegroom and escort him back to the banquet (Matt. 25:6); the Christians in Rome walk south to meet Paul on his prison journey and escort him back to the capital city (Acts 28:15). The picture that Paul presents, therefore, is of the church—consisting of both deceased (but now resurrected) and living Christians—meeting the descending Christ in the air and then escorting him back to earth.”

7. Always be with the Lord—The consummation will occur. From new birth to everlasting life in perfect harmony with the Lord.

8. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. Paul’s words about the sudden return of Christ for his church was a new teaching that was meant to bring comfort to the new believers in the Macedonian region.