Lesson 9: "Them Also Which Sleep in Jesus Will God Bring With Him." (I Thessalonians 4:14)
I Thessalonians 4:13-18
This is Lesson #9. Welcome again! We're going to divide section five on eschatology (4:13 - 5:11) into two parts. We'll cover only the last six verses in chapter 4 in this lesson, i. e. vs. 13-18. We'll save the part in chapter 5 for our next lesson. We'll start this lesson by reading those six verses, vs. 13 - 18. Are you ready? Get your eyes on 4:13. This is powerful stuff. Let's read. "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 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: 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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
O. K., back up to v. 13, and let's go verse by verse. In v. 13, Paul said, "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren..." Paul began with that, or a similar statement, several times other places in his writings; for example, see Rom. 1:13 or I Cor. 12.1. It is used several other places, also. There's a cute little story that's made the rounds for years about some old preacher back in the good-ole-days that misread-read Paul's statement like this: "Paul said, I wouldn't HAVE you ignorant brethren!" But, Paul was not disclaiming these brethren. He was saying that they did not know the truth "concerning them which are asleep." Now, "them which are asleep" (v. 13) has reference to death. This is a very interesting figure of speech, indeed. You see, sleep is a temporary phenomenon. Most of US sleep for a few hours and then we arise to the awake state. This is Paul's way of saying that death is not permanent. Job in the Old Testament asked the question, "If a man die, shall he live again?" (Job 14:14). Either the answer to Job's question is a resounding YES or the New Testament is a fake. The state of the dead is another of those great theological controversies that has been debated for centuries. Some have the state of the dead all figured out, at least they think so. The word "hades" means, very simply, "the place of departed spirits." In the King James Version, it is simply rendered "hell" in most places. Others simply translate hades as "the grave." Then, to complicate things, other words, meaning the place of punishment of the wicked, are translated "hell" also in the King James Version. So, the issue gets a little clouded at that point. Some have departmentalized hades, the place of the dead, into paradise and tartarus, with that great gulf of the Lazarus parable fixed in between. Maybe they're right, I don't know. My advice is simply this, be careful about trying to be smarter than you really are. Jesus kept things very simple. For example, Jesus said, "I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:40). Jesus left no question that it would happen. Jesus did not give us all the details and specifics how Jesus will do that. Jesus gave us what we need to know, yes. For example, in Matt. 25:32, in talking about the judgment, Jesus said it like this, "before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats..." Jesus didn't get into the details of the state of the dead, where it is , how it is departmentalized, how departed spirits are transported, and all that. John 1:3 says, "All things were made by him," i. e. made by Jesus. If he can handle that, it's not hard for me to believe Jesus the Christ can handle a bedroom of departed spirits. There is a place for my spirit and your spirit when we depart this life. Don't worry about the accommodations or the trip — worry about being READY when the time comes! We are servants, remember. That's Jesus' assignment to us. Isn't that what Paul was telling the Thessalonians up in 4:11 - 12? "Study to be quiet, and to do your own business." Now, we need to know a little about these things just to be good servants. That's why Paul tried to correct their misunderstanding here in v. 13.
Now, let me ask you, how could the Thessalonians have made such a gross blunder? Didn't they listen to Paul? You may have been taught these things since childhood; but, if you remember, Paul preached in their synagogue only three Sabbath days. He was with them, at most, only a few weeks. Most of them were Gentiles that had 'turned to God from idols" (1:9). So, apparently this question did not come up until after Paul departed Thessalonica. As we have already said, for some unexplainable reason, the brethren at Thessalonica were assuming that one must live until Jesus returns to be saved. That seems a little incredible to us; but, we've already discussed what a brief period these Gentiles had been Christians. Can you imagine a Christian brother dying with that understanding and that concept? Can you imagine what sorry it would bring upon the family of the deceased? Paul didn't want them to be ignorant on this point, v. 13. Their concept was wrong. Don't think of the dead as being lost; think of them as sleeping. Death doesn't change their relationship to the Heavenly Father. We think of sleep as sweet peaceful rest. If one has obeyed the Lord Jesus and served the Lord Jesus, there's no place for sorrow when one dies. It's like going for a peaceful nap, you see. So, Paul said, see "that ye sorrow not, even as others which have not hope." Now, if you don't know the Lord Jesus and you haven't obeyed him and you haven't served him, then you DO have something to worry about. You'll die just the same, of course — "it is appointed unto men once to die" (Heb. 9:27). Both the righteous and the unrighteous will awake from that sleep called death. Conditions will be quite different after that awakening. The righteous have a great hope in the next life with no reason for sorrow. The unrighteous, on the other hand, have no hope in the next life; they must face the ultimate in sorrow.
Jesus explained to the apostles, that all revelation did not come instantly and completely. Some things were revealed as needed. In John 16:13, that last night in the upper room, Jesus said, "when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, [i. e. when the Holy Spirit is come] he will guide you into all truth...and he will show you things to come." Paul through the Holy Spirit revealed these things about death to the Thessalonians. The Holy Spirit then saw fit to preserve the same thing for us. The apostle Paul, with his pen of inspiration, took a moment to explain how it will be at the other end of that bedroom-tunnel called death and hades — on the other side of the grave, if you will. May I point out, you don't really need to know this to be a Christian and to live the Christian life. Paul wants us to know this to relieve any sorrow and anxiety that might otherwise come from not knowing. So, comfort one another with these words (v. 18). Tune in v. 14 real sharp. "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again," you see, that is faith. That is the faith we must have to be a Christian. What was Peter's confession in Matt. 16:16? "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." What did Philip ask the eunuch and what did the eunuch believe? "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (Acts 8:37). Because Jesus Christ was God's Son, because Jesus died and rose again, Jesus can raise us from the dead also. To sleep in Jesus, v. 14, means very simply one who died with faith in Jesus and one who served the Master, (I.E.) to say: a Christian. Paul said very simply, "them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him." Now, one can understand THAT in a general way, without understanding the where and when and all the other details; but, the apostle, in the next few strokes of his pen (we call it vs. 15, 16, 17), gave us the most enlightening description of that moment in the whole Bible. It is one of the comforts of the scriptures. Paul said it "by the word of the Lord." Here is the most important point; when the end of this age comes, those still living on the earth at that time will have not advantage over those that are dead, even if they died centuries before. All will be equalized in that moment. Now, here's the way it will happen, v. 16: (#1) "the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout." The Lord shall descend from where? HEAVEN! The Thessalonians understood Jesus, the Son of God, waiting in heaven — take a look at 1:10. How does that jive with what the angels told the apostles on Mr. Olivet that day that Jesus ascended? The angel said, "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" (Acts 1:11). You see, I Thessalonians 4:16 sheds a lot of light on what the angels said that day on Mr. Olivet. On Mt. Olivet, it says a cloud received him out of their sight (Acts 1:9), (I.E.) out of the sight of the apostles. There will be this difference, of course, Jesus will be descending instead of ascending; and, Rev. 1.7 says, "he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth..." In other words, if we connect these two scriptures, it is saying that every person living upon the earth at that time, or that has ever lived upon the earth, will be there. Every eye shall see those curtains of the sky, called clouds, open up and the Lord of Glory will appear on stage. "Every eye shall see him." Now, notice closely, it will not be Jesus' representative or some angelic diplomat. AND, it doesn't say with the eye of faith as some try to make it read. The words very precisely say, "The Lord himself shall descend." He will descend "with a shout." Now, that's getting it down to a pretty fine description. Why will the Lord shout? Well, I don't know! Wait and see. All right, now, v. 16 (Point #2), "with the voice of the archangel." Now, when you first read that it may come through as a description of the Lord's shout, mentioned above. That apparently is not the idea. The word "archangel" occurs only one other place in the bible, the 9th verse of the book of Jude. There, the archangel is said to be Michael. Michael is mentioned in the book of Daniel, chapter 10 and chapter 12, and possibly other places. Michael is mentioned in connection with "his angels" in Rev. 12:7. That's all I know. Do you remember the conversation that Jesus had with Peter, James, John, and, Andrew on the side of the Mount of Olives, the last day Jesus went to the temple, Tuesday of Passover week? In Matt. 24.36, Jesus explained to those four apostles, "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." So, it would appear that even today, the angels are ready for harvest, just waiting for a signal from the Heavenly Father. So, the idea very well may be here in v. 16, that when Jesus will shout, the archangel will take his cue and will summon his angelic band for duty. That is, the voice of the archangel will also be heard at that time. This harvest work WILL BE DONE by the angels. Do you remember the parable of the tares, Matt. 13:41? "The Son of Man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom..." That parable shows the angels will separate the righteous from the unrighteous, the tares from the wheat. Then, back to v. 16, (Point #3), it says, "with the trump of God." At a later time, Paul wrote to the Corinthians (15:52) and gave this comment, "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." I'm going to let you sort that out; so, let's get to the next point. Verse 16 (Point #4), "and the dead in Christ shall rise first." Now, that's not all of that sentence; but, the question is, what's first? The dead in Christ, (I.E.) Christians, will be raised first. Now, when you say, this is first, that implies something else is second. In other words, an order of priority is established. Get it right now, "the dead in Christ shall rise FIRST." In v. 14, Paul said God would bring them that sleep in Jesus with him. Now, the end of v. 16 says, "the dead in Christ shall" be raised. You got it? Now, what's second? Notice that v. 17 starts off, "Then..." Then what? Well, put your finger on the text here, for just a moment. There is usually a great assumption - an ERRONEOUS ASSUMPTION - read into the text at this point. That assumption is simply this; it is ASSUMED that because it says the dead in Christ shall be raised first, that [are you listening?] the dead NOT - IN -CHRIST, (I.E.) the unrighteous dead, will be raised second. Did you assume that? If you did, back up — get it out of your thinking. The text did not say that. Some start assuming that there are two resurrections of the dead; a resurrection of the righteous and another resurrection of the unrighteous — two different resurrections and two different times. Some have got it all figured out; two resurrections, seven years between them, or a thousand years between them — forget it! The text didn't say that! That's an assumption. Assumptions can get you in trouble. Now, get back to where your finger is for just a moment. Paul was discussing ONLY the righteous dead. Paul didn't say ONE THING about the UN-righteous dead. NOT in this verse, NOT in the verses before this, NOT in the verses after this. Now, it is true the unrighteous dead will be raised, also. The unrighteous deal will be raised at the very same moment the dead in Christ shall rise. In the book of Revelation (1:7), it says, "EVERY EYE shall see him." It says "ALL kindred of the earth." That means EVERYBODY (righteous AND unrighteous); and, it even mentions those that pierced him, (I.E.) the Roman soldiers. Now, if you can get that second resurrection bit out of your thinking, wipe your slate clean; then, I've got a question for you, WHAT IS SECOND? If the dead in Christ shall rise first (v. 16), then what's second? Got the question? Look at v. 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." Ye got it? Forget about the unrighteous. They are not even discussed here. You see, at Thessalonica, they were sorrowing over the righteous dead, the dead in Jesus, that had died before Jesus returns. Paul said, FIRST the righteous dead would be resurrected. THEN ((I.E.) second) the living, "we which are alive and remain" SHALL BE CAUGHT UP TOGETHER WITH THEM. That is, the Christians that are living when the Lord returns will be caught up together with them, (I.E.) caught up with the Christians that God will bring with Him; them that are resurrected from the grave. O. K., our time is up. I'll see you in Lesson #10. Have a good day!