Since the passage in 1 Thess 4:13-18 is the core passage that teaches on the rapture and is used by both the pre-tribulation and non-pre-tribulation view, it would be worthwhile taking a little time to digest what Paul is teaching and why. 1 Thess 4:13 gives us the answer to the ‘why’ question, for he writes: But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. Here we see the reason why Paul writes the rapture passage, because he doesn’t want the Thessalonians to be ignorant about those who have fallen asleep, otherwise, Paul writes, they will be sorrowful like those who have no hope. Paul’s intent is to tackle their ignorance by teaching them what they are unsure of, so that they won’t sorrow, on the contrary, he wants to reassure them, verse 18 reads ‘Therefore comfort one another with these words’. What words does Paul intend for them to comfort each other with? We can discern why the Thessalonians were troubled, when we read what Paul wrote: 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. The Thessalonians were concerned about those who had died: would they be resurrected and would they see them again? It was about their longing to be together. That’s why Paul writes the way he does, he says, we shall be gathered together with them. This is the assurance Paul comforts the Thessalonians with and us, for this is our hope also, that we shall see our loved ones again, those who have gone before us and are now asleep in the Lord shall arise and we shall be gathered together with them to meet the Lord in the air. Wow what a wonderful day that will be, what a glorious triumph. For if we believe Jesus died and rose again, shall we not also believe that those who are in Him, yet asleep, shall rise also? But more than this: those you long to be re-united with shall return with the Lord when He comes. At this point of course it would be their departed souls coming with the Lord to receive their new glorified body at the impending resurrection. Paul continues in verse 15 ‘For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive [and] remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.’ Paul’s use of the phrase ‘by the word of the Lord’, is incredibly emphatic. He’s saying, these aren’t my words, I didn’t make this up, this is what the Lord has said, and this is His word to you, not mine, that we who are alive until the Lord’s coming will by no means precede those who are asleep. ‘By no means’ also places special emphasis on this point, in other words: absolutely in no way will the dead in Christ not be raised first, the rapture comes after the resurrection not before. Did you notice something else here in verse 15? Paul writes the word of the Lord as follows: “we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord” Paul understood those who are alive shall remain until the coming of the Lord, they wouldn’t be raptured before this time, but would remain until He comes. This then is our next foundational marker: the resurrection/rapture doesn’t happen until the coming of the Lord. Let’s continue to read the rest of the passage 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 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.
Since we now know that the resurrection/rapture happens when the Lord returns, if there was a way to put a chronological marker for when that day might be, then we have completed mapping out the stages of the rapture and have been able to anchor it to a specific event which can be measured. Without this kind of mapping we are left with a “Christ could return any time” imminency perspective, or a secret rapture theory. So, is there a way to peg this ‘coming of the Lord’ that Paul writes of in 1 Thess 4 to another event that positions it securely on our timeline? Sadly, we are out of time for today, so this is where we’ll pick up from next time.