Question:

I had a study with someone and this was his explanation of these Scriptures.

In I Thessalonians 4:13-17,

  • Verse 13: Paul doesn't want us to be ignorant concerning where are the dead. That's the subject.
  • Verse 14: God will bring those that have died back with him.
  • Verse 15: Them that are alive and remain will not go before them that have died. Why? Because they are already with him. That's what Paul doesn't want us to be ignorant of (where are the dead). It says we say this to you by the word of the Lord. Where is that written? It's in Ecclesiastes 12:7.
  • Verse 16: Notice the colon. The dead shall rise first. Why? Because they are already with him. And also note the trump of God. It's the same trump Paul spoke of in I Corinthians 15:52. It is the seventh trump in Revelation 10:7. Notice the mystery Paul spoke of.
  • Verse 17: Caught up means a snatching away quickly. Remember what Paul said, "in a twinkling of an eye." The word clouds here is a figure of speech. Paul uses the same word in Hebrews 12:1 to mean a great multitude. When Christ returns he's bringing back a great multitude (I Thessalonians 3:13; Jude 14; etc.). For example, ever seen a cloud of locust? The word "air" as it is used here doesn't mean sky or atmosphere. The Greek word is ah-ayr and it means to breath unconsciously or breath of life in the body. It's your spiritual body (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance). Paul is just explaining here where are the dead. Remember that's the subject, that's what he doesn't want us to be ignorant of. We cannot go before them who have died because they are already with him. They have already made that change and we who are alive and remain at the last trump will be changed also with them.
  • Verse 18: Comfort one another with these words and it should be a comfort to you knowing where your loved ones are. He also went on to say that it's commonly taught the righteous will be lifted off the earth and you will not find that written anywhere else in the entire Bible. In fact it contradicts scriptures. Psalms 37:11; Proverbs 2:21-22; 10:30 plainly tell us that the righteous will never be removed. The wicked are the only ones who are going anywhere. Christ taught this same thing in the New Testament.

I would like your thoughts on this. If you disagree with this teaching would you please explain it and give me scriptures to refute this? Thank you.


Answer:

I disagree with the analysis from the beginning and definitely with its conclusion.

"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope" (I Thessalonians 4:13). "Those who are asleep" is a reference to the dead. It is presented this way to emphasize that death is temporary and not permanent. Non-Christians, "the rest who have no hope" see death as permanent and final. Death to them is a tragedy, but it should be that way to Christians.

"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus" (I Thessalonians 4:14). Since Jesus dies and was resurrected, we know that we will be resurrected as well. The focus of what Paul is discussing concerns fellow Christians, those who are "in Jesus." It doesn't imply anything about non-Christians because that isn't under discussion at the moment. When Jesus returns, he will be bring with him the saints who have already died. "So that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints" (I Thessalonians 3:13).

"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 not precede those who have fallen asleep" (I Thessalonians 4:15). When Jesus returns, there will be a mass resurrection. "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth -- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:27-28). His argument that the righteous dead will not be raised because they are already with Christ is false. Paul elsewhere said, "For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible" (I Corinthians 15:52). In other words coming back with Christ and being raised from dead are equivalent terms.

"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord" (I Thessalonians 4:16-17). One mistake your friend is making is assuming that every mention of a trumpet is referring to the same thing. There is nothing in Revelation that indicates that the sounding of the seventh trumpet is the announcement of the Lord's second coming.

He does the same thing with the word "clouds." There is nothing in this passage or in the context of the Bible to indicate that Paul is using figurative speech. It is true that God coming with the clouds is a frequent image of God coming in judgment (Matthew 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Revelation 1:7), so if someone want to say this is another such imagery, I would not object because God has said that His saints would be with him in judgment (I Corinthians 6:2). But what he attempts to do with the words for sky and air are so stretched, that it is clear that he his trying overly hard to make the passage say anything but what it clearly states. Yes, the Greek word aer refers to what we breath, but this particular word is not use to refer to a man's spirit. Look at Acts 22:23; I Corinthians 9:26; 14:9; Revelation 9:2; 16:17 and see that each refers to the air that we breath, i.e. the atmosphere. The only other verse that uses aer is Ephesians 2:2 is a reference to the prince of the power of the air. Someone may argue about that one, but that still doesn't affect the meaning of aer in I Thessalonians 4:17, especially when it says talks about the clouds in the air.

Paul speaks of the same thing to the Corinthians, "Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality" (I Corinthians 15:51-53). Notice the order:

  1. The trumpet will sound
  2. The dead will be raised imperishable
  3. We who are alive will be changed from mortal to immortal as well.

Notice that your friend misapplied "the twinkling of an eye," which says how fast we will be changed and tries to apply it to how fast we will be caught up.

"Therefore comfort one another with these words" (I Thessalonians 4:18). At the very end, we see that he is trying to avoid acknowledging that the righteous will leave this earth. The one religious group that I know who teach this are the Jehovah's Witnesses. But the problem they face is that God is clear that the world will be destroyed when Jesus' comes again (II Peter 3:10-12; Revelation 21:1; Hebrews 1:10-12). Notice that regardless of his arguments, his points do not lead to the conclusion declared. He did not prove that the righteous remain on this earth.

The claim that the Bible claims the righteous remains on the earth is false. "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 14:3). Jesus left to be in heaven. He is telling his disciples that they will be with him at a later time. This is not restricted to just the disciples at that time, but it is for all who following Jesus. "Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24). If there is any confusion regarding where Christ will be: "Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God"" (Revelation 21:1-3). It won't be on the old earth because it will be gone. It will be a new place prepared by God for His people. Yes, the meek inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5), but we can inherit from the earth after it is gone.

The phrases in Psalms 37:11; Proverbs 2:21-22; 10:30 all are a contrast between the fact that the wicked tend to die early, leaving their possessions behind, but the righteous tend to live long and continue on after the wicked are cut off. This is true now in this world and more so when we go to our eternal home where there will be no more evil.