Resurrection and reunion in the Rapture

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18–
13. 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.
14. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15. 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.
16.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:
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.
18.Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

I listened to a famous radio preacher speak on the Rapture, or being caught up, from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. He did a good job of it, but I take issue with him on one matter. It’s his handling of verse 14. His view is commonly held, so mentioning his name would serve no purpose.

He muddled through his explanation of this verse, but his commentary was contradictory and unclear. I wondered how many of his listeners were like me and found themselves unsatisfied.

You may be asking whether I think I can give a better explanation than a world famous, seminary-trained preacher. The answer is yes, or I wouldn’t write this. All I ask is that you follow me to the end of this piece and draw whatever conclusion God leads you to.

The concept expressed by the preacher is a familiar one. We’ve all heard it. It says that the dead in Christ are now in heaven, but somehow need to be brought back from there at the Rapture to be reunited with their bodies in resurrection.

But, I must ask, if dead believers are in heaven in some glorified form, as most believe, why bother with the retrieval of decayed bodies?

This brings up the question of what death really means. Allow a brief digression, which some may find upsetting; but I need to lay ground work for what follows.

Death is the cessation of life. For the believer, our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and we will be resurrected to eternal life. That eternal life can’t begin at death, or death isn’t really death.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s focus is on resurrection. No mention is made of the dead being in some kind of soulish, intermediate state.

Back to 1 Thessalonians 4:14. In the King James Bible the verse says, For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

When we look at the first part of that sentence, the focus is on resurrection. The thought is that, if Christ was resurrected, shouldn’t we expect the dead to be resurrected, too? Indeed, those who have died as believers will be resurrected at the great catching away. They’re not gone forever.

Paul reassures his readers in these latter verses of 1 Thessalonians 4that, at the Rapture, we who are alive will be reunited with those believers who have died before us.

But let’s hone in a bit more on 1 Thessalonians 4:14. I believe resurrection, not reunion of the body with the soul, is how we must see this verse.

I owe a debt of grattitude to my late friend Gerald Franz for helping to clarify the meaning of this verse. He wrote a piece called Who Does the Bringing? In it he quoted from the New International Version of the Bible, which helps shed light here. It says…

For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

In the Rapture Jesus will come in the clouds as promised in Acts 1:9-11. It is He who resurrects the dead in Christ first and takes them with Him. Immediately following is the catching up of those of us who are believers and still alive at the time of the event.

In other words, Christ doesn’t bring believers from heaven to be reunited with their dead bodies in resurrection, only to take them back up. He endows the dead bodies of believers with life, and brings them to heaven.

Those who will ascend to heaven are the resurrected dead in Christ as well as those of us believers who are alive at the time of the event. We will all meet Him in the clouds.

But where does God fit into the picture? After all, He’s the one who’s mentioned in the KJV translation of 1 Thessalonians 4:14. It is He who empowers Christ and brings all of us together–along with Jesus–to be with Him in heaven.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at what Jesus told Martha in John 11:25-26, which says…

25.Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
26.And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?

Let’s not overlook the obvious. We have to be dead to be resurrected. Once resurrected, we shall never die because we’ll have eternal life.

And it’s all because Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Those of us who die as believers–we’re in Christ–can put our full confidence in Him for raising us from the dead.

John 14:2-3 makes sense when seen in this light. It says…

2.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.
3. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

If we’re already in heaven when we die, why does He have to come back for us?

Because we’re not in heaven immediately after death. Neither are we in hell or some other place of limbo. But that’s another matter I won’t get into here.

At the Rapture, the dead in Christ will be raised from the dead as 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 points out. It’s just that simple.

Of course, the good news for those of us who are alive at the time of the Rapture, or catching away, means we won’t have to be concerned with being resurrected.

As Paul exhorts in 1 Thessalonians 4:18, we should comfort one another with these wonderful truths.

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