1Th 4:15-18 “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.”
To the world, the notion that the dead shall live is a myth. As has been evidenced by the many stories, and later movies and TV shows, life after death is not always seen as glorious. For some, it is comprised of monsters with only one instinctual desire; to destroy and kill. Others believe that we are reborn as some other life form depending on how behaved in our “first” life and continue this cycle until we finally reach a pure state where we are then one with the universe.
Paul was not interested in tearing down the belief of others, but in making sure he lifted up the believers in Christ. He made this abundantly clear in the fact that he addressed the church with the words “…if we believe that Jesus died and rose again… (v.14).” This wonderful belief does not originate in the intellect of man, but only in the gift of faith from God through the Holy Ghost (Eph 2:8). If we believe the doctrine of the death and resurrection of Jesus, then we are able to hear what Paul is saying.
Note that Paul does not claim any personal authority in the declaration that he is about to make. He tells us that what he is about to say to us is according to the word of the Lord. Paul may be saying that he has gained this understanding through being blessed in his study of the scripture, or he may be making the same claim to direct, divine revelation as did the prophets when they said “And the word of the Lord came unto me.” Whichever meaning Paul had in mind by this, one thing is certain; this is a matter of current-day comfort to the believing church.
By the authority of the word of the Lord, we are assured that there is a day coming when the Lord Himself will descend from heaven. The word rendered as “descend” here comes from the Greek word meaning “to step down.” This is a wonderful picture of how close eternity is. While men often depict His coming as though it were a descent from some great distance, He has but to “step down” to put this wondrous event in motion.
He will surely step down with power and authority. The word “shout,” according to Strong’s means “a cry of incitement.” Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines incitement as meaning “that which moves to action.” It is not referring to just a loud noise or as the culmination of some great warfare (for that is already accomplished). Rather, this is the triumphant and irresistible command of God to awaken those that are asleep (dead).
When this glorious command is heard, the dead in Christ shall rise first and the saints that are alive at the time will not precede (prevent) them. But we shall all be caught up together with Him and we will forever be with Him without this veil of mortal flesh to interfere with our communion. Mere words can never do justice the glorious truth the He is our resurrection.
I realize there are those who see the teaching of the resurrection as somewhat of a metaphor. They recognize the physical resurrection of Christ, but feel that our resurrection is found in the spirit going back to God who gave it at the time of our “death” here. While there are certainly many spiritual applications to both death and resurrection, the language here gives me no reason to see this as anything other than Paul teaching that when those who belong to Jesus die a physical death (sleep), there will also be a physical resurrection.
If the spirit comes from God and returns to God immediately upon our physical death, then I cannot see where the spirit dies. It was not until after Jesus, as the son of man, had commended his spirit back unto God that he died. If the resurrection is the restoring of life to one who was dead and the spirit does not die (having come directly from God and returning directly to God), then the spirit’s return to God cannot rightly be called a resurrection. Of this I am certain: there is a resurrection wrought by Jesus Christ with great power and authority. It shall be carried out exactly as God designed that it should be, and man’s belief or lack thereof does not change God’s holy purpose or power.
May we, by God’s grace, always use these words to comfort one another in this present time!