by Mike Ratliff
19 For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 NASB)
In my biblical research in order to answer the claims of Universalists, I have found that much of their “doctrine” comes from a mishandling of Sacred Scripture, especially those passages dealing with the state of the dead in Christ and who makes up those who meet the Lord in the air at his παρουσια or parousia or arrival or coming or presence. In this post we will look at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and attempt to unpack Paul’s statement about our Lord’s παρουσια.
What we must never forget my brethren, Christianity is simply another religion if we ignore our Lord’s παρουσια, It is vital to our doctrines. It is vital to the meaning and purpose of the Gospel. This is why any form of Christian Liberalism attacks both the Doctrine of Hell and the Doctrine of the παρουσια of Christ. This should make it evident of the power behind these attacks. He is both a liar and a murderer. Therefore, let us open God’s Word and dig into it to feed, learn the truth, and be encouraged in the Lord.
13 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. (1 Thessalonians 4:13 NASB)
13 Οὐ θέλομεν δὲ ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν, ἀδελφοί, περὶ τῶν κοιμωμένων, ἵνα μὴ λυπῆσθε καθὼς καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ οἱ μὴ ἔχοντες ἐλπίδα. (1 Thessalonians 4:13 NA28)
This passage is full of key words. In the NASB, the phrase “those who are asleep” translates κοιμωμένων. This is the Greek word for sleep or slumber and is often used to refer to those who have died, however, this is referring to the bodies of those who have died, not their Souls (cf. vv. 14, 15; 5:10; 1 Corinthians 15:6, 18, 20, 51). Paul is encouraging the believers in Thessalonica to μὴ λυπῆσθε, not grieve as those do who are still alive μὴ ἔχοντες ἐλπίδα, have no hope. In other words, there are those who do have hope and another group that does not. Paul is letting them know that they are among those who do have this hope and it also applies to those in Christ from their community who have already died. On the other hand, this other group does not posses this hope. Why? They and those they loved who have died are not in Christ. They do not possess this expectant blessed hope that genuine believers have.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 4:14 NASB)
14 εἰ γὰρ πιστεύομεν ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἀπέθανεν καὶ ἀνέστη, οὕτως καὶ ὁ θεὸς τοὺς κοιμηθέντας διὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἄξει σὺν αὐτῷ. (1 Thessalonians 4:14 NA28)
The resurrection of Christ, ησοῦς ἀπέθανεν καὶ ἀνέστη, Jesus died and rose again, is central not only to the Gospel, but also to God’s plan for history. It is the basis for the hope in the future resurrection of the body (1 Corinthians 15:42-57; Revelation 21:4). Paul again speaks of those who have fallen asleep, τοὺς κοιμηθέντας, those who have fallen asleep. These are the Christians who have already died. Their bodies were buried or burned or whatever, but their Souls went to be with the Lord until this great day when our Lord Jesus will return with them according to the will of power of God. Again, the word κοιμηθέντας in v14 refers to the body being asleep, not the Soul.
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 not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 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. 17 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. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 NASB)
15 Τοῦτο γὰρ ὑμῖν λέγομεν ἐν λόγῳ κυρίου, ὅτι ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι εἰς τὴν παρουσίαν τοῦ κυρίου οὐ μὴ φθάσωμεν τοὺς κοιμηθέντας· 16 ὅτι αὐτὸς ὁ κύριος ἐν κελεύσματι, ἐν φωνῇ ἀρχαγγέλου καὶ ἐν σάλπιγγι θεοῦ, καταβήσεται ἀπʼ οὐρανοῦ καὶ οἱ νεκροὶ ἐν Χριστῷ ἀναστήσονται πρῶτον, 17 ἔπειτα ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι ἅμα σὺν αὐτοῖς ἁρπαγησόμεθα ἐν νεφέλαις εἰς ἀπάντησιν τοῦ κυρίου εἰς ἀέρα· καὶ οὕτως πάντοτε σὺν κυρίῳ ἐσόμεθα. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 NA28)
These three verses covers the state of those who have already died in Christ now and what will happen to them at this glorious time and the state of those who remain, or are still alive, who are in Christ. Christ will return with the Souls of those who have died and will seize up together with them those are still alive who are in Him. He will gather them together with Him in the clouds. This is their resurrection. It parallels the resurrection of the Lord. He was crucified (died) and His body was buried, but He arose from the dead with His glorified body. For the believer this will also be the case. These who have already died are with Him now, but not with their glorified bodies. He will return with them to meet those who are in Him, but who have not died. These will all be brought together to receive their new bodies just as He did. (1 John 3:1-3; 2 Corinthians 5:3). The promise οὕτως πάντοτε σὺν κυρίῳ ἐσόμεθα, always be with the Lord, is a tremendous promise for the believer, but it is not for the unbeliever. This passage is only for those in Christ.
18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:18 NASB)
Amen, let us not lose the precious, blessed hope that all in Christ have. We are not of this world, but have been resurrected out of it in our new birth in Christ. We remain here for our sanctification and to obey the Lord in the Great Commission, i.e. making disciples from all nations. Some of us teach and disciple. Others preach the Gospel. Others minister as God directs. We all have roles in the Body of Christ. However, this blessed hope is for us all.
Soli Deo Gloria!