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Very simple passage on the surface if you separate it from all the complex issues related to timing and harmonization with other texts about the return of Christ –

Two different groups of believers in view:

1) those who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord – they are all potentially in this category along with the Apostle Paul; we as believers today are in this same category

2) those who have fallen asleep (already died and gone to be with the Lord in spirit – waiting for their bodies to be resurrected so that they could once again be a whole person – body and spirit united in the presence of Christ)

The Context is tremendous anticipation of the climactic return of Christ – the event called the Rapture of the Church – from the Latin word for the Greek word here translated “caught up”; often hear this text at funeral services because of the comfort it provides

Problem: It seems like the Thessalonian believers were convinced of the imminent return of Christ so that this was a real issue to them – not something that they expected would not happen for 2000 years.  (In fact, some had irresponsibly stopped working and were fanatical in their focus on Christ’s return.  They needed Paul’s admonitions to keep loving the brethren and to quiet down and keep working at all their responsibilities … for they do not know the hour or the day.)  They were concerned about their fellow believers who had died before the Rapture.  They were bothered by the possibility that when the Lord returns they might have to wait until after the millennial kingdom before they would be reunited with their loved ones.  Were these dear believers going to miss out on the coming Kingdom?  When will we see them again?

Remember the timeline of the Pre-Wrath Rapture:

Pre-Wrath Rapture Timeline

Marvin Rosenthal: Many pretribulation rapturists argue that believers are to encourage one another with the prospect of the imminent return of the Lord.  Following a classic Rapture text (1 Thess. 4:13-17) in which Paul taught that both the dead in Christ and those who are alive would be caught up at His coming to ever be with the Lord, he admonished believers, “Wherefore, comfort one another with these words” (I Thess. 4:18).  What kind of comfort can be offered if men must first experience the Tribulation period?  Therefore, the Rapture must be pretribulational.

In response to this argument, two points are made.

  • First, Paul did not teach the Thessalonians that the Rapture was imminent.  Quite the contrary, he taught that the apostasy must occur first, and that then the man of sin must be revealed (2 Thess. 2:3).
  • Second, for the believer to realize that he will be raptured before the trumpets and bowls of God’s wrath are poured out – before Armageddon occurs – is a great and glorious word of comfort.  Not only is there comfort in the realization that believers will be spared the wrath of God but also in the fact that those who persecute the believers will be themselves the object of that wrath (see 2 Thess. 1:6; I Peter 4:17).  That is precisely what the prewrath Rapture teaches.

In 2 Thessalonians, Paul provided some instruction regarding some essential precursor events that would have mitigated the sense of imminency.  Remember the timeline of the Pre-Wrath Rapture view.

When you compare the language used here to the description of Christ’s coming in the Olivet Discourse in Matt. 24 you find a large number of clear parallels that point to the same event being discussed.  So there is no seven year separation between the Rapture of the church and Christ’s coming in glory and power as taught by the pre-trib camp.

Tremendous passage about being reunited with our believing loved ones and being united with the physical presence of Jesus Christ.  [Think about someone specific whom you have lost as we go through this passage.]

Spiritual Algebra Lesson:

K + F  → H     Hope is what we want to take away from this passage today; confident hope;

Most people just have vague dreams about the future; they want things to turn out a certain way

K + F  =  C      Knowledge alone just puffs up – but necessary; we need more knowledge;

 Faith alone is ridiculous (“Believe”); Illustr: “your faith is so strong” – faith is nothing; it is the object of our faith that is key; we need stronger faith

C    →  H    Convictions must be embraced and lived out

I have developed a conviction about church leadership – drives my behavior; others don’t share that conviction – diff understanding; diff application of personal faith

A couple of you are getting ready to go off to college –

– What is your conviction about dating only believers?

Rationalizations: It’s only a date; I won’t get emotionally involved … want to have fun

– What is your conviction about the priority and importance of the local church?

No time; need to catch up on my sleep; have fellowship and bible studies with some of my college friends during the weed

A couple of you just coming back and starting to live on a more independent basis – Your convictions will determine your priorities and how you live;

– What is your conviction about seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness

Career defines who I am – most important thing

– What is your conviction about being a vocal witness for the Lord

People will be saved through my actions … not if you don’t say anything

– What is your conviction about working hard to give God the glory in everything?

Or can we just be lazy and only have to be serious about spiritual things like prayer and our devotions …

We are developing a generation of mindless and faithless Christians – they have no convictions to govern their actions

What type of Hope are you going to have when you lose a loved one?  How will you grieve any differently than a non-believer?

3 parts to message tracking the 3 parts of this formula – Emphasis on Knowledge … on Faith . . . on Conviction – giving Hope

Don’t lose sight of the goal – want to come away with a firm HOPE

Stedman and Stott: Simple Outline

  1. Return
  2. Resurrection
  3. Rapture
  4. Reunion




That is why we spent 2 weeks laying the groundwork for some systematic knowledge about end time events – need some structure in our thinking; some precision; some distinctions between things that are similar but not the same [Eschatology Overview]

A.  Uncertainty Regarding Lost Loved Ones Intensifies the Grieving

– What does the future hold?

– Are the dead in Christ going to lose out in some way?

– When will we be reunited with our loved ones?

  1. The importance of knowledge
    But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren

This is an emphatic expression Paul uses when he wants to clarify some point of doctrine or relieve anxiety on the part of his fellow believers or shed light on some area of his own motivation or itinerary – often with reference to something where they might not have had all of the details laid out to them clearly before

5 usages of this phrase in the NT —

Rom. 1:13 – “often I have planned to come to you” – his desire to minister in person to the believers in Rome

Rom. 11:25 – reference to the mystery of the present partial hardening of the Jews to allow the Gentiles to be grafted in during this church age; as well as the future salvation of all of the nation of Israel after the fullness of the Gentiles

1 Cor. 10:1 – reference to spiritual privileges enjoyed by that generation of Jews who experienced the miracle of the deliverance from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea and yet did not respond with the proper faith and spiritual discipline to avoid idolatry and temptation

1 Cor. 12:1 – the whole subject of spiritual gifts and how you need to minister them in the context of love to build up the body

2 Cor. 1:8 – some type of serious persecution and danger that brought Paul and his missionary team to the brink of death somewhere near Ephesus after the writing of 1 Corinthians

Lack of knowledge makes them prime targets for the false teachers who would try to alarm them with misrepresentation of end time events.

Now” – link to previous section – while I want you to live responsibly – I don’t want you to lose your passion for the Lord’s return – but let’s have the right understanding about all that Christ’s return will involve — Christian life is one of balance and moderation – not extreme fanatacism where you live like an unbalanced fanatic

Paul was all about bringing knowledge to bear on the situation so that his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ would walk by faith in accordance with their calling; how can we be content to remain uninformed when Christ wants us to be informed about the future?

  1. The area of concern = the status of those sleeping

about those who are asleep

18 NT references – 5 to physical sleep; 13 to the death of believers

Restful, peaceful, temporary, pleasant, removed from pain and pressure

Body is still, motionless (for the most part); rest from your labors of the day;

Stedman: That term, by the way, is never used in the New Testament of anyone but believers. It never says of a non-believer when he died that he “fell asleep.” There is a wonderful lesson in that. It shows that death, for the believer, is nothing more than sleep. . . You know that they are quietly resting, that they will awaken again, and that you will have contact with them again soon. That is why the New Testament regards the death of believers as nothing but sleep.

Jesus declared of the daughter of Jairus who had died, “She is sleeping,” (Mark 5:39, Luke 8:52). It is a wonderfully encouraging word for those who are facing the death of dear ones.

Mayhue: This did not represent some kind of “soul sleep”, as taught by Jehovah Witnesses or Seventh Day Adventists, that the spirit or soul after death is in an unconscious state.  When a Christian dies, the body is committed to the grave (1 Cor 15:42), but the spirit is in the presence of the Lord, very much awake (2 Cor 5:8).

  1. The nature of the grieving process

that you may not grieve” – Natural to grieve at our separation and loss

Interesting – look at the occasion when Jesus wept at the grave of LazarusWhy did He weep?  Most commentators believe it was as the Jews at the time reported = because of how greatly Jesus loved Lazarus and how He empathized with the grief of Mary and Martha;

But there is another possibility: not actually because of the loss of a good friend and someone he cared deeply about – but because of the hardness of their hearts and their lack of faith that they did not have confidence in Christ to raise him up

John 11:4 – look at promise Jesus had made: “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” – look at how Jesus made a point to delay his coming to help for two days …

Vs 11Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep

Jesus wept; He was deeply moved – Why??  They were being critical of Him for not coming at once and not healing him before he died … when His objective was to glorify the Father by an even greater miracle – the resurrection

This perspective should change the way we view the death of a believer – opportunity for God to receive great glory; entrance of the believer into the certain hope of glory – with the certain prospect coming very soon of being reunited back with a glorified body

Stott: However firm our Christian faith may be, the loss of a close relative or friend causes a profound emotional shock.  To lose a loved one is to lose a part of oneself.  It calls for radical and painful adjustments, which may take many months.

Hiebert: The force of the original is to prohibit all sorrow for their dead.  We need not assume that Paul intended to prohibit that natural sorrow and sense of loss we feel at the death of loved ones, but he is prohibiting all sorrow which mourns the supposed loss sustained by loved ones because of their death.  Such sorrow is not for Christians.  For them to give way to their grief would be to act like the pagan world. (p.189)

B.  A Vacuum of Hope leads to unmitigated grief

as do the rest who have no hope.”

cf. the type of false hope that most people express upon the death of a loved one:

“they are better off”

“they are in a far better place” …

Hope is the distinguishing mark of Christians –

Eph 2:12  before we came to Christ, we were “separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” – pretty bleak picture

1 Peter 1:3-5  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time …”

Driving around province of Ontario Canada this past week – enjoying the sight of many beautiful homes on various lakefront estates – yet not envying the people who live there – because the home that Christ is preparing for us is so far more magnificent and we will enjoy it for eternity – not just for the brief moment of this day

Knowledge by itself is dead … or even worse … puffs up; must be linked with the personal commitment of faith



(Focus is not on the Timing – which is where Christians have so much debate)

A.  Faith in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus is the Sure Foundation of our Christian Hope

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again

Do we believe that God intervenes in history?

Are we looking for Jesus to return and prepared for His coming?

Not enough to just know the facts of the gospel message – even the demons know these facts and tremble – but it doesn’t give them any peace or joy; knowledge will not transform our lives and give us freedom from the bondage of sin

Christ took the sting out of death and transferred the victory from

the grave to the resurrection (1 Cor. 15)

It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming” = famous sermon by Tony Campolo (snippets of message with video) 45 minute classic message

There is no way imaginable that the followers of Christ will not experience the same

glorious resurrection as their Master = the first fruits – Certainty of our resurrection

Rom. 6-8  takes the facts of the death, burial and resurrection and shows how God gives us the victory right now in our battle with sin as we apply personal faith and view ourselves as united with Christ; as we appropriate the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit who is given to every believer

If we were put on trial with respect to our faith in Christ, would there be enough evidence to convict us?

B.  The Future Glory of Sleeping Believers is Assured at the Return of Christ

even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”

– Talk about the Great Awakening!




A.  Divine Revelation Validates Conviction

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord

No chance Paul got this message wrong;

Does this mean that Christ had personally taught these truths during His ministry … or that Paul had received some special additional revelation from the Lord on this matter . . .??

Source and Authority for these details come directly from the Lord

B.  The Equality of the Two Different Groups of Believers at the Return of Christ

  1. The Living will not have an Advantage over the Dead (:15)

that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede

                        those who have fallen asleep.”

Coming – Parousia – the personal presence and visitation of the King

Importance of Christian solidarity – that we not be separated from Christ or from each other; separation is painful

  1. Description of the Lord’s Impressive Climactic Return – cf details to Matt 24 account

a) Bodily, personal return

                        “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven

just as the disciples saw Him ascend up into heaven

not just sending some representative to collect the believers

Stedman: This is all suggested by the three sounds which the apostle connects with this initial appearing of Jesus. It is the Lord himself who will come. That always warms my heart. He is not going to send Michael, the archangel, or Gabriel, or Moroni, or anyone else. He is coming himself.

b) In spectacular glory, majesty, and authority –

                        “with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God

does not sound like a silent, secret coming here; victorious, exulting – for

believers; Paul not going into great detail here about the timing of all the events

… but trying to convey the majesty and triumph of the scene

Shout – implies both authority and urgency; probably similar to the Lord’s cry to Lazarus or Rev. 4:1 where John was summoned to “Come up here

Michael is identified as archangel in Jude 9; Daniel 12:1 – has been waiting a long time for God to once again take up His program with the nation of Israel

Problem for pre-trib position: concept of the last trump1 Cor 15:51-52 passage – how is this possible?  Other trumpets mentioned in Rev. 8-11 (during the great tribulation period) and Matt. 24:29-31 (at the Revelation of Christ)

Renald Showers (p. 259, ff) offers several possible resolutions to this apparent problem:

– In contrast to Ex. 19:10-20 the first trump of God was related to the Mosaic Law of God, because it called the people of Israel together to meet God and be placed under the law. – associated with ministry of death and condemnation – this last trumpet has the opposite purpose and signals the beginning of the end of death, the last enemy of mankind to be destroyed

– Associated with the fulfillment of the Jewish observance of the Feast of Trumpets – occurs before the Day of Atonement – which prefigures the purification of the nation during the Tribulation Period

– Possible military connotations

– sounds the end of the battle for the church and the march back to camp

– for the Roman guards, there was a first trumpet to start their watch and then a last trumpet to end their watch

  1. Priority Given to the Dead in Christ

and the dead in Christ will rise first

speaking of the bodies which will be united with the spirits which God is bringing with Him

Bible does not speak of just one general resurrection of the dead that all occurs at one point in time – even though Daniel 12:2 speaks of only two results from ultimate resurrection – without getting precise as to the timing (cf. John 5:28-29; Rom. 2:5-8) – telescopic sense we have talked about earlier.  Rev. 20:4-5 speaks of 2 resurrections – one before the millennium and one after; 1 Cor. 15 makes it plain that there are a number of different resurrections …

  1. Equality Accorded the Living in Christ

Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the

                        clouds to meet the Lord in the air

Stott: the Greek verb harpazo expresses suddenness and violence, as when the centurion ordered his troops to take Paul by force in order to rescue him from a possible lynching; threefold repetition of preposition ‘together with

be snatched away” – John 10:28; Acts 8:39; Rev 12:5

Bruce: Ref to “clouds” – not simply because clouds suggested themselves as convenient vehicles for transportation through space but because clouds are a regular feature of biblical theophanies; the divine glory is veiled in clouds, shines forth from them and retreats into them.”

Benware: This parallels Jesus’ ascension into heaven, when He was received up into the clouds (Acts 1:9). Clouds can, of course refer to literal clouds that may carry rain.  However, clouds are also used figuratively in the Bible to refer to the presence and glory of God (e.g. Ex. 14:19-24; 16:10; 19:9, 16; 20:21; 40:34-38).

  1. Both groups will have realized their goal of personal union with the Lord that will last forever

and thus we shall always be with the Lord

No kingdom on earth picture at this juncture; just looking at the big picture, not the details

Most important aspect of our future hope = spending eternity in the presence of

Christ, our Lord and Savior – be with Him whatever He is doing …

– if He is ruling over the Millennial Kingdom .. we are involved with Him in that;

– if He is enjoying His inheritance over all things, we are enjoying that inheritance with Him as co-heirs

(:18)  CONCLUSION:  Ultimately, a Message of Comfort and Encouragement = HOPE

Therefore, comfort one another with these words.”

MacArthur: He doesn’t say…Therefore would you please write out a large eschatological chart. No. He just says comfort each other. This is a comfort passage, friend, exactly like John 14 was. The Rapture always appears shrouded in mystery because it is seen always from the pastoral viewpoint as the great comfort of the believer that Jesus is coming for His own. Don’t worry about the ones that die, don’t worry about the ones that are alive, we’ll all be there when He comes. The God of all comfort will send Christ and we are thus comforted. No need to grieve. No need to sorrow.

We comfort one another in different ways

– sometimes just with our presence and support

– sometimes with a loving touch, a squeeze of the hands, a silent hug

– sometimes with the empathy of crying with those who cry

– Here, we comfort one another with Words of HOPE

reinforcing our Knowledge and strengthening our Faith so that we face the future with Conviction and embrace with confidence the Hope that we have in Christ’s return