Lesson 16: For we will be rejoined with them when Christ returns - Page 1 (series: Lessons on 1 Thess.)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Tom Lowe

Lesson 16: For we will be rejoined with them when Christ returns (1Th 4:15-18)

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 (NIV)
15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

The picture Paul draws of the day when Christ will return is poetry, an attempt to describe what is indescribable. At the Second Coming Christ will descend from heaven to earth. He will give the command and immediately the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God will wake up the dead; then the dead and the living alike will be caught up in the clouds to meet Christ; and from then on they will be forever with their Lord. We{1] are not meant to take with crude and insensitive literalism what is a prophet’s vision. It is not the details which are important. What is important is that in life and in death the Christian is in Christ and that is a union which nothing can break.

Lesson 15

(4:15) According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.

These words, as spoken by Jesus (“According to the Lord’s word”) are not found in the Bible, leading some commentators to think they were spoken by a prophet of the early church or that they represent the apostle’s thinking. But all such explanations seem unnecessary when we have the simple one, that it was said by Jesus, but was not recorded in the Bible. If we had reason for thinking that all He said is recorded, matters would be different. But as it is, we are expressly told that many things are not recorded in the Gospel record (John 21:25{6]). I believe this is one of them.

The second coming is a subject of such vast importance that the apostle was anxious to show that he had the highest and most incontrovertible authority for the statements he uttered―they came from the mouth of the Lord. The message of verses 13-18 is a direct revelation from the Lord given expressly to Paul. He had a special revelation from heaven, and spoke under the direct and immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Paul was a chosen vessel, ordained of God as an apostle and a minister to the Gentiles to reveal unto them the mystery that was hidden from the beginning. To Paul God gave very special and remarkable revelations concerning His dealings with the Church, the bride of Christ.

The second advent of Christ is especially taught in the Holy Scriptures (Matthew 24:3; Mark 8:3; etc.). Paul believed in the eminent return of Jesus, although he did not at any time say that Christ would come during his lifetime. We do not know the day, nor the hour, but we do know that the Word of God has been fulfilled―and surely Jesus is at the door and could come before you can take another breath.

(4:16) For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel{2] and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven.”
Among the words of consolation in the parting discourse of Christ to His disciples was the promise that after His departure, He would come again and receive them unto Himself. For nearly two-thousand years the Church has been strained with profound, intense, and anxious expectancy; but still the promise remains unfulfilled. WILL HE COME? ARE THE HOPES OF THE CHURCH DOOMED TO BE FOREVER UNFULFILLED? If a question like these flits across the mind for a moment that doesn’t mean that the Church has lost confidence in the promise. Faith in the second advent of Christ is more widely spread and more firmly held today than ever before. The long wait has sharpened the longing, brightened the hope, and clarified the vision. With these words the apostle assures the Thessalonians of the second coming of Christ.

Only the doctrine of the atonement has more prominence than the return of Jesus in the Bible. In the New Testament the return of Jesus is mentioned 318 times. For each time the Bible speaks of Jesus’ first coming, it speaks 8 times of His second coming. How could such a truth have become so insignificant today, when it was so significant and obvious in the Bible and to the Early Church?

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven (from the Father’s house)” with a shout; but when Jesus comes in the air with a shout He will not touch this earth, nor will those on earth see Him at that time. He will descend in the air in the clouds and call us up to meet Him. Later, at the end of the Tribulation and reign of Antichrist, Jesus will stand on the Mount of Olives as recorded in Zechariah 14:4.

“With a loud command, with the voice of the archangel{2] and with the trumpet call of God.”
No one can miss it because there will be the triumphant shout of the Lord Himself: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven.” Just before Jesus took His last breath from that rough wooden cross He cried with a loud voice, and though there was the ring of victory in that cry, it sounded more like a conscience relief from unutterable suffering. But the sound of Jesus on His second coming will be like the loud, clear, joyous battle shout of a great Conqueror. That shout will break the silence of the ages, will startle the universe into attention, will raise the dead, and summon all people into the presence of the victorious Messiah. This word of command by which the Lord will announce His coming for His saints will rouse the sleeping bodies of believers who have fallen asleep in Christ. They will shake off the fetters of the grave, they will rise to be glorified in a body that is like His own glorified body (1 John 3:1-3); “then we which are alive and remain” will instantaneously be caught up with them to meet the Lord in the air―and it will all be over in the twinkling of an eye!

I wonder what the “loud command” will be. Perhaps the word “Come!” Standing before Lazarus’s tomb Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43). In John’s experience on the Isle of Patmos, he wrote, “The voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here’” (Rev. 4:1). Whatever word He chooses will be fine―just so I hear it.

There will be “the voice of the archangel{2].” The angelic hosts are arranged in a hierarchy of various ranks and orders. The archangel is the chief of the heavenly multitude. In response to the majestic shout of the descending Lord, the archangel lifts up his voice, like the loud cry of the herald announcing the glorious advent, and the sound is taken up and prolonged by the vast hosts of celestial attendants. The meaning may be that the voice that is uttered will be a very great voice, an Archangel type of voice. But more probably the meaning is that some archangel will add his voice to the call that wakes the dead.

Then there will be the trumpet blast, “with the trumpet call of God.” The trumpet sounded by the command of God―such a trumpet, perhaps, as is used in the service of God in Heaven. Trumpets are often mentioned in the Old Testament in connection with times of festivity and triumph. They were a frequent accompaniment of great religious occasions. Paul speaks of the trumpet elsewhere in connection with the Second Coming. It fits in as part of the pageantry, stressing the majesty of the Lord and the greatness of the day. Besides the shout of Jesus and the voice of the archangel, the sound of the trumpet will also be heard in the host. It is called in 1 Corinthians 15:52 “the last trumpet”; and in Matthew 24:31 we read, “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

and the dead in Christ will rise first.
“We tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep . . . and the dead in Christ will rise first” (4:15-16). On this day, the living―who, it would seem, would be spared the necessity of dying and undergoing corruption―shall, nevertheless, have no advantage over the dead. Before any change takes place in the living to make them fit for the new condition of things, the dead in Christ shall rise first, and be clothed with immortality and incorruptible splendor. They will occupy the foremost place in His glorious appearing. The “dead in Christ” were absent from the body, but were at home with the Lord, and therefore, when the Rapture occurs it will happen suddenly; they will come with Him in the air only seconds before the translation of the living saints (2 Cor. 5:6-8{7]; Phil. 1:23). The living saints will be removed from the earth by a powerful, irresistible force, seized and snatched up to meet our Savior in the clouds. Paul does not speak of the resurrection of the faithful departed, and we are probably right in assuming that was taken for granted. What worried the Thessalonians was not whether their friends would rise, but whether they would have any share in the great events associated with the Second Coming of Christ.

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