The Expository Files.


With a Shout, With the Voice of the Archangel, and With the Trumpet of God

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18


It is sobering and thought-provoking to read and compare the epitaphs of tombs under Rome from early centuries. They say volumes about the value of our faith and hope in Christ, and we can learn as much about that from the tombs of the unbelievers as we do from the tombs of the believers.

It is not hard to distinguish as to whether an epitaph belongs to a believer or an unbeliever. For example, there is this one: "Live for the present hour, since there is nothing else" and "I lift up my hands against the gods who took me away at the age of twenty though I had done no harm". Or how about this: "Traveler, curse me not as you pass, for I am in darkness and cannot answer".

Contrast these with the following epitaphs found on the tombs of Christian families: "Here lies Marcia, put to rest in a dream of peace" and "Lawrence, to his sweetest son, borne away of angels". At the beginning, as pagans were being delivered from the curse of unbelief by the grace of God and the power of the gospel, these new Christians needed to be taught about the eternal hope we all have in Christ Jesus. They were accustomed to looking at death as a bleak, hopeless thing of despair and darkness. In part, it is to answer this concern among new Christians that Paul writes the first letter to the Thessalonians.

The Text
"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 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, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus shall we always be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another with these words." (I Thessalonians 4:13-18).

We Are Assured By The Revealed Word of Christ
"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope...For this we say to you by the word of the Lord..." (I Thessalonians 4:13,15a). The point of this passage is that those who have died in the faith of Christ are at no disadvantage at all when Jesus comes again. They have not lost their reward in death. The man or woman of faith need not look at death as do the unbelieving. Another epitaph of an unbeliever read simply: "I was not - I became - I am not - I care not." But Paul refers to the dead as being "asleep" which is intended to show the temporary nature of death (cf. I Corinthians 15:6; John 11:11-15). We serve not the God of the dead, but "the God of the living." (Matthew 22:32). Paul does not forbid grief, but only a certain kind of grief; a hopeless, despairing grief. Even Jesus wept at the tomb of a friend (John 11:35; cf. Acts 8:2). But we need not any longer dread death as some sort of unbeatable enemy.

We Are Assured By the Resurrection of Christ
"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again..." (I Thessalonians 4:14a). It needs to be pointed out that this passage only deals with the death and resurrection of the righteous. Paul does not concern himself at all with the destiny of the unbeliever here, though other passages do (Acts 24:15,16; John 5:28,29; Daniel 12:2, etc.).

Jesus' resurrection affirms that there is such a thing as life after death. The Scriptures state that Jesus was only the first to rise never to die again (I Corinthians 15:20; 50-57). He has proven that He holds the keys of death and of Hades (Revelation 1:18). By the resurrection of Christ our confidence grows and our fear is cast down.

We Are Assured Through Jesus' Promise to Return
"...even so, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus....that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep." (I Thessalonians 4:14b, 15b). Jesus is coming! He promised that He would (John 14:1-3, Acts 1:11). Jesus always keeps His promises. He is loyal and faithful. He has already shown us His power, even over death. When Jesus comes, also present with Him will be the souls of those who had "fallen asleep in Jesus." The soul will be reunited with the body and the body will be changed and rise from the earth in an incorruptible state.

Then "we that are alive" will follow, also with bodies changed into an incorruptible state (I Corinthians 15:42-44). Some say Paul, because he used the term "we", mistakenly thought he would live until the Lord returned. But Paul knew that he may die before Jesus came again (Philippians 1:21-24; II Corinthians 4:14). He uses the term "we" because at the time of the writing he is identified among the living.

By the way, the word "prevent" in the KJV has changed its meaning in our language since that translation was made. In 1611, when the KJV was translated, "prevent" meant "to come before". Now it means "to restrain". This somewhat obscures the meaning of the passage to those that use that translation. The Greek word means "to precede".

We Are Assured That We Will Rise To Meet Christ
"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first." (I Thessalonians 5:16). There are three distinct sounds mentioned by Paul that will occur at the moment of Christ's appearance in the sky.

First, the Lord's shout. What will he say? I do not know, perhaps He'll say what mom use to say when she woke us up; "Rise and shine!" That would be appropriate for those who were about ready to "shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." (Matthew 13:44)!

Second, the voice of the archangel will join in. That would be Michael (Jude 9).

Finally, there will be the sound of the trumpet of God (I Corinthian 15:52). No one will sleep through that! Not even those who have been dead for two thousand years!

We Are Assured That We Will Be With Jesus Forever
"Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus shall we always be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another with these words." (I Thessalonians 4:17,18). Are you afraid of flying? Better get over it!

The phrase "caught up" is where we get the idea of "rapture" from. As far as a "secret rapture" that some believe in, I have absolutely no idea how it will be secret with all that trumpet blowing and shouting! At any rate, it involves all the righteous being "caught up" into the air to meet Jesus. It is then that He will take us home to that place He has prepared (I Corinthians 15:23-26). There we "shall always be with the Lord."

Do you think the Lord will come today? No? Then you better be sure you are ready (Luke 12:40)!

 
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 2.10; October 1995

 

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