“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. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”
Paul is expressing a wish or desire on his part with regard to the believers in Jesus Christ that they would not be ignorant about those believers who had already died. Here was one of the problems among the Thessalonian believers; they were all mixed up about the future of those believers who had previously gone to be with the Lord.
The Greek word for asleep means sleep in the sense of physical death of the believer. This word sleep is never used for physical death of the unbeliever, only the believer. Why only the believer? The reason is because while the body of a believer dies (sleeps), the soul and the spirit are awake in the presence of the Lord. When the soul of the unbeliever leaves the body it enters into torments, into suffering. The reason that the word “sleep” is used here for the body of the believer who has died is anticipation of the Resurrection. The resurrection of the believer is simply the soul and the spirit rejoining the body where and the body wakes up, and at that particular point it is changed to a body like that of the Son of God. “Them which are asleep,” then, referred to believers who had died in Thessalonica, and some of the people were upset. They were afraid that their loved ones who had already died and had gone to be with the Lord were going to miss the Rapture. The soul is never said to sleep. (II Corinthians 5:8) The believer’s soul is awake in the presence of the Lord. (Luke 16:19-31, Luke 20:38; Matthew 22:32)
Grieving is inevitable for those loved ones who have departed. However, that sorrow should never be the desperate type of sorrow of those who have no hope. We should never sorrow as those who have no hope. We definitely have a right to sorrow when believers depart to be with the Lord, but we have no right to carry on as though this is the end and that we will never see them again. If you have Bible doctrine in your soul you should never take such an attitude about a loved one. Death for the believer means to be face to face with the Lord. A believer should not be afraid to be with the Lord.
Verse 14 tells us why we are not to grieve as others do. If we believe is a first class condition meaning “if and we do.” Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again we need not be concerned with physical death. We can be free from worry and anxiety, and we can have the peace, the power and the inner happiness that belongs to us as mature believers. It is the resurrection of Christ that proves that the death of Christ is unique because He did not remain physically dead – He arose bodily. And because Jesus conquered physical death, believers will also conquer physical death.
The Rapture of the Church is defined as the act of being transported. Rapture is in view in verse 14, “God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” Once the Royal Family of God is completed, the Church will be resurrected (raptured) as the body of Christ to become the bride of Christ. When Christ returns for the Church He will bring all believers of the Church Age who have already died to be reunited with their bodies. Their bodies, along with all believers who remain on earth, will be instantaneously changed to glorified bodies like that of Christ. This was the hope (confident anticipation) the apostle Paul wanted the believers in Thessalonica to completely understand and believe.
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout and the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 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. Therefore, comfort one another with these words.”
The imminence of the Rapture means impending, or threatening to occur immediately. Rapture is used technically for the fact that no prophecy has to be fulfilled before the Rapture occurs. The Rapture will occur when the last member of the body of Christ is added by faith in Christ. The Church Age is the only dispensation in which there are historical trends and no prophecy. The Church Age began with a prophesied event — the baptism of the Spirit. Jesus prophesied this in the upper room just before He ascended. The Church Age terminates with the Rapture, which was also prophesied. There is no prophecy between these two events. This is the dispensation of the mystery doctrine.
No prophecy between the baptism of the Spirit and the Rapture means that the Rapture is imminent. It could occur at any time; no one knows the day or the hour. The resurrection of the Church is completely out of our control. Just as we have no control over the time and manner of our death, so we have no control over the time and manner of the Rapture. The resurrection of the Church is totally beyond our control because resurrection is the Lord’s victory. (I Corinthians 15:57, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”) While the Rapture is imminent, the Second Coming is not. Before the Second Coming occurs, there are many prophecies which must occur, e.g., the Rapture, the Tribulation, and the Judgment Seat of Christ. (Revelations 6-19)
The Rapture could have occurred at the time of James or Paul because no prophecy had to be fulfilled before the Resurrection occurs. Distortion of the imminence of the Rapture results in instability and foolish explanation or speculation about the time of the Rapture, as was the case in Thessalonica. James gives us an admonition regarding this in James 5:7-8, “Therefore, brethren, have patience until the coming of the Lord [Rapture]. The farmer waits with anticipation for the valuable production of the soil, constantly being patient until it has received the early and the latter rains. Have patience! Furthermore, all of you become stabilized in your minds because the coming of the Lord [Rapture] has approached with the result that it is drawing nearer and nearer.”
To have patience means to apply what you know. Patience is a system of thinking Bible doctrine, a system of concentration, the application of doctrine to experience. In effect, that application says, “As long as I’m alive, I have control over my life. I can, by positive volition, execute the protocol plan of God or, by negative volition, be a cosmic believer and be my own worst enemy.”
The farmer invests by sowing seed. He must break up the soil and sow the seed, and then he must wait. There’s nothing he can do while waiting; the seed will either come up or not. Either he will have production or he will not. In the time of this writing, that depended upon the soil and the rains. The farmer did not have control over those elements. Every day in the Church Age, the Rapture draws closer. Every day that the Rapture approaches, you still have control over your life as long as you live. You have control in the sense that you can be a winner or a loser.
The Thessalonian believers were very confused. They had learned about the imminence of the Rapture very early. Yet people were dying before the Rapture occurred, causing them to conclude that those who died wouldn’t be included in the Rapture. Their ignorance led to distortion.
Understanding and application of the doctrine of the Rapture provides stability for the royal family within the plan of God. (I Corinthians 15:58) The Rapture takes the sting out of death. (I Corinthians 15:54-57, “O death where is your victory, O death, where is your sting?”) The Rapture removes the hopelessness of grief. (I Thessalonians 4:13-14) The Rapture is a source of comfort in time of bereavement. (Philippians 1:6) The Rapture is a part of Ultimate Sanctification. (Ephesians 5:26-27) The Royal Family of God is purified at the Rapture. Human good and evil are burned at the Judgment Seat of Christ and the sin nature is removed.
The Rapture is the basis for confidence. The growth to spiritual maturity results in occupation with Christ, whereby the believer waits with confident anticipation for the Rapture. (Titus 2:13; Philippians 1:6; I Peter 1:3) The Rapture is categorized under three kinds of hope: a. Living hope (I Peter 1:3) b. Blessed hope (Titus 2:13) c. Purifying hope (I John 3:3)
A dispensation is an administration of God’s purpose for the human race, by which a person can adjust to the justice and righteousness of God.
God’s essence and character never changes, however, the way in which He deals with mankind does change. The various changes in administration prove to Satan that God is just in condemning him to the Lake of Fire. For regardless of God’s dealing with mankind, God’s grace and perfect justice is proven over and over again. Therefore, for us as believers and students of the Word of God, it is essential that we understand dispensations in order to rightly divide or handle accurately the Word of God. Failure to do so results in misunderstanding of current divine guidance and creates apparent contradictions in divine mandates for the believer. Salvation is the same in every dispensation; faith alone in Christ alone.
Each dispensation is unique. Under the dispensation of Israel, animal sacrifice was mandated; we no longer sacrifice animals, we use I John 1:9. Under the dispensation of the Gentiles, the father was the priest and represented his family and servants before God; in the Church Age we represent ourselves before God. Under the dispensation of Israel, believers were mandated to keep the law, in our dispensation Christ has already fulfilled the law and we now have a new law, the law of Christ. Under the dispensation of the Gentiles and Israel, the Holy Spirit indwelt very few believers and could be taken away; in the Church Age, the Trinity indwells the believer permanently. Under the dispensation of the Millennium Jesus Christ will rule the world not Satan. Under the dispensation of Israel, the church age was a total mystery. Under the dispensation of Israel, believers used the Faith-Rest Technique to fulfill God’s plan, we use the filling of the Holy Spirit.