By Joey Davis

Those who believe in the rapture often quote 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 as proof for this particular belief. Will you give a brief description of the rapture and explain Paul’s statement in 1 Thessalonians?

Anytime the Bible student fails to learn the meaning of words in there context, he enters a dangerous realm. Such is the case with those who turn to this passage to teach their rapture theory. The general idea is that Jesus, at some point in the near future, will come back to earth and receive the righteous, both living and dead, and take them to Heaven. Immediately following this “Rapture” will be a seven year period of “Tribulation” that will bring about wrath and great suffering for the remainder of humanity. A subsequent return of Christ, this time with the raptured saints, will follow the tribulation and will amount to a one thousand year reign of Christ on a physical, earthly throne. This “Millennium” will culminate with the “Last Judgment” where the unrighteous will be cast into the lake of fire. This is a generalized explanation and such is necessary because of considerable disagreement regarding details even among those who believe this doctrine.

Amazingly, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is the “sugar stick” passage used by those who believe in the rapture. Yet, there is no indication that Paul, an inspired apostle (1 Timothy 1:1), who was guided into all Truth (John 16:13), had any idea of the above events. In the passage under consideration, Paul wrote:

             But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

Paul’s statement evidences the fact that the Thessalonians were concerned about their faithful brethren who had already died, as indicated by the phrase, “concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not.” Sleep in this passage is a reference to death (Daniel 12:2; John 11:11, 43-44). Why would they be concerned? Why would they be sorrowful? Perhaps they were afraid that the living saints would enjoy some advantage over those who were in the grave. Would the departed saints miss out on this grand event? Perhaps they were even thinking of themselves in fear that death would take them before they were permitted to see the magnificent return of their Savior. Regardless of the motivation for their concern, Paul eliminates any need for such by demonstrating the impartiality of this future event. The living will not prevent, that is, proceed before the dead; on the contrary, the dead will rise before the living are permitted to meet the Lord. “Together” they will meet the Lord in the air. Paul concludes, “wherefore comfort one another with these words.” Indeed, they had no need to be concerned about those godly Christians who had passed from this earthly life. They are not going to miss anything.

Now, this is the meaning of the passage. How a person can find the rapture in this passage is mind boggling. It is imperative that we understand biblical passages in the context where they belong.

Finally, regarding the return of Christ, the evidence is overwhelming that we should only anticipate one return. When He comes, we should expect Him to come as a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2). We should at that time expect the resurrection of both the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15). Furthermore, we should anticipate that the created world and all the elements of it will be burned up (2 Peter 3:10). Finally, we should anticipate that at that time, every accountable soul will receive its eternal assignment either to Heaven or to Hell (John 5:28-29; Revelation 20:11-15).

There is no distinction between “days” of Christ or “returns” of Christ in the New Testament and any attempt to use 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 as support for such a theory is to completely ignore the context of the passage and to assign unintended meanings to Paul’s words (JWD).