Relating the Return of Christ with the Resurrection from the Dead
Paul had taught the church of the Thessalonians on the subject of the resurrection from the dead. Questions remained on the relationship between those who had already died and their disposition on the day of Jesus Christ’s second coming.
Annihilationism was the common Greco-Roman view of the afterlife. The popular, albeit depressing, sentiment was that people did not exist, now they do exist, and when they die, they cease to exist. As with most subjects, there were exceptions to this prevalent perspective.
Jewish views on the afterlife also varied. The idea of the resurrection was derived from the Hebrew Bible; but this view was not universally accepted by all Jews. In Jesus and Paul’s day, the Pharisees believed in a future resurrection from the dead; while the Sadducees did not believe it.
As the Apostle Paul wrote the church, he addressed this subject of resurrection and its relationship to the second advent of Messiah (1 Thess 4:13–5:11). Structurally, there is a division between 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 and 5:1–11. The first section addresses the dead in Christ who now “sleep.” The second section gives attention to those who will be alive at the time of Jesus’ parousia, which is a synonym in the Greek for manifestation or appearing.
Evangelicals have zealously pursued an understanding of the eschaton (end things) for well over 125 years now. Sadly, eschatology has been a playground for heresy. False teaching, often in the form of speculations presented as fact, has deceived many.
The seed of end times fervor was planted in the mid-nineteenth century and probably peaked at the end of the twentieth century. There was no shortage of publications to feed the frenzy of those looking for the sign of the times. Speculations are still with us but remain unhelpful. The very fact I am writing on this subject demonstrates that I value what the Bible says on the subjects of Christ’s return and the resurrection. I also wish to express my desire to know the truth in these matters through non-speculative Bible interpretation.
It is important for us to establish the current status of the conflict between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God. In His first advent, Jesus Christ won the victory over sin, death, Satan, and the world system. His triumph in life, death, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement has positioned King Jesus on the throne of God at the right hand of the Father in majesty. He rules and reigns over all, Him being the Lord of all (Acts 10:36). Today, His kingdom is expanding; and it is an everlasting kingdom.
As the Holy Spirit works in the world to gather in God’s elect to the fold of Christ, that is, His church, it is a project with an end date. Through various prophecies on the pages of the Holy Bible, we know something of those future realities.
The Gospel must first be preached to all nations (Mt 24:14); and the full number of the chosen people of God must be added to His living temple (Eph 2:20–22). Then, the end will come. Christ will return in glory (Rev 19:11–21). His saints and angels will be with Him (Mt 25:31; 1 Thess 3:13).
The judgment by the just Judge will be directed against the living and the dead outside of Christ (2 Cor 5:10; Rev 20:11). One key aspect of Christ’s return is the resurrection of the dead. At His coming, the dead will all be raised and separated into two groups. Those who died in Christ will be resurrected to life with glorified bodies that resemble Jesus’ resurrection body. Those who died apart from Christ will be resurrected to judgment (Jn 5:28–29).
The trajectory of those who will be raised and glorified is upward to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess 4:17). The saints, now glorified will join with Jesus to judge the world and the angels (Ps 9:8; 96:13; 98:9; Acts 17:31; 1 Cor 6:2–3; Jude 1:6). Thus, the believer has confidence regarding the day of judgment (1 Jn 4:17), knowing that we will not be condemned along with the world (1 Cor 11:32). There is now and never will be a condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1).
The crowns received by the saints (2 Tim 4:8; Jas 1:12; 1 Pet 5:4; Rev 2:10) will be cast at the feet of Jesus, who is worthy to receive glory and honor and power for creating all things (Rev 4:10–11). Our boast is forever Him who has done great things for us (1 Cor 1:31; Gal 6:14). The Day of the Lord is a terror or should be a terror to the thoughts of the children of the devil (Jn 8:44; 1 Jn 3:10). There is no dread for the children of God; however, for the day of Christ Jesus is an event like no other in world history. It will be a glorious day for Christ’s rescued bride, His church, the Israel of God (Gal 6:16).
In these verses (1 Thess 4:13–18–5:1–11), Paul has paraphrased Jesus from our Lord’s Olivet Discourse in Mt 24:30–49. We observe the end events and learn to have confidence that the end of this world is our gain and great benefit. We do have a hope and a future in Christ Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thess 1:10), and who will present us holy and blameless before our God and Father at His coming (Eph 1:4; 5:27; 1 Thess 3:13).
The children of God, having been delivered body and soul by Jesus Christ, have our eternal home in the new heavens and the new earth where righteousness dwells (2 Pet 3:13). We shall always be with the Lord (1 Thess 4:17). May God delight you with Christ’s victory at the cross and with the prospect of the end of this world of sin and death.
Today, let us live for the kingdom of God in every thought, word, and deed. Walking by the Spirit of Christ, who manifests the kingdom in you and through you to others, let us trust in the Lord who has resurrected our dead souls and who will resurrect our dead bodies on that day known only to God. The King of glory is coming soon for His beloved; therefore, let us be prepared with oil in our lamps and fires in our hearts.
Spokane Valley, Washington
September 13, 2023