Purpose of Paul’s writing this section: To comfort some beloved fellow-Christians who were confused, worried, fearful, and grieving the deaths of their Christian friends and family.
I. A Question and Answer: What about those who have died believing in Jesus? 13-17
A. Question: What will happen when Jesus returns for His church? 13
13 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.
B. Answer—the fate of those who have died: There will be a return, a resurrection, a rapture, and reunion 14-17
1. Jesus will return with the souls of those who have died “in Him” 14-15
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 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, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
2. Jesus will resurrect all those who have died “in Him” 16
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
3. Jesus will rapture living saints to Himself and to the resurrected saints 17a
17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up
4. Jesus will reunite all people who have trusted in Him—to Himself and to each other 17b
together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
The Rapture is one of the most controversial theological doctrines of our faith—God suddenly swooping in to deliver people before a time of divine judgment doesn’t set well with our present culture’s feelings and inclinations: But, it isn’t outside of God’s character to do so. He can “snatch up” whoever He wants, when he wants… Enoch (before the judgment of Flood (Gen), Lot (before the judgment of God fell on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen), Israel (before God judged Egypt (Exod), Rahab (snatched out of Jericho before the invasion of the Hebrews), Elijah (taken in a “flaming chariot” to heaven, before the great invasions of Israel by her enemies).
RAPTURE: “RAPTIO” (Latin) = “harpazo” (Greek) = “to snatch up, carry away.” = In NT, derivatives of the word are used to describe:
…a thief carrying off a person’s property
…a bird snatching away a seed that had been scattered by a sower
the desire of the crowds to “take” Jesus by force and make Him king,
…a wolf coming to a flock of sheep and “snatching one of them away
the inability of anyone to “snatch” out of the hand of the Lord those whom the Father has given him,
…the Spirit of the Lord “snatching” Philip away from the Ethiopian eunuch and transporting Philip miles away to the city of Azotus,
…a Roman officer rescuing Paul “by force” from an angry mob of Jews
…of Paul being “snatched” up to “the third heaven” by the Lord when he was converted to Christianity.
II. Comfort concerning Christians who have died 18
18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.