“Encourage One Another with These Words About the Resurrection”

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version,
© 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All emphasis added.

At the close of the age, all human beings who ever lived in this world will be resurrected together. Christ will then separate them: one group for eternal heaven, the other group for eternal hell. If the first resurrection happens 1,007 years before the second, the above texts picturing a separation between the two groups make little sense.

Readings: Daniel 12:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (text)

February 20, 2011 Download PDF sermon

Whenever we go to a funeral, we see two kinds of people who grieve: those who are with hope, and those who are without hope. Usually, Christians of different persuasions say they have hope and they know that their loved one is now in “a better place.” To be sure, sometimes this hope is misplaced, because they see their departed beloved as a good person who had done good in his or her life, and God would not deny a good person entry into heaven.

Unbelievers usually have no hope for a future life, only that the dead are now “resting in peace” from their sufferings or afflictions in this life. What is most important for them is that they will treasure the memories, especially the good ones, and that the life of their beloved is an example to be emulated by those who are still alive.

But not so with Paul and all who truly believe in Christ and his resurrection from the dead. One of the main reasons why Paul wrote his two letters to the Thessalonian believers is the false teaching about the Second Coming that was infecting the church. These believers lacked understanding—Paul says they were “uninformed”—about the events related to the Second Coming because Paul was driven out of the city after only three Sabbaths. Some church members had died, and because of this false teaching about the Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead, they thought that their loved ones who had died would miss the resurrection. They soon lost hope and grieved “about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (verse 13). In addition, Paul had to reassure them that they are not destined to suffer God’s wrath, but to salvation at the coming of Christ (1 Thess 5:9).

Paul also may be responding to false teachers who say that the Second Coming and the resurrection had already occurred. Like those in the church in Corinth (1 Cor 15), they taught that there would be no physical resurrection, only some kind of a spiritual resurrection. In the early church, there were those who believed that only the spiritual is good, and all matter is evil, so who needs a physical resurrection?

But since Christ was raised from the dead, all believers will also be raised from the dead on the last day. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught this, and as Paul commands, we are to encourage one another with these words. These are the three things we will study this afternoon.

Assured by Christ’s Own Resurrection

Because Paul had little time spent teaching in the church in Thessalonica, the Christians there were “uninformed” about things related to the Second Coming and the resurrection from the dead. Then, after Paul left, some false teachers infected the church and misinformed them about these events. We see this later in 2 Thessalonians 2:1, where Paul tells them “not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.” The Second Coming has not happened yet! This is similar to false teachers today who warn unbelievers that there will come a day when Christ will sneak in secretly and snatch all Christians away when no one is looking.

When the Thessalonians read Paul’s letter, they understood that Paul was talking about their dead loved ones, “the dead in Christ,” whenever he mentioned “those who have fallen asleep” (verses 13-14). This term is mistaken by some Christians as “soul-sleep.” Paul often refers to Christians who have died as being “asleep” (verses 14, 15; 1 Thess 5:10; 1 Cor 15:6, 18, 20, 51). He uses this “asleep” metaphor for the dead in Christ because they will awake from their graves when Jesus returns. The dead may look like they’re just sleeping, but their bodies are actually lifeless, without the vital signs of breath, heartbeat, and brain activity.

Elsewhere, King David refers to death as sleep: “Light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death” (Psa 13:3). Daniel says that on Judgment Day, “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake” (Dan 12:2). When Lazarus died, Jesus said to his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11). When Christ died on the cross, “the tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” (Matt 27:52). And when Stephen was martyred, Acts 7:60 says “he fell asleep.”

Because of these frequent references to death as “sleep,” some Christians believe that the souls of the dead in Christ are in an unconscious state until the day of resurrection. But this is denied by several Biblical texts. Jesus assured the penitent thief before they both died on the cross, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43), which is heaven (2 Cor 12:4; Rev 2:7). Paul declares, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” because for him, “gain” at death means “to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better,” (Phil 1:21-23). In 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, Paul contrasts the two states of being alive and being dead. To be alive is to be “at home in the body and away from the Lord,” and death is the exact opposite, “away from the body and at home with the Lord.” There is no hint anywhere that there is an unconscious state between death and resurrection—death means being “home with the Lord.”

Why do Paul and all the other New Testament writers believe in the resurrection? Paul expounds this assurance of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. He first explains the historical truth of the resurrection because many people, as many as 500 at one time, saw, heard and fellowshipped with Jesus after he rose from the grave. Then he argues against those who teach that there is no resurrection: if there is no resurrection, then Christ would not have been resurrected. But Christ’s resurrection is a historical fact (1 Cor 15:20) as he was seen alive by many after he died and was buried. And if Christ is not resurrected from the grave, then all Christians are still under the curse of sin and death, and are hopeless because there will be no resurrection.

If Christ’s resurrection is a historical fact, then resurrection is also a fact. Thus Paul says that all the dead in Christ will also be raised by the Holy Spirit, “he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:11). In his resurrection, Christ became “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20). Christ is the first, the “prototype,” of many others who would also be raised from the grave, those who have died in Christ, “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Cor 15:23).

Further, Paul explains that what will be resurrected are our physical bodies, rejecting the claim by false teachers in Thessalonica that the resurrection is only a spiritual resurrection. He expounds on what kind of physical bodies we will be given at the resurrection:

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body (1 Cor 15:42-44).

Paul tells the Thessalonians not to grieve over their dead loved ones without hope for a long time. Grieve, mourn and sorrow, but hope in Christ! Because if Christ rose from the dead, all those who are in Christ will also rise from the grave at his coming, and will be given physical bodies that will be imperishable, eternal, glorious, and empowered by the Spirit.

At his coming, Christ will bring with him those who have gone to heaven before us, resurrecting their bodies and transforming them into glorious spiritual bodies, and reuniting their bodies with their souls. The picture of Jesus’ return is of him descending from heaven in a cloud, bringing his saints with him, just as Zechariah 14:5 describes the day of the Lord: “the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.”

Paul then explains how Christ will gather both the dead and alive when he returns from heaven in glory.

Declared by a Word from the Lord

Paul says that what he will explain in the next few verses about the Second Coming and the resurrection came from “a word from the Lord.” From where did this “word from the Lord” come? It might have been revealed personally to Paul. Or he might have read the teachings of Jesus about his Second Coming from the four Gospels that have been published in the churches by the time he wrote to the Thessalonians. We will see that in verses 15-17, Paul uses several things from Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 24. The parallels between 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and Matthew 24:30-31 are obvious:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air …

Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man … coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect …

Charts, Charts Everywhere, But Where is It in the Bible?

According to Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, the events related to the Second Coming will be simple. When the fullness of time arrives, Jesus will descend from heaven. At that moment, he will raise those who have died. Then, together with those who are still alive at that time, all believers will be gathered with him in the clouds of heaven. He explains to the Thessalonians that those who are left in this world by those who have died will not be taken to heaven before those who have died. No one will be first or last; rather, all believers will be caught up—literally, “snatched, grabbed, or taken away”—to heaven together all at once. Paul assures them that both the dead and the living will participate together in this great and still future event.

Today, there are four significant errors regarding 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. The first error is that the text is only about Phase One of a two-phase Second Coming of Christ. In effect, they teach a Second Coming and a Third Coming, the second being a secret coming, and the third an open coming, separated by seven years of tribulation on earth. In its faulty interpretation, three words are used—presence, appearance, and revelation—to separate the Second Coming into two phases. For example, 1 Thessa­lonians 4:13-17 is reserved for “the coming of the Lord” understood to be a “secret rapture” (verse 15), while Matthew 24:29-31 is designated as the real appearance of Christ seven years later. But these three words have been shown to be used interchangeably and indiscriminately in the New Testament, so they do not teach a two-phased Second Coming, but a once-for-all Second Coming at the end of this age. 1

The second error is that there will be two resurrections—one for believers, and another one for unbelievers, separated by 1,007 years! This two-phased scheme of the Second Coming spans 1,007 years: (1) a secret coming, when only believers will be resurrected; (2) an open coming seven years later; (3) Christ’s millennial reign of 1,000 years; and (4) a second resurrection, this time only of all unbelievers, after the millennial reign of Christ.

Courtesy of Pinewood Presbyterian Church

Courtesy of Pinewood Presbyterian Church, Middleburg, FL

But the Bible tells us in many places that when Christ returns, there will be one general resurrection of all people, both Christians and non-Christians, to be judged:

an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (John 5:28-29).

there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15).

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations… as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (Matt 25:31-32).

at the time of the end… many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt (Dan 11:40; 12:1-2).

The harvest is the close of the age… Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age… Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (parable of the wheat and tares, Matt 13:39-43).

So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace (parable of the dragnet, Matt 13:49-50).

In all the above texts, the teaching is that at the close of the age, all human beings who ever lived in this world will be resurrected together. Christ will then separate them: one group for eternal heaven, the other group for eternal hell. If the first resurrection happens 1,007 years before the second, the above texts picturing a separation between the two groups make little sense.

This is why—without a doubt—our Reformed creeds and confessions teach one coming and one resurrection:

We believe … that, when the time appointed by the Lord … is come and the number of the elect complete … our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven … to declare Himself Judge of the living and the dead (Belgic Confession 37).

Q. What comfort is it to you that Christ “shall come to judge the living and the dead?” A.That in all my sorrows and persecutions, I, with uplifted head, look for the very One… to come as Judge from heaven, who shall cast all His and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but shall take me with all His chosen ones to Himself into heavenly joy and glory” (Heidelberg Catechism 52).

At the last day … [t]he bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonor: the bodies of the just, by His Spirit, to honor … (Westminster Confession 32:2).

From there He shall come to judge the living and the dead (Apostles’ Creed).

and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead… and I look for the resurrection of the dead (Nicene Creed)

From there He shall come to judge the living and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies; and shall give account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting. And they that have done evil into everlasting fire (Athanasian Creed)

Nowhere in the above statements is there a hint of a twofold Second Coming of Christ. All of them affirm that Christ “shall come to judge the living and the dead.” Where are the two Second Comings in these creeds and confessions? 2

Courtesy of Pinewood Presbyterian Church

Courtesy of Pinewood Presbyterian Church, Middleburg, FL

A Loud and Visible Secret Coming?

The third error regarding the Second Coming is that there would be a separate coming that is secret, popularly called the “Secret Rapture.” Verses 16 and 17 of our text simply cannot be secret. It’s actually loud! When Christ returns from heaven, he will be accompanied with a “cry of command … voice of an archangel … trumpet of God.” These three noises are literally a “wake-up call” to the dead to wake up from their sleep.

The prophet Joel says that on the great day of the Lord, God will issue a command with a great loud voice, “The Lord utters his voice to his heavenly army of angels … For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it? (Joel 2:11). On that day, “the LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake” (Joel 3:16). The voices of God and of the archangel will be earth-shaking!

The “very loud trumpet blast” of God will signal the end of the world and the arrival of the King of the Universe (Exod 19:16; Psa 47:5). Christ will send a very loud trumpet call to his angels to gather his elect from all the earth (Matt 24:31). This is why Paul says that on that day,

We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” 1 Cor 15:51-52).

Finally, the apostle John says that this last trumpet will signal the end of the world and the inauguration of Christ’s everlasting kingdom, “Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever’” (Rev 11:15).

Not only will the Second Coming be very loud; it will also be universally visible, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will mourn on account of him.”(Rev 1:7). In contrast to the teaching of a secret coming, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, [he will inflict] vengeance on those who do not know God” (2 Thess 1:7-8). On that same day, he will “be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed” (2 Thess 1:10).

The fourth serious error in the interpretation of this text is that when Christ descends from heaven, he will meet all believers in the clouds of heaven, and then both him and his people will descend down to earth to start his thousand-year reign on earth. This one thousand years is far from literal. From the above discussion of the Second Coming and the resurrection, we can safely conclude that the millennium is symbolic of a long period of time between Christ’s first coming and second coming, now almost 2,000 years long. Since there is only one general resurrection, there is no thousand years separating two resurrections. Also, since the Second Coming also includes Judgment Day, the inauguration of Christ’s everlasting kingdom, there is no earthly kingdom.

Jesus himself rejects any notion of an earthly kingdom, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). The restoration of the kingdom of David promised in Amos 9:11-12 will not be a millennial kingdom, but the building of the church made up of Jews and Gentiles (Acts 15:14-18). The fulfillment of the restoration of Israel is not a millennial kingodm, but rather, the establish­ment of Christ’s church as the Israel of God (Gal 6:16; 3:27-29; Eph 2:13-16). 3

We Will Always Be with the Lord

One of the great errors in teaching the millennium is that there will be a great worldwide rebellion after Christ’s millennial reign on earth, because the earth will be populated by perfect saints mingled with corrupted, unsaved sinners! This is an impossibility. How can perfect , glorified believers who came down from heaven enjoy eternal bliss without death, mourning, crying or pain if there are still sinners living in the millennial world? (Rev 21:4) As Riddlebarger writes in disbelief about this final rebellion popularly known as Gog and Magog:

Since there can be no people on earth in natural bodies after the judgment (which occurs when Christ comes back according to the clear texts we have seen above), these apostates can only be those same believers that Jesus raised from the dead at his return. In other words, if premillennialism is correct, then it is glorified saints who follow Satan and revolt against Christ! But are we really to believe that evil is not finally conquered at Christ”s return even where Jesus is physically reigning and judgment has already occurred? 4

If those who teach that this final rebellion will occur at the end of the millennial reign of Christ, then no one will ever be assured of salvation. Paul would not be able to say to the Thessalonians, “and so we will always be with the Lord.” Who knows if we would be part of this rebellion? But sound Biblical teaching assures us that when Christ returns, heaven and earth will be restored and our eternal joy dwelling in God’s presence will start. Then we will always be with the Lord in an eternally blessed state.

From creation, God already established his covenant with Adam, and if he obeyed God’s covenant law, Adam would have entered the eternal state and lived in Paradise, dwelling and having perfect fellowship with God forever. Throughout Biblical history, God covenanted with mankind with this promise, “I will be your God, and you will be my people” (Exod 6:7). Thus, when the Israelites journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land, God dwelt with them in the Tabernacle. The glory-cloud showed them that God dwelt with them, protecting them from their enemies and shielding them from the heat of the sun. Throughout their pilgrimage to Canaan, God dwelt with them in the Tabernacle, “the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys” (Exod 40:38).

Even in the new covenant, God promised Jeremiah, “And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:33). Ezekiel expands this covenant relationship very clearly:

I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (Ezek 37:26-27).

This is why when Christ came 2,000 years ago, John declared, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). One does not realize the full import of this text until he learns that the word John used for God “dwelling” with us comes from the same root as the Greek word for “tabernacle.” Thus, just as God dwelt with Israel in the wilderness in the tabernacle, Christ “dwelt” (literally, “tabernacled”) among his people when he came down to earth from heaven 2,000 years ago. Early in his ministry, Jesus already taught that he had come as the Temple of his people (John 2:19-21).

And at last, in the new heaven and new earth, “the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev 21:3). Christ will finally dwell with us in perfect fellowship and union, and we will finally “enjoy him forever.” In heaven, there will be no temple or tabernacle, because “its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev 21:22). God’s sanctuary will finally be “in their midst forevermore” (Ezek 37:28). This is the reason why Paul concludes his explanation to the Thessalonians about the Second Coming and the resurrection, “and so we will always be with the Lord.”

Thus if Christ is our Tabernacle and Temple, why do many Christians insist on helping rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem to “hasten” his coming? Why would Christ sit on a throne in a temple “made with hands, which are copies of the true things,” after he has entered “into heaven itself”? (Heb 9:24) This idea is both unsound and has no Scriptural basis.

Conclusion

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in view of these words from Christ, be encouraged. Do not be misinformed, because when Christ comes, all of us will be transformed. This body of death, both physically and spiritually, full of afflictions and weaknesses, will be transformed into glorious, incorruptible, and eternal body.

Do not grieve over your departed loved ones for a long time; there is a time for mourning, and a time for joy. And our time for joy will soon arrive, and so we will always be with the Lord. Amen.

 


Notes:

  1. For a more detailed interpretation of these three words, see my article, “The Noisiest ‘Secret’ Rapture Ever.”
  2. For a more detailed treatment of the general resurrection, see my paper, “The Lost Thousand Years Between Two Resurrections.”
  3. For scholarly articles on the “amillennial” view, see: Kim Riddlebarger, “A Present or Future Millennium?”; and Michael Horton, “The New Millennium.”
  4. Riddlebarger, “A Present or Future Millennium?”
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Marilyn Shaver says:

Dear Nollie,
We have been teaching Thessalonians in our bible study and really appreciated your sermon. I will be sharing it with our group this week and send you comments. Our average age of our group is 84 so this is a topic of great interest!
Marilyn and Bill Shaver
Santa Rosa, Ca.