1 Thessalonians 4.14. "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him".
Before the Apostle Paul had ever written these words the Lord Jesus had told His disciples about His coming again on several occasions. Much confusion in the text and passage of scripture before us could have been avoided if only His words had been listened to.
Perhaps the best known passage in the gospels where our Lord spoke to His own about His return is John 14. Let us take a moment to re-iterate what the Saviour told them. He had said He was going to prepare a place for them and that at a future date He would return and receive them to Himself, so that where He was there they could be also. (We intend to deal with this passage at length in another of our "misunderstood texts", but at the moment we want to point out a couple of things Jesus said which are of vast importance to our understanding of this text in 1Thessalonians 4.14.). The disciples were no doubt saddened by His words announcing His departure from them, but when He added, "If I go away I will come again and receive you unto Myself that where I am there ye may be also" John14.3, how comforting to them these further words must have been. In their minds there would have been no question as to what He meant, it was very simply put to them, "I will come again and receive you". There can be no doubt the Lord knew that the men to whom He spoke these words would all be dead long before His return, and as a matter of fact He plainly told Peter that he would die John 21.19. That being the case, why did Jesus not tell these disciples they would come to Him at death to be with Him forever? Why tell them that He would come for them to receive them unto Himself at His return, when in fact, if orthodoxy is correct, centuries earlier after they died they should have been with Him?
All of this is very perplexing if we do not believe or disregard the words of the Lord Jesus. He was clearly intimating to them that it was not until His return that they would be with Him to share in His kingdom and glory. His exact words were "That where I am there ye may be also". In the passage in Thessalonians which is before us Paul puts it like this, "so shall we ever be with the Lord". So where was it they were going to be "forever with Him"? Almost with one voice orthodoxy exclaims "heaven", but is this correct, we think not? The word of God tells us that at His return the Lord Jesus will reign for 1000 years from Jerusalem over this earth we now live on, Revelation 20.4, Zechariah 14.4-9. At the close of that 1000 year reign Satan will be cast into the Lake of fire and after the "Great white throne judgement" new heavens and a new earth will be created Revelation 21.1-2, Isaiah 65.17. The New Jerusalem will descend out of heaven from God to become the new earth's capital city and Christ will be in it reigning forever over the new universe Revelation 21.23, ch. 22.3-5. It stands to reason therefore that if Christ's words, "where I am there ye may be also" and Paul's words, "So shall we ever be with the Lord" are to be literally fulfilled then it will be on this earth, and the new earth, and not heaven, that their words will find meaning. Scripture never contradicts itself and with these truths held solidly in our hearts and minds we are in a position to examine the text now before us.
The Thessalonians were perturbed about their departed Christian friends, so Paul writes these words to enlighten and comfort them. "I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren concerning them which are asleep", are the opening words of this section. Paul had saw these Thessalonians "turn to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus" 1 Thessalonians 1.9-10. Like all believers at that stage they expected the imminent return of the Messiah to set up His kingdom and reign but they were worried and in ignorance about some who had died in the interim period, would they miss out in any way as far as kingdom blessing was concerned.
If it had simply been a matter of putting their minds at rest regarding those who had departed why did Paul not just say that they were with Christ in heaven happy and secure? The fact he did not do this should make us sit up and take notice. Much has been surmised by Paul's next words, "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him". Immediately the traditionalist misinterprets these words to mean that Christ is bringing back from heaven with Him the souls of those who have died to be re-united with their "resurrected bodies". We have already explained the bible knows nothing of a "resurrection of the body", but only speaks of "the resurrection of the dead". (See ‘How are the dead raised up?) If it were souls Paul was here referring to, are we to now believe that it is the soul which sleeps, for after all, according to Paul's careful wording, it is those that "sleep in Jesus" Christ is bringing with Him. Again does the text not say "Will God bring with Him", surely if it was souls returning with Christ from heaven grammatically it would have read "Will God send with Him". Paul is not talking about souls, nor does he mention souls in the whole of the narrative, Paul is speaking about dead Christians and the rest of the chapter should prove beyond doubt that the only possible way for them to live and to be with Christ is through resurrection when He returns to set up His kingdom.
Paul is revealing to these worried Thessalonians the chain of events which will take place. His remarks at the start are to set their minds immediately at ease for just as surely as Jesus died and rose again even so, in like manner, these dead Christian Thessalonians would arise out of their graves to meet the Lord in the air and then to accompany Him back to earth to share in His reign, hence the meanng of the words "Will God bring with Him". Paul was assuring them the believers who were asleep would miss out on nothing.
The word translated "meet" here is the Greek word "eis apantesin" and it occurs only 4 times in the New Testament. We find it in Matthew 25.1,6 then in Acts 28.15 and here finally 1 Thessalonians 4.17 and in all of these places it carries with it the thought of meeting with a view to returning with. This is its meaning in Matthew 25 regarding the coming of the bridegroom, "Go ye out to meet Him", there can be no doubt, meeting with a view to returning with. This is its meaning in Acts28 regarding the brethren who came out of Rome to meet Paul, which they did at "the Three Taverns" and then accompanied Paul to Rome. This is without doubt its meaning here in Thessalonians 4 as well, those who are described as "the dead in Christ" will rise and together with the living saints will meet the Lord in the air, to return with Him to the earth over which He will reign. No less a scholar than F.F. Bruce has confirmed this, he writes, "The Greek word used here was the common one which denoted meeting with a view of returning with". Paul emphatically closes his discourse by stating "So shall we ever be with the Lord", or "in this manner shall we ever be with the Lord". This is the ONLY manner through which it can happen and it is only when He returns that the dead will be raised and the living changed that we will be TOGETHER caught up to meet the Lord to return and to be forever with Him.
Neither this text nor the passage it is found in teach that the dead are alive, but quite the opposite and it should never be used to prop up that idea, Mr. Tyndale the godly translator saw this very clearly. In his refutation of the Roman Catholic Sir Thomas More who believed that souls were immortal and survived death he wrote these words, "I marvel that Paul had not comforted the Thessalonians with that doctrine, if he had wist it, that the souls of their dead had been in joy; as he did with the resurrection, that their dead would rise again". Mr. Tyndale we salute you Sir, you have done a great service to humanity through your translation of Holy Scripture and through your sound doctrine which questions this erroneous teaching that the dead are not dead but alive in heaven or hell.