Copyright © 2011 by Robert B. Thompson. All rights reserved.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

No doubt one of the most painful experiences of all is the death of a loved one. I do not know about the hope offered by other religions concerning the separation that occurs when a loved one dies, a child, wife, husband, or close friend. But I do know about the Christian hope, which without doubt is greater than that promised by any other religion.

A Christian reading my words may think, “Of course. When we die and go to Heaven, we will see her or him again.” However, that is not the hope offered by the New Testament. You may not believe this, but you can search the New Testament and see for yourself.

It is true that the Old Testament in several passages speaks of the Israelites, upon their death, being gathered to their people. Whether this means to their immediate family, or to members of the Jewish race, I do not know. I do read that Samuel told Saul that Saul and his sons would soon be with him (Samuel). Samuel said nothing about Saul going to Heaven to be with his loved ones.

“The LORD will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also hand over the army of Israel to the Philistines.” (I Samuel 28:19)

The above verse certainly is different from our belief that when you die, you will go to live in a mansion with a deceased loved one.

The one New Testament passage that deals with the sorrow of Christian people when a loved one dies is found in First Thessalonians. These verses are wrenched from their context and made to apply to a supposed “rapture” of all Christians to Heaven when Christ appears.

Actually, if we will examine the verses closely, we will discover that this is not at all what Paul is teaching. Rather, Paul is seeking to comfort living Christians who had suffered the loss of a loved one. You see, the living Christians believed that the Kingdom was to come in their lifetime, and that the deceased relative or friend would not be able to enter the Kingdom.

The Christians in Thessalonica had never been taught about Heaven, or mansions, or going to Heaven to be with deceased relatives and friends. It is impossible to understand what Paul is saying if we do not understand the state of mind of Paul and the Thessalonian Christians.

Let us now take this passage apart and see how Paul is answering the concern of the Thessalonians about those who had surprised them by dying before the Lord returned. It will be noticed immediately that Heaven is not mentioned. Thus, using the following passage to mean that Christians will be “raptured” to Heaven has no scriptural basis whatsoever.

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. (I Thessalonians 4:13-18)
Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. (I Thessalonians 4:13)

Immediately we see the purpose of these verses. It is to provide information about those loved ones who have died (fallen asleep). It is to give us hope so we do not grieve. Would you agree that this is Paul’s purpose in writing these words? If so, you can see how farfetched it is to make this the “good news” of carrying Christians to Heaven so they will not experience pain at the hands of Antichrist or during the Great Tribulation. That teaching is ridiculous, to say the least!

We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (I Thessalonians 4:14)

Notice how Paul stresses the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul always emphasized the resurrection. He never stressed our going to Heaven as being the goal of redemption. In fact, Paul’s goal was to attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:11), never to go to Heaven.

Paul did say he desired to be present with the Lord, and to die would be gain for him. But never did Paul emphasize going to Heaven as to a place. In fact, I have not found the expression “go to Heaven” in the Scriptures, although “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (II Kings 2:11).

Now consider: “We believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” So the relief for the grieving Thessalonians is not that they will go to Heaven to see their loved one, but that the loved one will return to earth along with all who have died in Jesus. So the passage is speaking of the coming of the Lord, not of the flight of Christian people to avoid trouble.

Consider also: “those who have fallen asleep in him.” To fall asleep “in Jesus” means we have been abiding in Him. It is my opinion that most church members do not abide in Christ. To abide in Christ means we have learned to live by the Life of the Lord Jesus. Every thought, every word, and every action of ours is kept in His Presence. We are living by feeding on His body and blood, just as He lives by the Father.

Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. (John 6:57)

It has been reported that there are millions of Christians in America. I do not believe there are a million who live by the Life of Jesus, who abide in Him. In fact, I seriously doubt there are 100,000 such people. So to fall asleep in Jesus is not the experience of all people who attend Christian churches. The idea that all who profess to be Christians, or all who at one point in their life have taken the “four steps of salvation,” are prepared to be a king, judge, and priest when Jesus appears, and to work with Him in establishing the Kingdom of God on the earth, is fanciful to say the least.

The Bible, Old and New Testaments, reveals clearly that there will be a “firstfruits” of the Church, a first resurrection. This was portrayed by David’s rule over Judah and finally over all Israel. There are many expressions of the concept of the division of the Church into a Most Holy Place and then a Holy Place. Additional evidence is the marriage of the Lamb at the beginning of the thousand-year Kingdom Age, and then the marriage of the Lamb at the end of the thousand-year Kingdom Age.

If one were to study seriously the rank and file of Americans who profess to be Christians, it would appear at once that only a small fraction of the whole group are prepared to be resurrected at the appearing of Jesus Christ and to serve with Him as kings, judges, and priests to compel the will of God on the earth.

To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations — ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery’ — just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 2:26-29)

The whole Christian church of Thyatira will not rule with Christ. Only those believers who have lived victorious Christian lives. By the way, can you imagine the nominal Christians of America governing the nations of the earth with iron scepters? They do not have an iron scepter. The iron scepter is created in our personalities as we overcome the numerous pressures that have been sent to harden us.

When Christ appears from Heaven, there will be a vast company of the righteous with Him, including the saints from the time of Abel. This great host, many of whom have been in the spirit world for thousands of years, will descend to the earth to regain their bodies from wherever those bodies, or parts of them, may be found.

Then they will stand on their feet, shining like great lanterns of glory. The Lord Jesus will remain in the air at that time. He has seized control of the thrones in the air from which Satan and his lords formerly governed the earth.

According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. (I Thessalonians 4:15)

Now we can see clearly the concern of the believers in Thessalonica. They were worried that the relatively few members of the Body of Christ, who were living on the earth at the time of Christ’s appearing, would precede or have some advantage over their deceased loved ones. “Not so,” exclaims Paul. “The living will not have any advantage over those who return with Jesus, in particular, those who have died (fallen asleep).”

It is interesting that Paul keeps mentioning “asleep” rather than dead. Do you remember how Jesus said the little girl was not dead but asleep? The body sleeps in anticipation of the resurrection. The inward nature does not sleep but is conscious in the spirit world, as we notice in the case of Samuel and Saul.

Can you see from the concern of the living Thessalonians that their hope was not to go to Heaven to see their loved ones, but to enter the Kingdom when it comes to the earth?

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (I Thessalonians 4:16)

The above verse does not suggest a secret “rapture,” does it? In fact, as the next chapter of First Thessalonians states, this is the historic Day of the Lord, the time when “every eye shall see him.” The New Testament indicates clearly that there is only the one coming of Christ, the appearing of Christ.

The exception is the coming of Jesus in the Spirit to prepare His disciples to be the dwelling place of the Father and Christ. This account is found in John chapter 14, which is not speaking of the parousia, the coming of the Lord presented in Matthew chapter 24, and referred to throughout the New Testament. Have you ever noticed that none of the parables of Jesus concern Heaven, only with the Kingdom of God?

Parousia, the Presence of the Lord, is used in Matthew 24 when referring to the coming of the Lord. Parousia is used exclusively in First and Second Thessalonians when speaking of the Day of Christ, the coming of the Lord.

So here it is — the appearing of the King coming down from Heaven. There is a loud command, perhaps to His newly resurrected saints: “Come up here!”

There is the voice of Michael, the archangel: “The Kingdom of God is here! Repent and believe the good news! Make straight the way of the Lord!” Michael will have at his back the legions of heavenly warriors with their flashing spears, angels created for the specific purpose of fighting the wars of the King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

Then the trumpet call of God. This is the last trumpet, announcing that the kingdoms of the world have become the Kingdom of God and of His Christ.

Can you imagine what a spectacle this will be? The sound and fury of it all? Compare this with a secret “rapture” in which the frightened believers sneak away so they won’t be hurt by Antichrist. It will be Antichrist himself who will be frightened in that Day.

“And the dead in Christ will rise first.” I already have mentioned what it means to die in Christ. We will not die in Christ unless we have been abiding in Him, living by His Life.

Now let’s think about one of the most important statements in the passage we are studying: “the dead in Christ will rise first,” meaning probably prior to the catching up of the saints, or prior to the transformation of the living saints.

“Will rise.” This does not mean ascend to Heaven. The Greek term is “resurrection.” There is a very great difference between being resurrected and being caught up to be with the Lord.

The catching up of the saints to meet the Lord in the air has nothing to do with the operation of redemption. It merely is an example of the power of the world to come. The catching up is relatively insignificant, compared with the resurrection. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul saying, “That I might attain to the catching up”?

It is the resurrection that is of supreme importance. The resurrection is the final victory over Satan. We do not often hear preaching today about the need to attain to the resurrection, and the fact that during our present lives on the earth we are shaping the nature of our resurrection. Although seeking a better resurrection should be the major goal of our Christian experience, it hardly is mentioned except at funerals or on Easter morning. And even then it is referring to Christ’s own resurrection.

To be ready for the first resurrection (Revelation 20:5), which will take place at the appearing of Christ from Heaven, we must attain to the inner resurrection, the resurrection of our inner personality. We must live by feeding on the body and blood of Christ. We feed on the body and blood of Christ by looking to Him for every thought we think, every word we speak, and every action we take.

To be resurrected, raised, at the appearing of Christ, in preparation for the donning of our house from Heaven (II Corinthians 5:1-2), we must possess a resurrected inner personality. Immortality is granted only to those who do the will of God. They shall live forever.

Immortality is not given to us on the basis of making a profession of faith in Christ, but on the basis of doing the will of God.

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (I John 2:17)

We don’t just do the will of God once by “accepting Christ.” We are to do the will of God, after that initial acceptance, every moment of our lives. It appears to me that numerous Christian people and their leaders do not understand this.

When I first became a Christian, I was taught that it is impossible to do the will of God and that is why we are given grace. It took me a while before I was able to escape from that delusion.

It is the resurrection, and the kind of resurrection we will experience personally, that should be our prime concern. It appears that this was the Apostle Paul’s supreme goal (Philippians 3:11). When we are resurrected, our newly raised flesh and bones will be clothed with a body presently laid up for us in Heaven (II Corinthians 5:1-2). That body will reflect in itself the kind of person we have become as we have wrestled against the wickedness in the world (II Corinthians 4:17).

There is alien sin that resides in our flesh. Then there is native sin that characterizes our spirit. The Spirit of God will point out to us all these areas of darkness as we pursue our discipleship. We are to resist sin with all of our determination and embrace righteousness. As we do, the resurrected inward nature takes shape as a result of the struggle. In this manner, the rod of iron by which we will govern the nations is formed in us.

It is my point of view that this same struggle is going on among the saints in Heaven, who had not been taught previously that this is the operation of redemption, of conformation to the image of Jesus Christ. While the deceased saints need not wrestle against unclean spirits dwelling in their flesh, they still may need to choose to resist jealousy, hatred, unforgiveness, seeking preeminence, seeking to control other people, arrogance, pride, causing division.

Remember, sin originated in Heaven among the angels of God. Satan was overcome with a desire to take the place of God. Sin did not begin in the garden of Eden, but in Heaven. Therefore, our going to Heaven does not mean we no longer can be disobedient to Jesus Christ or treat other people unjustly. There are numerous Christians who have died while filled with anger, unbelief, and unforgiveness. These personality traits, if they are part of our spirits, are not removed when we no longer have fleshly bodies. They are part of our personalities and must be renounced and overcome at some point. Remember, when Christ confronted the man who had buried his talent, Christ did not attempt to correct his laziness and fear. Rather, Christ removed his talent, gave the talent to a more diligent person, and sent away the wicked servant into the outer darkness.

There is only one Body of Christ. A very small part of it is on the earth at any given time, but it is one body. The whole body is moving forward toward the perfect day. We all shall be made perfect together.

God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:40)

We all shall attain to the first resurrection together and receive that house from Heaven, that great weight of glory that has been fashioned from our personal daily crucifixion and resurrection.

The deceased who return with Jesus Christ will be resurrected before the catching up, as I stated previously. Although the passage in First Thessalonians does not state this, it is implied that as soon as the returning saints have been resurrected and clothed with their bodies from Heaven, the saints alive on the earth at that time will be changed, as Paul said, “in the twinkling of an eye.”

This does not mean, as some suppose, that the casual, immature Christians will be changed into the moral image of Christ in a moment. Some are hoping from this that there is no need for them to overcome sin and disobedience to Christ during their discipleship on the earth. But their hope is not founded in the Scripture.

Paul’s words in First Corinthians chapter 15 signify, rather, that at the last trumpet blast, each believer on the earth who has prepared himself for the resurrection will be transformed outwardly by receiving his house from Heaven.

Here is something else to think about. Do you remember that Christ was raised on the third day, and then was on the earth for forty days before He was caught up? I am persuaded that the same will be true of us. We will be on the earth for a period of time, maybe forty days, before we are caught up to meet the Lord in the air. If I am correct, this will be the greatest time of Christian fellowship ever to take place on the earth. Imagine that you have been in Heaven with the Lord, and now you are standing once more on the earth in a body which Antichrist or tribulation could not possibly harm.

Exactly how would you feel? What would you want to do? I will tell you what you would want to do. You immediately would want to see her or him who had died before the Lord appeared. You would want to be with your loved ones who also have participated in this most remarkable, most marvelous, experience any human being has ever had.

The separation is over now. The grief is gone forever.

But how about Jesus? Won’t you want to see Him? Jesus will be everywhere. He will be with you and your loved ones, enjoying your happiness.

I suspect that at that time of rejoicing, you will be able to be with anyone you wish, just by thinking about that individual. This will be true of your family members, and of all others, including those you have read about in the Bible. Won’t that be wonderful?

You are experiencing perfect victory! Now you have no more worry about the second resurrection. You have attained to the resurrection of the kings, judges, and priests who will govern the earth alongside our Lord Jesus. You are now His brother in a greater sense than ever before.

And you are with those whom you love fervently — those who like you, by living victoriously in Christ, have attained to the early resurrection from the dead.

Perhaps you will want to visit loved ones, Christian or not, who did not attain to this early resurrection. Something like that happened before, after Jesus was resurrected.

The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (Matthew 27:52,53)

When will you see your deceased loved ones? I cannot say for certain that you will see them when you die. But I can say for certain that if you are abiding in Christ, and they died in Christ, you will see them on the earth when Christ appears from Heaven. That is your hope and my hope.

After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (I Thessalonians 4:17)

Where will the Lord be? Not in Heaven, but sitting on His rightful throne in the city of Jerusalem. From there He will send out His victorious saints to serve on the earth as kings, judges, and priests.

After we have been resurrected and have done what we desired to do on the earth, visiting with various people, just as was true of Jesus after He was resurrected, then all of us — those who have come with Jesus from Heaven and those who were alive on the earth at His appearing — will be “caught up.”

The Greek term for “caught up” suggests force has been applied that lifts us from the earth against resistance. Who or what is doing the resisting I do not know. But in any case, the power of God Almighty is so great at this point that preventing this event is impossible. We simply cannot be held back.

Please notice that we “meet” the Lord, and that the meeting place is in the air, not in Heaven. Have you ever met anyone at the airport? It is likely that you did not then get on the plane with him and fly somewhere. He was coming and you met him. Heaven is not mentioned. It is the “air” that is important, because it is from the air that Satan has controlled the events of the world.

In which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 2:2)

If change is to be made among earth’s peoples, it must be done from the air, where Satan’s rule has been. This is why we meet Christ in the air.

We are caught up. Personally, I do not believe we will be hurried. It no doubt will be a majestic event accompanied by glorious music. If we look down, we will see the wicked who have been left behind, screaming and cursing, shaking their fists at the saints, now shining as great lights, ascending gracefully up into the clouds. But there is nothing whatever that evil spirits or evil people can do. This is the work of God! Perhaps it would not be a good idea to look down. Remember Lot’s wife!

When we arrive at the place where Satan’s thrones had been, there we will see the mighty Christ on His great white stallion. I have named that stallion, “Conqueror.” Oh well, I would not argue with anyone about the name of Christ’s war-stallion. And there are our horses. Those who have come with the Lord have spent numerous hours practicing for this event, learning to ride their stallions. Those who have newly arrived from the earth will be helped by angels, I believe. Also, these war-stallions will be well trained.

All the members of the Body of Christ will mount up. Then terrific trumpet blasts, the shout for battle of Michael and his angels and also of the saints, and down through the clouds will hurtle the saints, who are judges, and the warrior angels who do the fighting.

The King of all kings has arrived with His faithful warriors to assume control of the earth.

The Thessalonians who had been concerned about their loved ones entering the Kingdom will be riding next to them, shouting the heavenly war cries.

Woe to the wicked in those days, for the kings, judges, and priests have come with Christ. They will bring justice to the oppressed of the earth. As they are assigned their places of rulership, out from them will proceed the lifting of the curse. The natural splendor of nature will blossom forth.

Little children no longer will be abused. Babies no longer will be aborted. Animals will be treated with kindness and respect. Everyone who is willing to obey the saints will be helped to do the will of Christ. But the stubborn and disobedient will find themselves in difficult situations, in dry lands with all the rebels.

Life on the earth during our discipleship has been a probationary period that God might select and train His rulers and teachers. Now angels and people have seen the utter folly of following Satan and disobeying God. The lesson has occurred over 6,000 years. Hopefully it has been learned and never again will need to be repeated.

The light of the perfect day is near at hand. Let us prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord Jesus.

“And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

Therefore encourage each other with these words. (I Thessalonians 4:18)

But now what about the reunion of those who do not know Christ, or who have been casual Christian church-attenders? We cannot say for sure. The New Testament appears to be addressed primarily to those who are genuine, cross-carrying disciples, the Lord’s servants, His victorious saints.

As to people in the communities in the spirit world in various locations, I do not know what opportunities they have for being reunited with loved ones. The Scriptures have little to say about what happens after we die, especially about the people of the world.

It is clear that those who live and believe in Christ shall never die. Also, there shall be nations of saved people who are the inheritance of God’s elect, His priesthood.

Outside of that fact, we can only speculate about the fate of those who are not part of Christ, or who have not addressed themselves to their discipleship as they should have.

It is my personal conviction that those who do not know Christ or who have neglected their salvation shall be judged at the final resurrection according to their works. Those whose names are in the Book of Life shall be brought forward to citizenship on the new earth. Those whose names are not in the Book of Life shall be put into the Lake of Fire.

Those who have behaved themselves in a decent manner have nothing to worry about, unless, of course, they wilfully and knowingly have rejected Christ when He was presented to them. I don’t think this has been true of many people. Those who have behaved wickedly certainly do have something to worry about!

Although we cannot say more than this, we can count on two things, however. God is just and compassionate. Also, the Scriptures mean exactly what they say. They never can be changed — no, not one word can be changed in any manner whatever from now throughout eternity.

(“’Til I See You Again”, 3056-1, proofed 20211123)

  • P.O. Box 1522 Escondido, CA 92033 US