First Thessalonians 018 – Comfort One Another (part 3)

First Thessalonians 018 – Comfort One Another (part 3)
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 • Dr. Andy Woods • March 19, 2023 • First Thessalonians


First Thessalonians 018 – Comfort One Another (part 3)

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 • Dr. Andy Woods • March 19, 2023


Father, we’re grateful for today.  In a world where there’s a lot of uncertainty, particularly financial uncertainty, we’re grateful that You are our provider and You are the same yesterday, today, and forever.  I do pray, Lord, for the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit as the Word of God is taught today, both in Sunday school and in the main service that follows, and really throughout this whole building with all of our classes.  We know, Lord, that we cannot understand the things of the Spirit without the enabling work of the Holy Spirit via illumination, and so to prepare us for that ministry, we’re going to take a few moments of silence, if need be, to make personal confession to You, not to restore our position, but to restore broken fellowship so that the Holy Spirit might have His way in our sessions this morning.

We thank You, Lord, for Your word, which is able to pierce joints and marrow and minister to the deepest needs of the human heart.  It’s impossible for a human teacher, Lord, to understand all of the needs that may be out there as listeners today, but You know what they are, and we pray that the Spirit would take Your Word and bring it to life.  We’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory.  We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said amen.


Well, if you all can locate the book of 1 Thessalonian 4:13-18.

Paul the Apostle, in the book of 1 Thessalonian, has spent really three chapters defending himself against some scurrilous and really slanderous charges that have been brought against him.  And he has had to defend himself against those charges so that he could get to the transition, which begins in 1 Thessalonians 4:1, where he says, “Finally then, brethren.”

And when he says, “Finally then, brethren,” he’s no longer looking backwards, but he’s looking forwards.  And it’s hard to deal with correction, which is what he starts to apply beginning in 1 Thessalonians 4:1 if his reputation is in the mud.  So having rehabilitated his reputation from slander, he now is in a position to correct the Thessalonians.

There was a lot of things that he knew about them from the letter or the information that Timothy had brought back, and so he’s dealt with immorality, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8.  He’s dealt with laziness, 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12.

And now beginning in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, all the way through Chapter 5:11, he deals with a lot of misunderstandings that they had concerning eschatology, which is a fancy word meaning the study of the end.  What does the Bible reveal about the end?

And so this is, it’s in that vein we come to these verses.  These probably are very familiar to you.  Of all of the verses in the book of 1 Thessalonians, these are the ones people know the best because this is our clearest exposition or treatment of the rapture of the church, probably found anywhere in the Bible.

So it’s here Paul writes, “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. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 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. 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. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonian 4:13-18)

We’ve pointed out as we’ve moved through the book of 1 Thessalonian that the dominant subject on Paul’s mind is the return of Jesus.  And we think that because every single chapter in this book ends with a reference to the return of Christ.

And so Chapter 4 is no different, we’re at the end of Chapter 4.  And so it’s not surprising that at the end of Chapter 4 we would find some kind of reference to the return of Christ.  It’s just in this case you get a real extended treatment on the return of Christ via the rapture.

And the whole circumstances of him including this information arose because when he planted the church at Thessalonica, he actually had already taught them about many things including the rapture.  Which is sort of a refutation to the ministerial mindset that says don’t teach new believers about prophecy.  I was kind of reared as a Christian with that mindset and when I got saved, I became very interested in prophecy and a lot of people told me stay away from that stuff.  Just focus on the important doctrines as if eschatology isn’t important.

And so I would ask some of my mentors what’s all this stuff about the rapture and they basically told me to pray for pre and plan for post.  Which what does that mean?  That gave me no certainty on anything.  So a lot of Christians are sort of victims of this philosophy that you don’t teach them prophecy.  Paul the apostle taught them prophecy among many other things right out of the gate.

In fact in his second book written a short time later he says concerning a whole bunch of prophetic subjects in 2 Thessalonians Chapter 2, that we will get to at some point, he says, “Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?” (1 Thess 2:5)  So he had already taught them about prophecy, and he had already taught them about the rapture.

But after having been pushed out of Thessalonica by the unbelieving Jews, ultimately down into Corinth, some within the Thessalonian flock had died.  And so the Thessalonians basically wanted to know this rapture stuff Paul that you mentioned to us, how does it affect the dead in Christ?  How does it affect our loved ones that have passed away or perhaps were martyred since you left Thessalonica?

And so this is why Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren …”.  In other words, they couldn’t answer the question because they didn’t have the information.  They didn’t know how the rapture applied to their deceased loved ones in Christ.  That’s the issue.

And obviously he can’t just say read your Bible, read the New Testament, read the book of Revelation because there is no New Testament yet.  As you can see from this list here, the only book that was on the books as written by Paul was the book of Galatians.  Maybe they had knowledge of James.  I’m not sure if James, probably the earliest New Testament book, if it even circulated into Thessalonica.  They may have had knowledge of Matthew’s Gospel, our first Gospel, chronologically, but we don’t even know if that circulated up into Thessalonica.  So you’re dealing with a bunch of people that really had no New Testament canon at all.

So it’s not the kind of thing where they could just go home and look up passages and get answers to questions.  I mean, if they had a specific answer to it, needed a specific answer to a question, they had to go to the apostolic source, which was Paul.  And the big issue is, well, you taught us about the rapture, but friends of mine in the Thessalonian congregation have died.  What’s going to happen to them?  I mean, are they going to participate in the rapture?

Rapture begins with the dead in Christ.

And that’s where Paul begins to explain that the rapture begins with the dead in Christ.  The dead in Christ will rise first, meaning that when a Christian dies, their soul goes into the presence of the Lord, where they also, with the Lord in a fully conscious state, are waiting for the rapture.  And the rapture, when it takes place, will actually begin with the dead in Christ.  They will rise first.  Meaning that they will be reunited with their bodies, but the effects of sin will be taken out of the body.

It’s the resurrection body.  It’s the body that God intended.  And as they begin to descend, we who are alive and on the earth at the time will be caught up.  There’s your rapture.  And the two groups, one going up, one coming down, in a resurrected state will see each other in the sky and so we shall forever be with the Lord.

And so what he’s saying is, your deceased loved ones in Christ, you’re actually going to see them again at the point of the rapture.  Because the rapture is not just a resurrection, but it’s a reunion with all of the Christians that were a blessing to you that have now passed on.  And it’s in that context he says, “… comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thess 4:18).  Because the lack of information was causing them a lot of anxiety.

So that’s sort of the general thrust of why he mentions this doctrine of the rapture here.  The thing to understand about the Bible is it’s not written like a systematic theology textbook.  It’s written, some scholars would call it “occasional literature.” Others would call it “crisis literature.” Meaning the Bible is written to real people with real problems, with real questions, living in real life situations.  And this is how the Holy Spirit chose to disclose the Word of God to us through these different crises.

And so as you study various books of the Bible, the better you can think through the crisis that’s happening sort of behind the scenes, you have greater insight into why Paul is bringing up things that he’s bringing up.  He’s bringing these things up as a way of comfort.  He’s functioning a lot like not just a theologian and not just a missionary, but he’s functioning a lot like a pastor trying to comfort his flock.  Because after all, he was the one that planted that church in Thessalonica.  He was the one that led so many of these people in Thessalonica to the Lord.

So that’s why you get this extended treatment here concerning the rapture.  And yet the rapture is such an important doctrine that is greatly under assault today.  It just mystifies me, the number of people out there, it’s like their whole presence on the internet, their whole presence on YouTube is geared towards trying to discredit the pre-tribulational rapture.

In fact, that’s one of the reasons that convinces me it’s true.  You don’t work hard to explain away a three-dollar bill, right?  I think people are upset about it because it is true.  Satan doesn’t want this doctrine taught and believed by the Christian public.

Five General Comments About The Rapture

It’s in that vein that we decided to camp in this passage for a few weeks and ask and answer five, really let’s put it this way, make five general comments about the rapture.  The first three we’ve already covered.

No. 1 — Not the first mention of The Rapture

Number one, this is not the first time the rapture is mentioned in the Bible.  We believe that Jesus in the upper room mentioned the doctrine for the first time.  Where he said in John 14:3, “… I will come again and receive you to Myself, …”.  We worked through John 14:1-4 last time, and we noted that there’s an identical parallel in concepts.  They follow in perfect sequential order when you study John 14:1-4 and you compare it to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.  A lot of commentators have noticed these parallels.  The one that I got it from is a man named J.B. Smith in his Revelation commentary.

So when Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:15, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, …”.  The word of the Lord there could be Paul’s word as an apostle to the Thessalonians and/or it could also be a reference to the word of the Lord of Jesus in the upper room who mentioned the rapture for the very first time, John 14:3.

And this is what you have in the epistles, what you have is the seed truths that Jesus planted in the upper room, John 13-17, are receiving amplification, the seed is being watered, more details are being given, as the Holy Spirit is taking these apostles and giving them truth and doctrine for the church age.

Which was very necessary because up until the coming of Jesus, the central figure was Israel.  Now Israel has been set aside for a season nationally because she rejected her king.  God is raising up the church and the church needs doctrine, and Jesus starts to spell it out in the upper room and then he says, ““I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. “But when He, the Spirit of truth, …”.  (John 16:12-13)

In other words, the Holy Spirit would take the New Testament apostles and carry them along and add clarity to the doctrines that Jesus spelled out for the first time in the upper room.  And one of the doctrines Jesus mentioned is how the church age is going to end, the rapture.  Paul is adding clarity to that pre-existing truth.  For this we say to you by the word of the Lord.

No. 2 – “Rapture” comes from the Latin

The second point is the word rapture comes from the Latin because people today are running around saying, you know, you can’t believe the rapture because the word rapture is not found in the Bible.  In fact, somebody wrote that on my YouTube channel recently and I felt like writing on there.  I had to restrain myself, but my carnality really comes out on social media.  But what I wanted to say to the guy is, I mean, have you not listened to any teaching we’ve ever done here?  Because we have gone through this over and over again and you’re really a Johnny-come-lately saying something like that, and you masquerade as some great intellect.  I did not say that.

So where does this rapture idea come from or the word?  It comes from the Greek word “harpazo,” which means to be seized or caught up by force.  Notice “caught up,” not “coming down.”  Because people try to merge this event with the second advent at the end of the tribulation period.  Well, at the second advent, we’re coming down.  This says we’re going up.

A lot of these folks, I think they don’t have their ups and downs exactly right.  But “harpazo” is the Greek word.  From that word we get the English word “harpoon,” which you spear something and yank it to yourself.  And when that word was translated into Latin, into what’s called Jerome’s Latin Vulgate around the 4th century, that’s where you get that Latin word that sounds very similar to our English word “rapture.” And when the Latin was translated into English, that’s where the word “rapture” comes from.  I mean, it comes from a Greek to Latin to English idea.

But putting the word aside just for a minute, the concept of the rapture is clearly there.  It’s there in “harpazo,” being caught up.  But when you use the word “rapture” in English, you have to understand that it’s coming from a Latin translation.  So that’s sort of the reputation to people that say the word isn’t found anywhere in the Bible.  Well, it is in the Latin version.  I usually ask them, “Do you read Latin?” “Well, no.” “Well, then you’re not qualified to talk about it, I guess.”  All right, I need some humility here.

No. 3 – The Rapture is distinct from the Second Advent

The third point is that the rapture is distinct from the second advent.  Those are two different things.  And we went through all of the distinctions that you find between the rapture and the second advent.  Those are two different events.

So Jesus is coming back, but His coming is divided into two phasesFirst, He returns to rescue the church before the wrath of God hits planet Earth, and secondarily, He comes back with us, by the way, at the end of the seven-year tribulation period, to rescue Israel from the wrath of the beast and to establish His kingdom upon the Earth.  So all of that thus far is actually review.

No. 4 – The Rapture is only for the Church-Age Believer

Let’s go to number four here.  The rapture is only for the church age believer.  The church age started in Acts 2, and we’re studying that on Wednesday nights, the birth of the church, Acts 2.  The earthly mission of the church will end with the translation of the church, which is called the rapture.  And the only people that will participate in the rapture are those who have trusted in Christ during that time period.

Old Testament saints, Noah, Job, Abraham, will not participate in the rapture.  Tribulation period martyrs will not participate in the rapture.  This is something that’s unique only for the church age.  Now why do we think that?  It has to do with 1 Thessalonians 4:16, the expression in Christ.

“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.”

If you’re an underliner in your Bible, you should underline the prepositional expression in Christ.

And as you track that prepositional expression throughout the Bible, you’ll see it’s used around 99 times.  And it always, it’s almost a technical expression, it always, when Paul uses it, is referring to something that’s germane to the church.

In fact, it’s kind of interesting that you can kind of summarize people’s theology just in a word or two.  Like if I was going to summarize John Calvin’s theology, for example, I would pick the word “sovereignty” or “divine sovereignty.”  That kind of sums up what he’s trying to produce theologically.  If I was trying to sum up Jacob Arminius’ theology, I might pick the words “free will” because it seems like that’s his general thrust.  And almost with every theologian, you can sort of look at them and see what they’re about and summarize what they’re saying just in a word or two.

That expression “in Christ” is how you summarize Paul.  In Christ is Paul’s theology.  Our victory over sin as Christians is related to the fact that we are in Christ.  Romans chapter 6.  We’ve been baptized or identified into the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.  And our participation in the rapture, similarly, is related to the fact that we are in Christ.  So the only thing that has to be done to participate in the rapture is to be a born-again believer during the church age.

If that’s true, then you will participate in the rapture.  If you die before the rapture, you’re in that group coming down.  If you don’t die before the rapture, and I can’t promise it’s going to happen today, but if it were to happen today, then we’re in that group caught up.  But it’s only for that group that’s been in existence for the last two thousand years called the age of the church.

Which helps us understand that you don’t have to, and I want to say this carefully because if I don’t say it carefully people will misunderstand.  There’s a belief out there that’s called partial rapture.  And basically what the belief is, is you better be living right when Jesus comes.  Because if you’re not living right when Jesus comes as a Christian, you’re not going in the rapture.  And all the people that teach that by the way always assume that they are living right.  And they’re going to be taken.  This teaching is for everybody else.

And we would reject that teaching because the rapture is part of God’s grace package to the believer.  We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, Ephesians 1:3.  Why?  Because of that prepositional phrase “in Christ.”

And so if you are, and we are “in Christ” when the rapture happens, we’re going whether we’re ready for it or not.

Because there’s people today saying, “Well, you have to be a Zionist to participate in the rapture.”  And they’re confusing a birth truth with a growth truth.  I think being a Zionist and a lover for Israel is important, but that’s something that you begin to understand after you’re born.  And whether you understand it or not, your participation in the rapture has nothing to do with that issue.

It has to do with the fact that you’re born again, and you’ve been identified with Christ’s body, the church.

First Resurrection – Revelation 20:4-6

So therefore, the rapture is not to be confused with something that John calls the first resurrection that is described in Revelation 20:4-6.  Because what people do is they take this, and they try to merge it with the first resurrection after the tribulation period and the beginning of the millennial kingdom.

So John in Revelation 20:4-6, says, “Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life [that’s a resurrection] and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This [in other words, the resurrection at the beginning is the millennial kingdom] is first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.”

So essentially what people try to do is they try to say, “Well, the rapture is that resurrection that we just saw at the beginning of the millennial kingdom for all of the righteous.”

And we do not believe that that is true.  We believe that by the time the resurrection of the righteous takes place at the beginning of the millennial kingdom, the church will have already been raptured to heaven and has now returned with Christ and is ruling and reigning with Christ.

Why does John call this resurrection here in Revelation 20 the first resurrection?

So then if that’s true, then why does John call this resurrection here in Revelation 20 the first resurrection?

People see that expression first resurrection and they think that’s a license to incorporate rapture truth into this passage.  Well this first of all cannot be the very first resurrection.  Because if Revelation 20:4-6 is the first resurrection, then not even Jesus has risen from the dead yet, right?  Because this is the first one, and that’s heresy.  Because Paul is very clear that if Christ has not been raised, then our faith is in vain (1 Cor 15:14).

In fact we’re coming up on resurrection Sunday in a few weeks where we’re going to be commemorating the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.  So when it says here the first resurrection, it’s not saying the first one ever.  It’s saying it’s the first in a sequence.  This one happens first and then a thousand years pass and the resurrection of the damned at the end of the thousand years happens second.

It’s just saying first or second in chronology that’s being described for the millennium.  It’s not saying the first one ever.  It’s like my wife, she says, “Okay, here’s your honey-do list.” Is that what it’s called?  Something like that.  You can tell I have a lot of experience with that.

First, I want you to take the trash out, and last, I want you to do the laundry.  So when I do the laundry, I don’t say, “Ah, what a relief.  This is the last time I’ll ever have to do the laundry ever.  What a relief.”

And when she says, “First, take the trash out,” I don’t say, “This is the first time ever in our marriage I’ve ever had to take the trash out.  Why are you making me take the trash out?  I’ve never had to do that before.” Now in my marriage it might work that way, but not in your marriage, right?

Because first and last is not first ever and last ever.  It’s first and last relative to the two resurrections in the millennium.  And this is where people get confused, is they think first resurrection is the first resurrection ever and therefore they want to take the rapture concept and push it into what John calls the first resurrection.

By the way, this resurrection here is a resurrection for the dead only.  Did you notice that?  Revelation 20:4, “… I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead ….”

In other words, it says this resurrection is for the souls of those who have been beheaded.  This is a resurrection for dead people only.  What does Paul say about the rapture?  The dead in Christ participate.  In fact, the rapture begins with the dead in Christ, but is the rapture only for dead people?  No, because Paul just got finished saying, “Then we who are alive and remain” (1 Thess 4:17).  See the word alive there?  We’ll be caught up.

So the rapture is for the dead in Christ and the living Christians at the time.  The first resurrection in Revelation 20:4-6 is only for the dead, the martyrs of the tribulation period.  And I would also throw into that on the basis of the book of Daniel 12:2[1], I would also throw into that Old Testament saints and tribulation martyrs.  So that is only for dead people.  The rapture can’t be that because the rapture is an event for the dead in Christ and those who are alive on the earth at the time.

So don’t confuse rapture truth with what’s happening at the beginning of the millennial kingdom.  Those are completely two distinct separate events.  The rapture will end the age of the church before the tribulation starts.  The first resurrection is for Old Testament saints and tribulation saints who are not part of the church age at the beginning of the millennial kingdom.

So here’s what the whole package looks like if you’re interested in this.  We know that there are two great resurrections.  A resurrection for the just and a resurrection for the damned.  We know that from Daniel 12:2.

And so Paul writes this in the resurrection chapter.  1 Corinthians 15:20-23, you should underline first fruits, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,”

So notice that Paul analogizes the resurrection of the righteous to first fruits.  And every Hebrew would recognize that because the Jewish harvest cycle did not happen in one way, it happened in three.  So what Paul is doing is he’s saying, “Yes, there is a resurrection for the just, and there is a resurrection for the unjust.”

But the resurrection for the just or the believer happens in three phases, just like Israel’s harvest cycle happened in three phases.  So how did the Jews collect their harvest?  Well, the first harvest is called first fruits.  You’ll see a reference to that in Exodus 23:16, which says, ““Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors …”.

In other words, they were to go and collect the initial harvest called first fruits, which was a joyous time because if you saw first fruits, it would sort of guarantee the rest of the harvests.

The second harvest within the nation of Israel is what’s called the general harvest.  You’ll see a reference to that in Leviticus 23:10-12, which says in part, “… ‘When you enter the land that I’m going to give you and reap its harvest …”.  So then would come the general harvest.

And then God was very clear that you should not harvest everything.  You should leave some of the crop unharvested for the benefit of the sojourner and the benefit of the poor.  So God always looked out for the poor.  But He didn’t give the poor a handout.  He gave them a hand up and gave them the dignity of working alongside everyone else.  They had to participate in the harvest as well.  But the Hebrews were specifically told to leave some for the poor.

And that third harvest is called the gleanings.  And you’ll see a reference to that in Leviticus 19:9-10.  It says there in part.  “‘Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. … you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God.”

Now this is very significant because if you know your Bible well, you know that Ruth met Boaz at which of these three harvests?  The gleanings.  And that connection between Ruth and Boaz is very significant because Ruth 4 and Matthew 1 tell us that’s what God used to continue the Messianic lineage leading to Jesus Christ.  But that whole story of the Book of Ruth revolves around the gleanings.

God’s resurrection program for the saved will take place in three phases

So what’s the point?  The point is when Paul describes the resurrection program for the just, he uses a phrase that all Hebrews would know.  First fruits, and in so doing, he is saying just as the Jewish harvest happened in three cycles or three waves, God’s resurrection program for the saved will take place in three phases.

Phase one, or first fruits, is Jesus’ resurrection

Phase one, or first fruits, is Jesus’ resurrection.  What is Jesus’ resurrection all about?  A lot of people just look at the resurrection of Jesus as it proves He’s God, which is true, but that’s only part of the meaning.  The complete meaning is because He rose, who else is going to rise?  I will, and so will you.  So I can live with hope and certainty and expectation in a fallen world, in a body that’s falling apart.  And I know I’m going to get my new body one day because Jesus rose first and just as first fruits guarantees the other harvests, His resurrection guarantees our resurrection.

The world system does not have this hope.  It’s all about propping up what we currently have and trying to make it look fitter and trying to make it look better which is a losing proposition, amen, because we’re all going right back into the dirt from which we came.  It’s called original sin which affected our bodies and if you don’t believe me as I like to say just look at your high school yearbook picture and compare it to your modern-day driver’s license.  So first is Christ’s resurrection.

The second phase is the general harvest which is the rapture

The second phase is the general harvest and what’s the general harvest?  The general harvest is the rapture.  That’s when we get our resurrected bodies.  The deceased loved ones in Christ seem to get their resurrected bodies first and they start to descend, and we who are alive on the earth at the time are immediately transformed from mortality to immortality in a moment in the twinkling of an eye and the two groups meet each other in the air.  And so we shall always be with the Lord.

The third phase is called the gleanings which is OT saints and tribulation martyrs

And then there was a third phase to Israel’s harvest cycle called the gleanings.  The gleanings is the, that’s what John is dealing with in Revelation 20:4-5.  That’s the resurrection of Old Testament saints, Daniel 12:2, and tribulation martyrs at the beginning of the millennial kingdom.  All of those folks that are resurrected are not part of the church.  They believed in a coming Messiah before the church age started, and a lot of them believed in Jesus in the tribulation period after the church age has ended.  So that’s for non-church age believers.

And then a thousand years pass.  It’s a long time.  And we have the millennial reign of Christ.  And as a resurrected saint, you’re part of that.  You’re administering justice upon the earth under the delegated authority of Jesus Christ.  And everything that’s happening in your life right now is preparing you for that role.  That’s why it’s important to submit to the processes of the Lord now.  Because He’s molding your character in such a way that you’ll be that person to administer justice alongside His delegated authority in the millennial kingdom.  Right now is training time for reigning time, as some have called it.

So there we are governing the mortals of the earth in a thousand years pass.  And the millennial kingdom at that point is over.

Then there is a horrific resurrection for the unsaved which are transported from Hades to the Lake of Fire

And then there is a horrific resurrection.  We finished the resurrection for the saved, which has three parts.  Now we have the resurrection for the unsaved.  You know, people ask me, are we going to be there to see this?  I don’t know.  I hope not.  I don’t want to see this because it’s horrific.  What’s described, but it’s describing all of these people of all ages that are brought out of Hades.  And as one by one, they’re all put in resurrected bodies and they stand before the Lord at what’s called the Great White Throne Judgment, Revelation 20:11-15.  And it’s shown to them that their name is not in the book of life, meaning they never trusted Christ.  And as their name is not found written in the book, they’re judged by the books, it says.

And what’s in the books?  I would think that the books is a record of sins.  Because people in hell will be given different degrees of retribution based on the evil that they committed upon the earth.  I wouldn’t expect Adolf Hitler to be punished the exact same way as just an average atheist in our time period.  Both are going into torment, but it’s more torment for some than others.  I think that’s what’s in the books.

And so they’re brought out of Hades, their name is not in the book, they’re judged by what’s in the book, and they’re transported at that point from Hades into the Lake of Fire where the devil now has been thrown.  Revelation 20:10.

The Antichrist and the false prophet have already been thrown in at the end of the tribulation period, and that’s the resurrection of the damned.

And so that’s what the whole picture looks like when you understand that the resurrection of the saved has these three components to it.  And I’m seeing a lot of this from this expression “first fruits.”

Now presumably a lot of Paul’s audience would not understand Hebrew typology and Hebrew harvest cycle.  So in that same group of verses he uses a different analogy.  It’s there in 1 Cor 15:23:  “But each in his own order [Greek word “tagma”[2]]:  Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,”.  So first fruits is an analogy the Hebrews could understand.

Tagma, or each in his own order, is an analogy that the Gentiles could understand.  Because a lot of commentators believe that Paul there, by using that word order, “tagma,” is referring to a Roman parade that everybody of that day understood because he’s writing to people in Greco-Roman times.

Order or Tagma (1 Cor 15:23)

And when the Romans conquered somebody, they had a victory parade.  And the parade had four parts to it.  First of all, in the front of the parade is the conquering general out front.  Secondarily in the parade is the lead officer.  Third in the parade is all of the soldiers.  And then fourth in the parade is all of the captives of war.  They typically came at the end of the parade.  They were in cages, or they were chained.  And so you could see these four phases of a parade and you would know exactly what in order means if you lived in Greco-Roman times.

So I believe Paul is not just using the example of first fruits to describe the different phases in God’s resurrection program.  He’s using the example of a parade.  So the conquering general out front would be Jesus.  He rose first so the rest of us will rise.

The lead officer in the parade would be the rapture of the church.  That would be the resurrection for all church-age believers over the last 2,000 years.

Then come the soldiers in the parade.  That’s the so-called first resurrection that John is speaking of.  And Daniel 12:2 predicted that’s the resurrection of non-church-age saints.  That would be Old Testament saints and tribulation martyrs.

And then 1,000 years pass.

And then you have the resurrection of all unsaved people at the end of the 1,000 years standing before the Lord at the Great White Throne Judgment [captives].  And as their names are not found written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, they’re thrown into the lake of fire forever.

And I think all of this should have a great motivation in terms of evangelism.  Because everybody’s going to be resurrected somewhere.  We want people to believe in Jesus, so they’ll be resurrected at the rapture.  So they won’t have to face what’s called the captives there at the end.

And if you take this doctrine of the captives and you pretend it’s not there, what it destroys is the incentive for evangelism.  Why become a missionary?  Why translate the Bible into a foreign dialect?  Because people need to make a choice.  And they need to make a choice concerning Jesus because they’re going to be resurrected somewhere in this chain.  And we don’t want people to have to face the prospect of the great white throne judgment.

So that is what the whole picture looks like.

So the rapture is the general harvest, not the gleanings.  The rapture is the lead officer in the parade and not the soldiers, and we think that because Paul uses this expression “in Christ”.

Now a big issue then becomes, all right, you’ve explained the different resurrections.

Where do church-age believers go before they’re resurrected?

Where do people go before they’re resurrected?  And that’s a doctrine or an area of theology that we call the intermediate state.  So let’s talk about that just for a second.  Where do church-age believers go when they die before the rapture?

Well Paul the Apostle writes in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”

So if a Christian over the last 2,000 years dies before the rapture, what happens?  A lot of people say they go into some kind of soul sleep.  That’s not what the Bible says at all.  The body and the soul separate.

The soul or the psyche, which is designed to live forever, goes right into the presence of Jesus.  Absent from the body, it’s to be at home with the Lord.  So where do you go?  You go to a place where you’re at home.  You’re with Jesus awaiting your resurrection body, which is going to be given at the point of the rapture.

So that’s an intermediate state verse.  Another one is the book of Philippians 1:21-23 where Paul describes the intermediate state.  He says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;”

In other words, Paul says there at the end of his life, if I had my choice, I’d rather just die, because when I die, my soul goes into the presence of Jesus, for that is very much better. But apparently God wants me alive for the time being to fill out mystery doctrine for the church in what’s called the book of Philippians and subsequent books that Paul would write.  And so God has me here for fruitful labor.  Either way I win, Paul says, for me to live is Christ, to die is gain.  If I’m here, God’s going to use me to expand the purposes of the church.  If I die, I go into the presence of the Lord, for that is very much better.

So what do you tell people who are grieving their lost loved ones in Christ?  And they want to know where they went.  They’re in a place that is very much better.  Because they’re with Christ, awaiting their resurrected body.

Where do Old Testament believers and tribulation martyrs go before they’re resurrected?

Now what about for the Old Testament believer?  Where do they go exactly?  What about for the tribulation martyr?  Where do they go?  What’s their intermediate state?  The best understanding I have on it is from Luke 16:19-31.  Which I do not think is a parable.  Many people will tell you, nothing to see here folks, move right along.  It can’t be that bad after the grave.  This is just a parable.

Remember the rich man that died along with Lazarus.  The rich man went into a place of torment.  Lazarus into Abraham’s bosom.  I don’t think it’s a parable because of Luke 16:20 which mentions the personal name Lazarus.  Luke 16:20 which mentions the personal name Abraham.  And Luke 16:29 which mentions the personal name Moses.  It doesn’t just say Moses, it says Moses and the prophets.

If that is a parable, then Jesus is doing something there that He doesn’t do in any other parable where He uses personal names.  So I believe that this is an absolute reality that Jesus was talking about.  He talks about two people that die, one in faith, one in unbelief.  The unbelief goes to a place of conscience torment called Hades.  And the one who is a believer, in this case Lazarus, goes into the presence of a place not of torment, but a place called Abraham’s bosom.

Abraham’s bosom I think is another name for paradise.  Because remember what Jesus said to the thief on the cross, the penitent thief who was about to die.  Luke 23:43, “And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”” So I think all non-church age believers go to this place called Abraham’s bosom or paradise.

Now what’s interesting about paradise is Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:4 was caught into the third heaven.  Remember that?  My understanding is the first heaven is the distance between the ground and the clouds.  The second heaven is the distance between the clouds and the stars.  This is how the Greeks divided up the stratosphere.  I think that’s what Paul may be referring to.  And then the third heaven is beyond the stars, where God lives.  So Paul describes this experience and he’s using this to demonstrate that he really is a true apostle, where he was actually caught up to the third heaven.  He was caught up to where God is.  And in the process, he says this in 2 Corinthians 12:4 I “was caught up into Paradise ….”

So I think some way, somehow in between the resurrection, or the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is Jesus went to Abraham’s bosom, or paradise, and took that whole compartment into the presence of the Lord.  And those people there are awaiting their resurrected bodies, not at the rapture, but the beginning of the millennial kingdom.

So related to the intermediate state, we’ve kind of answered where the church-age believer goes.  We’ve tried to answer where the Old Testament saint and tribulation martyr goes.

Where does the unbeliever go when they die?

Okay, well where does the unbeliever go when they die?

Well again I’m leaning on Luke 16, 19-23 for an explanation, and it says there in Luke 16:23, they go to a place called Hades, which is a place of conscience torment.  And they’re in that place of conscience torment, I mean you can read all about it in Luke 16:19-31, it’s obviously not a nice place.  The rich man said have Lazarus come over, or you come over, and give me relief in this agony, or at least go warn my brothers who are unbelievers as well, so they don’t end up here.

And you can see that once people go into this place, there’s no way out.  And so that’s where they are, in a place of conscious torment, and they’re waiting for something.  They’re waiting for their resurrected body as well.  When does that happen?

Well, look at Revelation 20:13-14.  At that final judgment, this is after the millennial kingdom is over, it says, “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.”

So essentially what happens to unbelievers is they go to this place called Hades, conscious torment, awaiting their resurrected bodies which they will receive at the end of the millennial kingdom.

That’s the second resurrection that John is talking about, and they stand before the Lord with resurrected bodies.  It’s an amazing concept to understand that everyone gets resurrected.  And as their name is not found written in the book of life, they’re not believers, and as they’re judged by the books, determining the degree of torment they will experience in the lake of fire, they are transported from Hades into the lake of fire where Satan already is at that point.  He’s not there now, but he will be then.  The beast is there, and the antichrist is there, and they spend all eternity in the lake of fire.  Wow.

You can see why I really don’t want to be present when this is happening.  It’s so horrific.  And then it says in Revelation 20:14, “Then death and Hades …” where all of these people were in torment until they received their resurrected bodies, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” And that’s the end.

So if all of that is true, maybe that’s why we support missionaries here at Sugar Land Bible Church.  And maybe that’s why the Lord says all of us are missionaries.  Because this is a reality where we’re given a few details.  You know, I think it was one man who put it this way, “It’s not the things in the Bible that I don’t understand that bother me.  It’s the things I do understand.”

God has given us enough of a glimpse of this to create an impetus for evangelism.  All of us are missionaries.  All of us have opportunities to share the faith.  All of us should approach the task with a sense of urgency because hell is real, and eternity is long.  And so with all of that being said, I wanted to just communicate today that the rapture is only for the church age believer.

I guess I could have just said that and moved on, but I wanted to give you some basis for that.  And then when we hit number five next week, we’ll get into this debate about when does the rapture happen relative to the seven years.

I mean, is it really true that the church is going to be taken to heaven before the seven-year tribulation period exists?  Is that just an American doctrine?  I mean, do we believe that because we want it to be true or is this actually what the Bible teaches?  And so we’ll see that next time.

Let’s pray.  Father, we’re thankful for our completed canon of Your Word that allows us to put together all of the data.  Help this not to just be a Bible study where we expand our theology, but we want this to expand the way we live.  Give us a sense of urgency this week as we interact with the lost.  We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory.  We ask these things in Jesus’ name and God’s people said amen.


[1] ““Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2) (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. 1995. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.)


[2] 5413 τάγμα (tagma), ατος (atos), τό (to): n.neu.; ≡ Str 5001; TDNT 8.31—LN 62.7 order, in an order of succession, i.e., in turn (1Co 15:23+) Ταδδαῖον (Taddaion), ου (ou), ὁ (ho): [see 2497]—LN 93.356 Taddaeus (Mk 3:18 v.r.) (Swanson, James. 1997. In Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament), electronic ed. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.)