Foundational to the believer’s future hope is the bodily resurrection of the righteous dead when Jesus arrives in glory. Paul’s description of the “arrival” or ‘Parousia’ of Jesus in his first letter to the Thessalonians was written to comfort the Assembly concerning the fate of their compatriots who died before that event could take place. They needed not to sorrow “like the others” since the righteous dead would be resurrected when the Lord “arrived” from Heaven.
When the Lord Jesus returns to the Earth, both the living and newly resurrected saints will “meet him” together as one people as he descends from Heaven - (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
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For the Assembly of God, the answer to grief over the loss of fellow believers is the bodily resurrection, an event that will occur when Jesus “arrives,” at his ‘Parousia.’ While disciples of Jesus do grieve in this life over the loss of loved ones, they need not succumb to the depths of despair that often overwhelm nonbelievers who are without this hope.
Paul addressed the issue of dead Christians in the fourth chapter of 1 Thessalonians. Apparently, some members of the congregation had become concerned that dead believers might miss out on the glories of that final day. Precisely how they came to this conclusion Paul did not state.
However, the Apostle reassured them. Not only will dead believers participate on that day, but they will rise from the dead “FIRST” and be reunited with their fellow believers who are still alive at the time. Then, the entire congregation will ascend to “meet” Jesus as he descends to the Earth from Heaven.
In this way, all the saints of Thessalonica will be together “with him forevermore.” They are “to comfort one another” with these words.
What Paul links to the ‘Parousia’ of Jesus is the collective and bodily resurrection of believers. That is, they will all be raised or transformed at the same time. Where believers go after meeting Jesus “in the air” IS NOT STATED in the passage, whether they will accompany him to the Earth as he continues his descent or return with him to Heaven.
As he does elsewhere, Paul bases the future resurrection of the saints on the past resurrection of Jesus from among the dead:
- “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him.”
NOT IN DARKNESS
He continues this subject in the Letter’s fifth chapter. The Thessalonians were not in darkness, therefore, the “Day of the Lord” would not “overtake them as a thief.” This was so, not because they knew all the appropriate “signs” and prophetic timetables of that final Day, but because they “were all sons of light, and sons of the day” – (1 Thessalonians 5:1-12).
Disciples of Jesus live in the light of the Gospel and no longer in the darkness of sin. They prepare for the end by “putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation.”
Moreover, God did not appoint His saints to “wrath.” Even now, Jesus is delivering them from the coming “wrath.” Instead, they are destined for the “acquisition of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.”
Implicit in Paul’s declaration is that salvation is received through the future resurrection of believers. He concluded this section of the Letter about the future return of Jesus by encouraging the Thessalonians. Indeed, God would sanctify them wholly in preparation for that day:
- “May your spirit and soul and body be preserved whole and without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who will also do it.”
The point of this statement is not the tripartite nature of man, but that the whole person will be saved on that Day when Jesus “arrives from heaven,” including the physical body.
Bodily resurrection is foundational to Paul’s understanding of salvation, which he links it to the “arrival of Jesus.” All dead saints will be raised at that time, and together with those who remain alive, the entire Body of Christ will “meet” him as he arrives from heaven. These words are of great comfort to every true disciple of Jesus.