What Does it Mean That ‘The Dead in Christ Will Rise First’? (2023)

Paul proclaims to the Church of Thessalonica, “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” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

From this passage of Scripture, we are told that “the dead in Christ will rise first.” At first glance, this passage of Scripture can be confusing; however, reading the surrounding context can help the reader understand what it means when Paul says the dead in Christ will rise first.

What Will Happen at the Rapture?

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is Paul’s discourse on the Rapture of the church. Paul mentions the Rapture in other places in his writings, such as in 1 Corinthians 15:52-55. When Paul is telling the Church of Thessalonica that “the dead in Christ will rise first,” he is referring to the fact that at the Rapture, those who have passed away and placed faith in Jesus before they died will rise first.

This will be all of the Christians who placed faith in Jesus prior to His Second Coming. The Rapture of the Church is debated among Christian scholars; however, the biblical interpretation of this passage agrees with a classical dispensational interpretation of the text. Dispensationalism teaches the literalness of the Bible while at the same time acknowledging metaphors and other figures of speech.

When Paul tells the Thessalonians that “the dead in Christ will rise first,” he is literally referring to the fact that those who placed faith in Christ and have already died will be resurrected first into their glorified bodies before believers who are still alive at the event of the Rapture.

Paul tells us, “According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:15).

Our loved ones who placed faith in Christ and have already passed away will be resurrected first. If the Rapture occurs during our lives, we will be transformed into our glorified bodies after the dead in Christ have been resurrected (1 Thessalonians 4:17). The Rapture could happen at any time — even today.

Paul was expecting the Rapture to occur during his life, but it did not. In the same way, Christians today should pray for the coming of the Rapture; however, we should still be productive for the Lord with the time we have here on earth.

It is possible that the Rapture will happen during your life; however, it is also plausible that the Rapture will not happen for several hundreds or thousands of years in the future. Christians need to devote themselves to sharing the gospel, extending kindness, and making a difference for the Lord with their daily lives.

The event of the Rapture does not give Christians the right to sit around and wait for it to happen. Time is a gift from God, and it should not be wasted. The Rapture could occur today; however, believers need to continue to do good and devote themselves to the work of the Lord.

When the Rapture occurs, the dead in Christ will be raised from the ground by God’s power and they will be transformed into their glorified bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). After they have been raised from the dead, living believers will rise to meet the Lord in the air and be transformed into their glorified bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:17-18).

Who Are the Dead in Christ?

Believers will literally be brought up into the air to be with the Lord. The Rapture is an extremely quick event as Paul tells us it will happen quicker than a twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52). Paul also tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 that the Lord will speak a loud command, an archangel will shout, and the trumpet call of God will sound.

Many scholars believe the archangel will be the Archangel Michael; however, we are not completely sure. Archangels do have the highest rank of the angels, yet we are only told the name of one archangel, Michael. The trumpet call of God is reminiscent of the trumpet call found in the Old Testament when God was giving commands to Israel (Exodus 19:13-19; 20:18).

It is important to mention that the Rapture is not the same as the Second Coming of Christ. Both of these events are distinct events, and they should not be synchronized as the same event. The Rapture of the Church is a single event and could happen at any time.

The Second Coming of Christ will be signaled by many events and will occur at the end of the seven-year Tribulation (Matthew 24; Luke 21:34-36; Revelation 1:7).

Hebrews 9:27-28 tells us, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

Jesus’ Second Coming will be glorious, and He will destroy all those who hated Him and refused to accept Him? After the Second Coming of Jesus, He will establish His literal 1,000-year reign on earth (Isaiah 2:2-4; Revelation 20:1-5). During the Millennium Reign of Christmas, Jesus will rule as King, and He will physically walk with mankind.

There will still be unbelievers during the Millennium who are born to the believers that come out of the Tribulation. Christians who had already placed faith in Jesus prior to the Tribulation will already be in their glorified bodies during the Millennium and will no longer sin.

Satan will be bound for the 1,000-year reign of Christ; however, he is released for a short time to test the nations (Revelation 20:1-3). At the end of the 1,000-year of Christ, the Lord will throw Satan into the lake of fire as well as the antichrist, the false prophet, and all unbelievers (Revelation 19:20, 20:10, 21:8, Matthew 25:41).

All believers will go into the New Heaven and New Earth that God will create (Isaiah 65:17). In the New Heaven and New Earth, sin will officially be eradicated. There will be no more pain, mourning, or death (Revelation 21:4). God’s master plan of redemption, salvation and eternal life with Him will finally be accomplished.

What Does This Mean?

If you are a believer, rest in the knowledge of knowing that one day you will live in the New Heaven and New Earth with Jesus Himself. This is a promise God has made us in His Word and no word of His ever fails (2 Peter 3:13).

The events of the Rapture precipitate all of these events of eschatology, including the Tribulation, the Second Coming of Christ, the Millennium Reign of Christ, and the New Heaven and New Earth.

God will raise the dead in Christ first at the event of the Rapture and then He will take believers up to be with Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). The Rapture is nothing to be afraid of, but rather, it should be something that we pray for, hope for, and look forward to the day of its coming.

For further reading:

What Is the Rapture?

What Are Signs of the End Times and the Rapture?

Is There Such a Thing as Baptism for the Dead?

What Is the Timeline of Revelation?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/RomoloTavani

Vivian Brickerloves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master's degree in Christian Ministry with a deep academic emphasis in theology. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is embarking on other adventures.

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