Resurrection or Abandonment?

SYNOPSIS – Is the hope of the church in the future bodily resurrection or its removal from the spacetime continuum? – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Graveyard - Photo by Krisztina Papp on Unsplash
The New Testament never describes a day when believers will be removed from the spacetime continuum and transported to a nonphysical realm, whether individually at death or collectively at the return of Jesus. The notion that salvation is realized when the individual abandons his or her physical body for a disembodied existence is foreign to the teachings of the Bible. In it, Christian hope is linked inextricably to the resurrection of the righteous at the “arrival” or parousia of Jesus. - [Photo by Krisztina Papp on Unsplash].

Consistently, when discussing the future hope of believers, whether as individuals or a collective whole, the Apostle Paul points to the bodily resurrection of the saints at the end of the age. Moreover, he connects this future hope to the past bodily resurrection of Jesus.
  • (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) – “But we do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them who are falling asleep, — lest ye be sorrowing, even as the rest also who are without hope; For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also will God bring forth with him them who have fallen asleep through Jesus; For this unto you do we say by a word of the Lord,—that we, the living who are left unto the Presence of the Lord, shall in nowise get before them who have fallen asleep; Because the Lord himself, with a word of command, with a chief-messenger’s voice, and with a trumpet of God, shall descend from heaven,—and the dead in Christ shall rise first, After that we, the living who are left, together with them shall be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air:—and thus, evermore, with the Lord shall we be! So then, be consoling one another with these words” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The purpose of the preceding passage was to reassure believers concerning the fate of Christians who died before the “arrival” of Jesus - This is why the Apostle stressed their bodily resurrection on that day - (“The dead in Christ shall rise first”). Not only so, but any believers still alive will be reunited with their resurrected loved ones, and together they “meet the Lord in the air.” Both living and dead Christians will be changed forever when Jesus arrives in glory.

Does the passage state that Jesus then takes his saints back to “heaven” after “meeting them in the air”? In fact, it only ends with the statement - “And so will we be with the Lord forevermore.” Paul never stated exactly where this happy condition will continue after this “meeting.”

When interpreting this final verse, the larger context must be kept in view. In the next chapter Paul warns that the unprepared will be overtaken by the events of this very same day - “Like a thief in the night.” The “arrival” of Jesus from heaven is also the time of the “Day of the Lord,” an event associated elsewhere with God’s judicial punishment of the wicked.

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul declared that when Jesus is “revealed from heaven,” the righteous will be vindicated but the unrighteous will receive “everlasting destruction” - Both events occur on the same “day” - (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

In the New Testament, at his parousia, Jesus is always “coming,” never “going” - ReturningNOT “departing.” When any direction is provided, he is coming “from heaven” and descending to the earth. This pattern holds true regardless of which Greek term is applied to the event, whether “coming,” “arrival,” or “revelation” - (Matthew 16:27, 24:30, 25:31, 26:64, Acts 1:11, 1 Corinthians 15:23, Revelation 1:7).

The most comprehensive list of the events that will precede or occur on that day is provided by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. The “arrival” of Jesus will include - (1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 50-57):
  • The resurrection of the dead.
  • The cessation of death - (the “last enemy”).
  • The final subjugation of all hostile powers.
  • The consummation of the kingdom.
  • The transformation of the saints still alive from mortality to immortality.
His return will overthrow the "last enemy, death" – The bodily resurrection of the righteous means the termination of death itself. Believers still alive when Jesus returns will be transformed from mortality into immortality - The same scenario presented to the Thessalonians - The “dead in Christ” are resurrected to join living Christians and “meet the Lord in the air.” The point is not removal from the earth but resurrection and transformation:
  • Lo! a mystery unto you do I declare: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed; In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, during the last trumpet; for it shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed.” – (1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 15:51-58).
His “arrival” will result in the separation of the righteous from the unrighteous - A day of joy and reward for the prepared, but one of disaster and everlasting punishment for the unprepared - (Matthew 13:30. 25:13, 25:31-46, Luke 12:33-39, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

Jesus will return on the “Day of the Lord” - The “man of lawlessness” will be destroyed, the old “heaven and earth” will be dissolved, and the new heavens and the new earth inaugurated - (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, 2:1-10, 2 Peter 3:10-12).

What characterizes the events of that day is their finality. Death will cease forever, the old creation will disappear and be replaced, resurrected believers will be with the Lord “forevermore” and the unrighteous will undergo “wrath” and receive “everlasting punishment”- (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, 2 Thessalonians 2:5-10).

Lake Louise - Photo by Jacky Zeng on Unsplash
Lake Louise - Photo by Jacky Zeng on Unsplash

Christian hope is not found in escape from the earth or transportation out of the spacetime continuum; instead, the biblical hope looks forward to the bodily resurrection and the New Creation at the end of the present age. The gospel is about redemption, not abandonment, and this message includes the promised resurrection of the righteous dead - (John 5:29, Romans 6:5, 8:19-25, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Philippians 3:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Connected directly to the resurrection is the New Creation. Even now, the entire universe is groaning in anticipation of the resurrection of the sons of God. That day will mean nothing less than a newly created order - The “coming” of Jesus will usher in a New Heaven and a New Earth - (Romans 8:19-25, 2 Peter 3:10).

In the book of Revelation, New Jerusalem DESCENDS from heaven to the new earth. The saints do not ascend to it - It comes down to them. In this city, the redeemed live forever in the presence of God and the Lamb, free from all sorrow, suffering and death - (Revelation 21:1–22:5).


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