In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, Paul builds on the earthly teachings of Jesus. There are more than a dozen parallels between these end-time passages and the sayings of Jesus recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But when Paul talks about the “word of the Lord” in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 (NKJV), he is referring to a saying of Jesus that did not make it into the four gospels, but that Paul preserves for us (a clear example of this same thing is seen in Acts 20:35).
Read 1 Thessalonians 4:15, 16. According to Paul, what happens when Christ returns? See also Rev. 1:7; Matt. 24:31; John 5:28-29; Acts 1:9-11.
The Second Coming of Jesus is a noisy event. It is accompanied by a commanding shout from an archangel and the trumpet of God. Everyone will hear it and see it (see Rev. 1:7; Matt. 24:31; John 5:28-29; Acts 1:9-11).
But the key point for Paul here is the order of events when Jesus comes. The Thessalonians had come to believe that dying before the return of Jesus would involve some sort of disadvantage in eternity, probably eternal physical separation from those who lived until Jesus’ return.
In this text Paul assures the Thessalonians that the living believers do not “precede,” or have any advantage over, the dead. The dead in Christ are the ones who rise first (see Rev. 20:4-6). That happens before the living ascend to meet Jesus in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). The righteous dead are resurrected and given immortality along with those who are alive when He returns.
This passage does not teach that believers go to heaven when they die. If Paul had taught the Thessalonian believers that their dead loved ones were in heaven, why would they be grieving, and why didn’t he just tell them so? Instead, the comfort Paul offers here is the knowledge that the resurrection will reunite them with those they have loved.
Think about all that happens at the second coming of Christ: Jesus comes in the sky, everyone sees Him, the dead are brought to life, the living are given immortality, and all are taken together to heaven. In one sense, it’s so outrageous, so against all that common sense, experience, and even science teach us. Yet, this is what we have to believe; otherwise, we have no hope. If you can trust the Lord in something like this, how can you not trust Him with whatever “smaller” things with which you are struggling?