These small group studies of Thessalonians contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Inductive Bible Study – The Rapture of the Church
I.The Rapture and Believers Who Have Passed On (13-18)
- Why did Paul write the Thessalonians about this issue? What was his motivation?
- How can this passage be useful for us? How does it influence our lives?
- Who does the term “asleep” refer to?
- What is the core of the gospel as mentioned in verse 14? Why are these two facts so important to the gospel?
- What does it mean “fallen asleep in Jesus?”
- Believers will not precede those who have fallen asleep in going where?
- What event is described in verse 16-17?
- Who are the parties who are involved?
- What exactly will happen?
- Where will Jesus descend to?
- What signs will accompany this event? What do all three things (shout, voice, trumpet) have in common? Why might these signs accompany this event?
- What does it mean that the dead in Christ will arise? What if they have been cremated or their bodies have decomposed? Where was their soul in the interim?
- Why does Jesus want to come do this? How will believers feel at that time? If you are alive, how will you feel?
- What signs precede this (none)?
- How does the rapture affect our daily lives? How does the teaching in this passage influence you? What should you do based on what you have learned today? What direct application did Paul give to his readers?
1 Corinthians 15:35-50 – Teaching about the resurrection of the dead and the glorified bodies given to believers.
Philippians 3:20-21 – He will transform our body into conformity with His body.
1 Corinthians 15:51-55 – More on the Rapture.
2 Corinthians 5:8 – Absent with the body, present with the Lord.
Luke 23:43 – Today you will be with me in paradise.
Luke 16:19-31 – Parable of Lazarus and the rich man, perhaps shows us that there is a waiting place for believers.
Genesis 5:24 – Enoch walked with God and he was not for God took him.
John 14:1-3 – I will come again and take you to be with Me that where I am you may be also.
1 Thessalonians 5:9 – God has not destined us for wrath.
2 Timothy 4:8 – We should love His appearing.
James 5:7-9 – The judge is standing right at the door.
1 John 2:28-3:2 – Abide in Him so that you may not shrink away at His coming.
Revelation 2:25 – Hold fast until I come.
1. What is the point of teaching about the rapture?
Some people are simply not interested in learning about this and other prophecies about the future. They think that the future is the future and is not relevant to our lives today. So if I told you that you had cancer and were going to die unless you had treatment, you would not care because that is the future, right? Of course not. You would get treatment so that you would be ready to face the future. Here are four reasons why we should study this event.
A. Paul thought it was important enough to teach on. Paul was a busy person. Writing a letter to the churches took a lot of time, especially when it had to be written and delivered by hand. Paul would only include things that were important.
B. We should not be uninformed. Paul gives this as one of the reasons why he tells them about the upcoming rapture. Growing in knowledge and wisdom is a good use of time, especially when it is about something that is so integral to the belief and hope of believers.
C. So that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. Paul’s teaching in this passage gives believers a hope. It shows us that death is not the end and there is much more in store for us. It shows us that there is great meaning in life. This can not only give us comfort as we face the future, but it also comforts us when believers we know and love pass away.
D. We know that we should be ready. If we know that this event is coming, we should be prepared to face it. In many cases preparedness can be the difference between life and death. In the US Midwest there are many tornadoes. These come fast and many times with only a little warning. They can be powerful enough to life up homes and large trucks and hurl them hundreds or thousands of meters. Many people have prepared by getting a cellar or basement for their home. When they hear a tornado warning or the weather is severe, they get in the basement. Many lives have been saved by this. What would you do if the electrical grid went out and there was no clean water in your city? If there was a fire? Etc. It can pay off to be prepared. These things might or might not happen. But because of Paul’s teaching, we know that the rapture is coming. Let’s see exactly how it is going to happen so that we can be prepared and be ready to face this event with no regrets.
2. Verse 14 – God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. How do we know this? Because Jesus already arose again from the dead. This proved that He has the power over death and all who believe in Jesus will have eternal life even though they die. See 1 Corinthians 15.
Those who have fallen asleep. This is a term that Jesus sometimes used including in Luke 8:52. It showed that death was a temporary state. Jehovah’s Witnesses use this and other verse to say that some believers who die will be literally sleeping until some time in the future. Many verses in the Bible show that this is not true and that a believer’s soul immediately goes to be with Jesus upon the death of the person. 2 Corinthians 5:8, Luke 23:43. Whether they go to heaven immediately or some type of paradise waiting place is less clear. But it is clear that their soul will be with God immediately after death.
God will bring with Him. I believe the “Him” is referring to Jesus. God will send these believers with Jesus when He returns for the rest of His church.
3. Verse 15 – We who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord. This makes it clear that Jesus has another plan in mind beyond just “wait for everyone to die.” He has rejected or abandoned the world. He is not waiting for some end of the world catastrophe to wipe everyone out. He has his plan in mind. He is going to come back for us!
Most of the New Testament church believed that this return would be in their lifetimes. In fact believers in every generation since then have believed the same thing. It hasn’t happened yet. This has led many skeptics to ridicule the idea of Jesus’ second coming. But just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it is not going to. See 2 Peter 3:8. In fact, Peter, under the inspiration of the Spirit, already wrote that people in the last days will be mocking because Jesus’ return is slower than expected. I believe Jesus intended to leave the timing of His return vague so that for every generation it would be imminent, meaning that each generation should be prepared. It gives us hope to push forward. It motivates us to reach the lost. It reminds us to be living in the light of His will. I don’t know when the rapture will be, but one thing I know is that we are closer to it than any other generation in all of history. With recent globalization and the rapid advance of evil (such as homosexuality around the world mirroring Romans 1) it certainly appears that the stage is ripe for Jesus to return.
It would be a tremendous blessing to be alive at the time of Jesus’ return and never have to suffer death. But almost as a reminder of God’s grace, this passage teaches us that those who precede us (those who die first) will be with Christ first. No one is left out. No true believer will be disappointed. Every believer can experience the rapture firsthand even if they die before it happens.
4. Verse 16 –
The Lord Himself. Jesus Himself is coming back for us. This in itself shows us the vast importance of this event. For most of history God has sent various messengers including prophets, apostles, and sometimes angelic messengers. It is rare indeed that He sends His own Son. He saves that for the very most important events.
Will descend. Jesus will leave heaven and come down to the world to receive us.
A shout, the voice of the archangel, the trumpet of God… All of these things show us that this is going to be a NOISY event. It is going to be public. It is going to be loud. You don’t see in this passage words like “sneak, stealth, quietly, silently, in disguise” etc. Ever heard the trumpet of God? I haven’t, but I have to assume that it is amazingly loud. I guess it will be beautiful to hear for the friends of God and terrifying for His enemies. It is not hard to imagine unbelievers covering their ears and hiding under tables and in closets in fear. The archangel (perhaps Michael) will lend his voice to this event. Jesus Himself will shout. What is He going to say? We don’t know. Perhaps it will be a greeting, a summons, or welcome to His followers.
It is important to recognize that the Bible is clear about what this event is and how public it is. Some cults attempt to teach that Jesus has already come for the church. They generally do this to reconcile their failed prophecies about the timing of Jesus’ return with the fact that nothing actually happened on those days they predicted it.
Are you going to be one of the excited few who think, “He’s finally here!” or are you going to be one of the terrified many who are shirking in fear?
What should you do to prepare for this? Are you ready? If you are not ready, when will you be ready? What do you need to do to get ready?
The dead in Christ will rise first. These will not be forgotten. One of the hopes we look forward to is that one day God will give us a new and perfect body with no pain, no sin, and no more death.
What will this body be like? We don’t know the answer for sure. But Jesus’ post-resurrection body could give us a hint. What hints can we get from that?
He ate – This is good news for all of us (like me!) who really enjoy eating as perhaps it shows us that enjoying food will still be in store for us.
He could go through solid objects – Perhaps our bodies will be meta-physical in that they could appear/disappear/transport.
You could touch Him – Jesus asked Thomas to touch Him meaning that Thomas’s hand wouldn’t go straight through His body (if it did Thomas would have kept believing that Jesus was a ghost.)
Our body may not be like Jesus’ was, but since He was the first one to go through this resurrection it could be a sign that ours would be like His was.
Funerals in many parts of the world are big business. In many religions and cultures, they are also very important. I read that in China many elderly people actually committed suicide so that their bodies could be buried without going through cremation. They did this because a law was passed that after a certain date every person who died in that area would have to be cremated. Some Westerners spend thousands of dollars on high class caskets. Some of these are water proof, bug proof, specially padded, etc. Others have put in their wills that they want their bodies frozen in hopes that scientists in a future generation will be able to bring them back to life again.
Knowing what we know about the rapture and life after death, what should a Biblical view of these things be? Should we be cremated? Should we spend money on these post-death amenities? What instructions would you leave in your will about your funeral? In case you think it is morbid to talk about remember how important it is to be prepared. About 6000 people die per hour and 37 million per year. Many were not prepared for it. Your funeral could be your last chance to witness to people and be a good testimony for the Lord. Or your funeral could become a heavy burden for your family.
Is there anything we can do to “redeem the culture” by witnessing for Christ when we go to funerals of friends or family around us?
5. Verse 17 –
Caught up – The Latin for this word is rapturo. Some have attacked the doctrine of the rapture because they say that this word never appears in the Bible. That is true. The term for this doctrine (rapture) was popularized by Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. Even though the term is not found in the Greek, the idea of “caught up” is. So what is this event? It seems to be something that happens suddenly with little warning (as opposed to the second coming). From 1 Corinthians 15:50-52 we do see that his will happen lightning fast, in the twinkling of an eye. At that time we will be translated, or changed. God will give each one, dead or alive, new bodies. Movies have sometimes represented this event by showing people’s clothes, watch, glasses, pacemakers, etc. all in a neat pile on the ground, but empty. This is reasonable considering that we cannot take the things of this earth with us. Matthew 6:20. These same movies show planes suddenly without pilots crashing, cars careening out of control with no drivers and general chaos as millions upon millions of people suddenly disappear. Is this a reasonable depiction? It would seem based on what we see in Scripture that it may indeed happen something like this. This would in turn be a wake up call to an unbelieving world, but would largely go unheeded. One airline company actually has a policy that there must be one non-believer in the cockpit at all times in case the rapture occurs while the plane is in the air.
There is in fact a precedent for this event as similar things happened to both Enoch and Elijah.
Caught up together – This will be a grand reunion of all believers. For Christians who have lost spouses, parents, siblings, friends, and children this is a great comfort. Someday you will face loss and need to be comforted by this.
In the air – This is a key difference between this event and the second coming. In the second coming Jesus returns all the way to earth, setting His feet on the Mount of Olives. See Zechariah 14:4-5. There are a number of other differences between the two events but this is one of the most obvious.
So we shall always be with the Lord – This is the key point about the rapture. This is the golden nugget of all that we have learned today. Our hope is not primarily about heaven, new bodies, or even seeing lost loved ones again. The best part is that we can be with the Lord forever. It is our sin that has separated people from God all the way back to the Garden of Eden. But one day that will be reversed and we can have true face to face communion with our Lord and Savior. Live your life worthily so that you that you can look into His eyes with no shame.
6. Comfort one another with these words – There are many potential applications from Paul’s teaching on this, but this is the one Paul gives to his readers. One of the key implications on this is that believers know how to face death. So what does this mean for us?
A. Urgency to share the gospel – We can only comfort families who are facing death of loved ones if the deceased was a believer. For unbelievers death is the end of opportunity to accept God’s gracious gift. This passage should challenge us to share with people while they still have a chance to accept us. It should also motivate us to share with people who seem to be nearing death. Elderly relatives, people with terminal diseases, the list goes on and on.
B. We can know what to say – This passage shows us what we can say to comfort believers. As bad as it is to face the death of loved ones, there is comfort in knowing if both sides have faith in the Lord they will meet again.
C. We do not need to despair about death – Many who face death (others or their own in the near future) experience despair. They grow bitter and angry and resentful. They are hateful toward a God who would allow or cause this to happen. This passage shows us that there is real hope beyond death. For a believer death is the next step. For those who do not believe in God, there is no hope and no consolation. We can understand why death destroys their world and leaves them empty and scared. For us, there is more.
D. We must be ready for the rapture – Don’t be like the wicked slave in Jesus’ parable who was not ready for the Master’s return. Today we have been reminded that Jesus is coming back for us. This is a certainty. It’s more certain than death or taxes. The question is, will you be ready?
What do you need to do to obey what we have learned in this passage?
1 Thessalonians 1
1 Thessalonians 2:1-9
1 Thessalonians 2:10-20
1 Thessalonians 3
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
1 Thessalonians 5:12-15
1 Thessalonians 5:16-28
2 Thessalonians 1
2 Thessalonians 2:1-8
2 Thessalonians 2:9-17
2 Thessalonians 3
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