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Lesson 8: The Dead in Christ *

Introduction: What happens when we die? There are two main views in Christianity. The majority view is that your "spirit" or "soul" (the thinking part of you) returns to heaven to await the resurrection (the Second Coming of Jesus) at which time your thinking and your body will be united again. The minority view is "soul sleep," where your body and your soul remain unconscious in the grave until the resurrection. The Thessalonians seem to have had a third, and more discouraging view. They seemed to think that if you died before Jesus returned you were lost forever. Let's jump into our study of the Bible to explore what Paul has to say to the Thessalonians about the state of the dead!

  1. Hope

    1. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13. What is the problem with the thinking of the Thessalonians? (They were like those who grieved upon the death of others because they had "no hope.")

      1. What does Paul call that kind of "no hope" thinking? (Ignorance. He says that Christians have a more educated view of death.)

    2. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:14. What happened to Jesus after He died? (He was resurrected.)

      1. What does that belief mean to us? (That if we fall asleep in Jesus, that God will also resurrect us!)

      2. Notice that the verse says, "God will bring with Jesus." What is Paul talking about, geography? That Jesus (who lives in heaven) will bring people from heaven to earth at the Second Coming? (I don't think that is what is intended. Paul is not writing about geography, he is writing about power and authority. Just as God brought Jesus from the grave, so God will bring us (because of Jesus' victory) from the grave.)

  2. The Error

    1. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:15. While we do not completely understand the erroneous views of the Thessalonians, this gives us some insight into those errors. What error is Paul correcting? (That those who are alive at Jesus' Second Coming will go to heaven before those who have died.)

      1. Was this just a timing issue? (I doubt it. Paul starts out saying "Don't think like those who have no hope." That tells me that the Thessalonians thought that if they did not live to see the Second Coming of Jesus, they would not go to heaven. They had to survive to be able to go to heaven.)

      2. What is the truth about the timing? (That those who are alive at the Second Coming will not go to heaven before those who have died in Jesus.)

    2. Put yourself in the place of a member of the Thessalonian church. How could you come to such an erroneous view? (Isn't that the way it is in all of life? We hope to live to see the good things!)

  3. The Resurrection

    1. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:16. Who is coming to get us? (Jesus!)

      1. Is He coming quietly? (Jesus will give a loud command. The voice of the archangel will join with Jesus, and God's trumpets will blast!)

      2. What is the order of our coming? (Those who have died in Jesus will rise first! Not only are the Thessalonians wrong in thinking there is no hope, the order is wrong - those who have died come first.)

      3. A commonly held view is something called the "secret rapture." The idea is that most living Christians will be secretly taken to heaven. The others, when they notice, are given a second chance to go to heaven. How does this doctrine measure up against the verses we have just read? (First, the timing is wrong. In the secret rapture Christians who are alive go to heaven before the general resurrection of the dead. Paul says that is not true. Second, there is nothing secret about Jesus taking the living and the dead to heaven with Him. There is all sorts of noise!)

    2. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Where do we meet Jesus? On earth? (No, we meet Jesus in the air. Jesus does not hang around the earth, and neither do we.)

      1. When I'm flying on a plane, if we leave late the pilot will sometimes say that we will make up the time in the air. How does this concept fit with the resurrected dead and the living? (We, who are alive, catch up. We are "caught up together with them in the clouds.")

      2. How long will we be with Jesus? (Forever!)

    3. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:18. Is this an understatement? (When I read these words I feel like letting out a loud cheer! How exciting is this? How encouraging this is! Praise God!)

      1. Do you have someone who has passed away who you would like to catch up to in the air?

  4. Soul Sleep?

    1. Paul unambiguously tells us in the verses we have studied that because Jesus was resurrected, Jesus will resurrect those who have died in Him. On the face of it, Paul does not directly say anything about the current state of the dead controversy in these verses. But, he does give us some negative inferences that we should consider.

    2. Put yourself in the place of Paul. If the Thessalonians thought that those who died before the Second Coming of Jesus missed out on heaven, what would be the logical response if it was true that their spirits or souls were already in heaven? (I would say, "You think the dead miss out on heaven? You think the dead are left behind? Their spirits are in heaven before you!)

      1. So, why didn't Paul say that? Why did he speak of a general resurrection of the living and the dead? (This suggests that the soul or spirit of the Christians who have passed are not in heaven.)

    3. When I was young, I was taught soul sleep. But when my father died, I was not going to let others do my thinking for me, so I read every Bible text on the subject. Let's do a little examination of the subject. Read Ecclesiastes 9:5, the first part. What does this say about the state of the dead? (They know nothing.)

    4. Read Ecclesiastes 9:1-2. What does this say about the righteous? (They share the same fate as the wicked. Whether you confess your sins or not, you have the same fate.)

    5. Read Ecclesiastes 9:5-6. What reward will the righteous have? (None!)

      1. As you read these texts in Ecclesiastes, should you conclude that there is no afterlife at all? Christians have "no further reward?" (The "soul sleep" people who cite Ecclesiastes 9:5 for their view should get the "brain sleep" award! Solomon is either depressed, or he is simply writing about the benefit of life. If he is commenting on the afterlife, he is completely at odds with the New Testament.)

    6. Read Matthew 27:52-53, Jude 9 and Matthew 17:1-4. What does this tell us about the afterlife for Moses? (He is in heaven! He went to heaven before the resurrection at the Second Coming. Matthew 27 suggests that this happened to more than Moses.)

      1. What parts of Moses are in heaven? (Notice that Jude tells us that they were contending over Moses' body. This makes clear that both the thinking part and his body are in heaven.)

    7. Read Revelation 6:9-11. What is the timing for this? (Before the Second Coming, for Christians are still being martyred on earth.)

      1. What does the picture of souls wearing white robes suggest? (Conscious, righteous souls in heaven before the Second Coming. Of course, a great deal of Revelation is symbolic, and this might be symbolic, not actual.)

    8. What should we conclude from what Paul teaches us and this very short look at a few verses on the state of the dead? (The great news is that because Jesus defeated sin and was raised from the dead, those who have trusted in Him can look forward to eternal life, even if they have died. As to the soul sleep issue, I've simply touched the surface of the issue. In my personal study I have come to three conclusions. First, I decided that what I was taught about soul sleep as a child was right - at least for most people. Second, no one has a right to be arrogant on the subject, because the Bible has texts which support both views. If I find myself in heaven immediately after death, I will be surprised, but not shocked. Third, the Bible is absolutely clear that God can do whatever He wants. Some people He resurrects before the Second Coming.)

    9. Friend, the question for you is not so much "when you go to heaven" as "whether you go?" Will you accept Jesus as your Savior today so that the "whether" question is answered for you?

  5. Next Week: Final Events.
* Copr. 2012, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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