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Sabbath School Lessons on 1 & 2 Thessalonians
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About the Author
Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
is the author of these Sabbath School lesson study outlines. He is the Reed Larson Professor of Labor Law at Regent University School of Law. Professor Cameron has devoted his life to promoting the Gospel and defending believers. In addition to teaching at an overtly Christian law school, he continues his 37 year practice of law which is limited to the litigation of constitutional rights and religious freedom cases for employees. He holds an undergraduate degree from Andrews University and a Doctor of Law from Emory University School of Law.
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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!
- 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
- What does Paul call that kind of "no hope" thinking?
(Ignorance. He says that Christians have a more
educated view of death.)
- Read 1 Thessalonians 4:14. What happened to Jesus after
He died? (He was resurrected.)
- What does that belief mean to us? (That if we fall
asleep in Jesus, that God will also resurrect us!)
- 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
- The Error
- 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
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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!)
- The Resurrection
- Read 1 Thessalonians 4:16. Who is coming to get us?
- 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!)
- 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
- 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!)
- 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.)
- 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
- How long will we be with Jesus? (Forever!)
- 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!
- Do you have someone who has passed away who you
would like to catch up to in the air?
- Soul Sleep?
- 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.
- 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!)
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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
- Read Ecclesiastes 9:5-6. What reward will the righteous
- 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
- 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.)
- 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.)
- Read Revelation 6:9-11. What is the timing for this?
(Before the Second Coming, for Christians are still being
martyred on earth.)
- 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,
- 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.)
- 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?
- 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.