1 Thessalonians 4:14
The apostle Paul wrote, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Some teach that Paul in this verse is speaking of disembodied souls, which, they claim, ascend to heaven at death and return with Jesus when He comes back again.
The Thessalonians have been worried about the destiny of their dead loved ones. So, Paul here assured them, by a categorical statement, that God has planned for those Christians who have died to be resurrected as Jesus was resurrected.
It should be added that Paul is concerned primarily with the fact that the dead saints are not forgotten, not with the chronological sequence of the resurrection. This is given in 1 Corinthians 15:23: “Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” Paul wanted to teach the fact that as God brought forth Christ from the grave, even so would He raise the sleeping rightouss from their graves.
What Happens at Death?
Millions believe the soul possesses a natural immortality but not even one time in the Bible is the soul referred to as being immortal or undying. According to God’s Word, man is mortal (Job 4:17). Only God is immortal (1 Timothy 6:15, 16). The Bible tell us that when a person dies, he sleeps (John 11:11; Daniel 12:2; Psalm 13:3) in the grave until the great day of the Lord at the end of the world. In death, a person is totally unconscious with no activity or knowledge of any kind.
After death a person: returns to dust (Psalms 104:29), knows nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5), possesses no mental powers (Psalms 146:4), has nothing to do with anything on earth (Ecclesiastes 9:6), does not live (2 Kings 20:1), waits in the grave (Job 17:13), and continues not (Job 14:1, 2) till the Resurrection (Revelation 22:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53) when he will be given his reward or punishment (Revelation 22:12).
Solomon the wise described what happens at death, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). And since death is the opposite of life. Let’s look at what happens at creation, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). This same term “breath of life” is also used for animals in Genesis 7:21,22.
body (dust) + breath (or spirit) = life (soul) body (dust) – breath (or spirit) = death (no soul)
The soul is simply the conscious life which resulted when God added the breath or spirit to the body. Notice that the words “breath” and “spirit” are used interchangeably (Job 27:3; Psalm 104:29, 30; James 2:26). Therefore, when Solomon described the spirit returning to God, he was referring to the breath, because that was what God gave in the beginning, and therefore, it was the only thing that could now “return” to the One who gave it. The spirit that returns to God at death is the breath of life or the divine spark of life. Nowhere in the Scriptures does the “spirit” have any life, wisdom, or feeling after a person dies. It is the “breath of life” and nothing more.
Will Jesus Bring the Believers Who Have Died at His Coming?
The Scriptures don’t teach that the soul of person is immortal and that it goes up to heaven at death (Matthew 10:28; Luke 16:19–31; 2 Corinthians 5:2–8).
Furthermore, the explanation, that Christ will bring back the dead saints at His coming, is contrary to the context of 1 Thessalonians 4:14. Paul is not speaking of immortal souls, but of “them which are asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:13), “them also which sleep in Jesus” (verse 14), “the dead in Christ” (verse 16). The “dead in Christ” rise (verse 16), not descend. The living are presented as not preceding them, with reference to being with the Lord (verse 15).
All the saints go to the kingdom together (verse 17). If the dead preceded the living and be with the Lord before the resurrection, Paul’s message would be foolish. Paul would have told the Thessalonians to dismiss all their worries, for their loved ones were in already heaven. His words were in line with that of His Master. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself” (John 14:3).
Some Bible commentators, viewing the issues at hand openly admit that “the disembodied souls are not here spoken of” (Jamiesen, Fausset, and Brown).
In His service,