Some teach that Paul in1 Thessalonians 4, is speaking of disembodied souls, which ascend to heaven at death and return with Jesus when He comes at the second coming. But the Bible nowhere teaches that the soul of man is immortal and that it ascends to heaven at death. According to God’s Word, humans are souls, and souls die. Man is mortal (Job 4:17). Only God is immortal (1 Timothy 6:15, 16).
People do not go to heaven or hell at death. They go to their graves to await the resurrection day. “All that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth” (John 5:28, 29). Even the prophet “David … is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.” Yet, “David is not ascended into the heavens” (Acts 2:29, 34).
The saints will be raised, given immortal bodies, and caught up to meet the Lord in the air. There would be no purpose in a resurrection if people were taken to heaven at death. “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Revelation 22:12). “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, … and the dead in Christ shall rise … and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17). “We shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, … and the dead shall be raised incorruptible … For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).
Paul is not speaking of immortal souls, but of “them which are asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:13), “them also which sleep in Jesus” (v. 14), “the dead in Christ” (v. 16). Paul said, the “dead in Christ” rise (v. 16), not descend. “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep” (v. 15). All the saints enter the kingdom together (v. 17). If the dead preceded the living and spent some time with the Lord prior to the resurrection, then the apostle’s language would be quite inappropriate.
Paul’s teaching was in harmony with that of his Lord (John 14:3). Paul simply wanted to emphasis the fact that as God brought forth Christ from the grave, even so would He bring forth the sleeping saints from the graves “Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:23).
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