Who are the dead in Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:16)? 

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1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 

The apostle Paul mentioned the “dead in Christ” in his first epistle to the Thessalonians:  “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.”

“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. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” 

The Dead in Christ 

The dead in Christ are those who fell asleep in the Lord, including the Old Testament believers. The apostle John writes, “Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them” (Revelation 14:13).  

The dead in Christ are included among those whom Jesus described as “the children of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36). And the apostle Paul in a different passage calls them “they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Corinthians 15:23).  

And the dead in Christ’s resurrection corresponds to the first resurrection. John the Revelator confirms, “But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:5, 6).  

In 1 Thessalonians 4:16, the phrase “the dead in Christ” is used to differentiate the sleeping saints from two other classes of people: (1) the unrighteous dead, who, as a body, are not resurrected at Christ’s second coming; (2) the living Christians, who are being comforted that their loved dead will be at no disadvantage when Jesus comes back, but will rather get earlier attention by being first raised and thus being set on an equal stand with the living believers. 

The rapture of the saints (dead and living) will take place at Christ second coming and not before. There is nothing in the words of these scriptures that even remotely suggests that the coming described in Matthew 24 is different from that described in 1 Thessalonians 4. Hence, both passages describe one event happening at one point of time, that is, the second coming

In His service,
BibleAsk Team 

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