In First Thessalonians 4:14, Paul states that God will bring with him those who sleep in Jesus. “Where are they now,” asks a gracEmail reader, “that they will be brought to the earth? What does this verse mean?”
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The young church at Thessalonica to whom Paul wrote these words seemingly expected the Lord to return during their own lifetime (1 Thes. 1:9-10). However, some of their fellow-believers had died already — “fallen asleep” is the common biblical metaphor — and Jesus had not come yet. This raised a concern for the Thessalonians whether their departed loved ones would miss the blessings of Christ’s return. Paul addresses that concern in the text in question.
The hope of resurrection provides reassurance. As surely as Jesus died and rose again, just that certainly those who died in union with him will also share in the final reward (I Thes. 4:14). Believers still living on that day will have no advantage over others who have “fallen asleep” (v. 15). Jesus will descend from heaven, heralded by angelic shout and trumpet fanfare, and God will resurrect his people who have died (v.16). Then those who are resurrected, along with surviving believers, will be “caught up” together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (v. 17).
God will “bring with him” all his people who have died already — not from heaven, for they are not there, but from their graves — by his mighty act of resurrection (John 3:18; Acts 2:29). The Bible sometimes pictures the dead as in Sheol or Hades — not a geographic place at all, but the “unseen” realm we might call “gravedom.” Whether they live or die, believers are safe in God’s keeping. No wonder Paul concludes this paragraph with the admonition, “Therefore comfort one another with these words” (v. 18).