Paul describes the resurrection and rapture of believers. At Christ's coming, dead believers are resurrected first, and then living Christians are caught up with them to meet Jesus in the air.
Resurrection and rapture of Christians (4:13-18)
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul tells us that the death and resurrection of Jesus are of first importance, without which our faith is worthless. Here in verse 14, he says, "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians". Sleep is a euphemism for death, as used by Jesus in John 11:11. Paul is talking about the resurrection of deceased Christians who will return with Jesus as he comes from heaven back to earth.

The only example we have to guide our expectations of what this resurrection might look like is the resurrection of Jesus himself, who is the firstborn from among the dead (Colossians 1:18, Revelation 1:5). In 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 5, Paul teaches that our resurrection bodies will be like Christ's resurrection body. In other words, Christ's resurrection is the model for our resurrection. Jesus was resurrected on earth and exited an empty tomb. He appeared to Mary Magdalene and then returned to the Father (John 20:17). He then returned to earth and appeared to his disciples at various times over a period of 40 days, before ascending visibly to heaven. He has since remained in heaven, except for his appearance to Saul on the road to Damascus, and possibly other similar appearances to select individuals throughout Church history. We expect him to return in his physical resurrected body at the second coming.

So when Jesus brings with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians, it is reasonable to understand that their spirits return with him. It is on earth that they are resurrected and clothed with their resurrection bodies. Graves may be visibly opened as prophesied in Ezekiel 37:12-13. Paul tells us that after this resurrection, living Christians will be suddenly caught up together with those who have been resurrected, and all will meet the Lord in the air. Living Christians will have been transformed in the blink of an eye as described in 1 Corinthians 15:52. So at that moment we will all have glorious resurrection bodies, whether we have been resurrected or raptured. Given that these bodies are both spiritual and physical, my assumption is that our ascension to meet the Lord will be visible to the unsaved who remain on earth. Although our bodily transformation occurs in the blink of an eye, I see no reason why our ascension should be invisible.

In terms of the timing and context of the resurrection and rapture, Paul associates it with the following elements:
1) Jesus coming down from heaven (v16)
2) a shout of command (v16)
3) the voice of the archangel (v16)
4) the trumpet of God (v16), which Paul calls the 'last' trumpet in 1 Corinthians 15:52
5) us meeting Jesus in the clouds (v17).

Jesus descending upon the clouds (elements 1 and 5 combined) point to this as the coronation of the Son of Man as envisioned in Daniel 7:13-14. According to this vision, Jesus approaches the Ancient of Days (God the Father) to receive ruling authority, honour and sovereignty over an eternal kingdom, and to be worshipped by all peoples, nations and language groups. When Jesus referred to this event at his trial before the high priest, he seemed to imply that it would be visible even to his enemies on earth (Matthew 26:64).

The last trumpet and the voice of the archangel (elements 3 and 4) point to what happens at the seventh trumpet in Revelation 11:15. This verse tells us what the archangel actually says, namely "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever". This is a coronation proclamation, and matches with the context of Daniel 7:13-14.

The shout of command after seven trumpets (element 2) points to the fall of Jericho (Joshua 6:20), implying that Jesus returns as the end-time Joshua to claim the Promised Land. The fact that it is a shout of command implies that a particular response is required. This is surely the moment when every knee must bow and tongue confess Jesus Christ as Lord (Philippians 2:9-11). Although many may do so, this event will also be met with a world-wide reaction of rage (Psalm 2). Jesus must wage war and smash the nations as with an iron sceptre in order to establish his rule over the earth.

So resurrected and raptured Christians meet the Lord in the air to worship him at his coronation. Paul adds in verse 17, "And so we will always be with the Lord". But where do these Christians go next? Jesus must still defeat his enemies and establish his rule over an earthly kingdom for the next thousand years. After the seventh trumpet, the seven bowl judgments are still to take place, along with various end-time battles. Presumably the Ancient of Days (God the Father) returns to heaven after the coronation. How many Christians stay with Jesus at this point, and how many ascend to heaven with the Father? If some stay with Jesus, will they participate with him in his end-time battles (e.g Revelation 19:14)?

Paul gives the impression that all true Christians, deceased and living, take part in this resurrection and rapture. What about those who are part of the Church but are not true believers? It is commonly assumed that false Christians will be left behind. But if that is the case, then there is no subsequent need for the judgment of Matthew 25:31-46 in which Jesus separates the sheep from the goats. Jesus' description of the rapture in Matthew 24:31, together with his Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-40) and Parable of the Net (Matthew 13:47-50), seem to imply an inclusive rapture of the Church, with the sheep and the goats being separated afterwards.

The resurrection described here is called 'the first resurrection' in Revelation 20:6. Please see my commentary on Revelation 20:4-6, where I discuss why the resurrection is portrayed as being only for martyrs. I also discuss whether or not Old Testament believers are included in the first resurrection.

Paul's statement in verse 17b, "And so we will always be with the Lord" also raises a significant question. It appears from Revelation 20:4-6 that only a select minority of Christians will rule with Christ on earth during the Millennium. My assumption is that the rest spend the Millennium enjoying life in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21). But what does it mean to always be with him? As a resurrected human being, can Jesus simultaneously rule as king from earthly Jerusalem and be with Christians in the New Jerusalem? Somehow, because of his divinity I assume that he can.

The Day of the Lord like a Thief in the Night (5:1-11)
Paul says in verse 3 that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, a reference to what Jesus said in Matthew 24:42-44.

Firstly, what does Paul mean by 'the day of the Lord'? The day of the Lord is 'the day of vengeance of our God' in Isaiah 61:2b. It is not a literal 24-hour day, but describes the relatively short end-time period when God releases judgments. It follows 'the year of the Lord's favour' in Isaiah 62:1a which Jesus announced at his first coming (Luke 4:19). The 'year' represents a much longer time period which we are still in today. The 'day of the Lord' seems to roughly correspond to the Great Tribulation as a whole. Consequently, in verse 3, Paul describes the situation at the beginning of the Great Tribulation, when people are proclaiming peace and safety, but destruction comes on them like labour pains on a pregnant woman. The labour metaphor relates to the fall of Jerusalem at the beginning of the Great Tribulation (Micah 4:9-10). Whereas Paul relates the thief in the night metaphor to the beginning of the day of the Lord, Jesus related it to the day of his coming.

Secondly, what does 'like a thief in the night' mean? Jesus said that if the house owner knew what time the thief was coming, he would stay alert and not let his house be broken into. The 'thief in the night' metaphor has four implications:
1) His coming will be a surprise to most
2) Those who are taken by surprise will suffer loss
3) There are things we can do to prevent ourselves suffering loss
4) We must stay alert (to the signs of the times) and be ready 'because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him' (Matthew 24:44)

Is this teaching directed at believers, unbelievers, or everyone? In verses 1 to 2, Paul makes clear that the time and season of the day of the Lord was unknown to believers in his day. But in verse 4, he says that we are not in the darkness for the day to overtake us like a thief. In verse 9, he says that God has not destined us to suffer wrath, but to gain salvation. So although there is still an element of surprise even for believers, the implications of loss are directed primarily at unbelievers, or at believers who are failing to live righteously. The most intense outpouring of God's wrath occurs during the bowl judgments (Revelation 16) which take place after the rapture of believers at the seventh trumpet (Revelation 11:15-19). As Christians, we are those who should be alert (watching the signs of the times) and who should make ourselves ready for his coming for us at the seventh trumpet. We make ourselves ready by living righteous lives in true relationship with God, and in doing so we will prevent ourselves from suffering loss. Also in Revelation 3:3, in his message to the Church in Sardis, Jesus rebuked some believers for being spiritually dead, and he warned them that if they did not wake up and repent, he would come to them like a thief.

Jesus taught us to know that the season of his coming is near when we see the restoration of end-time Israel, as symbolised by the fig tree sprouting leaves (Matthew 24:32). And he described various other signs that must all take place within the lifespan of a single generation (Matthew 24:34). Since none of these had taken place in Paul's day, he did not know or attempt to identify the time or season. However, his description in verse 3 of people saying "There is peace and security" does remind us of one end-time sign to watch for. Before the day of the Lord, Antichrist will confirm a seven-year treaty with many nations (Daniel 9:27). Unaware that he will break the treaty after three and a half years, people will be lulled into a false sense of security. This reminds us of the promise by Neville Chamberlain of 'Peace for our time' in 1938, after his meeting with Hitler. People will be unaware of the destruction that is about to come upon them. This destruction will begin with Antichrist starting a new World War, and end with God's judgments upon the wicked.

Regarding the season of Christ's coming, believers today are in a different situation to what Paul was in. The fig tree has already sprouted leaves and many of the olivet signs have already been fulfilled. So although we still do not know the time, we should at least know that we are in the season of his coming.

Paul concludes in verse 23 with a prayer for Christians to be sanctified and to stand blameless at Jesus’ coming.
Symbols: Sleep, Thief in the night, Labour pains
Tags: Day of the Lord, Resurrection of the righteous, Rapture, Last trumpet, Day of vengeance, War and Rapture, End-time signs, Thief in the night, False peace, Antichrist peace treaty, Millennium, Being ready, Jesus comes on the clouds, Second coming appearance
A Life Pleasing to God
4 Finally then, brothers and sisters, we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received instruction from us about how you must live and please God (as you are in fact living) that you do so more and more.
2 For you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
3 For this is God’s will: that you become holy, that you keep away from sexual immorality,
4 that each of you know how to possess his own body in holiness and honor,
5 not in lustful passion like the Gentiles who do not know God.
6 In this matter no one should violate the rights of his brother or take advantage of him, because the Lord is the avenger in all these cases, as we also told you earlier and warned you solemnly.
7 For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness.
8 Consequently the one who rejects this is not rejecting human authority but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
9 Now on the topic of brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.
10 And indeed you are practicing it toward all the brothers and sisters in all of Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more,
11 to aspire to lead a quiet life, to attend to your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.
12 In this way you will live a decent life before outsiders and not be in need.

The Lord Returns for Believers
13 Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians.
15 For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep.
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord.
18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
The Day of the Lord
5 Now on the topic of times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you.
2 For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night.
3 Now when they are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape.
4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness for the day to overtake you like a thief would.
5 For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness.
6 So then we must not sleep as the rest, but must stay alert and sober.
7 For those who sleep, sleep at night and those who get drunk are drunk at night.
8 But since we are of the day, we must stay sober by putting on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet our hope for salvation.
9 For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
10 He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him.
11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing.

Final Instructions
12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside over you in the Lord and admonish you,
13 and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all.
15 See that no one pays back evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.
16 Always rejoice,
17 constantly pray,
18 in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
19 Do not extinguish the Spirit.
20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt.
21 But examine all things; hold fast to what is good.
22 Stay away from every form of evil.

23 Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
24 He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this.
25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us too.
26 Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.
27 I call on you solemnly in the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.