1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 Does Not Prove the Pre-Trib Rapture

1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 Pre-Trib Rapture

1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 is one of the most popular passages used by advocates of the Pre-Trib Rapture. The passage says:

“(15) For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. (16) For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: (17) Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (18) Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”

Many believe 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 is a key passage that proves that the Rapture will happen before the tribulation period. However, a closer study of this passage reveals that this is not the case. In this article, I will explain why 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 does not prove a Pre-Trib Rapture.

Table Of Contents

1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 vs. Matthew 24:29-31

Let’s examine 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 and then compare the passage with Matthew 24:29-31.

1 Thessalonians 4:15-18

“(15) For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. (16) For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: (17) Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (18) Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”

The passage tells us there will be a resurrection of the righteous:

  • Christ will descend from Heaven.
  • Christ will make a loud noise.
  • An archangel will take part. Their voice will be heard.
  • The trump of God will sound.
  • The righteous dead will rise.
  • The righteous dead and living will meet the Lord in the clouds.

Matthew 24:29-31

Many opponents of the Pre-Trib Rapture believe Matthew 24:29-31 records the Rapture. At the minimum, it describes the Second Coming of Christ after the tribulation:

“(29) Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: (30) And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (31) And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

The passage tells us the following details:

  • Christ will appear after many heavenly signs appear.
  • The people of the earth will see Christ and mourn when they see Him.
  • Angels will accompany Christ.
  • A trumpet shall sound.
  • Angels will gather the elect.
  • These events will take place after the tribulation.

Let us line up the details of both passages:

1 Thessalonians 4:15-18Matthew 24:29-31
Christ will descend from Heaven.Christ will appear after many heavenly signs appear.
Christ will make a loud noise.The people of the earth will see Christ and mourn when they see Him.
An archangel will take part. Their voice will be heard.Angels will accompany Christ.
The trump of God will sound.A trumpet shall sound.
The righteous dead will rise.Angels will gather the elect.
The righteous dead and living will meet the Lord in the clouds.These events will take place after the tribulation.

We can see from this table that both passages talk about how Christ and His angels will be involved and how a trumpet will sound. They also talk about the gathering of the righteous living.

Teachers of the Pre-Trib Rapture like to stress how the details described in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 are different than the details described in Second Coming passages. For instance:

  • They talk about how Christ will gather the Church in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 while the angels will gather the “elect” in Matthew 24:29-31. They talk about this even though the 1 Thessalonians DOES NOT tell us who gathers the dead or the living.
  • They talk about how 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 speaks of the resurrection of the dead, but Matthew 24:29-31 does not mention that event.

Pre-Trib teachers seek to minimize the similarities and highlight any potential differences with 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 and other passages.

The issue I have with this approach is that it relies on dividing the Word of God so that the Word remains divided. It shuns efforts by those who seek to bring harmony with Scripture by using other passages to give more detail to the events described.

Think of the intellectual inconsistency of this approach:

  • Many critics of the Bible like to argue that the Bible is unreliable because different Gospel accounts may not contain the same details.
  • Our tendency as believers is to defend Scripture by bringing harmony to these accounts.
  • People who try to argue that the events of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 and the events of Matthew 24:29-31 (and other passages) take place at different times use the same tactic as Bible critics.

We will see that these events take place at the same time when we consider other details that help us harmonize these passages.

The Rewarding of the Righteous Dead

1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 mentions that the righteous dead will arise as the Lord makes a loud noise. John 5:25-29 tells us that the righteous dead will rise to life after Christ’s voice is heard. The righteous will arise to receive their reward:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” (John 5:25-29)

The Bema Seat Judgment is an event that will take place after the Rapture. Christ will reward the righteous according to their works. Christ tells us that this judgment will take place after He comes with His angels:

“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” (Matthew 16:27)

This statement affirms that Christ will not come alone when the Rapture takes place. Angels will accompany Him when the Rapture takes place.

Revelation 11:15-18 tells us that the rewarding of the righteous dead will take place after the sounding of the seventh trumpet:

“(15) And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (16) And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, (17) Saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned. (18) And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.”

This fact means that the Bema Seat Judgment cannot take place until after the sounding of the seventh trumpet.

Why is the seventh trumpet important? The seventh trumpet will usher in the kingdom of God and Christ on the earth. This event coincides with the end of the Antichrist’s reign and the end of the tribulation (Revelation 13:5-7, Daniel 7:25-27).

The rewarding of the righteous dead implies that their resurrection is about to take place. This means that the resurrection of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 is about to take place when the seventh trumpet sounds. The events of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 will take place after the tribulation.

The Parousia

1 Corinthians 15 is a chapter that also talks about the resurrection of the righteous dead and the Rapture. Here are some of the relevant verses from that chapter:

“(23) But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. […] (51) Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, (52) In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:23, 51-52)

The Greek word “coming” in 1 Corinthians 15:23 is Parousia. The word Parousia appears in passages that concern the Second Coming of Christ. For instance, the word appears in Matthew 24:23-30. Christ warns people to not believe false reports about His Coming and tells them what they will see just before His Coming:

“(23) Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. (24) For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. (25) Behold, I have told you before. (26) Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. (27) For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming [Parousia] of the Son of man be. (28) For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. (29) Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: (30) And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:23-31)

People who claim that Christ is about to appear are misleading others. Christ emphasized that certain signs would appear before His comes.

Interestingly, the word Parousia also appears in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 to talk about Christ’s coming at the resurrection of the righteous dead and the Rapture.

“(15) For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming [Parousia] of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. (15) For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: (17) Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (18) Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18)

We can deduce from these passages that 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 and Matthew 24:23-31 speak of the same event: the Parousia of Christ. Matthew 24 indicates that the Parousia of Christ will take place after the tribulation.

The Parable of the Wheat and Tares

It is useful to think of the Rapture as the end time gathering of the righteous. The Parable of the Wheat and Tares gives us many details about this event. Christ tells us that the wheat (the righteous) and the tares (the wicked) will remain together UNTIL the time of harvest:

Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:30)

This key statement means that the wheat (the righteous) will not be removed from the earth before the time of harvest. The wheat must remain on the earth until the time comes to begin the harvest.

The harvest of the earth will take place at the end of the age (or end of the world). This means that the Rapture cannot take place before the end of the age arrives (Matthew 13:39). Christ affirms that He will play a role in the end time harvest of the earth. He will send His angels to gather the wicked and the righteous (Matthew 13:30):

“(37) He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; (38) The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; (39) The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. (40) As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. (41) The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; (42) And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (43) Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:37-43)

Why does this matter? Christ tells us He will have His angels gather the righteous when the harvest comes. This means that angels will gather the righteous when the Rapture takes place.

The Parable of the Wheat and Tares answers who will gather the righteous in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18. The angels will gather them. This makes sense since they will accompany Christ.

The Parable of the Wheat and Tares also affirms that this gathering will take place after the tribulation. Matthew 13:41 mentions that Christ will gather people out of His kingdom. The reference to “His kingdom” is significant because it means that the harvest will take place when Christ’s kingdom is set up on the earth. We saw that the kingdom of God and Christ will arise at the sounding of the seventh trumpet at the end of the tribulation.

1 Thessalonians 5 & the Day of the Lord

Many believe that the Day of the Lord will begin after the Rapture takes place. Some of this belief is based on 1 Thessalonians 5, which follows the train of thought of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18:

“(1) But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. (2) For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. (3) For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. (4) But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. (5) Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. (6) Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6)

We know from the Book of Acts that signs will appear in the heavens just before the Day of the Lord starts:

“(19) And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: (20) The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:” (Acts 2:19-20)

These same signs arise will after the tribulation according to Matthew 24:29-31:

“(29) Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: (30) And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (31) And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

We can deduce from these passages that the events of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 and the start of the Day of the Lord will take place after the tribulation.

Conclusion

In sum, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 does not say that the Church will be taken out of the world before the tribulation. Rather, the passage describes the coming of the Lord and the gathering of all the saints with Him in the clouds.

1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 should not be used to prove a Pre-Trib Rapture. The passage is one of many pieces of the end time puzzle that help us to gain a better understanding of Christ’s coming.

The end time passages I’ve shared in this study show that the events of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 will take place after the tribulation.

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