THE DEAD SAINTS IN PARADISE
Some among us may still hold the concept that saints who have died have gone to heaven and are now there with the Lord Jesus. If Paul had not gone beyond what he says in verse 14, there might be ground for this concept. But in verse 16 Paul says that when the Lord Jesus comes, the dead saints will rise up. Where will they rise up from? From heaven? If they are already in heaven, what need will they have to rise up? And to what place would they rise if they are already in the third heaven with the Lord?
Many Christians have been cheated by sugar-coated religious teachings. One of these teachings says, “Oh, you don’t need to weep about your mother who has died. Because she believed in the Lord Jesus, she is now in heaven with Him. She is in a heavenly mansion, a home that is much better than yours. Why, then, should you weep? One day you will join her in heaven.” This kind of teaching is full of leaven and is very deceitful. I have studied the Bible for more than fifty years, and I have not found even one verse that teaches such a thing. This is a superstition that has its source in paganism, or in Buddhism, and was adopted by Catholicism.
According to the Bible, the dead believers are in Paradise (Luke 23:43), the comfortable section of Hades (Luke 16:22, 25-26). In Hades, there are two sections: a section of comfort and a section of torment. The section of suffering is different from the lake of fire. The unpleasant part of Hades may be compared to a jail in contrast to a prison. A jail is a place where criminals are held temporarily. But after a criminal has been tried and judged, he is taken from jail and put into prison. The sinners now in the section of torment in Hades are awaiting the final judgment, which will take place at the white throne of God. After that, the sinners will be cast into the lake of fire, the eternal prison.
The dead saints are in Paradise, and when the Lord Jesus comes, they will rise up. They will not rise up to heaven; rather, they will rise up and then be caught up together with the living saints. This is the reason verse 16 says that the dead in Christ will rise first. Then, according to verse 17, those who are living will be caught up at the same time with them to a meeting of the Lord. This means that all believers, the dead as well as the living, will be raptured to the air. This teaching is not sugar-coated, and it does not contain any leaven. On the contrary, it is according to the pure Word of God.
According to the Word of God, when the Lord Jesus descends from heaven, the dead saints will rise up. Their spirit and soul will rise out of Paradise, their body will rise up from the tomb, and their spirit and soul with the body will make them perfect. They will then join the believers who are living, and together we shall all be caught up to the Lord.
THE RAPTURE OF THE LIVING
In verse 15 Paul says, “We who are living, who remain unto the coming of the Lord.” In verse 17 he also says, “We who are living, who remain.” Why does Paul add the clause “who remain unto the coming of the Lord” in verse 15 and the clause “who remain” in verse 17? If you consider this matter thoughtfully, you will realize that this indicates, or at least implies, that there are some living ones who do not remain. Some living ones are gone. These living ones who do not remain are overcomers.
There is a difference between the rapture of the overcomers and the rapture of those believers who are alive and remain until the Lord’s coming. The rapture of the overcomers will take place before the last three and a half years, a period known as the great tribulation. In other words, the overcomers will be raptured before the tribulation (Rev. 3:10). But those who are alive and remain will be raptured at the end of the tribulation, that is, at the last trumpet (1 Cor. 15:52). This is the rapture mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4. Regarding time, these two raptures are different: one takes place before the great tribulation, and the other, at the end of the tribulation. Furthermore, there is a difference regarding location. According to Revelation 12, the overcomers are raptured to the throne of God in the third heaven. But according to 1 Thessalonians 4, the rapture of those who are alive and remain will be to the clouds in the air.
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 16, by Witness Lee)