In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians he speaks about “the dead in Christ” who shall “rise first” at the coming of the Lord. And it seems that almost all Christians believe that Paul is talking about the resurrection of the bodies of the saints, who have already gone to be with the Lord, coming out of their physical graves in order to be reunited with their spirits (unless, of course, they believe in soul sleep). That most Christians believe that Paul is referring to other Christians who are deceased is a result of their belief that it is only “believers” who are found “in Christ”, that only “they” are a part of “the body of Christ” (aka “the church”)
But is that true?
First let us take a look at 1 Th 4:13-18:
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 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. 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: 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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
So Paul tells them not to be ignorant “concerning them which are asleep”. He says that if we believe that Jesus died and rose again “even they which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him”. In fact, Paul says: “we which are alive and remain shall not prevent them which sleep” for “the dead in Christ shall rise first” AND THEN “we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air”. Paul says that we are to “comfort one another with these words”.
The first question that I need to ask is if Paul is taking about other believers who have already died, why in the world would he need to comfort believers about other believers? Why would believers fear or sorrow for others believers?
Paul is not talking about dead bodies, corpses in physical graves. He is talking about those who remain unto the coming of the Lord, whether they be “alive” or “dead” (asleep), as Jesus Christ is Lord “both of the dead and living” (Rom 14:7-9):
For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
So we know that no man lives or dies unto himself, but if we live we live unto the Lord and if we die we die unto the Lord; so that whether we live or we die we are the Lords. Is this talking about physical death, about Jesus being the Lord of corpses in physical graves? No! The wages of sin is death and we are dead in sin even while we live!!
Looking at the passage again, let us note that Paul said Christ BOTH ((died and rose)) AND ((revived)). What does that mean? Especially when Paul speaks of those who have “fallen asleep in Christ”?
Again, most Christians seem to think that Paul likes to talk about the corpses of dead Christians. Every time Paul speaks of “the dead in Christ” or those who are “fallen asleep in Christ” we tend to see nothing but corpses. We tend to completely ignore the fact that Paul also tells us that “so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death” and because we were buried with Him we are also risen with him, our “old man” having been crucified with him and a new man having been created in him.
First let’s look at Rom 6:3-11:
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now let’s look at Col 2:9-13:
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
According to Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, God was in Christ reconciling THE WORLD unto himself, not imputing their trespasses against them. And to the Ephesians he speaks of the ONE NEW MAN CREATED IN CHRIST.
First, let’s look at 2Co 5:13-21
For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Now let us look at Eph 2:4-22
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
See that? Paul says that it was when we were dead in sins that God quickened us together with Christ. Not only that but Paul tells us that He hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
Paul did not say “because you believe you have been baptized into Christ” or “because you believe God hath reconciled you” or “because you believe you are now a part of the body of Christ”.
Paul said that is was when we were dead in sins that we were quickened together with Christ.
And did not Jesus himself tell us that if he be lifted up from the earth that he would draw ALL MEN unto Himself? (John 12:32):
And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.
And we have already established that if one died for all then were all dead. So then all who were gathered together in Christ (the world) were dead!!
And we know that if we be dead with him we shall also live with him (2 Tim 2:11-15):
It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself. Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Let us take note of the fact that Paul said even if we believe not, yet he abideth faithful, for he cannot deny himself!!
He cannot deny HIMSELF!! We are HIS BODY!! Whether we live, therefore, or die WE ARE THE LORD’S!!
So when Paul speaks of “the dead in Christ” or those who “are fallen asleep in Christ” (after having been REVIVED/RAISED WITH HIM) is he talking about corpses in physical graves? Of course not! He is talking about those who have not yet passed from death unto life. He’s talking about those who are “yet carnal” because Christ has not yet been formed in them, as it is CHRIST IN YOU that is THE HOPE OF GLORY!! And He is the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (John 1:9) But it is not ~until~ HE ((who is our life)) APPEARS that WE shall appear WITH HIM in glory!! (Col 3:4).
Paul is very clear that all things have been gathered together IN ONE – EVEN IN HIM!!
God having PREDESTINATED us unto the adoption of sons, ACCORDING TO THE GOOD PLEASURE OF HIS WILL, for it is BY GRACE that we are saved!!
Let’s take a look at Eph 1:1-14:
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
The blood of Christ was shed for the remission of sins, the sins of ALL men, he being the propitiation for not only our sins but the sins of the whole world. With His blood He has purchased THE ENTIRE FIELD/WORLD.
As Paul said: “we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed”. (1 Cor 15:51)
But our desire is not to be “dead in Christ” but to attain unto the resurrection of the dead, by knowing the power of His resurrection!!
Having been “revived” by being raised with Christ does not keep us from “falling asleep in Christ” or from being “dead in Christ”. As it’s not just about our being FOUND IN HIM but about Him being FORMED IN US. And we do not PASS from death unto life until Christ is formed in us!!
As IN ADAM ALL DIE (= the first death) even so IN CHRIST SHALL ALL BE MADE ALIVE (= the resurrection of the dead).
But in order to be resurrected from the dead, we (who were already dead in sin) had to be baptized into the death of Jesus Christ (= THE SECOND DEATH) in order to be raised with Him (as only He has the keys of death and of hell) and know the power of His resurrection (= THE FIRST RESURRECTION, and blessed and holy is he that hath PART IN IT).
THE SECOND DEATH = THE FIRST RESURRECTION
Except we partake of HIS FLESH and HIS BLOOD we have NO LIFE in us!
Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. (Eph 5:14)
All Blessings in Christ!