17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. 18 So encourage each other with these words.
1 Thessalonians 4:17-18 (NLT)
Paul writes to encourage a church that has shown their commitment to trust God through rough times. They were persecuted by people they grew up with and may have even lived with and worked beside. Having someone give up on you is hard and then to add mistreatment and discrimination can be even harder.
He also encourages them in another way. Some of them have lost people that they loved—believers they were in the foxhole with. Paul wanted to clear up any confusion on what happens to believers when they die and give those who are mourning hope.
You might have heard the word “rapture” before. Although the word isn’t in our Bibles, it literally means, “caught up,” which refers to the event where living believers are caught up to the clouds to meet Jesus, an event immediately preceded by the resurrection of the bodies of believers who have already died. We see this phrase “caught up” in Paul’s writing to this church.
Paul is clear that when believers die they’re instantly in the presence of God in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8). It’s their bodies that remain in their grave. Their soul—the real them—is with God in heaven. There’s also hope for us who are left behind living with adversity. The hope is that Jesus is coming back for us and we can be with Him forever.
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