What does Paul mean when in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 he says that at the second coming of Christ those who have fallen asleep will come with Him?
Published on: 03-29-2021
Let me quote in full the biblical passage: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thess. 4:14, NIV). The Greek allows for slightly different translations.
1. JESUS BRINGS WITH HIM THE SOUL OF THE RIGHTEOUS
This biblical verse is used by some to support the idea of the immortality of the soul. It is argued that when a believer dies, the soul ascends to heaven, and at the coming of Jesus God brings it down “with Him [Jesus]” to join the resurrected body. This interpretation is to be precluded for several reasons. First, it assumes what it tries to demonstrate, namely, that the soul is immortal. In other words, since these interpreters already believe that the soul is in heaven, they inject this preconceived idea into our text and argue that at the coming of Christ He will bring the soul with Him. Second, the concept of an immortal soul living within a mortal body is not biblical, but is the result of the influence of Greek thinking on Christianity; consequently, it is not found in the context of the passage. Third, this interpretation does not make sense within its context. In order to comfort the Thessalonians, Paul should have said to them not to worry about the dead in Christ because they are already with Jesus in heaven. Yet Paul tells them that at the coming of Christ the dead will be resurrected, and then, and not before, they will be with Christ (verse 17). Fourth, the reunion with Christ will be experienced by all believers—dead or alive—at the same time, namely, at the coming of Christ (verses 15, 16).
2. A CONTEXTUAL INTERPRETATION
The Greek text could be translated in slightly different ways, as a comparison among Bible translations would indicate, but the basic meaning of the text is quite clear. A literal inelegant translation would be: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, thus also God those who fell asleep through Christ He will bring with Him.” The basic point is that since Jesus died and was resurrected, we can also affirm that those who have died will appear with Him. We can improve the translation in two different ways: (1) “Since we believe that Jesus died and was resurrected, therefore God will bring with Jesus those who died through Him.” (2) “Since we believe that Jesus died and was resurrected, so also through Jesus God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.” The second is a better translation, but for our purpose what matters is the phrase “with Jesus.”
Since the verse and its context is about the resurrection of believers at the return of Christ, the passage is then stating that at the coming of Christ, God will bring those who have fallen asleep with Jesus through their resurrection. In other words, the Second Coming and their resurrection are inseparable. The apparition of Jesus and the apparition of dead believers take place at the same time through the power of Christ. This indicates that although the verb “to bring” (Greek agō) does not mean to bring to life, here it implies it (in the Greek translation of the Old Testament the verb is sometimes associated with death, e.g., Prov. 24:11; Isa. 53:8). This shows that the second translation provided above expresses better the thought of the apostle.