Introduction: What happens when we die? There are two main views in
Christianity. The majority view is that your “spirit” or “soul”
(the thinking part of you) returns to heaven to await the
resurrection (the Second Coming of Jesus) at which time your
thinking and your body will be united again. The minority view is
“soul sleep,” where your body and your soul remain unconscious in
the grave until the resurrection. The Thessalonians seem to have had
a third, and more discouraging view. They seemed to think that if
you died before Jesus returned you were lost forever. Let’s jump
into our study of the Bible to explore what Paul has to say to the
Thessalonians about the state of the dead!

  1. Hope

    1. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13. What is the problem with the
      thinking of the Thessalonians? (They were like those who
      grieved upon the death of others because they had “no

      1. What does Paul call that kind of “no hope” thinking?
        (Ignorance. He says that Christians have a more
        educated view of death.)

    2. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:14. What happened to Jesus after
      He died? (He was resurrected.)

      1. What does that belief mean to us? (That if we fall
        asleep in Jesus, that God will also resurrect us!)

      2. Notice that the verse says, “God will bring with
        Jesus.” What is Paul talking about, geography? That
        Jesus (who lives in heaven) will bring people from
        heaven to earth at the Second Coming? (I don’t think
        that is what is intended. Paul is not writing about
        geography, he is writing about power and authority.
        Just as God brought Jesus from the grave, so God
        will bring us (because of Jesus’ victory) from the

  2. The Error

    1. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:15. While we do not completely
      understand the erroneous views of the Thessalonians, this
      gives us some insight into those errors. What error is
      Paul correcting? (That those who are alive at Jesus’
      Second Coming will go to heaven before those who have

      1. Was this just a timing issue? (I doubt it. Paul
        starts out saying “Don’t think like those who have
        no hope.” That tells me that the Thessalonians
        thought that if they did not live to see the Second
        Coming of Jesus, they would not go to heaven. They
        had to survive to be able to go to heaven.)

      2. What is the truth about the timing? (That those who
        are alive at the Second Coming will not go to heaven
        before those who have died in Jesus.)

    2. Put yourself in the place of a member of the Thessalonian
      church. How could you come to such an erroneous view?
      (Isn’t that the way it is in all of life? We hope to live
      to see the good things!)

  3. The Resurrection

    1. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:16. Who is coming to get us?

      1. Is He coming quietly? (Jesus will give a loud
        command. The voice of the archangel will join with
        Jesus, and God’s trumpets will blast!)

      2. What is the order of our coming? (Those who have
        died in Jesus will rise first! Not only are the
        Thessalonians wrong in thinking there is no hope,
        the order is wrong – those who have died come

      3. A commonly held view is something called the “secret
        rapture.” The idea is that most living Christians
        will be secretly taken to heaven. The others, when
        they notice, are given a second chance to go to
        heaven. How does this doctrine measure up against
        the verses we have just read? (First, the timing is
        wrong. In the secret rapture Christians who are
        alive go to heaven before the general resurrection
        of the dead. Paul says that is not true. Second,
        there is nothing secret about Jesus taking the
        living and the dead to heaven with Him. There is all
        sorts of noise!)

    2. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Where do we meet Jesus? On
      earth? (No, we meet Jesus in the air. Jesus does not hang
      around the earth, and neither do we.)

      1. When I’m flying on a plane, if we leave late the
        pilot will sometimes say that we will make up the
        time in the air. How does this concept fit with the
        resurrected dead and the living? (We, who are alive,
        catch up. We are “caught up together with them in
        the clouds.”)

      2. How long will we be with Jesus? (Forever!)

    3. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:18. Is this an understatement?
      (When I read these words I feel like letting out a loud
      cheer! How exciting is this? How encouraging this is!
      Praise God!)

      1. Do you have someone who has passed away who you
        would like to catch up to in the air?

  4. Soul Sleep?

    1. Paul unambiguously tells us in the verses we have studied
      that because Jesus was resurrected, Jesus will resurrect
      those who have died in Him. On the face of it, Paul does
      not directly say anything about the current state of the
      dead controversy in these verses. But, he does give us
      some negative inferences that we should consider.

    2. Put yourself in the place of Paul. If the Thessalonians
      thought that those who died before the Second Coming of
      Jesus missed out on heaven, what would be the logical
      response if it was true that their spirits or souls were
      already in heaven? (I would say, “You think the dead miss
      out on heaven? You think the dead are left behind? Their
      spirits are in heaven before you!)

      1. So, why didn’t Paul say that? Why did he speak of a
        general resurrection of the living and the dead?
        (This suggests that the soul or spirit of the
        Christians who have passed are not in heaven.)

    3. When I was young, I was taught soul sleep. But when my
      father died, I was not going to let others do my thinking
      for me, so I read every Bible text on the subject. Let’s
      do a little examination of the subject. Read
      Ecclesiastes 9:5, the first part. What does this say
      about the state of the dead? (They know nothing.)

    4. Read Ecclesiastes 9:1-2. What does this say about the
      righteous? (They share the same fate as the wicked.
      Whether you confess your sins or not, you have the same

    5. Read Ecclesiastes 9:5-6. What reward will the righteous
      have? (None!)

      1. As you read these texts in Ecclesiastes, should you
        conclude that there is no afterlife at all?
        Christians have “no further reward?” (The “soul
        sleep” people who cite Ecclesiastes 9:5 for their
        view should get the “brain sleep” award! Solomon is
        either depressed, or he is simply writing about the
        benefit of life. If he is commenting on the
        afterlife, he is completely at odds with the New

    6. Read Matthew 27:52-53, Jude 9 and Matthew 17:1-4. What
      does this tell us about the afterlife for Moses? (He is
      in heaven! He went to heaven before the resurrection at
      the Second Coming. Matthew 27 suggests that this happened
      to more than Moses.)

      1. What parts of Moses are in heaven? (Notice that Jude
        tells us that they were contending over Moses’ body.
        This makes clear that both the thinking part and his
        body are in heaven.)

    7. Read Revelation 6:9-11. What is the timing for this?
      (Before the Second Coming, for Christians are still being
      martyred on earth.)

      1. What does the picture of souls wearing white robes
        suggest? (Conscious, righteous souls in heaven
        before the Second Coming. Of course, a great deal of
        Revelation is symbolic, and this might be symbolic,
        not actual.)

    8. What should we conclude from what Paul teaches us and
      this very short look at a few verses on the state of the
      dead? (The great news is that because Jesus defeated sin
      and was raised from the dead, those who have trusted in
      Him can look forward to eternal life, even if they have
      died. As to the soul sleep issue, I’ve simply touched the
      surface of the issue. In my personal study I have come to
      three conclusions. First, I decided that what I was
      taught about soul sleep as a child was right – at least
      for most people. Second, no one has a right to be
      arrogant on the subject, because the Bible has texts
      which support both views. If I find myself in heaven
      immediately after death, I will be surprised, but not
      shocked. Third, the Bible is absolutely clear that God
      can do whatever He wants. Some people He resurrects
      before the Second Coming.)

    9. Friend, the question for you is not so much “when you go
      to heaven” as “whether you go?” Will you accept Jesus as
      your Savior today so that the “whether” question is
      answered for you?

  5. Next Week: Final Events.