Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians – A Mini Series

Over the next few days, my posts are going to address questions that I have after reading Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians.

Today I’m talking death – or more specifically, post-death. I grew up believing that when you die you go to Heaven or to Hell immediately. I know that different denominations believe different things on this matter, but I’m curious to know if scripture supports one theory more heavily. Before I get into this I should state that it doesn’t actually matter much to me. Yes, the issue piques my interest, but in the end, I don’t think it is terribly important. I know that this can be an issue of real contention for some, though, so please feel free to leave a comment about your own feelings and why you believe what you believe.

  • 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: 13Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage each other with these words.

From this passage, I understand “…those who have fallen asleep…” to mean those who are dead. I also feel like the meaning is pretty straightforward: When we die, we remain “asleep” until the coming of Lord. But, doesn’t this contradict Luke 23:43, when Jesus promises paradise to one of the criminals who was beside him during the crucifixion?

  • And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Or are we to understand that as an exception to the rule? A special case? What do you think? Any other scriptures of interest? The other thing I wonder about is the concept of time after death. Perhaps the passage from Thessalonians can be viewed through a different lens if we don’t subject it to our understanding of time.

Thanks for reading! Hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend. 🙂


4 thoughts on “Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians – A Mini Series

  1. In the Bible, “sleep” is always a euphemism for the appearance of the body when there is an unnatural separation from the spirit (death). The term is never applied to the spirit. So both Paul and Jesus are correct. I’ve written extensively about this at http://bereanmind.blogspot.com/ in the September 2010 archives.

    1. Interesting! I’m still working through your September 2010 series – thank you for the link! I will continue to read, which will probably answer this question, but how did you reach the conclusion that “sleep” is never applied to the spirit? The idea of a bodily resurrection is one that I haven’t explored much at all. I’m more comfortable (for lack of a better word) with the idea of a strictly spiritual resurrection, so I’m really looking forward to exploring scripture further on this point.

      Fantastic blog, by the way! 🙂

  2. These two scriptures do seem to be in conflict, thus the debate. I am not too worried, since if I am “asleep” until the second coming, it will seem like I just show up in heaven anyway. I am okay with a little mystery.

  3. The word “resurrection” is only ever applied to the body in Scripture. It is the body which returns to dust, not the spirit, hence the spirit needs no resurrection. For the spirit, absent from teh body is present with the Lord. Yet death is the separation of spirit and body, and at the resurrection, the spirit is reunited with the body. In the case of believers, our bodies will (at the same instant they are resurrected) be changed to be like Christ’s own resurrected body.
    Clearly, from the Luke text you quote, Jesus was in paradise for three days prior to his resurrection, whilst his body was in a tomb! The resurrection occured when his spirit came again into his body, and yet his body rose with a new life principle. He was certainly in his body, for he ate with them, and they beheld his hands and side. Yet his body could be at one instant in Emmaus and the next in Jerusalem. It could appear in the middle of a room with the doors and windows locked. It was the same body resurrected, but it had been changed – fitted for eternity. So it will be with us.
    You may like to read my comments at http://www.biblestudiesonline.co.uk/1-Corinthians-15-Bible-study.html

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