1 Thessalonians 4:14
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
Mainstream Christianity fixates on the myth of the immortal soul (an idea that came from the famous Greek philosophers). As a result, when many read this verse, they conclude that when Jesus returns, he will bring with him the souls of those in heaven to be reunited with their bodies in the resurrection. What follows is Dr. John Roller’s response to this objection. Dr. Roller is an expert on the doctrine of Conditional Immortality (also called “the sleep of the dead” or “soul sleep”). His impassioned defense of the importance of this doctrine can be watched or listened to on our Death is Sleep resource site. More information about Dr. John Roller, including some articles, may be found on his website.
QUESTION OF THE MONTH
Q: Some people take 1 Thessalonians 4:14 – “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” (KJV) – to mean that Jesus will bring “back” (from Heaven to Earth) the “souls” of those who have died believing in Him, and place them into their newly-resurrected bodies. What’s a good way to counter this? Even in the NASB, it sounds like God is sending someone back with Jesus. I was once asked, “What is it that Advent Christians can’t understand about the word ‘bring’?”
A: The KJV is a perfectly good TRANSLATION of what the Greek SAYS in this verse. The problem is in the INTERPRETATION of what those words mean. Those people’s first mistake is in thinking that the verse says anything at all about SOULS as opposed to BODIES. The verse doesn’t mention EITHER of those two words. It talks about a group of PEOPLE that it refers to as “THEM” – those people are said to be “ASLEEP” (three times: vv. 13, 14, 15). What part of the word “asleep” does your questioner not understand? The next mistake is in the quiet substitution of the word “send” for the word “bring.” That substitution is designed to support the idea that God is sending souls back to earth to enter into their newly-resurrected bodies. But that is not what is happening here. God is “bringing” the sleeping dead, but the question is – FROM WHERE TO WHERE? The beginning of the verse speaks of Jesus dying and rising again. The verse is an “if…then” statement. “If” establishes the premise; “even so” establishes the conclusion. The conclusion must match the premise, or the statement is illogical. Paul would never be illogical; he was a well-trained logician and he was inspired by the Holy Spirit, Who is Logic itself (in addition to many other things). The premise refers to Jesus’ DEATH and RESURRECTION; therefore logically, the conclusion MUST refer to the sleepers’ DEATH and RESURRECTION. The verse can be clearly understood if one will only allow the insertion of a few italicized (implied) words, like is done hundreds of thousands of times throughout the KJV. It should be read, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring back to life with him.” The passage goes on (in verse 15) to say that we who are alive will not precede those who have died. The reverse is also true. Those who have died will not precede the living in receiving their eternal reward. We will be caught up TOGETHER to meet the Lord in the air (verse 17).
If you have a question that you’d like me to answer in a future issue of the Roller Update, please send it (right away!) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another point that could be made is that our text in question (1 Thes. 4.14) is that it is referring to the people who have just been resurrected and have already met Jesus in the air. Here is how this scenario works out.
A. Jesus arrives in atmosphere
B. Saints resurrected and meet Christ in the air
C. Jesus brings saints with him to his destination (presumably to establish kingdom in Jerusalem)