What does 1 Thessalonians 4:15 mean?
ESV: For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
NIV: According to the Lord's word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.
NASB: For we say this to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
CSB: For we say this to you by a word from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord's coming will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.
NLT: We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died.
KJV: For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
NKJV: For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.
Verse Commentary:
This passage is meant to clarify misunderstandings about the nature of the end times, as well as what happens to Christians who die before the return of Jesus Christ. Writing to the believers at Thessalonica by divine revelation, Paul declares living Christians will not be caught up—"raptured"—ahead of departed Christians at the coming of the Lord. He commends the Thessalonian believers for waiting for God's Son from heaven (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Upcoming verses will contain Paul's teaching that Jesus' return involves an imminent, immediate reunion with Christ for all who believe in Him.

Paul believed this sudden, physical reunion—referred to as "the rapture"—could happen at any time. He told the Corinthians, "the appointed time has grown very short" (1 Corinthians 7:29). In Philippians 4:5, he announced that "The Lord is at hand." He wrote to Titus about leading a self-controlled, upright, and godly life while "waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13). His words to Titus show us that we must not wait passively for our Lord's return, but we should actively engage in a godly life. The apostle John affirmed the truth that the hope of being raptured compels us to purify ourselves (1 John 3:2–3).

Someday, perhaps even today, Jesus will come for all who have trusted in Him as their Savior. His return will fulfill the promise He made in John 14:3: "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself…"

Paul's reference to those who have "fallen asleep" points to those Christians who have already died. As shown in the prior verse, these believers will be taken just as much as those who are alive when Jesus returns. Paul's other writings clarify that this "sleep" is simply a metaphor for their temporary condition—a reference to the material body—not a state of spiritual unawareness (Philippians 1:20–24; 2 Corinthians 5:8; see also Luke 16:19–31).
Verse Context:
First Thessalonians 4:13–18 represents an important shift in the subject matter of Paul's letter. Realizing the Thessalonian believers needed further teaching about Jesus' return (the rapture) and specifically about what happens to Christians who die before Jesus returns, Paul turns to address these vital matters. He wants his readers to know that death should not cause them to grieve like unbelievers. There is a bright prospect of seeing departed believers again. When Jesus returns from heaven, He will bring deceased Christians with Him. At that time there will be a loud command, the archangel's voice will be heard, and God's trumpet will sound. Christians who have died will receive their resurrected bodies, and living Christians will be caught up to join them, to be with the Lord forever. Paul urged the Thessalonian believers to use what he wrote about the rapture to encourage one another.
Chapter Summary:
Chapter 4 starts with an encouragement for the Thessalonian believers to continue their spiritual growth. Their conduct is exemplary, but they need to seek to do even more. Paul especially emphasizes the importance of sexual purity, as well as the need for believers to live peaceful, polite, and productive lives. Paul then begins to discuss the subject of Christ's return. This begins with a reassurance that believers who have died prior to the return of Christ will be the first ones raised when He comes back for His people. Next will be those still living, all of whom will meet Jesus ''in the air.'' Knowledge of our eternal destiny should be encouraging!
Chapter Context:
Chapters 1—3 had a lot to say about the good reputation of the Thessalonian church. Chapter 4 begins to address points Paul wants to clarify. First of these is the need to grow in good works, and to avoid immoral living. Paul then begins to explain ''the rapture'': the moment when Christ will retrieve believers from this earth. Paul's explanation seems to be intended to dispel rumors. In the final chapter, Paul will further explain the nature of the ''day of the Lord,'' correcting what might have been said by false teachers.
Book Summary:
The apostle Paul's second missionary journey included a visit to the prominent Greek city of Thessalonica. This stood alongside a major land route and boasted a busy seaport. A number of individuals believed Paul's message (Acts 17:1–4), but an angry mob forced Paul to leave the city after his brief stay. Later, while in Athens, Paul received a glowing report: the believers at Thessalonica were growing spiritually and serving God fervently. However, they had questions about the Lord's return, including what happens to a believer who dies before that day. And, as all churches do, they had some areas in which they were falling short. In Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, written about AD 51, he addresses these developments. Paul expresses gratitude for the Thessalonian believers' spiritual progress, and frequently makes references to Christ's impending return.
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