What does 1 Thessalonians 4:16 mean?
ESV: For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
NIV: For 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.
NASB: For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
CSB: For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
NLT: For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves.
KJV: For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
NKJV: For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
Verse Commentary:
This is part of one of Scripture's most often-quoted passages. The event referred to here is called "the rapture," a moment when Jesus Christ will call all Christians—living and dead—away from the earth to be with Him. Paul's description here is given as part of his reassurance to the Thessalonian Christians. Earlier verses comforted them with a reminder that believers who have already died will also be raised to life in Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Unlike unbelievers, Christians have a hope of seeing loved ones again, in the presence of Jesus.

Paul assures his readers that Jesus, our Lord, will come in person for Christians. This will be accompanied by a loud command, the voice of an archangel, and a trumpet blast. Whether these are three separate incidents, or three ways of describing the same basic sign, is difficult to tell. The archangel mentioned here might be Michael (Jude 1:9), though Paul does not specify. Combined with the description given in the next verse, this event will apparently be sudden, dramatic, and extremely obvious.

At that time the bodies of departed Christians will rise in resurrection glory and become immortal (1 Corinthians 15:54). The inclusion of the words, "in Christ," indicates that only Christians will experience resurrection at the rapture, because only Christians have been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). The phrase, "in Christ," never occurs in the context of Old Testament believers. They will be resurrected at Christ's second coming to establish His kingdom on earth (Daniel 12:1–3).

The "cry of command" will likely be Jesus' command to departed Christians. When Jesus summoned Lazarus to come out of the tomb, He specifically called Lazarus by name: "Lazarus, come out" (John 11:43). A common quip suggests that if Christ had simply said, "Come out," the bodies of all the dead would have left their burial places.
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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