But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (NAS)
Right away you notice Paul did not want the Thessalonians in the dark any longer. So too us! What he is about to explain needs to be known!
He is talking in the context of the grief that comes from losing a loved one. It does not have to be this way. While there is sorrow, those who die in Christ only sleep. Like Stephen who was stoned to death but was described as falling asleep, physical death for the believer is temporary. Those who drift off await a wake up call, for their bodies, that is, because if you are absent from the body, you are present with him in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8). As such, our grief is abated by hope.
Those alive in Christ, on the other hand, look ahead to a glorious meeting with the Lord. Here and in 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 what is referred to as the “rapture of the church” is explained. What a great comfort to believers to hope for the day when the Lord returns for us! It is a particular comfort that should be discussed and passed along as you would any other good news, like the death and resurrection of Jesus, and this word is from the Lord himself. See below.
15 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 not precede those who have fallen asleep 16 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. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17
Any day now—the return of the Lord is imminent—with a sudden shout, angelic announcement, and heavenly trumpet blast, Jesus will descend in the clouds. First, the bodies of those who died as believers will be raised, and then those on the earth who are alive will ascend. It will happen in a split second. You might ask how a Christian burned alive will be reconstituted. Did not God create Adam from dust? Did not Jesus rise from the dead? So it shall be, and we will live forever with him.
But we will find that about seven years later we will return with Christ as he comes back to earth as conqueror and king, and we will rule and reign with him in his kingdom.
Fairy tales? Read the prophets, read Daniel, read Ezekiel, read the words of our Lord on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24), and read Revelation.
And now you know the rest of the story.