Our loving heavenly Father has planned and prepared for us throughout all eternity. In this life now, we have the more abundant life made available through His Son, Jesus Christ, and for the future, we have the hope of Christ’s return, with the promise “…so shall we ever be with the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:17).
Another wonderful promise in the Word of God is found in Psalms 48.
For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.
Even unto death, our God will be our guide. How comforting this is to one’s heart. Death is not a friend, for I Corinthians 15:26 tells us, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” God promises us that a time will come when “…Death is swallowed up in victory” (I Corinthians 15:54). Until that time, we can live with the assurance that our heavenly Father will be our guide throughout our lives, even unto death. This brings us great peace. Understanding what occurs after death also brings us peace.
There is a wide range of beliefs among people as to what happens when a person dies. A common belief is that when someone dies, that dead person immediately transitions into some type or form of new life and is still alive. What does God’s Word tell us about what happens when a person dies? Are the dead alive now?
The exemplary research work of Dr. Victor Paul Wierwille Are the Dead Alive Now? clearly sets forth the accuracy of the Word regarding death and resurrection. This comprehensive study shows that when a person dies he or she is in “gravedom,” a state of unconsciousness, until the return of Christ.
His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.
With no consciousness in death, there is no awareness of time, so the moment of death for an individual becomes, for that person, the moment of the return of Christ. In actual time, though, at the moment of death the individual enters gravedom and remains in this continuing state of unconsciousness until being made alive by the power of God at some time in the future. You can learn more about this in Are the Dead Alive Now? Because this subject is so far-reaching, for our purposes here we will focus on when the dead will be made alive.
The Bible teaches that the return of Christ, also known as his second coming, has two basic phases. The first is the gathering together, when Christ returns for the believers of the Church of the Body of Christ. The second phase is Christ’s return with his Church, which includes two resurrections. We will see that there are only three events of the future when the dead will be made alive: the gathering together, the resurrection of the just, and the resurrection of the unjust. Let’s see what the Word has to say regarding each of these.
The gathering together
The first occasion the dead will be made alive is the gathering together. The term “gathering together” is found in II Thessalonians 2.
II Thessalonians 2:1:
Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him.
The gathering together is the first part of the return of Christ, when he returns for his Church. The Church of the Body is made up of all the born-again believers from the Grace Administration. This is our current time period, which began on the day of Pentecost and continues until the return of Christ.
The gathering together is not referred to in the Scriptures as a resurrection because to have a resurrection, according to Biblical usage, all must be dead. When Christ returns to gather together the believers from the Grace Administration, some believers will still be living.
The order of the events that will take place when Christ returns to gather together the Church of the Body is set forth in I Thessalonians 4. The first to be raised from the dead will be all the believers from the Grace Administration who died before the return of Christ. It is interesting to note that this section of scripture which gives us these details begins by letting us know that it is not God’s will for us to be ignorant or uninformed regarding these matters.
I Thessalonians 4:13:
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
God’s will for us is to have a clear understanding concerning those who have fallen asleep in Christ. When a believer dies, we do experience sorrow, but we do not sorrow as if we did not have the hope of Christ’s return to anticipate.
I 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.
We believe that Jesus Christ died and that God raised him from the dead. We believe also that all the born-again believers who have fallen asleep in Christ will be raised from the dead when Christ returns.
I Thessalonians 4:15 and 16:
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 [precede] them which are asleep.
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.
When Christ returns to gather together the Church of the Body, not all believers will have died. There will be believers still living at the time Christ returns. The first ones to be gathered together will be those believers who have fallen asleep in Christ, also called the dead in Christ….
This is an excerpt from the September/October 2007 issue of The Way Magazine.
Copyright© 2007 by The Way International. All rights reserved.
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