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I've read books on Premillennialism (including Left Behind) and heard many people preach on the topic but I've never heard an explanation of 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17:

16 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. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

That is, I have heard of those who are alive suddenly being Raptured but no mention of the dead going first. That is, in this verse it appears to consist of two separate events: first those who are dead, and then the living.

For that matter, the Rapture is often depicted as a silent affair but here there is a "loud command" and a "trumpet call".

Has any prominent premillennialist discussed this issue?

(On Wikipedia's Rapture page this verse is mentioned but the explanation of the "dead rising first" is not discussed.)

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Take a look at my answer about a premillenialist view of the resurrection. –  Ben Miller Jul 10 at 18:35
You might want to edit this to specify "Dispensationalists" rather than "Premillennialists". The former believe there will be a rapture several years prior to Christ's 2nd Coming. Historic Premillennialists, on the other hand, view this verse in pretty much the same way an Amillenialist would. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 11 at 2:51
@Wikis So you assume that there is a great gap of time between the two? What if the gap is 2 seconds in length? Would that reconcile everything in your mind? I'm NOT trying to be funny here. –  Steve Jul 26 at 23:27

3 Answers 3

When taken in full context, I believe the answer becomes a little more clear.

"For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 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. 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. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever." (1 Thes 4:14-17 NIV)

This states that those who are still alive will be caught up TOGETHER with those who died to meet the Lord. A simple way of putting the first part is that those that are still alive don't get a head start. The dead get to rise from the ground first. Then we're all gathered up in the clouds. God wants to meet all of us at once. No favorites.

"I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.'” (1 Cor 15:50-54 NIV)

As for this passage, it is speaking of how we shall give up our earthly flesh for new eternal bodies. We'll all be instantaneously changed "in the twinkling of an eye". The dead will raise from the ground in their new bodies and those that are living will be changed instantly.

So putting the two together, in context, says that the change will happen followed by us all ascending to be with the Lord together.

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Apparently someone downvoted this. It'd be greatly appreciated if a reason were given. Can't learn or grow if there's no clarification. –  PMII Jul 25 at 2:46

I have always understood this Rapture event as being near instantaneous.

I also always envisioned this event to be something like flying with those that had died in the faith before the living, as they meet the Lord in the clouds.

This scripture reference seems fairly clear, but you were curious if there were any prominent speakers or scholars who have attempted to address this issue. There are quite a number. Here is a resource that I found helpful.

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This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this post by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

I have two separate links to two different sources. Why is this being flagged as being unsourced? –  dmcgill50 Jul 24 at 20:13

I hear this teaching very often and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 is probably the most quoted passage:
According to pre-mils this refers to the so called 'rapture' of the church. When our Lord will appear in the heavens, visible only for the redeemed, and that the shout refers to calling them. On this occasion, they believe that Jesus is NOT going to touch the ground, judge the infidel or establish His earthly kingdom. Rather, this will put a start to the great tribulation (they get that from passages as 1Thes 5:9 - which talks about the wrath of God and not tribulation, but nevermind).
The words that 'the dead shall rise first' refers to the fact that those who are alive will be caught up after the dead but nevertheless in a instantaneous moment, mainly referring to the fact that we who are alive are not more privileged than those who have been dead in Christ.
Furthermore, they believe that that event is solely for the New Testament church. Pre-mils distinguish b/n His coming in the clouds for the elect (1 Thes.4:16) and His coming in the clouds for judgement... "Behold, he cometh in the clouds and every eye shall see him..."(Rev 1:7).
This is their understanding on the passage in a nutshell. If you find it problematic or inconsistent with other scriptures, I don't blame you.

PS: Get youself some William McDonald commentaries if you wander how pre-mils understand certain scriptures. Most brothers and sisters who hold to that view will agree with most things in them commentaries.

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