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.)

  • Take a look at my answer about a premillenialist view of the resurrection.
    – Ben Miller
    Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 18:35
  • 1
    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
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 2:51
  • 1
    @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
    Commented Jul 26, 2014 at 23:27

5 Answers 5


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.


The Moody Bible Commentary (MBC), which is dispensational, pre-tribulation, and pre-millennial in its outlook, takes an in-depth look at these verses. Some relevant points from it include 1) the rapture is described as a single event and 2) the distinct steps of the event do not suggest a delay.

1) The commentary describes the rapture multiple times as a single event, distinct from Christ's second coming. Describing Paul treatment of the subject, MBC reads, "[h]e dealt with the persons involved, the plan of the event, and the point of his teaching." MBC contrasts this rapture event with

the event described in Mt 24:31 where, at the second coming, the angels will "gather together His elect." Thus, there are two distinct events associated with the parousia—the rapture and the second coming (or "revelation") of Christ. [bold emphasis added, italics in original]

2) MBC summarizes the sequence of the rapture as first the descent of the Lord, then three distinct sounds (shout, voice, and trumpet), then the reunification of the souls of the dead in Christ with their bodies, then the taking up of living believers. One point in particular touches on your questions regarding the sounds and the timing:

The exact nature of these sounds [shout, voice, trumpet] is unclear, but apparently the purpose is to summon believers and signal that the blessed hope is about to be realized.

In this quote we see that the sounds are a) for believers only and b) that they indicate the imminence of the catching up. MBC continues:

Then, living believers will be caught up (v. 17) along with those resurrected saints. The nature of the event is indicated by the term harpazo, which means "to grab or seize suddenly so as to remove or gain control, snatch... [or] take away." [emphasis in original]

Here we again see the emphasis on the sudden nature of the event, but even more clearly than before, the singular nature of the "catching up" event (resting on the text of verse 17, "caught up together with them in the clouds").

To summarize, the Moody Bible Commentary describes the rapture as a single event consisting of several steps immediately following one another, and suggests that the sounds associated with the rapture are meant to call believers.


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.


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.


I am not sure why you have tied this event to Pre-millennialism, this appears to be when the Second coming occurs, and is just as applicable to mid and post Millennialism.

The message Paul appears to be sending with this prophesy is that when Christ returns it will be the announcement of the beginning of the age of Glory. This will be the personification of the Glory of God and his Kingdom. That event will be so spectacular that it will be announced in three ways:

all Scripture is quoted from the updated King James Version unless otherwise stated.

1st Thessalonians 4:16 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 this happens it will be so glorious that at that call all those who have died in Christ will rise before Christ actually comes down out of the clouds, and they will witness this event just as those who are still alive will.

1st Thessalonians13 through 15 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that all of you sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 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.

Paul is telling them that their worries about dying before Christ's return, Which most of them expected to happen during the lifetime of some of them, would in no way prevent them from seeing that glorious event.

  • "...those who have died in Christ will rise before Christ actually comes down out of the clouds" - doesn't 1 Th 4:16 say the opposite; that Jesus will descend and then the dead in Christ shall arise? Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 7:00
  • @Wikis Not to my understanding, 1st 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. To my understanding these are the souls of those dead in Christ and verse 14 refers to their resurrection bodies. Likewise those who are alive will only have their resurrection bodies rise.Paul later said that we do not know what our resurrection bodies will be like but they will be like Christ I take that to mean that they will be unrestricted by physical laws, as Jesus appeared in a closed room.
    – BYE
    Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 13:15

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