ANSWER: In context Paul was discussing the resurrection of the holy ones, those who are in union with Christ. And he was contrasting the difference between those who have already died before the return of Christ and those who are living at the time Jesus commences his so-called parousia. Those who die before must sleep in death. But those who are alive when Jesus returns and who prove faithful unto death will not have to sleep in death, but will receive an instantaneous resurrection.
Please note that Paul used the expression “survive” and “surviving” in two places. In the first he said: “For this is what we tell you by Jehovah’s word, that we the living who survive to the presence of the Lord…”
In the text above it is plain that Paul was not meaning to say that the holy ones would survive death, but the apostle was merely referring to those who survive to the presence, at which point the first resurrection begins.
To better understand what Paul meant consider what he wrote to the Corinthians, where he explained: “However, this I say, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom, neither does corruption inherit incorruption. Look! I tell you a sacred secret: We shall not all fall asleep in death, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, during the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised up incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this which is corruptible must put on incorruption, and this which is mortal must put on immortality. But when this which is corruptible puts on incorruption and] this which is mortal puts on immortality, then the saying will take place that is written: “Death is swallowed up forever.” – 1 Cor. 15:50-54
Notice in this span of verses above Paul also makes mention of the fact that not all shall fall asleep in death. But not falling asleep in death is not the same as not dying. Paul went on to explain that “we shall all be changed.” Changed in what way? Those who survive to the presence of the Lord will be instantaneously changed from mortal humans into immortal spirits. Changed from corruptible earthlings into the glorious, incorruptible, new creation Jehovah has brought into existence. (Note: Not even angels are immortal. There is a profound difference between merely living forever and being immortal)
In the context Paul reproved doubting Corinthians for not accepting the resurrection. Paul wrote: “You unreasonable person! What you sow is not made alive unless first it dies…” Paul then gave an illustration of a grain of wheat that must die to produce the wheat plant itself, so the grain no longer exists – having died to produce the plant. In that way Paul was illustrating that the flesh must die in order for God to give them a glorious body.
But in a sense the holy ones who survive to the presence do not die. Ironically, similar to the lie that humans inherently have an immortal soul, those precious few who have the glorious privilege of being adopted will become immortal at the very instant their physical bodies die. And “in the twinkling of an eye” they will be changed. That is why Paul went on to say that at that point death is abolished, at least for those who experience the first resurrection.
But according to Paul’s illustration what happens to the flesh? Like the kernel of wheat, it dies. So, from the standpoint of a human observer there is definitely a death involved, because there will be a lifeless corpse left behind, even as was the case when Jesus died. But from the standpoint of the one in Christ who dies during the parousia there will only be a the awareness of changing from human nature to the exact image of the glorious Christ in the blink of an eye.