QUESTION: In view of 1 Thessalonians 4:17, will there perhaps be some anointed in the end who will not be killed, but will simply be “raptured”? Would appreciate your thoughts on this.
The answer is no and yes. Allow me to explain.
In context the verse in question states: “For this is what we tell you by Jehovah’s word, that we the living who survive to the presence of the Lord will in no way precede those who have fallen asleep in death; because the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first. Afterward we the living who are surviving will, together with them, be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we will always be with the Lord.”
Paul was explaining the order of the first resurrection. Those dead in Christ rise first at the sound of the archangel’s rousing trumpet. “Afterward we the living…”
Now, here is a question to consider: Since Revelation indicates that all those who are called to be kings and priests with Christ for the 1,000 years experience the first resurrection, how can that be harmonized with the notion that “we the living” do not experience death? Why would they need to be resurrected if they didn’t experience death? Indeed, how could a person be resurrected if they didn’t die first?
Paul explained this riddle in the 15th chapter of I Corinthians. He wrote concerning the first resurrection: “But I tell you this, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s Kingdom, nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Look! I tell you a sacred secret: We will not all fall asleep in death, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the blink of an eye, during the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised up incorruptible, and we will be changed. For this which is corruptible must put on incorruption, and this which is mortal must put on immortality.”
Paul was explaining the nature of the heavenly resurrection because some unreasonable Corinthians demanded to know what sort of body they would have in the resurrection. Paul illustrated the nature of the heavenly resurrection by comparing the human body to a seed. In nature when a seed sprouts it essentially dies in order to give life to the plant. There is nothing left of the original seed in the new plant. In the same way, the human must die in order to be transformed into a spirit. This is the ultimate end for those who are successfully born again. And Paul reiterated that sacred truth when he said flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s Kingdom.
That, of course, is not to imply or suggest that humans cannot also be spoken of as inheriting God’s Kingdom, but the apostle was speaking in terms of being with Christ in his heavenly Kingdom. The sheep in Christ illustration of the sheep and the goats are said to inherit the Kingdom, but that is different. The sacred secret Paul revealed to the Corinthians was that although all who are called to the heavenly kingdom have to die in order to be changed, not all will sleep in death.
As he explained to the Thessalonians, those who died in Christ will come to life first. But, those holy ones who are living during the climatic parousia do not sleep in death as do their anointed predecessors. So, Paul was not contrasting those who die and those who will not. He was contrasting those who sleep in death with those who will not sleep.
But they do die —indeed, they are killed. But, because at that point they will have already been sealed, meaning they will have been approved for entry into the Kingdom of the heavens, at the moment of their deaths they will be instantaneously changed —as Paul illustrated it, “in the twinkling of an eye.”
Since their change from flesh to spirit occurs instantaneously, with no interim of death whatsoever –no sleeping in death waiting to be awakened –Paul simply says “we the living who are surviving.”
But from the standpoint of a human observer there would be no visible evidence of any sort of change. To be sure, contrary to the fiction peddled by evangelical rapturists, there would be something “left behind”; namely –a corpse.
Like Paul stressed, flesh and blood cannot enter into the heavenly realm, any more than a human could live on the moon or Mars without taking along an earthly life support contraption. But from the personal viewpoint of the one who is changed, from their perspective there would be no death. One second they are living in the flesh on earth and a nano second later they are changed into a glorious, immortal spirit, where they will encounter the rest of their kind and the Lord Jesus himself, as if in the air.
So, yes, they will die and yes they will be killed; but, no, they will not experience death as we know it. They will only experience a change. The greatest change that one could ever experience.