QUESTION: If the great crowd is to have everlasting life on paradise EARTH, why does 1Thess 4:17 say, “…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 shall always be with the Lord”?
The key word in the text is a tiny little pronoun —“we.” The question is, who is Paul referring to as “we”? The answer is found in the preceding verse. It states: “…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.”
“We” is in reference to those who are in union with Christ, both those who died and those who will be alive when Christ returns.
But a person may ask: Are not all believers “in union with Christ”? The answer is no. Being in union has to do with being anointed to be part of the heavenly Kingdom. But are not all Christians called to heaven? Again, no. That simple truth is even hinted upon in the verse cited above where Paul stated that those who die in union with Jesus “will rise first.”
In the 3rd chapter of Philippians Paul also spoke of being in union with him and hoping for the earlier resurrection. Here is what he said: “On account of him I have taken the loss of all things and I consider them as a lot of refuse, that I may gain Christ and be found in union with him, having, not my own righteousness, which results from law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that issues from God on the basis of faith, so as to know him and the power of his resurrection and a sharing in his sufferings, submitting myself to a death like his, to see if I may by any means attain to the earlier resurrection from the dead.”
In the 20th chapter of Revelation it explains that the first resurrection is exclusive to those who will rule with Christ as kings and priests. The first resurrection is of the 144,000, over whom the second death has no power. Being immune to the second death is another way of saying they are immortal, indestructible.
But, logically, if there is a first resurrection then there is a second resurrection that follows. What is the difference? As stated, the first resurrection is of those in union with Christ. And it occurs before the end of the world, as Paul explained to the Corinthians it takes place during the presence of Christ. The later resurrection begins after Armageddon and will be carried out by Christ and his 144,000 associate kings and priests.
As for the stumper question, apparently the questioner has not thought this through very far. The great crowd do not receive a resurrection at all, neither the first or the second. The reason being, they will never die. They will have the glorious privilege of surviving the great tribulation and being the first generation to live in a world without the malevolent influence of Satan and his demons.
Jesus spoke of those who will be resurrected and those who will never die. In a conversation with the grieving sister of Lazarus concerning the resurrection and the last day, Jesus said the following? “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life; and everyone who is living and exercises faith in me will never die at all. Do you believe this?”