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15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.

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15. by the word of the LordGreek, "in," that is, in virtue of a direct revelation from the Lord to me. So 1Ki 20:35. This is the "mystery," a truth once hidden, now revealed, which Paul shows (1Co 15:51, 52).

prevent—that is, "anticipate." So far were the early Christians from regarding their departed brethren as anticipating them in entering glory, that they needed to be assured that those who remain to the coming of the Lord "will not anticipate them that are asleep." The "we" means whichever of us are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord. The Spirit designed that believers in each successive age should live in continued expectation of the Lord's coming, not knowing but that they should be among those found alive at His coming (Mt 24:42). It is a sad fall from this blessed hope, that death is looked for by most men, rather than the coming of our Lord. Each successive generation in its time and place represents the generation which shall actually survive till His coming (Mt 25:13; Ro 13:11; 1Co 15:51; Jas 5:9; 1Pe 4:5, 6). The Spirit subsequently revealed by Paul that which is not inconsistent with the expectation here taught of the Lord's coming at any time; namely, that His coming would not be until there should be a "falling away first" (2Th 2:2, 3); but as symptoms of this soon appeared, none could say but that still this precursory event might be realized, and so the Lord come in his day. Each successive revelation fills in the details of the general outline first given. So Paul subsequently, while still looking mainly for the Lord's coming to clothe him with his body from heaven, looks for going to be with Christ in the meanwhile (2Co 5:1-10; Php 1:6, 23; 3:20, 21; 4:5). Edmunds well says, The "we" is an affectionate identifying of ourselves with our fellows of all ages, as members of the same body, under the same Head, Christ Jesus. So Ho 12:4, "God spake with us in Beth-el," that is, with Israel. "We did rejoice," that is, Israel at the Red Sea (Ps 66:6). Though neither Hosea, nor David, was alive at the times referred to, yet each identifies himself with those that were present.

16. himself—in all the Majesty of His presence in person, not by deputy.

descend—even as He ascended (Ac 1:11).

withGreek, "in," implying one concomitant circumstance attending His appearing.

shoutGreek, "signal shout," "war shout." Jesus is represented as a victorious King, giving the word of command to the hosts of heaven in His train for the last onslaught, at His final triumph over sin, death, and Satan (Re 19:11-21).

the voice of … archangel—distinct from the "signal shout." Michael is perhaps meant (Jude 9; Re 12:7), to whom especially is committed the guardianship of the people of God (Da 10:13).

trump of God—the trumpet blast which usually accompanies God's manifestation in glory (Ex 19:16; Ps 47:5); here the last of the three accompaniments of His appearing: as the trumpet was used to convene God's people to their solemn convocations (Nu 10:2, 10; 31:6), so here to summon God's elect together, preparatory to their glorification with Christ (Ps 50:1-5; Mt 24:31; 1Co 15:52).

shall rise first—previously to the living being "caught up." The "first" here has no reference to the first resurrection, as contrasted with that of "the rest of the dead." That reference occurs elsewhere (Mt 13:41, 42, 50; Joh 5:29; 1Co 15:23, 24; Re 20:5, 6); it simply stands in opposition to "then," 1Th 4:17. FIRST, "the dead in Christ" shall rise, THEN the living shall be caught up. The Lord's people alone are spoken of here.

17. we which are alive … shall be caught up—after having been "changed in a moment" (1Co 15:51, 52). Again he says, "we," recommending thus the expression to Christians of all ages, each generation bequeathing to the succeeding one a continually increasing obligation to look for the coming of the Lord. [Edmunds].

together with them—all together: the raised dead, and changed living, forming one joint body.

in the cloudsGreek, "in clouds." The same honor is conferred on them as on their Lord. As He was taken in a cloud at His ascension (Ac 1:9), so at His return with clouds (Re 1:7), they shall be caught up in clouds. The clouds are His and their triumphal chariot (Ps 104:3; Da 7:13). Ellicott explains the Greek, "robed round by upbearing clouds" [Aids to Faith].

in the air—rather, "into the air"; caught up into the region just above the earth, where the meeting (compare Mt 25:1, 6) shall take place between them ascending, and their Lord descending towards the earth. Not that the air is to be the place of their lasting abode with Him.

and so shall we ever be with the Lord—no more parting, and no more going out (Re 3:12). His point being established, that the dead in Christ shall be on terms of equal advantage with those found alive at Christ's coming, he leaves undefined here the other events foretold elsewhere (as not being necessary to his discussion), Christ's reign on earth with His saints (1Co 6:2, 3), the final judgment and glorification of His saints in the new heaven and earth.

18. comfort one another—in your mourning for the dead (1Th 4:13).