1 Thessalonians 4:13-15; Revelation 11:15-18, 14:14-20, 20:4-6
How noting what symbols are used in end-time passages can help identify which are referring to the same event.
By Dick Lentz
(All Scriptures cited come from the NIV2011 version of the Bible)
In some of my prior posts regarding end-time passages, I noted that if the same symbol shows up in different end-time passages that those passages are most likely describing the same event. In this post I will use a variation of that principle to point out some symbols I found significant in a single passage that describes an end-time event, to note some other passages where these same symbols occur, and to determine from this what event these passages are most likely referring to.
A loud command, a voice of an archangel, and a trumpet call – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 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. 15 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. 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
I’ve underlined the symbols I found significant in the above passage. Before discussing these, I’d like to make some comments about the context.
It seems that the Christians Paul was writing to in Thessalonica were a bit confused about some of the events that would precede or accompany the return of Jesus. It seems that they thought that those who are “asleep” (Christians who die before the return of Jesus) would not be resurrected from the dead when Jesus returns. This was causing them a bit of grief.
Paul wanted to correct their thinking about this. He noted that all Christians, those alive and dead, will meet Jesus in the clouds when He returns. He also said that those who are still alive when Jesus returns will not precede those who are asleep. Christians who are dead when Christ returns will be resurrected first and will be joined when they meet Jesus in the air by Christians who are alive at that time.
One thing interesting to note is the corrective nature of this passage. Paul said that these believers were “uninformed about those who sleep in death”; they were confused about the fate of Christians who die before Jesus returns. One of Paul’s goal in writing to them was to clarify what would happen to believers who are “asleep” so that those alive wouldn’t be uninformed or confused about this.
The corrective nature of this passage is something that seems to characterize many if not all passages that describe end-time events. It seems when reading these passages and noting their context that there was something the hearers or readers did not understand about end-time events and that their misunderstanding of them was resulting in an inappropriate response. The speaker or writer responded by providing information that would hopefully correct their thinking about the end-times so that they would no longer be confused or their response incongruous.
Here are the symbols in this passage I want to note:
- Jesus comes down from heaven. (vs. 16)
- This will be accompanied by a loud command, a voice of an archangel, and a trumpet call. (vs. 16)
- The dead in Christ will rise – they will be resurrected – and along with those alive will meet Christ in the clouds. (vs. 16-17)
I will now note some other end-time passages where these same symbols are found.
An angel, a trumpet, and some clouds – Matthew 24:30-31
30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (Matthew 24:29-31, NIV)
I discussed this passage a bit in a prior post titled, “Jesus’ return will be visible to everyone.” I noted in that post that when Jesus returns that “all the peoples of the earth [will] see Him coming on the clouds of heaven” (vs. 30). This seems to indicate that Jesus’ return will not be a secret. It will be visible to everyone.
Here are some symbols in this passage that are also found 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
- The people of the earth see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” (vs. 30); 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven.”
- This will be accompanied by angels who sound a loud trumpet (vs. 31); 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says that the coming of the Lord will be accompanied by “the voice of an archangel” and “the trumpet call of God.”
- Jesus will gather the elect from everywhere (vs. 31); 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 indicates that when Jesus returns that the dead in Christ will rise first but that all believers, alive or dead, will be caught up to meet Him in the air.
- Jesus is seen coming on the clouds of heaven (vs. 30); 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says that all believers will be caught up in the clouds and will meet Jesus in the air.
Based on the similarity in the description of the events in Matthew 24:30-31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, I believe that they are referring to the same event – the second coming of Jesus. If this is so, then it makes sense that what follows the event described in Matthew 24:30-31 also follows the event described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. As I noted in a previous post titled, “When Jesus returns, it won’t be Christians who are ‘taken away,’” as well as another one titled, “Could the parable of the thief in the night be a warning to Christians?” it’s my contention that what follows Jesus’ return will be immediate, dire, and permanent consequences for those unprepared for it. This makes sense when you consider the warnings found in the parables recorded in Matthew 24:36 — 25:46. It seems when noting these that there will be no second chance – no period of years – for those who aren’t prepared for Jesus’ return to get themselves right with Him once this event takes place. It’s my belief that it’s a “once-and-done” event.
The last trumpet – 1 Corinthians 15:51-52
51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 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. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)
I won’t elaborate on the context of these verses in this post. But they are the end of a chapter that explains why the resurrection of Jesus is both a historical and eternal imperative. What I want to note here are some symbols in these verses that also occur in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
- In an instant, an event takes places that will change every Christian including those who are dead. Those who are dead will be raised – they will be resurrected (vs. 52); 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says that when the Lord comes that the dead will rise first.
- This event occurs when “the last trumpet” is sounded implying that there are some other trumpets that precede it (vs. 52); 1 Thessalonians 4:16 notes that a trumpet call occurs when the event it is describing takes place but does not indicate that there are any that precede it.
Because of the similarity of the symbols in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, it is my belief that they describing the same event. If this is so, then they are referring to the same event described in Matthew 24:30-31 as well.
The final trumpet – Revelation 11:15-18
Since 1 Corinthians 15:52 says that believers in Christ will all be changed when the last of a series of trumpets is sounded, a reasonable question is if these trumpets are described elsewhere in Scripture and if so if what happens after the last one is sounded. I believe that the answer to this is found in these verses:
6 Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.
7 The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.
8 The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, 9 a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
10 The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— 11 the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.
12 The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night. (Revelation 8:6-12)
1 The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. 2 When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. (Revelation 9:1-2)
13 The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the four horns of the golden altar that is before God. 14 It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” (Revelation 9:13-14)
The prophecies in this portion of Revelation begin with a vision of seven angels, each with its own trumpet (8:6). What follows is a description of what happens after each of these trumpets is sounded.
The following verses describe what happens after the seventh and final trumpet is sounded:
15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:
“The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
and he will reign for ever and ever.”
16 And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying:
“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
and have begun to reign.
18 The nations were angry,
and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the dead,
and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your people who revere your name,
both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” (Revelation 11:15-18)
I’ve underlined the portions of the above passage I want to highlight. Here’s what I found significant:
- An angel sounds a trumpet – the final one of seven – and loud voices in heaven are heard (vs. 15); 1 Corinthians 15:52 says that at the last trumpet we will be changed; Matthew 24:31 says that Jesus’ return will be accompanied by angels and a loud trumpet call; 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says that the Lord will come from heaven “with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God.”
- After the seventh (and final) trumpet is sounded, this passage indicates that the kingdom of our Lord will be established (vs. 15), that Jesus’ reign will begin (vs. 16), and that the time for judging the dead and rewarding God’s servants will occur (vs. 18). This is similar to the description in Matthew 25:31-46 of the judgments and rewards handed out when Jesus returns to sit on His throne and separates the sheep from the goats. Here’s a portion of that passage:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Matthew 25:31-33)
Revelation 11:18 says that the nations will be angry when the event described in that passage occurs, perhaps because God’s wrath is about to be exercised on those who didn’t trust in Jesus or who rebelled against Him; Matthew 25:31 notes that a gathering of the nations will occur when the event it is describing takes place.
The above reinforces my contention that the four passages discussed so far in this post, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 24:30-31, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, and Revelation 11:15-18, are all describing the same event.
The passage in Revelation 11:15-18 presents an interesting challenge if this is so. The prophecies in Revelation 4 — 20 are often interpreted as if they are a chronological description of end-time events. If this is so, then concluding that Revelation 11:15-18 is referring to the second coming of Jesus is problematic as it is somewhere in the middle of the events described in Revelation 4 — 20. But it is my contention that Revelation 4 — 20 is providing us with at least three different accounts of Jesus’ return and the events that precede it. The first account may be in chapters 4-11, the second in chapters 12-14, and the final in chapters 15-20. If this is so, then Revelation 11:15-18 is at the end of the first of these three accounts.
One thing interesting when considering this is to note what’s found at the end of what I consider to be the third account in Revelation of Jesus’ return and the events that precede it.
The first resurrection – Revelation 20:4-6
4 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4-6)
The event described in the above passage occurs after some verses that describe some of the final battles of the end-times. What follows these battles is a time of judgment preceded by the resurrection of who had remained faithful to Jesus in this life but who died before He returned.
Could it be that this “first resurrection” (vs. 5) is the same resurrection noted in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 as well as 1 Corinthians 15:51-52?
Could it be that the judgment that takes place at this time (vs. 4) is the same judgment described in Matthew 25:31-46 as well as in Revelation 11:15-18?
Could it be that the kingdom established at this time (vs. 6) is the same kingdom and reign Revelation 11:15-18 says begins at that time?
Based on the symbols in the above passage and their similarity to the ones in some of the passages discussed earlier this post, it is my belief that it is describing the same event.
Before I conclude, I want to note what is described at the end of Revelation 12 — 14, a passage that I consider to be the second account in Revelation of Jesus’ return and the events that precede it.
A time of harvesting – Revelation 14:14-20
14 I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16 So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.
17 Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” 19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia. (Revelation 14:14-20)
I discussed what precedes this passage in as earlier post titled, “The Mark of the Beast may be an in issue only for Christians.” What I want to note here are the symbols I found significant in this passage:
- One who is “like a son of man” is seated on a cloud. It’s most likely in context that the son of man in this passage is referring to is Jesus. Note it’s similarity to how Matthew described the return of Jesus when he wrote, “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven … and they [will] see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 24:30)
- What the son of man is doing is harvesting the earth; He is exercising His wrath. I believe this means that He is judging the world.
What’s interesting is the similarity of the description of what happens in the above passage with what is being described in this one:
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-30).
Note that some type of harvesting takes place in both passages and that the consequences seem to be permanent. Matthew elaborates by noting in verse 30 that that though there will be negative consequences for the “weeds” (they will be burned) that there will be positive ones for the “wheat” (it will be brought into His barn).
I believe it’s reasonable to conclude that Revelation 14:14-16 as well as well as Matthew 13:24-30 are referring to same event. And due to some similarities between Revelation 14:14-16 and the other passages discussed earlier in this post, I believe it’s reasonable to conclude that all the passages discussed in this post are describing the same event as well – the second coming of Jesus.
Why it matters
It is my conclusion when considering the above passages as well as ones discussed in some of my other posts that Jesus will return only once; and when He does, although it will result in wonderful rewards for those who have been faithful to Him, it will also result in immediate, dire, and permanent consequences for those unprepared for His return. Furthermore, as I noted in a post titled, “Could the parable of the thief in the night a warning to Christians,” it seems that the ones being warned to be prepared for Jesus’ return are those who are followers of Christ and not unbelievers. What I haven’t discussed so far is why these warnings may be needed.
Many Christians seem to believe that when times get tough – when it seems that the world is on the verge of falling apart and they are facing increasing persecution for their faith – that these are signs that the return of Jesus is imminent and that they will soon be snatched from the world by Him so that they won’t have to experience the terrible events that will characterize the end-times. This could result in anguish if events don’t turn out as expected or complacency if they feel they don’t have to do anything in preparation for His return.
Although I agree that all Christians will meet Jesus in the air someday, based on my understanding of Scripture, I don’t believe this will take place until very near the end of a period of intense persecution accompanied by increasing degrees of suffering caused by man, nature, and God. What the writers of the Bible were urging Christians to do when they experienced these terrible times was to be patient, to remain faithful, and to be found at all times doing what is commendable in the eyes of Jesus.
Although I’m looking forward to the day when I will be with Jesus, I’ve concluded that my focus while I wait for that day needs to be on how Jesus wants me to live in the meantime. And since He could return at any time, it’s imperative that I am committed to doing what is commendable in His eyes at all times.
And that is how I see it today.