1Thessalonians 4:16-18 (ESV)
The Coming of the Lord
16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry (shout) of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
V16, The exact order of events at Christ’s coming for His saints is now given. The Lord Himself will descend from heaven. He will not send an angel, but will come Himself!
It will be with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. Several explanations have been offered as to the significance of these commanding sounds, but frankly it is almost impossible to speak with finality about them:
1. Some feel that the shout is the voice of the Lord Jesus Himself which raises the dead (John 5:25; 11:43, 44) and changes the living. Others, like Hogg and Vine, say that the shout is the archangel’s voice.
2. The voice of Michael, the archangel, is commonly understood as an assembling command for the OT saints, since he is so closely associated with Israel (Dan. 12:1; Jude 9; Rev. 12:4–7). Others think its purpose is to revive Israel nationally. And still others suggest the voice of an archangel summons the angels as a military escort to accompany the Lord and His saints through enemy territory back to heaven (cf. Luke 16:22).
V16, Accompanying the descent of Christ from heaven will be the voice of an archangel, perhaps Michael, who is portrayed as the leader of the army of God (Dan. 10:13, 21; Jude 9; Rev. 12:7–9). The archangel’s voice will be one of triumph because of the great victory at the coming of Christ, culminating thousands of years of spiritual conflict with Satan.
The final signal will be the trumpet of God. The three elements consisting of the shout of the Lord Himself, the voice of an archangel, and the trumpet of God will perhaps be separate events occurring in rapid succession. The answer to the question as to how the dead can be raised when the remains of their bodies are in some cases totally scattered is not a problem for a supernatural God who created the world.
Clearly the resurrection will be a physical resurrection in which bodily existence will be restored, as confirmed in 1 Cor. 15:51–53. The resurrected bodies of Christians will be like that of Christ (1 John 3:2), incorruptible and immortal, and yet they will be bodies of flesh and bone (Luke 24:39, 40; John 20:20, 25, 27). They all will be recognizable, as was the resurrected body of Christ.
Living Christians will be caught up together with the other believers in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. (The English word rapture comes from the Latin verb meaning caught up.) In the clouds probably refers to atmospheric clouds that also will attend the Second Coming (Rev. 1:7), or it may be the resurrected multitudes who are referred to as a cloud (Heb. 12:1). In the Bible, the Lord is often accompanied by clouds, signifying His glory (see Ps. 68:4; 97:2). The important result is that we shall always be with the Lord.
V18, The wonderful truth described (vv. 13–17) is to be a comfort to the Thessalonians and to all Christians. They had mistakenly thought that only those who were alive at the time of the coming of Christ would witness and share in the glory of it. The fact is that Christians who have died will be raised first and so go before the living to the gathering in the sky. Observe that Paul expects a practical, immediate response to this great doctrinal teaching of the Second Coming. The Thessalonians should remind one another of this truth as a source of comfort in the face of death. The sentence is in the present tense, indicating that it should be a constant comfort to us to think each day that the Lord may come.
What we know for certain is that Jesus Christ our Sovereign Lord and Saviour is coming back. We know there will be a Rapture (a catching away), when this occurs in the timeline of Scripture…that’s open to debate. All I know is I want live watching and waiting for His return, thus, living in a way that honours Him by obeying His great and awesome Word.