In 1Thessalonians; what does the Bible mean “sleep in Jesus” or the “dead in Christ mean?
“ASLEEP IN JESUS”—”DEAD IN CHRIST” Paul is discussing “them which are asleep”. These are the ones that had already died, who were Christians. (Paul is writing to “the church” 1 Thess. 1:1) The Christians still living, knowing what Paul had taught about the return of Christ, were concerned that those that had died would miss the HOPE of His return and the HOPE of eternal life. The non-believers were not looking for His return and had NO HOPE of eternal salvation. Jesus used “sleep” to describe “death” in John 11:11-14. Dead, to the faithful, is spoken of as sleep because it is not only rest, but also temporary.
There will be a resurrection of those Christians who died, and the reason is stated in the first part of verse 14. The Greek in the phrase “them that asleep in Jesus will God bring with him” should read: “them that asleep THROUGH Christ will God bring with him.” That is, because Jesus died and is risen, He became the first fruits from the dead. And in the Old Testament the first fruits were the promise of the coming harvest. So Jesus resurrection is a promise of the resurrection of the faithful. (All will be raised but here Paul is discussing the resurrection of the believers.)
The word “prevent” in verse 15 in the King James Version means “precede”. That is, those that are alive when He returns will have no precedence or privilege over those believers who had died. If there is any privilege it is that the dead because they will be raised an instant before those alive are “caught up into clouds” (verse 17). 1 Corinthians 15:51 “Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,” 1 Corinthians 15:52 “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
The “dead in Christ” in verse 16 shows the location of the dead. To be “in Christ” is to be in “fellowship” with Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if any man be IN CHRIST, he is a NEW CREATURE: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” How does one get “into Christ”? Galatians 3:26 “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:27 “For as many of you as have been BAPTIZED INTO CHRIST have PUT ON CHRIST.” We “get into” our clothes and therefore have put “on” our clothes. So we “get into” Christ through baptism and therefore “put on” Christ. Think of going “into” a house through a door. Then you are “in” the house. So the “dead in Christ” are the Christians that had already died. And those that are “asleep”, in the context Paul is talking the Christians that have died, Christ through His death on the cross as Savior will He bring with Him and the dead and the living who are and were faithful will be changed into a spiritual body to live with Him throughout eternity.
By Danny Stanford