“SO SHALL WE EVER BE WITH THE LORD?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
A recurrent idea among Christians is that the Church the Body of Christ will return with the Lord Jesus Christ at His Second Coming. Various and sundry verses are offered as support. However, a careful examination of the Holy Scriptures demonstrates this to be a total misunderstanding of both the purpose of the Body and the objective of the Second Coming. (For more info, please see our related studies linked at the end of this article.)
Years ago, when this author began coming to the knowledge of the truth, better understanding the Word of God rightly divided, he struggled to make sense of the above matter. Were we returning with Christ at His Second Coming, as he had been led to believe for so many years? First Thessalonians 4:17 nagged him: “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” What should we make of the phrase, “so shall we ever be with the Lord?” Will we be physically “with” the Lord Jesus when He steps onto the Mount of Olives at His Second Coming? Will we be reigning “with” Him on Earth in Israel’s Davidic kingdom? “For what saith the Scriptures?”
Like most individuals, this author assumed the “and so shall we ever be with the Lord” clause meant that we must be in close proximity to Christ at all times once we are raptured. After He takes us into Heaven in that split second of time (1 Corinthians 15:51-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), we will never again leave His side. Wherever He is, we will always be beside Him. Is that what “with the Lord” means in 1 Thessalonians 4:17? No, as this explanation is contrary to many verses in Paul’s writings (we will get to those shortly). First, we need to review the basics.
Creation consists of “heaven and earth” (Genesis 1:1). Offices govern both realms—thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, mights, and every name that is named (Ephesians 1:21; Colossians 1:16). Satan has usurped and corrupted these offices but Father God will bring them all under His authority again through His Son Jesus Christ. In “the dispensation of the fulness of times,” our Heavenly Father shall gather all governments under one Head, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10). He has thus formed the nation Israel to be His earthly people, and the Church the Body of Christ to be His heavenly people. It is one overall kingdom, functioning in two realms, for one eternal purpose! The Lord Jesus Christ will be glorified forever—regardless of the angels and the humans who refuse to participate and accomplish it.
We the Church the Body of Christ have a heavenly destiny not an earthly destiny. Our realm of blessings and influence is the heavenly places. Observe the following:
- 2 Corinthians 5:1: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
- Ephesians 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:….”
- Ephesians 1:20,22-23: “Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,…. And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”
- Ephesians 2:6: “And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:….”
- Ephesians 3:10: “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,….”
- Philippians 3:20: “For our conversation [lifestyle reflecting citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:….”
- Colossians 1:5: “For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;…..”
- Colossians 1:16,20: “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:…. And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.”
- 2 Timothy 4:18: “And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Consider all the above verses. We are installed to serve in the heavenly places prior to the Second Coming (in perfect accordance with Revelation 12:7-12—Satan and his angels evicted from the second heaven to make room for us there). Therefore, it certainly would not be appropriate for us to use one verse (1 Thessalonians 4:17) to teach that we will come down with Christ to reign on Earth with Him. So, what of “so shall we ever be with the Lord?” In what sense are we “with” Him? Let us quickly survey verses that show us how the English (King James) Bible employs “with” in sentences.
“WITH” (AS IN CLOSE PHYSICAL PROXIMITY, EXISTING BESIDE ANOTHER, ADJACENT OR NEIGHBORING)
- Acts 8:31: “And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.”
- Galatians 2:3: “But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:….”
- Matthew 9:10: “And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.” (A similar idea is found in Matthew 14:9 and Acts 11:3.)
- Matthew 4:21: “And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them.”
- Acts 11:12: “And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man’s house:….”
(You may also consult Acts 20:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, John 13:18, Acts 9:7, Acts 9:19, Matthew 26:23, Mark 14:18-20, Acts 23:19, Philemon 13, and Acts 27:2.)
The above verses contain probably the most frequent definition of how we use the word “with.” Considering all that has gone before, however, there must be another sense 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is using the word. Our destiny is the heavenly places, recall.
“WITH” (ON THE SAME TEAM, JOINED IN ONE CONDITION, HAVING A SHARED PURPOSE)
- Acts 16:34: “And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.”
- Romans 1:12: “That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.”
- John 13:8: “Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.”
- Philippians 2:18: “For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me.”
- Luke 11:23: “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” Matthew 12:30: “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.”
- Luke 1:58: “And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her.”
- Romans 15:30: “Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me;….”
- 1 Corinthians 12:26: “And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.”
- Galatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
The idea in these verses is connecting to others around a common goal or experience—rejoicing with others, mourning with others, praying with others, trusting in God with others, and so on. Physical distance is not under consideration. We can do these things with others around the world, though they are quite far from us bodily. If we look at the Bible’s testimony as a whole, this seems to be the most probable notion being communicated by “with” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
First Thessalonians 4:17 says, “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” The word “with” here is not to be understood in the sense of sitting face-to-face, or side-by-side with another. Scripture also employs the term as united around a mutual action or experience. There is solidarity or camaraderie, teammates achieving one end, fellowshipping as concerning one matter.
In Revelation 3:21, the Lord Jesus says to Israel, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” Certainly, Christ is not speaking of one or two thrones in which He, the Father, and all believing Jews will sit around each other. Close physical proximity is not the issue—that would be most absurd. The idea rather is one of unity in reigning (as in, shared authority or mutual power). Redeemed Israelites are extensions of His earthly authority, just as we (the Body of Christ) are extensions of His heavenly authority. For us to be “with” Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:17) is not about us returning to Earth, but rather sharing His governmental influence in creation—namely, the heavenly places—as Israel will share His influence in the offices of Earth’s government.
One passage to summarize with now is 2 Timothy 2:10-13: “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.” The “reigning with him” is defined in chapter 4 and verse 18 as entering “his heavenly kingdom.” (Notice the idea of teammates throughout these verses. There is no hint of next-door neighbors but individuals associating around a joint conclusion.)
The idea in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 “with the Lord” means we are on His team, ruling and reigning with Him, but in what realm? Paul’s epistles always speak of our (Body of Christ) realm as the heavenly kingdom. In the ages to come, the Lord will be exercising governmental authority and we will be too. It is all one enormous kingdom, spanning between Heaven and Earth, all to exalt Jesus Christ the Lord of glory. Lastly, remember, we can only be so close to Him physically. Millions of believers from the last 20 centuries will be in Heaven. We cannot all be within arm’s reach of Him, and yet we will be “with Him.” Surely, something beyond physical closeness is under consideration in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
ATTENTION: We have released our new seven-hour Bible study series—“The Feasts of JEHOVAH.” These lessons are approximately 65 minutes each, totaling 7 1/2 hours. They are quite advanced, as they build on our five-lesson series “Israel’s Covenants” I taught a month ago. It is best to watch all seven videos in order, as they are progressive. May you be edified, encouraged, and enlightened! Enjoy!! Praise our Lord Jesus Christ! Click here to watch.