Preach My Psalter / Predica Mi Salterio


“We believe that Jesus died and rose and that in the same way God will bring with Him those [people] who have fallen asleep in Jesus” (1 Th 4:14). They are the “dead in Christ [who] will rise first” (1 Th 4:16d) – St. Paul of Tarsus 

“We believe that Jesus died and rose” (4:14a)
     In chapter 4, verse 14a of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, he first proclaims to the Thessalonians the truth of the saving death and resurrection of Christ. For the Crucified and Risen Christ is the source of their salvation. For this reason, in his preaching to the Thessalonian Christians, Paul appeals to their “belief” in Jesus’ saving death and resurrection as the basis for their “hope” of salvation for Christians who have died “in Jesus”. Here Paul does not mean that Jesus raised himself from the dead. On the contrary, what he means is that “God…raised Jesus from the dead” (Gal 1:1; 1 Th 1:9) by the Holy Spirit (Rm 8:11). Sometimes Paul will describe the Holy Spirit as God’s “glory” (Rm 6:4), or “power” (2 Cor 13:4). As a result, he can preach that Jesus “was raised from the dead by the glory” of God (Rm 6:4); and that “by the power of God, Jesus is alive” (2 Cor 13:4). What he means is that God the Father saved His Son from human death, by raising him to life, through the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, if the Thessalonians believe that God saved Jesus from death by raising him to life, through the Spirit, they should also believe that God will save their Christian brothers and sisters who have died in Jesus.
“in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus” (4:14b)
     In chapter 4, verse 14b, Paul proclaims what this salvation means for Christians who have “fallen asleep in Jesus”.  In the first place, at their death, they receive their particular judgment of salvation from God in the afterlife before their resurrection.  For he says in this verse, “God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus” (1 Th 4:14b).  Indeed, He will bring with Him those who have died in Jesus because of His judgment that they have merited salvation through their participation in the saving merits of Christ’s death.  In doing so, He saves their souls.  Hence, according to Paul, God saves them in death by the same Spirit they received from Him in Baptism (1 Th 4:8). Consequently, this verse (14b) does not concern their resurrection from the dead. Paul will address that later in verse 16d.  What he alludes to in 14b is the “state of the righteous” in death, meaning a state of grace for them in the afterlife. As an Israelite, trained in the tradition of the Pharisees, Paul believes that the righteous people of God receive the recompense or blessing of God’s friendship in the afterlife. In his understanding, this is an intermediate state of grace for the dead in Christ in which “God will bring with Him” (1 Th 4:14b) into paradise those dead Christians, who are united “in Jesus” (1 Th 4:14b), through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:13). For this reason, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that he knows that they “would rather leave the body…to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8) in paradise. In this sense, although the dead in Christ are separated from their body in death, they remain united to Christ, their Head. As such, in his letter to the Romans he tells them that the love of God has been poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit, which they have received from God as a gift (Rm 5:5). Consequently, not even death (Rm 8:38a) can separate them from that love, which they have in Christ Jesus through the Spirit (Rm 8:39b; 5:5). As a result, Paul says that in death they still “belong to the Lord” (Rm 14:8). Paul’s belief in this intermediate state of union with Christ in the afterlife is also found in his letter to the Philippians in which he reveals to them that he desires “to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Ph 1:23).  Indeed, it would be far better for Paul to die in Christ because he would be with Christ forever. In his teaching, this means that those Christians, who die united to Christ in love, will enter into a state of glory with him in death, perhaps not immediately, but eventually.  For they may require spiritual purification from venial sin or temporal punishment beforehand. On this basis, Paul can proclaim to the Philippians that “death is a gain” (Ph 1:21), because in death he will be with Jesus Christ.
     The later Old Testament scriptures contributed to Paul’s understanding of this intermediate state of grace for the righteous dead in the afterlife. These Scriptures would include the Second Maccabees (2 Mc 15:13-16) and Wisdom. For instance, in Wisdom the author writes that the “souls of the righteous [dead] are in the hand of God” (Ws 3:1) where they “shall remain with him in love” (Ws 3:9) and “peace” (Ws 3:3) “forever” (Ws 5:15).
     Furthermore, in the first century A.D. the oral traditions about Jesus that circulated among Christians throughout the Greco-Roman world, also had an influence on Paul’s understanding of the afterlife. In Jesus’ preaching, he reveals his belief that the deceased, who had lived a righteous life on earth, would enter an intermediate state of “paradise” (Lk 23: 43) in the hereafter, which would eventually lead to their resurrection from the dead at the general judgment. This is recorded in Jesus’ discussion with the Sadducees. First of all, he mentions the particular judgment of the righteous dead “who are judged worthy of a place in the other world” (Lk 20:35a); and “in the resurrection of the dead” (Lk 20:35b). Secondly, he proclaims that in their state of death in the afterlife “they can no longer die, because they are like angels” (Lk 20:36a) which means that, like angels, they are alive in Christ through God’s Holy Spirit.  As such, they image something of God’s spiritual glory. Thirdly, he also proclaims that the righteous dead “are the children of God, because they are the ones who will rise” in glory (Lk 20: 36b). Finally, he includes Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses, among the righteous dead in paradise, who will rise in glory someday (Lk 20:38). Jesus’ belief in a state of paradise for the righteous in death in the afterlife is also recorded in his parable about the poor man Lazarus. According to Jesus, “when the poor man died, he was carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham” (Lk 16:22). This is an intermediate “place” of paradise for the righteous in the afterlife. For this reason, he says that in this paradise Lazarus was “comforted” by God (Lk 16:25). This belief can also be found in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ transfiguration when “Moses and Elijah” (Lk 9:30), who had passed into the afterlife centuries before, “appeared” to Jesus “in glory” (Lk 9:31) as they “spoke” to him (Lk 9:31). 

     On this basis, if the Thessalonian Christians believe Paul’s message that God saved Jesus from death by raising him to life through the Spirit, then they should also believe that God will bring with Him into His paradise those Christians who have fallen asleep in Jesus (1 Th 4:14b), by the same Spirit they received from Him (1 Th 4:8). In this sense, their hope for the Christian dead in the afterlife lies in their belief that God saves them through Jesus who died and rose for their salvation. 
They are “the dead in Christ [who] will rise first” (4:16)

     Moreover, in chapter 4, verse 16 of Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, he proclaims that this salvation for the dead in Christ will also involve their glorious resurrection.  As good and blessed as the afterlife would be for the souls of the dead in Christ, their full salvation in Christ remains incomplete or unfinished in the intermediate state, inasmuch as God did not create them to be spirits or souls, but spiritual, bodily persons.  For this reason,  salvation in Christ for them will certainly include not only the salvation of their soul in the afterlife through heavenly glorification, but also the salvation of their body  through the glory of the resurrection at the general judgment.  Thus, he says, “the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Th 4:16d).  As such, in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, he teaches them that full salvation for the dead in Christ requires the resurrection of their body (1 Cor 15:1-58).  This is the final end or terminus of their glorious salvation in Christ.  

     Accordingly, the salvation of Christians involves their full conformity to the Crucified and Risen Christ.  For this reason,
 Jesus himself remains the model for their glorification in death and resurrection. As Jesus died and was raised to a life of glory by the Father in the Spirit, the faithful Thessalonians who have died in Christ will also be glorified by the Father in the Spirit. For they will receive from the Father a life of glory in the paradise of heaven and a glorious resurrection.  Thus, Paul instructs the Christians of Thessalonica that the basis of their hope for salvation for their deceased brothers and sisters in Christ is their belief that Christ died and rose to save them.  Hence, they will be fully conformed to Christ, first of all, in death through the intermediate state, but later in the resurrection.  This is Paul’s basic message in verses 14 and 16 of chapter 4 of his First Letter to the Thessalonians.
In the Crucified and Risen Christ with Mary Most Holy,
Friar Mariano D. Veliz, O.P.

7 thoughts on “The Saving Death and Resurrection of Christ

  1. Unknown says:

    In spite of the fact that we proclaim the resurrection of the body in the Creed, for most of my life I only considered the possibility of a spiritual experience of God after death. However Jesus’s resurrection points to amazing possibilities for us.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Dear Reverend, thank you for this thoughtful article. As someone who comes from a Bible Church, I really appreciate your use of the Bible in your essay. You have helped me understand what happens to souls in the afterlife during the time before their resurrection. Your brother in the Lord rejoices in your ministry. Godspeed!

  3. Unknown says:

    You're welcome, friend! I appreciate you reading my article. A good understanding of the thought of Jesus, St. Paul and the early Christians certainly reveals an a belief in an intermediate state of grace in the afterlife before the resurrection for Christians who die in Christ. I thank God my article has helped you understand the state of the faithful departed. May the Crucified and Risen Christ bless you. Your brother in Christ, Friar Mariano

  4. Gina R says:

    Friar Mariano, thanks for the beautiful reminder that both our body and soul will be reunited in the Resurrection. I tend to just think of my soul being saved and not think of my body so much. It's nice to contemplate our bodies as \”glorified\”- how amazing that will be!! May we embrace the grace to fight the good fight!God Bless You,Gina

  5. Unknown says:

    Thanks, Maureen! Great comment! Yes, although there is the article or truth of faith concerning the resurrection in the ancient Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, there are still some people today who think of full salvation only or primarily in terms of the soul being saved in heaven. This would be at least an implicit Manichean belief materially, which is contrary to Catholic faith and morals. The Manicheans believed that the good soul was imprisoned in the evil body. Consequently, salvation for them meant escaping or gaining freedom from the evil body as a means to reach heavenly beatitude. This is heretical. I am happy you opened your heart to receive from God the true and authentic understanding of salvation as involving the goodness of the whole human person, body and soul. You're right, Jesus' death and resurrection directs the faithful to a great destiny.

  6. Unknown says:

    Thanks, Gina! I really appreciate your great comment! Good point! This can be an easy temptation to fall into. For this reason, it is important to remember that God is the author of body and soul. He made them. They have to be good, beautiful, true and thus capable of great things through the grace of God. In the case of the faithful disciple who has died in Christ, he will certainly participate fully in the saving death and resurrection through heavenly glorification and the glorious resurrection. May God fulfill the good work He has begun in you, Gina.

  7. Unknown says:

    Friar, thank you for this. It is very informative and I find it extremely helpful. St. Paul’s writings and teachings can be difficult to understand sometimes, but I know they are slam packed with essentials of the faith (as St. Peter even stated in one of his letters); nothing superfluous in St. Paul’s epistles. I need someone grounded in scripture and faith as you are to shed light on the deeper meaning of the Sacred Scriptures. You brought a lot of clarity here. There were certain points that really stood out to me. One was that God did not create us to be solely spirits or souls, but spiritual, bodily persons. So the body is important too. The resurrection of the body has always been a confusing concept to me for some reason. But you did a great job of showing how clear this is in scripture. Our full salvation in Christ Jesus occurs with our bodily resurrection. A glorified body, wow, what a thing to meditate on. Also, you saying about entering a state of glory with God after death, maybe not immediately, but eventually… as one may need spiritual purification or temporal punishment beforehand. Sounds a lot like purgatory to me, and I know this is consistent with St. Paul’s teaching as I thought of 1 Corinthians 3:15. God bless you and may Mary keep you! Pax Christi, Dane

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