I have used commentaries on biblehub.com so far to find the answer to: Who are the dead in Christ in 1 Thessalonians 4:16?

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will be the first to rise.

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The phrase "in Christ" is almost a technical phrase for the righteous whose origin appears to be a series of remarks by Jesus not long before His execution.

John 15:4-7 - Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine and you are the branches. The one who remains in Me, and I in him, will bear much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are gathered up, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

John 17:20, 21 - I am not asking on behalf of them alone, but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

John extends this further in his epistle:

1 John 2:24 - As for you, let what you have heard from the beginning remain in you. If it does, you will also remain in the Son and in the Father.

Other NT writers use the technical phrase also:

  • 1 Cor 1:2 - To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:
  • 1 Cor 15:22 - For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
  • Gal 2:4 - This issue arose because some false brothers had come in under false pretenses to spy on our freedom in Christ Jesus, in order to enslave us.
  • Eph 1:1 - Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:
  • Eph 1:3 - Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.
  • Eph 2:10 - For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life.
  • Eph 2:13 - But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
  • Phil 1:1 - Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:
  • 1 Cor 4:17 - That is why I have sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which is exactly what I teach everywhere in every church.
  • 1 Thess 2:14 - For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Judea that are in Christ Jesus. You suffered from your own countrymen the very things they suffered from the Jews,
  • etc, etc.

That is, those "in Christ" are sanctified, free, have eternal life, are faithful, are blessed, do good works, are imitators of Christ, etc. It is to such people that Jesus promises eternal life at the great resurrection as per 1 Thess 4:16.

Thus, "the dead in Christ" are the faithful righteous who have died, and who will be resurrected as described in 1 Thess 4:14-17.


It is impossible to understand verse 16 without first being clear as to the meaning of verse 15, which says:

"For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep"

A future time is being pointed to, when Christ shall return in great glory, to usher in the day of Resurrection and Judgment. By that time, many Christians will have "fallen asleep" in death. Even when Paul wrote that verse, many Christians had died, yet still Christ had not returned. Paul clearly had two distinct groups of Christians in mind - those who had already died physically (their bodies in the grave), and still-living Christians. In verse 15 Paul assures everyone that the living will not 'prevent' the dead. What does that mean?

In the Greek, the word phthano was used and is translated as 'prevent' in the A.V. It means 'to come before'. So Paul was saying that living Christians (at Christ's return) would not come before dead Christians then. Centuries ago, it was understood as 'to predede' (in order). But nowadays it is taken to mean 'hinder; to stand in the way of'.

The original Greek meaning clears all that up; living Christians would not come before / precede dead Christians. Those dead (in Christ - Christians) would arise bodily from their graves with glorified resurrection bodies, to be caught up and taken away to join Christ and his hosts in heaven. Only after that would Christians living on Earth then be caught up to join them, receiving their glorified resurrections bodies.

Verse 15 states both the time, and the two groups of people involved. It is at Christ's return (still future) when Christians who have already died will rise up first (in order of resurrection), followed by the transformation of living Christians, who will join them with Christ and the angels.


These are simply believing members of the church, which is the body of Christ, who are currently "asleep in Christ" (physically dead, but spiritually alive).

1 Thesalonians 4:13-18

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 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. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

Colossians 1:21-24

And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: 23 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; 24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:

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