The Dead in Christ
We have briefly looked at three of the four spectacular things God will do just before the rapture of the church: (1) “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout;” (2) “the voice of an archangel [Michael]” will be heard; and (3) “the trumpet of God” will sound. Then—and what an event this will be—all “the dead in Christ will rise” (1 Thess. 4:16, NKJV).
Who are these people? They are people who have believed in Christ since the church began nearly 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1-2). They include men, women and children from many people groups from around the world, speaking many hundreds of languages and representing a vast spectrum of cultures.
Everyone who has died as a little child will also be resurrected, for the Lord Jesus made special provision for them. “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:10; 19:14).
This truth was revealed a thousand years earlier to King David, for when his baby boy (by Bathsheba) died, he was comforted with this assurance: “I shall go to him” (2 Sam. 12:23). David also knew that a person’s life begins at conception (cf. Ps. 51:5). Millions of people who have been killed—aborted—before birth are now in God’s heaven.
Enoch and Elijah
No one who ever lived before this generation is alive today. This includes Enoch and Elijah, who disappeared from the earth while still alive, for Jesus said: “No one has ascended [in a glorified body] to heaven” (John 3:13).
Our Savior, of course, is the exception, for He received a glorified body nearly 2,000 years ago. “Each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Cor. 15:23).
Thus Enoch, who, like Elijah “was taken away so that he did not see death” (Heb. 11:5), was later placed into the realm of the righteous dead to await resurrection. Temporarily, Elijah appeared alive on the Mount of Transfiguration with Moses (who had died nearly 1,500 years earlier; cf. Deut. 34:5). But he was not resurrected. That will happen 42 months after the resurrection/rapture of the church (cf. Rev. 11:11-12). Another 42 months will elapse before all pre-Pentecost saints and tribulation martyrs will be raised (cf. Dan. 12:1-2; Rev. 20:4-6) to join all glorified Christians in ruling the world under Christ the Lord.
The Third Heaven
When the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, He took with Him the soul-spirits—not the bodies—of all believers who had died from Adam and Eve to John the Baptist. They are no longer in “the lower parts of the earth” (Eph. 4:9)—namely “Paradise” (Luke 23:43) or “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22).
Hear the Apostle Paul on this point:
“Therefore He says:
‘When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.’
(Now this, ‘He ascended‘—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)” (Eph. 4:8-10)
Later, Paul stated that he “was caught up to the third heaven…into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:2-4).
Thus Paradise and all who were in it were transferred to the third heaven when the Lord Jesus ascended to that realm 10 days before the Day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:1-11).