Do the words “the dead in Christ” (1 Thess. 4: 16) include the OT saints or do they refer only to the Church?

I think that they embrace all  saints who have died up to that point in time, although I know that many restrict them to the Church.

   Those who take the view that 1 Thess. 4: 16 is restricted to the Church point out that the expression “in Christ” is peculiar to the NT. This is perfectly true. Indeed, the words “in Christ” are only found in the Acts and the Epistles. It is also true that, by and large, the teachings of the Epistles have Christians in view. Some teachings are peculiar to the Church although there are also many that are true at all times for all saints. The words “For as in the Adam all die, thus also in the Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15: 22) while said to Christians, can hardly be limited to them. It surely goes without saying that the OT saints will be made alive by resurrection, and that being so they must be “in the Christ”. A similar phrase “in the Lord”, with one exception (Ps. 73: 28), is also peculiar to the NT. Yet in Rev. 14: 13 we read of those “who die in [the] Lord from henceforth” which refers to saints on the earth after the Church has gone! If a man is not “in the Christ” he is still “in the Adam” irrespective of when he may live.

   The strongest indication that all dead saints will rise together at the coming of the Lord is found in the three phrases of 1 Thess. 4: 16: “for the Lord himself, with an assembling shout, with archangel’s voice and with trump of God, shall descend from heaven”. There are no definite articles before each of these phrases, giving them a characteristic sense. The Lord comes alone but with three sounds accompanying His descent. Each sound is of the Lord Himself—the thought is not that the Lord only utters the assembling shout while God blows a trumpet, and an angel’s voice is heard. But why three different sounds? If this coming is for the Church alone, then why do we have “with archangel’s voice and with trump of God”? Surely the first phrase “with an assembling shout” would be sufficient? Furthermore, from what I can gather, the second phrase in particular (“with archangel’s voice”)  is an enigma to those who limit “the dead in Christ” to the Church. Indeed it must be, for its usage is actually another strong indication that 1 Thess. 4: 16 is not just about the Church! With this in mind, let us examine this particular phrase in more detail.

   Angels are representatives. The Lord spoke of little children as having angels in heaven (see Matt. 18: 10) and if those in the house of John Mark’s mother were correct (see Acts 12:15), this representation extends to all men. In Dan. 10 we learn that this representation goes much further and that certain members of the angelic host are identified with nations. In Dan. 10: 13 I read of “Michael, one of the chief princes” who is clearly the same as “Michael the archangel” of Jude 9. In Dan. 10 the nations Persia and Greece each have their spiritual princes but Michael was described to Daniel as “Michael your prince” (Dan. 10: 21). That is, Michael is the prince that represents Daniel’s people as a nation—Israel. Both Dan. 10 and Jude 9 are scenes of spiritual conflict—the latter being Michael’s dispute with the devil over the body of Moses, Israel’s first national leader. The inclusion of the phrase “with archangel’s voice” (1 Thess. 4: 16) therefore suggests that Israel is involved in some way. It cannot be as part of the Church for there such distinctions between Jew and Gentile have gone (see Eph. 2: 15).

   Looking again at the phrases together, I note that all three have military connotations. I note also the order as each succeeding phrase gets less distinctive and more remote: the assembling shout, the voice and lastly the inanimate trumpet’s blast. I take it that the Lord’s assembling shout is for the dead in Christ who belong to the Church. It is the word used for a general’s assembling shout to his soldiers. The Church is unique, it is the body of Christ, and accordingly this word is also unique, for this is its only occurrence in the NT. Secondly, we have the voice of the archangel. I take it this is for the dead in Christ who were of Israel such as David, Isaiah, John the Baptist and the like. But what of saints who were not part of Israel such as Abel, Noah and Job? It is only a suggestion, but I think that the trump of God is for such.

   As already indicated this is a military setting. But who is the enemy? It is death. For when the “dead in Christ” rise “then shall come to pass the word written: Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15: 54, 55). These are the grounds on which I judge that at the coming of the Lord every saint that is in the grave will rise in victory over death.