Question: Do we see Jesus when we die or at the Rapture?
This is a great question and the study of last things is always fascinating. The answer to the above question is yes. Yes, we will see Jesus at death and yes we will see Jesus at the Rapture. We should consider 1) the death of the believer; 2) the order of ascension; and 3) additional passages. Let’s first look at the death of the believer.
At the death of the believer, the saint will be ushered into the presence of the Lord. Paul writes, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:8) The context of 2 Corinthians 5 is regarding death and the tearing down of our outward body and receiving a new resurrection body from the Lord. The above passage states that we can have confidence that when we are absent from the present body, we will be “present” with the Lord. The word “present” comes from a prepositional phrase that means “face to face” with the Lord.
Secondly, let’s note the order of ascension. At the Rapture, there seems to be a confusing statement that causes some to think that those who die before the Rapture won’t see Jesus until the Rapture. Paul writes,
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus1.
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thes. 4:14-17)
The first aspect is the order ascension. The phrase “sleep in Jesus” is a reference to those believers who have died (1 Thes. 4:14). Paul adds, “We who are alive and remain until the Lord’s coming (Rapture), will by no means precede those who are asleep.” (1 Thes. 4:15) If those who are dead go first, have they really seen Jesus at death? The answer is yes, because in order to harmonize 2 Corinthians 5:8, they have in spirit, but they may not have received their resurrection body until the Rapture. The second aspect is that once we die, there is no time. In time beyond, everything happens (no time given). The third aspect is that those who are alive will be together with those who died “to meet the Lord in the air.” The fourth aspect is that “we shall always be with the Lord,” so that the time element will seem instantaneous and we enter right into the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9).
Thirdly, let’s note several additional passages. David writes, “As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.” (Ps. 17:15) David spoke of seeing Christ when he was walking in righteousness, but we should consider that in our perfect righteous state, we will see Jesus. Jesus said that He would leave to prepare a place for His followers, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:3) Jesus desires that we behold His glory, which will be completely fulfilled at death, “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)
The application is that we want to please Him now! In the verse immediately following the first verse above, Paul writes, “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. (2 Cor. 5:9)