A Remarkable Hope

Recently, I have encountered the passing of numerous friends and church members that resulted in my feeling a sense of void and wanting to believe that it did not happen, especially in the case of one of them. A colleague of mine remarked recently, “Before you could fully grieve for one, another dies.” Undeniably death takes its toll upon us- even preachers. Accordingly, I am led to revisit a most powerful treatise on death by the Apostle Paul recorded in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 comprising, in my opinion, of three salient points that impact believers with hope.

A. Jesus’ Death Guarantees the Resurrection of the Righteous Dead
"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 4:14, NKJV). For the Apostle Paul, the resurrection of Jesus guaranteed the resurrection of the dead in Christ. It is hard to overlook this fact that he preached in Acts 17:3, which gave rise to the establishment of the Thessalonian church. Unfortunately, many of the believers felt that they would witness Christ’s coming in their day, but the death of some of them engendered concern. Therefore, Paul appealed in 1 Thessalonians 4:13:

“I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope” (NKJV).
However, this initial part of Paul’s response would not have sufficed, for there seemed to have been other concerns regarding the passing of loved ones. One may deduce that they simply needed more assurance such as if a loved one died in Christ will he be at a disadvantage in having the righteous living precede him?

B. Persons Who Die in Christ Are not Disadvantaged When He Returns
As already noted in 1Thess. 4:14, it says that God “will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus,” and in verse 16 it says when. Paul argues that the righteous dead who are described as “asleep” will be raised first. That is to say that the righteous living will not be taken up to meet the Lord Jesus Christ in advance of the dead in Christ. Doesn’t this seem contradictory to popular thinking today that when one dies in the Lord he or she goes directly to heaven to be with the Lord? Paul’s reasoning of “God bringing with Him” the dead is clearly understood as raising them. So why would it be necessary to raise them if they are already in heaven? Jesus clarifies in John 5: 28, 29 “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth— those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (NKJV).

C. The Righteous Living Are not Advantaged over the Righteous Dead at Christ’s Return
To make clear his reasoning, Paul writes in 1 Thess. 4:15 “that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep” (NKJV). He is emphatic, as he says, “by no means.” In fact, he says in verse 17 that those “who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (NKJV). The “them” refers to the dead in Christ. And thus we shall always be with the Lord (NKJV).

So Paul contends that there is no advantage for the Christian if he or she lives to witness Christ’s return. And there is no disadvantage if she or he dies before that time, as both will be caught up together to see and be with the Lord following the raising of the dead in Christ. What counts is a daily readiness for Christ’s return. So it does not matter if Christ calls or comes, it will be glory to see Him and receive His welcome to eternal life.
It is this remarkable hope that keeps me going- even with the passing of so many saints. No wonder Paul says, “Comfort one another with these words” (verse 18 NKJV). Let us keep comforting one another with the word of God. We will see our loved ones again!