A Remarkable Hope

A Remarkable Hope
 
In recent times, I have encountered the passing of numerous friends and members. I need not tell you that the death of a friend can be painful and frustrating especially when there is some reluctance to come to grips with it, even as a pastor. Admittedly, I feel that way with the passing of my son-in-law’s mother. Althea was a friend who turned family, as she was the other mom to my daughter.  However, she did not get to do much as she was in and out of hospital battling with an illness. Nevertheless, she did what she could; and reflecting on her back in December at the wedding, she seemed to have revived but not for long. As I prepared to eulogize her, I was drawn to a most powerful treatise on death by the Apostle Paul, recorded in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, comprising of three salient points that left me and no doubt countless others with a remarkable sense of hope. They are, (1) Jesus’ death guarantees the resurrection of the righteous dead, (2) The dead in Christ are not disadvantaged by dying before Christ’s return, and (3) The righteous living are not advantaged over the righteous dead at Christ’s return.
 
 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 Thessalonian church. Unfortunately, many of these saints believed that they would witness Christ’s coming in their day, but some passed away- prompting 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 worries regarding the passing of loved ones. One may deduce that they simply needed more assurance regarding questions such as: “If a loved one died in Christ, will he be at a disadvantage in having the righteous living precede him?”
 
 The Dead in Christ Are not Disadvantaged by Dying Before Christ’s Return
            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, they will be raised before there is any movement on the part of the righteous living to get to see the Lord Jesus Christ in advance of the dead. 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, or to hell, if he or she lived an ungodly life? Many of the funeral brochures captioned as “Home Going” reflect the unbiblical view. Nevertheless, 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).
 
 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.”  As a matter of 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 versus if she or he dies before that time, as both will be caught up together to see and be with the Lord, following the dead in Christ being raised first.  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). Keep comforting with the word of God. We will see loved ones again! However, if we would, we must remain faithful to Christ and not lose hope. I choose to believe in One who is resurrection and life.