Hope Beyond the Grave: I Thessalonians 4:13-18
Introduction: We Needn't Live Without Hope
There is a beautiful story in the Sunday School Times that says this:
"A small boy from a non-Christian home had been brought into the Sunday school. His mother was not only unsaved, but she had a morbid fear of death. After her little boy became interested in the Sunday school he begged her to come to church with him, but she persistently refused his entreaties because she was afraid that the preacher might say something about death or dying. On Easter Sunday the teacher noticed the lad's rapt attention while she told the beautiful story of the risen Christ. The child hastened home with a shining face, and exclaimed, "Oh, Mother, you needn't be afraid of dying anymore, for Jesus went through the grave and left a light behind Him!" Gradually the fear in her heart melted under the influence of her son's words about "the light behind Him." Early one evening she had put him to bed and heard him pray as he did nightly that God would make her a Christian, "and do it right quick!" he added. Later that evening a neighbor persuaded the mother to go to church. The Heaven-sent message brought conviction, and that night her little boy's prayer was answered! She accepted Christ as her Savior."
In I Thessalonians 4:13-18 we have the Apostle Paul answering a question given to him by this infant church that was undergoing much persecution. They had heard from Paul that the Lord Jesus Christ would one day return and take them out of all of that and they would share with Him a glorious eternity. Unfortunately, some of the believers in Thessalonica were being martyred for their faith. The rest of the believers in Thessalonica were becoming concerned about their loved ones. What would happen to them? Was there still hope for the dead in Christ?
Paul, in these verses, says: "Absolutely! There is no need to worry about those who have fallen asleep in Jesus Christ. They are safe in Him, and when the Lord returns, they will rise first!"
This section of Scripture has become known as the Rapture (i.e catching up) of the Church. Every member of the Body of Christ has this to look forward to in their future. And, so we need to take a closer look at this passage and find out the sequence of events that will one day bring us into the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ forever. There are indeed reasons for hope for life beyond the grave!
I. Jesus' Resurrection and Return Brings Hope (13-14)
The first reason, Paul records for hope beyond the grave is the fact that Jesus' Resurrection and soon return brings hope. Jesus once said:
"I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11:25,26).
The fact that Jesus Christ rose from the grave, lets us know that He has the power over death, and it gives us hope that He can give us life as well. Paul, in talking to these poor grieving Thessalonians, doesn't want them to be uninformed of this fact concerning those who sleep in Christ. Sleep, of course, is a metaphor for death here.
Paul doesn't say, these people shouldn't grieve. The fact is, that they won't see their believing loved ones on this earth again before Christ returns. However, they will see them again. It is as certain as the fact that they will see the Lord Jesus Christ when He returns. Others, who don't know Christ, have no hope. The believer has a magnificent hope for life beyond the grave. They will not only see those loved ones again who have died in Christ, but they will also spend eternity with the Lord and with them.
We learn from other Epistles written by Paul that the soul of the believer is not unconscious after death. The Christian is rather absent from the body and present with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:22-24). The Apostle saw this state as far superior to his life in this present sin-cursed body. But that doesn't mean that God is finished, at death with a physical body. Far from it.
When Jesus arose, He arose bodily. He received an imperishable body, one that will never die again or face decay. Our new and improved bodies will be like the glorious body of the Lord Jesus Christ when He came out of the grave.
It should also be noted that, If we study the Pauline writings, we will find out that this period of time in which both the Thessalonians and we Christians today are living is known as the Dispensation fo the Grace of God. The earthly Kingdom of Israel that God promised has been temporarily set aside and there is an unprophesied time of which we also today are a part. It has lasted over 2000 years now. And It will end during this yet future period of the Rapture that Paul is talking about here.
Jesus is not, at that time going to come back to earth to set up His earthly Kingdom. That will take place later after a prophesied seven-year Tribulation or time of Judgement upon the earth and upon Israel. In the Rapture of the believers discussed in this passage, Jesus returns in the air and not to the earth, to take the Church away from the judgment soon to come. This previously unprophesied return of Christ in the air is when the bodily resurrection of the dead in Christ of this current Dispensation will take place. It will include all of our loved ones who die in the Lord, and us if we die before Jesus returns.
Paul says that these believing dead will come back with Jesus when He returns for His Church. The wonderful thing about death for the believer is that it is nothing to fear. And it is not a hopeless situation. Death becomes a gateway to being face to face with Christ. We now walk by faith and not by sight. When our bodies die, our souls go to live with our Lord and Savior. And that will never end. It just gets better when the dead in Christ, are reunited with their glorified body and that which Christ began, He will complete.
Paul also talks about this resurrection of the dead in I Corinthians 15. He tells us:
" But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (I Corinthians 15:12-28).
Paul makes it clear here regarding the fact that Jesus rose from the dead gives all of us hope for our future bodily resurrection as well at Christ's return. It is just a matter of time and all of this will be accomplished.
II. Christ's Preferential Treatment of the Dead Brings Hope (15-16)
We who have lost loved ones through death have some idea of what the Thessalonians were going through when they saw their believing family and friends die before the return of Christ. However, what we have that they didn't is the finished Word of God to give us a more complete understanding of where these loved one are.
These people, living in Paul's day thought that their dead loved ones had missed the Lord's return. They were grieved that they wouldn't share in this glorious event. So every new death brought anguish to these poor Thessalonian believers and a loss of hope.
What Paul told them must have thrilled these believers, when they found out that, not only would their believing loved ones be there, they were going to receive preferential treatment by being the first to be caught up.
Of course, the dead believers were fully conscious before this, and will be conscious at the Rapture as well. What they will receive at the Catching-Up of the Church, is a brand new body that will never get sick or be subject to disease. It will never be plagued by aging and decay. It will be the perfect body to house a sinless and righteous soul, given by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Gnosticism, which was a religious movement that was prevalent during Paul's time, and got worse after Paul was gone, had several faulty beliefs. They include:
- Dualism. : Gnostics believed that the world was divided into the physical and spiritual realms. However, to them the physical was evil and only the spiritual realm was good.
- They claimed hidden knowledge as the basis for salvation. The word gnosis is the Greek word for knowledge.
- They believed that Jesus Christ couldn't have been raised bodily because: "Why would he want to get back a physical, evil body. " Therefore, they had a problem with any resurrection of the physical body.
The true Christian faith, unlike gnosticism, doesn't see flesh as evil. The Fall of man tainted it with evil but Christ's death made it possible to redeem body, soul and spirit. So central to Christ's completed redemption of this world is the resurrection of the body to be like Jesus' body. Therefore, the dead in Christ must be part of this grand and glorious rapture that will take place in the future.
In verses 15 and 16 we see the order of events leading up to the dead's resurrection.
- Jesus descends out of Heaven into the air.
- As He descends there is the Voice of the Archangel and the sound of the trumpet of God.
- Then the dead, or rather their bodies, will rise from the grave and be caught up into the air with Christ.
Very little is known about the ranking of angels. In Scripture, only Michael is named as an archangel or an angel of high rank (Jude 9). However, that doesn't necessarily mean that there are no others. Scripture, in Daniel 10:13, seems to indicate that there may be more. Perhaps it is Michael whose voice we will hear on that day. He is identified with Israel's resurrection in Daniel 12:1-3. However, we cannot be certain about ours here in Paul's writings.
The 'trumpet of God' mentioned here is not one of the judgment trumpets named in Revelation 8-11. It is, rather, illustrated best in Exodus 19:16-19. This is the trumpet that calls the people out of the camp to meet God. It is one of deliverance.
III. Our Eternal Reunion Brings Hope (17-18)
Not only does Christ's resurrection and coming again bring hope; as well as our Lords's preferential treatment of the dead when the rise first. So, also does our eternal reunion with Christ and with those we love in the Lord give us hope
The final phase of the Rapture takes place shortly after the raising of the dead in Christ. Then it is the turn of those who are living when the Lord returns. Paul tells us:
"Then, we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air, and so whall we always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words." (17-18)
If we look at I Corinthians 15:51,52 we'll see that all of this will happen in a moment in the twinkling of an eye. According to one expert, the twinkling of an eye is the amount of time it takes for a ray of light to hit the eye and bounce off. That is even faster than someone blinking. In other words, this event will be instantaneous. If you are the living Christian, that means that your body will be transformed into a glorious body without having to die, and will be caught up to meet the Lord in an extremely fast period of time.
The most wonderful thing about this is that the reunion is permanent. All of us, those who have died and those living will meet the Lord in the air. Then the Apostle says:
"And so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words." (17b-18).
What a glorious future that we have to look forward to where there will be no more good-byes. This eternal reunion followed, by Christ's eventual triumph over all of the created order which opposes Him, will bring us into a place where there will be no more mourning or crying or pain. It's everything good about the earth and much, much more, with none of the bad things that we experience today. It truly will be a paradise. These words indeed should bring every Christian comfort.
There was a story that I recently read that sums up how Christians should have hope for the future beyond the grave. It goes like this:
"There once was a little girl whose home was near a cemetery, and in order to go to the store, she had to follow a path that led through the cemetery. But this little girl never seemed to have any sense of fear, even when she returned through the cemetery at dusk. Someone said to her, "Aren't you afraid to go through the cemetery?" "Oh, no," she replied, "I'm not afraid, for my home is just beyond."
Are you afraid of the cemetery?
Not if you are a Christian, and know that your Home is just beyond."
No matter what you're facing today, this life isn't permanent. Just a few short years and it will be over. If you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, then one day the troubles of this life will be no more. And for those who have experienced death, your loved ones who died in Christ will be with you once again, never to leave.
If you haven't yet accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, come join us for that great reunion in the sky. If you have, then let us rejoice together. Jesus has conquered death. He will never die again. And we who cling to Him won't die either. We merely pass from one existence to another eternal one. So let us keep looking up! For one day, maybe soon, He will appear and take us to be with Him. Praise Him for that glorious hope!!
© 2020 Jeff Shirley