Death raises many questions, not least in the Thessalonian church, where prompted by the fact that some of their number had died before the expected return of Christ, the question was posed – What happens to Christians who die before the Lord returns? Before answering the question the Apostle Paul deals with a couple of negatives, so that they will not obscure the glorious hope he is about to impart:-
Ignorance – He does not want the church to be ignorant about those – “who fall asleep.” This is not a reference to the doctrine of so called “Soul sleep” because it is the body that sleeps, while the soul at the point of death goes to be with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5 v 8 & Philippians 1 v 23.) Paul seems to have an acute dislike of ignorance (2 Corinthians 1 v 8 & 1 Corinthians 11 v 3) viewing it as a handbrake on Christian progress.
Challenge – Is ignorance preventing your faith from growing?
Grief – He does not want them to grieve – “like the rest of men.” Not that he is here forbidding healthy grief (John 11 v 35); rather it is harmful grief that is his target, grief that has no hope regarding the future of the believer.
Challenge – Are you able to grieve healthily and hopefully for those who have died in the Lord?
For the heartbroken to have hope, they need to understand the future and the part the living and the dead in Christ will have in it, for this, and this alone, will enable them to make sense of the present. So four positive affirmations are made regarding four future events:-
1 – The Return – Christ is coming back.
Christ himself will personally and visibly return to earth in a cacophony of noise involving the loud command, the voice of the archangel (Jude 9) and the trumpet of God.
2 – The Resurrection – The dead in Christ will rise.
This Christ who – “died and rose again” will not return alone, but will bring with him the Christian dead whose spirits will be united with their new glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15 v 42 – 44.)
3 – The Rapture – Christians who remain alive will be caught up.
All living Christians will be “snatched up” to meet the Lord in the air and to be changed (1 Corinthians 15 v 52 – 53.) The word, also used elsewhere in the Bible (Genesis 5 v 24; John 10 v 12 & Acts 8 v 39), implies suddenness, even violence!
4 – The Reunion – Christians will be united with Christ and his followers forever.
A double reunion will take place, with Christ (John 14 v 3) and with those who have gone before, as the painful separation of death is replaced by unbridled unity.
Response – “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” Just as we encourage one another with our words, how much more should we be bringing hope to the heartbroken by the use of such wonderful Gospel words?
Theme: “Hope for the heartbroken”
Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4 v 13 – 18
Preacher: Chris Hughes
Led by: Chris Hughes