1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Rev. Dr. Nancy B. Moore
As we look at this passage today, I believe it is important to look at the book of Thessalonians. It is believed that Paul wrote this book around 50 AD and most likely his first Epistle. It is also considered to be the first New Testament Book to be written.
Paul rejoiced in the steadfastness of the Thessalonians and encouraged them to continue to witness for Christ by both word and deed. He dealt with their problems concerning the Lord’s return. This letter gives us an inside view of life in the early church. Even early on, the church faced pressing questions in which they were seeking answers. They had problems related to the Lord’s return.
When you think about it, how many times had Jesus talked about his returning? How many times do you remember he told his disciples he would be retuning? Jesus often spoke of returning, but you know, nowhere in the Bible can we find when and where he will return. He does tell us, it is not for us to know; That only the Father knows the day and hour and it would be in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52); like a thief in the night.
It had been 50 years since Jesus left and I imagine the people were getting a little antsy in waiting. They must have thought Jesus would return in a week, a month, a year, 10 years? No… time went on and Jesus had not returned. I believe that it was at this time Paul felt the need to write down all he knew, had ever been told, and wanted the people to know and not forget.
According to our reading today, the people were becoming concerned about their forefathers, their loved ones, that had already died. They were bothered by the thought that the loved ones that died before Christ returned would be forgotten or miss Christ’s return and they questioned Paul.
Paul’s response to them was that they should not “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). In a pagan world death was grim and filled with despair.
As a result, questions flooded their hearts.
Where were their deceased loved ones?
Would they ever see them again?
Is there really a heaven and a hell?
To calm their thinking, Paul described the coming of Christ and the place of both the living and the dead at that time. The basis of our hope is Jesus’ death and resurrection. The God who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise his followers from the dead.
There are several truths stated in these verses:
First- the dead in Christ shall rise and join the Lord before the living arise.
Second – The Lord’s descent will be accompanied by a loud command, the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God.
Finally, those who were dead and those who are living will be “caught up in the clouds together” and “will be with the Lord forever” (v. 17).
Paul’s purpose in writing was to comfort grieving Christians.
The believer’s eternal state is clear. All I want to know is that when I die, I go to be with the Lord. Jesus’ words form the cross to the repentant thief, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43) and Paul’s words to the Corinthians emphasize this “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8 NIV). I am certain, that all I have to do to be sure about my eternal destiny is to accept Jesus as my personal Savior before I die. Surely, these words ought to bring comfort and encouragement to God’s children.
These will not enable us to get over our grief and sorrow, but it will help us to get through it. The loss is a reality, but it is only temporary. The psalmist said long ago, “Weeping remains for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (30:5).
Everything that happens to a person after they die, is determined by what happens to that individual before death.
Death is not something we like to talk about. It seems that the only time discussions are held is when a family member or friend has died. I am so thankful Dan is doing this sermon series The Good News about Death. This series contains information we need to have about the gift of life, death, grieving, and hope. In my ministry, I have an elevator speech. An elevator speech is what a person says what needs to be said in 30 seconds or less, in the time it takes an elevator to get from one floor to the very next, and with as few words as possible. In working with Grief and Loss, my elevator speech for C ing Through Loss is – I work with you to find hope and purpose in your pain.
I believe that is what Paul did when he was addressing this very issue with the Thessalonians- working with them to give them hope in their pain. To remind them of what Christ had done on the cross and his resurrection. We too, will be resurrected in a glorified body, to be with him and our loved ones. We grieve in the irony between human loss and eternal life. We are sad at the loss but joyful with eternal life.
Humans have a very high mortality rate of 100%. We are not going to get out of this life alive. Death is no respecter of persons, vocation, wealth, social status, class, or creed. Death comes for all of us. As a result, it makes sense that the Thessalonians and us, their theological descendants, have some concerns about death. In addition to the questions mentioned earlier, there is an additional question,
Why does death still have such a sting, if Christ has won the victory?
Paul spent a lot of time in his correspondence calling the believers to test what they hear, before they receive it as truth. Much like we are to do. Paul has made it very clear that there are good things in the world and in the church that is good to the ear, but not necessarily good news.
This may be particularly true when it comes to death. We shudder when we hear the words that someone we know or our loved one has died. We freeze. We are numb. But at the core of our Christian faith is a word about death, broken wide open on Easter Sunday, but there is likewise no other Christian doctrine that has been so changed by the surrounding culture.
The Jewish people of the Bible did not believe total annihilation or that we completely vanish at the moment of death. The Hebrews believed it was the actual death of self, that the body and soul remained in unity after death. This was the basis for the care provided to the corpse and for the importance of an honorable burial. The Greeks and Egyptians believed the soul went to some sort of afterlife, and some Jews believed in a resurrection at the end of time.
So, simply to say that Christians believe there is something on the other side of death is not really to express the Christian hope. There is more to it.
My Aunt Nancy was taken to the hospital for a fractured arm she had gotten as a result of a fall at home. Aunt Nancy was 93 and lived alone. She had been a devout Christian for as long as I can remember. Her daughter, Susan, and I were very close growing up. While in the hospital Aunt Nancy developed heart and lung problems. Fluid had been removed from her lungs. The doctor met with Aunt, Susan, and I at which time Aunt had to decide the plan of treatment from 3 options. One option was quickly ruled out due to her age was to replace a heart valve. The other two options remaining were, a very difficult and painful procedure of draining fluid from her lungs that could only be performed a few times and the other option was to do nothing and let nature take its course knowing that fluid would build and eventually be the cause of her death.
With the doctor in the room, Aunt asked me to explain everything to her in words that she could understand. Her hearing was not the best so we had to face her and speak slowly for her to hear and to allow her time to grasp what was being explained. After a few silent moments, Aunt told the doctor, “I have lived a long life. The Lord has been good to me and blessed me in so many ways. If the time has come for me to decide, and make the choice of treatment, then I choose to not want to have any more procedures or tests. I don’t want anymore physical therapy, no more blood drawn, none of that stuff. Just let me be comfortable. I am okay because I am going to be with God.” Aunt, Susan, and I looked at each other eye to eye. We saw and felt the tears coming to our eyes. Susan and I told the doctor, we will honor Aunts decision. After all, Aunt was alert, coherent, and still able to make decisions. Aunt knew what she wanted.
Susan and I stayed with Aunt even when she was transferred back to the rehab facility. We talked about many things, life, friends, church, the pastor, favorites, happy times and sad times. We laughed and we cried. Aunt made sure Susan knew her plans and how she wanted to be remembered. She planned her “Going Home” service. For her service, different people were asked to share specifically, what it meant to have a Christian friend, What it meant to have a Christian mother. I was asked to share what it was like to have a Christian Aunt. I had many memories about Aunt Nancy to share at the service from my first memory of her until the last day when I still saw Christ in her.
I remembered the songs and Bible stories she taught me in Vacation Bible School (one of my favorite songs was shared in an earlier post on this website). So many memories of her sharing God’s love. There are so many memories I would love to share with you that I experienced because of her love and watching and listening to her as she mentored young mothers, and helped the aged. gave help and encouragement to the many people in her church, neighborhood, at the grocery store, and flower shop.
The day before Aunt died, she told Susan she wanted to call her best friend of 33 years. Susan dialed the phone number and said she would relay the message. Aunt took the phone from Susan because she wanted to talk to r friend herself and had an important message. When her friend answered the phone, Aunt said, “Pat! Pat! They say I am going to die but you and I know different! I am not going to die! Oh, I am going to leave this body, but I am going to be with My Lord! Pat! He has a place for me! And Pat, I will be there forever and see my Sandy, my honey, my sister. And Pat, I will see you when you get to heaven! I love you Pat!”
Aunt was very coherent and talkative until her last few moments of life. Her final request to be honored was that Susan and I be the only ones with her when she went to be with the Lord. She insisted she was not dying, but that she was going home to be with the Lord. At the very moment we kissed her good bye, she was already present with the Lord! In the twinkling of an eye….
“Hope stands up to its knees in the past and keeps its eyes on the future. There has never been a time past when God wasn’t with us as the strength beyond our strength, the wisdom beyond our wisdom. To remember the past is to see that we are here today by grace, that we have survived as a gift…And what does that mean about the future? What do we have to hope for? Humanly speaking, we have only the human best to hope for: that we will live out our days in something like peace and the ones we love with us; that if our best dreams are never to come true, neither at least will our worst fears; that something we find to do with our lives will make some little difference for good somewhere; and that when our lives end we will be remembered a little while for the little good we did. That is our human hope.” Frederick Buechner.
We grieve, but not as others do, for we are a people of hope!
Therefore, encourage each other with these words! (v. 18).