I Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
The first Christians lived in anticipation of the near return of Jesus from heaven. He left by rising up into the clouds…. He said he would come back in the same way to bring their reward, the fullness of the Kingdom of God. They hoped that he would come in their lifetime. As his coming, or parousia, took longer than they anticipated, some of the believers began to die. This left those still living concerned. What’s going to happen to those who died before Jesus returned, would they miss out on his Kingdom when he returns?
Paul writes this letter out of a pastoral concern to give encouragement to these grieving (and scared) believers. He clearly tells them what will happen. Those who are still alive when Jesus comes will not have any advantage over those who died. In fact, when Jesus returns the trumpet will sound and those who have died will actually be the first to rise-they will come up from out of their graves to meet Jesus in the air. After they have risen, the living believers will rise up to join them and meet Jesus in the air together with those who died.
He then gives the assurance that we will be with the Lord forever. This is the fulfillment of our hope… life in the coming Age. The present, evil age will come to an end, and the kingdom of God, beginning with Jesus’ reign over all the earth will begin.
Paul concludes his letter by encouraging the church to comfort each other with these words. It was intended to offer comfort and hope to grieving believers whose loved ones had died before the coming of Jesus.
Today, as we wait for the return of Jesus, just as in the first century, believers die while waiting for Jesus. While nothing can take away the grief of losing someone we love, we can still receive, and give comfort to one another with the knowledge that when Christ returns, the dead in Christ will rise first, we will rise up to meet them with Jesus, and then, we will be with them and with the lord forever.
Personally, I’ve got several people that I can’t wait to see again. I’m sure you do too.