Reflect on these words: ‘For we will see him as he is … all hurt and pain will cease … and in his glory we will live’ (Norman Fellingham).*
*‘There is a Day’, © 2001 Thankyou Music
Believers who have died
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 for ever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
From the outworking of love in the everyday life, Paul takes us to the big picture: the future event of Jesus’ return. Our daily lives are put into the context of a vast, divine hope. It is a hope that springs from the truth of the gospel narrative that Paul deftly weaves into his practical instructions (v 14): in beautiful and profound simplicity, Jesus died and rose again.
Paul then looks to the future hope of Christians being fully reunited with God, and with each other. What does verse 16 tell us about the nature of God and his power? The uncertainty of when Jesus’ return will happen and what exactly it will be like is set against the certainty of the promise that we will be with the Lord for ever (v 17). How does this promise make you feel? Is it reassuring or unsettling? Why?
The Thessalonians were anxious and confused about what happened to people who died trusting in Jesus (v 13). Again, Paul’s purpose is to encourage. Living in the reality of resurrection hope is, for both us and the Thessalonians, a source of deep comfort.
Are you longing for change in an area of your life or in a particular injustice in the world? Pray about it, trusting the strength of God’s truth, power and promise as already demonstrated in the resurrection.
Deeper Bible study
During the Nazi occupation of Guernsey in World War II, the RAF dropped leaflets with a message from the King: ‘We will return!’ This message is ours from King Jesus!
It is perfectly natural and right to mourn the death of loved ones, but the Thessalonians were confused about the circumstances and the future of dead believers. Paul gives them hope so that they are not discouraged by the hopelessness in the society around them. Only further information could dispel their doubts, so he begins with the facts of the gospel, that Jesus died and rose again. When I question the reality of eternal life, I remind myself of the historical facts of the resurrection. If Jesus rose from the dead, then his words can be trusted. He alone can defeat the grave.
Our hope is also based upon the fact that Christ is coming again. This confirms the Lord’s own words1 and the promise of the angels.2 When he returns the ‘dead in Christ’ (v 16) will come with him. Those believers who are still alive will be joined with them. Neither the Christian dead nor the living will be left behind. Because Jesus lives, we shall live also. The coming of Jesus will be personal, visible and glorious. We shall meet him as he comes in the clouds, like villagers in ancient times rushing out to meet and greet an approaching dignitary.3 This will mark the beginning of a new relationship with Christ in which we shall be with the Lord for ever.
The near return of our king should be a matter for great encouragement and comfort. Death is not the end, but simply an usher in the theatre of eternal life. Christ is coming again and his trumpet will soon sound to announce the end of this age, the world with all its hostility towards God and even death itself. The war is nearly over. The king is returning.
If you knew with certainty that Christ would return tomorrow, what impact would that make upon your plans for today?
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Deuteronomy 12–14; Romans 2
Pray for Scripture Union
Solid, an annual event enabling young people to grow in their faith in a lively fun-packed environment, has led to a number of local events. Unfortunately, the event that was due to take place in Rayleigh, Essex, tonight has been cancelled. Please pray for the team and the young people who were coming, that they might experience Jesus wherever they are this evening.