Back to Life (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
One Sunday just as Bible study was beginning, the church phone rang, and the news was ominous—the husband of one of our members had just suffered a massive heart attack; this gentleman wanted nothing to do with our Lord or his church.
After worship that morning, one of the elders—Gerald Watts—and I went to the hospital. Doctors tried a catherization to see what was going on, but it wasn’t any use. Jerry was in CCU with his family around him. Gerald and I hadn’t been at the hospital long when Jerry, surrounded by his wife and daughter, left this world.
Gerald and I conducted the funeral a few days later. At the funeral’s conclusion, Gerald and I were standing by the casket as everyone filed out. Nora, Jerry’s wife, came up, kissed his cheek, and, with tears streaming down her face, said to Gerald and me, “You know why this hurts so much.” Yes, we knew why Nora was in such pain; Jerry never obeyed the Lord and died outside of Jesus.
I’ve attended many funerals when I was sick to my stomach because the one lying in the casket had died outside of Jesus. Many times, I was distraught because I never tried to share Jesus’s message with the deceased. I’m sure you’ve attended such funerals, too.
But how many hopeful funerals have you attended? Have any of you buried a spouse whom you loved more than life itself? Yes, you hurt more than I can fathom, but you grieved in hope because he or she died in Christ and was resting in the Bosom of Abraham? How many of you have buried your parents in the great hope of the resurrection? Have you sat through the funeral of a close brother or sister in Christ? Yes, there were tears, but there was also hope.
Paul reminded the Thessalonians of that hope. For some reason, they thought Jesus would return shortly after they became Christians. But then their loved ones began to die, and they started worrying that their loved ones would miss the Second Coming altogether. They apparently believed that if you died before the Second Coming, you missed out on heaven and glory.
Paul reminded them that the dead in Christ have hope, for Jesus will raise them when he comes again. In fact, the truth is: “The dead in Christ will rise.”
Scripture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
Most people in Paul’s day thought of death either in terms of annihilation or an existence as a shadow in a dreary underworld. Paul dismissed such ideas.
The Christian’s assurance of the final resurrection of his loved ones and himself is grounded in believing Jesus died and was raised. Only because the Christian believes Jesus was crucified and resurrected does he have hope that God will raise the faithful dead.
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians “by a word from the Lord.” What he said here is not wishful thinking or his opinion. This is true, it is sure, and it is trustworthy, for it comes from the Lord, not man.
By the word of the Lord, Paul could say that the living when the Lord comes will not go before those who have died in Christ.
The Greek word “coming” in verse 15 was often used of a king’s coming to visit a city with pomp and majesty. The King will be coming!
When the end comes, Jesus himself will descend from heaven, the place where he sits on the right hand of the throne of God.
He will do so with a cry of command. The cry of command could be to the angels that, in the Gospels, the Lord said would gather his own. This cry could also be for all the dead to rise—perhaps, the Lord will burst through the skies and order all the dead to rise like he ordered Lazarus to come forth.
The Lord will also come with the voice of an archangel. This likely refers to the archangel Michael who will utter something at Jesus’s return.
The Lord Jesus will also descend “with the sound of the trumpet of God.” In the Old Testament, trumpets were sounded to tell the Israelites to gather. Here, this seems to be a trumpet of command for God’s people to gather.
“The dead in Christ will rise first.” The dead in Christ will meet the Lord in the air before those who are alive when the Lord comes again.
After the dead in Christ have been gathered, the living ones in Christ will be caught up with them to meet the Lord in the air. When speaking of a royal visit, the Greek word for “coming” in verse 15 was often paired with the word “meet” in verse 17. When they were paired together, the word for “meeting” referred to emissaries from a city going out to meet a king and escort him on his way into the city. The picture here is that we meet the King and we—all in Christ (both living and dead at his coming)—escort him to his throne.
We will always be with the Lord. No annihilation. No shadowy existence in the netherworld. No torment. No pain. We will be with the Lord.
This morning’s text unmistakably teaches: “The dead in Christ will rise.” If you die before Jesus comes again, he will raise you from the dead; all your loved ones who died in Christ will be raised from the dead to meet the Lord. How can we apply that truth? Paul answered that question: “Therefore [because “The dead in Christ will rise”] encourage one another with these words.” How can you “encourage one another with these words?”
First, Encourage Yourself with these words.
You have all lost someone dear to you, and you grieve that loss. Each of you have departed loved ones you think about every single day.
If those loved ones died in Christ, be encouraged. How can you be encouraged by these words? Understand what Paul said at verse 15: “This we declare to you by a word from the Lord.” The Lord—who himself is true—declared that the dead in Christ shall rise.
When you grieve, go to the word from the Lord to be encouraged. Read about the comfort Lazarus had after he died. Go to Revelation and read of the wonderful city God has prepared for his people. Go to John’s Gospel and see Jesus bring Lazarus back from the grave. Be encouraged by the word from the Lord and know that your loved ones will rise.
Second, Encourage Others with these words.
You’ve all been to the funeral home to visit families who have lost a loved one. There are wonderful words you can speak when that loved one died in Christ. God expects us to encourage with our words: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29). What better words could you speak than what Paul wrote in this morning’s text?
Third, Encourage others when You Die.
Picture a funeral home, smell the flowers, and see your family gathered around your casket. What encouragement would they have? Would they know beyond any doubt that you died in Christ and were awaiting the resurrection of the just?
I began this sermon by telling you about a man who died outside of Christ and left his family heartbroken. I could have started by telling you a story about people who died in Christ and encouraged their families; I’ve seen that time and time again. But I do want you to face the reality that you could die outside of Christ and leave your family to mourn without hope.
Life is short: “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (Js 4:14). I don’t know if you will die before Jesus comes again or not—either way you leave this world, your life is short and Jesus is coming in the air. Will you be ready for meet him?