Bible Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
How do you truly live after you lose a loved one? How do you live knowing death is in your future?
- Discussion Guide: What Happens When I Die?
- Intro to Revelation
- Revelation Glossary of Terms
- Revelation Sermon Series
Life will remind you quickly that it is not lived here for long. This is a constant part of our reality. Just when you think that you are an exception, someone close to you dies, or something happens to you that reminds you of your own mortality. The older we get the wiser we get. In other words the older we get, we understand this reality more and it presses on us to spend our time more wisely, because we realize we don’t know how much time we have and no matter how much it is, it will go by fast!
So how do you live life with death hanging around you all the time? Whether in the reality of separation from those you love that die, or in your own context of realizing your own mortality? How can we truly live if living is always in the presence of death? Well, stand with me and let’s read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18…
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. (4:13-18)
The answer is HOPE! God’s hope, the Gospel! Real hope! Paul is talking about this very specific hope!
Prop: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 gives three Gospel-centered reasons on why we can live with real hope.
The 1st reason Paul gives on why we can live with real hope…
Christians can hope because Christ’s resurrection proves there is life beyond the grave! (4:13-14)
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
The key here being the 1st century church truly thought Jesus was coming back in their lifetime. So, they were shocked and saddened by death because they thought it wouldn’t happen to them. Some even worried the dead would miss the return of Christ because they didn’t fully understand the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead! So Paul begins with …
13. Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep.
The apostle refers to the dead as those who fall asleep. A term in which the bitterness of death is mitigated, for there is a great deal of difference between sleeping and being reduced to nothing and being destroyed. However, this does not refer to the soul but to the body, for the dead body lies in the grave until God raises it up. Therefore, those who infer from this that souls sleep are very foolish.
It is possible, however, that this conviction was not strong enough in the Thessalonian believers’ minds and that they, mourning for the dead, retained part of their old superstitions.
But, notice he says, “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”
He’s not saying not to grieve, but rather that we have the opportunity to not grieve as others do!
Some obviously grieved hysterically because they thought all was lost. That there is no hope in death and therefore what are you left with but distraught grief. On the other hand, there was a philosophical movement that pushed people to remove themselves of all kinds of emotion. suppress it, i.e. …
Plutarch captures the broadly accepted approach when he counsels a friend not to grieve his own son’s death since, on reasoned reflection, one must realize that all are mortal and all die (Letter to Apollonius 103F–104A). Others promote that same understanding via gender-specific descriptions or stereotypes. Seneca, for example, offers, “You are like a woman in the way you take your son’s death” (Moral Epistle 99.2). On the flip side of that (gender stereotyped) coin, Epictetus cites the posited standard that soldiers (who were all male in Epictetus’s frame of reference) do not grieve their own fallen (Discourses 1.11.31).
But the gospel gives us an opportunity to neither grieve in hysteria nor suppression. We have an opportunity to grieve differently because of something we know and have. Which is this …
14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
This says #1 that if we believe Christ rose from the dead then we believe there is life after death!! There is hope beyond this life because there is life beyond this life!
But also, Just as the father brought the Son to Himself after His death, we who have been adopted by The Father will be as well! We can be certain nothing can snatch us out of his hand. Nothing can separate us from the active, ever present, tangible real love of God!! That includes death! Not even death can separate us from actively being in and abiding in His love because Christ overcame death and gave us the right to be adopted by God as His children. Just as the Son is with the Father so too will we! If we are His children He will no more abandon us in death than He did his eternal Son!
Our hope is not based on religion or philosophy, but the clear evidence of a risen ascended savior who made it plain as day clear! Which leads us to another massively important reason Paul gives on why we live with real hope.
The 2nd reason Paul gives on why we can live with real hope…
Christians can hope because Christ’s return guarantees our future is indescribably glorious. (4:15-17)
15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord (emphasizing the authority on which they declare this truth … that is Jesus HIMSELF made this real clear!), that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
Paul affirms that “the dead in Christ will rise first” (4:16). That is, hardly forgotten or relegated to some secondary status, those who have died (and will die in the future; life—and death—after all, go on) will enjoy honored status on Christ’s return. “Not to worry,” one can almost hear Paul saying to his addressees.
That is those who have died are not going to miss out in the resurrection! They are with him now, will return with Him and in that instant their bodies will be resurrected from the grave just as with Jesus. And that it will actually happen first. They will not be left out or forgotten.
It points to the fact that there is no loss in the eternal promise of God in death. You don’t miss out on anything because of death! No matter how long or short you lived.
It also points us away from all the religious concerns about death. The superstitions that people were perhaps showing in Thessalonica, i.e.
Burial or cremation is nonsense!
Burial on “holy ground” or “sacred ground”, nonsense!
Last rights by a pastor so that things are straight, nonsense!
It is the Gospel of Christ! Eternal life has nothing to do with where you were buried or who said what when you died but rather on His death resurrection and ascension. It is the Word of the Lord that assures that death is not the end. That because of His resurrection we can know life is not only enteral but those who die in Him will experience a resurrection just like Him as well!
Paul expands this awesome hope in the next two verses!
16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
Paul adds a measure of grandeur and artistry here. Hope very much has an emotional context. It’s not just some intellectual fact you cling to, but rather a motivational truth. That’s by nature what hope is. It’s why we don’t do boring culturally irrelevant music here. We want to capture the pageantry and awesomeness of the Gospel truth and communicate it. Not just in fact but with the measure of emotional hope it reflects.
So Paul helps the believers understand this with some very culturally relevant imagery that explains the significance of this. Don’t get hung up on the specifics of it, but rather let it point you to the grandeur of what’s taking place. The flat out awesomeness of what His return means and who it is that’s returning! Paul uses three elements to help us understand just how big of deal it is of who is coming and for what reason!
“With a cry of command” – The other day I caught a few minutes of one of the major horse races. The horses are led around the track and into the gate. Now, those horses know what’s coming. They literally have to put a gate in front of them to keep them from jumping the gun. They can’t wait for the command to go! And on that sudden instance when the command comes they are gone! Running with everything they have to beat the other horses! This phrase should help us understand the anticipation of what it is we are waiting on. That we stand saying Maranatha, come Lord Jesus! That we can’t wait for the go signal!
“with the voice of an archangel”
This is The God King coming back! Not a teacher or a prophet or even earthly King! Paul emphasizes this by showing He is not being announced by a being of this world but one not of this world. Further clarifying the deity of the one coming back. The majesty of the one coming back. This is the King of the Universe coming to claim what is His!
This is further emphasized with the 3rd element …
“and with the sound of the trumpet of God”
The third great sound at this event is the trumpet call of God. The trumpet was not primarily a musical instrument during this era, but found its place rather in military exercises, cultic events, and funeral processions. In the Roman army nothing happened without sounding the trumpet. In funeral processions the trumpets were sounded, and so common was this custom that when the emperor Claudius died the sound of the trumpets was so deafening that it was thought that the dead could hear them. But the idea of this verse is not simply that the dead will hear the great sound of the trumpet call of God, but that they will respond to the command to rise. According to the OT, the trumpet of God would announce the coming of the day of the Lord (Joel 2:1; Zeph. 1:15–16) and the time when the dispersed people of God would be gathered and God would bring them salvation (Isa. 27:13; Zech. 9:14–16). Events that in Jewish literature were also associated with the sounding of the trumpet of God. Not only in our text but also in 1 Corinthians 15:52 the trumpet of God announces or commands the resurrection of the dead, while in Matthew 24:31 the trumpet of God calls together the dispersed people of God. What an irony, that what the Romans used to announce death, either of their ruler or of the enemies they were getting ready to attack, that Paul uses it to announce life! God take all that man has corrupted and uses it for life!
Point being, Paul is trying to help us understand in a visceral tangible way the significance, the glory, the awesomeness and immeasurable importance of this event so that we can cling to the hope that’s in it! That we get just how big and awesome this is. Bigger than anything in this world or of this world! He then adds …
17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
According to the way the cosmos was understood in the Greek world to and for which Paul wrote, the realm of the air was that where spirits, good and evil, lived. This sense of things is captured very well within the collection of Paul’s letters in the New Testament by Ephesians 2:2, which describes the character that we would call the devil or Satan thusly: “… the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.” As a final, symbolic gesture, the “coming” Lord pauses “in the air,” with the community formed in his name, indicating that God is indeed triumphant. And, indeed, once the “power” associated with “the air” is defeated, how much more so will such relatively insignificant powers as the earthly empire of Rome and such like domineering institutions fall. And so, as is indicated at the close of verse 17, surely “we will be with the Lord forever.”
That is what these verses presume, especially in yoking the term with “meet,” which is also a technical term. It was traditional for a greeting party to throw open the city gates and proceed outside the city at some distance to meet the arriving dignitary. In Jewish Antiquities 11.327 Josephus describes just such an event, involving the arrival of Alexander the Great at Jerusalem, using precisely these two words that Paul uses here. Paul takes that basic movement and gives it a cosmic scope.
It is often presumed, whether broadly in popular culture or more specifically in church settings, that the resurrection of the dead has to do with “being with Jesus in heaven.” A quick reading of this passage might suggest as much. But what is not said is just as important as what is. Paul nowhere states or suggests that the Lord, having descended from heaven, will return there. That in itself is notable. Further, and significantly, as has already been discussed, Paul’s language is clear—those who are alive and those who have already died and will be raised up, will together form a greeting party to “meet” the Lord who is “coming.” Those two words, “meet” and “coming,” indicate in no uncertain terms that the coming Lord who is met is coming to the very place from which the greeters have come; it would make no sense for the emperor or other dignitary, on approaching the welcoming party sent out from the city, to do an about face and retreat or, even more bizarrely, take that greeting party away from the city.
This is where you can hear those sermons, especially the one on eschatology! https://daretoventure.org/series/revelation/
Point being we will be with Him here on earth forever! Ruling and reigning with Him. The earth restored,the Gospel finished and applied for all eternity. This is our hope! It is not in the current state of affairs on this earth or any of the institutions on this earth, but rather the author and creator of this earth returning!
The 3rd reason Paul gives on why we can live with real hope…
Christians can hope because we have a future to encourage each other with! (4:18)
It’s hard to hope by yourself. To stay focused on the thoughts and emotions that allow for Hope to be the experience. You need people to agree with you about what is hopeful, to pump each other up and remind each other! Whether it’s soldiers in battle, athletes in a game or family doing life. Hope is always best and most consistently experienced when it’s something that we can share together. So Paul says…
18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Encourage each other. At the same time, the apostle did not want each believer to merely seek for himself relief from grief, but wanted them all to minister comfort to others as well.
This truth is not only most effective when we encourage one another with it, it’s also a truth that creates the one another. It is the Gospel that has literally redeemed us to be a family forever and it’s the gospel that serves as the most unifying truth possible.
So many churches find their unity in their heritage, denomination, politics, a pastor or some other element that only has value in the thinking and priorities of this world.
For instance, I feel a sense of unity and belonging to my football brothers. And there is nothing wrong with that, however what binds us together is the commitment we made to each other to play and win an athletic competition.
The church is not trying to win an athletic competition, but rather an eternal competition. We are competing for the souls of men. We are competing for the experience of life, that is eternal life! Therefore what we are bound together by, what forms our community, what creates our love and unity towards one another is the greatest truth of all. It is the greatest experience of all. The struggle to lay hold of and cling to the truth of eternal life … Jesus! We labor together to encourage one another with the Gospel that gives us life. We are bound together in that effort. The effort to believe it, to be defined by it, governed by it and led by it! We are in a fight for life and the only way to experience is to truly embrace and trust the Gospel So we must be defined not by me, the band, politics or anything else. If we want to experience life we must encourage one another with these words. Build one another up with the application and implications of these words into our daily lives!
Are you paralyzed by the fear of death, ignoring the reality of death or embracing the hope that gives us victory in death?
Hysteria – Living in paralyzed is living is constant anxiety, drama, panic, fear. I hope you understand that’s not living! Christ didn’t rise from the grave to leave you in that!
Suppression – But acting as if it’s not there and just blocking it out isn’t living either. When we hide something away it doesn’t go away. It just moves the decay out of our view. So many deal with the both the death of a loved one and the reality of their own death simply by suppressing it, hiding it, ignoring it. Not even realizing that what they have done is taken a bacteria and moved it to a place they simply can’t see. Meanwhile it’s eating them alive. It’s affecting every aspect of their life on an ever increasing measure! Life decisions, relational decisions, financial decision, career decisions, etc. are all being made from the decay of that bacteria. However, they just won’t acknowledge it and very likely can’t even see it anymore.
But for those who are in Christ who also cling to the gospel as their hope. They grieve at the loss of loved ones, they can even grieve about their own death not wishing to depart from those they love. But they grieve as those who have Hope! They face it and are not destroyed. They see it and are not detoured from living. Because we know He lives so can we! Right now and forever, no matter what! I have hope!
Cling to the gospel, live in real community with people who steal your heart to Jesus and experience living!
You want to live in the face of the death of those you love? Then you have to Cling to and do something! The Gospel and the community that Gospel forms, the Church!