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. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 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. 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. 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. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Life is short.
The Holy Scriptures speak of the brevity of life with crystal clarity. The apostle James says “You are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14. NASB). Quoting the Old Testament, the apostle Peter writes: “ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS, THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF…” (1 Peter 1:24). “Here is the history of the grass,” said one. “Sown, grown, blown, mown, gone; and the history of man is not much more” (Spurgeon).
“O Lord,” prays the Psalmist, “make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath” (Psalm 39:4-5).
Death is sure.
Life is short. (#1) (#2) Death is sure. “…It is appointed for man to die once” (Heb. 9:27). And that which is divinely appointed comes to pass always and without fail. As one once put it: “Yesterday I was born. Today, I live. Tomorrow I must die.” “Our crowded cemeteries supply ten thousand arguments why each one of us may expect to die in due time.” Again, he says, “Who among us can reckon upon a single hour? We talk of being living men: let us correct ourselves, and feel from this moment that we are dying men, whose every breath brings them closer to the grave.”
In these verses Paul is not concerned to furnish material for a chart outlining last things, as if for theological debate. Nor is the thing here to satisfy one’s curiosity about last things. This is not Paul’s concern whatsoever. His aim, rather, is to provide truth for encouragement, Paul’s concern is a pastoral one; he plainly states it in v. 18. ‘Encourage one another with these words .’ he says.
Why this encouragment is needful is clear to us. The apostle has turned to address an unmistakably sober matter. Some among their number died. Why they died, that is, the immediate cause of their end, Paul does not say. But what he does say, he says that he might encourage believers in the face of one of the most painful experiences believers will ever encounter: the death of a fellow, beloved believer.
We’ve noticed Paul exhorts the church to encourage each other with ‘these words.’ But before he presses this exhortation to encourage upon the entire church, he places before it, and us, certain and precise information. And so to begin with the 13th verse…
Paul Expresses His Desire That We Know About Believers Who are Dead
‘But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep…’
Part of the pastoral task, if not its foundation, is that of informing, making others aware of certain things. This is, of course, in stark contrast to what Paul writes immediately before. In v. 9, he takes up a subject about which those to whom he writes had no need of instruction. ‘Concerning brotherly love,’ he writes, ‘you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another…’ I do not wish to dwell upon this this morning, but it does beg the observation. If this be true, if in fact God Himself teaches whom he teaches to love, and they in turn love…then if any need to be told to love the brethren, because they do not love, they have not been taught of God. No love. No faith. No indwelling Christ. The love of God hasn’t been shed abroad in their hearts. But the ones to whom Paul writes were indeed so taught. They were a grace-filled, Spirit of Christ-filled people. They were a people the apostle now wished to inform and give information to.
But here’s the thing: We live in a day and age of information glut. News bites, sound bites, news feeds, social media, computers, laptops, iPads, iPhones: just think about how much information comes at us everyday. And then to top it all off, we come here only to be given more information. And the sad thing is, all this information tends to be met by inaction. What difference does it make to us if Hamas is slaughtering Israel? What can we do about it anyway? Who cares if your FB friends are having fries and burgers for lunch! So what if the horse wasn’t allowed inside the Royal York! What difference does it make? Is this not our default attitude? Observers? It is sad that information is either trivial, irrelevant, met by inaction, or seen and given within the context of entertainment.
But the point I aim to make is this: Though the air we breathe undermines taking information seriously, there’s some information we must take seriously, Biblical information especially. And how does one know he so takes it? Well, he acts upon it. He hears it, and he applies it to his life. It informs and shapes the way he thinks. Then it changes the way he feels about a thing which leads to a different outlook and even different course of life.
Purpose: That Our Grieving Be Different
And here, information is given for the purpose of shaping the way believers grieve the loss of loved ones, i.e. fellow believers. Paul isn’t saying that we should not grieve. Faith doesn’t take the hurt away. What he’s saying is the way we grieve is to be different than the way unbelievers grieve. That’s what he’s getting at, that we ‘may not grieve AS others do who have no hope. ‘Hear the distinction. It’s important. It’s okay for a believer to grieve. Believers know sorrow. Paul himself, speaking of Epaphroditus, wrote elsewhere saying: “Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (Phil. 2.27). But the way we grieve is different, indeed must be different than those who have no hope, i.e. unbelievers. In the face of death, believers have hope; unbelievers don’t. This is a thing of necessity.What Paul wishes is for believers to grieve with an informed grief, that their emotions, as raw as they might be, be tempered by and with truth.
Hope is the key here. Believers have hope, real hope in the face of death. Unbelievers have no such hope. Death for the unbeliever is hopeless. It’s the final goodbye. Not so for believers. Paul gives three reasons why this is so.
Three Solid Reasons
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Verse 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 Resurrection of Christ is our hope in the face of death. It’s a sure hope, one based and grounded in history, truth and fact, not myth. And here we are, again on the doorstep of December, and the barrage of silliness has begun yet again. People drink as it were, all kinds of weird and strange myths – a magical snowman, flying reindeer, a hefty old man dressed in red, able to visit every house on the planet in one night. That’s okay. That stuff they encourage faith in. But the Resurrection? If it wasn’t so sad it’d be funny; but myth is preferred. And what’s actually true, grounded in historical fact is shunned as myth! What I’m saying is this – the believer’s hope and confidence is real. It has a true foundation, not a false one. It rests not on anything in this world or of this world. It isn’t speculation. Nor is it a cleverly devised tale. Do you believe it? Do you see and savor it as true, as historical fact, that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures? Christ conquered death! It held him not. He was victorious and triumphant over the grave! ‘Up from the grave he arose with a mighty triumph o’er his foes. He arose a victor from the dark domain and he lives forever with his saints to reign.He arose! He arose! Hallejujah, Christ arose!’
The consequence of this gloriously stupendous truth Paul spells out for us. Verse 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 Resurrection guarantees this. Through Christ, God will bring with him those who fell asleep in him. I take this to mean this: God, by means of Christ, or in Christ, will have on the day Jesus returns, every believer by his side. He won’t forget them. Everyone for whom Christ died, and who died as believers, will be with him on that day. God will see to it. The grave will not win nor sever them from him. The Resurrection guarantees this. Because Christ rose from the dead, this will happen. It’s bound to happen! It cannot not happen! As sure as the tomb was empty, God in Christ will bring with him his beloved.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ
First reason for solid hope: the Resurrection of Christ. Second reason: the revelation of Christ.
V. 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.”
The apostle makes it explicit. What he says here originates in deity. It’s from the Lord. It therefore carries the highest of authority. And what that authority reveals doesn’t merely tell of the dead’s sharing with the living on that Day, when the Lord returns, but it goes further. The dead will not miss the events of the day, but will actually be first in line, and thus occupy a place of honor.
The coming of the Lord is his parousia. Parousia is a term wich often referred to the official visit of a ruler, a sovereign, to a city. It was a day filled with pomp and circumstance, incredible celebrations, outlandish banquets, speeches of praise for the ruler, lavish donations, a visit to the local temple, games, dedications of statues, arches, and the like. Golden crowns might have been awarded. Money might have been minted to mark the occassion. And apparently, new eras may have been inaugurated (Green, G.L.). Fascinating isn’t it? It was a real party, as if the Royals paid a visit to Calgary in July. And Paul makes it clear to us – the dead won’t miss it. In fact, when Christ visits again, the dead will have front row seats!
The Intervention of Jesus Christ
Solid reasons to not grieve as others who have no hope: (1) the Resurrection of Christ (2) the revelation of Christ & (3) the intervention of Christ.
V. 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.”
Christ descends. He commands. And the dead in Him obey in resurrection. And mark it: this is very noisy. There’s nothing silent or secret about it. A cry of command is that which must be obeyed. It cannot not be. It impels its objects to do that which is commanded. The voice of an archangel adds to this cry. When Christ comes again, he won’t be alone.The trumpet of God will also sound. This has nothing to do with anything musical. When trumpets sounded, you knew something was up. Trumpets blew for military purposes, for religious ceremonies, and when men died. But trumpets in the OT were connected also with the day of the Lord. God would on that day sound a trumpet. It will signal that moment in redemptive history, a terrifying moment for all not in Christ, but a glorious moment for all in Him, when Jesus comes again to bring about the consummation of the New Covenant with his beloved bride. The trump will sound, and the dead will be raised. The dead in Christ, that is. These are the ones Paul is concerned with here.
It’s imperative that we not overlook this. Who are the dead in Christ?
The short answer is simple. The dead in Christ are dead believers. They are asleep in Him. That is to say, when they died they were joined to him, engrafted in him by faith. This is huge. It demands far more time than we can give it here. But it’s imperative that we dwell on it for a moment.
To be in Christ means to share in the benefits of his person and work. It means to share in his death, burial, and resurrection life. It means to be blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies. It’s a union, a joining together. It’s not just the believer in Christ, but Christ in the believer also. This is an intimate relationship. This is a real joining by grace through faith alone, effected by God alone. Two pictures:
The first is the vine and the branches. John 15:5, Jesus says to his disciples – “I am the vine, you are the branches.’ The branches are in the vine. They cannot live apart from the vine. It’s a vital, nourishing, life-giving, fruit-producing relationship. The branches are in the vine. Believers are in Christ, even when death comes.Death doesn’t sever the branch from the vine, not when the vine is the true vine.
Second picture is a wee more graphic. It’s mind-blowing actually. 1 Corinthians 6.16-17. “Do you not know that bhe who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” Question – Why does Paul speak of being joined to Christ in the context of sexual immorality? Surely, he means to underscore the unthinkable, the joining of the members of Christ with a harlot. But why are believers members of Christ? Answer: 1 Cor. 6.17! “He who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” That is amazing to me. To be in Christ is to be so joined to Christ as to be one spirit with him. And it’s all be grace alone through faith alone because of God’s love alone. But get this! The sexual union speaks something of that which is far greater and more incomprehensibly more satisfying than that of the marriage act: union with Christ! Sex is a dim shadow of the joys begun at faith but consummated when He comes! Hallelujah to that! Can you even begin to imagine???!!!
THOSE DEAD IN CHRIST DIED WITH EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING.
The grave did not sever them from him nor his riches. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, diistress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword….’ or death? “No,’ says Paul to the Roman believers. ‘Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come…nor anything else in all creation‘ will sever those in Christ from the love of God in him. Rom 8.35-9.
The Lord will descend. A cry of command. The voice of an archangel. The trumpet shall sound. And the dead in Christ will rise first, before the other dead, those dead outside of Christ. Three solid reasons for hope – the Resurrection of Christ in history, the revelation of Christ in his word and person, and the intervention of Christ in his commanding return.
The Final End
Exhortation: Encourage One Another with These Words
Finally, Paul ends the section with his one and only exhortation of the paragraph. In light of all this, in view of this…information, the church, its members, not the leadership only, is to encourage one another with these words. Encourage – Here the word so rendered means comfort, or console [It doesn’t always mean this]. This is to be a body thing, a corporate thing, not just a thing for the eldership or any other small segment of the fellowship. What he presses in the 18th verse, he does so to the entire church. Every member has a responsibility in this.
But do not let this escape your notice. Paul says to ‘encourage one another with these words.’ Here ‘these words’ refer to the truths in the face of death and the second coming. But let’s broaden the application. Encouragement must always be with ‘these words‘ if ‘these words’ refer to that which is true. Whatever the cause for pain, always be sure to encourage by the truth and not a quick fix or what seems wise at the moment.
One more thing. I wish to leave us with an even broader application. Let me get at it with a question: is it at all possible that there is a disconnect between us, the way we live, the way we react and respond and think and feel about the providences in which we find ourselves (for e.g., the death of a beloved believer, or something else far less than desirable) and the informaion (i.e., ‘these words) of all Scripture? It seems to me that what Paul ultimately presses for here, is for the supernatural display of truth fleshed out in God’s people. Isn’t that what he wants? ‘I do not want you to be uninformed,’ he says. Why he then informs is obvious to us, that our grieving inthe wake of a painful providence looks not at all like the grieving of those who are without hope. Truth is indeed for life. Let’s live it together by His ample supplies of grace. Amen.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/todd-braye.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Todd Braye (B. Mus., M.Div) is the pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Blacke, Alberta, Canada. After graduating from the Canadian Theological Seminary, he served a Baptist church in eastern Ontario for six years before coming home to Alberta. He has been SGBC’s pastor since October 1, 2005.[/author_info] [/author]