For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus comes, God will bring back with Jesus all the Christians who have died. - 1 Thessalonians 4:14
There was a man who started exercising regularly when he was in his twenties, stopped smoking in his thirties, regulated his weight in his forties, and died anyway before he was fifty. So goes the tale told by men who don’t like to exercise, don’t want to stop smoking, and refuse to watch their weight. These men are ignoring well-documented evidence that disciplined living can add to the length of a man’s days. But they are right that, whatever precautions are taken, men ultimately “die anyway”!
Given the inevitability of death, it is surprising that men, who normally plan their lives carefully, pay scant attention to their dying and what lies beyond it. Many of them settle for vague hopes or lame jokes regarding the subject. But that is not wise. Men who major on five-, ten-, and fifteen-year plans as a matter of course should not neglect an infinite-year plan—as a matter of prudence.
Apparently, the Christians in Thessalonica were not ignoring the issue of death. In the church in that city, there was a great deal of consternation about death and what lies beyond it. So Paul passed on to them some information he had received “directly from the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:15). With Christ’s resurrection as his starting point, Paul told them, “Since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus comes, God will bring back with Jesus all the Christians who have died” (4:14). Contained in this statement are several powerful truths. One, Jesus rose from the dead. Two, he will return in great glory. Three, Christians go to be with Christ when they die. Four, when Christ returns he will bring with him those have gone to be with him.
These truths are intended to help those who mourn the loss of loved ones, so that they will avoid being “full of sorrow like people who have no hope” (4:13). It is natural for bereaved people to be anxious about their loved ones. Paul assured the Thessalonians that when the Lord returns “with a commanding shout, with the call of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God” (4:16), he will come with the believers who have died, and he will be coming for the believers who are still alive on earth. Then they will have a grand reunion with Christ and with each other.
The result of this teaching? “So comfort and encourage each other with these words” (4:18). But remember, this is for those who prepare for eternity.
- Stuart Briscoe