Death & Hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
“We don’t like to think about death; yet, worldwide, 3 people die every second, 180 every minute, and nearly 11 000 every hour…As human beings, we have a terminal disease called mortality. The current death rate is 100%” – (R.Alcorn)
Many cultures in the world shun speaking about death for superstitious reasons. However, it is ludicrous to think that we can avoid thinking our mortality since it is both personally inevitable and also impossible to avoid since people die every day and in time, people close to us will die.
Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, death has been the normal experience of all of humankind; however, that doesn’t make it natural! Death is unnatural since God created Adam and Eve for eternal life in the Garden. And because it is unnatural, we wrestle with this horrible intrusion into our human experience which tears beloved people apart and brings great sadness and loneliness.
We need to talk more about death, not less. Not talking about death is non-sensical. No one would approach a monumental moment or an epic life-changing trip to an unknown place without some thoughts of preparation. It is normal for travellers to do some fact-finding and engage in discussions with others to find out more about the experiences they are about to have when planning a trip. We all have a date with death. It’s a date we can’t change, can’t be late or early for and one that we cannot change or reschedule! Therefore, surely it is normal to talk about death with others, to ask our questions and to find the answers in Scripture.
Because Paul’s time in Thessalonica was rushed & was brought to a premature end as he had to leave for his safety. It seems as though he hadn’t managed to get to teach the new believers at Thessalonica about death and what will happen when we die. So when some of their congregation died, they naturally had questions about what happens to those who die. And so now as we read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 we get to listen in as Paul assures them by teaching them what will happen when we die as believers.
1. Don’t be uninformed about those who have died are ‘asleep’ (vs13)
Being naive about life and death and eternal life is very unwise. It will leave you either unprepared or unnecessarily worried about things you don’t need to be concerned about. Those who have died are in a state of waiting what theologians sometimes call the ‘intermediate state’ a transition between this life & eternal life. Here, Paul describes them as being ‘asleep’ waiting for a new dawn, the day when Jesus will return in glory.
2. We don’t grieve as others do, who have no hope (vs13)
Because of what we know (which will be expanded on in the verses that follow), we do not grieve in the same way as those who have no hope because they have not believed in Jesus. What we know gives us peace and hope both for ourselves and for those we love. Note, however, how Paul does not say; ‘don’t grieve’! We do grieve as believers. We grieve because death is a terrible, unnatural, intrusion in our lives and relationships. Death is our enemy that Jesus came to destroy and overcome, but that victory will be only fully realised at Jesus’ second coming. So in this life, we do grieve, we suffer the pain of separation, but we do so with that pain limited by hope!
3. Our hope is rooted in our belief that Jesus died and rose again (vs14)
Jesus rose again victorious from the dead, and so we know that we too will rise with Him (Romans 6:4). As Rick Warren said; “Death is therefore not your termination, but your transition into eternity.” Famously DL Moody supposedly said; “Soon you will read in the newspaper that I am dead. Don’t believe it for a moment. I will be more alive than ever before.” And as PJ Smyth says; “Do you best death – all you do is promote us!” This is why we do not grieve as those with no hope do.
4. The Great Reunion! (vs14-17a)
We know that at his glorious second coming Jesus is going to bring with Him all those believers who had fallen asleep before that moment. They will rise from their state of sleep and will meet with us in the air with Christ! What a day, what a reunion! I am sitting writing this in an airport. I love airports and watching some people both crying and as they hug good-bye, aching for the moment they will be reunited and then also others crying with the joy of home-comings, reunions of loved one. Imagine for a moment all the married couples being reunited, parents and children, best friends. Can you hear the excited chatter? Can you feel the relief and the intensity of the hugs, can you see the Father’s joy?
5. Together Forever (vs17b-18)
Paul goes on to complete this thought with the words; “and so we will always be with the Lord”. This reunion of believers never ends; the joy will never subside or be replaced by a new sadness. This is the era of unhindered & unending proximity to Jesus and one another. The best you’ve ever experienced of the joy of relationships in this life is the worst you could imagine in the new heaven and the new earth because even best things are tainted by sin in some way or end through our mortality. The best is yet to come! So, encourage one another with these words (vs18), speak about our glorious future and allow that certain future to shape today.
Lastly, maybe contemplating these things will also cause you to have the courage to reach out to someone who doesn’t yet believe in Jesus Christ so that they could be with you in eternity – share your life with them, share the good news of Christ with them, bring them to church.
“It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our final day” (Matthew Henry)