Concerning The Dead In Christ
1 Thess. 4:13-18
Truth Taught- All Christians, including those who have already died, will meet Jesus at His Second Coming with great joy and excitement.
Throughout the centuries there has just about always been a person making a prediction and setting a date for the return of Christ. In our modern day there continues to be those that set dates. The 700 Club’s Pat Robertson has made his predictions…
In 1976 he predicted the Jesus would return in 1982. In his 1990 book The New Millennium, Robertson suggests the date as the day of Earth’s destruction would be 2007.
Another end-times prognosticator is Harold Camping. Camping predicted the rapture would occur on 6 September 1994. When it failed to occur he revised the date to the 29th of September and then to the 2nd October. Camping’s fourth predicted date for the end Mar. 31, 1995. This would be Camping’s last prediction until 2011. Camping predicted that the Rapture and devastating earthquakes would occur on 21 May 2011, with God taking approximately 3% of the world’s population into Heaven, and that the end of the world would occur five months later on October 21. When his original prediction failed to come about, Camping revised his prediction and said that on May 21, a “Spiritual Judgment” took place, and that both the physical Rapture and the end of the world would occur on 21 October 2011. Well, he was wrong again and so has everyone else whose made these date setting predictions.
My end-times prediction is that end-times predictions will continue as long as they sell books.
What I want to remind us all of is that just because there have been and will be stupid people calling themselves Christians making predictions that don’t come true, we should never think that Jesus’ words about His return won’t come true.
Matthew 24:36–39 (ESV)
36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
With this passage in mind, I think the words of John Calvin are very appropriate for us to keep in mind. He warns Christians to avoid excessive curiosity in the things the Lord has hidden.
So many times when people become enamored with a certain segment of theology, especially with the end-times they become consumed with discovering things that they are not able nor meant to discover because they are hidden things. They do this at the expense of the things that are clearly revealed. For someone to spend their life studying whether or not Jesus’ return will be pre, post, or amillennial and forget that they are to be growing in Christlikeness will mean that they may in fact have proven that their salvation is not even genuine.
What I’d like us to do today is to avoid excessiveness and to avoid unhealthy curiosity in the area of end-times and learn the powerful truth Paul has for us regarding the coming of our Lord.
What we have before us today is not an exhaustive teaching on end-times but a specific teaching. What the Apostle does is confronts an issue that the Thessalonians were struggling with. He uses the doctrine of Christ’s return as a means of comfort for those new Christians.
What was the issue? The issue was that the new Christians had been told that their deceased loved ones who were also Christians were for some reason not included in the end-times resurrection of the dead. No one knows for sure exactly the details of our Lord’s return. We do know He is returning. We know His return will be physical. We know His return will be sudden and unexpected. Much else beyond these things revealed in Scripture tends toward unhealthy speculation.
To sum up what Paul addresses in this passage, he answers the question: what happens to the dead in Christ?
Probably between Paul leaving Thessalonica and Timothy arriving some Christians had died. They were given inadequate explanations and Paul wants to bring them truth and that truth will be a comfort to them as they grieve.
So, if you have a loved one who has died and if that loved one was a believer, here are some encouraging words from Paul for us today.
1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 (ESV)
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.
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.
He gives his pastoral concern that he doesn’t want these new believers to be ignorant about those who have died who were Christians. He calls those who died who were in Christ, those who have fallen asleep. For a Christian who has died, sleep is a very good image because at the second coming of Christ they will be awakened. Specifically, we must realize he is referring to the body metaphorically sleeping not the soul.
This verse does not teach soul sleep, as many cultists might want us to believe. Soul sleep is the teaching that when a person dies that his soul “sleeps” until the time of the future resurrection. In this condition, the person is not aware or conscious. This is not taught here or any other place in the Bible.
When a Christian dies the body is viewed as sleeping until the resurrection of the dead occurs. At death the soul on the other hand, goes immediately to be with Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:8 (ESV)
8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
Paul writes this verse because he loves these Christians and does not want them to be overcome with grief but desires that they grieve with hope. Paul wants these Christians to not grieve like the world grieves because Christian grief is altogether different than worldly grief.
When we loose a loved one to death we grieve. There is nothing wrong with grieving; it is the human response to loss. When someone dies that we love we grieve. However, there is a difference between how people should grieve. Paul gives us the two types of grief. There is a grief that is informed about what happens to the loved one who has died who is in Christ and then there is a type of grief over a lost person’s death. The former is a grief coupled with eternal hope and truth the latter is a grief with no hope.
In the pagan world of the early Church and even our lost world today there is no real hope for those who die outside of Christ. Many have invented things that are designed to make them feel better at the loss of a loved one but their invention is not real. Only in Jesus Christ do we have hope in the afterlife.
What these Christians needed wasn’t platitudes and warm fuzzy speeches like we might hear today at funerals. There is no hope or comfort in fairy tales and myths about death. True comfort only comes when we understand the truth about what happens to our loved ones who are in Christ.
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.
Here we have the antidote for excessive grieving or grieving as the world grieves. God shows us an amazing and comforting parallel…
Jesus died and rose again
Paul’s logic to comfort those who grieve is to say since Jesus died and was raised again then our loved ones who are in Christ that die will also rise again.
1 Corinthians 15:20–23 (ESV)
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
The connection goes like this…Jesus died and was raised. Our loved one died and God will raise them up and bring them with Jesus when He returns. They will not be forgotten but we are promised that those who are in Christ will come with Him when He returns.
The amazing picture is something this: God the Father brings the souls of the believers with Christ and reunites them with their bodies, which are raised when Jesus returns.
God so remembers and cares for believers who have died that they are the first ones to be resurrected…
we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
If we are alive at the return of Jesus we will not meet Him in the air before all other Christians who have already died.
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.
What does Paul teach us here? At the return of Christ, like a King entering the region there will be a decree or announcement by the archangel and there will be an echoing blast of God’s trumpet also announcing the approaching King. This is keeping with the tradition of the ancient world that when a King was coming there would be great announcements and trumpets blown.
At this trumpet blast and at the announcement all the bodies of the dead Christians will rise from the grave and ascend to meet King Jesus in the air. At that moment all who are in Christ and alive will also be changed in a flash and rise also to meet Him in the air.
This cry of command is most likely Jesus commanding all the bodies to rise from the dead.
John 5:28–29 (ESV)
28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
We see three prepositional phrases…
with a cry of command This is most likely Jesus commanding all the dead bodies to rise…it may be a cry like was heard on the day Lazarus was raised. Come forth!!
with the voice of an archangel Here is probably the archangel announcing the event. Ready yourselves the King is coming!!
with the sound of the trumpet of God this third sound is the trumpet that is the final warning to all on earth that the second coming is before us.
In heaven, at this moment there is great rejoicing. The Apostle John witnesses the event from a heavenly perspective.
Revelation 11:15 (ESV)
15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
Matthew 24:30–31 (ESV)
30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
At this event the OT saints are raised, NT saints are raised, all those saints throughout Church history are raised, all the saints who are alive are changed and every Christian who has ever lived will rise to meet King Jesus in the air.
At this point there is another tradition that when a King came to a city, all the citizens came to the edge of the city to greet the King and would welcome Him and escort Him into the city with great shouts of joy.
Following the tradition, we will escort King Jesus to the earth and He will set up His eternal Kingdom and we will always be with Jesus.
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.
The word here for cloud or clouds is the glory cloud of God’s glory like in the OT that enclosed around His people. The word translated meet is a word that has in mind meet to escort or meet to accompany. This points to all believers meeting Jesus in the glory cloud and accompanying Him to His new Kingdom one that He will rule forever and ever and all believers from the OT to today will be with Him. This word is rare in the NT.
The words, “To meet” the Lord translates a term used only two other times in the New Testament. In the parable of the ten maidens the maidens are called out to “meet” the groom and join the marriage procession (Matt 25:6). Outside Rome some Christian brethren came to “meet” Paul and escort him back into the city (Acts 28:15). The word was a technical term for meeting a visiting dignitary. A delegation honored the visitor by going outside the city and meeting him and his entourage on the road. Together the entire party would then proceed back into the city with great pomp and fanfare.
Do you remember the day the prisoners of war came home from Vietnam? Do you remember seeing on one side of the ship the wife who had waited six years as the husband walked out on the other side and started across the deck? Behold the bridegroom comes! Come out to meet him! And she did. And the whole world watched that embrace.
18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Truth is encouraging. These words are encouraging because they confirm that all the deceased Christians will be included in the final resurrection. This truth also means that our dead loved ones who are Christians are alive right now and are with Christ waiting for His return where they will be given glorified raised bodies.
When we experience the death of Christian family and friends we too can be comforted because they are with Jesus alive and well and they are waiting for the same great event we are waiting for, namely, the return of Jesus Christ.
2 Timothy 4:8 (ESV)
8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
As we partake of the Lord’s Supper today, we remember that it is a memorial to Jesus’ death on the cross for us. In that death He reconciled us to God. His death paid our sin debt absorbing all the wrath of God for us and giving us His righteousness. We proclaim His death as sufficient payment to free us as a ransom to God.
We do this until a great event occurs. We are commanded to remember and proclaim His death by sharing in the supper until He returns.
The next great event on God’s prophetic timetable will be our Lord’s return…remember His death, celebrate His work for us, anticipate with great excitement His return.
John Stott, The Gospel and the End of Time
1 and 2 Thessalonians by Robert Cara
1 and 2 Thessalonians by G K Beale
1 and 2 Thessalonians by Leon Morris
1 and 2 Thessalonians by FF Bruce
1 and 2 Thessalonians by G L Green
 Martin, D. M. (c1995). Vol. 33: 1, 2 Thessalonians (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (153). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 John Piper