The Christians in Thessalonica had already had several funerals.
The death of a loved one would be disorienting enough, but the Apostle Paul had told them that Jesus would be coming back for them soon.
Only He hadn’t.
And in the meantime, loved ones died.
Thessalonians were unclear about what would happen to Christians who died before the Lord’s return. They knew they would be resurrected. And they knew the Lord would return. But they were not sure how the pieces fit. What would happen to their departed husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children, and friends? Was dying before the Lord’s return a disadvantage? When Jesus came back, would they miss out in some way? Would they miss the celebration of the Lord’s return?
They pressed Paul for answers, and he replied:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For we say this to you by a word from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still 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 Thess 4:13-18).
Far from missing out, when Jesus comes back, the dead will not only be part of it but will be raised first, and then the living will join them in the air to meet Christ. Not that the timing matters all that much since it happens in milliseconds. But it’s comforting to know the dead in Christ will not miss out on anything.
Paul would later clarify that,
For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing (1 Thess 5:9-11).
The believer is saved from God’s present and future wrath (cf. John 3:36; Rom 1:16-18; 5:6-11; 1 Thess 1:10). So when Jesus comes back, you’ll go to Him in the air whether you are “awake or asleep”—that is, whether you’re living as a faithful Christian alert to the signs of the times or wallowing in spiritual carnality. Like salvation itself, the rapture does not depend on your good behavior. If you believe, you’ll live together with Him forever.
The Thessalonians were discouraged at being separated from their beloved dead and their dear Lord. But they could be encouraged that the separation was only temporary. They would soon be reunited together forever.
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