1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14 Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep throughJesus. 15 For we say this to you by a revelation from the Lord:We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have no advantage overthose who have fallen asleep. 16 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. 17 Then we who are still alive 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 encourageone another with these words.
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We do not want you to be uniformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.
—1 Thessalonians 4:13
Christians should be utterly different from the rest of society. At the same time, we ought not to withdraw fully from society (although there are times when God may call us to do so), because we’re to be “salt and light” in our culture.
So when I say we should be different, what sorts of things come to mind? Perhaps morality, or fellowship, or truth? I agree. But Paul points us to another distinctive feature of the Christian—hope.
Many people have hope in this sense: they hope that morality is worth it (whether or not God is real) and that an afterlife exists for those morally worthy individuals. Sadly, their hope is ungrounded and should be understood as a mere wish.
Paul writes, “We do not want you to be uninformed…so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” Even if they think they have hope, it’s only an illusion. Their situation is actually hopeless.
Why? Because authentic hope can only be found in the one place those individuals refuse to look. Paul makes clear what distinguishes our hope from theirs, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”
Hope is inextricably linked to the resurrected Jesus. For those who believe, hope abounds. For those who disbelieve, they are condemned already.
The message of hope couldn’t be more pertinent than in our tumultuous times. I rejoice in the turning toward Jesus consuming the Southern hemisphere as well as other persecuted areas.
However, I’m saddened by the West's turning away from God. While we should have hope in an afterlife, in God's promises through Jesus and the like, Paul has something particular in mind in this passage.
One of the three or so major hindrances to the faith cited by most unbelievers is the problem of evil. While I find these individuals' stance incoherent at best, I do understand the emotions associated with loss and suffering. One major way the Christian should differ from our society—and in so doing glorify God—is in our method of grieving.
Paul doesn’t suggest that Christians shouldn’t grieve the death of family members and loved ones. Rather, he commands that we grieve as ones who understand that Jesus is risen.
The unbeliever sees death and calls it senseless. The believer sees death and searches for God's providence and will.
The unbeliever mourns over the loss of a family member because they miss them, because they didn't deserve to die, and because they wish they had had more time with them. The believer mourns over the loss of a family member because we miss them—but we rejoice in their reuniting with the Lord. We rejoice that God is sovereign over their soul, and we praise Him for what time we did have with them.
Our duty as Christians isn’t to live as long as possible. We’re called to glorify God in all we do, whether eating or drinking. I suggest that Paul sees mourning as a part of that list.
Let us glorify God in the way we mourn the loss of our loved ones and the way we cope with suffering. Let us live as a redeemed people, full of hope in a God who we know has conquered and remains Lord over death and sin. Let us live boldly, ever showing those in our culture that true hope can only be found in the resurrected Jesus.
May we never forget that we’re different, we’re set apart, and we’ve been mercifully given abundant hope through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
- How might you respond to someone who claims to have hope in some truth other than the resurrected Jesus?
- How does hope impact your life? Do others see it? Do you seek to share it?
- How should the Christian mourn? Are celebrations of life a belittling of the magnitude of death? What should guide our mourning?
- When Jesus told the young man wanting to bury his father in Matthew 8:22, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead,” was He too harsh? Is that how we should confront death? What does it mean to say that Jesus conquered death, and how should it affect our lives?