February 10, 2019
Ken Currie (Downtown Campus) | | 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
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. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 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. 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. 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. Therefore encourage one another with these words.—1 Thessalonians 4:13–18
We have been investigating and learning from an example of a healthy Church—the Thessalonian church established by the apostle Paul and his team after a short time of preaching and discipleship. The letter is after an encouraging report from Timothy back to Paul on the state of the young church.
Last week, Pastor Jared Wass took us through the beginning of the “application” section of the letter.
Paul’s pattern in his letters is to lay out the gospel (sound doctrine) and then the implications on the life of the Christian.
This young church and members who were young in the faith and had natural questions about what happens to those who have died.
“But we don’t want you to be uninformed …”
Paul has just given some clear instruction regarding sexual purity and a godly work ethic. Namely, that each on in the church abstain from sexual immorality by controlling their body in holiness and honor. This instruction is also expressed in loving each other by not imposing ourselves as busybodies and gossips but to honestly do our work.
All of this in the broader context of the emphasis that a church is a family. So their “vertical” dimension of honoring God with our lives (sexually, in work, and beyond) is not disconnected but inextricably linked with the “horizontal” dimension of life together as a church family.
Why this transition to what happens when we die? … What would be the point of sexual purity and godly work if there is no resurrection of the dead? Paul himself points to the futility of life in 1 Corinthians 15 when he says,
What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”—1 Corinthians 15:32
A certain category of person loves the religious system and enjoys keeping the rules. But that is where it ends. The Sadducees were like this. They were very conservative and lived outwardly according to the religious codes. However, they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. All of their law-keeping was for nothing. (See Jesus and the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23–33.)
Note that Paul is talking to “church people” in 1 Corinthians 15, and some of them are evidently very active in church, very devoted to a religious life, and yet don’t believe in the resurrection—very strange from the perspective of one who says, “All my hope is in Jesus’ defeat of all my enemies (sin, the devil, hell and death) through his resurrection.”
Paul addresses this head on in 1 Corinthians 15:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.—1 Corinthians 15:12–23
Consider five words on which to bank all of your life—identity, hopes, money, future, things, relationships:
“Jesus died and rose again” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
The entirety of the true Christian faith rests on the reality of the Resurrection. The Resurrection is the pillar that supports all. Meaning, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the promise of resurrection extended to those who are in Christ.
(Reverend Barker: “If they dig up Jesus’ bones in Palestine, I will have lost my Christianity and walk away.”)
Paul doesn’t want the Thessalonians to be uninformed about this. He doesn’t want this new church to become a rule-keeping group devoid of the life-changing power of the gospel or a ritual-practicing church that gathers for an emotional pick-me-up.
“Even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (4:14b); “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (4:13b).
Why can we have resurrection hope?
Two reasons: 1) Jesus died and 2) Jesus rose again (v. 14). Those who “die” in Christ have fallen asleep.
Two types of grief: Those who grieve with hope and those who grieve with no hope.
Because Jesus was raised, and those who trust in him are united to him by faith, we will have been raised and we will be raised as well. So when it is not a question of just stuffing our feelings and not grieving death? The Bible says there is a time for grief. Simply put, those who trust in Christ have hope because of the resurrection of Jesus and the promise for those who are in Christ.
Consider: “In Christ” ...
And the dead in Christ will rise first. 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.—1 Thessalonians 4:16–17
This resurrection order is not the main point. This is more information to bolster the confidence of the Thessalonians of the reality of the believer’s resurrection. (Example: If the ship is sinking, you emphasize that there are lifeboats. The order “women and children first” is important but not the most important.)
The Thessalonians clearly were taught and embraced the doctrine of Christ’s return and the inheritance of eternal life with Christ. However, they had a concern that those who had died might not receive their inheritance. Did their death disqualify them from eternal life? Paul gives an emphatic “no” to this idea and assures them that not only are the dead in Christ only “asleep,” but they will proceed those who are still alive when Christ returns.
When we grieve the death of those who are in Christ, let us grieve with hope—like we did for Dan Sterken—because Christ died and rose. When we ponder our own mortality and the undeniable approach of death for ourselves, let us do so with hope in the death-defeating death of Jesus Christ.
Our resurrection is secured by Christ’s resurrection—his resurrection becomes our resurrection when we believe in him.