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Advent and Second Advent, Part 4

December 5, 2006

I’m doing my Aunt Donna’s funeral tomorrow (please pray), so this is timely…

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. 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.

 

 

Apparently when Paul had visited Thessalonica and taught them about the return of the Lord, this had distressed some who were concerned that their friends or family who had already died in Christ were going to miss that great Day.  But Paul assures them that in fact they will have a special place of honor.  We will not precede them, they will precede us.  Blessed are those who have died in the Lord for they got to see him first.

 

He also describes those who have died in Christ as ones who have merely fallen asleep.  The point is not that they are unconscious, other verses describe them as having conscious fellowship with Christ and even as praying for the hastening of the resurrection day, but the point of the word sleep is that they are resting.  They are at rest from their labors.  They are already at rest from the war within.   Our English word cemetery comes from this Greek word for sleep.  A cemetery is a resting place. 

 

There is an attention grabbing prepositional phrase in verse 14 and that is the phrase rendered “through Jesus” in the ESV.  Other versions translate it “in Jesus” or “with Jesus” but it is literally “through Jesus” and it is unclear whether it means that the dead will be brought back “through Jesus” or whether they sleep “through Jesus”.  I think the latter is the more natural translation.  They sleep through Jesus.  What does that mean?  It means that it is because of what Jesus has done that for the believer dreadful death has been transformed into a peaceful rest.

 

Therefore, though we grieve the absence of loved ones who have gone before us and we grieve our separation from them, we do not grieve like those who have no hope.  Notice again how hope is a key characteristic of the Christian.  Unbelievers are those who have no hope.  They are in the words of Ephesians 2.12, without hope and without God in the world.  But because of what Christ accomplished on the cross, we are liberated from the fear of death and we have hope beyond the grave.

 

So when we meet the Lord in the clouds we will there also be reunited with the dead in Christ who have gone before us, but that is not the consummate blessing for which we long.  The Blessed Hope is that we will be ever with the Lord. 

 

And we are commanded in verse 18 to encourage one another with these words.  Christians should be speaking much with one another about the return of Christ.  This is the hope that inspires us to love and holiness.  If you want to minister grace and truth to your brothers and sisters, if you want to supply what is lacking in their faith, don’t be quick to rebuke and find fault.  Speak instead of our Blessed Hope.  That’s the great means of grace that will strengthen our faith.

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