The Hope in Christ’s Return
SCRIPTURE READING – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
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[b] one another with these words.
Good Morning Crystal Park Baptist Church,
Today we are going to be looking at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Because this is a sermon that is a standalone sermon, I thought it best to give you the background of what was happening in Thessalonians when Paul penned this letter down. Paul himself is the author of this letter and you will see that in the first verse of chapter 1, he mentions Silvanus (also known as Silas) and Timothy (3:2, 6). These were his traveling companions and you can read about that in Acts 17:1-9.
So why Paul wrote this letter to the Thessalonians, is that there were some misunderstandings about the return of Christ and Paul desired to clear these thoughts up in this letter. He also writes to instruct them on holy living. The first three chapters before we get to chapter 4 are about Paul longing to visit them and he writes about how Satan stopped him, how Satan hindered him in 1 Thessalonians 2:18, and he cared about them. He writes about them going on in the way they are living, that’s an encouragement. Then in chapter 4:1-12, he talks about how they should not live sexually immoral lives and how to be pure because they were sanctified, and those things are worthy of Christianity. If you are called to be a Christian, then you should live in that way.
Now our text for this morning starts in verses 13 and follows through to verse 18. This is where he instructs their misunderstandings about the return of Christ. He tells them about the people who died in Christ, died believing in Christ that they will also go to heaven when Christ returns. The book ends with an exaltation to holy living.
During this week as I was preparing to preach, I spoke to 2 brothers; one of whom is in the building, Etienne. I was planning to preach on an old testament narrative. This was actually when Solomon was asked what he desired, and he desired wisdom. Out of everything that he could have asked, he asked for wisdom. There is that story about two women who gave birth and Solomon knew how to go about God’s justice in the midst of that. I thought that was a good story but maybe for another morning. After Wednesday, I felt a great weight of preaching hope in a midst of chaos. I call this time chaotic because if you have been listening to the News, now listen to what I have to say carefully, if you have been listening to the news there has been a possibility that COVID-19 is airborne, right. But the fact is this, that there are more than 1.5 million graves that are being dug. That’s a fact in our country. But because I am no scientist or medical doctor, I am not here to further talk about COVID-19, but one thing I can tell you about its effects is this: People are dying! Those people may be our friends, our family, our co-workers, and people may be members of Crystal Park Baptist Church. And Yes, it is appointed for man to die and then the judgement comes. Hebrews 9:27 tells us, There is very little that we can do about saving their breath, through loving and caring for them but I can tell you this that there is more that we can do through preaching the Gospel to them.
Now you may be thinking, well, they will be saved if God has chosen them, and I will say to you: you’re not wrong. But I will ask you this? Are you saved because God’s chose you or because someone shared the Gospel with you? Or both? That my friend, is God’s Sovereignty and human responsibility. So, how will our family, friends, co-workers, and others be saved? If one goes, opens their mouth because faith comes from hearing the word about Christ (Romans 10:17). Our focus this morning will be from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and let me start off by asking the Lord’s help. Let us pray.
Father, we ask that you would help us, help us think about things that matter in this world, help us focus our minds and hearts on things that bring you glory. Holy Spirit, we pray that you would now minister to hearts as this message goes out. And Christ, may you be seen as the only solution to the world’s problems. These things we pray and ask in Jesus Christ’s Name. Amen.
I am going to ask that everyone listening to this message have a Bible open, have somewhere where they will be taking notes because I am going to be giving a lot of references so that we can go back and look at these verses and read them to ourselves and maybe be challenged to have a sense of urgency when it comes to salvation of others.
Verse 13 of this book highlights a fact of not being ignorant and that is the first point. Paul says, “Do not be ignorant or do not be misinformed or uniformed”
- Do not be Ignorant (13)
Paul says, “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.”
See they the Thessalonians seemed to have forgotten what Paul taught them regarding the resurrection. And this is just a reminder, rather than the intense rebuke, as we know of in the book of Corinthians. And I will look at that with you to show you what the rebuke was to the Corinthians. The Thessalonians were losing loved ones. The matter was persecutions and you can read about that in 1 Thessalonians 2. Scores upon scores were losing their lives. They were starting to believe or behave in a way that was not befitting of Christianity and its tenets, a foundational truth, a matter of first importance. The resurrection! This is so important to our faith because without the Resurrection, there is no hope! Christians have no hope without the resurrection. Often you will hear that this is one of the things that aren’t as emphasized as other things when it comes to the Gospel. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:12, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say, “There is no resurrection of the dead”? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain, and so is your faith.” So he is saying, if what you are saying is true then that means that even what we are doing, even what I am doing, and other pastors are doing in the pulpit if they preach Christ crucified/Christ risen then what we are doing is worthless. Then he goes on and says, your faith, so every Christian is doomed. Now verse 15 says, “Moreover, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified wrongly about God that he raised up Christ— whom he did not raise up, if in fact the dead are not raised.” So, he says we are found to be liars about what God has done because if your claim that the resurrection is not true is true, then we are all wasting our time. And if Christ is not been raised, your faith is worthless, you are still in your sins and there is no salvation apart from the resurrection of Christ. Then those who have fallen asleep, listen to the fallen asleep and keep it in your mind. Those who have fallen asleep in Christ, have also perished. There is no hope for them and if we have put our hope in Christ for this life, we should be pitied more than anyone.
Unbeliever out there are going about their lives:
- Living sexually immoral lives.
- Amassing wealth for themselves and gathering in possessions because that is what the flesh desires and they follow it.
- Having a time of their lives because they have nothing to look forward to or think they have no-one to give an account to for how they live their lives.
- Feeding on fleshly desires.
- Defrauding others in business.
- Treating others as second-class citizens because the image of God doesn’t really matter to them.
See Christian, if there is no resurrection then you are to be pitied because you are missing out on all these things that unbelievers are enjoying. You may say, but I never enjoyed any of those things as a non-believer, and I say this to you. Go and read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Paul says there in conclusion, such were some of you. Now you may look at that list, which is also not exhaustive, but I will say this to you, none of us can make it through Idolatry. We worshipped something other than God, before we were saved. It could have been money, it could have been relationships, it could have been careers, and any other thing that our heart and mind were consumed by. Back to Thessalonians, as people, when overcome by emotions, hurt and grief, temptations well up from within, and if we let them, they will overcast the truth we know about God’s word. We too need to be reminded of this, especially at this time when there is a global pandemic. We may get calls, WhatsApp messages, read on other social media about those whom we know who have died, and this should spark within us the thought of their eternity. And as we think of them, be driven to spread the Gospel with more urgency. The text says, “we do not want you be uninformed brothers about those who have fallen asleep…” That’s a message of Hope friends. Paul is talking about Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Now spare a moment and think about what the message would have been to those who are not in the faith?
I said keep a pen handy. Jot down these verses:
- Matthew 13:30
- Matthew 25:41
- Luke 12:5
- John 3:36
- Romans 2:8-9
- Hebrews 10:29
Read them, and I pray that God created in us a sense of urgency when it comes to making Christ known to those we come into contact with. On the subject of a Christian’s death, we often talk about being absent from the body, and being present with the Lord. And that’s right but rarely have I gotten time to dwell so much on this. Listen to a picture that John Calvin paints for us. He says this about this part, “He speaks of the dead as asleep, agreeably to the common practice of Scripture--a term by which the bitterness of death is mitigated (eased), for there is a great difference between sleep and destruction. It refers, however, not to the soul, but to the body, for the dead body lies in the tomb, as in a couch, until God raise up the man.”
What Calvin is saying here is this:
Sleep is temporary and is a temporary separation between Christians. But destruction brings an Eternal separation between a Christian and a Non-Christian.
- Our Faith Assures Our Resurrection (14-15)
“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.”
The word “For” in verse 14, presents to us the first reason for why they should not grieve as those who have no hope. Grieve, but not excessively. The reason is that “if we (Christians) believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way that he was raised from the dead, God, through Jesus, will bring, at the returning Christ, those who have fallen asleep.” I will say this another way: Christians, grieve for your brothers and sisters in Christ, because if you believe that Jesus, your Saviour, you have hope! Therefore, grieve, but not as unbelievers. That hope is this, that in the same way God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, He (God the Father) will, through Christ bring our brothers and sister who are asleep in Christ at the resurrection. He will raise them too. Now, he goes on and paints a picture of what that would look like.
Verse 15, “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.” Now we often get problem phrases in the Bible that aren’t so easy to understand and as I read this, it is important to talk about what Paul could have meant when he said, “by a word from the Lord.” Because here is the temptation that we might fall into. Oh, Paul said this, Jesus said this so I will take what Jesus is saying instead of what Paul is saying so Paul himself got a revelation from Jesus. But listen to what John Calvin said about a word from the Lord, “The Lord is the Author of it. It is probable, however, that the word of the Lord means what was taken from his discourses. For though Paul had learned by revelation all the secrets of the heavenly kingdom, it was, nevertheless, more fitted to establish in the minds of believers the belief of a resurrection, when he related those things that had been uttered by Christ's own mouth.” Now that we have taken that aside, so we are taking everything that he said by Paul. He gives another reason. He said “for” and This is why you Christians, Thessalonians should unwaveringly, unmovably believe it. It is by a word from the Lord: Christ Himself, your Saviour! This is what He had to say: We (who are believers) who are still alive when He returns, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. Christians who are alive, here on earth, when the Lord returns/comes back, the Christians who will be here will by no means precede those deceased brothers and sisters in Christ who are asleep. The message is this: grieve yes, BUT you should not grieve as those who have no hope Christians! The reason for that is because if you believe that Your Lord Jesus Christ was resurrected by Our Father, and so, believe this too, that the Father will bring our brothers and sisters in Christ with Christ, at his return! And maybe you are finding this hard, or not so easy to believe or take in. Maybe you are overtaken and overwhelmed by doubt, pain or sorrow, that’s understandable but you should trust the His word. Listen: We (Christians), who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly not go before those who are asleep. Now, why does he feel the need to explain that those who are asleep will rise first? From his logical structure, Paul is saying this, we can see something of what the Thessalonians were thinking. It seems as if, in their thinking, the Lord would only take those He found alive. And so that’s why sees it as important to mention this. We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will not certainly precede those who have fallen asleep. Now if you think about it, this is why that seems to be the fact. Because Paul, writes this: he says, he is actually the one who penned the words down and says, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” And then again he says, “It is better to be with the Lord because that is when he was talking about dying so to live is Christ and to die is gain and then he said it is better to be with the Lord. But what shall he choose? He talks about it is far better to be with the Lord but it is more helpful for the saints that he remains in the flesh. So, what does it mean for him to be with the Lord if he is not talking about the body? There is a way in which those brother and sisters who are asleep have proceeded us and that’s their souls. They already currently with Christ. Now coming to the resurrection. It seems as if they had a different thought. It seems as if they thought that those who have died, those of whom the Lord will find living here on earth would have missed out.
Now Moulton and Milligan help us to see this clearly in its original language. He says this, “That not the word that we see as not in our Bibles is actually a double negative so that Paul is saying in essence that there is absolutely no way those who are alive will precede those who have died. The revelation that the living believers will not have any advantage over the dead believers at the return of Christ provides the truth that should make any further feeling of grieving for dead believers wholly unjustified. Paul is teaching that both classes of believers at the Lord's return will share the same destiny. The living believers shall not come into the blessings associated with the return of Christ any sooner than the dead in Christ. In other words there is absolutely no way the living will "get a head start" on those believers who have already died.”
- All Believers Will be Reunite When Christ Returns (16-17)
“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.”
He is still building his case here. And we find another “for”, the third one because Christ Himself will descend. Now, let us look at this picture here. I will give you a moment to turn to Acts 1:9-11, and this is that picture about The Ascension of Jesus. The text says, “After he had said this, he was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going, they were gazing into heaven, and suddenly two men in white clothes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen him going into heaven.” Do you see the picture? Do you see the prophesy? He will come in the same way as he was taken up into heaven. Christ will descend. Christ will come down! That gives us a geographical picture of where Christ currently is, and this ties up with all other teachings of Scripture.
- Christ ascended into heaven.
- Christ is at the right hand of God the Father.
- Christ is interceding for his own.
- Christ is preparing a place in His Fathers house where there are many mentions.
That’s where He will be coming from! From Heaven! We read about a shout, the voice and the trumpet.
- The Shout implies authority and urgency.
- The Voice of the Archangel denotes a definite rank by virtue of which one is qualified for special work and service.
- The Trumpet from the Old Testament uses. Jewish people were familiar with trumpets or shophars which were used to declare war, to announce festivals and seasons, to gather the people or to announce the giving of the Law and in this case, it will be to gather people.
Now we see words accompaniment not so much which one follows which one and the word there is with, with, with. A shout with, an archangel’s voice, with a trumpet of God. Vance Havner says this, “I am not looking for signs. I am listening for a sound.”
Last part of verse 16 says, “And the dead in Christ will rise first.” It is one thing to say the dead and stop there. It is a totally different thing to say, the dead in Christ! The dead in Christ means those who died believing in Christ! And we have spent a great deal of time talking about the picture of that in verse 15. While we are at this point, I think it is important to do away with the lies of universalism. Basically, universalism teaches that those who died will eventually be saved because God is gracious and loving. Right? That what people say, they say that because God is gracious and loving, eventually every human being will be saved but if you take it from this verse, it says the dead in Christ. Those are the ones that will be raised.
Verse 17, “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.” We will be together with them! Here we have a word that gives an idea of time: verse 17 starts with the word “Then or Thereafter” Then We (Christians) who are still alive, who are left here on earth, will be caught up or raised up together with them, being united with our brothers and sister in the Lord who have died in the clouds, in the sky to meet the Lord in the air. That is a picture of the return of Christ. Thessalonians, that is the picture. Christians don’t be ignorant. The coming of the Lord is near! Paul, says, “we”. Did he expect that the Lord might be coming during his days on earth and from what he is saying and how he reasons for it, it seems like it! See, Paul did not know when the Lord would return. We do not know when the Lord will return. But what we do know is that from 2 Peter 3:9, “God is being patient with us.” That is why the Lord has not returned yet. Remember He will come like a thief in the night! No one knows the day or the hour! This is what Augustine says about the coming of the Lord, “The last day is hidden, so that every day may be regarded.” John Wesley when asked what he would do differently if he knew when the Lord would return. He said, “I would wake up, have breakfast, go out and share the Gospel, come back, have lunch and go out again and share the Gospel.” You see that, nothing changed in his life. He was living in Gods will.
So, what about us?
How should we apply this?
Find Courage Christian about those who have died. Memorise this text for when you lose someone in the faith or need to encourage others. Preach the Gospel to those whom you come into contact with that they too would have this hope. Between now and when Christ comes back, will he return before you have shared the gospel with your friends, family & co-workers.
Lastly, as you ensure that doors are locked to protect yourself and loved ones, use the same sense of urgency when it comes to your expectation of The Lords return, which could be any moment! The day is hidden.
Verse 18, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
What are the words?
1) Do not be Ignorant. (13) - Don’t overly grieve because you have hope.
2) Our Faith Assures Our Resurrection (14-15) - All those who sleep in Christ, God will bring with Christ at His Return.
3) All Believers Will be Reunite When Christ Returns (16-17) - We who are alive at Christ’s return will meet together with the dead in Christ in the air.
Preach Christ, Preach Christ! Make Him know to those around you. Tell the world about the debt that has been paid and leave the rest of the work to the Holy Spirit. Let us pray together.
Father we thank you that your word is comforting, we thank you that your word reminds us in the darkest of times. We ask that this message would challenge each and everyone of us to see the brevity of life and the importance of eternity. And maybe death is hitting closer and faster as in previous years or decades. Help us God. Help us to really care. Help us really love the Gospel. Help us to really make the Gospel known through our speech, our lives and actions. Help us that we would glorify you in all that we do. God we thank you, we thank you that there is a resurrection, we thank you that there is a hope for Christians, we thank you that one day we will be together with them that have died believing in you. And may these words encourage those who have lost loved ones in the faith and may these words encourage us to preach the Gospel and that others who don’t have the hope that we have would be partakers of this hope in you and all of these things we ask in Jesus Christ Name. Amen.
BENEDICTION – 1 Thessalonians 5:23 - 24
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will do it”