1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain 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 shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
This is a tough one. Oddly, I read the footnotes in my bible before I read the verses and I thought, “there must be a different way to interpret this” and then I read the scripture. Honestly, I tried to look at it from a different angle. In the same token, I’m glad I stumbled upon this passage, because it has honestly been a question in my mind for at least a year. When we die, do we go right to Heaven? According to this, we don’t. We are still waiting for His return.
This must be difficult for anyone who has lost a loved one. The common consoling phrase is that “they are looking down on us now.” According to this passage, (not to negate they may be looking down in some aspect) it is at least not from Heaven.
The euphemism of “being asleep” is a common theme throughout the bible. It refers to being dead in some sort or another. Sometimes it is used to reference physical death and other times spiritual death. I am not certain if the original text uses the same word or if it is different for each instance. In this passage, however, we can see that contextually Paul is talking about physical death, since he is referring to those that are spiritually alive or followers of Christ. I believe Jesus actually uses this when He revives the dead girl and says “she is only asleep.”
So let’s look at this passage line by line. I believe this is something we all need to understand because our culture has misinformed us. Verse 13 explains why and it appears that society has misinformed us since the beginning. In knowing how it works we don’t have an excuse to worry. This is but a part of the reason we are to study the Word to know God and His will, His plan, and how it all comes together. If we are certain in how things work, then there is no question about it and therefore discourages worrying: a distraction which counters our faith.
Verses 14 and 15 should be read together. I say this because the phrase “fallen asleep in Jesus” could appear to mean those who have turned away from faith in Him. However, verse 15 further explains that Paul is talking about those who have died physically but accepted Christ’s forgiveness for their sins. Given this, we see that upon the return of our King, we will all be united once more and with Christ. This is echoed in Revelation 20: 4-6, “ 4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.”
Paul here is explaining the hope of what is to come. We need not wonder and can therefore comfort one another with these words. Notice, he doesn’t mention anything about scaring someone with them or threatening them to try to convince them to believe? There’s a remarkable difference that I think sometimes we miss, presumptuously condemning someone to hell because they don’t believe. Remember, the Gospel is about love and should be shared in the same manner. It’s not about what will happen if you don’t believe, it’s about what happens when you do believe.
We get to take comfort that there will be one huge family reunion when Christ returns. The physically dead are still alive in Christ and nothing else will matter. Oh glorious day!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXp6xcY5IqU
What do you have to look forward to when you die? What about your loved ones?