God Comforts Those in Mourning
1 Thessalonians 4, verses 13 to 18, and here’s what we learn: God comforts those in mourning.
Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about 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, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians. For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly 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.
(1Thessalonians 4:13–18 NET)
Let’s make a few observations in this text. First, it’s interesting that our author Paul, the same apostle who wrote the letter to the Romans, uses this term ‘asleep.’ Why does he use this term ‘asleep’ rather than just ‘dead’? It’s not a mere euphemism like when we say someone “passed away” rather than “died.” For the Christian, death is akin to being asleep because we will rise again in our own bodies. And why is Paul telling us this? Because he does not want believers “to grieve like the rest who have no hope.”
When I was in the Navy, I had a ship captain who despised the word ‘hope.’ You did not want to get caught using the word “hope” in front of this guy because he would call you out on it every single time. Case in point, we’re giving a brief to the captain about navigating into port, and we have this whole plan laid out about how we’re going to get this job done, and in the course of kind of speaking extemporaneously, the briefer says “and hopefully it will all work out.” Immediately the entire room cringes because we all know what the captain is about to say: “Hope is not a course of action.” But when the Bible speaks of hope, it’s not hope “as if we’re not sure” it’s going to occur. Biblical hope is a promise from God Himself, and God keeps His promises.
Now once again, Paul is speaking to believers, this time to the church in Thessalonica. Paul wants believers not to grieve like unbelievers who have no hope. But what particular hope is Paul talking about? Jesus will come down from Heaven into the clouds, the dead who are in Christ will rise, and then believers who are alive will rise, “and so we will always be with the Lord.” Paul intends this as a truth by which believers are to encourage each other in the face of death.
How many of us typically think of eternity as, “die and go to heaven,” and that’s it? Do we neglect God’s promise to overcome evil forever? Do we neglect that we believers will live with God forever in a new heaven and new earth? If any of that is new to you, that’s okay. Here’s good news. God is good, and death will not always be with us. But let me also ask you the question today, do you believe? Have you, like our friend, turned from your sin and trusted in Christ — Christ’s finished work and not yours — to deliver you from death? If you have trusted Christ, or if you will today, these promises are also yours. Don’t leave this room today without being sure.
So we’ve talked today about (1) how sin and death entered the world, (2) how Christ died for sinners, and (3) how God comforts those in mourning, specifically with a future hope. We will all miss our friend here, but I promise you that this is not the end, because our God is good, and our God keeps His promises. And if you will turn from your sin and trust in Christ’s sacrifice alone as your only hope, God’s promise is for you as well.