Our Hope In Grief

August 20, 2023 Speaker: Reid Strahan Series: First Thessalonians

Topic: Hope Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18

We’re back in Thessalonians and we’ll be talking about the Lord’s return. The world, as we know it will come to an end. The Lord Jesus Christ will break through the skies and everything will change.  His coming will mean unspeakable glory for believers and unspeakable terror for those who did not love the truth.

The Thessalonian Christians apparently had questions and misconceptions about the Lord’s return, and so much of the rest of 1st and 2nd Thessalonians is about that event!   

*The immediate impact the return of Christ will have upon believers is resurrection! -The resurrection of the dead AND the instantaneous change, into resurrected, glorified bodies for those who are alive when he comes. 

You can’t live very long before you realize people die and you will die.  You house will outlast you, your clothes may outlast you.  I remember going through my dad’s closet after he died, filled with suits and shirts and shoes, but he was in the grave. The reality of life’s brevity usually strikes us by the death of someone we know and love, or by a close brush with death ourselves.

The message of Jesus solves our separation from God, our sin problem, our dissatisfaction of life without God.  But the fundamental thing Jesus solves for us is the problem of death. Death entered into our world because of sin.  And Jesus solved that.  “In Adam all die. In Christ all will be made alive!”  The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout and the immediate impact is a mass resurrection of all believers! 

*The Thessalonians eagerly anticipated the return of Jesus. Paul said, they had “turned from idols to serve the living God and to wait for His Son from heaven.”  WHAT they couldn’t figure out, was how this would work out for those believers who were already in the grave, their mother or father, or others in the church family who had died. How can THEY be taken up with Jesus.  Will the dead miss out on something when Jesus comes? And will we ever be with them again?

Paul responds in verse 13 “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep” Apparently they just didn’t know what the future held for those who died.  Paul tells them “the Lord will not forget them!” In fact, those who have died will be resurrected BEFORE anybody else! Then we’ll be caught up together with them, to meet the Lord.  

Verse 15 “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord….”  The resurrection of believers who have died, is not just a comforting idea.  People say stuff all the time about death and dying that is completely made up! This truth is from the Lord….  “we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” 

Verse 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.”  

*The goal of this information is to give HOPE! To give a hope big enough to temper our losses and griefs.  It’s written “so that you may not grieve like those who don’t have hope”.  Hope is confidence of a joyful future.  It’s an eager anticipation about the good things to come. It’s NOT merely positive thinking, it’s based on something we know about the future, especially our resurrection, and our enjoyment of God in the new heavens and the new earth. 

Tozier “Let no one apologize for the powerful emphasis Christianity lays upon the doctrine of the world to come. Right there lies its immense superiority to everything else within the whole sphere of human thought or experience. We do well to think of the long tomorrow.”  It’s the best thought in human experience! 

Without setting our hearts on this hope, guess what? We end up living like people with no hope.  That’s what Paul was fighting against in these believers!

*The Thessalonians lack of hope was based on ignorance about those who died.  So some of them were grieving over those who died just like all people grieve over those who died. They were grieving in a way that did not demonstrate the power of our Christian HOPE. Paul wrote this SO THAT “you may not grieve AS others do, who have no hope.”  NASB “that you may not grieve as the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”  He doesn’t want them grieving in the same degree or in the same way that the unbelievers do.

We do share the experience of grief with all people. But our grief is mingled with the hope of being together with the Lord. And this future reunion tempers and heals our grief. 

There’s an emphasis in our present day psychology on grief, the stages of grief, and working through grief. Paul would say yes, grieve! And weep!  BUT Paul ALSO said our grief should look very different from the world’s grief. Christians and unbelievers should not work through grief in the SAME way.  We have a completely different answer!  We have the resurrection and reunion with the Lord, and with loved ones, to combat an excessive level grief or an excessively prolonged grief.

So do we experience grief and sorrow and tears? YES!  The loss of a person hurts!  A lot!  But there is a Christian way of doing grief! There is a Christian way of doing everything in life!  We rejoice in tribulation, we bless when we are reviled.  We give thanks in all things. And when we grieve, we grieve with hope.

*Paul described those without Christ as having “no hope”.  I think most unsaved people would say they have hope. I don’t want to sound harsh but they don’t. They have euphemisms!  They have positive sayings! They may do celebrations of life.  But they have no SOLID expectation of being WITH the Lord.  They cannot claim the promise, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise!” They don’t have hope anchored in the promise of God. They don’t have confidence that they are IN that kingdom which cannot be shaken.  We DO! We have HOPE. And that should SHOW! 

The subject here is grief over those who die.  But the same hope of resurrection and future glory should infiltrate, soften, alleviate and overcome ALL our sorrows and losses: and we have lots of losses here in this world: relationships, possessions, jobs, earthly dreams that never happen, injuries to our body. We feel real grief at these things! But in all these things the hope of resurrection, being with the Lord, in a world without tears, breaks the power of excessive grief, that keeps us in bondage to grief.

This kind of victorious hope becomes stifled and grief becomes excessive EITHER because of ignorance about the resurrection, or not allowing the good news of resurrection to sufficiently impact our grief.  Amy Hall in the Stream wrote this week, “the key to facing and fighting the suffering and evil of this world is to have a confident hope in the glorious eternity that awaits us.” Applies to death and all our losses and disappointments. This news is a great healer of our hearts.

*The resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of our own resurrection. Verse 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.”  Before we get to the main point of this verse we need to deal with the first phrase.

“Those who have fallen asleep”.  When a believer dies, in a sense the body goes to sleep waiting the resurrection, but we immediately go to be with the Lord is some very real way.  Paul described this as being absent from the body but present with the Lord. But that will only be temporary until the Last Trumpet sounds. Then our bodies will be raised up to live life here with Jesus in the new heavens and the new earth.    

Paul starts this verse, “Since we believe that a Jesus died and rose again.”  Paul is speaking to people who believe that!   And that is what we must believe for salvation.  Romans 10:9 “if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”    

Since we believe that, we ALSO believe God will bring back with Jesus, the believers who have died! We believe in the resurrection of Jesus AND we also believe in our own resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of our resurrection.  It’s impossible that Jesus would die and rise again, and God would not ALSO raise us from the grave!  

One reason this truth may not excite us is that we tend to think of our resurrection as either a ghost-like existence, or something so different to what we know as living and having a body that it just doesn’t mean much. 

When the apostles said that Jesus rose again, they meant that his physical body came back to life!  Different, better, glorified, supernatural, yes! But the risen Lord Jesus was not merely a spirit, or ghost but a human being who could be seen, touched, and could eat breakfast and talk! 

When the apostles say you will be resurrected, they mean that’s what kind of body you will have!  Ten thousand years from now you will be living in the new heaven and earth in a body that can be recognized, and touched, and known, with all those who love the Lord, forever. You body will be glorious, immortal, spiritual but nevertheless a REAL body!

We can SAY we believe these truths YET we can LIVE as though there is NO resurrection. We can say God loves us and yet function AS an unloved person.  We can say God is for us and then (think, live, express emotions) as though He were against us.  We do the same thing with the resurrection!  We can grieve as if there is no resurrection.  We can suffer as if there is no glory.

So we must grasp this truth, in a way, that impacts us and produces hope and anticipation and joy about our future. We are to live like we BELIEVE that WE will be raised, and that all who have died before us will be raised.  That will give us endurance, it will motivate us to abound in the work of the Lord, and produce a deep unshakable hope in our soul.  

*Although it’s not the Paul’s main point we can’t miss the glorious first part of verse 16 “The Lord HIMSELF will descend from heaven.”  Jesus promised, “I will come again”! And He will! The Jesus who was crucified, risen, and is seated now at the right hand of the Father, the Jesus we know and love, He HIMSELF is coming for us!  

He will enter AGAIN, into our earthly space. The first time he entered as a child born to Mary. The next time he comes as undisputed King and Lord.  He will come as Terrifying Judge for those who reject Him. But He will come as Savior of those who are waiting for Him.

Hebrews 9:28 “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await Him.” BSB

*He comes with a shout!  Or “with a cry of command.” “And with the voice of an archangel” meaning the chief angel, or ruler of the angels. 

*“and with the sound of the trumpet of God”. Paul calls this the Last Trumpet in 1 Cor. 15 2 ‘in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” 

The point of the shout, the blast of the trumpet, is to communicate the majesty, the glory, of Christ’s coming. When He comes, we will know it!!  John Gill said “these expressions are used, to set forth the grandeur and magnificence in which Christ will come; not in that low and humble form in which he first came, but with great glory... with angels shouting, trumpets blowing, and saints rejoicing.” 

This is the great day that is coming for us! Our Lord, King and Savior will appear.  And “the dead in Christ will rise first”.  Moms and dads and grandparents, children, believers in Christ from all the ages. Believers whose remains are in some cemetery, or whose DNA is at the bottom of the sea or lost somewhere else.  ALL THESE will instantly be raised to life.

Isaiah 26:19 Your dead will live; their bodies will rise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust! For your dew is like the dew of the morning, and the earth will bring forth her dead.”  It is going to happen!!

Then we who are alive, if that is us, will follow immediately. 

Verse17 “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.”  “We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”

Gill - “from dishonor to glory, from weakness to power, from being natural to be spiritual bodies; this change all the saints will undergo, whether dead or alive, at Christ's coming; the dead by a resurrection from the dead, and the living by a secret and sudden power, which will at once render their bodies, immortal and glorious.”

Then Paul said, we are “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”  There IS a danger in thinking of heaven mainly as a place to be with friends and loved ones or with Bible characters.  The central joy and content of heaven is to be together with Jesus our Lord and Savior forever. Paul said it is far better to depart and be with Christ. Far better than anything in this life.  

On the other hand there’s a danger in thinking of heaven in a hyper-spiritualized way, that discounts the REAL sounding blessings of Heaven like being together, enjoying great food and singing together. On the new earth, we’ll be stunned by the beauty of the river of life, and the fruit trees that bear different kinds of fruit every month.  We should anticipate all these things! 

Randy Alcorn “God hasn’t told us so much about heaven that it spoils all the surprises waiting for us. But he’s told us enough—far more than most of us suppose—that we can envision it and get really excited about it.  If we want our children or grandchildren to be more excited about heaven than the Grand Canyon or Disney World or summer camp, open up the Bible and talk to them about heaven’s attractions, not just earth’s.”  

It seems clear that PART of the excessive grief problem with the Thessalonians was caused by thinking they will never see those who died again. And part of the reason we do not grieve excessively over the death of our loved ones BECAUSE we will be caught up in the air together with them.  AB Simpson said, “at this reunion of long-parted friends, what happy greetings, what tales there will be to tell of the years that rolled between.  Then all tears are wiped away and all our longings satisfied.”

WE will experience the Lord and the new heavens and the new earth together!! That is our hope and encouragement in death!  That’s why Paul concludes “Therefore encourage one another with these words.”  We should talk about this!  Let’s do that more!  Certainly when someone dies in the church family, But NOT only then.  Let’s make it a practice to   

Pray: Lord you know we grieve and groan here. We experience pain and sorrow. But we sure are looking forward to your appearing.  We are longing for the Last Trumpet to sound! We look forward to getting our resurrected bodies and being with you forever.  Help us to set our mind and hearts on this joyful future. Restore hope to those who feel they have lost hope. Cause hope to abound in their hearts once more.  Cause all of us to be filled with hope to overflowing.  Amen

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  


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