Summary: Paul writes to encourage these new believers that Jesus was coming back for those who were trusting in Him, and for those who had died trusting in Him. They did not need to have hopeless sorrow over their departed loved ones who died knowing Jesus
Encouraging Words for Troubled Times
Intro: To the average person you might meet downtown or on the street, the idea that Jesus is coming back for all who believe in Him is a crazy one! In fact, some would put you in the same category as the followers of David Koresh or Jim Jones. A little over 15 years ago, 39 people belonging to a cult called Heaven’s Gate committed suicide, believing they needed to leave this planet before it was recycled or wiped clean. They actually believed that a UFO was trailing the comet Hale-Bopp and would take their souls to another level of existence after they ended their lives. Some would be quick to label Evangelical Christians who talk about Jesus coming to get them as an out-of-touch-with-reality group like this.
-The Jehovah’s Witnesses predicted that Jesus would return in 1914, but when it came and went, they needed to reinterpret their prediction by claiming there had been an “invisible [rather than literal] return.” Twenty some years ago, we saw the booklet, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988. Most recently, Harold Camping predicted that Jesus Christ would return to Earth on May 21, 2011, whereupon the righteous would fly up to heaven, and that there would follow five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on Earth, with millions of people dying each day, culminating on October 21, 2011, with the final destruction of the world.
-These kinds of things do not do much for the credibility of Christianity. But then, credibility is found in how authentic you are to those around you as you live a life that is connected with Christ. Genuine friendships provide the context for you to share your faith and the hope that you have in Jesus and His “any day now” return. And lest we be too hard on some of the modern day date-setters, perhaps we should know that John Wesley, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Augustine all set dates on Christ’s return that didn’t pan out either. What part of “no man knows” do we not understand?
-Unfortunately, many Christians have kind of tuned out the reality of Christ’s return. Do we really believe that He could come any day now? And more importantly, does that belief affect the way we live and love those around us?
-Well, Paul wrote these verses in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 to a group of believers who had a few problems of their own. The writers of the NT revealed their belief that Jesus would return in their lifetime. They, along with all who had accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, lived in anticipation of Jesus coming back any day now! It was the next event on the eschatological calendar! But the Thessalonian believers were worried about their family members and friends who had died as believers. Were they going to miss out on the blessings of the return of Jesus? They weren’t supposed to die yet because Jesus hadn’t come back yet! These Christians believed in the resurrection, but may have thought that it was coming later on and that they might not get to see their departed loved ones for another thousand years or so.
-Now, let me just say that I believe that this passage describes what we call the rapture or catching away of the church to heaven. For the sake of time and focus, I will not be able to go into all the theological and linguistic reasons why I believe that the rapture and the 2nd coming of Jesus are 2 separate events. I’ll just say that the rapture is Jesus coming for His saints, and the 2nd coming is Jesus coming with His saints to establish His kingdom on this earth where He will reign for 1,000 years. If I am wrong then I will continue to trust the Lord and follow Him with all that is in me! The important thing for all of us is that we are ready, that our lives are in alignment with Him, and that we’re helping others get ready for His coming!
-So Paul writes to encourage these new believers that Jesus was coming back for those who were trusting in Him, and for those who had died trusting in Him. They did not need to have hopeless sorrow over their departed loved ones who died knowing Jesus. Let’s look at 4 takeaways from this passage. (outline not original with me, adapted from Brian Bill, sermoncentral.com)
1. The Promise of His Coming Is Sure
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.