Summary: While many poeple may feel uncertain of what will happen to them when their life comes to an end, God wants us to know exactly what to expect. These words from 1 Thessalonians bring confidence and comfort to the Christian in the face of death.
“I don’t know.” Those can be some of the most difficult words for us to say. To say, “I don’t know” is to admit that we don’t have all the answers. And we like to have answers because it makes us feel more in control, more secure, more prepared. That’s probably one of the reasons that doctors normally meet with a patient and their family before surgery. That explanation of what the doctor intends to do, how long he expects the surgery to take, and the hoped for time of recovery – all of those things help to relieve some of the stress and fear. You may still not look forward to that surgery, but at least you know what to expect. Or think of the night before you begin a new job or travel to a place you’ve never been to before. While excited, you might not get a real good night’s sleep because the unknown keeps you awake – the wondering of what is it going to be like, how will people treat me, am I going to enjoy it, what if this happens or that happens? The fear of the unknow.
If you asked people what is going to happen to them at the end of life, what answers do you think that you would get from them? Some people might respond, “Heaven!” Others might say, “Nothing. You just die and that’s it.” But there are a whole lot of people who would say, “I don’t know” or, “No one really knows” or maybe even, “I don’t care because there’s nothing I can do about it anyways.” Wow! That’s kind of a big thing not to care or know about, isn’t it?
Dear friends, this is one of those really big questions in life that God does NOT leave unanswered. He wants you to know exactly what to expect when your life here on earth comes to an end. In fact, he tells you! Listen to the answer that the Lord gives through the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4. In verse 13 we read, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death.” The Bible often describes death as a sleep. You might remember Jesus talking to the parents and friends of a 12-year-old girl who had died. When Jesus arrived at their house, the funeral had already begun. Jesus said to them, “The child is not dead, but asleep” (Mark 5:39). Do you remember the reaction of the people? They all laughed at Jesus because they knew that she was dead. Jesus then went into the house and said to the little girl, “Get up” and the little girl immediately came back to life, sat up and got out of bed, like she had just woken up from a nap.
Just as a person goes to sleep and wakes up, so also death is temporary. At the end of life, the body of a person is laid to rest for a time, while the soul immediately goes before God to determine where it will start spending eternity. The Bible tells us, “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Just like waking up from a good night’s sleep, so also at death, the soul of a Christian immediately wakes up fully rested with Jesus in heaven’s glory.
KNOWING that gives us hope. As these verses go on to say, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). When a fellow Christian falls asleep in death there is naturally grief at the separation that we experience from that fellow Christian. But our grief is different than for those who are NOT Christians. Our grief is a hope-filled grief. That is the hope that comes from KNOWING – from KONWING that our fellow Christian’s last breath in this life was immediately followed by their first breath in heaven, that they have woken up in heaven never to struggle with sin, sickness, suffering or loss ever again.
How can we be so sure of that? The Bible tells us, “For 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” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Hope is only as good as that which hope is based on. I can hope that the Packers or the Vikings win the Super Bowl, but I can’t say with any certainty that will in fact take place. It may or may not happen. Did you notice what the Christian’s hope of heaven is based on? Our hope of heaven is based on something that has already occurred in the past and cannot be changed. It is based on what Jesus has already done! “Jesus died and rose again.” What a relief! My hope of heaven is NOT based on how good of life I have tried to life, or my promises of trying to do better in the future. No! Our hope of heaven is based on what Jesu has already done for you – the perfect life he lived in your place, the payment for your sin that he made at the cross, his rising from the dead as a demonstration of his power over death itself. That perfect and powerful Savior Jesus is the basis of our hope for heaven.