Summary: Four hopeful truths about what happens when a Christian dies.
We’re coming to a passage of scripture that is one of my favorites in the entire Bible. It is the most important section of the Bible that gives us details about the second coming of Jesus. We’re going to camp out here in this passage for the next few weeks.
June 30: “Faith of our Fathers” (I Love America celebration)
July 7: “Will We See Our Loved Ones Again?”
July 14: “Are you Ready for the Rapture?”
July 21: “Like a Thief in the Night”
You may not know this about me, but I’m a big Twilight fan. I’m not talking about the silly Twilight movies about vampires and werewolves. I’m talking about the real Twilight show, “The Twilight Zone.” The original Twilight Zone series ran from 1959 to 1964. It was one of my favorite shows as a boy, but I can only remember the plot of one episode. It was called “A Most Unusual Camera.” A husband-and-wife team robbed a curio shop and one of the things they stole was a camera. But the camera produced pictures from about five minutes in the future. So they went to the racetrack and took a picture of the betting board before the race began. They made thousands of dollars by betting on the winning horses. But there is no honor among thieves and another crook showed up and in the process of arguing over the camera, they fell out the upstairs window, but when the wife took their picture, she was also lying on the ground—sure enough, a crooked waiter from the hotel pushed her out.
People are fascinated with the future. But you don’t need a magic camera or a horoscope to learn about the future. The Bible gives us fully developed pictures of what’s going to happen in the future. And in this passage, God gives us a snapshot of what happens when a Christian dies, and what’s going to happen when Jesus returns.
To fully appreciate this passage, you must understand the setting. Paul had preached in Thessalonica that Jesus was going to return soon, and all those who placed their faith in Jesus would be taken to be with the Lord when He returned. Everyone was excited about that until some of the believers started dying. Their family members scratched their heads wondering, “What’s going to happen to them? They died before Jesus returned.” It is in this context in which Paul writes these words describing the future.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. “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. 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. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.
Skip ahead to 1 Thessalonians 5:11 where Paul ends his section on the return of Christ. He wrote, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” The truth about the return of Christ shouldn’t scare you or cause you to be confused.
Do you remember the first funeral you ever attended? I grew up without having any of my close relatives die. My grandfather died when I was young, but I was too young to go to the funeral. So, I made it through college and even seminary without attending a funeral. When I was pastoring my first church out of seminary a member of the church died, and I was asked to lead the funeral service. So the very first funeral I ever preached was also the first funeral I attended. I really didn’t know what to do, but the owner of the funeral home was a kind man who coached me through that first service.
Since that first funeral I’ve attended and preached hundreds. I’ve stood at the grave of my mother and father. I’ve stood at the grave of many of my Christian friends. And I’m here to say that because of Jesus Christ, I stood there with a sense of hope. I knew that it wasn’t the last time I would see my parents, or my friends. I knew that I wasn’t saying goodbye forever. I was simply saying, “I’ll see you soon.”