Summary: Paul deals with the pastoral situation of the Thessalonians who are grieving without hope. His response is not to focus on end-times theology, but to fill in the missing gap of knowledge with the hope that is in Christ.
You can listen to the full message here:-
Let’s open our Bible to our text and read.
This is the verse in this section which quickly gets all the attention.
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.
This particular passage is one that is used to teach about what has become known as “the rapture”.
The rapture is an event connected with the great tribulation where both living and resurrected dead believers will ascend into heaven to meet Jesus Christ. After this various events will happen and then Jesus will come back to earth to begin the 1000 year reign. And after the 1000 years there will be a second resurrection and then the times of eternity in the new heaven and new earth will begin.
There are various views as to when the rapture takes place – it will be at the beginning, or the middle, or the end of the 7 years that are some call the great tribulation.
That is a very very brief summary of the teaching. Just in case you don’t know …
There are many faithful heaven-bound-for-eternity Christians whose theological framework includes the rapture. Collectively they are called Pre-millenialists.
There are also many faithful heaven-bound-for-eternity Christians whose theological framework does not include a rapture. Collectively they are called Amillenialists.
What can happen when we focus on these verses here is that a discussion begins.
- why premillenialists see these verses as key to the rapture discussion.
- why amillenialists don’t apply them to the rapture but to the last days and the final return of Jesus just before inauguration of the new heavens and the new earth.
This difference will then flow over into a discussions about the millennium – is it a literal number or a figurative number. Which will invariably lead to a conversation about how to interpret the book of revelation:- are you a historicist, a preterist, an idealist, or a futurist?
By this time a lot of people who were listening to the discussion have switched off, or are more confused … with some being drowned in charts with lines and dates and cross-references.
In the meantime over here are the members of the church of the Thessalonians who are grieving
… grieving in a way that is of the same intensity of those who are of the world who have no hope.
… grieving because they are uninformed and discouraged.
So Paul writes to deal with this.
As we look at these verses we can take the approach of having a discussion about all that I have just mentioned. When conducted in the right spirit understanding and discussing theological issues is a blessing on the journey of discerning the word of truth.
So it is not wrong to approach the text this way. It is just that Paul didn’t write these verses primarily for that reason.
The primary issue here for Paul here is a pastoral one.
The church of the Thessalonians is hopelessly grieving. And at no time, when we are in Christ, should we be without hope. We should not be hopelessly grieving even at those times when death comes to those who are in Christ.
So let’s hear some of Paul’s pastoral wisdom. Hear firstly that Death Brings Grief
Paul is not saying … don’t grieve.
In Christ we are brothers and sisters … we are family.
We have served, loved, shown hospitality, sung, prayed, studied, walked, talked, hugged, built up, sort forgiveness from, cried with, and worshipped with one another. So each of us
… even when we are not necessarily close.
… even when we haven’t seen one another for a long time.
Each of us will be missed when we die. A death in Christ brings grief.
When Jesus gets to the grave of Lazarus … Jesus wept (John 11:35).
After Stephen the first martyr is stoned to death … Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him (Acts 8:2).
God gave us emotions … rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15)
The grief in and of itself is not out of place.
It is grief without hope.
The world grieves without hope because there doesn’t seem to be a purpose … especially when people die at a young age.
The world grieves without hope because the afterlife beyond death holds fear … what is on the other side of the grave.
The world grieves without hope because we will not see one another again … the best outcome is to hold people in our heart and never let their memory fade.
There is no hope for those who are not in Christ … so we don’t grieve like the world.