Summary: Paul answers questions from Thessalonica
Last Sunday evening we had a question and answer session here at HT. I had no idea that we would spend most of the evening answering questions about what happens to us after we die, what would heaven be like? And many similar questions. In the providence of God this morning’s sermon is all about what happens when we die? In chapter 4 of 1 Thessalonians Paul begins a question and answer session with the young Christian believers at Thesslonica. Timothy has obviously brought a series of questions back from this young church and Paul sets about answering them. In the first 12 verses of chapter 4, which Jack dealt with two weeks ago, Paul answered questions on the following:
Holiness – and he answered that they should avoid immorality.
Brotherly love – and Paul said that they should take their share of financial responsibility within the fellowship of the church.
Now he sets about answering the question: What happens to those believers who have died before the Lord’s return? And verses 13ff of chapter 4 answer that question.
You see the Thessalonian believers feared that those who had died before Jesus had come again would miss out on the second coming. They thought that their friends, by dying, had fallen back again into darkness and were lost. They had not made it to the day of the Lord’s return and so they are anxious for instruction from Paul on this issue. Remember the Thessalonians did not have the benefit of the rest of the NT teaching, as we do, on this issue.
Paul in these verses makes two points.
1. Key to Comfort
2. Great Expectations
1. Key to Comfort.
Janet was taught piano by a lady called Miss McDowell, she lives on the Woodvale Road – in a house that when you go into is like stepping back in time. She was awarded an MBE a few years ago and everything is very much done properly in her home. How her and I get on so well is a mystery to Janet and her family because I am so not proper. Anyway one of Miss McDowell’s favourite sayings is this: He is ignorant of his ignorance. Paul begins verse 13 by telling the Thessalonians I do not want you to be ignorant. That is I do not want you to be agnostic about this issue. He goes on to point out to them that those who have died in Christ are alive with Christ in heaven. Paul deliberately uses the word ‘sleep’ here to speak of death, but note that when he speaks of Christ he says he died. He uses the word ‘asleep’ because he wants to convey to the Thessalonians the fact that death is temporary for the believer. When we sleep we are temporarily out of communication but their comes a time when we awaken and so it will be with those believers who have died before Christ has returned. Their spirit has gone to be with Christ but their body is asleep in the grave. Jesus used this word ‘sleep’ to describe the death of Lazarus and of Jarius’ daughter – and he raised both back to life again with a word of command. So it will be says Paul when he comes again.
You see for us, as it was for the Thessalonians, we are in a waiting room and the door has the word ‘death’ written upon it. Every so often someone gets up and goes through that door and they disappear from our presence and view. Now we can speculate all sorts of things behind that door but what we need is someone who has gone through that door and come back to tell us what is the other side – the one who has done that can speak with authority and we should listen to him. That person is Jesus Christ – he passed through death, a real death, and rose again and so he alone in all history can speak with authority about life, death, resurrection and life to come – so we must listen to him on this issue because he alone knows. You see for the Thessalonians this was a very practical question – they had had loved ones die and they wanted an answer concerning their fate at the second coming. I want you to note that Paul used the Word of God to comfort them. In the face of death the only true comfort is to be found in the Word of God because it alone has the words of eternal life. Paul comforts them by instructing them – teaching them that Christ will come again and bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Christ.