Summary: Opposition, Suffering, Hope, Jesus' Return
FOLLOW THE LEADER – The Return of the King
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (pg. 825) September 6, 2015
I think it’s important that we remember that when Paul originally wrote his letters to the churches...including the Thessalonian churches, there were no chapters and verses...These early believers would have no idea what it meant to turn to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18...The archbishop of Canterbury named Stephen Langton developed the chapter and verse system in 1227 to make it easier to find scripture...and the Wycliffe English Bible of 1382 was the first to publish the Bible in chapter and verse form. Now almost all Bible translations follow Langton’s chapter divisions.
I share that only because it’s important we realize that what we’re studying is a letter. Its God inspired. But, it’s different reading a letter than a text book. When we write a letter to people we love, the ideas tend to flow. We don’t stop after 13 verses and say...New Chapter. Paul, Silas, and Timothy were in the midst of persecution. They’d been jailed right before they came to the Thessalonians...and that persecution followed them to Thessalonica...and these new believers found themselves under the same attack as the churches in Judea, and the same attacks that would kill all the Apostles, except for John.
So when the Apostle Paul writes this letter while facing severe persecution to people who are facing severe persecution...love, compassion and encouragement flow from the ink...it’s not only a book to be studied, but this is a love letter to be felt.
Just a recap of some of the statements Paul made earlier in this letter help us understand. He says, “you became imitators of us and Jesus in spite of severe suffering (1 Thess. 1:6). “We dared to tell you the gospel in spite of strong opposition. (1 Thess. 2:2) Paul knows “that the Thessalonians suffered from their own people.”
(1 Thess. 2:14) but he also knew “in all his distress and persecution he was encouraged because of this churches faith.” (1 Thess. 3:7)
I’m not sure any of us can truly understand “severe persecution, strong opposition.” Real “suffering and distress” in reaction to our faith...but I believe it’s coming.
This Follow the Leader letter to the Church is a “Hang in there” letter. In the midst of difficulty and in the middle of a sexually immoral society...stay on course, keep the faith, trust Jesus. Because the King will return...it’s why we should understand.
I. IGNORANCE ISN’T BLISS
“Brothers and sisters (Paul writes) we don’t want you to be unimformed about those who sleep in death.”
In other words...we don’t want you to be ignorant.
[I remember in a class at Johnson one of my profs. Brad Burnett while teaching on restoration history got frustrated with a student named Dwight...and he said “Dwight, you are one of the most ignorant people I’ve ever met. And Dwight seemed shocked...and replied “I don’t feel ignorant!”]
I think Dwight thought Prof. Burnett was calling him “stupid.” But ignorance isn’t stupidity...Ignorance means “uninformed.” “It means you don’t have the information you need to make the wise decision.”
Here’s an example of my ignorance...I did not know that UK, Duke, North Carolina and almost every other school received 3 to 4 times the money from the football program than it’s basketball program. Mark Nagel, Prof. of Sports and Entertainment Management Program as the University of South Carolina said, “Certainly the fans identify with what sport wins the most but football just has the potential to make so much more money with attendance and TV contracts.” I was ignorant of this truth.
The Apostle Paul doesn’t want us...or the church in Thessalonica to be uninformed, ignorant about what happens to believers when they die...this information is especially pertinent when persecution and death have affected those you love and is a real possibility for you as well.
He starts with a very real truth – Death means there will be grief. Whether you are a believer or not...death is painful...death equals separation from those who are “alive still.” Important people in our lives are now absent...and we have to keep living here...and it’s not as good without them.
It’s the struggle for all “mankind” according to Paul...“The writer of Hebrews says, “People are destined to die once, and after that to face the judgment.” (Heb. 9:27)
I shared at Judy’s funeral the other day “we’re all in the same boat...If you are human...part of mankind...life here is temporary...70, 80, 90 years at best and whether you are a believer or not, Jesus says “God causes His sun to shine on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:45)
This life will sometimes have calm seas...sometimes storms will blow so severely you think it’s going to capsize the boat...It will be that way for every single one of us in this life.