Summary: Paul had been in Thessalonica only a short while. While there he taught the believers about the triumphant return of Christ, but some questions went unanswered. People were concerned that their departed loved ones would miss the glory of the Lord’s return
Whether Awake or Asleep
Text: "For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him" (1 Thess. 5:9-10 RSV).
Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
Paul had been in Thessalonica only a short while. While there he taught the believers about the triumphant return of Christ, but some questions went unanswered. People were concerned that their departed loved ones would miss the glory of the Lord’s return, so Paul wrote to comfort them. His mes-sage contains powerful truth about death and life. Imagine the Thessaloni¬ans as they look in four directions.
I. Looking down.
The Thessalonians stood looking down at the graves of departed loved ones.
They were encouraged not to "grieve as others do who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13 RSV).
This passage gives two New Testament views of death.
A. The last enemy. Death entered the world because of sin; and death is the last enemy to be destroyed. The reality of death’s defeat came when Jesus died. Paul said, "We believe that Jesus died," in reference to his death on the cross (1 Thess. 4:14). "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23), and on the cross Jesus paid the consequences of our sin. Jesus experienced all
the horror of death; and as a result, death for the Christian becomes the transition into the Lord’s presence.
B. Asleep in Jesus. A common New Testament description of death is "sleep." This does not refer to "soul-sleep," but reflects an absence of fear in the Christian’s attitude toward death. The grave is the entrance into eternal
life with Jesus Christ.
What a contrast between the ways a Christian and an unbeliever face death. The unbeliever has "no hope"; the Christian is
with Jesus. Paul spoke of death as being "absent from the body … present with with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8).
II. Looking up.
Because of Jesus, Paul urges the Thessalonians to turn their eyes from the grave to the sky. "God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep... For the Lord himself will descend from heaven" (1 Thess. 4:14, 16 RSV)
Alexander Maclaren said, "We are not looking for the undertaker but the upper taker, for a cleavage in the sky instead of a hole in the ground." This hope is declared "by the word of the Lord" (v. 15), who does not lie.
A. The Lord’s descent. "The Lord himself will return. The disciples watched the Lord ascend into glory and were told, "This Jesus, who was taken up
from you into heaven, will come" (Acts 1:11 RSV). The word for his "com¬ing" is parousia, used in the Greek for the parade of a returning king. What
a great day! Jesus will return to consummate his plan for humankind.
B. The Lord’s victory. Jesus will come "with a cry of command" (1 Thess. 4:16 RSV) . This is the word an officer shouts to his troops. Christ will return as
conqueror. We will "meet the Lord in the air" (v. 17), where Satan has ruled as prince, and Christ will have complete victory over evil.
III. Looking in.
A. Beware of speculation. There is "no need" to try and calculate the time of the Lord’s return. Plotting a prophetic calendar is a waste of time, because the Lord will return suddenly, "like a thief in the night" (5:2 RSV).
B. Be ready. The New Testament usually couples the Lord’s return with an emphasis on preparation (2Peter 3:11-12). We are to walk in thelightand
be ready whenever the Lord comes. Be ready with faith, love, and salvation (1 Thess. 5:8). The hope of Christ’s return purifies the Christian (1 John 3:3).
IV. Looking out.
A. Win the lost. The Lord’s coming is delayed in order that more might be ready. God’s will is for all to "obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus
Christ" (1 Thess. 5:9 RSV). While we wait, we are to work in the fields, which are white unto harvest.
B. Encourage the saved (1 Thess. 5:11). This interim between Christ’s ascen¬sion and his return is a time to build up the church. Look out for others in the fellowship.
Jesus has put a new face on death and has given us abundant life. While "<• wait for his victorious return, we will work to win the world.