Wednesday, 9 August 2017
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13
This verse begins the third major section of the chapter. He gave his “Finally then” in verse 1. Then he introduced what is “the will of God” in verse 3. Next he added, “But concerning brotherly love,” in verse 9. Now, there is another “But” which is one of great hope for those who have lost loved ones before the coming of the Lord. As the letter was written 2000 years ago, that is a lot of lost loved ones, and it is also a lot of hope in the hearts of God’s people.
“But I do not want you to be ignorant,” (some translations say “we” here), speaks of a matter which, if mistaught or misunderstood, would leave believers with sadness, confusion, and possibly even bitterness towards the faith. It is possible that there were already erroneous ideas being bandied about which were causing heartache and pain over “those who have fallen asleep.”
What can be inferred here is that even at this early time after the establishment of the church in Thessalonica, some of the congregation had passed away. Without Paul being there, it may be that someone went up to the one grieving and said, “I’m so sorry for your loss. It is too bad that this happened before the Lord’s coming. Now they will never know what glory they have missed.” In this, there is the erroneous assumption that death meant the end of that person’s hopes for a return to the Paradise lost so long ago. Paul will now correct this, showing that death is a defeated enemy, and nothing can block a believer’s access to the glory which is promised. No, not even death itself.
In this, he again first calls them “brethren.” The words here are exclusively for believers. They are first and foremost to living believers, and they are (as will be seen in the next verse) pertaining to believers who have died. These verses cannot be applied to anyone outside of a personal faith in Christ Jesus. In the term, “fallen asleep,” there is already a clue as to where Paul is going with this. A person who is asleep is expected to awaken at some point. A person who is dead is not. Paul uses this most friendly and comforting term, and he then applies it to believers who have, in fact, died. It is reminiscent of his words to the Corinthians concerning the defeated foe –
“O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?” 1 Corinthians 15:55
As the people he refers to now are merely “asleep,” there should not be the sense of grieving that there would be over someone who had died. To bolster this, he then says, “lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.” The word “others” is speaking of anyone who is not in Christ. When a person not in Christ dies, there truly is “no hope.” And even if a person in Christ dies, an unbelieving friend or family member still senses only loss. Because they don’t believe in a resurrection, they have no hope for the one who will actually someday be resurrected. To the one suffering the loss, there is only the anguished thought of eternal separation.
But in Paul’s words there is hope. If he is making a contrast of those who have no hope, then that means there must, in fact, be hope! He will continue with his thought about this marvelous hope through to the end of the chapter.
Life application: Death is a sad time, even for Christians, because we will miss the fellowship and happiness that we share together now. But there is also a sense of joy in knowing that our beloved friend or family member is with the Lord. There is great comfort in Jesus Christ. Let us rest in Him in our times of sadness, drawing from the well of comfort He has given us – the pages of Scripture.
Lord God, we all suffer sadness and loss. This is especially so when we lose a loved one. But in Christ, there is a comfort which even death cannot extinguish. For those who have gone to sleep in His arms, there is the sure hope of awaking at His call on that great Day which He has set aside for us. The countless millions who have gone to Him will come to life anew, and we who are alive and awaiting that Day will be changed in a moment. And what a glorious day that will be. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.