In today’s reading, we focus on the major theme within this letter to the Thessalonians. When will the Lord return? Will it be today? Will it be tomorrow? What is going to happen? What will happen? How do we know?
Listen to what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangels call and with the sound of Gods trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.
In that day, they were expecting the Lord return at any moment. The literally thought it was going to happen, right now. But guess what? It didn’t. It didn’t happen then. And then someone else happened. Christians began to die. What happened to them?
See how backwards (and I don’t mean that in a bad way) their thinking was, compared to ours? Most of us, if we are being honest, expect to die before the Lord returns. That wasn’t how they thought. They assumed the Lord would return before they died.
So, their question was this. What about those that die before the Lord returns? What happens to them? When we understand that was the question that they were asking, it changes the tenor of what we read.
Paul says we don’t grieve as those who have no hope, because they were unsure what would happen. Would they go to heaven? What happened? So, the dead in Christ rising, to this audience means that those that have died will be raised. They will live in Christ, just as those that are alive when He returns live in Jesus.
We understand that it makes perfect sense to us. It didn’t to them. Paul wants the people to perfectly understand, if you die in the Lord, you will be raised in the Lord, no matter when it is that you may die. This life is not the end, this moment is not the end.