But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1Th 4:13-18)
And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” (Mat 22:31-32)
“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” They have fallen asleep, this is the euphemism Paul uses for death when speaking of Christians who are dead in the Lord. They have fallen asleep. They aren’t dead. She is not dead, but sleeping the Lord says of the ruler’s daughter, the little girl who had died, and they all laughed, but he went in and woke her. They are merely sleeping because God is God of the living and not of the dead. So God will bring them with him, those who have fallen asleep.
The end is coming. We don’t know when. Everything is set. The apostles believed it was imminent. And we should too. The days of this world are numbered, just as our days in this world are numbered. Whose number comes first is anyone’s guess. The apostle Paul, it seems, thought the return of Christ was so imminent that he failed to talk about death and the resurrection in the short little while he was with the Thessalonians. We could marvel at that. That we will rise again on the last day to live with Christ is part and parcel of the gospel we have been taught as kids. But then the gospel is more truly this, that even now you have the forgiveness of sins, even now you have eternal life, because you have already been buried into Christ’s death, and just as he was risen from the dead, so you too walk in the newness of life. Now! It is your eternal life now! It is your forgiveness now!
This was the essence of Paul’s message, his gospel. That we have a new life in Christ that is manifest even now, because of his death and resurrection. The forgiveness of sins is yours. God loves you enough that he suffered even death on the cross that you might live in forgiveness. He spoke this to men who were broken, and shamed by sin. Paul’s letters addressed the sins of his congregations, of the people in the pew as it were. His preaching never had much to do with political movements, or the like. He addressed his people. Working off that assumption there is something amazing revealed. Paul’s congregations, these people he addresses as saints, were sinners. They engaged in adultery, in theft and murder, they were the type of people who gave into unnatural lusts for the same sex, they were gossipers and revelers. Yes, Paul, the man who today is maligned as a homophobe, was loved in his days by the gay and lesbian crowd even as he railed against their sin. His church was full of them. Because their sin had left them broken, their sin had left them empty, and Paul gave them life in Jesus Christ. Paul gave them life worth living. Even as the gospel gives you life today.
Oh you are no different than these people. And your sin leaves you just as empty if not more, if you have half a mind to examine yourself. Sin it leaves a wake, and it robs life of meaning, it places you under the judgment and wrath of God. Yes, the idolatry we engage in does this, the idolatry of self that wants to pat ourselves on the back and say we are nice people because we have done so many good things. When we ignore our gossiping. When we ignore our theft. When we ignore bitterness toward our neighbor. When we ignore the covetousness and jealousy with which we live. And we genuinely think we can get to heaven by being nice.
Paul writes to the Thessalonians, that they would not grieve as those who have no hope. As those who have no hope. They were under no delusions. The worldly standard of nice doesn’t get you to heaven. They didn’t know what to do about those who had fallen asleep, those who had died. Their death, this was their wages for their sin. Their death was testimony in itself that they had not led a life worthy of heaven. Whatever their sin was, here they paid for it. But then it is as if the accounts have been confused. It is like that bill that was sent to you, just a day before your friend paid it off. It comes and you pay it, not knowing it has been paid. Christ accepted the wages of our sin. He has paid our bill, on the last day when the accounts are made right, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. Because Christ already died for us, and we were buried into his death to be given eternal life. It is our life now. He gives his sheep eternal life, they will not perish, nothing, not even death will snatch them out of his hand. They are living even as you are living, because God is a God of the living and not of the dead, and in this way we are always with the Lord, whether in life or death, whether awake in this world or asleep, because God is God of the living and not of the dead
Now the Peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.