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Clear Words

Clear Words – The Truth about Death (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Today’s Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1-5

Today’s Reflection: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

13) 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. 14) For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15) 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. 16) 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. 17) 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. 18) Therefore encourage one another with these words.

The church at Thessalonia was one Paul helped start, but had to leave quickly in the face of persecution.  Later he shared by letter some of the lessons he had hoped to teach them in person.  In his first recorded letter to Thessalonia, Paul deals with the subject of how we as Christians ought to regard death.

There is a considerable amount of controversy between churches on the subject of what happens when we die, and to be quite frank I’m not sure why.  I think the Bible does leave some degree of mystery about death, likely because it’s beyond our understanding, but the broad strokes are quite clear throughout the Bible and Paul reiterates them to us here.

1) The dead are, as Paul puts it, asleep.  They are not spirits roaming the earth either to help people or to haunt them.  They are not in torment.  They are not in heaven, or hell, or purgatory. They are not in pain, nor do they look down on their loved ones with joy or concern.  They are simply not conscious of anything happening anywhere any longer.  They are at rest.  The word ‘asleep’ which Paul uses makes this perfectly clear.

Ecclesiastes 9:5 – For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.

2) The dead in Christ, those who have received the Gospel, will be restored to life at Jesus return.  Jesus own resurrection is a foretaste of this truth—“the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep”.  As Paul describes, at Jesus’ return “the dead in Christ will rise”.   And this restored life is eternal life, hence they will “always be with the Lord”.  This important point supports the first one.  If the spirits of people go to heaven, hell or somewhere else, why is there a need for a resurrection?

1 Corinthians 15:20-23 – 20) But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21) For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22) For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23) But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

3) Lastly, this truth should give us hope.  The resurrection of Jesus is the assurance of the resurrection to come.  And while we grieve and miss those we love who have passed away, if they are in Christ and we remain in Christ, we can be assured of seeing them again.  Most importantly, after Jesus returns death will be no more.

1 Corinthians 15:26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Perhaps the reason what here appears to be clear articulation of the state of death is because of the finality of it.  The decision for Christ must in some way, shape or form be made before one dies.  We have the chance to accept the Lord’s gift of grace through Jesus Christ while we live, but afterwards there is no opportunity for salvation.

Hebrews 3:14-15 – 14) For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15) As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

Hebrews 9:27 – And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

So perhaps people created ideas like purgatory, or souls wandering the earth to give hope that those who did not accept God’s grace while alive might still have a chance for eternity.  Sadly it’s a false hope.  None of us can say who is saved or lost—that’s God’s job—but the requirements for salvation are clear, and they must be met before one dies.

Isaiah 55:6Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;

Ecclesiastes 9:10 – Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

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