October 13, 2011

Friday after the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 102, 1 Kings, 9:1-9, 1 Thess. 4:13-18
Evening - Ps. 139, Job 1:13-22

Commentary
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Timothy brought much good news to Paul regarding the Thessalonians. He also carried back with him their one big question, what happens to Christians who die before the Lord returns? Apparently some have died in Thessalonica, causing so much grief and anxiety among them, Paul worried that they grieved as the pagans, having no hope that the dead would have a part in Heaven. Thus, Paul writes to comfort them with greater understanding of the promises of God (4:13). As Christ often called dead "sleep," so Paul says Christians who have died are asleep in Jesus (4:14). The first thing we learn here is that they are not dead as the pagans thought of death. Their being has not ended. It continues on in another state or dimension, so that it may be said of them that they sleep. Second, the dimension, or realm of their continued existence is Christ. There is no separation from Him in death for the Christian. The Christian merely sleeps in Christ, but this sleep is of the body only. The soul goes into the immediate presence of God, as shown by such passages as Luke 16:19-29, Luke 23:43, Philippians 1:23, and, especially, 2 Corinthians 5:6-8. Third, the body will be resurrected. People question how a body that has been eaten by beasts, or become nourishment for trees and plants over thousands of years can be resurrected. To that we can only reply that it will be a glorified body, and that the One who created this vast universe is able to re-order its elements and compounds as He decrees. Though, how, is beyond our understanding, the fact of the resurrection is as much a part of the Gospel as the Return of Christ.

Our hope, or, confidence, for the resurrection is that Jesus died and rose again (4:14). Christ Himself made it very plain that His death was a conscious offering of Himself on the cross as the propitiation for our sins. No power on earth could have taken His life otherwise. He had the power to lay down His life, and the power to take it up again (Jn. 10:18). If He has that power for Himself, He has that power for His people also.

The dead will have a dual role in the return of Christ. First, they will come with Him (4:14). Their souls, which have been with Him in Heaven will come with Him when He returns, and will witness the entire event. Second, their bodies will be resurrected before those living at the time are taken up. "The dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up" (4:16-17).

The result of this is, "and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (4:17). This is the Second Coming. This is the return of the Lord to bring the world as we know it to its end. This is not the "rapture." It is not a covert heist of believers. It is open and public. Christ commands the dead to rise with a loud voice; the trumpet blasts like a military signal that is "loud enough to raise the dead."

Finally we come to the point of all this, which is comfort. "Comfort one another with these words" (4:18). Paul is saying these truths, these doctrines ought to bring cheer, joy, and hope to believers when we stand beside the grave of a loved one, and when we face our own death. For even in death we are in Christ, and we will ever be with the Lord.

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