“Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”
After Paul left the Thessalonian church when he was forced to flee (Acts 17:1–10), some confusion regarding eschatology set in. This confusion was causing many of the Thessalonian Christians to mourn like those who do not know Jesus—to mourn as if they had no hope for the afterlife (1 Thess. 4:13). So, Paul addressed the Thessalonians on the matter of death and what comes thereafter. He did not want them to go through hopeless grief, though he understood that believers rightly mourn when loved ones die. Commenting on what this passage says about the death of loved ones, Augustine of Hippo wrote, “It is unavoidable, after all, that you should be saddened; but when you feel sad, let hope console you.”
To give believers hope, Paul provides teaching on the basic elements of Christian eschatology—the doctrine of the last things. He begins in today’s passage by stating the core eschatological truth that “Jesus died and rose again” (v. 14). We often think that the doctrine of the last things has to do with things that are yet to occur, and indeed, much eschatological teaching does address those kinds of issues. However, we must remember that the last days actually began with the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Acts 2:14–36, Peter tells us explicitly that the last days began when Christ died and rose again. Paul calls Jesus “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” in 1 Corinthians 15:20. That is to say, the final resurrection actually began when Jesus defeated death and left the tomb. It has not yet occurred for the rest of His people, but His resurrection guarantees our resurrection if we trust in Him. A day is coming when “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake” (Dan. 12:2), but Jesus has already been raised as the proof and surety of the resurrection of His people.
Thus, Paul stresses that God will bring “through Jesus” those who fall asleep (1 Thess. 4:14). The idea is that when Christ returns, those who have died in union with Him will not miss the eschatological blessings that Jesus will bring. So, the Thessalonian Christians did not have to worry that their Christian loved ones who had died would not receive the same glorification as the Christians who are still alive when Jesus comes back. Whether we die before Christ returns or are still living when He comes, we will receive the glory God has promised to His people (2 Tim. 4:8).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
We have been living in the last days since the death and resurrection of Christ. As such, Jesus could return at any moment, and so we need to be ready for His coming. We prepare ourselves now for His return by looking forward to the glory to come, seeking to live holy lives, remembering that all who are in Jesus will receive ultimate blessing through Him, and by sharing the gospel with friends and family.