Paul’s converts had come to believe that Christ’s return would be immediate or at least in their lifetime, as revealed in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. But Christ had not come, and some of their number had died. What would become of these dead? Paul answers, “God will bring with him those who died” (v. 14). The eschatological imagery “caught up in the cloud together” (v. 17) is hard to realize in twentieth century thought forms. It was meant to encourage faith in the fact that “We will be with the Lord forever” (v. 17).
Death in Christ brings restoration in verses 13-17. Paul’s fundamental thesis of his theology is the resurrection — not the crucifixion. Without the resurrection, every sacrificial work performed in Christ’s name would be in vain. The Thessalonian church did not know how to handle the matter of Christ’s return in light of believers who died before his return. The Thessalonian believers expected the Lord to return within their lifetimes. They grieved over fellow saints and saved loved ones who died before the day of the Lord. The question on their minds was whether the believers who died prior to the Parousia would be left behind at the return of Christ. Paul corrects their erroneous thought, relieves their anxiety and assures them that those who had been saved and died before the day of the Lord would also share in the glory of eternal life.
“Sleep in Jesus” (v. 14KJV) literally means “to put to sleep through Jesus.” The Greek word we translate as “cemetery” means “a sleeping place.” It is the place where bodies sleep, awaiting the resurrection death separates loved ones. When Christ return, there will be a reunion. The living saints will not precede the resurrection of the dead saints; but all saints will come tougher to meet Christ.
The dead saints will receive a wake-up call, the living saints will receive a “formation notice,” and all saints, both living and dead, will receive new bodies (Phil. 3:20-21; 1 John 3:1-3). The saints will be snatched away speedily and moved to a new place of rest and repose.
Death in Christ brings consolation (v. 18). Christians are expected to be sorrowful when loved ones die. However, their grief is not a hapless grief. Their grief is good grief. They go through the normal states of grief, walk through the valley of loneliness, and shed tears of sorrow for their saved brothers and sisters — but not without hope. Their hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. The dead in Christ shall rise!
We know at death that our bodies will return to dust and our spirit will return to God, but our soul will be judged at judgment day. Are you ready for the judgment day and will you allow God to hold your hand?
No Christian knows how their life will end. We don’t know about tomorrow. We know who holds the future, and we know God holds our hands. God’s tomorrow will be better than our today.