Based on: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Rumors and lies can cause many problems. Even worse, false information about God’s Word can harm and even kill souls. In the first century AD, a group of Christians in Thessalonica were concerned about what happened to their fellow believers who had died. Do those who die before Christ’s second coming miss out on the blessings of Christ’s return? Rumors and lies made the problem worse. Christians were struggling with doubt and fear – not at all what our Lord wants for his children.
When a fellow believer dies, do you struggle with doubt and fear? Do you worry about what really happens after death? Our loving Savior as he talks about eternal life drives away the doubt and fear. When we hear his words through the Apostle Paul we have hope – not a hope that maybe it will happen, but a sure and certain hope in promises made by a God who always keeps his promises. We have hope in eternal life.
There are certainly things we don’t know about death and what happens after death. The Bible doesn’t tell us everything. (I think a lot of it would be beyond our comprehension anyway.) But the Bible does tell us everything necessary to bring us comfort.
I want you to know that you are already enjoying eternal life. When you understand that life is a connection and death is a separation, you begin to see that your life with God began with your baptism or when God brought you to faith in Jesus. That is when God made you his child. He removed your sin and created the connection between you and him that is true spiritual and eternal life. Even when your body dies you still have that connection with God and therefore you still have life.
Since you are still alive even in your death, then what shall we say about the death of this body? It is sleep. The Lord comforts the Thessalonians and he comforts us by revealing to us that for the Christian the end of life on this earth is only a time of rest. It is sleep. This is not a euphemism. This is not just nice words meant to cover up a harsh reality. No, the death of this body is a time of rest for the Christian until they wake up refreshed on that day when their alarm clock is the command of the Lord, and the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet call of God.
We know people who are enjoying that rest – people who are close to us. Just recently, in the time I have been here at St. John’s we have seen people being added to that list of those who are asleep in the Lord: Adeline Lang, Toots Rono, Adeline Ubl, Rose Horton, Gilbert Maas, Pearl Ellevold, Lucille Orth, Charles Eckstein, Mark Jensen, Julie Brown. They are now resting from their struggle against sin and the troubles of this world. They now enjoy the victory Jesus won for them over their own sin, over Satan, and even over death itself. They are now Saints Triumphant and we will join them one day.
And just how will that happen? If Jesus returned right now what would we hear and see? It would be very different from the first time Jesus came. The first time Jesus came in a virgin’s womb and he died on a cross like a criminal. Isaiah said, “he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
The Lord’s next coming will be anything but quiet. The whole world will hear him as evil is banished by his command and the world is reformed at his Word. You will hear the voice of the archangel as he calls holy warriors together to rid the world of the Lord’s enemies and our enemies. And you will hear the trumpet call of God literally waking the dead in Christ.
Then watch! Watch and you will see the bodies of believers, whether they have been asleep for days, months, or years, come back together – bones, tendons, organs, muscle, and skin will join together to form the bodies of God’s children. You will see those bodies live and walk again and you will know that the souls that were separated because of sin, have joined those bodies again.
If you fall asleep in the Lord before the Lord returns these things will happen to you. Whether you have died in Christ or are still living in the body, you will see Christ descending from above and you will feel that sensation of weightlessness as your feet leave the ground to meet your Savior somewhere between earth and sky.
Are you afraid of heights? Do you suffer from vertigo? Don’t worry. All fear will be gone. All sickness, all pain, anything that causes you to shed a tear will be gone. In fact every effect of sin in our body will be reversed, will be eliminated, as we go to be with our Savior. This will all happen quickly, “in the twinkling of an eye” Paul tells the Corinthians, and we will never be separated from him again. We will be permanently connected to our loving God and all his blessings – the definition of eternal life.
It will be a glorious day. We cannot help but be filled with anticipation for that day. We have hope in eternal life – the eternal life that began at baptism and will continue through that day and forever.
Can you believe it? Doesn’t it seems so contrary to all our experiences in this world? But as fellow Christians I know that you do believe it! This is why. You believe what the Bible says about you – that you deserve none of these good things that we have spoken about. Your conscience also tells you that. But you know your sin is why Jesus died. God punished him instead of us. You also know Jesus rose from the dead and that he will come back. As Christians our lives are intimately tied to our Savior’s life, so just as his death was not the end, our death is not the end. Just as he rose from the dead, we also will rise from the dead. And just as he is coming back for us, we eagerly wait to go with him. Our hope in eternal life is tied to his life, death, resurrection, and 2nd coming. I encourage you to read more about this connection in 1 Corinthians 15.
Because of our connection to Christ and the hope we have we look at death differently than the rest of the world. When we are faced with the death of a loved one or our own death, we grieve. We have sorrow, but not like the rest of the world. Our grief is over the separation. We will not see that person for a time. Our relationship with that person will change drastically. But the for the Christian the separation is not permanent. We will be reunited with that loved one on the last day, never to be separated again. Our time apart will be small compared to the time we will enjoy together praising our Savior.
Our grief is for those who remain on earth. There is no need for grief on the part of those who have fallen asleep in the Lord. They are resting from all the troubles in this life.
Without this hope in eternal life there is no hope when someone dies. Those who do not trust in Christ for eternal life have no hope of seeing loved ones again. Those loved ones are gone except in memory.
Because you have hope in eternal life you can “encourage each other.” When a believer is asleep in the Lord you know what to say to your Christian brother or sister who is grieving. You can say, “I am sorry about your loss. I know you will not have that person to talk to or do things with or share memories with, but I also know that when Christ returns he will raise your loved one back to life and you will see that person again even as you and I are lifted up to meet the Lord in the air.”