Thessalonians 4 v 13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are as
Amongst the Christians in the church at Thessalonica there were some believers who appeared to have a condition which we could call PAROUSIA HYSTERIA! This was a spiritual problem. It was characterised by the thought that because the Lord Jesus Christ was coming back very soon in mighty power some people decided that there was no point in continuing in their steady jobs. Paul clearly admonished these people and called them back to work – this is addressed in verse 11 and 12 of Chapter 4 and was the subject of our sermon a fortnight ago.
Now Paul introduces a new section in verse 13 which is his teaching about the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ other wise known as the PAROUSIA. This is the Greek word translated coming or arrival and refers several times to the Second Coming.
I am sure that you would be interested to know the following fact about the New Testament.
The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is mentioned 318 times in the 260 chapters of the New Testament. That means that there is a mention of things to do with the Parousia one in every 20 verses from Matthew to Revelation. What an important doctrine it must be to occupy so much space in the inspired Word of God!
This was not new teaching to the believers at Thessalonica. They had heard that the Lord Jesus was returning, from Paul and the others when they had begun their work and preaching among them. Indeed reference to the Second coming has been made in this letter already –
Chapter 1 v 9 For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; 10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
Chapter 2 v 19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?
Chapter 3 v 12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: 13 To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
We can notice that in each instance that the doctrine is raised it is mentioned in a way that the readers of the letter already know about it. Paul is therefore writing in this section to clear up some difficulties that had arisen in the months since he had left them.
How wonderful that God planned this situation – this letter – the need for comfort for the Thessalonians – so that WE in 2004, can benefit from the teaching too.
In this Paul’s first letter written from Corinth, he deals with the need to clarify certain things in the context of a deep pastoral issue.
The Pastoral issue was grief – stark, numbing, disturbing grief that comes to all of us from time to time in our lives. Some believers in the church had died. Relatives had also expired, passed away some of whom had also been Christians. The Thessalonians were anxious about where these brothers and sisters had gone. So the Apostle writing pastorally spends the next 17 verses comforting the believers by counselling them about the future coming of the Lord. For that is the most important next event in world history to occur. It will have an effect on every human being living and dead.
In his comforting but instructional comments, Paul will cover their ignorance about aspects of the coming of Christ and at the same time help them in their grief. He is going to tell them that whether they are alive or dead physically when the Lord comes, it will make no difference. The Lord will treat all of His believing people the same – none will be disadvantaged.
He will describe the programme of Christ’s coming – the Return of the Lord; the Resurrection of the saints; the Rapture of the Church and the Reunion in the air.
And having dealt with the programme he warns against seeking to know the date of the Second Coming. Further he exhorts them all to be ready – staying alert by concentrating on faith hope and love and preaching the Gospel to others. All these things were designed to comfort and to teach the following key points which are relevant to those believers 2000 years ago – and us today.
1. The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is certain.
2. We are to wait for the coming of the Lord.
3. We are not to be distracted into sign seeking and time keeping.
4. We are to be self controlled and alert.
5. We have a wonderful future – as believers – we shall be for ever with the Lord!
This morning as we begin to open up the wonderful theme of the Second Coming we will concentrate on verses 13 & 14 which are about
Paul’s teaching about Death calling it the sleep of the saints.
1 Thessalonians 4 v 13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
People do not like to speak about death. And yet death is the most certain thing about life – at the end of life there is death. Martin Luther said “Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and he must do his own dying.” Death must be faced by each one of us. Yet if we realise from a spiritual point of view what death is all about then things begin to fall into place.
We are not here to stay – we are here to go!
When death strikes the Christian down, he falls into heaven!
The Puritan Thomas Brooks said “Death to a Christian is nothing but the taking of a sweet flower out of this wilderness, and planting it in the garden of Paradise.”
Death has been overcome by the risen Lord Jesus Christ and that has transformed the whole situation for those who are in Him. Christians can know that they have the happiest of futures, which is why Paul begins his comforting words with one of his favourite teaching expressions –
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren.
He used it on 7 other occasions in his letters –
Here are 2 of them -
Romans 11 v 25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
1 Corinthians 10 v 1 Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;
These are divinely inspired words. To be ignorant is not to know. NOT to be ignorant is to be informed. Ignorance concerning spiritual realities is always bad for the believer. It leads to lack of comfort. Might that be a problem for us this morning? We are worried about some situation in life – even some doctrinal subject – and it disturbs us. Could it be that there is more to study – more time to be spent in looking at God’s word and believing what it says – Rather than what we THINK it says? In spiritual things ignorance is never bliss! To choose not to know something about our great God and saviour, about His glory and grace, about His sovereign rule and His mercy – does not affect God – but it affects us! We are the losers if we choose to remain ignorant of the truths of scripture. How serious was the part of Pilgrims Progress when we were reminded about the man called IGNORANCE – who thought he could get into the Heavenly City with neither a visit to the cross nor a personal scroll with his name on it. He thought he would be alright and that he could get in through his own arrangements. He was ignorant says Bunyan – and Ignorance found himself taken away from the very gates of the city by angels – never to gain access.
Oh my friend – if you this morning are like Ignorance and believe that you can face God your judge on your own terms; or believe that you can dig your heals in regarding some doctrine about God and not believe it as the scriptures state it, then you will never know the good, fearless and peaceful life as a Christian. Paul would not have us to be ignorant because it leads to lack of comfort and much anxiety.
Paul had introduced the Thessalonians to the idea that Jesus the Messiah would return again as God’s triumphant King. But their knowledge was patchy. Perhaps there had only been time to pass on the basic facts – such as its suddenness, and that it would signal the end of this age. Yet even facts such as these, need to be worked out in practice. It appeared that the believers need to know more.
Verse 13 specifies what the Christians needed to know more about. They needed to know about the fate of those who had died. Paul uses the term THOSE WHO HAD FALLEN ASLEEP.
a. The dead have fallen asleep.
13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
Three times Paul refers to the believers who had died as those who sleep. Why did he do this?
It is not only Christian cultures that refer to death as a kind of falling asleep. In the Old Testament we read 36 times about Kings who slept with their fathers – in other words who were buried in graves in or near the places where their fathers were buried. Furthermore to sleep with ones father was to go the same way as the father into the sleep of death.
The main idea of sleep is to be at rest. Each night we sleep in order to rest ourselves after a strenuous days work. At the end of life therefore we sleep at rest after a lifetime of strenuous labour. Sleep is a word that promises a great deal. It reminds us that physical death is not the end. Just as we expect to wake up tomorrow morning after a night’s sleep so we should expect to awake from the sleep of death one day.
Once again the Greek word for sleep here is very interesting – KOIMAOMAI. A form of the word that was used for a place for the interment of the bodies of the departed was KOIMETERION. We get our English word cemetery from this word – a cemetery therefore is a mere dormitory – a sleeping place.
Just by using this term “those who are asleep” Paul seeks to comfort. When the great alarm sounds, referred to in v16 – the trumpet and the shout – those who inhabit these sleeping places will rise from their slumber. Death loses much of its power to terrify us when we can begin to think of it in these terms. What can be more homely, than calmly settling ourselves down to sleep, in full confidence that when the morning comes we will rise to a new and better eternal day?
The Bible is quite clear about believers who are dead. At death the body sleeps. The stillness of a corpse bears a resemblance to a sleeping person. The soul goes immediately to its reward in heaven with the Lord. When the Lord Jesus Christ comes again He will bring His believing people with Him to be reunited with a glorified body at the resurrection. How do we know this?
Luke 23 v 42 And he (the believing thief) said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
What happened to the thief’s body? It was taken down from the cross and buried. What happened to his soul? His soul went to be with Jesus Christ in paradise.
At death the body is said to sleep – awaiting the reunion of body and soul when Jesus comes again.
Paul said that he was looking forwards to his death. See what he said in 2 Corinthians 5 v 8
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
Philippians 1 v 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
The words of the Lord Jesus Christ on this are equally telling. When He heard that his friend Lazarus was dead what did He say?
John 11 v 11 Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. 12 Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. 13 Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.
This is the teaching of the scripture. Millions of bereaved Christian families have believed the Bible and reflected such belief as they had engraved on the headstones of their departed relatives such words as “John Brown – who fell asleep in Jesus”, or “Mary Evans – safe in the arms of Jesus – asleep till He comes”.
With this teaching Paul applies it with the phrase at the end of verse 13 –
that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
What did he mean? What was the belief that is called “a sorrowing of no hope”?
Amongst the pagans of the Greco-Roman world “fallen asleep” was a mere euphemism to soften the dread that death inspired in people. Death remained a frightening unknown to most people. Their beliefs were something like this. The body was the prison house of the soul. After death the soul was released but this was not entirely immaterial. Its texture they said was very thin. It retains the former characteristics of the body and it can be recognised when it appears in the other world – called Hades. In Hades the dead bemoan their state where there is no sunshine. Later the beliefs developed to include places where the gods lived. There was Tartarus a place for the condemned, and Erebus the place for those who were yet to be sentenced. The pagan world had no hope. The Epicureans believed this, “The punishments of Tartarus are not to be feared – for the soul being immaterial will share the fate of the body. As long as we are alive, death does not exist for us – and when death appears, we no longer exist.”
Many mystery religions had similar beliefs. But not one of them was able to bring any solid comfort to those who were dying or those who were bereaved.
No hope! That is the theme of world religious teachings even today. This is why the predominant belief in our culture is “when you are dead you are dead – there is nothing else – there is no hope of any future as far as we can see. Therefore live life for the present – it is all that you have got!”
Paul knew all about that philosophy. He described it in the letter to the Ephesians when he referred to the believers’ former lives – Ephesians 2 v 12 Before you were Christians,
That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
No hope – a life with no hope! People with no hope are full of sorrow! Hope of a future life with God forever is most wonderful. But thoughts of nothing beyond the grave are hopeless.
Where is your hope my friend? Is it in Jesus Christ? If it is, then your grieving when a loved one departs, can be with a strong underlying assurance that there are good things yet to come. It is not wrong to grieve. Grief is normal and indeed is necessary. We can express our sorrow and grief – even deep heart numbing feeling. God understands. But to grieve without any hope – that is devastating. The Lord Jesus Christ can make that difference in anyone’s life – if you are prepared to trust Him and turn to Him for the comfort that He gives. Only the Lord Jesus Christ has any hope for the future. Therefore you should know Him – personally – by going to Him and seeking His pardon and forgiveness for sin – and believing in His death and rising again for sinners.
Next Paul goes a little further in his comforting by saying
b. The Christian dead have fallen asleep in Jesus.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
It was wonderful to witness the symbolic death, burial, resurrection and walking in newness of life of our sister and newest member, Jamie, last Lord’s Day. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and we rejoice in this fact Sunday by Sunday. Resurrection is a central doctrine of our faith. The same God who raised the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead will also raise from the dead those that belong to the Lord Jesus. The resurrection is the guarantee of the Christian hope. This is Paul’s logical conclusion as he seeks to comfort the worried Christians.
At first glance we may be thinking that the object of Faith stated here is the fact that believers in the Lord shall rise again just as He did. While this is gloriously true it is not what Paul is saying in verse 14.
Rather he is saying that when the Lord Jesus returns God will bring with Him those who have already died and gone to be with Him. This explains Paul’s statement in Chapter 3 v 13
To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
These dead Christians will return still as disembodied spirits – but they will not miss out on the coming of the King – He will bring them with Him! The Lord Jesus will at His coming, bring all those who have died in Jesus and in their death are still IN JESUS. Death never dissolves the bond between a believer and the Lord.
Rather it ushers them into His immediate presence in glory – in heaven. Here they wait with Him for the end of this present age and the final appearance of God’s righteous Kingdom.
The dead In Christ will return with Him at His coming so that they too can experience and share in the glorious event of the resurrection.
So when we come to the coffin of a fellow believer in the Lord Jesus Christ we do not need to cry, “We will never see him again!”
The object of our faith is this – the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself – who was crucified but then raised again. This glorious person is going to return again to the place that He left just after His resurrection.
But He will not come again as He went – unaccompanied. When he ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives only a handful of disciples saw Him go – alone into the clouds.
When He comes again He will descend in the clouds – but He will come in an awesome display of power bringing with Him a vast number of believing saints. Jude in his letter says
14 Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints,
He will come in awesome glory and every eye will see Him. Even the most determined opposer of the Gospel will shudder at the sight. But every believer will find it the most welcome sight that he or she has ever witnessed. It will be the long awaited homecoming of the saviour – along with a great host of believing friends and relatives.
God Himself will come bringing His people with Him. He will hold court and all the rebel dominions will be held accountable – and all of His loyal subjects will be rewarded.
This then has been Paul’s solid foundation for Christian hope for believers. Remember that he has been writing to believers. Therefore we do not find any reference to the fate of the unbelieving rebel human sinners – and what will happen to THEM at the second coming. That will be for another passage. Here he writes to believers – to reassure believers – to encourage believers – to inform believers.
We also can be encouraged today with these marvellous reassurances that the Lord God loves us – has sent His son to die for us and be raised from the dead for us – and when we die He will take us to be with Himself pending the day when He will bring us back to receive new bodies. What a prospect we have as Christians this morning.
Do we all have this hope? Do we all have this certain knowledge that the Lord Jesus Christ will receive us to heaven when we die? Will all of us in this church rejoice to see the Lord Return?
Or are we yet ignorant of His grace and mercy? Oh my friend, trust the Lord. Turn to Him – be ready for Him to come – or be ready for Him to receive your soul to be with Him in heaven when you die. Nothing could be more important that to have this question settled in your soul!