Yesterday at Saar Fellowship our text was 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18. It’s often used to teach a pre-tribulation rapture, but, is that what Paul was really saying?
Overall the passage is meant to be one of encouragement. Check out the last few words:
Therefore encourage one another with these words.
The truth of the return of Jesus for His people (v.16), and the eternal union of Jesus with His people (v.16b-17) is to be a source of encouragement (v.18).
The big picture of what this text teaches is front and centre:
Jesus is coming back and we will all, whether dead or alive when He does, forever be with Him.
In this passage Paul is teaching the Thessalonians, and us who read it now, to not grieve like everyone else (v.13) because you know that those who die as believers will be raised to be with the Lord forever (vv.14-15), and, if you don’t die before He comes back, you will be with Him and them, forever (v.17).
Elsewhere in his writings Paul shares a little more about what happens to believers who have died, but, for here, his big point is one of encouragement. His big idea here is to not view death as the end for a believer. He wants his readers to be encouraged that loved ones who have died are no worse off because they’re not here when Jesus returns. He also wants them to be encouraged by knowing that if they are here when He comes, you are no worse off either. To use a bit of local vernacular: same, same.
This is a passage that almost raises more questions than it answers, and I’ve been down a few rabbit trails this week because of it. Almost every time I have heard this passage taught it’s from a “See, pre-trib. rapture…right there…” perspective. Honestly, after reading and praying and studying this week, I just don’t believe that’s what Paul is saying. His word choice certainly doesn’t convey that (see below).
We could spend weeks and weeks on the truths in this passage and how they relate to many other passages of Scripture, but, at the core, these few verses are a message of hope: a message of living hope in Jesus.
He died and rose and those who die as believers in Him, and those who live their lives now as believers in Him, will be raised to Him and transformed in Him and will always be with the Lord when He returns. Some things in this passage are debated and discussed but the core message is unequivocal, not debated, and beyond discussion:
Jesus died, physically and bodily. He died the death that we deserve to offer you a new life, a living hope of resurrection and restoration, an eternal life, and the hope that we will be raised to Him to always be with the Lord.
This is the great hope of the church throughout space and time, this is the core hope of our faith: to be united with Jesus forever.
This can be your hope when you put your faith in Jesus.
Put your faith in His faithfulness, trust in His faithfulness and forgiveness.
Know that you are forgiven and restored to right relationship with God because of the price He paid with His death on the cross and see the evidence of it in His resurrection.
Understand that His being the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep means that there is more to come.
So, with Paul’s perspective on this passage, whether you’re thinking about yourself or a recently departed loved one, encourage one another with these words.
For a more in-depth look at the language Paul uses, the context, and the culture, listen to Message Extra for 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 on the Saar Fellowship Podcast, here: