When a believer loses a loved one, the Word of God begins to take on new significance. I lost my mother quite unexpectedly three years ago. It was, far and away, the most difficult and painful thing that I have had to walk through. As challenging as it was to do, I preached the sermon at her funeral. In the moments leading up to her funeral and in the days that followed, I started to understand in new ways why the Apostle Paul charged the Thessalonians to “encourage one another with these words”—words about the truth of the resurrection of believers (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
The resurrection is the great hope that God has given us as we make our way through the valley of the shadow of death. However, it is a truth that has often been misunderstood, neglected, denied, and even perverted.
Some in the congregation in Thessalonica had let themselves be led astray by false teaching that insisted that those who remained alive until Jesus returned were those who received the divine blessing. In this sense, they were tempted to think that those who had passed away prior to the return of Christ were not counted as blessed by God. We don’t know all of the precise nuances of this false teaching, but we do know that Paul believed it to be of such significance that he devoted an entire section of this letter to the doctrine of the resurrection.
In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul set out the divine blueprint for the resurrection of believers: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (vv. 16-18).
This is the unfolding of the events surrounding the resurrection. The importance of this order must not be missed. Those who have passed away in Christ are now with Christ. They will come with Christ at His return, and their souls and bodies will be reunited by His resurrection power. Then, those who are alive when Christ comes will be reunited with them and with the Lord.
We often feel as though there is no end to sorrow in this fallen and dying world. However, believers have the hope of the resurrection. And because of this, the comfort we derive from the hope of the resurrection checks our sorrow.
All of this is based on God’s Word, which is why Paul tells us to comfort one another with these words found in Scripture. Our hope is grounded on the Word about the resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection of our loved ones, and our own resurrection. The coming of our Lord is guaranteed, and the resurrection of believers is guaranteed with His return.
Written by Nick Batzig