1 Thessalonians – Encourage each other with these words
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.” 1Thessalonians 4:13
Paul established the Thessalonian church on his second missionary journey and wrote this letter a short time afterward making it one of the early New Testament books, penned only twenty years or so after Christ’s resurrection and ascension to heaven.
Paul was only in Thessalonica for about three weeks and in that time led many people to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, from Jewish people who heard him preach in the synagogue, to God-fearing Greeks and many prominent women. The Jews who didn’t believe, however, didn’t take the message lying down, they came at Paul with force, gathering a mob, and dragging some of the new believers to court. Paul and Silas had to escape the city by night. These angry Jews from Thessalonica, though, followed them, causing trouble and forcing Paul’s group to keep moving.
Their charge against Paul was interesting. They declared, “Those who have turned the world upside down have come here too!” (Acts 17:6)
This was how the Jewish non-believers in this metropolitan city in Greece perceived Christians just twenty or so years after Jesus’ resurrection – that they had turned the world upside down. Long ago in the Garden of Eden the perfect world flipped because of the bad choices of the original humans. Death and selfishness reigned in the place of Life and goodness.
For two thousand years people had gotten used to living upside down. Now, Jesus had set everything right. His incarnation, death, burial and resurrection had turned the world upright again – but only those who believed realized it. And they realized it when their lives were made right.
For the rest, those outside of Christ, everything about Jesus appears upside down, when actually, finally, it is right side up. Dear one, the world is never really going to understand why you are different, they tilt their head and try to see, but to them right side up will always look upside down.
There was so much about the young church that was going well and that they were doing right, so Paul encourages them to stay strong in the faith and prays that their love would continue to grow and overflow. (3:5,12)
And he teaches that Gods will, in the simplest of terms, is to live holy lives. “God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin.” (4:3) “God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives.” (4:7) Holiness, being separate from the ways of the world, and set apart to God for His glory alone, is God’s will for His children.
One of the truths Paul wanted to clarify for the young church was the reality of Christ’s return. It was a primary topic of discussion because of persecution and just a general sense of longing and love. It is the same today. Most of us believers have had days when we have longed for Jesus to come back. When a loved one dies, when life is hard, when Jesus is the only one who understands what you’re going through. “Oh, Lord Jesus,” we pray, “come back soon.”
Paul didn’t discourage their longing, he just clarified it for them. What if a Christian dies before Christ returns? When will He come, how should we prepare? So Paul assures them:
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.” (4:13-14)
“We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words.” (4:15-18)
Don’t worry so much about when He will come, for Paul assures the church that the important thing is that we walk in the light, clearheaded, protected by faith and love, confident in His gracious salvation.
“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” (5:11)