But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
(1 Thessalonians 4:13–18)
The Thessalonians were worried and troubled about those in the congregation who had died. When he travelled there on his Second Missionary Journey, Paul had taught them, obviously using the Words of Jesus Himself, that “the day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night,” as Paul does in 5:2. His coming would be soon, and the Thessalonians, who had been pagans before this, wondered what would happen to their loved ones who died before Christ’s return.
It’s no wonder that they did! Old habits die hard, and they had so many pagan myths from their past that told them all sorts of things about those who died. There was Sisyphus who was destined to roll a boulder up a hill for all eternity. There was Tantalus who was tantalized with food that was always just out of his reach. And there was periods of 1,000 year cycles where the dead would be tormented until they had repaid whatever wrong they had done in this life.
Because of this background, they wondered if the same fate awaited those who died before Jesus’ coming, His Parousia, His royal return to reign and rescue His people. They wondered and worried if those loved ones had missed the boat. Paul comforts them and wants them to comfort one another that this was not the case.
Paul assures them that on the Last Day, which is what’s discussed by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4, that those who are asleep in Jesus don’t miss out. “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
What comfort! The Lord will come to reign, and we will rejoice in Him. His work isn’t done. Surely it was accomplished when He died and rose again. It’s accomplished now when He delivers His death and resurrection to us in His Water, His Words, and with His body and blood. His work will also be accomplished on the Last Day when He will gather His people at His coming and we will all be with Him forever. When our loved ones die, we know that all who believe in Jesus are asleep in Him, they are with Him, and we will be too. When Christ, the Lord, returns to reign, we’ll sing our Alleluias to Him who sits on the throne, to the Lamb, and to the Holy Spirit, and we’ll sing them forever. In the Name of Jesus. AMEN.
Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending (LSB 336)
Lord God, heavenly Father, send forth Your Son to lead home His bride, the Church, that with all the company of the redeemed we may finally enter into His eternal wedding feast; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN.