The Jesus Hope – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

What is death?
“There is darkness without and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendour, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.” (Bertrand Russell)
“We die only once – and for such a long time.” (Moliere )
“Death isn’t romantic – death is not anything – death is … NOT. It’s the absence of presence, nothing more …. The endless time of never coming back.” (Tom Stoppard)
Nearly 2000 years ago the apostle Paul wrote this.
1 Thessalonians 4 13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.
We live in a world without hope. As human beings have run away from God they have turned their backs on the hope which only the immortal God can offer to mortal man. People have turned to substitutes for hope. Some to a naïve optimism, others to the escapism of eastern mysticism or New Age religions or the cults. Some have put their trust in astrology, others in politics or idealism. Many fill the void in their lives with self-indulgence, drink, drugs, sex, “Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Others are realists and facing a future without hope they end up in despair.
In this hopeless world, with no hope for the future and no hope beyond death, the church has the answer. And that answer is “The Jesus Hope”. Jesus Christ is coming back again. That is the happy certainty the world desperately needs to hear about. That is a message the church has neglected in recent years. But that is the hope that Paul writes about to the Thessalonian Christians who are worried about their friends who have died under persecution. Is there a future for those martyrs? Is there a future for any of us when this life ends? Yes there is a future, says Paul. We have “The Jesus Hope”.
And Paul begins by talking about Christians who have already died. We needn’t be worried about them. They’ll be back! Christians who have died will be
RETURNING WITH THE LORD
13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
When He returns the Lord Jesus Christ will bring back with Him all the believers who have already died, or using a metaphor, “fallen asleep in him.” Paul didn’t invent that language of course. Jesus Himself said about Lazarus who had died, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” (John 11:11) Jesus said of Jairus’s daughter who had indeed died, “The child is not dead but asleep.” (Mark 5:39).
14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
They’ll be back. The comic horror actor Vincent Price has as his epitaph, “I’ll be back.” “I’ll be back” was the promise of Arnold Schwarzenegger as “The Terminator.” But of course it was Jesus who first promised to return.
15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.
We have the promise of Jesus Himself that He will return, and bring with Him believers who have already died. The Greek word for “the coming of the Lord” is Parousia. It occurs 18 times in the New Testament and seven times in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Parousia means a royal visit or a state visit, the coming of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The theme of the Lord’s return is certainly neglected by the church nowadays. Perhaps the rise of science makes it harder to believe that one day the whole of human history will come to an end and God’s Kingdom with come. Or perhaps it’s because 2000 years seems like a long time still to be waiting. But Christ’s return is certain. It is nearer now than at the hour we first believed! And when Christ returns, the whole world will know about it!
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
Christ’s return will not be in secret, but in public. The Lord Himself will come down. There will be a loud command. The Arkangel will speak and God’s trumpet will sound. Nobody will miss it! Jesus Himself promised in Mark 13,
24 “But in those days, following that distress,
“ ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
26 “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
And when Jesus comes, the dead in Christ will rise first. That is the Jesus Hope, the happy certainty Christians have of life beyond death. 1 Corinthians 15 puts it this way.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Here is God’s promise. Those who have already died, those who have fallen asleep in Christ, will not miss out! They will be there when Christ returns, as will those who are still alive on that day. How can we be sure all of this will happen?
14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
Our confidence in the Jesus Hope comes from the death and resurrection of Christ Himself. Jesus is alive and because He lives, we will live also!
But what about those believers who are still alive when Jesus returns? What about us?? We will be busy,
WELCOMING THE LORD
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
Caught up together with them in the clouds. The word which Christians use for this event is “the rapture.” We sing it in Graham Kendrick’s song, “There’s a sound on the wind.”
“Now the King of the ages approaches the earth, He will burst through the gates of the sky,
And all men shall bow down to His beautiful name, We shall rise with a shout, we shall fly!”
We have to ask – is this language of the rapture meant to be literal, or poetic? There are American Christians who buy soft-top cars so that they won’t be hurt if the Lord returns and they are caught up while they are driving. They have bumper stickers which say “If Jesus returns today, somebody grab my steering wheel.” It may be that this idea of the rapture is a poetic or symbolic way of saying that Christians will pass straight from mortality to immortality without tasting death. We will simply be freed from the limitations of this world and put on our new glorified resurrection bodies. Or maybe it is literal. Maybe we will be caught up in the clouds. Maybe we will fly! I don’t know.
Whether literal or poetic, meeting Christ in the clouds is a sign of the glory and majesty and power of God – just as the cloud covered Mount Sinai as the 10 Commandments were given, and Jesus was surrounded by cloud as He was transfigured and also as He ascended into Heaven.
Acts 1 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
That was the root of this hope the Early Church had of the way in which Christ would return.
1 Thessalonians 4 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
Welcoming the Lord – in the way that all the dignitaries of a town would go out to welcome a royal visitor on the road so that they could escort them into the town. That is the word used of meeting, giving a royal welcome to the Lord. All Christians will share in this welcoming of the victorious conqueror, Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords as He brings in God’s Kingly Rule.
So the dead will return with the Lord and the living will be welcoming the Lord. But then what will happen? Paul has saved the best until last!
BEING WITH THE LORD
Verse 17 . And so we will be with the Lord forever.
That is the Jesus Hope – to be with the Lord forever. There are many pictures of heaven in the Bible. The city where God lives with His chosen people. A never-ending worship event. A heavenly banquet. Whatever heaven is like, it will be better than anything we can look forward to or even imagine.
1 Corinthians 2 9 …. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”
But the most important thing about heaven is this. Heaven is being where God is. Heaven is being with Jesus.
John 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
That is the best test to see whether we really understand the Jesus hope. What we most have to look forward to in heaven is simply this – being with the Lord forever. Timothy Dudley-Smith outs it beautifully in a hymn you may remember from Mission Praise.
When the Lord in glory comes. Not the trumpets not the drums.
Not the anthem not the psalm, not the thunder, not the calm,
Not the shout the heavens raise. Not the chorus not the praise,
Not the silences sublime, Not the sounds of space and time
But His voice when He appears shall be music to my ears.

When the Lord is seen again, not the glories of His reign,
Not the lightnings through the storm, not the radiance of His form.
Not His pomp and power alone, Not the splendours of His throne,
Not His robe and diadems, Not the gold and not the gems.
But His face upon my sight shall be darkness into light.
But His face upon my sight shall be darkness into light.
And so we will be with the Lord – forever. THIS is the Jesus Hope.
Richard Baxter expresses the thought in these lines:
“Come, Lord, when grace has made me meet, Thy blessed face to see;
For if thy work on earth be sweet, What will thy glory be!
My knowledge of that life is small, The eye of faith is dim;
But ’tis enough that Christ knows all, And I shall be with him.”
And so we will be with the Lord – forever.
18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.

Comfort one another with these words! The dead will be returning with the Lord. Those who are still alive will be welcoming the Lord. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Encourage one another with these words. This is the Jesus Hope. God’s answer to the hopelessness of this sin-spoiled world.

Do you share this hope? I‘ve said before, hope is the combination of expectation and desire. I expect to mow the lawn this week but since I have no desire to mow the lawn it would not be appropriate to say that mowing the lawn is my great “hope”. Equally I would love to go on safari in Africa this summer but since I have no expectation of doing that, very sadly I cannot say I hope to go on safari this summer.
But I really want Jesus to return – I am looking forward to that Day! And I absolutely do expect Jesus to return – He has promised and it is certain, maybe even today. So the return of Jesus Christ is the happy certainty my life is based on – the Jesus Hope. Do you share the Jesus hope?

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