“Therefore comfort one another with these words.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:18

 

Every human being will one day die. The only exception are those people  alive at the Rapture of the church by Jesus. But the Bible says each person will die and then face judgment (Heb. 9:27). My best friend’s mother just passed away. I considered her a part of my family as well. My wife, me and my brother now have no parents left living. It’s a reminder of the reality of life, and death. The Psalmist was inspired to exhort us to ask the Lord to “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). In Psalm 139 it tells us God has created each person with an allotment of days saying, “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Psalm 139:16). Our days are in God’s hands.

David in Psalm 39 spoke of the transience, the frailty of life when he was inspired to write:  “Lord, make me to know my end, And what is the measure of my days, That I may know how frail I am”(Psalm 39:4-13). So what can we know about our end? How do we measure our days?

In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians he is inspired to provide words of comfort death. He writes: “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. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 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. 16 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. 17 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. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

We will all inevitably experience death both on a second hand and first hand basis. We all know people who have died, and we ourselves will someday die. Death is a 100% certainty. In response to the question, “How many people die per day?” Yahoo Answers recorded, “According to the CIA World Fact Book, as of July, 2005, there were approximately 6,446,131,400 people on the planet, and the death rate was approximately 8.78 deaths per 1,000 people a year. According to our nifty desktop calculator, that works out to roughly 56,597,034 people leaving us every year. That’s about a 155,000 a day.[1] The online Wiki Answers estimates that “6098 people die each hour. . . .102 people die each minute.”[2] Death is all around us. People died in the past. People are dying in the present. People will die in the future. Death is inevitable.

To some death is a deep dark frightening mystery to be dreaded and held off for as long as possible. Thanatopia is the fear of death. In the movie Star Trek Into Darkness two prime characters die; Rear Admiral Christopher Pike (played by Bruce Greenwood) and Captain Kirk himself (played by Chris Pine). What is interesting about the two deaths is that in the last gasps before death both express their fear of death. Apparently with all the advances of the future there has been a distancing from God. The result? Fear of death. Death doesn’t have to be merely an into darkness experience.

People go to great extents to hold off death. We live in a society consumed with the health and physical condition of our bodies. Part of this is motivated by a fear of death and desire to hold it off as long as possible. Each human being inherently knows there’s a ticking clock of age that one day will sound the alarm of death. No matter how much we humans try, there is no way to escape from death.

For many, death can be a very troubling fact of existence. The inevitability of death, when a person is unsure and in the dark about it can be a source of great fear and dread. The things Paul had to say can be a great comfort for those considering the reality of death. He shared about death and then said, “Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

How can we be comforted about death with these words of Paul? What is it that Paul is inspired to tell us to be conscious of in these verses that will give us comfort?

First, be conscious of the fact that death is a reality (4:13). Paul says, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, . . .” The word “ignorant” here (ἀγνοέω agnŏĕō, ag-no-eh´-o ) means, “uniformed; to lack information.” Another English term is rooted in this word which is “agnostic.” (Interestingly, we also derive the word “ignoramus” from the Latin translation of this Greek term.) The opposite of being ignorant of something is being informed and knowledgeable about it. By stating his desire that they not be ignorant he implies it is possible to be ignorant about these things. Don’t be ignorant about these things, be informed. Paul wants us to be conscious of something here.

What does Paul want us to be conscious of? Everyone dies, we all know that, but Paul calls us to be conscious of how to face and understand death. It is possible to understand death and face it fearlessly with hope. Paul’s choice of words in speaking about death are important.

Paul doesn’t want his readers to be ignorant “concerning those who have fallen asleep.” In the New Testament believers who died were referred to as having “fallen asleep” (Mark 5:39; John 11:11). This is not “soul sleep” but the “sleep” of the physical body in the earth until it is resurrected to a glorified body (1 Corinthians 15:35-57; 2 Corinthians 5:1-9). The reason Christians who died were spoken of in this way was because death for the Christian is only a temporary transition to being united with Jesus. Therefore, right from the start Paul helps us to be conscious of a hope in the face of death.

Some people live a kind of ignorance is bliss attitude toward death. They put off thinking about it as though they could actually put off death and prolong life. Some people live as though they are the exception to death.

Before his death in 1981, American writer William Saroyan telephoned in to the Associated Press this final, very Saroyan-like observation: “Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?”  [3]

 

Is that your way not-thinking about death? There are no exceptions concerning death, we’ll all experience it.

On a tombstone was written:

Pause, stranger, when you pass me by; As you are now, so once was I; As I am now, so you will be; So prepare for death and follow me.

An unknown passer by scratched in some additional words which said:

To follow you I’m not content, until I know which way you went.

What we need to know about death is not just that it is inevitable but that there is a way to be prepared for it. And this is so very important because death brings with it a final decision about a person’s eternal destiny. There is an existence after death. The decisions we make in this life now, have a direct bearing on our eternal destiny which we embark upon at the point of death.

Second, be conscious of a hope available in death (4:13). Paul continues, “lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.” Paul tells his readers that death doesn’t have to be a dark unknown that produces despair. We can have hope. Despair is the absence of hope. Sometimes when a loved one dies, those left behind despair because death to them is dark and uncertain, the great unknown in human existence. To them their loved one has passed on forever into that unknown never, (they think) to be seen again. Paul here tells his readers, it’s alright to sorrow, but don’t sorrow hopelessly, sorrow hopefully.

What is “hope”? Hope is a faithful expectation of future good. How can we face death with hope? First we need to consider why some face death despairingly or without hope. The Bible tells us that those who do not have a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are those who have no hope:

  • Ephesians 2:12 – that at that time you were without Christ, . . . , having no hope and without God in the world.

 

The Bible teaches clearly that without Christ there is no hope. This is because every person has sinned at some time in their lives and sin separates us from God, the only source of hope (Isaiah 59:2; 53:4-6; Romans 3:23).

Sarah Winchester’s husband had acquired a fortune by manufacturing and selling rifles. After he died of influenza in 1918, she moved to San Jose, California. Because of her grief and her long time interest in spiritism, Sarah sought out a medium to contact her dead husband. The medium told her, “As long as you keep building your home, you will never face death.”

 

Sarah believed the spiritist, so she bought an unfinished 17-room mansion and started to expand it. The project continued until she died at the age of 85. It cost 5 million dollars at a time when workmen earned 50 cents a day. The mansion had 150 rooms, 13 bathrooms, 2,000 doors, 47 fireplaces, and 10,000 windows. And Mrs. Winchester left enough materials so that they could have continued building for another 80 years. Today that house stands as more than a tourist attraction. It is a silent witness to the dread of death that holds millions of people in bondage because they have no hope in death (Heb. 2:15). [4]

 

How can a person receive hope, a hope that comforts us in death? Is it a matter of building earthly monuments to leave behind us? Is it a matter of going to church, of performing a ritual, of keeping the Ten Commandments, of being a good person, of being religious? No, none of these things measure up to God’s requirements to enter heaven. They all fall short of His glorious standard (Romans 3:23; John 16:8-11). There is only one way to receive hope and comfort with which to face death.

Third, be conscious of Christ’s hope (4:14). It states, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” The condition laid down here by Paul to receive comfort and hope with which to face death, is believing “that Jesus died and rose again.” To “believe” means simply to put your trust in something, accept it as true and follow through on that belief.

Here Paul tells us we must believe or trust in the fact that Jesus died. Jesus’ death was an atoning death. He died like all people do, but because He was the sinless Son of God His death atoned for or paid the just penalty for our redemption. Jesus paid a debt He did not owe for those who owed a debt they could not pay. And because of this when we accept and believe that “Jesus died for me,” to pay our debt, our death penalty (Rom. 6:23) and on the basis of Jesus substitutionary death we ask God’s forgiveness for our sins, God justly forgives us on the basis of Jesus death on the cross (cf. Rom. 3:23-26; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 1:18-19).

Why did God send His Son Jesus to die for our sins? God sent His only Son Jesus because He loves us (Rom. 5:8). And when such love is perfected in us, when it is fully matured, such perfect love casts out fear of judgment (1 John 4:17-19). Paul’s words imply there was a question amongst the Thessalonians about death and those who die before the return of Jesus. This may be further evidence of what Paul alluded to earlier as lacking in the faith of the Thessalonians (cf. 3:10). If they were perfected or fully mature in the love (agape) of God, they would not fear judgment or the apparent issues associated with death. We are human and will naturally question or have interest in the afterlife. But those who are fully mature spiritually in the love of God put fear associated with death aside through faith in Jesus Christ. This is what the apostle John taught (1 John 4). This is what the apostle Paul teaches here. We should aim to be able to say with Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

How do we overcome the fear associated with death? What is the basis of victory over such fears? It is the belief and trust in the fact of that Jesus rose again from the dead. The resurrection is the exclamation mark of God indicating the atoning work of Jesus on the cross completely satisfied His just requirements of the law and was entirely sufficient to pay the penalty for the sins of the world. That Jesus rose from the dead also demonstrates victory over the final enemy, death! And Jesus is the first fruit, the One who goes before. He leads the way for us so that all those who trust in Him can have a hopeful prospect of resurrection too (1 Cor. 15). The resurrection is the proof in the pudding. It’s where the rubber meets the road. It’s where God put up and skeptics must shut up.

How can this be applied to our life? Hope can we appropriate this hope in Christ? Receiving hope from God through faith in Jesus Christ is as simple as ABC:

A – ADMIT – that you have sinned (even just once is enough – Gal. 3:10; James 2:10) and broken God’s Law. ACKNOWLEDGE – that because the wages or penalty of breaking God’s law is death (Romans 6:23a) you are deserving of death. ACCEPT – by faith that Jesus paid the penalty for sin for you by dying on the cross as your substitute (John 1:12; Romans 6:23b; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24).

B – BELIEVE that Jesus’ death on the cross for you is sufficient to reconcile you to God, for Him to justly forgive your sin and apply Christ’s righteousness to you (2 Corinthians 5:21). Believe that as you Admit, Acknowledge, and Accept His gift of salvation, that He fills you with His Holy Spirit (John 3; Romans 8:5,9; 10:8-10; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

C – COMMIT your life to Him; to walk in obedience to His Spirit with Jesus as Your Lord and Master (Galatians 5). Just give Jesus your life and trust Him with everything.

Through faith in Jesus we have hope, an assurance of future good coming to us as we pass through the door of death into eternity. Those are comforting words of hope. When we have a hope in Christ that does not disappoint, we are comforted in the face of death.

 

Fourth, be conscious of the hope found in God’s word (4:15). Paul wrote, “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.” This passage in 1 Thessalonians speaks about the return of Jesus. When Christ returns at the “coming of the Lord,” true believers in Christ upon the earth will be gathered to Him. Those who die before that return “precede” or go before those who will be taken at the return of Jesus. But notice a very practical point here.

Paul directs his readers to “the word of the Lord,” because it is God’s word that fuels our faith, and hope is a faith applied to the future (Romans 10:17).

If you want God’s hope, He offers it in His word. The Bible says, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). There is great hope to be found in God’s word (e.g. Lam. 3:22-23; 1 Cor. 1:3; Rom. 15:13; Phil. 1:21; Col. 1:3-5; 2 Thess. 2:16-17; 1 Pet. 1:3). If you’re feeling hopeless, the most practical way to get your hope up is to go to God and His word. Prayerfully take it in and He will give you His hope.

 

Fifth, be conscious of Christ’s coming (4:16-17). Now Paul substantiates his words by writing, “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. 17 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.” This passage in 1 Thessalonians deals with prophecy, predictions of the future. Did you know that the Bible is unique in this regard? Only the Bible has prophecy of future events. Other religious writings have nothing that compares to the prophetic content of the Bible. There were over 300 prophecies fulfilled by Jesus at His first coming. God uses prophecy to put His finger print on His word. God sees the end from the beginning so that when He inspires a human writer in the Bible to share prophetically He is only speaking naturally for Himself. We are limited by time, God is not. Therefore, when God speaks through human agents the words are often prophetic in that they speak of things yet future, sometimes centuries or thousands of years ahead of time (Isaiah 42:9; 46:9-10; 2 Peter 1:20-21). God has spoken prophetically in the Bible and what God says is certain to come to pass just as it always has (2 Peter 1:19). Paul tells his readers about a blessed hope for the future that Jesus is coming back to earth (4:16-17).

 

Paul in another letter refers to this as the blessed hope of the Christian saying, “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” (Titus 2:13). Jesus is coming back. He is coming for His flock of true believers at the Rapture. And then with His flock at the 2nd Coming of Jesus. When He returns He is going to remove all injustice and make all things right. His glory will cover the earth and peace will finally be established upon the earth. That is a blessed hope for believers, but for those who do not know Christ there is only the anticipation of the just wrath of God.

 

Our End Time

We don’t know when Jesus will return, but what we do know is that our “end time” might come before His return. Each of us has their own “end time” at the point of death. Death without Jesus is dark, despairing and destined to lead to eternal separation from God in an eternal place of darkness, pain and torment (Luke 16). If we die in our sins without having a personal relationship with Jesus as our Savior and Lord, then we really will experience hopelessness. But death with Jesus gives a glorious hope.

Paul wrote in another passage, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Believers have hope and don’t sorrow like those who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Believers approach death differently. Believers never have to say “I’ll never see them again”; but instead can say “see you later.” Death is only a temporary separation for believers. Death is a peaceful sleep or rest; it’s a door to a better place.

 

This is not the case for the one who is unsaved from their sins or who does not have a saving relationship with God through faith in Christ. For the unsaved, death leads to eternal darkness and separation from God and everything good. Dying without Jesus is a reason to despair, for if you die without having received Jesus as your Savior by faith, there is no longer any hope for you. Those who die without having had their sins forgiven by God in Christ, will be judged for their sin and the sentence is eternal separation from God and all good. This is not something God desires for anyone. God prepared hell for the devil and his angels, not people. But those who reject God, in effect choose to rebel like Satan and will spend eternity in the same place of torment. In reality, those who spend eternity in hell have chosen to be there. That may offend you, but that is the truth everyone needs to consider. If you disagree, your argument and disagreement is not with me, but with God and His word. No one has ever or won or ever will win an argument with God. (See Matthew 10:15; 25:30, 41, 46; Romans 1:18, 32; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Peter 2:17; 3:9-10; Revelation 19:20; 21:8.)

 

Lastly, be conscious of Christ’s comfort and comfort one another (4:18). Paul concludes, “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” The word “Therefore,” points us to what precedes and conveys the thought of, “What should we do with this information from God’s revelation?” Paul says, “comfort one another with these words.” There is comfort in our relationship with Jesus Christ. There is comfort from God’s word. There is comfort from the hope of Christ’s return. And there is comfort that God gives through fellow believers.

 

What does “comfort” mean? “Comfort” (παρακαλέω parakalĕō, par-ak-al-eh´-o ) occurs 109 times in the New Testament and is translated “beseech” 43 times, “comfort” 23 times, “exhort” 21 times, “desire” eight times, “pray” six times, “entreat” three times, and “besought” once. The idea here is to come together to exhort, encourage, strengthen, instruct, console and comfort. [5]

What is there to come together and be comforted about in this passage? In review we see:

  • We are comforted when we are conscious of the fact that death is a reality, but through faith in Jesus we can have a sure hope that death is not the end but only the beginning of a better life, eternal life. Christians don’t view the death of another Christian as “I’ll never see you again,” but “See you later.” (4:13-14)
  • We are comforted when we are conscious of the hope and comfort offered in God’s word (4:15)
  • We are comforted when we are conscious of Jesus return. He’s coming again. He’s going to make things right, and that is a reality to give us great hope and comfort (4:16-17).

 

Our departed loved one in Christ is with the Lord right now. We shouldn’t be sad for them, we should be glad for them. They have left behind all the shackles of an earthly body. They have left behind all earthly cares. They are in the presence of the Lord Jesus and experiencing joy inexpressible and fullness of glory. When that is our hope, it is a great comfort.

 

A Christian railroad engineer was speaking to a group of fellow workers about heaven. He said, “I can’t begin to tell you what the Lord Jesus means to me. In Him I have a hope that is very precious. Let me explain. Many years ago as each night I neared the end of my run, I would always let out a long blast with the whistle just as I’d come around the last curve. Then I’d look up at the familiar little cottage on top of the hill. My mother and father would be standing in the doorway waving to me. After I had passed, they’d go back inside and say, ‘Thank God, Benny is home safe again tonight.’ Well, they are gone now, and no one is there to welcome me. But someday when I have finished my ‘earthly run’ and I draw near to heaven’s gate, I believe I’ll see my precious mother and dad waiting there for me. And the one will turn to the other and say, ‘Thank God, Benny is home safe at last.'”

 

The person who dies in the Lord is in a much better place. They are safe at home. They are enjoying the Lord and enveloped in His worship. With Jesus there are no more groan producing bodily ailments. There are no more health problems to hold them down. They are happier in the presence of Jesus than they could ever be here on earth. In fact, (don’t be offended) the departed loved one is probably not even thinking of those left behind. They have their eyes where they longed to put them all along, on Jesus. And if we were able to pry our departed loved one away for a moment from their worshipful gaze on the Lord, they would tell you how “GREAT!!!!!” heaven was. How happy they would be if we would all someday join them in the presence of Jesus. What joy they would have to know they played a small part in your following their lead. The comfort the Christian has is that it’s never “Goodbye forever,” but only “See you later.”

 

 

 

[1] http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20120115065827AACFt62

[2] http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_people_die_every_hour

[3] Today in the Word, April 11, 1993.

 

[4] Our Daily Bread, April 2, 1994.

 

[5]Strong, J. 1996. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship: Ontario