Saturday 8 June 2024



I want you to turn with me to Paul’s 1st Letter to the Thessalonian Church,  


In this 4th Chapter, Paul answers a question most people have asked at some time of their life, more so as they get older.  What happens to me when I die?  Here, Paul is responding to that problem which is disturbing this young Church. 

Paul had established this Church, and most of the members had come from worshipping idols, but had become committed and devoted Christians.  Paul had only three weeks with them before he was driven out of the city by opposing Jews, so had not had time to fully explain as much as he would have liked.  They had been told about the death of Jesus and His resurrection, and how He would one day return and claim all His believers, but they were afraid that some of their members would die before Jesus returned and so miss being with Him in heaven. 

In this passage before us, Paul deals with this important doctrine of the Church, one which is mentioned 300 times in the New Testament.  Whilst it is a vitally important message which non believers should hear, it is also very desirable that Christians should hear and be reminded of, and reassured what the gospel states concerning our eternal future.

Paul begins by saying he does not wish us to be unaware of what happens to those who have fallen asleep.  Here he is referring to Christians as asleep to make the point that they will awake from the grave when Christ returns.  Paul states whilst we may grieve when we lose someone dear, which is in fact what Jesus did when His friend Lazarus died, we are not like unbelievers who have no future hope. 

When the Bible speaks of ‘hope’, it is not the vague meaning we might have when we say I hope you have a good day; it is something more positive. Christians do have the belief and expectation that whilst there is parting, there will be reunion with those we have lost for a while.

We have been considering our future so far as believers; 

what can we say to unbelievers.

I have been using the word ‘Christians’ in the biblical sense.  Most people would like to call themselves Christians if they are not atheists or members of another faith; that is not how the Bible sees it.  A Christian in the truest sense is someone who believes Jesus died on the Cross, and rose again. His death was the price He paid that our sins may be forgiven so that our relationship with God can be restored.  His risen state is to assure us that we too will rise with Him, provided we accept Him as Lord and Saviour, and commit ourselves to live as God has shown us how, that is to be in the words of the Bible.

So if unbelievers have no hope, what is the consequence?  People scoff at talk of the return of Christ and of a Day of Judgement. Such talk becomes the butt of their jokes and is dismissed out of hand. Later in our passage Paul states they will suffer wrath because they will have rejected the only means of escape for any of us, and that is Jesus. This is a sombre warning for us all and should make us concerned for those members of our families who have rejected Christ. It should make us want to do all we can to persuade them to turn with us to a Saving Lord.

The Bible is very clear that there will be a Day of Judgement, a day of accountability, a day when all the books will be opened, a day when all the wrongs will be righted, a day when justice will be done.

Jesus always made two distinctions.  He spoke of tares and wheat; of sheep and goats in today’s gospel reading; of two roads, one leading to eternal life and the other to destruction.  He spoke of heaven and hell in equal measure.  

For many people today hell is a forbidden word in the religious sense.  I was at a clergy meeting and at the Church there was a mural which had faded and when I asked why it had not been restored I was told by a fellow Minister that it depicted sinners being consigned to hell and he added, but we don’t preach about hell now do we.  I answered that I did and he looked at me with complete horror.  But Jesus did too; you can read His words in this book. 

Jesus used different terms in which to describe hell, but simply it means just being separated eternally from God.  It is strange that whilst people dispute any notion of hell as ridiculous they use the word constantly for all kinds of things and in all situations.

One of the great questions that people have to the Christian faith is, how can a loving God send people to hell.  It is not that God does or wants to send anyone to hell; it is rather people choose that course by ignoring God and all He stands for.   It may be something you have felt, you can’t understand how the Bible can teach that there is such a place.

The Bible teaches quite clearly that there will be a final Day of Judgement, a final day when we will be held accountable, and Jesus left us with a clear message of the alternatives.

In verse 15, Paul mentions having had a word from the Lord, something which the Lord revealed to him personally, so we may be assured that what Paul is telling us can be relied upon. Those who die are in conscious fellowship with Christ in the first stage, and will rise with Christ with new bodies when He returns.

I have never been to Hong Kong, but my friend can tell me about it, because he has lived there. There is only one person who has died, experienced life after death, and is able to tell us about it, and that is Jesus. What he says we can rely on. He speaks the truth. Paul is one of the chosen spokesmen for the risen and ascended Christ.

After a funeral service people offer words of comfort to the bereaved; Paul is saying here we should do so, but as Christians, not in the same way, we can comfort one another with the assurance of a further meeting with the deceased. Of course, we will grieve when those we love die and were separated from them, for now. But the nature of our grieving can and should be rather different from the hopeless grief of unbelieving people.   

Having set out the future, Paul then answers the question of when this will happen, by 0pointing out that God in His wisdom does not reveal this. Therefore, there will be no time for preparation .He says it will be like a thief who comes in the night unannounced, or like a woman delivering a baby; both events come on suddenly and can be painful.

When Jesus returns it will be just the same, His coming will be sudden an who gets burgled, and has no insurance; he was intending to get cover butd painful for those not having believed in Him. It will be like the householder just didn’t get around to doing so. Families will be divided, with one taken and one left, some destined to be with Him others not.  Paul is not trying to frighten or threaten, he is actually reassuring believers who may be feeling insecure.

Paul talks about light and darkness, with believers being children of light; we don’t live recklessly as unbelievers do, but we stay sober and awake.  He uses the metaphor of being drunk and fallen asleep, referring to unbelievers living in a dark world.

Drawing upon the Old Testament, where the Lord is portrayed as a warrior wearing armour, so the Christian puts on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of salvation.

I realise this passage is one which can be a message which disturbs, and even distresses, but the doctrine of judgement is one of the basic and fundamental doctrines of the Church, and is put in the Bible to help and save us; it helps to explain some of the seeming unfairness in the world.  

If there was no doctrine of judgement, it would mean that we live in an unfair world, one in which the evil and guilty would have prospered, where there would be no distinction between goodness by the countless millions who served the Lord faithfully, often in much hardship, and the barbarism of men like Hitler and others like him.  Heaven and hell are clear demonstrations that God is a just God.

The passage ends with words of encouragement.  The Christian Church is a community of mutual comfort, and Paul is urging them to give one another help in their anxieties, with the fundamental truths of the gospel, that the Jesus who is coming again is the very same person who died and rose again. 

The supreme result of the death and resurrection of Jesus is to bring us into a personal union with Him, one which neither death, nor bereavement, nor judgement can ever destroy. 

So let us be comforted by these words; and let us try to bring to know Christ, those nearest and dearest to us who have yet to find Him.  We must let it be known no one is beyond redemption, and God will receive all who turn to Him who accept that Jesus died for them and their forgiveness.

May God bless His Words to us and may His Name be ever Glorified

No comments:

Post a Comment