Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For 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. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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. 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. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
I wanted to share with you this beautiful passage that points to the powerful hope of our Christian faith, even in the face of death and grief, because of the resurrection of Jesus our Lord. Paul takes these Thessalonian Christians, with their questions and doubts to the foot of the Cross and to the Empty Tomb to show how solid and powerful our hope in the Lord Jesus truly is.
My hope is that perhaps for some of us it may become a passage we meditate on as we face death – either of loved ones or indeed as we anticipate the prospect of our own death.
Here are five truths about Christian hope because ‘Jesus died and rose again’:
- We grieve with hope
In mourning the death of a brother or sister in Christ we grieve because death is the great enemy, bringing pain, separation and loss that will never be undone in this life. Grieving is right. And yet, with ‘Christ, our hope in life and death’ we can have hope and even worship as we anticipate eternal glory and joy for those we have lost. Christianity encourages that healthy balance of weeping and worship.
- We have personal hope
To die in Christ is to enter a future of infinite love. Not a loss of consciousness, becoming a star, or joining the universe. Paul brings that out by emphasizing that we will be with one another, ‘we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them’. Here is a glorious comfort and hope – that heaven will be a place of reunion and the restoration of all the loving relationships we enjoy with the people of God right here and now. But there’s more! Because sin has been removed, the quality of that love will be perfect – no hiding, no wearing masks, no failures, but infinite love for all eternity will be the life we share as God’s people.
- We have physical hope
Paul does not stop at saying we will go to heaven. The climax of God’s saving and restoring plan goes beyond our souls being with the Lord. As Paul says in verse 17, ‘the dead in Christ will rise.’. We have physical hope and the promise of perfect, new, resurrection bodies.
The Bible presents us with the hope of a renewed heavens and earth, a restored physical world free from sin and its effects, and the eternal prospect of enjoying life with the risen Lord Jesus at a level of joy and beauty we can scarcely imagine.
- We have the Lord as our hope
Of course the greatest truth and the greatest treasure of Christian hope beyond death is this: ‘we will be with the Lord for ever.’ As people we were made to live in the presence of God and to enjoy his glory. What sin has spoiled, Christ in his dying and rising will renew.
The glory that Moses longed to see but couldn’t (‘no one can see my face and live), is the glory revealed by Jesus (‘we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth’), and the glory we will one day see face to face (‘we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him face to face’).
Eternity for God’s people will be one of perfect communion with our Saviour and Lord. We will gaze on the face of Christ, the one who fully knows us and will fully love us, and that will expand our hearts with love and joy as the children of God.
- We have assured hope
Faith in Christ gives us a solid foundation for life in the present and an assurance of an eternal weight of glory in the future. Other religions offer the promise of an afterlife but cannot give assurance to a worshipper of getting there to enjoy it, because their systems are based on merit.
Our faith rests in Christ who has defeated death and has risen from the grave! Notice the certainty in Paul’s words: ‘God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep’; ‘the dead in Christ will rise’; ‘we will be with the Lord forever.’
Death has no claim on Jesus as was gloriously revealed that first Easter Sunday. The debt of sin has been paid in full. The condemnation our sin deserves was taken in full measure by Jesus. By faith in a risen Lord Jesus, the glorious prospect of eternal love and acceptance are ours.
May the message of the dying and rising of Jesus fill all our hearts with joy this Easter so that we may worship and live with the powerful hope that the gospel brings.
Yours in Christ,