[This is part of a series of sermons on the topic of “One Another”. To access previous messages, please click here.]
Last week we celebrated the beginning of the fight for freedom in our nation. We opened history and found examples of our nation’s leadership and their faith in God and His Son Jesus Christ to deliver us from tyranny. Though we cannot draw direct parallels or claim any specific providential protection from God for our nation, we certainly see patterns of success for Israel and can apply their formula for pleasing God. When our nation and its leaders seek God’s face, humble themselves to His power and live in the faith of His provision, we know that as we seek to serve Him and His will, He is longsuffering in judgment.
We found that Psalm 13 is a psalm that shows us what a successful King David did to please God. Following his lead and exercising the clear guidance in scripture, we could find America growing once again into the greatest nation on the face of the Earth. If however, we continue to deny God and the things of God in every way, we will fail. Our nation will fall further into mediocrity and no longer stand as a beacon of freedom. Just as water naturally fills lakes with sediment from streams that feed it, national leadership naturally wrestles more power from the populace with each passing year. The water that flows into the federation is money. The sediment is power. Therefore, as a lake fills with sediment, so too a federation fills with autocracy.
In verses 1 and 2, we found the identification of the problem we face with our nation. America is running from God. In verses three and four, we found that prayer is the response of dedicated and godly leadership. We also found a king as desperate for his nation as we are for ours, and for the same reasons. King David openly admits he may lose his life. We should admit we might lose our freedom for witness, our freedom of speech. To the Christian, evangelism is part of our hearts cry to the lost. To stifle this is akin to a part of our Christian life dying. Persecution has already begun and we face a juggernaut of secular atheism leading the charge. Finally, King David finds solace in depending upon God for deliverance. He also tells God that he will sing praises to Him once the nation is delivered. Today we consider another “one another” command. This one would seem, at a quick glance, to simply be a touchy-feely kind of command that requires we give one another consolation or sympathy. We are supposed to reassure one another and cheer one another on through life in some way. This would be an extreme oversimplification, a minimalist[i] response per se.
Hope. Everyone wants hope. Everyone who cares about other people wants to give hope to the deprived. When I was young, the way people always talked about Bob Hope, I thought he was named that because of the things he did for others. When we suffer great national disasters through floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic activity (to name a few) we see the Red Cross as a beacon of hope. People seek hope through these organizations for food, water and shelter. Desperate people in depraved nations seek the United Nations for hope.
Some think that hope is just another form of positive thinking. Positive thinking is a rationalism connected to relativism. Hope is a belief, a faith in a positive outcome regardless of the circumstances surrounding an individual. This faith or hope is rooted in a truth. Where modern day psychologists use positive thinking to combat pessimism, hope is a naturally occurring sense of optimism based in a deeply rooted faith in the Christian.
Therefore, the best hope comes from a deep spiritual faith. The most active and aggressive hope is that of the believer in Christ whose soul lives in assurance of being with the Lord God through the resurrection. This is a lively hope.
Today we will discuss this hope, but we will discuss much more as well. How is it that we are supposed to comfort one another? Is it some emotional response to a very serious situation? Is this simply a matter of an affectionate hug, an understanding word or, worse yet, some empty platitude that comforts an emotionally distraught individual? How are we supposed to comfort one another?
I. The Resurrection (4:13-17)
We have opened this book in the past and found that Paul was writing to simply encourage the Thessalonians. He writes words such as 4:9 (to reference the entire chapter, click here) “but as touching brotherly love, ye need not that I write to you (emphasis mine): for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.” The Thessalonians have already been practicing this love toward one another. They do have some questions though, and these questions are born from this selfless love for one another in Christ.
Apparently, there were concerns about believers who had died. The Thessalonians wondered if those individuals would miss the resurrection. They were concerned about brothers and sisters in Christ after death as well as during life.
We might notice that the responses Paul gives do not indicate that these believers are concerned about seeing one another again. This is interesting because worldly love turns the benefits of love back toward the giver. Worldly love becomes selfish and self serving instead of selfless. Paul is not saying, “Don’t worry, you’ll see them again.” Instead, his response focuses upon the spiritual wellbeing of their dead brothers and sisters in Christ. They will rise first; they will be cared for first; they will see Christ first and respond to the trump first.
To give the Thessalonians hope for their brethren, Paul describes the hopelessness of the world in verse 13. The world grieves loss of life because to their temporal view it is an end. Worse yet are those who believe in life after death, yet are uncertain what that entails. Their hearts wonder whether there is judgment or not. For an individual having heard the call of God in their life, to see someone die without Christ is a travesty. Their mind often leaps back to the witness they have received, sees the possibility of eternal life, and understands that there may be eternal condemnation. The worldly understand that anyone who leaves this world is destined for one of the two. Those who have heard the witness of Jesus Christ and rejected it suffer these losses even more.
Many commentators have quibbled about the word “sleep” in verse nine. The word is most appropriate for what Paul discusses in the following verses. The body sleeps, the soul goes on in existence. Just as when we sleep here, we do not cease to exist, so too when our body sleeps, our soul continues on living. Our bodily resurrection then unites a lifeless frame with a living soul once again. This union lasts for all eternity.
Those of the world have no hope and when separated, their body sleeps and their soul lives; however, it exists in torments (Luke 16:22-23). Those who die denying Christ will be resurrected unto judgment (Dan 12:2). Just as every human sleeps and remains alive, every human’s soul still lives; when the body dies the soul goes either immediately to the presence of the Lord or to torments (Luke 16:22-23: 2 Cor 5:8). Therefore, the body may sleep but the soul continues never to rest.[ii]
The Thessalonians had been taught the truths of Daniel 12:2 and knew that they would be with God in the body, but they wondered about those in the grave. We can almost decipher the question being something such as, “Will our loved ones experience this bodily resurrection from the ground?” In verses 16 and 17, we receive a very specific description of this resurrection as a response to this suspected question.
The Lord will descend with a shout. This indicates a single war shout. Many think this scripture represents Jesus as the King, victorious and triumphant at this resurrection, calling His troops to Himself as hosts in Heaven and Earth join him in the air.
The archangel (probably Michael) will take charge as the General of the Army coming from Heaven. Their duty is to guide and guard the resurrected.
Then the trump of God sounds. If we looked at Exodus 19:16 and Psalms 47:5 we would find that a trumpet blast always accompanies God’s manifestation in glory. This is certainly a time for God to glory in the Son as His sacrifice culminates in a revealed arrival in the clouds.
Paul tells the Thessalonians that those in the graves who belong to Christ will raise first; then those who are alive will rise to meet Him in the air. This is a visible, physical resurrection. The world will see this. People will not disappear, but lift up into the air. Graves will open (Matt 27:52-53). One has to wonder if many will immediately convert to Christ. Some may; however many will fall deeper into sin, denial and rebellion. We know that this resurrection, although the most powerful display of the provision of life man will ever witness, will not convert everyone. Abraham told us himself in Luke 16:31 that even if someone rises from the dead, people will not convert. A sad truth, however there is hope.
Believers should rest in these truths just as the Thessalonians did. Paul indicates no doubt about their full faith in the resurrection event. He only explains it to comfort their concerns about those they miss in life. Death of the body is a separation from us that every creature on Earth suffers. Death spiritually is a separation from God that only man endures. At the resurrection, our body and our soul will be reunited (if we are dead in Christ), or taken as a unit (if we are alive in Christ) into the air. We will no longer be dead to God physically because believers have chosen life with God spiritually. A spiritual life through Christ ensures a physical life with Him in eternity.
Not only do we find the resurrection is a hope for the Christian, it is also the comfort we are to give one another. We are to repeat this hope to others as a comfort to them.
II. The Comfort (v. 18)
The very first word of verse 18 gives us indication where we should be going to provide comfort to one another. The word describes a result. We might say, “in order that,” “such that” or “so that.” The descriptions of the resurrection therefore are given to us in order that we might comfort one another.
Equally important is the word for comfort. In this case, it is an imperative. Comfort one another with these words. What words? The words in these scriptures that tell us of the glorious hope of our resurrection and especially the comfort we should receive to know our loved ones, separated from us at death will be the first to see the glory of God!
There is no exclamation point at the end of this sentence, and this is not intended to second guess scripture. However, you can feel a certain exuberance and excitement to convey this wondrous news to those who have lost saints to the curse of physical death. What a joy it is to know we will see them again! Even more joyous is the knowledge that they will see Jesus first! Their death was not a form of judgment, but actually provides them with a wonderful advantage.
We could get jealous, but the sense of this passage is that there was concern for the loved ones that had gone to sleep. Therefore, the hope is a rejoicing hope. The Thessalonians are excited at the prospect of giving others over to the Lord’s care. This is a command for us to dwell on this great, joyous event, and for us to continually encourage others to see this event for what it is – a release from the curse of this world! The event marks the beginning of an eternal life with Christ.
When we first enter Heaven and go into the presence of the Lord, we will be spirit. No one knows what a spiritual existence actually looks like. We know we will recognize one another. We know that they will recognize us. We may even know in some instinctive way, some might call it a telepathy, who is who in Heaven. The rich man in Luke 16 knew who Abraham was because he called Abraham by name (vv23-24). Part of the torment this individual experienced was seeing the comfort Lazarus received in glory. This spiritual existence has all the sensations of a physical one. The body may not be there, but the senses are not dulled by its absence.
If we know our loved ones are in the place of glory, we should be encouraged by the resurrection we will enjoy with them. If someone else is grieving the loss of a saved loved one, it is a great comfort to know of the resurrection. Jesus will gather all His chosen children up into the clouds with Him. If a lost individual is grieving the loss in this physical world, they can receive a tremendous witness from our hope.
Our hope is in the resurrection first exemplified by Christ, and promoted by His power already revealed (Matt 27:52-53). Our hope is in a Lord who rose from the dead after the third day to defeat death and separation from God and loved ones, due to sin’s curse. Our hope is set deep in our soul, never to be shaken by the whims of man. We hope in our Lord and Savior and His salvation.
When we die, we are separated from the world, bodily and spiritually. The body sleeps, but the spirit continues. In this separated existence, the dead know nothing of the temptations, toils, troubles or vanity of the world (Eccl 9:5). When we are resurrected and the sea gives up her dead (Rev 20:13), we are joined once again to our body. This is a lively hope that exists with the believer in Christ (1 Pet 1:3).
We are encouraged to understand the resurrection and what it means to believers, and then give the hope of this resurrection to others as a comfort to them when they consider loved ones gone to be with the Lord. Our hope is in the Lord, who gave Himself for us.
[ii] A question develops then does the soul need rest? The answer is, here in this temptuous world where our spirits are troubled and tempted regularly, yes (Ps 30:2; Is 1:6). In Heaven where the soul is absent from sin’s temptation, we suspect no (Is 33:24; Rev 21:4).