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. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

It is clear from reading this little letter to the church in Thessalonica that the apostle Paul had taught them about the hope (“confident expectation”) of the soon coming of the Lord Jesus to take His people to be with Him. As he hears reports of the testimony of these believers who had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10), he is greatly encouraged.

But while they waited for Jesus to return, some had died and they were concerned that these loved ones would miss out on this great event, the coming of Jesus in His glory. So Paul is writing to put their minds at ease.

Just as Jesus had spoken of Lazarus as “sleeping” when he died (John 11:11-15), so Paul refers to these loved ones as “those who have fallen asleep in Jesus”. It is a reminder that with Christ, death is not final; there is hope beyond the grave. When challenged by sceptics about the future resurrection, Jesus told them they were greatly mistaken, “not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.” God describes Himself as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”; but, says Jesus, He is “not the God of the dead but of the living” (Matthew 22:29-32).

Sadly, not all who die can be described as “those who have fallen asleep in Jesus”; only those who have been united together with the Lord Jesus by faith. The New Testament places all mankind in just two categories: either “in Adam” or “in Christ” (Romans 5:12-21). All who are born into this world are by default “in Adam”; only those who are born again are “in Christ”.

Paul’s comfort to these grieving Christians is based on the promise that Jesus will come again and receive His people to Himself that “where He is there we might be also” (John 14:3). At that time, “God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus”. The only basis for hope beyond the grave is to receive from Christ the gift of eternal life. “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).


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