Paul identifies with the church at Thessalonica so much because he completely understood the hardships they faced every day. Throughout the first couple chapters Paul had attempted to bring comfort to them as well as challenge them to be faithful to Jesus Christ even when times are tough. It is easy to lose heart when everything seems to be against you, but Paul promised that their faith in Jesus Christ would sustain them. It appears that one of the major issues with which the church was struggling was the death of friends and family. Paul writes “I do not want you to be ignorant [uninformed], brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep [died], lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.” Paul knew the death of a loved one was a regrettable circumstance, but he wanted to put everything into perspective for them. During Paul’s ministry he taught that Jesus’ return could come at any time and many of his listeners thought that meant He would come back during their lifetime. So, as they watched friends and family die they began to become concerned about what happened to those who passed away before Jesus’ return. Paul spends the next few verses giving them hope. Paul writes about the condition for having hope: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep [are dead] in Jesus.” Simply put, Paul was saying those who die believing in Jesus Christ for salvation will one day rise again for an eternity in heaven with God (4:14). The Thessalonians knew that Jesus would set up His kingdom on earth, but they were not fully aware of the rapture (event of Christ appearing in the clouds to take believers with Him before the 7 year tribulation period). Paul explains the events which will take place: “we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven…and the dead in Christ will rise first.” Jesus had promised His followers that He was leaving them “to prepare a place…and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself” (John 14:1-3). Paul was revealing that those who died believing in Christ would be the first ones resurrected when He returns in the clouds and forever spend eternity with Him. Their spirit is already with the Lord and now their bodies will be resurrected to be united with their spirit. Those who are alive at the time of Christ’s return will be caught up (raptured) with the dead and will meet the Lord in the air (4:17). From this time forward, all believers (dead or alive) have the assurance of eternal life after death and will spend eternity with the Lord in the place which He has been preparing (4:17b). Paul commands that the Thessalonians “comfort one another with these words” (4:18). Paul did not want the church at Thessalonica to be discouraged in their hardships, but rather be comforted knowing that there is hope of resurrection for both the dead and the living!
Dear God, comfort me in knowing that eternal life awaits those who believe in Jesus Christ!