23rd Sunday after Pentecost (November 12, 2017)
- First reading and Psalm
- Alternate First reading and Psalm
- Second reading
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 | New Living Translation (NLT)
And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words.
At least two of this week’s readings look ahead to the time when Jesus returns to take those who believe in him to heaven with him – this passage in 1 Thessalonians and the Matthew passage both speak to the coming return of Jesus. I suppose it’s a look forward of the theme that is coming in Advent – the coming of the Lord.
The passage that we look at today is typically used to make the argument for a pre-tribulation rapture of the church. In our devotion, I want to avoid that – and really help us understand that this passage was written by Paul to encourage the believers. Remember that Jesus had made a promise that he would return and many of the 1st century believers thought that it would happen in their lifetime. When believers started dying of natural causes, there was skepticism of what would happen to those who died before Jesus return.
Here is where Paul shines and the point of this passage. This is a great passage to read when doing a funeral of a believer. Paul tells the church, “Do not grieve as those who have no hope.” Paul goes on to say that because we believe that Jesus died and rose again that those of us who put our trust in Jesus have the same hope of the resurrection. Check out Paul’s rather long discussion of that in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul tells us that when Jesus returns, those who have died in Christ, will bring back with him the believers who have already died. This is great hope. It is the hope that comes because of the resurrection of Jesus.
How will it happen? “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel , and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meed the Lord in the air.”
Paul gives us great hope that whether we are alive when Jesus returns, or if we have died, if we are a follower of Jesus, we will be resurrected and we will be with the Lord forever.
I love Paul’s final words, “So encourage each other with these words.” Those are great words this morning. We have a hope in the resurrected Christ that we too will be resurrected, so encourage your fellow believers today to live for Jesus.