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1 Thessalonians

Resurrection of the Dead

1st Thessalonians 4:13 - 5:11

It seems that from the earliest days of the church there has been an ongoing fuss about the return of our Lord. No subject, it seems, is so readily argued over among the faithful. Regrettably, in our desire to know all, we seem very quick to exchange our theory (admirably complete, of course) for the deliberate work of the Spirit – who did NOT give us an entire theory. We are told that which we need to know for this life; that is excitement enough.

So let’s hear what the Apostle Paul has to say to us:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.

(1Th 4:13-5:11 NASB)

Why is Paul writing this?

If, as we have stated, there is too much speculation and theorizing about the return of our Lord, why did Paul write this? We see a few reasons here why we should know what we should know:

To clear out ignorance

One very good reason is this: there is a certain amount of information which is profitable to the church, concerning the Second Coming. In effect, Paul is saying that this is what you should know – that which is both necessary and sufficient, as they say in trigonometry. The matter is easily understood. It is unlikely that you, reading this, are a medical doctor. But likewise you are not completely ignorant of medicine. Your bathroom no doubt includes many medications, prescription and over the counter. Your knowledge is necessary and sufficient; if it becomes insufficient, you know where to ask.

To still those inquiring after “times and seasons”

Paul would have had very little good to say about those who make their living writing books and hosting television shows which purport to tell us how prophecy is being fulfilled this very week. He treats those who inquire after “times and seasons” as those who are not only wasting their own time, but also their hearers. Indeed, the book of Revelation has not yet been given when this writing was done. Paul points out to them what he has told them before: the Day of the Lord will come like a thief. Our Lord tells us it is not for us to know when; rather, we should be ready for it at any time.

To defeat the attack of the heretics

We might sometimes wonder why God tells us anything at all about the Second Coming. What purpose can it have in my daily life? One such purpose is this: to defeat those who attack the faith with their pet theories. Chrysostom reveals such a heresy from his own time; it will do as an example of what the human mind can conjure up:

  • We all know that the root cause of death is sin in this world. You sin, you die.
  • We also know that Christ was indeed sinless. Therefore, he could not possibly have died.
  • If he did not die (space aliens can fake anything) then he could not possibly have been resurrected.
  • And if there is no Resurrection for Christ, there is certainly no resurrection of the dead.

The answer to this is found (as always) in the Scriptures:[1]

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

(2Co 5:21 NASB)

Defending the Resurrection of Christ defends our ultimate resurrection as well. Indeed, Paul makes that connection explicitly in First Corinthians, Fifteen. The argument is this: if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, then nobody could. If the sinless, holy one of God couldn’t do it, we can’t either. But Christ is risen – and we shall rise too.

This, of course, is exciting news. It whets the appetite; what will that day be like? When will it get here? The latter, as we have seen, is not given to us to know – but we have some hints about he day itself.

The Day of the Lord

So, then, just what will this day be like?

Let us begin with the obvious:

  • The Lord descends. Just as the angels told the Apostles at his Ascension,[2] His landing will be a reversal of his takeoff. It is made plain that everyone will know it; therefore, if someone announces to you that He has come in secret, don’t you believe it. Mark puts it this way:

"And then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ'; or, 'Behold, He is there'; do not believe him; for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. "But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance. "But in those days, after that tribulation, THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL BE FALLING from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. "Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN CLOUDS with great power and glory. "And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.

(Mar 13:21-27 NASB)

  • We shall hear the shout of the archangel. What does this mean? We don’t know. This is the only place it is mentioned in Scripture. But anything an archangel shouts about is probably worth hearing.
  • We shall hear the trumpet of God. Traditionally, these two saying have been combined to have the archangel Gabriel blowing his trumpet. There is no Scriptural support for this.

But mankind has heard the trumpet of God before – at Mount Sinai.[3] Hinted at in a Psalm[4], deeply foretold in Zechariah[5], it is mentioned only here in the New Testament.

Order of events

It is a matter of great regret that much debate has happened over the number and sequence of resurrection events. Hal Lindsey, for example, lists no fewer than six resurrections (including that of Christ). We will make no pronouncement as to number and timing here; rather, we must gather the essential facts:

  • The dead in Christ will rise first. “First”, in this instance, is a comparison to those who are still alive. Unfortunately, this has also been interpreted as proof that there must be multiple resurrections of the dead. It does not say so; the comparison between saints asleep in Christ and those awake.
  • That all will rise (not necessarily at the same moment) is also prophesied; some to judgment, some to glory.[6]
  • And, of significance to the living – we won’t be forgotten. We will see the resurrection of the dead, and then rise to meet our Lord.

Now, it doesn’t take much of a grasp of physics to understand that this will indeed be a miraculous event (duh.) So it is that some complain that it can’t happen. But let me ask you this: which is harder, to raise the dead, or to create the universe from nothing? At least in the resurrection you still have all the required atomic parts.

But when?

It being a rather major event in world history, wouldn’t it be nice if we could know just when it would be? Our Lord’s answer (and Paul’s, here) are short and to the point. You already know all you need to know about the timing.

  • It will come “like a thief in the night.” If we’re all standing around on hilltops, wearing our white robes, we can count on it: he won’t come that night. The only way to be ready then is to be ready now – and all the time.
  • One sign is this: the world will be proclaiming “peace and safety.” How will this happen? No details provided.
  • Christ himself did not know, and explicitly told his disciples that they did not need to know.[7] If you’re ready any time, it doesn’t matter – now does it? If you’re not ready at any time, then that’s a problem you need to work on – because it is sin in your life.

What to do while waiting

Did you ever notice that the Scriptures often contain a rather earthy sense of instruction? The glory of God rises above the skies, but it extends down to earth as well.

Be sons of the light and day

A fine sounding phrase; how do we do it?

  • First, by walking in the light – in other words, our deliberate imitation of our Lord Jesus Christ.[8]
  • Then, we should show the fruit of such light – the ordinary, day to day results of imitating Christ: goodness, righteousness, truth.[9]
  • Finally, by living in fellowship not only with Christ, but with all his children as well.[10]
Be sober – use the armor of God

Paul, in a passage which will be amplified in Ephesians, uses the metaphor of a soldier’s armor.

  • There is the breastplate of faith and love. The breastplate protects the heart of the soldier, and nothing so protects the heart of the Christian as faith. But faith alone would be brittle, so we must add love. Against this armor Satan has no weapon to bite.
  • To this we add the helmet, the hope of salvation. The helmet covers the brain, the locus of thought. Despite the best efforts of generations of pulpit pounders, the word of the Lord still is meant to be taken both to heart and to head. Our intellectual acceptance of what Jesus says is rooted in salvation. If there is no salvation, why would anyone want to be good?
  • We may combine these two readily in this: take the faith seriously. It is not just an emotional thrill on Sunday, but rather the full time love with our hearts, minds, souls and strengths.
Encourage and build each other up

This is no light doctrine; each of us will see death many times before we experience it ourselves. How, then, can we build each other up?

  • We should do it in imitation of God – the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit is our comforter in time of distress, so we should take that same comfort and share it with others in need.[11]
  • We should not engage in “worldly and empty chatter.” When we say something, it should be worth listening to.[12] Speculation about dates and times of our Lord’s return fall into this category.
  • In contemplation of death men often find that their lives have been spent on the trivial and useless which are left behind at death. Let us pick up the attitude of those who are going to rejoice at our Lord’s coming – and therefore count the things of this world as loss.[13]

[1] Isaiah 53:6-12 is a more eloquent version

[2] Acts 1:9-12

[3] Exodus 19:17-20

[4] Psalm 47:5

[5] Zechariah 9:14

[6] Daniel 12:1-4

[7] Acts 1:7

[8] John 12:36

[9] Ephesians 5:9

[10] 1 John 1:7

[11] 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

[12] 2 Timothy 2:15-19

[13] Philippians 3:8-11

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