Aliens and Strangers
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thess. 4:13-18 ESV)
Al Detter, writing in Leadership Journal said that on his 25th wedding anniversary, he thanked his wife for all the wonderful years that they had together. They had their four children, both of their parents were still living and they had known many blessings and few problems. But he also said “We won’t arrive at the end of the next 25 years like we have these. Almost everything will change. Our parents will die, our children will leave home, and we will face hardships like we have never known.” It was the very next day that the life began to change when his father was killed in a car accident. (Leadership, Fall, 2002, page 108.)
Along the journey, we notice that the way becomes very rough, beyond our ability to bear. We often don’t know how to cope with the struggle. We can’t get a handle on what troubles us. It is too bad that we have lost the imagination of the people of the Middle Ages who saw dragons and monsters and demons behind every rock and every tree. The unknown was filled with danger and the danger had a name. On old world maps, on those areas where no one had gone before was written, “beyond here there be dragons.” Today we just fear the unknown without an image of an enemy.
Christians have a deep need to be reminded that, even in the 21st century, we are still aliens and strangers who are looking for a far off country. We belong to another kingdom which is our eternal home. But in our living years, we still share the same anxiety as did the believers at the church at Thessalonica.
The pagan religion’s view of death, at best, offered a dreary, shadowy existence in a dungeon like place. One of their writers, Theocritus said, “hopes are for the living; the dead are without hope.” The resurrection lets us know there is far more to this story. Paul had told them about our Christian hope.
Paul taught the imminent return of Christ. As far as Paul was concerned, Jesus would return any day.
However, some of them were dying before the return of Christ and they had questions. It troubled them. What would happen to those who died before Jesus returned? Would they be lost?
Paul said that he did not want them to be ignorant or uninformed about these matters. He did not want them to grieve as those that have no hope. There is nothing wrong with grief. Paul did not want them to grieve like the pagans who knew of no hope after death.
If we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, then we should have no problem believing that he will also raise our dead brothers and sisters. Thus, God will bring with him those who have died in Christ. Paul says that this is by way of the word of the Lord. It is not just mere opinion that he expresses. It is God’s word to us.
Here is the core of the matter, we who are alive are not ahead of those who are dead. In fact, we will not precede them at all. Instead, when Christ returns, he will bring with him, those who have died and are now resurrected as he is. In that great day when all time ends, in that cosmic event where all people will see at once the return of Christ, he will be accompanied by those who have died. The trumpet will sound, and the Archangel will shout. Then the dead in Christ shall rise first. I believe that this is the end of time and that those who have died are no longer in time, they are in what we call eternity. When Jesus returns, to those who are living, it is the beginning of eternity as well.
The dead in Christ are first. Then we who are alive will be caught up together to meet them in the air. I suspect it would not be wrong for us to read into this Paul’s later writing in 1 Corinthians 15, we all shall be changed. In that moment we shall be transformed just as those who have died are transformed. In one big massive movement, we will all be caught up with them in the air. What a grand moment that will be! Then we shall be with him forever.
We are to comfort each other with these words. I remember when my father died, I felt I needed to say something. That morning as we were leaving the house for the funeral, I stopped my family and read this passage because it is commanded that we comfort each other with these thoughts. When we think of our loved ones who have gone on before us. When we ponder our own fate that awaits us. We must remember that for those who are in Christ, it is a done deal. Paul says that right now we are risen with Christ, we are in him, it is a guarantee. So, when that day comes, whether it is our own personal death or the death of others, we need to remember the words of Jesus, “this day you will be with me in Paradise.”
It will be a grand reunion. When we who are alive are rejoined with those who have gone on before us, we will be taken to be with Jesus forever. That is our destiny. We may have to pass though the land of dragons and wild beasts. Our lives may turn out to be one big battle. But He who rose from the dead has made us a promise. If we are in Christ, we will persevere to the end because God himself will sustain us.
Like Paul, we hope, we long for the return. We ask ourselves is it time? We pray Lord come quickly. When that day comes, when the trumpet is sounded, God’s people, will be in his eternal presence forever. We will be transformed, changed in the twinkling of an eye. And our journey will be over. We will be home