Timothy, Paul’s missionary partner, had traveled from southern Greece back to Thessalonica. When he returned to Paul, he brought a good report from the baby church. He also recounted the Thessalonians’ greatest questions and concerns.
Remember, Paul had been in Thessalonica for only “three Sabbaths” (Acts 17:2) before a riot broke out and he was forced to evacuate. He didn’t have time to teach all the important New Testament doctrines. So to answer the church’s questions, Paul wrote, “we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The epistles of First and Second Thessalonians were written in response to the church’s inquiry.
During those three short weeks, Paul must have taught them that the resurrected and glorified Jesus will return to earth to claim His bride, the church. Surely Paul had taught them of Jesus’ final sermon. “Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1–3).
The new converts in Thessalonica were anticipating Jesus’ return! They were ready! But, they were confused. They were worried because grandpa (or maybe it was great uncle Theo) had fallen asleep, or rather, he died. “Oh no! Jesus is coming back, but what happens to grandpa?” Paul’s written response is found in the last verses of First Thessalonians, chapter four.
Paul said, don’t “grieve like the rest, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We will grieve! Jesus wept at the grave of His dear friend Lazarus (John 11:35). We grieve, but we can grieve with the hope of the resurrection. Jesus promised the thief on the cross, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The moment a Christian dies on earth, he lives in heaven. Paul explained to the Corinthians that, for a believer, “to be absent from the body (is) to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8, NKJV). The Thessalonians didn’t need to worry about grandpa!
Why? “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For we say this to you by a word from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still 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” (1 Thessalonians 4:14–17).
Paul explained that the bride of Christ will be “caught up ... to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). We will be caught up. We will be raptured! (Rapture comes from the Latin word meaning caught up, snatch away, or carry off.)
“Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51–52).
We don’t need to grieve for grandpa! We need to be ready. Jesus is coming soon! “Encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
All Scripture quotations, except as otherwise noted, are from
Holman Bible Publishers’ Christian Standard Bible.