Paul’s Footsteps #98

Footsteps # 98

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died[f] so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. ” NLT (1 Thess.4:13)

Why were the Thessalonian believers grieving as if they had no hope? A major factor was probably the short period that Paul was with them. We know that Paul talked about the death and resurrection of Jesus while he Was there (Acts 17:3). There is also evidence that he talked about final events, even if his instruction was misunderstood. But he may not have had time to clarify issues related to the resurrection of believers. 

A further element is the pagan background of most of the believers to whom Paul is writing (1 Thess. 1:9). Though the mystery religions of the time offered a picture of the afterlife, most pagans had no hope of life after death.  

Paul’s purpose for the passage is outlined in contrasting phrases at the beginning and the end. Paul writes in order that they might not grieve as do those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). And he intends that the truth about the nature of the Second Coming will give them glorious reasons to comfort each other in times of loss (1 Thess. 4:18). 

In v14 Paul offers the solution to the problem of hopeless grief. In the original language, he describes the believers who have died as having “fallen asleep through Jesus.”(NASB) While falling asleep is a common metaphor for death in both Old New Testament times, the normal expression for a believer’s death is “fallen asleep in Jesus” or “in Christ.” A good example of this is the “dead in Christ” of v16. 

A second issue with the text is the idea that God will “bring with him” those who have fallen asleep. Some read this phrase as meaning that those who have died in Christ (and, they presumed, went to heaven at death) will return with Jesus when He comes. But this interpretation contradicts Paul’s own teaching in verse 16, that the resurrection of dead believers occurs at the Second Coming, not before. 1Cor.15:20-23,51-58 helps clarify v14. In this passage, Paul is drawing a parallel between the death and resurrection of Jesus and the death and resurrection of believers. TBC

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