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1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-18 - Grieve Like A Christian

1 Thessalonians: Real Gospel For Real People  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  36:03
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It is a great comfort to us to know that we serve a Savior who is “a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), a Man Who has surely “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). This is a comfort to us because we are a people who are well-acquainted with grief. How many times have we walked through that cold valley together! I look around this room and see family after family that has borne the grief of losing a loved one—sometimes suddenly, and sometimes at the end of a long and draining illness. And when it comes right down to it, everyone present this morning either has suffered the grief of losing a loved on, or will suffer that grief someday.
And so the Apostle Paul’s words to the Thessalonican church here in our text this morning are important for all of us:
1 Thessalonians 4:13 (ESV)
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.
It is sometimes suggested that grieving—sorrowing over the death of a loved one—is somehow inappropriate for a Christian who believes in the resurrection from the dead. But notice here that Paul doesn’t just end verse 13 with “…that you may not grieve.” No—he says that he is writing these verses so that the Thessalonian Christians would not grieve like unbelievers. If you are going to suffer grief, Paul says (and all of us will), then grieve like a Christian.
There is a rhythm to this chapter that I think connects it all back to verse 3—that everything he writes about in this chapter is connected back to our sanctification. there is a repeating pattern of telling them what they must not do, followed by commending them for something they are doing well:
Verses 3-8 - Do not treat sex like the Gentiles (unbelievers) do
Verses 13-18 - Do not grieve the way unbelievers (those who have no hope) do
Go back to verses 9-12: “No one needs to instruct you in loving one another”
And Chapter 5, verses 1-11: “No one needs to instruct you on how to wait for Christ’s appearing.
So I think that it is appropriate to say that our text this morning is the third installment in the “God’s Great Purpose For You: Grieving like a Christian”. As God’s Spirit continues to work in you, making you more into the image of the holiness of Christ, even the way that you mourn for your loved ones will be transformed. Paul wants to encourage his readers that even their mourning will be made holy by the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit.
So the way I want to put it to you this morning is to say
A Christian grieves in HOPE through the PROMISE of our REUNION with Christ
Sadly, we are not accustomed to reading these verses for the same purpose that Paul wrote them, are we? This is one of those well-known passages that is cited in discussions of the end-times; everyone runs to this passage to prove elements of their eschatology or get some glimpse into an end-times scenario. But look at verse 18—why did Paul write these words?
1 Thessalonians 4:18 (ESV)
18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Not “Argue with other over these words”, not “divide from each other” over these words, not “judge each other’s theology” with these words—encourage one another. Minister to each other in the seasons of grief and loss that you suffer with these words; do’t miss the massive treasure of comfort and hope found in these verses because you’re trying to prove or disprove some point of end-times theology!
So what does it mean to “grieve like a Christian?” As we look at verses 13-14 of our text, we see that our grief is tempered by the fact that

I. We have a sure HOPE in our SAVIOR (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)

1 Thessalonians 4:13–14 (ESV)
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.
The grief that we endure as believers is grounded in hope
Because Jesus ROSE from the DEAD (v. 14; cp. 1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
Because Jesus rose from the dead, we have a sure hope that we will rise from the dead. I take this from the phrase “even so” in verse 14:
1 Thessalonians 4:14 (ESV)
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.
In the same way that Jesus rose again, so will all of those who have trusted in Him. Because Jesus’ tomb is empty today, you have a sure hope that your loved one’s grave will be empty someday!
Paul traces this same pattern in his first letter to the Corinthians—in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, we read:
1 Corinthians 15:20–23 (ESV)
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
Paul says that at the Second Coming of Christ (the word “His coming” in 1 Corinthians 15:23 is the same Greek word, parousia, that Paul uses to describe “the coming of the Lord” in 1 Thessalonians 4:15)—at the Second Coming of Christ, the dead will be raised from their graves. So that would indicate that what is in view here in our text is the Second Coming of Christ. This is why Paul points to this event as such a sure hope for grieving Christians--
Because Jesus WAKES the DEAD (v. 15; cp Luke 8:52-55)
Paul describes Christians who have died as “those who are asleep” (v. 13). This is an important point particularly for the Thessalonian believers, who by and large had come from a Greek background (being that Thessalonica was in Greece, after all!) The Greeks of that day held to the same worldview as the rest of the ancient world, in that they believed that those who died descended to Hades, who ruled the Underworld
While some Christians take the word “asleep” here to mean that deceased Christians are in a sort of “suspended animation” in their graves until Christ returns, the Scriptures are very clear that when a believer dies, they are immediately brought into the presence of the Lord. Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would join Him in Paradise--God’s presence--that very day (Luke 23:43). (It would be very strange for Jesus to promise the thief that he would be “in Paradise” that day if He knew that the thief would actually be sleeping in an unmarked grave for the next several centuries!) And in Philippians 1:23, Paul said that if he had a choice he would prefer to “depart and be with Christ”, but it was necessary to stay “in the flesh” in order to serve the church there. If Paul believed that “departing” from the flesh meant slumbering in death in the grave for millennia until Christ returns, it would be very strange to hear him say he would rather do that than pastor the Philippian church! There are several other passages (cp. Luke 16:22; Luke 23:43; Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Revelation 6:9-11; Revelation 14:13) that show that the Bible consistently represents those who have died as being conscious before the general resurrection of [believers] that Paul writes about here. (T. Thompson, unpublished correspondence, 11/8/2013)
So instead of some sort of “soul-sleep”, the word “sleep” here in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 simply refers to physical death-- “sleep” was a common metaphor for physical death both in the Christian and pagan world of the 1st Century A.D. Jesus spoke of death the same way in Luke’s Gospel, and the people He was speaking to did not understand what He was saying. Turn with me there for a moment—Luke 8, verses 52-55 (page 866 in the pew Bible):
Luke 8:52–55 (ESV)
52 And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” 53 And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” 55 And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat.
Jesus went into that room to raise the dead as easily and naturally as if he were waking her up from a nap—(“Time to get up, sweetie!”) Here is your certain hope in your grief, Christian—you serve a Savior that wakes the dead!
And notice the detail in this story of how Jesus awakened her from death. He took her hand and spoke specifically to her. Just as when He raised Lazarus from the sleep of death (John 11:11), he called him by name, so here He was careful to speak specifically to this particular sleeper. But on this Day that Paul writes about in our text, Jesus will descend from Heaven “with a cry of command”—and that command to all who belong to Him by faith will be simply, ARISE! And on that Day all of His children who sleep in the grave will awaken!
Christian, when those seasons of grieving come upon you, grieve like a Christian who has a sure hope in your Savior who rose from the dead, a Savior who wakes the dead with His cry of command at His coming—we grieve in hope because

II. We have a firm PROMISE for our FUTURE (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)

Verses 15-16 tell us:
1 Thessalonians 4:15–16 (ESV)
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.
Our grief at the loss of our loved ones in Christ is tempered by the understanding that
The SLEEPERS will be AWAKENED first... (v. 15; cp. John 6:37-40)
Jesus Himself promised that all those who trust Him for salvation would be raised on the Day He returns:
John 6:37–40 (ESV)
37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
Paul points to Jesus’ promise to raise His own on the last day and comforts his readers that those who have died in the Lord will not miss out on Jesus’ glorious return; on the contrary, they will get front-row seats! And not only will they get those front-row seats to the glory of the Return of Christ, but they will be awakened out of their graves with new, imperishable bodies!
Your loved ones who have died in the Lord will not miss out on witnessing the glory of Jesus’ return—they will be awakened first, and
…then the LIVING will be TRANSFORMED (v. 17; cp. Philippians 3:20-21)
1 Thessalonians 4:17 (ESV)
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.
Just as Jesus promises to awaken the dead and clothe them with a resurrection body, so He makes that same promise to those who are alive at the moment of His return. We read in Philippians 3:20-21 that
Philippians 3:20–21 (ESV)
20 ...our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Jesus Christ will command His infinite power as your Savior on that Day no matter where you are! If your body is in the grave, He will raise it up and transform it to be like His as you rise to meet Him. If you are alive at that moment, He will transform your poor, weak, broken-down body into a glorious, imperishable body like His as you rise to meet Him! So as you grieve for your loved ones who have died in Him, and as you struggle with a body that slows down a little more each day, that falls further into the decay and pain and weakness that is the lot of everyone in this fallen world, comfort one another with these words! You have a firm promise for your future grounded in the power and love and faithfulness of your Savior!
Let this firm promise leave its mark on the times of grief that you walk through in these days, Christian—grieve in hope of the promise of our reunion with Christ on that day. We have a sure hope in our Savior, we have a firm promise for our future, and

III. We have a sweet COMFORT for our REUNION (1 Thessalonians 4:17-18)

Look again at verses 17-18:
1 Thessalonians 4:17–18 (ESV)
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.
Here is sweet comfort for us; here’s why we can grieve like Christians:
We will RISE to meet the RISEN (v. 17)
Paul says that all of us who are alive and remain until the Day of Christ’s return, will be “caught up together with them”—the verb here gives the sense of a sudden, dynamic “catching away”. I know I have several equestrians in the room, so you’ll know what I mean when I describe the “buddy pickup?” Mom says she used to do this all the time with her friend Bonnie—Bonnie would stand in the field, and Mom would gallop towards her and lean down and catch Bonnie by the arm, using the horse’s forward momentum to swing her up onto the horse’s back behind her. (Bonnie still reminds her about the time she overcompensated and swung clean past the horse’s back onto the ground!)
That’s what Paul is after when he describes us as being “caught up together”—you and your beloved dead in Christ swinging up together, rising together to meet your Risen Savior! Arm in arm! Hand in hand! They have been present with Him in spirit since the moment they breathed their last, but the first time they meet Him physically will be the same moment you do! Comfort one another with these words!
It’s worth noting here that the word that Paul uses to describe meeting the Lord in the air is used only two other times in the New Testament, and both of those usages are describing the act of coming out to meet someone and then accompanying them the rest of the way as they arrive. This same word, (Gk. apantesis) is used by Jesus in Matthew 25:6 to describe the five wise virgins going out to meet the bridegroom and then accompany him into the wedding feast, and it is used in Acts 28:15-16 when the Roman Christians went out to the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet Paul and accompany him into Rome. The virgins didn’t go back with the bridegroom to where he came from, the Roman Christians didn’t go with Paul as he turned around and went back to Malta—and so it doesn’t appear here in our text that the risen and transformed believers turn around and go back to Heaven with Jesus—they accompany Him the rest of the way on His return to earth to establish His Kingdom.
And so Paul says, those who have died in Christ will not miss the glorious appearing of His return! As one author puts it:
“This spectacular welcome by millions of God’s people, from all the centuries, will be shared by every believer fully. To that end, all the dead will be raised at His coming.” (Piper, J. (2023). Come, Lord Jesus: Meditations on the Second Coming of Christ. Crossway. p. 95)
You will share this coming with Charles Spurgeon, With D. L. Moody, with Billy Graham, with R. C. Sproul, with Martin Luther, with Athanasius, with Polycarp and Irenaeus, with Paul and Silas and Ezekiel and Daniel and Joshua and Moses and Father Adam himself! You will witness this glorious spectacle of the culmination of all those millennia of waiting for Christ’s return arm in arm and hand in hand with those that you love and miss today—Pam will be there! Bruce will be there! Jack and Kay Bailey, Mickey Weaver, Frona Burkett, Paige Doane, Hap and Florence Mowrey, Gary and Jeannie Gross, John and Sarah Cunningham (and John and David), Herb and Elsie McGaughey (and Betty and Irene), Terry Carlson, Alvera Smith, Russ and Mary Kramer, Ray and Gwen Buhite, Glenn and Alma Henery, Bob and Lorraine Vanatt—go down through the rolls of Bethel Baptist Church members as far as you can—they will all be there with you to meet Jesus together!
And Paul says that once we have had that great reunion with one another and with Jesus Himself,
We will NEVER be SEPARATED again (1 Thess 4:17)
1 Thessalonians 4:17 (ESV)
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.
There will be no more goodbyes—no more tearful separations, no more pain or weakness or disease or violence or tragedy that tears you away from one another ever again! But as wonderful as that will be, the joy of that reunion will pale in comparison to the fact that you will be with Jesus always! Indeed, none of the great and glorious promises given to us for our comfort in this passage—glorious resurrected bodies free of any stain of disease or corruption of age, restored fellowship and intimacy with the ones we love, eternal joy and peace in the freedom from all sin and evil—none of those things would be worth it if we didn’t have Christ at the center of it! On that Day, Christian, you will have all of those gifts, but the greatest one of all will be that you will be with Jesus forever! So comfort one another with these words, Christian—when you walk through the seasons of grief that have come your way (and are yet coming)—grieve like a Christian, in hope through the promise of your reunion with Christ.
But mark it well—this comfort, this encouragement is given here for those who belong to Jesus Christ by faith. If you are here today and you have no part in Christ, then you have no part in this hope. As Paul will go on to write in his next letter to the Thessalonians, this very same Day that is the blessed hope of every Christian will be a day of horror and judgment for those who do not know God and those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
2 Thessalonians 1:9–10 (ESV)
9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
Hear the Word of God this morning: On that Day, Jesus Christ will come to be glorified in His saints and marveled at among all who have believed. For them it will be the most glorious, most marvelous, most awe-filled, joy-filled reunion and celebration in His presence that will last for all eternity. For you who refuse Him, it will be a day of punishment and eternal destruction away from His presence for all eternity. A blessed hope for those who trust Him, a terrifying threat for those who refuse to obey Him. For the Christian, that Day can’t get here fast enough; for you who refuse Him, that Day will be here before you know it.
And the best of the Good News for you this morning is that that Day has not appeared yet! The sun rose this morning and you got up today and came to hear this word because God is giving you one more chance to obey this Gospel! You have today to come before Him to repent of your sin and trust the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ as your only hope to stand on that Day! This day can be the second best day of your life—second only to the Day when Jesus returns, not as your Judge, but as your Savior, clothing you with an immortal body like His and fitting you for eternal joy and holiness in His presence. So make this the day that you turn away from the false promises of sin and your stubborn refusal to obey the Gospel call to salvation Come—and welcome!—to Jesus Christ!
Jude 24–25 (ESV)
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.


Read 1 Thessalonians 4:18. Why does Paul say that he writes about the coming of Jesus in this passage? How do we miss the purpose of these verses when we only use this passage as a “proof-text” for a particular eschatological (“end-times”) theology?
What patterns do we see in this chapter that suggests that the way that we grieve as Christians is connected to the process of our sanctification? In your experience, how is a Christian’s grieving different from someone who has no faith in Christ?
What does Paul mean when he refers to “those who are asleep” in verse 13? Read Luke 23:43, Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:8. How can you use these Scriptures to respond to someone who believes that Christians experience a sort of “soul sleep” in the grave until the resurrection?
How does the knowledge that the dead in Christ will be raised first and then you will meet Jesus in the body together transform the way that you grieve as a Christian? Pray that God’s Spirit would do His sanctifying work in your life so that when the day comes for others to grieve for you that they may have this same hope that you will be raised with them in Christ!
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