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1 Thessalonians 4_13-18

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1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 p1 Now we continue on in our study through this Pauline letter to the Thesalonians. If you recall, we had spent our time together looking through this letter and we saw a uniqueness in this letter. For one, this letter is very positive throughout. Secondly, we see that this letter really can be broken down into two parts. 1) Paul looking backwards, you could say reminiscing on his time that he had spent with the people and 2) Looking forward. Addressing specific concerns and issues that this local church was facing in order to minister and exhort them. We have moved through the first section and are in the middle of the second section. We are mining the riches of his words of exhortation to them. We already looked at how he addresses sexual conduct. We are to be holy and to abstain from sexual immorality. This morning, we will look towards his words concerning those who have died. And in the next times we will look towards Christ’s return, although we will spend some time in it today as well. But one note that I want to leave with you is this, be wary of any person who makes definitive statements that are not accounted for in the Scriptures. For example, there are many who want to make claims on who the Anti-Christ is. They will say something like it was the emperor Nero, or Adolf Hitler or the Pope or the Catholic Church. These men and women are nothing more than false teachers looking to say something to make themselves feel important. I say again…these individuals are puffed up with pride and are false teachers. You may say that is harsh and I say 2 John 9 says “Anyone who does not remain in Christ’s teaching, but goes beyond it, does not have God.” Do not follow, do not accept it. They are showing who they truly are. They may say some things which contain truth, but if they go beyond, you ought to correct them. That is not to say that they cannot express their opinions on other matters, but when it comes to what has already been revealed by the Scriptures they are to only speak the very words of God. I preface with these words, because I want you to exercise that same caution with me as we go through this study of Thessalonians, in particular as we go forward in looking to the end times. This is not a subject that believers should be unaware of. In fact, when speaking about death and resurrection, Paul makes it very clear that this is not something they should be ignorant of, and we will see that in this morning’s passage. You may say Pastor, that is a strong way to start your message. The Word of God is truth, I will never water it down for you. I will merely proclaim it. And we live in a day and age where that truth is being attacked from both inside and out. And especially concerning the end times, it seems that many have much to say that are not found in the Scriptures. And many have much to say that contradict with Scriptures. And so there is confusion in the church. But God intended that there be not confusion. Paul introduces this section by stating that fact. He wishes that they are not ignorant of these matters. Before we go ahead and read this morning’s passage, we must also understand that he was writing to a people who were suffering great persecution. That is necessary to remember considering all of the language that Paul uses to exhort and to encourage and strengthen his beloved brothers and sisters. Now keep this in mind as we read this morning’s passage. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 We read in this passage the reason for his writing. He did not want them to be misinformed. He did not want them to be lacking in this truth. And so he is going to explain it to them. But not only does he want them to be misinformed. We read in vs 13 that he also wants them to encourage one another with the words that he is giving to them. This is not unique to the letter of paul. But it is also something that the whole of Scripture does. It provides us with clarity and it also provides us with encouragement. We do not read the Bible and find confusion, we find order and we find truth to guide our lives in the matters that it speaks about. Not on everything. If I want to learn about mathematics, I turn to a math book. If I want to learn about a specific painting style, I look to an art book. If I want to learn about history of America, I turn to a history book. But if I want to learn the way for salvation, if I want to live a holy and righteous life I turn to the only source for this. The Bible. It is the source of truth in a world that is so full of confusion. Because there is confusion. So Paul, in an effort to clear up the chaos and confusion, writes a letter to the Thessalonicans. The word that Paul uses here is the greek word ἀγνοέω (agnoeō): vb.; ≡ Str 50; TDNT 1.115—1. LN 28.13 not know, not have information, be ignorant (1Th 4:13; Ac 16:39 v.r.); 2. LN 30.38 ignore, pay no attention to (1Co 14:38); 3. LN 32.7 fail to understand, implying lack of capacity (2Pe 2:12). Dr. John MacArthur: Sometimes he says, “I do not want you to be ignorant,” such as here and in Romans 1:13, 1 Corinthians 10:1, etc. Sometimes he’ll also say, “I want you to understand … I want you to know,” like 1 Corinthians 11:3, Philippians 1:12 and other places. He does not want us to lack in knowledge or to be ignorant. He does not want them to fail to understand. What? About those who die. He is reassuring his readers that there is life after death. You see there were some who were saying there is no resurrection. Or some who would say that those who died before the second coming of Christ were lost or that they would miss the parousia (παρουσία, parousia) which means “presence” or “arrival.” It is used as a technical term to refer to the return of Christ in glory at the end of this world. They were worried they would miss it. And secondly, he writes to encourage them. And so Paul is reassuring them. Remember these people are facing great persecution. It is real. And some have even lost their lives in the defense of their faith. Now remember they are looking to the parousia, the arrival of Jesus. These people need encouragement. Not just because they have lost someone that they have loved, but also because they need hope. Some were worried that if they died before the coming of the Lord, they would miss out. Or, maybe the Lord did already come and they had missed it. And so, now what? You will recall in chapter 1 vs 9-10 they were waiting. 1: 9-10 “for they themselves report what kind of reception we had from you: how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead —Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” So, they were waiting. They were expecting. They were hoping, but some are starting to doubt. Paul did not spend a great deal of time with them, and so this may be one of the theologies that he did not have time to fully expound upon. This shows a hinting at the sort of theology that should be introduced early in the life of a believer. We do not settle to teach these things at the end. We want to prepare the church to be busy doing the work of the Lord and to be prepared for the coming of the Lord. This sort of thought would come about at the early forming of the church. Is there a resurrection, and if so, what happens to those who die before the second coming? He is addressing this head on. But he is also addressing a second point which I hope you will permit me to elaborate on. We do not mourn like “the rest of men who have no hope”. Now Paul is in no way implying that we do not grieve. To mourn is natural. Even Christ grieved outside of the grave of Lazarus and he knew he was going to raise him up from the dead. But our mourning is different. He says we do not mourn like the pagans. We do not mourn as those without hope. There was a hopelessness for those who died as pagans. There was no hope. That is the same case for Atheists. If there is no God, then what is the point in living. If there is no God, then there is no afterlife. So why does it matter what you do? Why does it matter for you to contribute beauty in art or advancements in technology if when you die there is nothing afterwards. It is a useless existence that means nothing. And this was the case in the first century. They had no hope and you would see that in the inscriptions on their tombstones. Frame writes: Irene to Taonnophris and Philo, good comfort. I was as sorry and wept over the departed one as I wept for Didymas. And all things whatsoever were fitting, I did, and all mine, Epaphroditus and Thermuthion and Philion and Apollonius and Plantas. But, nevertheless, against such things one can do nothing. Therefore comfort ye one another. Deissmann, from whom Frame takes this letter, speaks of Irene as experiencing ‘the difficulty of those whose business it is to console and who have no consolation to offer’ (LAE, p. 177). The second is from a Christian of about the same date, Aristides: And if any righteous man among them passes from the world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort the body as if he were setting out from one place to another near.1 So we do mourn, but we know that we will be resurrected from the dead to the Father. Nothing will separate them. Considering what Paul would later pen, it could be that he was still dealing with this. He would later, 5-7 years later, write the letter to the Romans. In that letter, we find in the eighth chapter the fact that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not even death itself. Returning back to our earlier point. Paul begins to expound upon that fact. And who is his case study and evidence? Jesus. Vs 14. Just as Christ rose from the dead, so in the same manner God will raise up those who have died through Jesus. And in vs 15, he tells them by what authority he is able to make this statement. It is a revelation from God. And he is expressing that those who are alive vs those who have already died, have no greater advantage over the other. We all will rise with Christ, see that in vs 16. Now he will expand upon this later on and we will go through it in the coming months. But I do want to mention that there is a teaching that embraces what is known as soul sleep. That when you die, your soul sleeps and then waits until the coming of the Lord and then it rises. That is a completely unbiblical principle. The term here for sleep is simply a euphemism for death. They die. And this sleep is not referring to their souls, but to their bodily condition. They are dead. Do not let anyone confuse you and say that when you die then you stay in the ground. That is the same confusion that was taught by the false teachers of that time and is completely against the teaching of the Word of God. We see that throughout the Scriptures: The word for “sleep” is also used uniquely of Christians and it’s used a number of times for Christians, now listen carefully, and it always refers to their bodies … it always refers to their bodies. It never refers to the soul. There is no such thing as soul sleep. The only part of us that goes in to any state of unconsciousness at death is the body. Look at Acts 7 just to give you a full understanding of this. You remember when Stephen was being stoned it says in verse 60, “Falling on his knees he cried out with a loud voice, Lord, do not hold this sin against them. And having said this, he fell asleep … he fell asleep.” It was death from the human viewpoint. It was death from the biological viewpoint. It was sleep because it was only temporary repose for his body. His spirit didn’t go in to unconsciousness. If you don’t think so, look at verse 59. He said, “Lord Jesus … what?… receive my spirit.” It was only his body that was to be in repose, to be asleep. A sleep, by the way, from which even his body would awaken and that’s the main point that I want you to understand. When in 1 Corinthians 11:30 Paul says of Christians, “Many among you are weak and sick and a number sleep,” he again refers to death for a Christian as sleep because it is the temporary repose of the physical body. In 15 of 1 Corinthians verse 6 it talks about Christians who saw the resurrected Christ, many of them remain until now—that is to the writing of this epistle—but some have fallen asleep. There’s that same familiar concept. Verse 18, those who have fallen asleep in Christ. And then in verse 51, “I show you a mystery, we shall not all sleep.” Again referring to Christians in death. Second Peter 3:4 mentions it, where is the promise of His coming for ever since the fathers fell asleep all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation. There it is the wistful anticipation of unbelievers that those who have died have died only a temporary death. But for Christian the term is accurate, for it is a temporary thing. Even for pagans there will be a resurrection. There is a sense in which the pagan bodies only sleep for they too will be raised, however, they will be raised to eternal damnation and death. And so thus it is not appropriate to speak of theirs as a temporary death, therefore a sleep, but as a permanent death and not a sleep at all. Now let me go a step further. The term “sleep” or the concept of sleep does not refer to the soul. There is no such thing as souls sleeping. When Stephen was dying he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he had the anticipation of entering into the conscious presence of Jesus Christ. Nowhere does the Scripture ever teach that at any time forever the spirit of a person is ever unconscious. That’s what makes hell so terrible. It is consciousness in the absence of God forever. That’s what makes heaven so wonderful, it is consciousness of the presence of God forever. And the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 when Lazarus died what happened to him? Did he hang around? No, he was immediately and consciously in Abraham’s bosom and comforted. And what happened to the rich man when he died? He immediately went to a place of conscious torment You will remember that in 2 Corinthians 5 the Apostle Paul looks at death for a believer and in verse 8 he says, “To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord.” There’s no purgatory, there’s no intermediary condition, there’s no state of unconsciousness or semi-consciousness, there’s no spiritual coma. To be absent from the body to be present with the Lord. And in Philippians 1:23 the Apostle Paul says, “Far better to depart and be with Christ.” You’re either here or with Christ. There’s no intermediary condition for the saved, they go to be received into the presence of Jesus Christ. There’s no intermediary place for the damned, they go into conscious punishment and torment. But while that spirit of that dead Christian goes immediately into the presence of Christ, that body is asleep, it is in repose, it is in rest, it is in a dormitory, as it were, and a Christian in a graveyard is just sleeping in the dorm, nothing more. But the Scriptures are clear on the fact that there will be a resurrection. And at the resurrection, the final judgment. Do not be confused, there will be no second chance for salvation between their death and resurrection of the body. For the believer it is a period during which his bodiless soul, in conscious communion with Christ, awaits the receipt of the resurrection body. Alternatively, if believers receive their spiritual bodies at death, there is no hiatus of disembodiment between death and the second advent, and the intermediate state denotes more generally the interval between death and the consummation of all things. In either case the state is both temporary and imperfect (Rev. 6:9–11). Although departed believers are no longer active in or conscious of the contemporary earthly world of time and space (cf. Is. 63:16), they are fully alert to their new environment, for they are not only ‘resting’ from their labours in joyful satisfaction (Heb. 4:10; Rev. 14:13) and safe in God’s hands (Lk. 23:46; cf. Acts 7:59), but are (literally) ‘in the presence of Christ’ (Phil. 1:23; cf. 2 Cor. 5:8), ‘live for God’s glory’ (Lk. 20:38) and ‘live spiritually, as God does’ (1 Pet. 4:6). Throughout church history some Christians have held that between death and resurrection the believer’s disembodied spirit or ‘inner man’ is in a state of sleep in Christ’s presence (psychopannychism, the doctrine of ‘soul sleep’; thus, recently, O. Cullmann, Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?, London, 1958, pp. 48–57). There are several objections to this view. 1. The verb koimasthai, used by Paul nine times and always in reference to the death of Christians, generally means ‘fall asleep’. Only in reference to physical sleep need the verb mean ‘be asleep’. Christians who die ‘fall asleep’, in that they cease to have any active relation to the present world. If this common euphemism for the act of dying has any further implications, it is that a resurrection ‘awakening’ is certain, not that the intermediate state is one of unconsciousness or suspended animation. 2. Immediately after death the Christian is ‘with’ the Lord (meta, Lk. 23:43; pros, 2 Cor. 5:8; syn, Phil. 1:23), which refers to active inter-personal communion, not impassive spatial juxtaposition. 3. Paul prefers (2 Cor. 5:8) or desires (Phil. 1:23) to depart and be in Christ’s presence. He would hardly have viewed unconscious rest with Christ in heaven as ‘far better’ than conscious communion with Christ on earth. 4. Lk. 16:19–31 suggests that in the intermediate state there is (at least) awareness of circumstance (vv. 23–24), memory of the past (vv. 27–28) and rational thought (v. 30; cf. Rev. 6:9–11). The doctrine of purgatory, advocated by the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, affirms that during the period between death and resurrection the souls of believers who died in a state of ecclesiastical grace but without Christian perfection experience penal and purifying suffering of varying degrees and duration to atone for venial sins and to prepare them for heaven. Claiming to be based on such NT passages as Lk. 12:59; 1 Cor. 3:15; 5:5 and Jude 23, this view ignores the immediacy of the believer’s transition at death from residence in the body to residence with the Lord (Lk. 23:43; 2 Cor. 5:6–8; Phil. 1:23) and the blessedness of the departed believer’s state (Rev. 14:13), and undermines the sufficiency of Christ’s single sacrifice to atone for all sins completely and for ever (Heb 1:3; 9:26; 10:12). Well, strictly looking for now at 1 Thessalonians, we read of an outline or a progression that seems to be made here: • The Lord, Christ himself, will come down. • There will be a lot of noise. • The dead believers will rise first. • Christians who are still alive on earth will rise next. • Everyone meets together with Christ in the air. • Eternity begins!2 Now, we will spend a great deal of time looking at the occurrence and progression of the events in our coming messages and due to our constraint in time. So we will leave that for next time. But there are two things that I want to leave you with. Two points that I want you to bear in your minds and hearts throughout this week. 1) I do not want you to be ignorant. The word of God is sufficient and God’s Word is true. You do not need to fear death, but what you need to know about it is shown clearly in the Scriptures. As believers, we will be in a conscious state with God. In His eternal glory and majesty, knowing that a glorious resurrection will occur. We can be sure of that. 2) I want to encourage you. Death is not to be feared unless you are not saved. For those who are not have nothing but the expectation of judgment and conscious, eternal torment in hell. And because we have been saved by the Son, we have nothing to fear. We have hope. A sure hope that does not rest in ourselves, but the true Word of God. We have a promise from Him that just as the Son rose from the dead, so we too will rise. We do not mourn as those who have no hope. We have a confidence in hope. And so with that knowledge and that comfort, go out and preach the gospel so that others may know the hope that is within you. So that others may sanctify Christ as Lord in their hearts. Main Idea Review: The point of life is to please God, to learn what brings him honor and delight. By living a worthy life today, we will then be prepared for that great day when Christ returns and ushers us into the eternal Now.3
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