13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent[i] them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is a comforting text, often read and expounded at funeral. In it the apostle imparts knowledge (I would not have you to be ignorant)[ii] and establishes hope[iii] (that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope). Our hope is founded on revealed knowledge of Jesus Christ. In hope there is sorrow, but not like the sorrow of despair. There are two kinds of sorrow: (1) the sorrow of those who have no hope, who feel that death is final; and (2) the sorrow of those who have hope, who know death is not disaster for the Christian.
Knowledge that Paul imparts to raise us beyond despair to blessed hope includes:
- Jesus died and rose again (v. 14). He was delivered up to death for our sins and rose again for our justification (Cf. Romans 4:25). He is alive and seated at the right hand of the Father (Cf. Hebrews 7:25). His victory over death assures our victory over death (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20).
- Jesus is coming back again (vv. 14-16). He promised that though would go away, he would come back again (Cf. John 14:3; Acts 1:11; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 9:28). He is coming back to raise the dead (v. 16) and take the living unto himself (v. 17). The spirits of the dead (whom he brings with him) will be reunited with glorified bodies as they rise from the grave. The saints still alive on the earth will be caught up from the earth to meet the Lord (in new bodies; Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:50-52). All this transpires as Jesus descends from heaven with a shout and fulfills his promise to his people.
- Jesus keeps us with him forever (v. 17). We are presently kept by the power of God unto salvation (Cf. 1 Peter 1:5), and we can be assured that he will keep us ever. He will never ever leave or forsake us (Cf. Hebrews 13:5). “Eternity with God, what ever-blessed bliss! Forever with our Lord and King – there’s nothing else like this!”
With this revelation we have the foundation that establishes hope. Because we have hope, we have comfort in time of sorrow. Use these truths to promote hope and provide comfort (v. 18).[iv]
[ii] In Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College (1742), Thomas Gray wrote, “Where ignorance is bless, ‘tis folly to be wise” – bringing into English phraseology the proverb “Ignorance is bliss.” But ignorance about death is certainly not bliss, and ‘tis folly to not know what the Lord has prepared for them that love him.