Grief and Comfort

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I Thessalonians Chapter 4:13-18

The church mourning for those that have passed.  Paul takes this pastoral opportunity to comfort the church and establish a doctrine of the resurrection.  It was not uncommon for excessive, unhealthy grief to be on display among the heathen.  Gill says of the Gentiles:

“who having no notion of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, had no hope of ever seeing their friends more, but looked upon them as entirely lost, as no longer in being, and never more to be met with, seen, and enjoyed; this drove them to extravagant actions, furious transports, and downright madness; as to throw off their clothes, pluck off their hair, tear their flesh, cut themselves, and make baldness between their eyes for the dead.”

Paul urges better things from those with faith.  A more appropriate mourning that gives indication of resurrection.

Notice the centrality of Christ here.  Paul establishes practical and theological doctrine from Christology.  Meaning that Jesus Christ is the fountain of all doctrine.  From His life, work and death springs all Christian theology.  Marriage, service, suffering, and morality are all find their energy and origin in Christ.

Also the term, “in Christ” has several applications.  First and foremost, I think, it is used as comfort.  The picture is given of the loved ones that are passed resting comfortably in the bosom of Christ.  No suffering, sickness or restlessness just peace in Christ.  A peace compared to a restful sleep.

Secondly the term takes on a theological meaning that depicts our union with Christ as resulting from saving faith.  The meaning then is that as Christ has conqured death and is waiting for His return so are those in union with Him.  They are victorious, risen with Him, and waiting for His return.

Paul tells his audience this doctrine comes by the Word of the Lord.  The prophets prefaced their sermons by announcing something similar.  So Paul could be referring to Christ’s words in Matthew 24:30.  Or Paul could be referring to the personal teaching he received from the Lord as is on display in I Corinthians 15.  The point is that the teaching of the resurrection is coming from Christ himself and not a pipe dream conjured by the apostles.

The last section deals with the Paul’s tone.  His speech suggests the return of Christ to be imminent.  First, I believe he truly thought the return was near, possibly in his lifetime.  Secondly, regardless Paul wanted the church to be watching and ready for his return.

The nuts and bolts of this passage are as follows.

  1. The dead and living will both undergo change and transition at the same time. I Corinthians states that the living and dead will shed their mortal body.  The coming of the Lord gives the occasion to this change.  Also, it seems that all saints will be gathered unto the Lord.  Where and in what manner the scripture does give clarity on.  The clouds is where we shall be gathered.  This should be enough for us.  All we know is that we shall be forever with the Lord.
  2. Next, the apostle talks of shouts and trumpets. Is he borrowing from the custom of announcing royalty with shouts and trumpets?  The use of trumpets and shouts were used in the old testament at times pertaining to feasts, giving of the law, and certain battles.  It would be scriptural gymnastics to try and build a solid doctrine connecting the two.  Speculation at best.  Probably the former is meant by Paul.  There will be a royal entrance for the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Anything beyond this is not fully known.
  3. The saints will be with the Lord forever. This is the most comforting.  A final separation from the world, Satan and sin is the saint’s reward.

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