Why is the return of Jesus so important? Why does it affect the way we approach church? In this message on 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, Bart Box teaches us that Jesus is the coming king who will bring us home. Jesus’ return will be personal, public, powerful, and permanent. Jesus is coming to bring us home.
- Distinct from the despair of the world
- Rooted in the story of the gospel
- Strengthened by the certain return of the Lord
- Confessed for the sake of one another
Well, good morning. If you would, take your Bible and turn with me to the book of 1 Thessalonians, Chapter 4. 1 Thessalonians 4. We’re going to look this morning at verses 13 through 18. This week, we read some portions in Acts, also some from 1 Corinthians. Also read all the book of 1 Thessalonians, but I thought this morning what we would do…although we would look at a few other parts in 1 Thessalonians…I thought what we would do is just really concentrate on these six verses in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 as we think about a coming King and His confident church. A coming King and His confident church.
Let’s pray together. Father, we are so grateful for your Word, and at the same time, we are so dependent upon your Spirit. Help us as we preach and as we hear your Word. So, we pray in dependence upon your Spirit, and ask that all across this room, that you would drive out distraction, and that you would drive out misunderstanding, and that you would fill our hearts by your Spirit with a love for and a longing for Christ, who is our Savior who has come, and who is coming again. We pray that you would do that this morning for your glory and for the good of all your people. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
As I studied this passage this week, and with all of its emphasis upon the resurrection and the coming of Christ, my mind returned again and again to the story of John Paton. Many of you have heard it before. Probably more than anybody else, John Piper has made his story kind of famous in our own day, but it so well captures really the heart of this text, and really the driving impulse certainly behind his life and behind Christians throughout the centuries.
The Story of John Paton
John Paton was a missionary to the South Pacific islands known as the New Hebrides. He was there from 1858 until 1905, almost 50 years in the South Pacific set of islands known as the New Hebrides. During his time there, despite all kinds of oppositions, despite the fact that there was virtually no Christian witness whatsoever when he arrived upon the island, by the time he left, virtually the entire island upon which he lived had come to Christ.
However, for those that are familiar with the story of John Paton, we know that getting there was not easy. Nineteen years before Paton set sail to the New Hebrides, in 1839, the first Christian missionaries, John and James Harris, landed in the New Hebrides. Within minutes of going ashore, they were killed by the natives there, and they were cannibalized.
So, when Paton, who was a successful minister in his own time, when 19 years later he proposed to a group of ministers gathered in a particular meeting…when he proposed going back to the New Hebrides as a missionary, it was met with stiff resistance and stiff opposition. There was a particular man that John Paton recalls in his autobiography, a man by the name of Mr. Dickson. He was an elder among the group, and he kind of spoke what everybody else was thinking. As Paton kind of laid out his plan for going as a missionary to the New Hebrides, Mr. Dickson responded, said, “The cannibals; you will be eaten by the cannibals.” Pretty reasonable response, don’t you think?
However, this is what Paton says, one of my all-time favorite quotes. I mean, it’s just a knock-down kind of quote. Paton said this, “Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave and there to be eaten by worms. I confess to you that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms. And in the great day, my resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”
Just as an aside, can you imagine how that Mr. Dickson felt at that moment? There really was nowhere to hide. I mean, what do you say to that? “Well, when you put it that way…” I mean, this is kind of theological checkmate. There is really nowhere else to go after you say that, “My resurrection body will rise as fair as yours.”
I want you to hear that, and then I want to put beside that three quotes that I found this week as I was looking at an online forum. It’s open to anyone, an online forum on death. Listen…hear what Paton has said, and then I want you to hear what people in our day say about death. Listen to what one girl has said. She said,
I’m only 22, but I have an extreme fear of dying. It’s not that I’m worried how I will die; it’s more like I cannot imagine ever waking up. I know that life is based on being born and dying, but it’s a scary thought for me. I’ve already set aside plans to be buried above ground, in an above ground structure called a mausoleum. It’s kind of like a little house. I may only be 22, [she says] but anyone could die at any time, in any way. I’m scared of dying young, and I’m scared of dying old.
Another woman said, “One of my main worries is of a loved one dying. It’s actually made me reconsider how many children I want to have, which is disappointing. Just knowing that there is nothing you can do about it, that death is completely out of control,” she says.
Perhaps the most revealing, this time from an atheist. He said, “I have no religion or belief in the afterlife. Because of this,” and this is interesting, “because of this, my fear of death and the unknown has been increased since my decision to become an atheist. Though I was not brought up with religious parents as a child, I was told about heaven and whatnot. But now I know that there is nothing beyond the grave, and the sheer thought of this,” he says, “keeps me up at night.” He said, “I’m not entirely sure what help I want, or what help I need. I really just wish there was something that could comfort me about death.”
1 Thessalonians 4 13–18 Reminds Us That We Have the Gospel in Our Lives
Brothers and sisters, what the world is longing for, what the world desperately needs to hear, and what the world is totally missing, apart from Christ, we have in the gospel. We have in the gospel the promise of another life. In this world, we have the promise that when we look around, and we see pain, and we see distress, and we see difficulty, and we see disease, and we see death even, we have the assurance to know that these things are not ultimate. What is ultimate is what lasts, and that is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and His coming kingdom. That lasts forever and ever. We have a good gospel.
We have good news that is good for our souls and is good for the entire world, and it’s that gospel that I want; that gospel and the promise of His coming that I want to embed in my own heart this Christmas season; that I want to embed in all of our hearts this morning. I want us to be so Christ-centered, to be so gospel-centered in this season, that there is an obvious difference in our hope and the hope of the world.
So, what I want to do this morning is I want to walk you through where I think that we see that’s so evident and so clear in Paul’s writings here in 1 Thessalonians 4:1–3, a coming King and His confident church. First, I want to talk to you about, really, the distinction that we see between believers; how our hope is different from the hope of the world. Really, those middle two bullets there, to speak to, really, the basis for what do we found our hope upon, that there is to be a real distinction between the way that the world responds to death, and the way that we respond to death. Then, I want, as we close, to just think, just in a couple of ways, “How does this text right here of the blessed hope of the coming of the Lord Jesus, how does that impact our lives even this morning?”
Distinct from the despair of the world.
So, first, I want you to look if you would with me, where we see that our response to death, first, is distinct from the despair of the world. That our response to death is distinct from the despair of the world. Now, we don’t know the exact circumstances. We don’t know exactly what was going on. We don’t know exactly or precisely why there was confusion on their part about the second coming of Christ. They knew that it was coming, but at some point, they had some misunderstanding about the inclusion of those that had passed away.
Paul had come; he had preached the gospel to them. He had told them of the second coming. He had gone away for a season. He writes back to them, or he gets word from them that there is confusion. There is disagreement. There’s misunderstanding. What about those that have died before Christ comes? We don’t know exactly how that happens, if it’s false teachers, or if it’s just Paul didn’t explain everything the first time, but what we do know is that Paul is both comforting them with the teaching here in 1 Thessalonians 4, and he is, I think, challenging them, as we’ll see in just a few moments. Really, that fits everything that we know. Paul is challenging them to be distinct from the world, and it fits what we know of the Thessalonian church.
What I want you to do, I want you to take your Bibles, if you would, and turn back with me to Acts 17, where we see over and over in Acts, where we read first of Paul’s interaction with the Thessalonian church, and then, even in the letter itself, where we see over and over this distinction, this idea of a difference between the world and the church.
Look at Acts 17, if you would, and we read there Luke’s account of Paul and Silas going in at first to the city of Thessalonica. Look what he says in verse 1. He says,
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, [speaking about Paul and Silas] they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.
So, Paul does what he regularly does. He goes into the synagogue, a place where he hasn’t been before in that particular city. He reads, then, from the Scriptures. He explains them; he explains Christ to them as the Messiah. Some people believed, some Jews, some Greeks, a few of the leading women.
So, he says in verse 5, “But the Jews were jealous…” Not everyone believed. “But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, they set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These men…’” and I love this line, “‘These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also…’” Speaking about Paul.
In verse 7, “‘And Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar…’” Now, I want you to notice this last line, “‘…saying that there is another king, Jesus.’” Don’t we want that to be said of us? That when the world says that money is king, and power is king, and sex is king, and influence is king, and success is king, and fame is king, those people over there at Brook Hills, they don’t say those things are king. They say that Jesus is King. They have another King whose name is Jesus Christ.
There is to be, then, a distinction Paul says. It’s evident from the very founding of the church, and then it’s evident also in the letter. I want you to notice the same idea, this distinction between the world and the church. Look, if you would, back in 1 Thessalonians 1, where we see in verses 7 through 10. Look at what Paul says. Really, let’s just pick up…just pick up in verse 8,
For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
1 Thessalonians 4 13–18 Indicates that there is a Distinction Between the World and the Church
You see, the people of God over and over, from their very founding, the very first chapter, even into 1 Thessalonians 4, where Paul is indicating that there is to be a distinction between the world and the church. Two of the places that we see that where the people of God should be different is that we should be different, first of all, in our behavior, and second, we should be different in our beliefs; that the people of God should be different, distinct, noticeably distinct from the people of the world in both behavior and in belief.
I take those two together for a reason. If you would, look at 1 Thessalonians 4 again, verse 13. As we look at verse 13, I want you to see how what we believe affects what we do. Notice, it is not that we have certain beliefs over here, and we have certain behaviors over here. It is that what we believe, what we cherish, what our affections reside upon, those things, what we believe, our doctrines affect what we do. We see it there in verse 13, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep…” Apparently, there was…there again, some kind of misunderstanding, something that they didn’t get. So, Paul was trying to fill in the blanks here. He was trying to dispel their ignorance. Why? Not so that they can score well on some theology quiz. It’s not so that they can have all the right answers, but because what we believe affects what we do.
That’s exactly what we see in the rest of the verse, “We don’t want you to be uninformed about those who are sleeping.” In other words, those who have gone on, those who have died in Christ. Why? “That you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” In other words, our belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, our conviction that that is true ought to affect everything that we do, and it especially ought to affect the way that we think about and the way that we approach and the way that we deal with grief.
Now, I want to be really clear, and I want to be really careful, and I don’t want to be mistaken in any way. I’m not saying that we should not grieve period. Paul doesn’t say that when we lose a father, or we lose a mother, or we lose a friend, or we lose a child…Paul is not saying that we should not grieve. We will grieve, and we should grieve. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. I’m not saying that we should not hate death, and we should not war against death in all of its facets. We should. We should despise death. It’s something that is alien to the intended order that God has made, but it does mean, as you see there in the notes, it does mean that we do not grieve as those without hope. It does mean that there is a fundamentally different way that we think about, that we approach, that we deal with grief.
1 Thessalonians 4 13–18 Speaks to the Confidence Christians have in the Resurection
I want that to be the case in my own heart, in my family; and I want that to be the case in your heart and your family in this church. I want us to have such a rock-solid confidence in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, such a rock-solid confidence in the hope of His return, that people on the outside would look at us before, in the middle, and after our grief, and they would say, “There is something different about those people. There is something that is distinct. There is some hope that is not just the figment of their imagination. There is some hope that is not something that they are just doing on their own. There is some hope that resides in their heart, that then changes the way, that molds the way, that shapes the way that they deal with the greatest problem that any of us can face, and that is death.”
Rooted in the story of the gospel.
We are to be distinct in our response to death. Why? Notice number two, because our response is rooted in the story of the gospel. How is it that we are to respond differently to death? How is it that we do not respond with the despair of the world? Simply, it’s because our response to death is rooted in the story of the gospel. Everything that is said, both in this sermon, and certainly in this text flows from verse 14. Notice, if you would, in verse 14 that one word. You might want to circle it, where he says, “We do not want you to be uninformed,” verse 13, “about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”
Then, verse 14, what is the first word? He says, “For…” It’s the word that really controls. Why is it that we want you to be…what is the basis of the difference that you see? It is everything that we see in verse 14, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again…” The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is what makes us different and nothing else. It is solely in what Jesus has done that creates, that accounts for the distinction between what we see in the world and what we see in the church.
What we see in this verse, Paul is telling us that Jesus’ resurrection is two things: One, it is proof that God can raise the dead. Paul is telling us there, “Jesus died and rose again.” These are historical facts. These are things that we can count on. These are things that really happened, the tense of the verb they use. However, not only is it proof that God can raise the dead. The point that Paul is really trying to make is not only is it proof that God can raise the dead, but rather it is a promise. It is also a promise that He will raise the dead. It is not just proof that God can raise the dead, but it is God’s promise to us that He will raise the dead.
Now, you think about that. How do you know that you’re going to rise from the dead? I mean, shouldn’t we just be honest and say, “You know what? That’s a really strange thing to believe.” I mean, you think about it, how many people do you know that have died and rose again and will never die again? How many people do you know? I mean, you think about it, when was the last time that we introduced someone and said, “You know, this is John from accounting. I work with him, and we’re good friends. We went to college together. Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you, he was dead, but now he’s alive, and he’s never going to die again. How about that?” I mean, how many people? We don’t know any. The list is extremely short of people who have died, rose again, and will never die again.
There is an Intimate Union Between Christ and His Followers
However, that, brothers and sisters, is the power and the beauty of the gospel. That there is such an intimate connection between who Christ is and His followers. That there is such an intimate union between the Lord Jesus Christ and His followers, that what the New Testament teaches is that everything that Christ is, we benefit from. That everything that Christ does, it is accredited to us as having been done on our behalf. That everything that happens to Christ will happen to us as well.
That’s why you see over and over again, “In Christ…In Christ.” Everything that Jesus has, we have as well. We have as well. It’s kind of like a marriage. You think about, maybe, a young college man that gets married, and before getting married, he racks up all kinds of debt: Credit card after credit card after credit card. By the grace of God, he meets a wife who has lots of money, and she agrees to marry him, and they come together, and suddenly what we see in that marriage…barring a prenuptial agreement, what we see in that marriage is that everything that was his…the debt…becomes hers, and everything that
was hers…the riches…become his. That’s exactly what Paul was teaching us here in this verse.
Notice what he says, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again…” we’ll notice that phrase right after that, “even so,” circle it; that’s the point that Paul is driving at. Yes, we believe in the historical death and resurrection, but the reason Paul is marshaling that, at this point, is to point out that “even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” Which means this; what Paul is saying is simply this: That when Christ walked out of that garden tomb almost 2,000 years ago, it was not just a vindication of who He was and what He had done, although it was all of that. It was also God’s irrevocable promise to every single believer in Christ that we, too, will die, that we, too, will be buried, and praise God, we, too, will rise from the dead.
God has promised, by virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, that we will rise with Him. Socrates said this about death. He said, “O that there was some divine word upon which we could more securely and less perilously sail.” Brother and sisters, we have more than a divine word. We have the divine Word Himself, who has come and died, and rose again, and we will follow in His dream.
Strengthened by the certain return of the Lord.
Our response is distinct from the despair of the world. Why? Because it’s rooted in the story of the gospel, and number three, it is strengthened by the certain return of the Lord. Strengthened by the certain return of the Lord.
Look if you would at verse 15. This is really kind of the heart of the passage, I think, verses 15 through 17, where Paul says, “For this we declare…” Verse 15 is kind of the summary, really, of what he’s about to say in verses 16 and 17. So, 15 is kind of the summary statement; 16 and 17, he kind of unpacks that. Verse 15, “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord,” and we don’t know what Paul means exactly in that. We don’t know if it was some kind of supernatural revelation at this point, or if this is something that he had heard from the teachings of Jesus, something that had been passed down, but he has it on the authority of the Lord Jesus Himself.
We declare this, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 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.
When I was about 18 or 19 years old, I was introduced to some books on prophecy. I can remember the binding on them. I still have some of them in my office. I mean, I devoured those books. I mean, I read everything that I could possibly get my hands on regarding prophecy. I knew every beast in Daniel. I knew every vision of Ezekiel. I knew every scroll, trumpet, and bowl in Revelation. I even taught…I remember, I even taught a youth Bible study on prophecy. That’s exactly what they needed at that time in their life, crucial period. They needed charts is what they really needed.
I was “that prophecy guy”, and I shudder to think of some of the things that I taught. Yeah, it was not good. I wish I could tell you this morning, “Well, I got it all figured out now. It’s all good. No more mystery. I can tell you X-Y…every single thing. I can tell you how it’s all going to go down.”
1 Thessalonians 4 13–18 Reminds Us that God Calls Us to Concentrate on the Things that We do Know
The truth is, there’s still a lot of mystery, and there’s still a lot of things that I don’t understand, but I suspect the same is true for you. There are probably things that you have read in Daniel and Ezekiel and Minor Prophets, and there are things that you have read in Matthew and Revelation that you just don’t quite understand. However, here’s the deal: God isn’t calling us…I believe God isn’t calling us to concentrate on the things that we do not know. Rather, God is calling us to concentrate on the things that we do know.
Moses said in Deuteronomy 29:29, he said, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God. But those things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” In other words, God has made some things abundantly clear in His Word, and He has made them not to fill up our heads with certain ideas. Rather, He has given them to us to strengthen us in our faith, to encourage us in Christ, to conform us more and more into the image of Christ.
So, my prayer this morning, as we look at these verses, and we see the things that are clearly revealed, I pray that all across this room, as we think about it, and we contemplate the glorious return of Christ, that our affections would be rising all across this room, as we think about it, and we long for the coming of Christ as Paul describes it here in 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17.
I want you to notice just a couple of things that we know for sure. There are all kinds of things that we don’t know, but these things we do know from His Word. First, we know that His return will be personal. That His return will be personal. Look, if you would, at verse 16. Look at what Paul says. He says, “The Lord himself will descend…” Grammatically, he could have just…he could have left one word out in the original language. He could have just said, “The Lord will descend.”
However, it’s clear that Paul is intending to convey to us that it is the Lord Himself who will return. He is not sending an ambassador. He is not sending an angel. He’s not sending a representative. It is the Lord Himself who will come for His people. That’s good news. Don’t you want to see Jesus? Don’t we long to see His face?
This is what William Guthrie, one Scottish pastor said. He said, “Less than Christ would not satisfy, but more than Christ could not be desired.” “Less than Christ could not satisfy, but more than Christ,” he says, “could not be desired.” Everything that we need, everything that we desire, everything that our perfectly redeemed souls could ever want, we will find in Christ. He will be visibly and personally present before us.
We know that His return will be personal, and we know that it will be public. We know that it will be public. He says, in verse 16, that, “He will descend from heaven,” Paul says, “with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.” Some have seen in these verses some kind of secret taking away of the church, sort of a quiet removal of the church. I don’t think that’s what the text indicates. In fact, I think the one thing the text does indicate is this is going to be a noisy event. This is going to be a loud, loud appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ.
He says there…he says, “He will descend from heaven with a cry of command.” I love the imagery that Paul is using. That phrase, “cry of command,” it’s also used in a number of other writings outside the New Testament. It’s used of a warrior or a king. Now get this: It’s used of a warrior or a king who is about to go out to battle; who’s about to go out to war. Before he leaves, as the people are assembled, he issues a cry of command, a shout of victory.
1 Thessalonians 4 13–18 Tells Us that Jesus will Come Back as a Warrior King
What Paul is saying is that when Jesus comes back, He will not come back to fit in with the rest of us. He will not come in a secret manner. He will not come, in fact, in the same way that He came the first time, as a babe in the straw. He will come rather with a shout, with a cry of command. He will come as a Warrior King, and He will come to His throne. He will be accompanied, Paul says, with…you see it there in the text…He will be accompanied, “With the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.”
We oftentimes think of musical instruments, musical accompaniment, the trumpet of God. However, in the very same way that we see that cry of command, it fits in exactly that same idea, that when they were about to go out to battle, they would issue the trumpet of God, the trumpet of the people, and it would be a sound to battle. A cry of command, the voice of an archangel, the trumpet of God signaling that this will be a public, and as we see in the next part, it will be a powerful return. Not only will it be personal and public, but it also will be powerful.
I want you to notice three things we see really in the end of verse 16, all the way into verse 17, “The dead in Christ will rise first. 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.” Three things: One, Paul says that the dead will come from their tombs. The dead will come from their tombs. Millions upon millions of believers all through the ages will come from their graves. It’s a little scary, but it’s a good thought, though, isn’t it? All of these tombs opening up as the dead in Christ rise. I love the idea where He speaks about the dead in Christ will rise. There will be a resurrection of the dead.
You think about…think about Ezekiel 37. Write it out, maybe even outside this: Ezekiel 37. You remember in Ezekiel 37, you remember the vision that Ezekiel is given? They’re in exile, and the Word of the Lord comes to him, and he’s taken out to see a valley of dry bones. It’s representative of the people of God; that they are destroyed. That they are decimated. That death has overtaken them.
Ezekiel is told by the Spirit of God to prophesy to the bones, and as he does, in Ezekiel 37, the bones begin to rattle together, and they begin to come, and they begin to form into a human body, and flesh is laid on them, and they stand on their feet. The breath of life is blown into that body, and Ezekiel says in verse 10, he said, “I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and they stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.”
1 Thessalonians 4 13–18 Tells Us that the Dead in Christ Will Rise Again
What we see here in 1 Thessalonians 4, when Paul says that the dead in Christ will rise, is the final fulfillment in Christ of Ezekiel’s vision as the people of God, down through the ages, scattered in their bones, are resurrected and are given unto Christ. A great and exceeding army. Paul says they will have pride of place. They will lead the procession. The dead in Christ will rise. Paul also says, “But the living will come to their King.” The dead will come from their tombs, and the living will come to their King.
Paul says that they are caught up to meet Christ. That we will be caught up to meet Christ in the clouds, in the air. I love the fact that in the rest of the New Testament, this idea…circle that word, maybe note in your notes, the word “air.” Paul says that we will meet him in the air. Throughout the New Testament, this idea of the air, it refers to the realm of Satan, the place of the kingdom of Satan. Think about Ephesians 2:2, where Paul speaks about unbelievers, “following the course of the world, following the prince of the power of the air.” In other words, what Paul is saying is the reason that we will meet Him, perhaps, in the air is because that is understood throughout the New Testament as the domain of Satan, and we will go there and meet the Lord. In other words, the Lord will invade the territory. He will invade the realm. He will overturn and overthrow the kingdom of Satan once and for all.
The dead will come from their tombs. The living will come to their King, and last, the Lord will come to His throne. The Lord will come to His throne. Paul says, “We who are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” Paul says that we shall meet the Lord. The word “meet” there is really a technical term throughout the New Testament. It’s used in Matthew 25 when talking about the bridesmaids that go out to meet the bridegroom. It’s also used in Acts 28 as Paul is coming into Rome. It’s the end of Acts, and so Paul is making his way to Rome. He says there…Luke says there in Acts 28:15–16, when Paul was still outside the city gates…notice this…when Paul was still outside the city gates, and he’s making his way into Rome, it says on seeing them…it says that the brothers were there, and “when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself.”
In other words, they did not wait. They did not wait for Paul to get into the city and say, “Hey, Paul, how are you doing?” Rather, they went out to meet Paul outside the gates and then returned with him. It’s the same idea throughout all kinds of Greek literature, and even in the New Testament, we see that this word “to meet” is a technical term for going out to meet a dignitary, as you’re going out to meet a prince, going out to meet a king. If Caesar is coming to your town, you do not wait in the gates for him to come to you. You go out to him, and then you come in triumphal procession with him.
It is the same image that Paul is conveying about the return of Christ. Yes, the dead in Christ will come from their tombs. The living will be caught up to meet him in the air, and as we do, we will not go up to meet Him to go somewhere else, but rather the idea is that we will go, and we will meet Him, why? Because the King is coming, and we as His subjects, as His followers, as His worshippers, give Him the honor and the glory and the privilege due His name, and we go out to meet Him to return with Him.
Christians will always be with the Lord.
Paul says, “In that way, we will always be with the Lord.” That His return, as it is personal, public, and powerful, coming and reigning upon the earth, that we…that that reign will not be a day, it will not be a season. Rather, it will be forever. Look at what he says at the end of the verse. He says, “And so we shall always be with the Lord.” His return is a permanent return. His return is a permanent return. Literally, it is in this way. It’s not just the conclusion to what Paul is saying. In other words, it’s not a conclusion of “so,” rather it is “In this way, we will always be with the Lord.” I don’t know…I don’t know when this is going to happen. Anybody that tells you that they do, does not. We don’t know when this is coming. Jesus Himself said that, “The Son of Man doesn’t know the hour or the day.”
I don’t know if it’s going to be tomorrow. It could be. Don’t know if it’s going to be next week. It’s possible. I don’t know if it’s going to be 10,000 years from now. I just know that it will be. That it is, even now, marked on the calendar of heaven that there is coming a day…as Paul speaks about here…there is coming a day when the Lord Himself will arise from His throne, and with a cry of command, and with the voice of the archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God, He will assemble the dead from their tombs, a great and exceeding army. Those that are living, that are left, will be caught up together. Transformed, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, “In the twinkling of an eye we will be transformed,” caught up together to be with those who have gone on before us.
Then, we will return upon the earth, and He will establish His kingdom. It is what John speaks about in Revelation 11:15. He said, “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” “And so,” Paul says, “in this way,” in this eternal reign of the Lord Jesus Christ, “so we shall always be with the Lord.” Glory unto God and glory unto Christ, who is to come.
Confessed for the sake of one another.
What Paul says in verse 18 really is…I think it’s just the natural outflow of what we see. That our response to death is distinct from the despair of the world. It’s rooted in the story of the gospel, strengthened by the certain return of the Lord, and last, it is confessed for the sake of one another. In other words, we don’t just let this sit there. This is not something that we come here on this morning of November 28, and we just hear and say, “You know what? That’s good, and I’ve got to go get something for lunch.” This is to be transforming. This is something that is to transform the way that we live even now.
Look at what Paul says in verse 18, “Therefore,” in other words, in light of everything that’s come. Circle that world. “Therefore,” in light of everything that has been said, in light of His death and resurrection, in light of His certain coming, the resurrection of the dead, the gathering together of those that are with the Lord, the coming of Christ to the earth, in light of all of those things, Paul says, “encourage one another with these words.”
1 Thessalonians 4 13–18 Encourages Us that a Day is Coming when We will Struggle no More
I want you to be encouraged this morning. There are some of you that no doubt are struggling. There are some of you that are facing all manner of opposition. There are some of you that are indeed dealing even now with death or the prospect of death among those that you love. That’s a particularly acute and difficult thing to deal with as we come into the Christmas season. So, I want to encourage you. I want to encourage our entire congregation in all of our spirits that there is coming a day, as John speaks about in Revelation 21, when there shall be no more mourning, no more crying no more pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away.
I want to encourage you this morning to know that whatever is raging in your life, whatever chaos there is in your life, to hear the truth of Paul’s words, that yes, Jesus is coming. He will reign. However, that is grounded in the fact that He reigns even now. That the presidents and governors do not reign. That circumstances do not reign. That Satan does not reign. Jesus reigns.
So, would we encourage one another with that truth this morning? How can we not? To know, as the rest of the world struggles day by day, not knowing what is coming, not knowing what is ultimately true, not knowing about ultimate reality. When we know that there is a King who’s named Jesus, and He reigns even now, how can we not encourage one another with that truth? Be encouraged in your spirit, and to be encouraged in your obedience, if it’s so. You remember what Paton said, “I don’t care about the cannibals. I’m going.” Why? “Because there’s coming a day when God will raise my body from the dead one way or the other.”
There are too many of us that buy what the world is selling and have allowed all the pursuits of the world, and all the things of the world, and all the ideas of the world to infiltrate our minds and to capture our affections so that the truths of the gospel and the promise of His coming are crowded out to the periphery. So, what we pursue is not the things that are out there. We pursue the things that are on our heart.
So, I want to encourage you this morning, if that’s you, you know the Lord Jesus. If that is you, I would encourage you with everything in me to be renewed this morning in the gospel. I’m not here to beat you up, not here to tear you down, but I’m just saying, why don’t you spend some time this morning confessing to God that all manner of things have crowded out your affection for Christ in your heart. Why don’t you meditate on this passage. Let this be central. Let the gospel…this Christmas, let the gospel and the hope of His return, the fact that He has, and He will indeed save His people from their sins. Let that be front and center. To be encouraged in your spirit, encouraged in our obedience, and I would hope that every single one of us, wherever we are at, if we know Christ, that we would be encouraged in our worship.
How can we not? How can we read a passage like this…triumphant, conquering, victorious, overcoming…how can we read of that kind of Savior and just be indifferent to it all? I would hope that this morning has stirred your affections for Christ, has stirred your affections for His gospel, so that we worship Him in spirit and truth this morning, all week, all Christmas season, and are determined to speak of that gospel. That it would be the overflow of everything that we do in these coming weeks. That Christ’s gospel and the hope of His return would be on our lips.
If you’re here this morning, and you’ve never trusted Christ, and all of that just doesn’t quite make sense, it doesn’t quite add up and you resonate more with the doubts and more with the struggles…if you’ve never trusted in Christ, I would urge you, with everything in me this morning, to repent of your sins and to place all of your hope and all of your faith and all of your eternity in Jesus Christ, in His death and His resurrection, and nothing whatsoever in addition to it.
If you do, then you, along with brothers and sisters across this room, have the hope, united in the confession: Jesus Christ, crucified, buried, resurrected, ascended, and coming.