Encourage Each Other

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

1 Thessalonians 4:13 (ESV) 13But 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.

There is grief beyond words, deep grief. Some of you have experienced profound sorrow. Deep sadness comes for different reasons. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 mentions one of the reasons for such grief — no hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 points to death as the cause of grief and the loss of hope. 

The Apostle Paul, who wrote the letter to the Thessalonians, says he does not want us to be uninformed. The word he uses means “without knowledge,” and has also been translated “ignorant.” Knowledge of the truth gives us hope, and hope gives us the strength to carry on.

Many of the Thessalonians believers were Gentiles who had accepted the God of the Hebrews as the one true God before they heard about Jesus. Therefore, they were not entirely without knowledge of Scriptural teachings about death and the afterlife. However, they lived in a culture and city with many different ideas of what happens when a person dies. 

Confusion about death, the afterlife and eternity began with the founding of the kingdom of Babylon not many years after the flood. Genesis 10 tells us:

Genesis 10:8–12 (NKJV) Cush begot Nimrod; ... And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, ..., in the land of Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh,...

Cush was the son of Ham, the son of Noah. The growth of false religion dates back to Nimrod and Babel. In the Bible, Babylon is used to represent the kingdom of the world that opposes God. This historical reference from Genesis establishes that lies about death and eternity have been in circulation for over four thousand years. Confusion continues to increase as people continue to ignore the truth.

For example, the materialists in the world today teach that the brain creates personality. They think the neurons, chemicals, and activity in the brain give us the ability to think and are the source of personality. Therefore, when the brain ceases to operate, they believe the person ceases to exist. This view allows for no life after death.

Buddhism and related religions teach reincarnation. The soul is said to come back in a different form after death. This is called the transmigration of the soul.  The good or bad deeds of the soul determine the form the body will take in each transmigration.

Although reincarnation and materialism were being taught at the time, the Thessalonians would have been most familiar with Greek mythology. The Greeks taught that souls went to “Hades” after death. The idea was that, at the moment of death, the soul separated from the body. The soul still had the shape of the former person and was transported to the underworld’s entrance. Good people and bad people were separated and experienced torment or bliss, depending upon their conduct while in the body.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians to establish them in the faith so they would stand firm in the face of persecution and opposition.  One of the foundational teachings of the gospel is what happens after we die. Clarity on this subject is essential. If there is no life after death, we need not fear judgment or punishment. If there is no life after death, Jesus would not have needed to die. Indeed, if there is no life after death, Jesus would not have risen from the dead, and our faith is meaningless.

Paul begins with the resurrection. The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the single most important fact of Christianity. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, our faith is meaningless. One of the reasons the resurrection is so crucial is the fact that it is historically verifiable. Just because we were not there to observe it is no reason to maintain that it did not happen. For example, none of us doubt that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States, although none of us were there. Our faith that Lincoln was president is based on the testimony of the historical record. The historical record is based on the documents and writings from the days that Lincoln lived. Although Jesus lived more than eighteen hundred years before Lincoln, we have plenty of evidence for his death, burial, and resurrection. Many deny the historicity of Jesus’ life because of bias. We have more (or at least as) reliable evidence of Jesus’ life than we have of Julius Caesar’s life. Some people who doubt the facts of Jesus’ life do not doubt Caesar’s historicity.

Paul starts his teaching about life after death with the resurrection. He says,

1 Thessalonians 4:14 (NKJV) 14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

The Apostle says, “If” not because of any doubt but because of certainty. Many translations render this phrase, “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again.” Therefore, we have it on proper authority and evidence that there is life after death. The good authority is the Scriptures and what they teach concerning life and death. 

Life after death is something that cannot be tested in a laboratory. What happens after we die remains invisible to the physical eye. For His own reasons, God desires that we have faith. The Scriptures prove themselves to be reliable when examined objectively against the evidence. Therefore, when the Scriptures speak of things we cannot verify, we can reasonably trust that they speak the truth. However, the areas that we cannot prove are the exact places that the devil attacks with doubt, confusion, and deceit. We must rely on what the Scriptures say and not go beyond what the Bible teaches if we are to remain hopeful in a mixed-up world.

We have hope because the Scriptures promise that we will rise from the dead in the same way Jesus did. We are to encourage each other with these words, as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:18.

1 Thessalonians 4:18 (NKJV) 18Therefore comfort one another with these words.

The words of 1 Thessalonians 1:14 begin telling the truths we are to comfort each other with.

1 Thessalonians 4:14 (NKJV) 14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

This verse points us to the hope we have because of the resurrection, and this hope is where our comfort begins. The next truth that brings comfort is the truth of the Rapture.

1 Thessalonians 4:15–17 (NKJV) 15For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.

The Thessalonians knew that Jesus was supposed to return, but they were worried about those who passed away before Jesus’ return. The confusion concerning what happens after one dies left them wondering if those who died before Jesus’ return were lost forever. So, Paul reassures them that we who alive and remain will not precede those who have died in Jesus. 

Those who have died are with the Lord. This is why Paul says in verse 14, “God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” The Thessalonians needed clarity on questions about where those who have died are. We also need clarity about this. For example, teachings about purgatory and the purification of souls made their way into the Church after Paul wrote this letter. However, suppose we need purification after we die. In that case, Jesus’ sacrifice and death are not enough to cover all of our sins and unrighteousness. The Scriptures are clear that God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. So, purgatory, which is not taught in Scripture, is not necessary. 

The Apostle says the Lord will bring with Him those who are asleep. Then he says that we who are alive and remain when the Lord returns will not precede those who are asleep. In 1 Corinthians 5:8 and Philippians 1:23, Paul expresses his desire to be absent from the body and present with the Lord. The implication of these verses is that when believers leave the body, they are immediately with the Lord.

The Apostle describes the events of the return of the Lord and the Rapture in verses 16 and 17. The dead in Christ will rise first. Although their souls are with the Lord, they will not receive their resurrection bodies until the Rapture. 

These verses do not contain the word “rapture.” Verse 17 says that we who are alive and remain will be “caught up.” This phrase is where we get our term “rapture.” The Latin translation of this verse used the word “Rapturo.” Early scholarship in the Church was in Latin. So, the term “Rapturo” or “Rapture” stuck. The meaning of “rapture” to be “caught up” or “snatched away.”

As believers, we look forward to the Rapture. When Paul wrote to his understudy, Titus, to instruct him on what to teach believers, he said that looking forward to the Rapture was a part of the believer’s life. He said they were to live:

Titus 2:13 (NKJV) 13looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,

The return of the Lord Jesus is our glorious hope. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul has already mentioned this in his description of salvation.

1 Thessalonians 1:8–10 (NKJV) 9For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

The fact that Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come explains why the Rapture is our blessed hope. Because of the confusion about life after death, the Apostle Paul instructs us to encourage each other with the resurrection and the Rapture.  Next, he tells us to encourage each other with eternity.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:17, he says:

1 Thessalonians 4:17 (NKJV) And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

This simple statement points to eternity. We will always be with the Lord. When Jesus told us that He was going to prepare a place with us, He concludes His remarks with “that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:3) We are saved so we can be with the Lord forever. 

God created us to live with Him for eternity. However, He wants those who freely choose and desire to be with Him. The invitation is to everyone, but only a few accept. “Only a few” is relative to those who do not accept. Many millions have accepted God’s invitation, but the number of those who have not is much larger.

God does not want anyone to perish, and the large number of those who do not accept God’s invitation is what the devil is working toward. He is the enemy of our souls. His hatred of God and us is what led him to introduce destructive confusion about life after death. We need to encourage or comfort each other with the truths we reviewed today. 

  1. The dead in Christ will rise from their graves.
  2. All believers on earth will one day be caught up to meet Jesus in the air.
  3. All believers will be with the Lord forever.


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