Paul continues his letter to the Thessalonians by exhorting them to continue in their faith “more and more,” encouraging them in their sanctification. And then Paul turns to address a great concern of the young converts in Thessalonica.
Some of the new Christians had died, and not knowing what happened to a Christian at death, the people fell into a hopeless depression. They assumed that since they died before Jesus’ 2nd coming, they were lost, and missed the promised salvation.
Can you imagine how grieved these new Christians would have been without the hope of life after death?
The writer of Ecclesiastes (most likely Solomon) gives us insight into the hopelessness of life “under the sun,” as if there were no spiritual realm beyond this life – no eternal hope for which to live…
But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun (Ecclesiastes 9:4-6).
But Solomon also knows that divine revelation is more trustworthy than his limited perspective, so he writes,
Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God (Ecclesiastes 8:12-13).
Yes, without God’s clear instruction on the eternal nature of life, every possible human conception leads to despair.
Solomon despaired because death was inevitable for both the righteous and the wicked.
The Thessalonians despaired because they believed death prevented the salvation of the righteous.
Paul gives us the truth about life after death… that those who have died before the 2nd coming of the Lord go ahead of those on earth to be with God (1 Thessalonians 4:14-15). And when Jesus comes again, all believers on earth will be “caught up together [with those who have died] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17). So all believers both asleep and on earth will be “with the Lord.”
The details of this passage can be difficult to comprehend or imagine, but the heart of Paul’s words are clear. All believers will be with the Lord! Death has lost its sting. It no longer has any power over the believer. No longer are the days of our lives as “the wind,” meaningless or “vanity.”
Jesus’ life, death and resurrection give us hope beyond the grave!