1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is one of the key passages in the New Testament that speaks to the second coming of Christ. Check out what it says:
13 But 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. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
The return of the Lord is certain: the text says he will return and no one on the planet will miss it: He will descend with a cry of command, the voice of an archangel and a trumpet—it’s gonna be loud and unmistakable. This is happening. His return means four things in the text.
The Return Means Hope in Loss
The church in Thessalonica had experienced a series of losses and deaths—they missed their loved ones, fellow believers and were grieved. Paul, being the pastor he is, speaks into their pain and loss with tremendous hope. He points them to the return of Jesus. He believes that right information will inform their grief…it won’t take it away, but it will change how they grieve. Grief without hope…is grief without Jesus, it’s grief without his promised return and promise of resurrection. This is true for all grief, loss, and pain—grief may always be present with us, but hope is never absent as long as the King is coming back. The second coming is stubborn hope, one that changes the game.
The Return Means Resurrection
Paul uses the terminology asleep 3x in the passage—he is driving home the Christian reality that death is truly not the end. His logic is this: Jesus rose from the dead, his people will also rise from the dead—Jesus conquered death, so will his followers. The NT calls Jesus the “firstfruits” of the resurrection ensuring a harvest will follow. Believers who have already died are in the presence of Christ—Paul tells us they will accompany Jesus when he returns and that they will be the first to receive their resurrected bodies. The dead in Christ will rise first. Following this, those who are alive will be caught up with the Lord and be changed—they will receive their new bodies.
The Return Will be a Reunion
Notice that one of Paul’s main concerns in this passage is how believer’s are thinking about their loved one’s who have passed on before them. He wants them to know first off that those who trusted Jesus are with Jesus. He wants them to know that when Jesus comes back, he is bringing them with him. He wants them to know that when we are caught up in the air with Jesus, we will be caught up with them. The return of Jesus is the great reunion—when we will all be together. We were made for community—we will not lose that at the return of Christ, it will only get better.
The Return is Fuel for Encouragement
Finally, note Paul’s final statement—“encourage one another with these words.” These words are power-packed, these are words to put in each other’s ears, to remind one another of regularly. My friends, this hope is certain and concrete. His return is something we can rest our hope fully upon. This reality, is fuel for the journey. This provides profound encouragement if we sit with it and live upon it.