While in Thessalonica, Paul taught the new converts of Christ’s return. It was an exciting proposition to all of those who were there. The Jesus Who had died for their sins, and now offered them victory over those sins by the power of His Spirit would one day return and take His followers to heaven. They were thrilled with this hope of His return. But days and weeks turned to months, and now Jesus still had not returned yet. Longingly, they watched the sky, constantly wondering when the clouds would open and reveal the returning Savior.
But Paul hadn’t gotten to finish teaching them. His lessons had been cut short by persecution, and now they had come into a bit of a concern. After Paul had left, there were some in the church of Thessalonica who had passed away.
This was incredibly disconcerting to the believers there, for at least two reasons.
1) They loved the ones who had died, and would miss them; 2) they feared that since these loved ones were no longer alive, they would not get to be part of the special day of Christ’s return. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul issues some comforting words. While there is some theological truth in these verses, they were primarily intended to offer comfort (v.18) and understanding to the Thessalonians about their loved ones who had passed away.
Paul brings two key points about those who had passed away.
First, they were asleep (Paul used the Greek word “koimao,” literally meaning “to slumber, to sleep”, this same Greek root word is where we get our word “cemetery” – an old English synonym for the word “dormitory” – “a place where many sleep”). This is a vitally important truth that Jesus himself taught regarding the death of Lazarus in John 11:11, “he sleepeth.” The glorious truth about sleeping is that it indicates that this current separation is not the end. Those who died were merely sleeping. This was not a cause for sorrow, but for rejoicing. The believers could be comforted with this truth, that believers who have passed away are simply asleep, not lost forever.
Second, Paul said that these loved ones who had passed on would certainly be a part of that great day of Christ’s return. The great gathering that would take place would not exclude those who had gone to sleep. They would not miss out on the glorious day. They would be there and would be able to enjoy the great gathering as well.
While this was written nearly two thousand years ago, the same truths apply to us today. The same comfort that this would have brought to the concerned and heartbroken Thessalonians should come to our hearts today. Our believing loved ones are not dead, they are sleeping. The day of reunion is coming and they will be a part of it. This hope of what God has promised in His word regarding our loved ones who have passed away should bring great comfort.
Food For Thought: What does Paul say in verse 13 and 18 regarding this truth? Do you think that he was delivering this truth in a harsh, demanding way or in a caring, gentle, loving way?