Recommended Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1–58; Philippians 1:21–23
Despite all the personal fitness trainers, gastrointestinal bypass surgeries, expensive wrinkle creams and everything else people use to look young and keep fit, the mortality rate still stands at 100 percent! Someone once remarked that our generation will produce the best-looking corpses in history. Of course, Christians aren’t immune from the desire to live longer and look better in the process. And while there’s nothing wrong with caring for our bodies, Paul reminds us that death is nothing to fear.
Paul wants to address the concern of the Thessalonian Christians about loved ones who have died before Christ’s return. Of course, behind this worry for others likely stands a more personal concern: “What will happen to me when I die?”
Paul gets straight to the point with his encouraging answer. Those who die before Jesus returns will on that final day rise from the grave and accompany Christ to meet those still alive. Death doesn’t dash our hope in Christ; indeed, death for Christians marks a transition to an infinitely better life.
While Paul seeks to calm the fears of his readers, he also expresses his concern about the effect these anxieties will have on the other people around them—especially non-Christians. Paul reminds us that we don’t need to grieve the deaths of our loved ones or worry about our own deaths like “the rest of mankind” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Notice that Paul doesn’t say that Christians won’t grieve. Death is horrible, and it separates us from our loved ones. If we tried to pretend that this loss didn’t matter, we wouldn’t be authentic.
Paul, instead, wants us to know that we don’t need to grieve like those without hope. Yes, we mourn our loss, but we also rejoice, knowing that one day we’ll be reunited with loved ones who also knew Christ. More importantly, Christ will unite us with himself for all eternity. This truth allows us to, as Paul invites, “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).