In ancient times, when a dignitary went to visit a city, it was a common custom for the populace to go out to meet him on route, and escort him on the rest of his way. This would seem to be the picture Paul draws on in today’s reading. The visit was known as a ‘’Parousia’’ and this is a word Paul frequently uses for the second coming of Christ.
In what ways do these verses ‘’comfort’’ or ‘’encourage’’ (18)?
- They bring knowledge (13). What we know can significantly affect our emotions. This passage is about certainty: ‘’According to the Lord’s own word…’’ (15). We are building on Rock when we construct our lives on Christ’s Word (Matthew 7:24-27). If we know the truth it will set us free.
- They remind us that Jesus both died and rose again, and that our future hope is based on this concrete fact (14; 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23; Colossians 1:18). We can expect to rise again if we are ‘’in’’ This truth is our anchor.
- There is the inference (14b) that believers who have died are with Jesus, even though their bodies are yet to rise from the grave (Philippians 1:21, 23).
- They assure us that there will be a physical resurrection for fellow-believers who have died (16).
- They tell us that both they, and Christians still alive at the time of Christ’s coming, will share the same destiny, which is to ‘’be with the Lord forever.’’ (17b).
- They speak of a reunion. Although for a time we will be parted by death, one day we will be ‘’together’’ (17) again. The word translated ‘’caught up’’ is a particularly strong one meaning ‘to seize hastily’, ‘to rob with violence’, to draw to oneself by swift, sudden movement (see Acts 23:10 where the same Greek word is used.) A magnet will attract something if it is the right material. There can be no doubting the sheer magnetism of Jesus, and His power to draw to Himself, at His coming, all those who are His.
Reading between the lines, some of the Christians in Thessalonica had already died since Paul and his colleagues left town. The church had somehow got a message to Paul (perhaps they had written to him?) and they wanted to know if those believers who had passed away would suffer any disadvantage over others still alive at the time of the second coming. As someone said, Paul’s reply was, ‘Not at all. Jesus will come down from heaven. There’ll be enough noise to wake the dead!! They will get the front seats, and the rest of us will fill up the rows behind.’ All of these truths taken together mean that we don’t have to ‘’grieve like the rest of men who have no hope’’ (13b). Yes there will be tears and the pain of parting, but we have a bright light shining in our ‘valley of the shadow’ (Isaiah 9:2).
Although we do not have the answer to every question, we do know that one day Jesus will return to planet earth, and it will be the destiny of all true believers to be with Him (and each other) for always. Can you look forward to this? Is your trust in Jesus?
Prayer: Thank you Lord for unveiling enough of the glorious future you are preparing to whet our appetites.