Resurrection in Thessalonica

Foundational to the hope of the church is the bodily resurrection of believers that will take place when Jesus arrives from heaven.
 
Cemetery Sun - Photo by Simeon Muller on Unsplash
Paul’s description of the future “arrival” of Jesus is written to comfort Christians concerning the fate of fellow believers who die before that day. They need not sorrow “like the others” BECAUSE the dead will be resurrected when the Lord "arrives,” and both living and resurrected saints will “meet him” as he descends from heaven - [Photo by Simeon Muller on Unsplash].

Thus, the answer to Christian grief over the loss of fellow believers is the bodily resurrection, an event that will occur when Jesus returns. While disciples will still grieve in this life, they need not succumb to the depths of despair that often overwhelm nonbelievers who are without hope.

Paul deals with the issue of dead Christians in the fourth chapter of First Thessalonians. Apparently, some members of the congregation are concerned that dead believers might miss out on that day’s glories. Precisely how they came to this conclusion is not stated.

COMFORT ONE ANOTHER


But the Apostle reassures them. Not only will dead believers participate in that day, but they will also rise from the dead “first” and be reunited with believers who are still alive at that time. Then, the entire assembly will ascend to “meet” Jesus as he descends to the earth. In this way, they will be together “with him forevermore.” And the Thessalonians are “to comfort one another” with these words.

What Paul links to the ‘parousia’ or “arrival” of Jesus is the collective and bodily resurrection of the saints. Precisely where believers go after meeting Jesus “in the air” is not stated, whether they accompany him to the earth as he continues his descent or return with him to heaven.

And Paul bases the future resurrection of Christians on the past resurrection of Jesus:

If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him.”

NOT IN DARKNESS


Paul continues this subject in the fifth chapter of the letter. The Thessalonians are not in darkness so that day will not “overtake you as a thief,” not because they know all the appropriate “signs” and chronologies of the “last days,” but because “you are all sons of light, and sons of the day” – (1 Thessalonians 5:1-12).

Believers live in the light of the gospel and no longer in the darkness of sin. They prepare for the end by “putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation.”

And God has not appointed us to “wrath.” Even now, Jesus is delivering us from the coming “wrath.” Instead of “wrath,” we are destined for the “acquisition of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.”

Implicit in Paul’s declaration is that salvation is acquired through the future resurrection. He concludes by encouraging the Thessalonians. Certainly, God will sanctify them wholly in preparation for that day:

  • May your spirit and soul and body be preserved whole, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who will also do it.”

The point of this last statement is not the tripartite nature of man, but that the whole person will be saved on the day when Jesus “arrives from heaven,” including the physical body.

Bodily resurrection is foundational to Paul’s gospel, and he links it to the “arrival of Jesus.” All dead saints will be raised at that time, and together with those who remain alive, the entire body of Christ will “meet” him as he arrives from heaven.



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