Will We See Our Loved Ones Again?
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
January 18, 2017
Death is not a popular topic.
No one ever says, “Why don’t you come over Friday night and hang out. We’ll eat pizza and talk about death.” If we got that invitation, we would find a reason to say no.
Death is not a popular topic
But we all think about it sooner or later because death is inevitable. The Bible reminds us that “it is appointed unto man once to die” (Hebrews 9:27 KJV). You may miss many appointments in your life, but that is one appointment you will not miss. Legendary sportscaster Vin Scully once reported on an injured player this way: “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. Aren’t we all?” He’s right. We’re all just day-to-day whether we know it or not.
But God’s Word speaks the truth: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14b). And Moses said in Psalm 90:5-6, “You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning—though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.”
“Father Time is undefeated”
This week and every week thousands of people will die in America. Some will die peacefully, others in fiery collisions, still others in hospital beds, and some will die unexpectedly, cut down by a rogue blood clot or a sudden heart attack.
We like to say only two things are inevitable—death and taxes. If you are rich enough, you can probably find a few loopholes. But death has no loopholes. As George Bernard Shaw put it, “The statistics on death are impressive. One out of one person dies.”
In the words of Charles Barkley, “Father Time is undefeated.”
Farewell to Dearest Friends
And so we come to the question for today: Will we see our loved ones again? Deep inside we all hope and pray the answer is yes. But can we be sure? After all, the newspapers are filled with stories of death. Death we have aplenty, but where is the resurrection?
Many of us have had the sad experience of going to a funeral and paying our final respects to someone we knew and loved in this life. Perhaps you laid to rest a dear husband or a sweet wife. Or perhaps you had the awful burden of burying a son or a daughter. Maybe you have said farewell to a brother or a sister or to the best friend you ever had.
Is there a word from the Lord?
If you have had that experience, then my topic is anything but theoretical. It is intensely practical and personal. We desperately want to know the truth; we won’t be satisfied with mere speculation. We must know what God has said. Is there a word from the Lord that will help us?
The answer is yes. Thank God, we are not left to wonder and hope. God has told us the answer to this question. That answer is found in our text, which begins with words I have quoted many times at funeral services: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep (the reference is to believers who have died), or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (v. 13). This verse is filled with good news. God wants you to know the truth. He hasn’t hidden anything from us. If you are ignorant on this subject, listen up. God has something important he wants to say to you.
I. What Happens When Jesus Returns?
Many people who study Bible prophecy focus on the world-shaking events surrounding the coming of the Lord. The Bible has a lot to say about the rise and fall of nations in the last days, but that is not what Paul deals with in our passage. He is concerned about something much more fundamental. He wants us to know exactly what will happen when Jesus does return—whenever it happens, whether today, tomorrow or in a thousand years. The signs are important, but the Second Coming itself is much more important.
God wants you to know the truth
In this passage Paul lists six things that will happen when Jesus returns.
A Sudden Descent
“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven” (v. 16). The emphasis in the Greek is very strong. It is the Lord himself who will descend. Not a substitute or a stand-in. Not a lookalike or an angel. Not a guest host or an Old Testament saint. Not a figment of our imagination or some ghostly religious figure. But the Lord himself will return. He will bodily and personally return to the earth.
This Same Jesus!
After Jesus had ascended into heaven, two angels appeared and told the disciples, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). I love those three words: “This same Jesus.”
This same Jesus. Born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, he who walked the dusty roads of Galilee, who healed the sick, raised the dead, and preached good news to those in captivity. He was betrayed, tried, denied, condemned, scourged, crucified, and buried in a borrowed tomb. On the third day he arose and 40 days later ascended into heaven where for 2000 years he has been seated at the right hand of God.
This same Jesus . . . dismissed by many, mocked by some, hated by others. This same Jesus, head of the body, Lord of the church, creator of the universe. This same Jesus, the Lord himself, shall descend from heaven.
The one who saved us, the object of our prayers, the hope of every dying saint, the one whose message we preach. This same Jesus is returning to the earth that rejected him.
Once a Lamb,
Coming Back as a Lion
Once he came as a lamb to the slaughter; now he returns as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Once he was judged of men; now he comes to judge all men. Once he was crucified; now he comes to be crowned. Once he was mockingly called “King of the Jews.” Now he comes as King of Kings and they mock him no more.
This same Jesus is coming again!
A Loud Shout
“With a loud command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet call of God” (v. 16). He descends amid great pomp and ceremony. There is the shout of authority, the voice of majesty, and the trumpet call of victory.
In the old days whenever the king was coming to a village, the town crier ran ahead and shouted, “The king is coming! The king is coming!” In the same way, the King of Kings will make his entrance known to the entire world.
A Great Resurrection
“And the dead in Christ will rise first” (v. 16). This is a statement of priority. Evidently some in Thessalonica were worried that when Jesus returned, he would rapture the living but leave the dead Christians in their graves. Paul says, “Don’t worry about it. The dead in Christ rise first.”
Note two little words in our text. It is the dead “in Christ” who are raised. This is only a resurrection of believers. The unsaved dead are left in their graves. They will be raised at the Great White Throne judgment 1000 years later (Revelation 20:11-15). There are two resurrections, not one, and they are separated by 1000 years.
All believers in Christ will be raised
Let us understand what our text is saying. All the believers in Christ will be raised. That includes people who died 2000 years ago—James and John and Peter and Timothy and Barnabas, and people who died 1500 years ago, 500 years ago, 100 years ago, 50 years ago, ten years, one year ago, one month ago, and one week ago. It includes Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Peter Lombard, Charles Spurgeon, Billy Sunday, Jim Elliott, Elisabeth Elliott, and all the saints of God who died this week.
It will be a literal resurrection from the dead. How? We simply do not know. But the same God who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise from the dead all who follow him. This includes those who die at sea, whose bodies are cremated, those who die on the battlefield, and those who die a lingering death from cancer. What about those whose bodies are vaporized in some fiery catastrophe? The God who created the molecules knows how to put those molecules back together. They will be raised indestructible with brand-new bodies, clothed with immortality, healed, restored, put in their right minds, raised to live forever, raised to die no more.
No more wheelchairs
No more wheelchairs.
No more surgeries.
No more chemotherapy.
No more medicine.
No more crutches.
No more braces.
No more doctor visits.
No more trips to the nursing home.
No more wasting diseases.
All of it gone forever!
Let the people of God rejoice. The grave will not have the final victory because the dead in Christ rise first. I love the way Puritan writer Thomas Watson puts it: “We are more sure to arise out of our graves than out of our beds. Oh! How precious is the dust of a believer!”
A Glorious Rapture
“After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them” (v. 17). The phrase “caught up” translates a Greek word meaning to seize or snatch, to swoop down and take away. It always implies a change of location. In this case, it means living believers will be literally lifted off the earth.
One generation will never see death.
One generation will never visit the undertaker.
One generation will be raptured—lifted up—off the face of the earth.
One generation will never see death
How will it happen? In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. How fast is that? It’s faster than it takes to blink your eyes. One moment you’re baking cookies, the next moment you’re flying like Superman. One second you’re eating pizza, the next you’re in the air. One minute you’re in the shower, the next you’re being blown dry at 30,000 feet. Just like that. We will be here one moment and gone the next.
The Lord knows his own
Take some iron filings and sprinkle them in a pile of sawdust, then pass a magnet over the pile. What happens? The force of the magnet pulls the iron filings from the pile. Like a magnet attracts iron filings, even so the Lord knows those who are his. He will literally lift us off the earth to meet him in the air.
A Happy Meeting
“To meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (v. 17). Notice three key words. We will meet the Lord. We will be with the Lord. We will be with the Lord forever.
Heaven is where Jesus is
Do you remember what Jesus said to the dying thief? “Today you will be with me in paradise?” (Luke 23:43) Where is paradise? It’s wherever Jesus is. The glory of heaven is not the streets of gold or the gates of pearl or the river of living water. The glory of heaven is Jesus. Wherever he is, that’s where heaven is.
That’s the happy meeting for all of us. We will see Jesus. Face to face, in person, we will be with him.
A Grand Reunion
Notice what Paul says in verse 17, “We will be caught up together with them” (v. 17). Then he says, “We will be with the Lord forever.” This is the ultimate family reunion. All of God’s children from all the centuries from every land and nation will be together at last with Jesus.
Those who sleep in Jesus will wake up soon!
This is what Christians have always believed. We lay our loved ones to rest in the hope they will be raised immortal when Jesus returns. Do you know why the Bible calls death for the Christian “asleep in Jesus”? Because when you go to sleep, you wake up later. Death is not the end for the Christian. It is only the glorious beginning. The English word “cemetery” comes from the Greek word that means “the sleeping place.” That’s what the early Christians called the burial place. The dead in Christ will wake up, their bodies brought back to life by the resurrection power of God, they will be raised from the grave immortal, and we shall rise through the clouds to meet them in the air and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
And that brings us, finally, to the ultimate question . . .
II. Will We See Our Loved Ones Again?
The true answer is, It depends. It depends on them and it depends on us.
1. It Depends on Them
We will only be reunited with our loved ones if they were saved through faith in Jesus Christ. We must not let sentiment stand in the way of sober biblical truth. Not everyone goes to heaven. Those who in this life had no time for Jesus will find in the next life that he has no time for them. If our loved ones died without Christ, there is no biblical reason to think we will ever see them again unless we see them at the final judgment when they are eternally condemned.
But if our loved ones died in Christ, then yes indeed, we will see them again.
2. It Depends on Us
But the answer also depends on you. Where do you stand with Jesus? Is he your Savior and Lord? Have you ever trusted him and him alone for the forgiveness of your sins?
Make sure you know Jesus!
Wouldn’t it be terrible if our loved ones went to heaven and looked around for us, and we weren’t there? Let every person reading these words take them to heart. Make sure you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
So I ask the question one final time. Will we see our loved ones again? The answer from Scripture is clear. We will see them again if we know Jesus and if they know Jesus.
Let us comfort each other with these words of Scripture. Our hope is in the Lord. Paul said we sorrow, but not as those who have no hope. Unbelievers and believers both die. They are buried and we are buried. Side by side in cemeteries around the world the people of God rest with the unsaved.
If we reject the Word of God, we have nowhere else to go
What makes the difference? The only thing standing between unbelievers and us is the Word of God. We have the Word of the Lord that Jesus died and rose again. If God raised Jesus, he will also raise those who trust in him. God has promised it, and it must be so. If we reject the Word of the Lord, we have nowhere else to go.
“Son, You’re Looking in the Wrong Place”
Many years ago I was asked to perform a graveside service for a man I barely knew. I was young and inexperienced and tried to say a few words of comfort. I fumbled my way through the ceremony and came to the closing prayer. When I got to the part about the resurrection of the dead, the words stuck in my throat. I could barely finish my prayer. I went back home frustrated and embarrassed. What had gone wrong? Then it hit me. I wasn’t sure I believed in the resurrection of the dead. Up until then, it had all been theoretical. But now I had come face-to-face with death, and all my brave words seemed so hollow.
Out of that experience I began to pray, and it seemed as if God said to me, “Son, you’re looking in the wrong place. There is indeed a grave that’s empty, but it’s over on the other side of the world, outside Jerusalem, carved into a mountainside. That tomb is empty, and it’s been empty for two thousand years.”
“Look what I did for my Son”
We look at our loved ones dying and wonder if the resurrection can be true. But that’s backwards. God says, “Look what I did for my Son. Will I do any less for those who put their trust in Him? Put simply: We do not believe in the resurrection of the dead because of anything we can see with our eyes; everything we see argues against it. People die all the time. There hasn’t been a resurrection in two thousand years. No, we believe in the resurrection of the saints because we believe in the resurrection of Jesus. “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
We are going to the land of the living!
There’s a reason the Bible says “the last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death will not have the last word.
We think we are going from the land of the living to the land of the dying. No!
We are going from the land of the dying to the land of the living!
The old gospel song says it this way:
On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise,
And the glory of His resurrection share;
When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
That’s our hope!
That’s God’s promise!
Victory on the last battlefield!
I ran across a wonderful phrase from the Pulpit Commentary that lifts my heart every time I read it. There will be “victory on the last battlefield.” Life is a series of battles for all of us, and we all “take it on the chin” sooner or later. But in the last battle, the struggle with death, there is victory for the children of God.
If the Lord tarries, we will all have to do some “box time” eventually. But we won’t stay dead.
Let the people of God rejoice because death is not the end of our story.
Father, thank you for this promise that cannot be broken. Sometimes we waver and sometimes we doubt. The fear of death can overwhelm us. When those moments come, remind us of what you did when you raised your Son from the dead.
Help us to live in hope and die in faith. And we say with all the saints, “Even so, Come, Lord Jesus.” Amen.