On Despondency

Study on 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18

Paul here continues to provide comfort for the believers for their brothers and sisters. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so will God bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” He is reminding them that if we believe, if we truly believe, in the resurrection, then so too should we believe that God will raise up our mothers and sisters, fathers and brothers, children; and if so then there be no cause for despondency, no season for sorrow. This is such a powerful lesson for all we who are in Christ. Death, having lost it’s sting, truly has no power over us, thus our rejoicing in those who have departed being reconciled to the Lord should outshine the sorrow of their repose. When we truly believe and walk with the Lord, then our putting off of the flesh becomes the greatest cause for celebration, not remorse.

“We who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means preceed those who are asleep.” In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes, “I am pressed between the two, for to depart and be with Christ is far better, yet to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” (Philippians 1:24-25). It is important to notice that Paul refers to putting off this bodily flesh as the preference between continuing in the world and going to sleep in the Lord, however, it is as the Lord wills. When we take control of that situation ourselves, then we overstep the very faith by which we are allowed entrance into the kingdom. And, until He determines that He shall call us home, we remain here for His purposes. See, it’s this idea that life here isn’t about sating your desires, chasing your dreams, fulfilling your goals, but rather walking with the Lord, doing His work. Paul tells us in Ephesians that we are “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” (Ephesians 2:10). So long as we remain here, we labor for the faith and for one another; and when the Lord wills, He removes us from that toil and gives us peace and rest. See, when we think of death as a punishment, as the worst thing that could happen to us, as death; then we are not trusting fully in the promises of the Lord, the promises of the kingdom to come. Whereas, when we fully trust in those promises, then we have no need to feel sorrow for those who have moved on, but rather jubilation, knowing that they are in the kingdom, in the presence of our beloved Christ.

“For the Lord will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, with the trumpet of God.” This is a powerful image that the Holy Spirit gives us through the apostle Paul. I think of the prophets of the Old Testament, of Isaiah standing before the very throne of God. I think of the countless invisible soldiers rallied around Elisha that were unseen to his servant until he prayed unto the Lord (2 Kings 6). Paul declares that on the day of the Lord, Jesus will descend from the heavens, as an angel, with the trumpet of God. In the books of Revelation, we read about the trumpets of the Lord, and with the sounding of the last trumpet the Judge descends. “And the dead in Christ will rise first.” See, all who walk upon the earth shall be a part of the judgment to come, but only those who are dead in Christ shall share in His glory. The dead in Christ shall be raised up to His glory, and then the remaining shall be raised up to His judgment. To those in His glory, He shall say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23) and to those not in Christ, He shall say, “depart from Me, I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23). And then shall come to be called those who are alive and remain, and again, those in Christ shall partake of His glory, and those who are not shall face His judgment. And all who are in Christ shall be with the Lord.

And that is our hope, that is our faith, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no cause for sorrow for the departed, explains the disciple, for all who are in Christ Jesus shall be reconciled to our Lord. And, though we may grieve temporarily for the loss of the presence of another in our lives, we must never let that despondency overtake us, knowing that our beloved are with our Lord, and that we also shall one day join them in the heavenly kingdom. Death has no power over those who are in Christ, for Christ Himself has defeated death. No, His promise is that all who are in Him shall have eternal life. His promise is that those in Christ shall be reconciled to the Father and dwell for all eternity in the heavenly kingdom. And, what greater hope could there be than that?

May the grace of the Lord be with you, my beloved family.

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