‘For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. ‘
1 Thessalonians 4:14-17
During my first preaching course in Bible college, my professor said something that I didn’t understand at the time. After several students had preached their sermons for the class, he said, “None of your applications work!” It caught us all off guard because the applications we had just heard were things like, read your Bible more, pray more, and other similar suggestions. He attempted to explain that those kinds of applications didn’t truly change people. I was dumfounded. How could a Bible college professor say that reading your Bible more wouldn’t change your life?
My professor was on to something. This passage in 1 Thessalonians is all about hope. Paul’s big hope flows out of the work that Jesus accomplished in his death and resurrection. The hope is that Death is not the end of the story. Never once does he say that hope is found in some action like reading or praying. We can have hope because of what he has done, not because of what we are doing. My professor was not saying that Bible reading and praying are bad things; they are just not the end goal. The reason we read the scriptures is to hear about the hope. The reason we pray is to stay relationally connected to the God of love who resurrects us to true life. If you are staking your hope on church attendance or praying, you will be disappointed. But, those activities can be powerful if you are using them to focus on the true hope of life, Jesus. Christian practices are a means to an end. The end is to enjoy the good reign and love of Jesus. Prayer, reading, and fellowship simply help us stay connected to the true hope.
Our hope is that death and sin are defeated. Our hope is that we will be resurrected one day and live eternally apart from the evils of this age. Our hope is not in completing some checklist of good activities. Read this passage again and imagine the sights and sounds of that day when Jesus descends to call us into new resurrected life. What might that be like? What is the content of that “cry of command?” What will it feel like to be completely free from all sin and pain? Reflect on that day of true hope.
By Aaron Bjorklund