And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NLT)
Paul’s purpose for including the above verse in his letter to Christians in Thessalonica is pretty obvious to those familiar with the Bible. For those who may not fully grasp the context, it is apparent that he was attempting to comfort early Christians who earnestly believed that Jesus Christ would return in their lifetime. They were experiencing the loss of those they loved and they were unable to reconcile their grief with the promises Jesus had made regarding eternal life. The pains of this life, so they believed, would be short lived and the grief they had endured previously would surely be a thing of the past because Jesus’ imminent return would negate the reality of physical death. Clearly, somewhere there had been a misunderstanding that Paul needed to resolve or these new believers would begin to assume that their faith was in vain.
Paul’s explanation introduces Christians—then and now—to the magnificent doctrine commonly referred to as the rapture. This passage, so often quoted, outlines the details of the events surrounding the triumphant return of Jesus Christ for His Church. However, even though I know that Paul’s expressed purpose was to give encouragement to believers grieving those unexpectedly taken by death, I was captured by the simple phrase that he used to bring attention to their new faith as opposed to their past condition. He said he did not want them to grieve “like people who have no hope.”
Death, as well as heartache, poverty, frustration, and sickness are all part of the universal human experience. Those without hope face these challenges as if there is no alternative available to them. At best, they accept them with a quiet resolve; at worst, they become deeply discouraged and seek ways to numb themselves to their effects.
As believers in Jesus Christ, we embrace His declaration that while we will, in fact, have troubles in this world, we should never allow ourselves to be overcome by them because He “has overcome the world” on our behalf and has been victorious over every potential distress the world can offer (John 16:33). Paul would later affirm that same truth in stating that we—all believers—“are more than conquerors” through the sustaining help of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:37).
Simply put, we are different! We do not face our problems with human strength alone. Jesus Christ has given us a perspective on life and death—and every other disappointment that can be imagined—that is guided by faith in His promises and the power of hope.