Death is a frightening and mysterious subject. Ignorance only increases our confusion and fear. Knowledge brings blessing. So Paul wants the Thessalonians—and us—to have reliable knowledge about what happens to believers when they die.
The apostle makes it clear that there is nothing wrong with the emotion of grief. Nowhere does the Bible say that believers should not grieve. Nowhere does the Bible say that we should not shed tears over the loss of a loved one. Nowhere does the Bible say that we do not feel sorrow and a sense of emptiness when a loved one passes away.
The grave is not the end of the story.
But we do not grieve like those who have no hope.
When a nonbeliever dies, his or her loved ones have nothing left but memories. But when a believing loved one dies, we have hope for the future because we believe in the resurrection and in everlasting life. The grief and sorrow we feel is temporary. We are saying, "Goodbye—until we meet again." We are not saying, "Goodbye forever."
So we grieve because even a temporary separation is painful. We miss our children when they go off to college. We miss our parents when they retire and move to another state. It's only natural that we should miss our believing loved ones when they are promoted to eternal life in heaven. We know we will see them again, but in the meantime, we grieve.
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul shows sympathy and understanding for the bereavement we all feel over the loss of a loved one. He does not rebuke them for their sadness or shock. He does not minimize their loss and pain.
The time of loss is a time of looking back on the past, looking forward to the future reunion in heaven, and looking inward and reminding ourselves of our own mortality. When we stand at the graveside of someone who has died, our false sense of security, our false assumption that life will always go on and never stop, falls away. We are faced with the reality of death—and we should remember that there is a grave waiting for us as well.
But we need not be morbid about it. The grave is not the end of the story. We believe in the empty tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ, and we have absolute confidence that our bodies will one day be raised like His.
Prayer: Lord, thank You for defeating death. I praise You for the hope of the resurrection. Help me to mourn with those who mourn and to share the hope of Christ with the hurting. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
"Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again" (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14a).
*Excerpt adapted from Fearless Living in Troubled Times by Michael Youssef © 2017. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR. Used by permission.
Learn more in Dr. Michael Youssef's sermon Until Christ Returns: Living Confidently in Turbulent Times, Part 5: LISTEN NOW | WATCH NOW