What Happens to Christians When They Die?
1st Thessalonians 4 Part 2
1st Thessalonians 4:9-12 9Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. 11Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
Paul gives us a good way to live so that we will be respected by others. Lead a quiet life, mind your own business and work with your hands. Don’t expect people to give you everything.
1st Thessalonians 4:13-18 13Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage each other with these words.
These believers knew Jesus had died and been resurrected. They knew He would come back and that He would come back unexpectedly. They wanted to know if the people who had died after they became Christians would miss out on Christ’s return.
Like most 1st century Christians they really thought Christ would come back before they died. But believers were dying.
What Paul tells them is a great comfort to them. And it’s a great comfort to anyone who has a friend or family member die. He says Christians are not without hope like the pagans. The believer has eternal life with God as soon as he believes. Death is kind of taking possession of it.
A commentator wrote “why fear an experience that simply brings us closer to our Lord and Savior?” Paul says that death is gain because death brings him into the presence of Jesus.
Philippians 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
In verse 15 Paul again says that what he’s saying is by the Lord’s own word. We do not have to substitute human speculation. We have divine revelation!
It’s never been said that Christ is asleep somewhere. He sits at the right hand of God. He prays for us by name. And He’s preparing a home for us.
We won’t be asleep or in limbo either.
Genesis 49:33 When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people.
Matthew 22:31-32 31But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'[a]? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."
This is a clear recognition that those who died in faith are right now living in God’s presence.
John 5:24 "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."
John 8:51 I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.
John 11:25-26 25Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
Their bodies are asleep in the ground until Christ comes back, but their spirits are immediately with Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:50-55 50I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
55"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"
Paul makes it clear that the soul of the believer went to be with the Lord. The spirit leaves the body at death. The body goes to sleep and no longer functions. W.E. Vine wrote that the reason the metaphor sleep is used is because sleep is temporary: as is the “death” of the body. When you sleep you don’t cease to exist, nor when you “die.” The body will “wake up” when it is resurrected. Part of the Apostles Creed is “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”
When Christ resurrects our bodies the decay, disease and weakness will be stripped away and we will have Christ-like bodies. (1 John 3:2)
Death is the consequence of sin and Jesus took all our sins and experienced the full penalty as our substitute. (Romans 6:23)
When Paul says “since we believe” and “we also believe” he means: since we believe Jesus rose from the dead we also believe that we will too. The same God that raised Jesus will raise us.
1 Corinthians 6:14 14By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.
2 Corinthians 4:14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.
Romans 8:11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.