Thessaloniki, is the second largest city in Greece. It has a population of over one million people. Under the Romans it was one of four divisions of Macedonia. It was name after one of the sisters of Alexander the Great. This was the chief station on the great Roman road which connected Rome with the whole region to the north of the ﾆgean Sea. Paul visited Thessalonica (with Silas and Timothy) during his second missionary journey, and introduced Christianity there. Paul preached in the synagogue there, the chief synagogue of the Jews in that part of Macedonia, and laid the foundation of a church. A flourishing church was certainly formed there; and the epistles show that its elements were more Gentile than Jewish.
The Jews (remember that he did attend a Jewish synagogue where for three weeks he expounded the teaching of Christ) after seeing the reception given to Paul’s message became envious and such a commotion ensued that the believers felt it the best to send away Paul and Silas to Berea. Hearing that Paul was at Berea and that he had visited the synagogue of the Jews there, the unbelieving Jews in Thessalonica traveled to Berea where they stirred up the people, again causing trouble for Paul and Silas and Timothy who was a convert from Derbe and Lystra and had joined them there in Berea. Paul was able to visit the church formed in Thessalonica at a later time. It seems possibly that Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians was written from Corinth.
- Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.2 And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures,3 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ ."4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. Acts 17:1-4 (NASB)
There seemed to be several needs in the church there which Paul addressed. There seemed to be a question about how to bring comfort to those who had lost loved ones to death. “How do we comfort our brethren and friends who have given up their relatives and friend to death?” Paul’s approach to“ their need was to "Comfort one another with these words.” I Thess. 4:18. To understand his approach and to learn from his letter to the Thessalonian brethren can be beneficial to us in our Christian walk. As I began to study this I found that Paul’s approach was simply copied from the comfort Jesus gave to Mary and Martha upon the dear of their brother Lazarus.
LAZARUS WAS ASLEEP
The first thing Jesus addressed was the fact that Lazarus was asleep. Jesus made it plain to the disciples that Lazarus was asleep and that he was going to the town of Bethany to “awaken him”. The disciples misunderstood what Jesus meant, so he spoke more plainly:
Misinformation about what death is, needed the clarity of the Master, Rabbi Jesus. Jesus made it very plain that those who are dead are asleep, waiting for him to wake them up. Jesus’ comforting words to Martha were:
- "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep."12 The disciples then said to Him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover. "13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep.14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead”. John 11:11-14 (NASB)
“Your brother will rise again”. Martha was fully aware of that teaching. I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day. What Martha needed to know is that as Jesus goes on to tell her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” This is the same message Paul was trying to impress upon the Thessalonian brethren in his first letter.
- "Your brother will rise again."24 Martha said* to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." John 11:23-24 (NASB)
To be uninformed about the sleep of death and the awakening power of the Master is to lack the information needed to deal properly with our grief. The brethren at Thessalonica needed that information just as much as we do today.
- But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 1 Thess 4:13 (NASB)
|How do we find comfort in our grief when we loose a loved one to heart disease, cancer, or any other enemy to our human existence? The first thing is to hear the words of Jesus to Martha, “Thy brother, thy sister, thy mother, thy father, thy son, thy daughter, thy husband, thy wife, thy friend shall rise again.” It is to hear the words of Jesus to his disciples, “Our friend, our brother, our sister, our mother, our father, our son, our daughter, our husband, our wife is asleep, and I must come and awaken him from his sleep.” Our hope for the future beyond death is linked to our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
According to Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, any hope we have must be supported by “the word of the Lord”. Notice how he wrote:
- For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 1 Thess 4:14 (NASB)
Those who have as Jesus and Paul put it “fallen asleep” will not be forgotten. They will be awakened. The Coming of the Lord and the resurrection of the dead is our hope. It is the hope with which we comfort one another. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about this issue of death and resurrection.
- For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 1 Thess 4:15 (NASB)
The idea of the sleep of death;
The resurrection of the dead;
The death, burial and resurrection of Christ;
Are all linked together to bring us comfort in our grief.
Those who are alive when Jesus comes will not precede in any way those who have fallen asleep in death. If you must fall asleep in death before the return of Jesus to the earth, rest assured, you won’t miss out on a thing. You too will experience the full impact and benefit of verses 16 and seventeen:
- Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised;14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ , whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised;17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. 1 Cor 15:12-19 (NASB)
Just as Jesus had to make it ever so plain to the disciples about the exact state of Lazarus, who he said was asleep; by saying plainly to the disciples, LAZARUS IS DEAD. Paul, after having written to the Thessalonians that: “we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep” in verse 16 reminded them that “the dead in Christ shall rise first.”
- For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout , with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 1 Thess 4:16-17 (NASB)
Paul finished up his address concerning misinformation regarding those who have fallen asleep by reminding the Thessalonians of the great reunion ahead for those who “sleep in Jesus” Verse 14.
Falling asleep in death is a fearful thing. The writer of Hebrews mentions that:
- Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Verse 17
But to fall asleep in Jesus is a comforting thought. To know that our father, our mother, our sister, our brother, our son, our daughter, our wife, our husband sleeps in Jesus is comforting because we know that those who sleep in Jesus will by the power of God be awakened; brought along side of Jesus; and will forever be with him. We continue to need comfort and consolation even as did the Thessalonians. We are indebted to Paul, but even more to the Lord for these comforting words.
- By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil's hold on death 15 and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death. Heb 2:14-15 (MSG)