But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 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. 16 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. 17 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.– 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 [ESV]
“I can only imagine…” So goes the song by MercyMe. “…What it will be like When I walk by Your side…” There are some great thoughts there:
Surrounded by Your gloryWhat will my heart feel? Will I dance for You Jesus Or in awe of You be still? Will I stand in Your presence Or to my knees, will I fall? Will I sing hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine I can only imagine
There will come a time when we will not need to imagine. Paul speaks of that here. He does so to allay a fear regarding how things are going to go on that Great Last Day when imagination turns to reality. Jesus will come again. The dead will be raised. We who remain will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord.
A simple understanding of these turns of events is certainly best. Just taking it at face value rather than trying to wrap our minds around how all this will happen is certainly the way of childlike faith. But as I think about these events, so many things come to mind that I truly don’t understand. Better yet, things come to mind that I cannot comprehend. How will this work?
This explanation of events is meant to comfort us. But the balm of comfort seems to be placed on an area of concern I don’t recognize as being in need of it. I’m not worried that those who have fallen asleep will be forgotten or left behind. The Second Coming of Christ will be a cataclysmic event. There will be unimaginable upheaval, distress, and disruption. And the thought that the dead in Christ will be raised first, then we who believe will join them in the clouds is not really comforting to me. It’s a non-issue.
Most days I’m quite content with enjoying the beauty of creation, the pleasant places in my life, and the challenges of day to day living. I don’t have much anxiety about the dead in Christ – those who sleep. I believe they rest in peace, and on that Great Last Day they will be raised to life. Whether they precede me or follow me into the presence of Jesus in the clouds is of little concern to me.
The comfort I find here is that Jesus will return on that Great Last Day. Those who sleep will be raised. We will join them. And we are not to be uninformed in all of this. We don’t have to live in darkness and confusion about all this.
We don’t live with the same sense of the imminent return of Jesus. It’s been so long now, many of us can’t imagine it being that close. This afternoon at 3:24? Next Friday at 1:00 AM? Whenever it will be I want to be ready. I take comfort that I don’t need to imagine it all. I just need to believe in Jesus. And I do.