But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
Jesus died and rose again!
We believe that!
Why, then, should we mourn over our dead?
They are not dead, but asleep. And if they sleep, they shall be awakened; and God will bring them in fellowship with Jesus into the glory of the everlasting kingdom.
We are not as the others, therefore, who have no hope. Ours is the sure and glad hope of the resurrection!
O death, where is thy sting?
O grave, where is thy victory?
We believe that Jesus died and rose again! Thanks be unto God!
Sure ground of hope! We believe that Jesus died and rose again! In this our hope rests. It rests not only in the fact that He died and rose again. Yes, that objectively. But subjectively it rests also in the fact that we believe that He died and rose again.
The Thessalonian believers had a problem, one which arose apparently out of a rather serious misapprehension of the truth concerning the return of our crucified and risen Lord Jesus. It seems as though many of them expected the Lord to return in their own time, and that then they expected to be glorified immediately with the Lord. Meanwhile, however, before this mistakenly expected return of the Lord Jesus, some of their fellow-saints in the congregation died. And about this they were sorely troubled. They bemoaned those who died, because, they thought, those dead saints would now surely miss the glory and the bliss of meeting the Lord when He came, Hence, the point of the apostle is not that we may not mourn and grieve when our dear ones are taken away. It is not that we may not at all bemoan our loss, that we may not weep on account of the pain of separation. Thus the apostle’s words are sometimes misquoted: “We mourn, but not as those who have no hope.” No, in the sense in which the apostle here speaks of it, in connection with the concern of the Thessalonian believers, the point is that we must not mourn at all. That is, we must not mourn over our dead brethren, over our fellow-saints who have preceded us and who have preceded the coming of the Lord in death. We need not feel sorry for our fellow-saints who die. About this the apostle instructs the church here: “I would not have you to be ignorant concerning them which are asleep.”
In this instruction the apostle goes to the heart of the matter: our faith in Jesus, Who died and rose again.
Intentionally the Word of God uses this name here. Jesus is Jehovah-Salvation! He is Jehovah, the unchangeable I AM, the faithful covenant God, revealed as the God of our salvation. He is the sure and only Savior: for He shall save His people from their sins!
He has died!
Emphasis falls here on the fact that Jesus also entered into temporal, physical death and the grave. He did not merely suffer, in order to bypass death and suddenly to be glorified. But He died. He entered into the same death and the same grave into which those who fall asleep in Jesus now enter. O, indeed, this also implies that Jesus tasted death for the entire church. He died, for our sins. And also when He entered into the grave, the realm of the dead, the place of corruption, He did so in our behalf. And it is for that reason that the sting of death is removed and the victory of the grave is gone. But here the apostle emphasizes that—we believe in and confess a Head Who once died also, Who once was in the very same grave in which the saints are laid when they fall asleep.
But Jesus rose again!
Notice that the text here does not say that He “was raised”—though that also is true—but that He “rose again.” In other words, here the emphasis does not fall upon what God did, but upon the mighty power of the Head of the body, upon the fact that He is the Living One, yea, the Life Himself! He arose! He broke the bands of death. When He died and went to the place of the dead, death could not hold its prey! He tore the bars away! He, Jesus, our Head, to Whom we belong in—life and in death, entered into death, but was not held—of death. Not the captive, but the Captor is He! He entered into death, but He emerged! He entered, but He made His exit—on the other side! He passed through! He, our victorious, living Lord!
We believe that!
“If we believe . . . ,” the apostle says. And when he says this, he is not proposing that perhaps it is doubtful whether we believe. Surely, he is not proposing the damnable heresy that our believing is the condition of God’s salvation. On the contrary, he is addressing the saints, the believers. He is making an argument on the basis of that which they believe. He intends to say: if we believe that Jesus died and rose again—and we do!—then this follows from that faith, namely, that God will through Jesus bring those who have fallen asleep with Him.
We believe it! Indeed, this means that we accept and hold for true the fact that Jesus died and rose again; and in a sense this is even on the foreground here. It belongs to the apostle’s chain of argumentation. But that believing is a matter of living faith, too. It is not a cold and intellectual knowledge. It is not an assent which leaves us unaffected, a matter of no import to us. We believe; we do not merely acknowledge. That Jesus died and rose again is the object of our knowledge and acknowledgement in such a way that it is also the object of our confidence. It is a matter of sacred conviction, but also the ground of sure confidence. It is a living faith. For we belong to that Jesus. By faith we cling to Him, even as we are one with Him. Our faith is in Him as the Jesus Who saves His people, in Him as the legal and organic Head of His church. And because He is our Head, therefore what is true of Him is true of us, His members. Hence, for the faith of the saints it is established: when our Head died and rose again, we died and rose again! Jesus died and rose again. We are one with Him by faith. We shall also live with Him!
Blessed cross-and-resurrection faith!
Sorrow not concerning your brethren which are asleep!
Why should ye sorrow?
Consider them rather in the light of the fact that we believe that Jesus died and rose again. Let the light of revelation, the light of Jesus’ cross and resurrection, the light of life, shine upon their death! Let that same light enlighten the eyes of your understanding, and let it sparkle even through the tears of the grief of painful separation, as you contemplate your dead who die in the Lord. And then, by all means, mourn not over your dead!
For in the light of the fact that we believe in Jesus Who died and rose again, what becomes plain concerning the saints who have preceded us in death, concerning those who died having like precious faith?
This, that they are only “asleep!”
No, that they are asleep is not a mere euphemism, a pleasant expression to cover up the ugly reality of death. But it is a figurative expression conveying a very real and beautiful truth concerning the saints who die. And this figurative expression is not intended to convey the false notion of a “soul-sleep.” For this is indeed a false notion. Our spirit is not in a state of unconsciousness until the day of the final resurrection. On the contrary, our spiritual soul is in heaven, in paradise, with Christ, delivered from sin and sorrow and pain,—in glory, waiting for the final and full glory of the day of Christ! Besides, the text is after all concerned not about the spirit, but about the body which lies asleep in the dust of death. How shall those saints who are in the grave ever know the joy of the coming of the Lord?
This was the concern of the Thessalonian saints.
They are not dead, but sleeping!
Their death is but a being asleep with a view to the awakening of the resurrection!
Asleep they are: for through the death of the body all contact with our present world and with this present earthly existence is lost—just as it is when in the literal sense we fall asleep. But just as one who in the latter sense sleeps will presently wake up, so it is with the Christian. Sleep is hopeful! Sleep looks forward! There is a future for him who sleeps, not for him who dies! Those who are in Jesus, and who then enter into temporal death, do not die as the wicked, in order never to return to life. They are laid away for a time in the grave. They rest from the battle. They are out of contact with this present world. But they shall be awakened in the resurrection of the body!
Asleep in the hope of the full salvation—the salvation according to body and soul, the salvation of the entire church, yea, of the entire creation—which awaits us at the end, when God shall bring Jesus again! No, we cannot all wait here, on earth, for the coming of the Lord and for that full salvation. This present body—psychical, weak, mortal, earthy, inglorious—is not adapted to that. We must be changed! But neither can we yet receive the heavenly and glorious body of the resurrection: for the whole church is not gathered as yet, neither are the new heavens and the new earth ready as yet; We must wait! Every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, and afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming. Hence, we fall asleep in Jesus.
But that sleep is a hopeful sleep!
Sorrow not concerning them!
When you contemplate your fellow saints in death, do not leave the impression as though their death is a terrible thing. Do not think or say: awful, implacable death!
Rather, be glad and glory for those who fall asleep in Jesus!
Say, rather: hopeful sleep!
For we are different, don’t you see?
We are they who believe that. Jesus died and rose again!
We are not as the others, as the wicked; who have no hope!
The ungodly have no hope, though indeed they may claim it. Their claimed hope is a counterfeit hope? counterfeit just because it is this-worldly. All their hope is limited to this present time and this present world. It is the hope of a dead-end street. Death is the inevitable end of all on which they ever fix their hope and of all to which they ever aspire. It is the end for themselves and for those of their number who die. After that, there is not “nothing” but only a fearful looking for of judgment and condemnation and everlasting desolation of body and soul. When they die, it is to open their eyes in hell!
How could it be otherwise? For they do not believe, do they, in Him Who is the resurrection and the life?
And how could it be otherwise, then, than that they must needs mourn over their dead? They have no hope!
But we have hope!
Ours is a hope which springs from faith, faith that Jesus died and rose again! Ours is a hope characterized by certain and longing expectation! Ours is a hope which is living, which stretches beyond death and the grave. Ours is a hope with respect to ourselves and with respect to all those who are fallen asleep through Jesus. For even as we belong to Jesus, even as we live and walk through Him—by the power of His grace and through faith—so we also die through Him, die as an act of faith and in hope, die as those who are more than conquerors, as those to whom death is become a servant.
We hope, that is, with longing and certainty we expect that God will bring Jesus again! For is not Jesus the One Who died, but Who rose again? How can it ever fail that He shall come again—personally, visibly, bodily, publicly, gloriously? Or rather, how could it ever fail, for God’s own name’s sake, that God would bring Him again?
And since our dead are fallen asleep through Jesus, since they belong to Him in Whom they believed, how can it ever fail that God shall bring them with Jesus, in fellowship with Him? And if that be true, how can it ever fail that God shall first raise them from the dust in which they sleep, in order that He may bring them with Jesus? Not only we who may be alive at His coming shall be brought with Him; but also they, who likewise believed that Jesus died and rose again, though now they be asleep, shall be brought with Him. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
Shout, rather, with a voice of triumph and thanksgiving!
O death, where is thy sting?
O grave, where is thy victory?
Thanks be unto God which giveth us the victory!
Through Jesus, crucified and risen!