Genuine Hope, when Hope is in Short Supply

What happens to Christians when they die? This question disturbed the Christians at Thessalonica. It is possible they understood all believers would live to see the coming of Christ (the Parousia), before they died (Matt 16:26; Mk 9:1). So Paul writes to them out of pastoral concern, not theological one, although theology must undergird the pastoral counsel or it’s merely wishful thinking. His reply is very simple. He does not want his readers, the Thessalonians (or us for that matter), to grieve like the rest of humanity. The non-Christian may not have any hope, especially if they believed in the classical Greek and Roman gods – but the Christian does. The Christian’s hope rests on the death and resurrection of Christ (vs 14), which has the power to transform and raise believers from the dead. Yes, many people have a belief in the after-life but it is more like the Vikings – an image of banquets and celebration. So Paul writes: those who have died will be brought back with Jesus when he returns. Those alive at the time of his coming (vs 15), will not be resurrected first, but will wait until his resurrection and will go out to greet him by being swept up into the clouds. There is an order (vss 16-17). The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, a trumpet call of God. Much of this imagery is taken from the OT which is not surprising where in Exodus ch 19, Zeph1:14 and Is 27:13, these signs are associated with the End; and the cloud is the presence of God. Matt 24:31 and 1 Cor 15:52 also highlight these signs. Yes, Christians have a reason to be genuinely hopeful about their future in an age when hope is in short supply.

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