Scripture Text – Matthew 24:3-14
Some years prior to the writing of this letter to the Thessalonians, Paul had spent two weeks at Thessalonica and faithfully preached the Gospel. He had not failed to include in this preaching the blessed truth of the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ. He had comforted the Christians at Thessalonica with the assurance that the trials and tribulations of these early Christians should not alarm them, for the Lord would return and take them unto Himself very shortly and set up His glorious kingdom. As these testings and trials came they took heart and said, “It will not last forever; soon the Lord will come and take us out to reign with Him.” Then something very disturbing happened. Some of their number became ill and died. As they carried them away, doubts and fears arose in their hearts. Had not Paul told them that the Lord was coming, and that when He came they would enter the kingdom with Him? What about these who had died? You can see that they, like many today, knew nothing of the first resurrection. They believed in a postmillennial, general resurrection—that when the Lord set up His millennial kingdom the dead would not share in this glory, since they were not to be resurrected until after that glorious age. These early Christians were sad, as every one is who knows not the truth of the “blessed hope.” Paul hears of their troubles and doubts. He immediately writes this epistle to correct their misunderstanding of the coming of the Lord. He reveals to them that the dead in Christ will not be denied the privilege of the glorious millennial reign with Christ, since they will be raised when He comes to set up the kingdom.
Before giving the details of this coming Paul lays down the one condition upon which we may appropriate this blessed hope to ourselves, when he says:
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
The one condition of salvation is faith in the death and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Only those who have received Him and have confessed with their mouths the Lord Jesus and believed in their hearts “that God has raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10:9) can appropriate the comfort of this “blessed hope.” Salvation is not by works, or goodness, or human effort, but entirely by faith. The word translated “if” in verse 14 may also be translated “since.” The context determines which should be used and we may read it as follows: For [since] we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. One of these days the Lord Jesus is coming again, and then only those who have trusted Him and accepted Him as their Savior will rise to meet Him in the air. All the rest, no matter what their moral or religious merits may be, will be left behind to face the wrath of God.
All those who have come to Christ by faith are encouraged by the truth which follows. Paul is telling these Thessalonian believers that the dead in Christ—the ones who had gone on before—will not be denied the blessing of that event. He says, “Even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” The expression “asleep in Jesus” is incorrect. In the Bible, believers are never said to be “in Jesus” except in this one instance. Believers are said to be “in Christ.” In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we read, “If anyone is in Christ.” In this same chapter we are told that the “dead in Christ” shall rise first. The error lies in a mistranslation. The Greek word dia, here translated “in,” should have been translated “by means of.” Thus the verse should read, “Even so God will bring with Him those who sleep [by means of Jesus].” Everyone who is “in Christ” will be “with Christ” when He comes.
To Be Continued