Explore The Bible Study: Promised

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Over the past few years death, has become more of a reality to many of us.  We suffered through the daily updates regarding COVID-19 deaths. Many of us have had friends or family members who were once healthy and fit, lose their lives. Now we are all shocked by the deaths caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It seems we are engulfed with the constant reminder that death is real and final. The Explore The Bible Study: Promised reminds us that, while we may grieve over death, we should still have hope because of the promised return of Christ.

Paul began 1 Thessalonians 4 by commending the Thessalonian believers for their faith but encouraged them to grow even more, especially in their faith, love, and hope. 

When it came to hope, Paul was concerned about how the Thessalonian believers were responding to death. They had either heard teachers question what happens when someone dies, or they did not have a clear understanding of death because of past teachings. Because of this, Paul encourages them, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, regarding how their faith in Christ gives them hope in the face of death, especially as it relates to the return of Christ.

Believers can/should grieve with hope! – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

God did not desire for these believers or any believers to be uninformed about death.  Paul wanted them to see that Christ had defeated death, and thus He would not abandon their loved ones to an eternal death if they died believing in Jesus Christ.

We clearly see in this passage that we are not to grieve like those who are without hope. This passage, however, does not say believers should not grieve. Grief is a normal, natural response to the loss we experience when someone dies—even Jesus grieved when He saw the pain associated with Lazarus’ death (John 11:35).  We can grieve with hope because we know that those who have died in Christ have eternal life and that they are with Him; for to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6–8), and that He will bring them with Him when He returns. When we have to say goodbye to a loved one who has a relationship with Jesus, it is perfectly normal and natural to feel grief. 

How does knowing that someone you loved had placed their faith in Christ before their death, give you hope?

Can you imagine grieving without any hope in the future? What do you think people who grieve in this manner are thinking and feeling?

How does knowing you believe in Christ give you hope while realizing you will die one day?

We have hope because God has a Plan! – 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17

Paul describes the state of those who are dead in Christ in several ways throughout this passage and the preceding verses. First, in verse 14, Paul states that Christ will return WITH those who have fallen asleep. Again, we understand that to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6–8). Now, in verse 16, Paul tells us that the dead in Christ will rise first, and then in verse 17, he tells us that, we who are still alive at Christ’s return, will join those who are dead in Christ, and are already in the air with Christ at His return.

The following from GotQuestions provides some very good insight into what Paul is stating:

The spirits of those who have died in Christ would return with Him and their bodies would be resurrected and rise to be reunited with their spirits. Paul discusses this in simple terms in 1 Corinthians 15:52 when he says, “The dead will be raised imperishable and we [who are not yet dead when the event takes place] will be changed” (NASB).This event is often called the rapture (after the Latin word for “caught up”), and it is a grand event that reunites loved ones. The certainty of this resurrection and the reality of eternal life is what gives us hope even in the midst of grief. That the dead in Christ shall rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16) is simply one important chronological aspect of that event, and it shows how important those who have died in Christ are to Him. But the greatest joy and hope of the event is not simply that loved ones will be reunited, but that we shall all be together with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:17)! Because of the great joy and hope these words provide, Paul exhorts his readers to encourage one another with these words. - Source: GotQuestions.org

The Thessalonians could know without a doubt that the dead in Christ will participate in the second coming. The next piece of hopeful information is that all will know when Christ returns. When Jesus returns, no one will have to wonder if it happened or not.

The promise of resurrection and the details of the rapture matter, as they are expressions of exactly how God will resolve the problem of death and the separation that it brings. Because of His work, even when we are grieving, we have hope. Paul left no doubt—he emphatically stated that Jesus is coming back. The apostle explained how it will happen: 

  • The Lord himself will descend from heaven. This phrase is important in that it shows Christ’s present location. Christ resides in glory and is sitting at the right hand of the Father in power (Ephesians 1:20-23). 
  • The event will not be a secret event: Paul noted that three loud sounds will accompany Christ’s return. First, He will come with a shout. The Greek word here is a military term relating to a loud command. The next two noises mentioned—the archangel’s voice and the trumpet of God—are closely associated with the shout. While this could be describing one event, the Greek wording also allows for three separate events taking place at roughly the same time.
  • Paul revealed that when He returns, those who have fallen asleep in Christ will be raised first, and those who are alive will then join Him.
  • V.17 - Christ is coming back for His entire church. All who are truly in Christ will participate in this experience. The apostle did not distinguish between rich and poor, powerful and weak, white collar and blue collar. He simply stated that those who are in Christ will be caught up together with them in the clouds. 
  • The reunion that Paul described is permanent and without end: we will always be with the Lord. 

We Should Encourage Others Because We Have Hope – 1 Thessalonians 4:18

Encourage” in the original language means to come alongside another—to develop a bond or partnership with another. The passing of a close loved one, whether a spouse, parent, or child, changes us. Others grieve with us in the moment, but they return to their normal lives in a few days. The one who remains, however, is faced with a new normal. It is this grieving person who needs encouragement. It is this grieving person who needs an encourager to walk with them and uphold them when the pain seems unbearable.  Paul did not call the church at Thessalonica to be there merely in the moment, but rather to engage in an extended partnership with the grieving. (ETB Daily Discipleship Guide)

How can you encourage those who are grieving, when they feel as if all hope is gone? 

How can you encourage those who are grieving and who have a hope in the future return of Christ?

The return of Jesus gives believers hope when grieving the death of another believer. Jesus will return in His full glory gathering all believers through the ages for eternity. The certainty of Christ’s return should encourage believers when grieving.

Who do you know who is not a believer in Jesus? Commit to pray daily that they will come into a relationship with Him.

Do you have a burden for someone who doesn’t have hope for a future with Christ after death? What actions can you take to help them?

How can you demonstrate hope when you face the death of a loved one or when you are facing death?

Knowing the hope one can have through a personal relationship with Christ, why would anyone refuse to accept and follow Christ? Do you have the hope that comes with knowing Christ? 

Reflect on the hope that comes through faith in Jesus. If you have not trusted Jesus, review the information on the inside front cover of your study guide or talk with someone who can help you. If you have trusted Jesus, take some time to thank Him for the hope of eternity.

The downloadable teaching helps provide more details for this study, along with some tools you can use in guiding a group Bible study. Be sure to use this as a supplement to your study of the Explore the Bible Study resources provided by LifeWay.

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