The believers in the early church at Thessalonica had a big concern about what happens to believers when they die. They were concerned that those who died would miss out in the events and blessings associated with Christ’s return. They were confident that Jesus would return to take them home to be with him, but what about all of those who had already died? What would happen to them?
Paul was made aware of their question and in his letter to the church at Thessalonica he wrote this:
I Thessalonians 4:13
13 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.
Paul told them, “Hey, I know you are puzzled about what happens to those who are asleep.” Of course, when Paul said “asleep”, he was using a euphuism for being dead. Although, when you have a biblical perspective, death is much like sleep. The body is at rest for a time and will be reanimated when the person is resurrected. Paul did not want believers to grieve and to say they “lost” someone. When you are in Christ and your loved one is in Christ, then you have not lost them. Their body is simply asleep, waiting.
Also, When the Bible speaks of “hope” is not talking about “a desire for something to happen”. Biblical hope is not about wanting something to happen. Like I hope to win a million dollars or I hope for snow in Laredo this year. Hope means “expectation and confidence”. Paul wanted the church of Thessalonica to have an expectation and confidence of what is going to happen in the future. We, as believers are to have an expectation and confidence about what God is going to do in the future as it relates to those who believed in Jesus, but have fallen asleep.
So, what hope do believers have?
1 Thessalonians 4:14
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
Here is the hope. Here is the confident expectation: The same power of God that raised Jesus from the dead will also raise believers in Jesus from the dead. Paul is making a logical statement. If we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, then we also know God will raise believers in Jesus from the dead. Believers have the confident expectation of a bodily resurrection from the dead.
Jesus died and was buried, but he did not stay dead and buried. We do not worship a dead Savior. We worship the risen Savior. On the third day, Jesus as he said he would, Jesus rose from the grave and if Jesus rose from the grave by the power of God, then we, as believers in Jesus can confidently expect that God will raise the dead in Christ from the grave.
You might be thinking, okay, why does Paul keep saying “fallen asleep” rather than dead? Paul made a very significant point: for the believer there is no death. Jesus gives victory over death to all who believe in him. When life on this earth concludes, the believer’s spirit is ushered into the presence of God beginning eternal life. The body sleeps, but the spirit is with God the moment temporal life has ended. When Jesus returns, the body will be resurrected into a glorified state and reunited with the spirit.
You might be thinking, okay, so what does that look like? What is this glorified state of the believer? Well, we don’t know specifically, but the Bible does reveal what Jesus’ glorified body was like. When Jesus rose from the grave, he appeared to people and they recognized him. He had the power to appear and disappear at will. He ate and communicated. In other places in the Scriptures our glorified bodies are described as imperishable, honorable, and powerful (1 Corinthians 15:42-53). This means our imperishable body will not age or be susceptible to sickness, disease, or death. The glorified body will be pure and undefiled by sin and the curse. Just as our physical, temporal bodies are perfectly suited to life on earth, so our glorified bodies will be perfectly suited for eternal life with God in the New Jerusalem.