You Don’t Need to Fear Death!

by John Beck

I remember an old episode of The Andy Griffith Show entitled, “Tom Silby Returns.”  In that episode there is a funny exchange between Andy and Tom made so by a misunderstanding.                                 Andy said, “It can’t be, Tom, it just can’t be!”

“What can’t be?” Tom asked.

“You can’t be,” Andy said, “You’re gone!”

Tom replies, “I was gone, but I came back!”

A shocked Andy says, “You can’t come back, not when you’re gone, it just ain’t decent!”


What makes this exchange so funny is that when Tom says, “I was gone, but I came back,” he was simply referring to the fact that he went away to Charlottesville.  Andy, however, had reason to think Tom was dead (Andy even attended Tom’s funeral) so when Andy said, “You’re gone,” he meant the big you’re gone, as in Tom was dead!  You can imagine Andy’s surprise and Tom’s bombshell announcement!

            Stories like this give us a good laugh.  And we can laugh at death, especially when death seems like it is a long way off, or when death seems so remote that it doesn’t affect us.  BUT WHEN DEATH IS CLOSE – when it visits our families and friends – when it makes its “round of threes” (as in the old wives tales), then the laughs fade, and the serious business of dealing with death begins.

Death is the most traumatic experience we will face.  Certainly it is traumatic and scary for the dying, but it is sometimes more traumatic (in my observations) for those who remain behind.  While there is much uncertainty and fear surrounding death, however, we can be certain of this much:  God will always gives the grace we need to navigate that valley.

God loves us all.  God can and does supply grace and peace and comfort and assurance to the dying and to those who care for the dying.  Yes, it is tough.  Yes, it is difficult.  Yes, it is fearful.  We may have moments when we think that we cannot press on.  But the Great Comforter – the Holy Spirit of God Almighty – the Spirit of Christ – the power of God’s WORD, these will get us through and provide all that we need.


This passage of Scripture is about trusting God. It is about the comfort and peace and assurances God gives when we are facing death.  It is a passage you’ve heard many times over – probably read at a funeral.  It is intended to give assurance and hope to those feeling a profound sense of loss and sadness.  It is intended to give comfort and encouragement.

In fact, Paul concludes these verses with this summary:  So comfort and encourage each other with these words.


Comfort and encouragement.  These ancient Christians needed it way back when, and we most certainly need it today.  And for the same reasons:  We all face death.  Let’s take a moment and look closely at what Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.


I          The Problem

***1 Thessalonians 4:13  But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

            An important part of the gospel message as it is presented by the Apostle, Paul, involves the parousia, or what we’ve come to call the “second Coming of the Lord.”  The Bible teaches, and we all believe, that Jesus will return again to the earth to catch up with him all those who have believed in him as Savior.

We aren’t the first to hold such a hope.  The believers at the church in Thessalonica also believed it. In fact, it is probable that most of them, and perhaps Paul, himself, believed Jesus’ return would happen in their lifetimes.

They believed the resurrected, living Jesus Christ would make his coming before they died.  They believed that he was coming for them, to take them to their eternal home, to that place where Jesus, himself  had promised, I am going to prepare a place for you.

But watch this carefully, because there is a problem emerging.  The years are passing, and Jesus hasn’t returned.  As the years are passing, people who have believed the gospel, people who have trusted Christ as Savior, they are DYING, and confusion is spreading.  The question is being raised:  What happens to those who die before Jesus comes back?  Are they lost?  Will they miss out on the blessings the gospel promises?  And this confusion led to a fear and a great sorrow.  Persons were overcome with grief at the thought of this kind of a LOSS – a loss of hope that looked like they were missing out on God’s great promises.

It is to answer these questions that Paul, by the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, writes this section. And his answer to the problem presented in verse 13 is the promise of verse 14.  Let’s take a look.

II         The Promise

***1 Thessalonians 4:14  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.


Our great comfort and encouragement always begins with the WORD and PROMISES of GOD.  God speaks to us by the his word, the Bible.  When we have questions, especially those that involve eternity, especially the LIFE and DEATH questions, we should always TURN FIRST and foremost to God’s word and to God’s promises.  Paul is trying to get these ancient believers to do just that.

The promise in this passage starts with an event.  Since Jesus Christ died and rose again is a reference, of course to the resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus died on the cross, but on the third day was resurrected from the dead.  Paul is referencing an actual event on the timeline of human history.  In fact, the resurrection of Jesus has been called the most attested fact in ancient history.  Paul then connects this actual event to the promise of God in verse 14:  We also believe that when Jesus comes, God will bring back with Jesus all who have died (fallen asleep, with sleep being a euphemism for death).


            The PROMISE made to these ancient and anxious believers is simple and direct – GOD will not lose a single one of those who have trusted Christ for salvation.  Death cannot separate the believer from his or her secured place in God’s heaven!

Imagine the JOY and RELIEF this promise would’ve meant to these believers.  It brought hope to a circumstance they believed hopeless.  It brought comfort to a circumstance which was previously unconsolable.  It brought them the full truth of the gospel’s promise of eternal life.

AND IT SPEAKS this SAME TRUTH TODAY to believers like you and me when we face death.  Nothing can separate us from the love of GOD.  God will NOT lose even one of the millions and millions of those who’ve placed faith and hope in Him through Jesus Christ.


That God will not lose even one is a promise beautifully present in a story I heard one of my professors tell at the seminary many years ago.  It goes like this:

My father and I were hunting in the backwoods of Mississippi when I was about 10 years old.  We happened upon an old, old cemetery.  The woods had grown up around the two dozen or so headstones which were so weathered that the writings were hardly readable, and the whole place looked like it was long ago forgotten.  Even as a little boy it bothered me that the place seemed so abandoned.  So I asked by father, “What happens to the believers who are buried here?  It looks like everything is lost.”  My father spoke strongly and reassuringly, “Son, the Lord will never forget where one of his own has been laid.”

Many years later I was aboard a US Naval vessel in WWII.  Our ship had been hit and there were casualties.  Some of those who were dead were my good friends and brothers in Christ.  After a service honoring these brave dead, they were cast over the side of the ship into the depths of the Pacific Ocean.  As I watched my Christian friends sink into the seemingly endless deep, the words of my father came back to me from so many years before, “The Lord will never forget where one of his own has been laid.”  Those words gave me the blessed assurance that God will not lose a single soul who has trusted him.


            I think this is the message of the promise of verse 14.  And this promise means everything to you if you are an ancient believer caring for a dying loved one, our if you know that you are in your last days.  Of course, that promise lives today for believers like you and me.

I am also reminded of one of the first verses in the Bible I committed to memory.  It is John 10:27-28 – My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me.  And I give them eternal life.  And they will never perish and NO ONE can take them out of my hand.


That is God’s Promise.


III       The Progression

***1 Thessalonians 4:15-17   …we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.


Let me say a couple of things about the Progression.

One is that the progression is important, yes, but it is not the most important part of the passage.  By far the most important part of the passage is the promise itself; the promise that we as believers in Christ will be with the Lord forever and nothing can ever separate us.  Again, that promise is as sure as the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But how exactly will it work, you ask?  That answer is less certain, at least to my limited reasoning.

There are some things we can say for sure about the progression.  One is that Paul is telling us about an actual event in history.  We said earlier that the resurrection is a real, actual event on the timeline of human history – from the timeline of our past.  The progression that begins with the trumpet blast announcing the coming of the Lord is also a real, actual event on the timeline of human history – that is still in our future.  Yes, Paul is describing an actual moment in the story of humanity.

That means there is coming a moment, and yes, it might be this very day, when the events of verses 15-17 will actually happen.  There will be a shout from heaven.  The dead in Christ will rise.  Those who are alive and remain will be caught up with them in the air and will forever be with the Lord.  Oh my!  Just the thought of that glorious moment brings me such joy!


Now, through the years I’ve been pressed with some logistical questions about the progression that, I confess, I have some difficulty thinking through.  For example, some have said to me, “What about someone who has been cremated?  They don’t have a grave to pop out of.  Still others have had their cremated remains scattered.  What happens to them?”

Still others have asked me, “What about someone who has been blown up in the war?  If the bomb vaporized them, where do their remains come from?  How do they meet the Lord in the air?”

And still others have said things like, “What about someone who died a thousand years ago?  Their graves are long gone and their remains have all decayed into nothingness.  What happens to them?”

I don’t know can be my only answer.  But I do have a return question.  Is any of this too hard for God?  Is there anyone who thinks God cannot deliver on his promise.  Is there any part of the progression that God is unable to complete because of how a person died?  Is there anything the Divine One, the All-Knowing and All Powerful One, the Author and Creator of the Universe – is there anything our Great God cannot do?


Again, let’s apply the verses from John 10- I give them eternal life and they will never perish and no one can take them out of my hand.  Can a bomb dislodge a soul from the hand of the Savior?  If a person is cremated or their remains completely lost, does that mean the Savior has lost them?  Does that mean they can no longer participate in the eternal salvation plans of the Almighty God?  Of course not!  If you think about it, it begins to sound ridiculous.  Can you even imagine God saying to someone, “Oh, sorry, I know you were a believer and everything, but you were cremated and so we can’t let you into heaven.”  Again, ridiculous.

Friends, I do know this.  All of God’s Word is true.  And the truthfulness of God’s Word doesn’t depend on my ability to be explain every single detail.  I believe in faith in the good heart of God!  Yes, there will be a shout from heaven.  Yes, he dead in Christ will rise.  Yes, those who are alive and remain will be caught up to meet him in the clouds and to be carried to heaven.


Let me close with a beautiful picture.

Thessalonians 4 uses language referring to the death of a believer as “sleep.”  The Greek term is koimao.  It is translated “to fall asleep” or “to be asleep.”

This idea became a euphemism of the death of the believer.  The idea was that a person wasn’t anymore dead if he/she had faith in Christ as Savior, than any person would be dead if he/she were simply asleep.

Now let’s go back to the progression – v.15-17.

The Lord comes down out of heaven with a SHOUT – the CALL of the archangel – the TRUMPET of God.

            Why do we need a shout, a call and a trumpet blast?  To rouse the SLEEPING ONES!  This is the DIVINE alarm clock announcing that it is TIME to GET UP!  And just like your alarm clock designates the precise moment when it is time to rise from your slumber, God’s Divine call will come at the perfect moment in human history – He will wake the sleeping ones when it is TIME.

So the shout, the call, the trumpet – announce that the moment has come.  Then those whom God has come to ROUSE from their sleep will arise first, followed by all those who are alive and remain, to meet him in the air!

Praise the ALMIGHTY for that glorious moment!

And now let us turn full circle to the purpose of this passage.  Please remember that the big picture purpose of this passage is brought into focus in verse 18 – So comfort and encourage each other with these words.

            Paul wants the surviving believers in Thessalonica to be assured that their loved ones, those who have fallen asleep in Christ, are safe and sound in God’s hands.

They are not lost.  They will participate fully in God’s promise of eternal life.

Not even death can separate them from God’s love.


We, too, understand the great hope, comfort, and encouragement we feel when we are reminded of these great promises of GOD.  When it is our turn to stand beside a casket, when it is our turn to contemplate our own mortality, these words mean everything to us.  They are God’s Great Comfort.


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