Reflection for OS32, Sunday November 8 2020Epistle reading: 1Thessalonians 4.13-18What happens to

Reflection for OS32, Sunday November 8 2020

Epistle reading: 1Thessalonians 4.13-18

What happens to those who have fallen asleep?

There were many questions in the minds of the new Christians at Thessalonica. One thing that worried them was their ignorance about what had happened to other Christians who had died. Of particular interest was the question of the Parousia (the second coming) – would they be included when the Lord comes on the clouds or not? Clearly the living Christians were worried, so Paul gently tells them they have no need to worry.

“I would not have you ignorant concerning those who have fallen asleep.” Note the gentle euphemism for death as sleep, common since Homer and even earlier. It fits well with the picture language employed in this letter. Paul wants to comfort the Christians who remain. They have no need for a hopeless grieving; they have hope based on their belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Faith and hope remove the distress experienced by pagan non-believers. Verse 14 states strongly the truth that as God raised Jesus so He will raise the dead Christians who have died before the Parousia.

It would appear that the Thessalonians had many questions relating to the Parousia. It is a difficult doctrine and Paul himself finds he has to resort to picture language. He has a ‘Word of the Lord’ which we can understand as a revelation received in prayer which can only be described in picture language. When Christ comes again the event will involve angels and trumpet sounds, and mystery. In this passage Paul assures us along with the Thessalonian Christians that the Parousia will certainly happen and no Christian will be left behind. We and they are to find comfort in this assurance.

Many centuries have elapsed since Paul wrote his message and we can only hang on to the conviction that Christ will come again, but the time and manner remain a mystery to be spoken of in picture language. We will deal with this again in the Advent season.

Reverend Dr Calum Gilmour

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