There’s a lot of talk about hope these days. But often the hope that is peddled is fuzzy and unfounded. The Christian’s hope, rather, is clear and well grounded. Its hope that is sweet. Its hope with teeth. Paul talks about it in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. Here’s four layers of the Christian’s hope.
“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an 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” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
- Christians will rise. In verse 16, Paul informs us that “the dead in Christ will rise.” Christians who die will rise back to life one day. The 1689 Confessions explains that on the last day, “the bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonour; the bodies of the just, by his Spirit, unto honour, and be made conformable to his own glorious body” (31.3). When you travel in the long dark procession to the cemetery, when you walk among the gravestones cut in the green grass, when you behold the coffin let down in the earth containing the body of the dead in Christ—remember that he will rise. That earth will one day be broken up and that coffin will be smote in two—and that child of God will rise.
- Christians will rise to be with the Lord. Verse 17 says Christians will rise “to meet the Lord in the air.” It would be good to rise to a world in which we could know Christ by faith as we do now. But Christians are promised something better. We will rise to see him. The one we have heard about. The one who have not yet seen, but love. The one who loves us. The one who laid down his life for us. The one who smiles upon us right now. We will rise to meet him—and faith will be no more. And so we sing, “And Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight!” And still there is more to our hope.
- Christians will rise to be with the Lord and one another. Verse 17 says that those who are alive at the coming of Christ “will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” Christians will meet together when they meet with the Lord. He clearly teaches that we will know our Christian brothers and sisters in eternity. This is one of the reasons we grieve with hope. What a joyous reunion it will be when you meet again the Christian brothers and sisters you have known in this life. What a glorious celebration we will have when we meet together and the race has been finished and the battle is over. What joy will stream across the face of your dear friends then as you embrace? As you behold the Savior together? The fellow Christian you have sent off into glory with tears of sorrow, you will one day rise to meet with tears of joy. And yet there is one more level of glory to our hope.
- Christians will rise to be with the Lord and one another forever. Verse 17 increases our hope when it says, “and so we will always be with the Lord.” Each of us carries around the weight of knowing that one day we will be separated by death. Oh temporary burden! Christian here is the apex of your hope if you can strive to reach the heights. On that day, separation will be no more. On that day, never again will you part with your beloved Savior and your beloved friends in the Lord. We will always be with the Lord. Day upon day, year upon year, century upon century. Further up and further in will be our unending song.