1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 (NRSV): 13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
This is a really interesting passage. People who personally witnessed Jesus’ ministry expected him to come again – in their lifetimes. After all, Jesus himself said the following in Matthew 16:28
“Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Reading through his letters it’s clear Paul was expecting Jesus any day. Be ready, Jesus is coming! But then the years turned into decades and still no Jesus. Some of the believers started to have doubts. Others died while still waiting and the question arose, “What about these people? Are they out of luck?” Fortunately the answer was “no”. V.14 clarifies this point for people who were fearing death. They had nothing to fear.
What’s interesting to me is, despite the fact that Paul was one of the main apostles of the early church who received some of the most important revelations in all Christianity – he got surprised. Things didn’t unfold the way he expected. So he had to adjust expectations and clarify his teachings based on new information. The “certainties” he and others held onto were more fluid than anticipated. So they just had to roll with it.
I can relate to Paul. As a younger man I had far more certainties as it relates to faith than I do now. Over the years I’ve learned I have to be open-minded and prepared to re-evaluate my theology regularly. Because life brings lots twists and turns. Former hard “truths” make less sense. I read the same passages of scripture and, due to more life experience, understand them differently. My faith pushes me, defies my easy answers, refuses to be domesticated. And I’ve learned to embrace that. Welcome it. See it as a chance to hear from God anew… Amen.