Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | May 1, 2019

Paul’s Grief Counseling

(4 Minute Read)

Popping into our laundry room many years ago, my youngest daughter asked her mother, “Did Jesus have a beard?”

Her mother began to address this query with the appropriate caveats. But our little four-year-old quickly interrupted with complete assurance, “Never mind. I’ll just look at Him when He comes back.”

My little girl was totally confident of the visible, bodily return of Jesus Christ to this earth. To incorporate Scriptural truth so naturally into the minutiae of everyday life should be the practice of every Christian.

Death and the Afterlife

Paul’s letter to the Greek church at Thessalonika includes vital truth about death and the afterlife, truth essential to a Biblical worldview.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Paul uses “sleep” for death to remind the believer that death is a temporary state of rest from life’s labors, a rest from which he will eventually arise. This is a common use of “sleep” in the Bible. For example, the Old Testament prophet Daniel also uses the “sleep-awake” imagery to refer to death and resurrection (Daniel 12:2).

By “sleep,” however, Paul does not mean that the believer’s soul is unconscious following death. To the thief on the cross Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
(Luke 23:43)

To the believers at Corinth Paul said he would “prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
(2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23)

These passages indicate that at death a person immediately enters the presence of the Lord, fully conscious.

Assuaging Grief with Truth

Paul’s goal in the Thessalonians passage is to comfort those whose loved ones have died believing in Jesus. The way he brings comfort and consolation is to provide definite, reliable information. Paul emphasizes that the basis of the believer’s hope and the reason for “not grieving like those without hope” is one monumental certainty. It is the certainty of both the atoning death and the victorious resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The believer’s resurrection is guaranteed by Christ’s own historical death and resurrection.

In tragic contrast, what hope have those whose loved ones have died outside of Christ? They have legitimate reason for despondent grief.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul tells us four things about the return of Christ:
1. The Lord’s return will be a loud, visible, public event. Christ will return to earth with a triumphant shout, with the exultant bellow of an archangel, and with the blasting trumpet of God. It will be impossible to overlook this stupendous event.
2. Believers who have already died (and hence whose spirits have been present with Christ in heaven) will return with Christ and their bodies will be raised first.
3. Then believers who are still alive will be caught up to join the raised believers and to meet the Lord in the air as He descends from heaven.
4. Thereafter, we shall be with the Lord forever.

This is not just a dry list of events. It is an exhilarating reality and a solid basis for substantive assurance. Because deceased believers will be raised at Christ’s return for a joyous reunion of all believers, Paul instructs us to comfort each other when loved ones die in the Lord by reminding one another of these truths.

Today’s professional grief counselors might be surprised at Paul’s unconventional approach to comforting the bereaved. He did not massage feelings or repeat empty assurances or try to distract from reality. Instead, Paul provided relevant truth for sober contemplation. Knowing the realities of death and life after death must be part of a Biblical worldview. Paul’s message from Jesus is given to accurately inform us of the truth about these matters.

Many fear death due to a lack of knowledge or understanding of the Apostle Paul’s message to the Thessalonians. This Rebus puzzle represents something else people fear due to lack of knowledge. Can you figure out what this puzzle represents? Try to solve the puzzle before you look at the answer below.

As an Apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul was sent by Christ to speak and teach for Him with His authority. In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he additionally emphasizes that this teaching on Christ’s return comes directly from Jesus Himself. Paul is not simply repeating and expanding Old Testament truths as he sometimes does (by Divine inspiration). Here he is delivering an actual word from the Lord. This does not make it “more true,” but it certainly adds to its impact.

My wife and I lost both sets of parents to death in the span of just five years. Less than a week ago, we lost my wife’s younger sister. All five died in Christ, and I can earnestly testify that this passage (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) provides genuine comfort when bereaved. For believers, death is only a temporary departure. The separation is not forever as it is for unbelievers. We feel great sadness at death and we sorely miss the departed, but we are not despairing in grief. We are confident of seeing deceased believers again.
Comfort and encourage one another with this truth!

Questions to Ponder

1. What should you say to an unbeliever who is grieving over the loss of a loved one?
2. What practical acts of mercy and thoughtfulness can you offer a bereaved friend?

Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.

Rebus Answer: Things that go bump in the night.
[Th+ink+s th+hat go bum+pin the knight]
(Click Rebus Puzzles for links to blog articles with a Rebus puzzle.)

For Christ and His Kingdom. Soli Deo Gloria.

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Wednesday May 1, 2019 A.D.

We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8)

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  1. What about those whose loved ones were not saved? Very painful to think about.


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