1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
“Beloved brothers and sisters, we want you to be quite certain about the truth concerning those who have passed away, so that you won’t be overwhelmed with grief like many others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, we also believe that God will bring with Jesus those who died while believing in him. This is the word of the Lord: we who are alive in him and remain on earth when the Lord appears will by no means have an advantage over those who have already died, for both will rise together. For the Lord himself will appear with the declaration of victory, the shout of an archangel, and the trumpet blast of God. He will descend from the heavenly realm and command those who are dead in Christ to rise first. Then we who are alive will join them, transported together in clouds to have an encounter with the Lord in the air, and we will be forever joined with the Lord. So encourage one another with these truths.”
When someone we love moves beyond this world into eternity, it can throw us into chaos and struggle as we live without our loved one. It wasn’t any different for the first century believers. They were made of the same stuff as we are. Paul himself knew his time on this earth was short. In the midst of early persecution and people dying naturally, this truth came forth from Paul. When I read this I had to ask myself, “Do I really and truly believe the Scripture in full? Do I really believe that God cares about us this much to write down for us exactly what is going to happen when He returns?” It challenged me to read, “This is the word of the Lord!” This is the truth and God wants us to know it fully.
If you have lost a loved one, take this truth to heart that you will see them again. Somehow God will work it out that all believers – those who are alive at His coming and those who have already died, will “encounter” Jesus in the air! The word encounter, or in Greek apantēsis, is not a verb (go to meet) but a feminine noun (to meet or have an encounter), and in this context it is the bride of Christ rising to be with Jesus to have an encounter or “[bridal] meeting.” To me this is a very intimate relational encounter and we will forever be joined with the Lord! He loves you that much to give you this information. Jesus said in John 14:3, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive (or take) you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
Jesus is very much longing for us to be with Him! We really are going to see Him face to face with all other believers. Even if we are looking forward to seeing a loved one again, I think once we see Jesus everything else will pale in comparison. Count on His word being faithful and that this encounter in the air is really going to happen. Paul didn’t want those early believers grieving like the rest of the world that has no hope of eternity. This is how Paul instructed the Thessalonians to encourage each other when one of their own passed from our sight into heaven. Let’s also encourage each other with the truth rather than sink into despair and grief. Yes, do grieve as it is a natural part of this life. Don’t stuff your sorrow as it will only lead to more pain, but in the midst of your grief allow the Lord to comfort you as you see beyond this world and know He wants you to be with Him forever!