“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NKJV)
A misunderstanding arose in the early church that in order to be taken to heaven with Jesus when He returned, one had to be alive. Give credit to the early Christians that they were concerned about those who had died before them. Paul’s words were a comfort to these Christians – God has this in control and those who sleep, or die, as followers of Jesus Christ, will ascend into heaven at His return. Even though this letter was written early in the history of the church, there were already people dying and suffering for their faith. Paul’s explanation of God’s promise to all believers brought comfort to them as well as to all who follow Jesus today.
Sadly, we still live in a time when brothers and sisters in Christ are undergoing persecution. China continues to persecute followers of Christ, and other faiths. Reports today indicate that they destroyed a church building and arrested the pastors while the church was having services. Christians undergo severe persecution in Muslim countries. Christianity is losing traction and becoming irrelevant in areas of the world where they once made a positive impact on society – and society is suffering for that. To those who are dealing with the effects of persecution, and are beginning to feel alone in a hostile world, Paul reminds them that God sees their sufferings and will not forget them. That reminder of God’s faithfulness should comfort those of us who continue to labor for the Lord even when we’re not dealing with persecution – God is watching us and will always be with us.
Lord, I pray for persecuted Church. Remind them of Your presence in the midst of their sufferings. Comfort them with Your love. To those who are living in cultures where they are in danger of becoming irrelevant and alone, keep them in Your love and grace. Empower them to act with boldness. And for all Your children everywhere, keep us in Your grace with a hope for eternity.