In a previous article that I wrote titled “Let not your hearts be troubled” based on John 14:1-3, I pointed out the similarities between Jesus’ return from heaven and the different steps of a Jewish marriage. Here are the steps:
- The father of the groom made arrangement for the marriage and paid the bride price.
- The bridegroom would fetch the bride a year or more after the first step.
- The wedding ceremony.
- The marriage feast.
In the New Testament the church is symbolic of the bride of Christ. Christ the bridegroom entered into covenant with his bride by paying for her with his own blood. Listen to Ephesians 5:25-27 regarding Christ’s love and sacrifice for His bride “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” From John 14:1-3 it can be established that Christ has promised to fetch His bride, but according to Mark 13:32 no one knows when that will be. This means that He could return at any time. Christians refer to this as the doctrine of immanence. This doctrine expresses hope and a spirit of expectancy. The best analogy that I can think of to explain immanence, is to reflect back on my days as a child during Christmas time. If you were anything like me I could not sleep properly on Christmas Eve because I was so excited about the prospect of being able to open up gifts that I saw wrapped up under the Christmas tree in the morning. That immanent expectation the night before nearly killed me. Likewise the doctrine of immanence should fill us with excitement, hope, and expectation knowing that the Messiah could return to take His bride home at any moment.
We might not now the day or the hour when Jesus will return but 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 provides us with the process in which He will come back. To get some context let us start with the reason why Paul taught these believers about the harpazō “13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” In my opinion it seems that these believers in Thessalonica had previously been taught by the Apostle Paul regarding the coming of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Yet Paul had not taught them about what would happen to Christians that had already died. Perhaps some of their relatives had recently died and these believers were now asking Paul questions about them specifically and their role in the return of Christ. Naturally they would be worried and wonder “would they miss out on the harpazō because they were already dead?”
Paul begins by stating his reason for teaching them more about the harpazō. Firstly, he does not want them to be uninformed. This means that Paul, a chosen instrument by God for revealing new revelation about Jesus, would teach them so that they would have sufficient knowledge about this doctrine. How else would they learn? The New Testament had not been completed yet. Secondly, Paul’s focus is to teach them about those who are asleep. This is a term that is used as a synonym for death and only ever for believers. Therefore Paul is teaching them about what will happen to Christians that have already died. We know from 2 Corinthians 5:8-10 that the souls of believers are already in heaven with the Lord. So what do these believers in Thessalonica want to know more about regarding their deceased loved ones in Christ? I think that they wanted to know whether or not they would participate in the harpazō or not. Thirdly, Paul wants to awaken in them hope. Paul does not tell them to stop grieving over their deceased loved ones. Instead he tells them not to grieve as those who have no hope. In other words, do not grieve as if you do not have the hope of ever seeing your deceased loved ones in Christ again. Believers will see their loved ones in Christ again- either when they fall asleep or as Paul will go explain- by participating in the harpazō!