The Lord is coming to this present world
Four devotions in PTS Chapel
Job 19: 25-27
Romans 8: 18-26
1 Cor. 15: 35-53
1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18
Job 19: 25-27
“I know that my Redeemer lives…” This is, for many of us, Christians, a favorite passage of Scripture. We feel: it is a prophecy about Christ. A confession of faith, and at the same time a yearning, to Christ, the conqueror of death. A perspective on the gospel of Easter. He lives!
That does not mean that Job had a clear knowledge of the Son of God; the second person of the Trinity. But he confesses: This is what my God is like. This is what He means to me, even though I don’t experience it at all now. This is what I expect from him; how I look forward to him.
What is a redeemer? Let’s not be satisfied to be just general about this, but try to understand it specifically and concrete.
Then we must understand Job’s plight; but not only his; at the same time we should understand the plight of so many people around us; and sympathize with them. Maybe we will recognize something of it even in our own lives.
Not all people are able to earn a living. For example: the rickshaw-puller who has got TB and has become too weak for his job, and does not have the money for the necessary medical treatment. Or the peasant who has not got sufficient crop and had to mortgage his land, and in the end sell it. Last week, the newspaper told about parents who sold their two-month-old baby. Just one story, but such things happen. Personal misery – social misery. People may become slaves themselves. They may never be able to regain their income and independence. How desperate.
How can such things happen? It is not always their personal fault. The rickshaw-puller may have drunk. But the peasant may have just been dispossessed.
Now many Christians are inclined to say: It is all because of sin; generally spoken. But that may be just a crushing remark. – Again, some Christians, especially in the West, will say: It is because of the idolatry in this country. Look: the countries where Christianity took root have become wealthy; the other regions of the world have remained poor. – And there are preachers who say: you need not to be poor or to become sick; if you believe, you will be healthy and even become wealthy!
That is similar to the message of Job’s friends. But it is made very clear right from the beginning of this book, that we should be very careful in reasoning like this. We may even be entirely wrong. That is the case of Job! It was Satan’s work. He was put on trial. It was not his fault.
His plight is even harsher than that of any other man, because he has known better times, better than anyone. He had been the wealthiest man of his time. And he had been very much blessed in his family life, with his ten children. And he knew God, from whom all blessings flow! He recognized him; he had revered him, God-fearing, and led a holy life accordingly, second to none!
He had helped the poor as much as he could. Now, nobody cares for him.
In such a plight, like the former rickshaw-puller and the former peasant, and Job, you need a redeemer. That means: somebody who is strong, while you are weak. Maybe a son who can take over (but Job had none left). Maybe a family-member, or an influential friend. Somebody who has enough money to support you. There is a law about redemption in the Old Testament. I am referring especially to Leviticus 25: 25-28. A redeemer is a person who is strong enough to vindicate your right. To buy the peasant’s land back for him. Or to take legal action, even against social injustice. So that you will be restored to your independence, your respected place in society.
Probably, Job did not know this Israelite law. But he knew the God who made that law; the God who is like that!
He believed in him! He expected him, even now!
And that is his great right! That is why God justifies him in the end, over against his friends. Job has spoken of God what is right, while the friends have not!
We may feel that Job’s words against God are sometimes too bold. Yes, God corrects him afterwards, and Job repents. But he was right in calling upon this God, even when his friends only argue about God – they only know his remunerative justice: He will reward the just, and punish the unrighteous. In this view, God is bleak, and man with his conduct remains in the center. Even during this whole debate, this whole trial, Job remained a believer in the redeeming God; he called upon him, trusting that He would listen and answer, anyhow! That is his great right.
This is the God we may proclaim – that is our ministry – to people in misery, and in an environment of social injustice. There is a redeemer, and He lives! He will come; He will take action!
Job continues to draw a vivid picture of how he expects this Redeemer appearing and acting.
Now a Reformed commentary asks this question: Did Job expect this coming of his Redeemer during his life on earth, or after his death, in the hereafter? This commentary chooses the last option, and says: This is a clear confession of the gospel of the resurrection from the dead.
Now it is good to ask questions about the text, to develop a clear and in-depth exegesis. But the risk is, that you make false alternatives. That is the case here, and the most important thing I want to do this morning is to make that clear to you.
You see Job, sitting in his corner; or in his cottage, his hut – because even his wife and relatives find even his smell offensive.
He is seriously ill. He suffers from fever; he has become weak. He can hardly bear the pain, or the itch.
He is too weak to stand up and go to somebody to ask for help. He cannot do anything more than wait for his redeemer to come to him.
He faces death. We know that in the end he will not die, but he doesn’t, at that time!
He languishes… almost fainting… he languishes for his redeemer, with the last power that has remained in his body, and in his soul.
He will come! – Not everything in the text is clear. Translations differ. Even in the NIV, we find, in one case, two alternative translations: “…In the end, He will stand upon the earth”, or: “…Upon my grave”.
But what is clear is that Job expects his redeemer coming to him, personally, in his misery. He expects him coming to his decayed body, weak, disgraced. He sees him… no, he doesn’t see him yet, but with the eyes of faith, he sees him coming to his hut – a powerful man, who will stretch out his hand and grip his, and help him up, and give him new strength, heal him, lead him, restore him to his former position… “I will see him with my own eyes!” I will feel his firm grasp, and his power flowing through my own frail body, rushing like a current.
I may die soon. I don’t know. But even so… anyhow, of this I am sure: He will come to me, and I will see him!
Yes, friends, that is what will happen; that is what we may expect; that is what our redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ, will do.
He will come. He will come to our cities and to our villages. He will come to the wards in the hospitals. He will enter the room of the rickshaw-puller. He will visit the frail woman laying on her deathbed. He will find the disowned peasant, wherever he has gone with his family, maybe somewhere in a street, without having found proper shelter.
We will see him coming. We will see him on our TV-screens – maybe they will drop out at the same time, but no news station will be able to ignore him any more.
And He will act. He will vindicate their rights. He will require: Give back! He will insist: Leave this person to me! He will restore them into the life and the health and the position… they never had before, but even their life, their health, their position.
You are not going to say that He will have no time to do all this? Or that He will not be able to do all this at the same time? You cannot imagine? O.k., sure, but yet, this is what He will do.
Will He find faith on the earth?, He asked himself, when He was still on earth – you remember?, in the parable of the persistent widow. Literally: Will He find the faith – this faith, this appearance of this redeemer, and this action?
Romans 8: 18-26
Scripture reading 8: 16-28.
Closing hymn: Joy to the world (TH 149).
One more hymn to be suggested: …”When I stand in glory…”
One of the first famous books on environment pollution, back in the 1960s, had the title: “Silent Spring”. The translation in my language, however, was titled (literally translated back in English): “Dead spring”. It was about trees losing their leaves and dying, and fish dying in poisoned river-water. –
What may we expect, facing death? Once more, I want to consider this question with you. Death, not just for our souls, but for our bodies, for our whole existence, here on earth, with the people we love, in the society we belong to, the environment we live in, the world that God has created, in which He has given us a place, and with which we are bound together with so many ties. What does it mean, that Christ our Lord will come to renew this world, and our lives in it?
We heard – in other passages we read – : He will come to our graveyards. To the shores, where the dead bodies of the tsunami-victims are found, or never were found again. To our houses and hospitals where people lie on their deathbed. To the slums; to the rickshaw-driver who has no other house and spends the nights in his rickshaw. To the refugees in the camps. To the villages where people had left because the land was sold as a property to rich relatives of politicians.
He will grip sick people’s hands, He will raise the dead bodies, He will vindicate the rights of those who suffered injustice and persecution, and restore them in their positions. He will give them a house in his eternal city that He has founded.
This was mainly about people.
Now, this passage is about the world; the whole creation.
It is “groaning”. “The whole creation is groaning… right up to the present time”.
Paul wrote this to residents of the capital of the Roman Empire. A city like Delhi, or Paris or New York. He knew about the excessive wealth and luxury, the snobbism, the carousal suppers where the delicacies from over the whole world were used in crazy quantities, and those feasting would vomit just to be able to swallow even more, if not because of their drunkenness – pictured in a funny way in Asterix and Obelix strip cartoons; the squandering of the earth’s riches. He knew about the military occupation which so many peoples suffered, and the governors extorting them.
The creation is groaning – we may think of ‘nature’ in the first place; the world on its own, apart from human intervention. We experienced it in the tsunami. Scholars tell us that even greater disasters may be expected because of the unrest in the earth’s crust.
In the second place, creation suffers under the hands of man. Whether it is because of misuse, carelessness, proud and crude ‘ruling’, a distortion of what we were created for as vice-kings of the earth; or just because we use its resources and don’t know how to make up for them… – Green Valley, where I live, is not a real green valley any more. It would have been if only I had lived there with my family; and maybe Rev. Phil Fiol; but so many others have chosen to have a house there. Even though so many of them are Christians… Climate in Dehra Dun is no longer what it used to be only 15 years ago, because of urbanization.
In the third place, the creation is groaning because of the harm that humans do to other humans: war, terrorism, oppression, injustice, or just neglect and carelessness. Victims of abuse are groaning, and the victims of Bhopal and Hiroshima; the people who don’t go to court because they know they will just be ignored.
“The creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it”. There is no such thing as ‘nature’ on its own, an endless chain of causes and consequences; no samsara, no wheel of fate. It is the ‘creation’, the world of a Creator. He had originally meant it to be different. But, once we had sinned, He spoke a curse on it. Then it became like an endless vicious circle of rising, shining and declining – as Ecclesiastes complains, as a man who was ruefully aware that it should have been quite different.
“We know”, says Paul, “We know that the whole creation [is] groaning…” – When Paul (or, for that matter, all the apostles in their letters) – when they say: “We know”, they never mean something just evident; something that all people know. “We know” always has a certain emphasis. We, as Christians, know. It is part of the elementary doctrine that is taught in the gospel; part of our confession.
We know that the world cannot just be taken for granted. We know that the world in which we live is not just something that we can use, and study, and rule at will, something lifeless that is just subjected to us; or in which we are subjected to fate. We know that there is a sovereign Ruler, a King, who hears it groaning.
And… we know that it is a groaning as in the pains of childbirth! That is a mystery indeed, which other people have not the slightest idea of. This suffering of so many ages… it is not endless. It is not meaningless. It is not without hope. Something entirely new is about to arise from it, like a newborn baby.
Only thirty years ago, all people feared the nuclear bomb – and many of us still do – , which would destroy almost all life on earth and make in inhabitable. Stories were told of just monsters that would remain. But who believed that a new society will arise, bustling with life, full of cheerful voices?
Now, we are aware of the destructive character of environment pollution – although we not always consciously admit it. But the future of this world is a paradise, a world-wide Green Valley!
When will this be?, this cosmic miracle? What is this whole world waiting for?
“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed”!
Oops, this is about us! Children – Paul wasn’t bothered with inclusive language, as the readers he addressed didn’t care – , sons and daughters of God. Isn’t it? You are sons of God; you are daughters of God, aren’t you?
That is an incredible high position! Princes and princesses, heirs of the highest and richest king in the universe! We are free. We have his Spirit dwelling in our hearts, in our minds, in our attitude.
But… that is only the first fruits; only the beginning. So much has still to come.
“(The creation waits) for the sons of God to be revealed”!
I may be a child of God, but then only very much in secret; hidden. Usually, I look more like a miserable stumbler. I believe that I have received the Holy Spirit; I am sure of that; but often I don’t feel that way. I am aware that I am growing older – if I forget, my wife and children will remind me, or the marathon – and many aspirations I had when I was young have not come true, and won’t any more. I enjoy a reasonable income (the more so according to Indian standards), but I know that when I die I won’t be richer than any slum-dweller.
I still have to be revealed as a son of God. We expect, through faith – we look forward to the day that we will be completely filled with the Holy Spirit; that nothing remains that does not conform to him; that even our bodies will be entirely renewed by him – the “spiritual body” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15. That day is still far ahead – no, why? I don’t know. I know it’s coming. I do know Jesus is coming soon. But so much has still to change before we will be like that. It is almost unimaginable.
We hope for it! We will stand in glory, we will see his face, we will share in his glory – it will be revealed in us. We long for – as it is expressed in this passage – the glorious freedom of the children of God. We wait for our adoption as sons – yes, even that is pictured as future here – : the redemption of our bodies. We wait eagerly; we wait patiently.
That’s what even the whole world is waiting for! It is waiting for us! Where are the children of God? Let them come into the spotlights! The world is hoping. In all its birth pangs, it is looking forward to the delivery: then even the world itself will be “brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God”. How relieved the trees will be, their leaves rustling; how enthusiastically the rivers will splash, how a new Taj Mahal, cleansed from all foolishness of an emperor’s pride and desperate love of his deceased wife, finally dedicated to the true God, will glow in full splendour…! …Once we are there, renewed, glowing of God’s holiness.
Now we understand why we find such touching words about prayer in this passage; even divine prayer. When we have to pray for this vision to come true, for this inconceivable renewal of the whole world, for this dazzling glory… it’s almost too much. Words will fail us.
Let’s keep this in mind; let’s keep this in our hearts… When you are on your way for ministry this afternoon, walking along the residences and the cottages, and the rubbish; when you read or hear the news about violence and about your country’s condition and your government’s problems…
Let’s listen to the groaning of the whole creation, and long for the delivery!
1 Cor. 15: 35-53 (Scripture reading).
Death is a bitter reality. It is a heavy burden when we have to bury the body of somebody we have lost. We, as Christians, are not called to deny this. You may sing: When I die, I will go to my Lord. But what about those who stay behind, even us? Even when we believe that the deceased is now in heaven, we don’t have to ignore the harshness of a funeral. Death – as we read – is the last enemy. We are not required to keep back our tears.
We cannot do without the comfort of the resurrection of the dead. Quite literally: that God will raise the body of the person we lay in the grave.
Yet, this gospel is often rejected. Even by Christians, it is often opposed to. Why? Obviously, because it is almost impossible even to imagine. It is inconsistent with anything we experience, or observe, or discover in science.
This problem is dealt with in the passage we read. ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’
This is not just a question out of eagerness to learn, posed by a disciple of the Word. It is a question out of scepticism. How can you tell this is possible?
There are to types of this objection – in Paul’s days, in the first century, and even now – : the one of the classic upper class and the one of the modern upper class (followed, of course, by other classes, who are eager to imitate and follow the upper class as far as possible, at least in their ideas and aspirations).
(1) The classic upper class are the aristocrats of the mind; they would even say: of the spirit. They are involved in philosophy, literature and the fine arts. They are the thinkers. They are spiritual; they have high moral standards; they are even religious; they have high ideas about God.
These noble spirits – so they feel – will, when they die, leave their bodies. Their spirits, or souls, are much nobler and much more precious than their bodies; they are even immortal. They belong rather to the heavenly realm, the divine realm, than to the earth. That is where they will return in the end (some will say: after many, many rebirths). Actually, their bodies are a kind of prison for their souls; eventually they will be released from it. So, why resurrection of the body? No, it is just humiliating to imagine! We are far too noble for that!
(2) The modern upper class are those who are educated in science and technology. Matter matters! They are ambitious; they are – at least in their own perception – achievers by nature. They will earn money, and live a life, accordingly. Their mirrors are the people in the ads and the glamour pages: young, attractive, smartly dressed and made up, successful… They make the best of their lives, spend money, love, enjoy, and take measures to live comfortably when they grow older. You live only once. Essentially, with death it all ends. If there is a hereafter, it should be happy and vague. No, there will be no resurrection of our bodies; they will be consumed.
Both groups meet the message of resurrection with unbelief and contempt. Impossible! Absurd! Foolish! ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’
But Paul turns the argument round. How foolish, to deny that God can raise the dead, and give them new bodies!
Don’t you recognize the power of God? He is the Creator of all kinds of bodies. He created grains of sand and diamonds. Monkeys and men. The earth and the sun. With the same power, He can give a new body even to those who died.
Paul takes an image from everyday life. ‘When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed’. Even a child may do that. A tiny grain – you can not yet see by far what will grow out of it: a plant, a crop, a tree, of a certain species; leaves, flowers, fruits… But you know; you can imagine, and you do; you are sure. Out of every grain will grow a plant of that species and nothing else. The seed you will find no more; but the plant will be there, in its own character; in its full glory.
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that we lay in the earth is only like a seed.
No, it is not just the same body that will rise. Not the same material, the same cells… Does science not teach us that we have an entirely new body every 15 years or so – all cells being replaced by new ones?
This body is perishable; and it does perish; like the seed. Death is a bitter reality; so is the decay that even precedes it. Our bodies may be attractive, but they won’t remain so. They may be active and achieving, but they will not continue like that. They may become infirm, and invalid; requiring help. They may be handicapped.
Paul adds some more words, which underline this reality. By repetition, stress is laid. We sow in dishonour. We say that we render the last honours to a person, when we bury his body. At the same time, there is something disgraceful going on. All earthly glory is gone. We will remember the one we loved. We will express, with thankfulness, how much this person has meant for us. But that is past.
In both arguments of those who deny the resurrection of the dead, we heard pride. Whether spiritual or material – human pride is there. It was there in the congregation of Corinth. Located in the midst of the Greek world. The world of civilisation, and education, and culture. We perceive, in the minds of these brothers and sisters, as so often, the influence of their environment.
No, there is no reason for pride. Don’t be deceived, don’t deceive yourself. Don’t ignore the harsh reality of a funeral.
Resurrection does not mean that this earthly life, as we know it now, will just be restored and continue in the same old way. God is going to raise entirely new bodies. Imperishable. Glorious. Again, Paul repeats again and again. The triumph of resurrection over death is expressed.
‘We sow in weakness – the resurrection will be in power. A natural body is sown, a spiritual body is raised’. A natural body is the body as it was created. It was good in the beginning. But look what has happened to it after we fell in sin.
What will come is much more: a spiritual body. That is not an immaterial body – that is a contradiction in itself. It is a body that is completely filled by the Holy Spirit, completely renewed by him. Our earthly bodies are not yet ready for that new reality. The Corinthians said, proudly: We are spiritual! – Sure, we have got the Holy Spirit, but our bodies require a complete renewal; He will build new temples out of them.
But it will be, for everybody, his or her own body. Just like every grain of seed grows into a plant of that species, exactly recognizable, no other – in the same way, everybody will get his or her own new body.
God has mercy on a man who worked hard, earned money and cared for his family, and now lies motionless.
He has mercy on the pastor who dedicated his or her life to proclaiming the gospel, but had to be told in the end to stop – people will have been embarrassed and reluctant to do so -, because he became confused and got demented.
He has mercy on the woman who kept her body holy as a temple of the Holy Spirit – but now all spirit is gone, she doesn’t even breathe any more, and her husband will, after some time, marry another woman.
A mighty mercy, which will create them anew.
We may feel at a loss, when we face the last enemy. People will say cheap words of comfort. ‘You have to accept it as it is. Life will go on. You will overcome. Keep good heart! In fact, hardly any word of comfort expresses this mighty prospect. Even the Christian faith that says: His or her spirit is in heaven now!, does not express fully what God has promised. The body lies even there.
When our Lord stood at the grave of his friend Lazarus, He wept. He was ‘deeply moved and troubled’. The Jews said: See how He loved him! Yes, that was true. Yet, they didn’t understand. Jesus faced the enemy that He was going to fight, and defeat. Our enemy – his enemy.
We may feel deeply moved and troubled at a funeral. This body, that was so precious to us – it remains precious to him. We look forward to the day that He will come and call this person by his or her name, like He called Lazarus: ‘Come out!’ And he or she will come, in a way that we cannot yet imagine or understand. Shining, in full glory; in full power; imperishable – yes, it’s he; it’s she!
Let there be at least one – it may be our ministry – to express this gospel.
1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18
Are you also looking forward to the great day of our Lord, Jesus Christ? The day that He will come in full glory?
Why? Why do you think that it will be such a great day? What will happen, according to you? Do you sometimes dream about it, and try to imagine how it will be?
Many Christians have done that; and many still do. They even make up fancies about it. Some expect so many things to happen that they cannot imagine that it will be one great event; they think that it will take a lot of time. In America, a series is being published of twelve novels about the coming of Christ.
Or… don’t you? Is it not so important to you? This way also, many Christians have felt. I will be happy just after death; when everything is over for me, all misery on earth, in this life.
To be sure, even non-Christians have their ideas about what will happen after death.
But once you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour, you really love him – then you will long for his coming.
Now, He has told us much, in his Word, about what is going to happen. But that is not to satisfy our curiosity. No, it is to strengthen our hope, our expectation, our longing for him. Yes, Lord Jesus, come soon! It is to comfort us; because He knows that we need that, again and again.
This is especially true for this prophecy in this letter of Paul. This is (to summarize it very briefly):
A message to bereaved Christians.
We will see two items:
- The expectation they had.
- The comfort they get.
Only very recently, a congregation had originated in Thessalonica. Maybe a year ago, Paul had come there and preached the gospel, together with his fellow workers – for a few months at the most – and they had come to know Christ.
This had been an enormous change in their lives. Paul summarizes it, in chapter 1, in this way: “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven…” (And something more; but) this is the main thing.
The Son of God had come! He had loved them! He had died, and had risen from the grave! He had defeated sin, and Satan, and death! He was the great conqueror of the world; He was the Lord. They loved him, and expected him returning from heaven in full glory, to their final rescue, to make all things new. This Lord they would not abandon, not for the world!
From the very beginning, they had experienced persecution. Their faith had been put to the test. Paul had been concerned, whether they would have yielded to the temptation; but he had found out, to his great relief, that they hadn’t. Already their faith in Christ had become so strong that they stuck to him.
And then, their faith had been put on trial in another way. (1) A brother had died, who had come to Christ together with them. They missed him, his faithful presence at their worship services, his encouragement. (2) Another had become seriously ill and they feared for his life. Although this person was elderly and something like this was to be expected, yet they all were concerned and had been praying for his healing for some time; but his condition had deteriorated.
Grief had come. Mourning had come. Together, they felt hit. Some may even have felt overwhelmed by grief, for some time. Life had got gloomy. Everyday problems seemed to have increased, the suspicions, or mockery, of their relatives who had stuck to the old religion, and all the other things. It was more difficult to cope. Their joy of faith had got a blow.
That is a temptation of its own. They felt – not always consciously – their old habits, their old attitudes, their feelings and their way of thinking about death, pulling them back. At the funeral, they heard the relatives, friends and acquaintances of the deceased, who had not come to Christ, speaking to the dead body. “O, we spent so many happy days together! We will miss you! You have left an empty spot among us. We will always remember you”. And that was all. Paul calls them, in the beginning of this passage: “…The rest of men, who have no hope”. That is the way they had felt before.
That is, essentially, the problem for the brothers and sisters in Thessalonica. This also applies to us, doesn’t it? For us, it is still very much the same.
It has become common among interpreters to suggest that there had been some very special problem in this recent congregation.
(1) They say: Paul had not had enough time, he had not yet got round to teach this doctrine about the resurrection of the dead.
But that is improbable. The teaching that he conveys here, at least the beginning, the basic words: Christ has risen, and so those who died in him will be raised – that is among the essentials of Christian doctrine. When he says: “We do not want you to be ignorant”, this does not mean that he is going to teach something new.
(2) Or, it is said: The Thessalonians expected the coming of Christ very soon, so that nobody would die in the meantime; they had yet to learn that it would last longer. But that is not what Paul teaches here. — Sure, whenever a message is given, some misunderstanding may arise. But these people do not appear to have become feverish in their expectations; the gospel they had received wasn’t either.
No, this is rather the common problem of all Christians in all generations. Mourning. The feeling of grief because of the loss of somebody they have loved.
The darkening of the horizon. The loss of optimism, the blow to your natural vitality.
And then, the old ways; the old ideas. His or her soul has drifted away to higher spheres. We will never meet again. The feeling of karma: the expectation of an endless chain of rebirths into a life of toil – on a squalid earth full of injustice. A widow may commit sati. How fondly she loved her husband! As if, now that he has died, her life has become meaningless. In the newspapers, there is this page with ‘Remembrances’. Announcements appear there, even many years later, looking only back to the past: with the beloved one. “We still remember you, fondly, every day”. There is no hope.
Then, Christians need to be comforted with the hope we share in Christ. At a deathbed, and at a funeral, a pastor has often just to repeat the old and familiar words. That is what Paul does in the beginning. Especially because these words were not yet as old and familiar to them. They need a reminder for their encouragement. He states once more the expectation we have in Christ. The basics. He rose from the dead, He lives! And those who died in faith in him will live, together with him!
And then, the apostle continues to draw a vivid picture of what is going to happen.
On that great day that our Lord will come, those deceased brothers and sisters will not stay behind. Quite the contrary: just as they preceded us in this life, they will precede us when the great things begin to happen. They will get all the time they need (if any) to recover and be completely prepared to meet the Lord.
Yes! The Lord is coming. It will be like a visit of the Caesar, the Roman emperor. When the emperor wanted to visit a town… Of course, there would be a large procession. By the time that it approached the place, a messenger would be sent ahead to call the citizens to present him the due respect and honour. He would blow the trumpet, so that everybody’s attention would be drawn. And he would shout: “The emperor is coming! Go out, to receive him respectfully!” Then, the inhabitants would go out on the road in the direction where the emperor was expected. They would welcome him. “Hail Caesar!” And together with the whole train, they would return to their city to celebrate his visit.
Imagine that the Prime Minister, Mr. Manmohan Singh, would decide to visit Bhogpur! Wouldn’t you go out to the main road to see the policemen in their ceremonial dress with their bright helmets, on their heavy motorbikes?
O.k., they are there mainly for safety reasons. But they are also a sign of the high position of the visitor.
This way it will be, the apostle Paul says, when Christ returns. The trumpet will be blown, from heaven, from God. The voice of an archangel will sound. He is coming!
Then, the first thing He will do is: raise the… The dead, we say. But listen to the other expression that is used here: “…Those who have fallen asleep”. Those non-Christian relatives will never use that expression, will they? Dead is even dead. When Jesus Christ himself used this word for the first time, when the twelve-year-old girl had died, the daughter of Jairus, the lamenting women laughed at him scornfully. This is the language of him who defeated death!
He will raise them. We will be united with them… All these brothers and sisters we have lost: brother Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, William Carey, John Dorsey, and all the others – yes, it is fair, isn’t it, that they should precede us. O.k. let them get the first places, like honoured guests.
Together, we will go out to welcome this great Lord. We will join his triumphant procession… No no, we will not stay floating in the air…! We will join his procession, the last stretch of it, to the earth. He has come! We will enjoy his victory over death, and celebrate his eternal feast.
“We, who are still alive…” Or, as the apostle puts it later on, in 1 Corinthians 15: “We will not all die…”
In the course of the centuries, this way of speech has become unusual. Even in the reformed confessions… The doctrine is there, but the mode of speech is: I will die; we will die, and afterwards be raised.
Is this just another mode of speech? Or is it something more that has changed? Is it just because of the common experience during so many centuries? Or have we got to expect our death and our personal eternal life in the ‘hereafter’ (as it is commonly vaguely called), rather than the coming of our Lord, his arrival, here on earth, in our lives, in our village, in our community, the general joy of his wedding, his great celebration with his bride? So we will be with the Lord forever!
Let us encourage each other with these words.