Have you ever wondered what happens to your loved ones after they have died?
Bereavement occasions anguished questions about those who have died. What shall happen to them? Shall we see them again? Such questions arise from a natural curiosity, partly from Christian concern for the dead and partly because their death reminds us of our own mortality and undermines our security.”
A community of first Century Christians–who were concerned about their loved ones, who had died, wrote a letter to Paul the Apostle asking these same questions.
In reply Paul wrote to them: “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. For, since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (ESV).
A key word that Paul uses in answering the question is that they are “asleep.” Why does the Apostle refer to death as ‘sleep’? Is He implying that the dead enter a state of unconsciousness?
Author and Bible expositor, John R.W Stott comments on Paul’s reply: “First sleep had been a regular euphemism for death in many cultures. Secondly, death is a rest after labour, seems to be conveyed by the Old Testament statements that certain Patriarchs and Kings ‘slept with their fathers.’
But in a Christian context a third idea is introduced, namely that death is only temporary. As sleep is followed by an awakening so death will be followed by resurrection.
Already in Daniel 12:2 we read that, “multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life others to shame and everlasting contempt.” Similarly Jesus seems to have had resurrection in mind when he said: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
Paul says the grave is not the end. We observe, he does not forbid them to grieve all together but rather not to have hopeless grief because - since they have hope, a hope to awake from sleep one day.
We all know that one day we will all die, but still death feels alien to us all – the separation from those we love, the shortness of life. We long for more, this just can’t be it.
Indeed as C. S Lewis clearly states: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”