The third thing that Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, about how to handle the death of Christian loved ones, is that we need to understand the basics of the faith.
What are these basics of the faith?
- Jesus died and rose again. This is the basic Gospel message we have already seen in our discussion of The Apostles' Creed. Jesus' resurrection guarantees the resurrection of all those who believe in him.
- God will bring the Christian dead with Jesus when he returns to earth.
- Those Christians who are on earth when Christ returns will not precede those who have already died. Remember, the Thessalonian Christians were concerned that the Christians who had already died might miss out on the Second Coming and the resurrection. Paul says the exact opposite is true. Far from missing out, the believers who have already died will have precedence, in regard to the resurrection, over those still left on the earth when Jesus comes back. Paul here relates "the Lord's own word". Apparently this is a previously unrecorded teaching of Jesus that he delivered during his earthly ministry.
Here is what C. S. Lewis had to say about the Second Coming in his essay entitled, The World's Last Night....
The doctrine of the Second Coming teaches us that we do not and cannot know when the world drama will end. The curtain may be rung down at any moment: say, before you have finished reading this paragraph. This seems to some people intolerably frustrating. So many things would be interrupted. Perhaps you were going to get married next month, perhaps you were going to get a raise next week: you may be on the verge of a great scientific discovery; you may be maturing great social and political reforms. Surely no good and wise God would be so very unreasonable as to cut all this short? Not now, of all moments!
But we think thus because we keep on assuming that we know the play. We do not know the play. We do not even know whether we are in Act I or Act V. We do not know who are the major and who the minor characters. The Author knows. The audience, if there is an audience (if angels and archangels and all the company of heaven fill the pit and the stalls) may have an inkling. But we, never seeing the play from outside, never meeting any characters except the tiny minority who are "on" in the same scenes as ourselves, wholly ignorant of the future and very imperfectly informed about the past, cannot tell at what moment the end ought to come. That it will come when it ought, we may be sure; but we waste our time in guessing when that will be. That it has a meaning we may be sure, but we cannot see it. When it is over, we may be told. We are led to expect that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part that each of us has played. The playing it well is what matters infinitely.