Paul, Silas and Timothy had begun the church in Thessalonica, the capital city of Roman Macedonia. This community of both Jews and Gentiles grew rapidly under Paul’s teaching in the synagogue (Acts 17:2). However, they had to abruptly break off their stay because of intense opposition from the Jews in the city (Acts 17:6-9). It seems that this letter - the earliest of Paul’s letters - was written from Corinth to encourage the fledgling church they had left behind.In the extract above Paul writes to help the new Jesus-followers to live without fear of death. Those who had come from a Greek culture would have feared death because of their belief in a journey to Hades. This required crossing the river Styx by negotiating with the boatman Charon, and appeasing Cereberus, the three-headed guard dog. Those who came from a Jewish background had no idea of life after death at all. The best they could hope for was a life in the shadows of Sheol, without personality or strength. Paul writes to reassures these new Christians that there will be no boatman, no dog, no dissolution into shadows. Instead, “the Lord himself will come down from heaven” and fetch both the living and the dead (1 Thes 4:16).
Let us be clear – this is not some scientific explanation on what happens after we die. It is written to reassure the people of Thessalonica that they would not die alone. Jesus would be there, to carry them through death to life with God. How this happened not even Paul knew – for he had not yet died! I am suggesting that we take our hope from Paul’s reassurance that Jesus will be with us at our death. “And so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thes 4:17).
The Sixth Sunday after EpiphanyThe Rewards of Ministry
A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.84