I missed a bus once. I was at college in Cleveland and decided to come home on the Greyhound on a Friday night. That all went well enough. It was the return trip that was problematic. I went to the bus station and sat in the car with Celeste, expecting to hear some kind of major announcement audible to me in the parking lot…an announcement kind of like you hear at the gate at the airport: “Bus #347 to Cleveland is now boarding.” Unfortunately, as Celeste and I chatted, a bus…my bus…pulled away.
Believers in the first-century city of Thessalonica were fearful that some of their friends had also “missed the bus.” Apparently, they were familiar with the promise Jesus had given in the Upper Room before the crucifixion: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” They understood that Jesus would one day return to take His followers to be with Him. In fact, even 2000 years ago, they even viewed that event as imminent. What messed with their minds, however, was the grievous reality that some from their number had died. To them it was clear. Their loved ones had missed the bus. They would not be taken to be with Christ, right?
Into that context of grief, Paul wrote words of hope in 1 Thessalonians 4. He assured them (and us) that there was no reason to grieve hopelessly over those who, as followers of Jesus, had passed away. They would indeed be participants in this event that we now refer to as “the rapture.” The fact is that their transformed and glorified bodies will be the first to rise, followed by those who are alive at His coming. Neither those believers who are living nor those who have passed will miss out on His return!
While grief is a natural part of a loved one’s passing, there is joyous, encouraging, and comforting hope in the face of the death of a follower of Christ. That hope is the anticipation of the resurrection of a whole, healthy, and glorified body at Christ’s return at the rapture.