Comfort for the Grieving Christian

Pastor Philip Andrukaitis, March 26, 2023

The Apostle Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians

General Theme: Living Righteously While Waiting Patiently for Jesus to Return

Sermon Title: Comfort for the Grieving Christian

Sermon Text: 1st Thessalonians 4:13-15a

Subject: divine hope

Complement:    When bewildering hopelessness crushes the believer’s spirit, God’s hope will comfort the bereaved soul.

Dominating Idea:   Divine hope comforts the grieving Christian.

Overview & Review

I.         Spiritual leaders prove their concern for the church.  (1:1a)

II.        Spiritual leaders provide care for the church.  (1:1bc)

III.       Spiritual leaders pray for the church. (1:2-10)

IV.       Spiritual leaders pattern a life of loving service unto the church. (2:1 – 3:13)

V.       Spiritual leaders prescribe exhortations for the church.  (4:1 – 5:22)

            A.         Exhortations regarding practical sanctification. (4:1-12)

            B.         Exhortations regarding eschatological concerns. (4:13-18)

                        1.         What happens to Christians after they die?             Our Focus Today


Bereavement; how do we handle sadness and grief when someone close to us, dies?  Addressing this question, John R. Stott writes:

Bereavement is a very poignant human experience.  However, firm our Christian faith may be the loss of a close relative or friend causes profound emotional shock.  To lose a loved one is to lose a part of oneself.  It calls for radical and painful adjustments, which may take many months.  Dr. Leighton Ford, the Canadian evangelist and mission leader, put it well when his elder son, Sandy, died in 1982, at the age of 21.  “The struggle is to bring our faith and our emotions together.”

At death we cross from one territory to another, but we’ll have no trouble with visas.  Our Representative is already there, preparing for our arrival.  As citizens of heaven, our entrance is incontestable.” [Erwin Lutzer]

Transitional Thoughts

Having admonished the young Thessalonian church to be careful how they live out their lives before God and unbelievers, especially as they anticipated the Lord’s return, Paul shifts his focus and with a pastor’s heart to encourage the faint-hearted (5:14) by addressing their anxieties.  The two issues related to their anxiety are: 

  • 1st Issue:  Bereavement ~ What is the fate of believers who die before Jesus returns and are they at a disadvantage?  Would they (the dead believers) lose their share of glory?  And, are they (the dead believers) being punished for some sin and that is the reason why they missed the Parousia?  Will I ever see them? 
  • 2nd Issue:  Judgment ~ What about the timing of Jesus’ return; since Jesus will return suddenly, will they be ready?  Will they experience God’s wrath and coming judgment?

The concepts of Christ’s return and the “Day of the Lord” had been clearly taught and were central to Paul’s gospel message (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 5:1-2).  Like Jesus, Paul also stressed that Jesus could return to earth at any time; therefore, they must be ready. 

Yet, many of these young saints in the Thessalonian Church remained perplexed, expecting Christ to return during their lifetime.  Consequently, when persecution of the church [an experience the Thessalonian believers thought they would escape] resulted in the death of some of its members, their perplexity and grief led to their bewildered hopelessness.

Let’s remember that the Thessalonian Church was only a few months old; they are baby Christians.  No wonder they are perplexed, agitated, upset, confused, worried, and distressed.  These are normal symptoms of grief.  Describe briefly Kubler Ross stages of grief.

  1. Shock
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Even though these saints were regenerated by the Holy Spirit, they needed sound doctrinal teaching from God’s shepherd.  And this truth still holds true for the church today.  I believe the church today will experience the wrath of Satan [not the wrath of God – The Great Tribulation] as Satan knows his days are limited.

I believe when the saints of God do not study Scripture on their own or they are not systematically taught the Word of God, their theological understanding may have huge gaps, thereby resulting in a weakened faith.

Unfortunately, when Paul was forced to escape from the city, he left behind the young Thessalonian saints to struggle through their faith and wrestle with theological issues.  For example,…

…one of the pagan beliefs within the Greek culture, that impacted the Thessalonian Church, was – to be rid of the body was true hope.  You may recall the response from the Athenian philosophers when Paul preached the doctrine of the resurrection; they mocked him (Acts 17:22-32, especially verse 32).

However, with Timothy’s report on the Thessalonian church (3:6), Paul was able to address their confusion, grief, and increasing hopelessness with divine revelation. 

Principle:  It’s no different for the church today; spiritual maturity comes through experiencing hardships, processing our hardships with the Scriptures, and wrestling against the cultural influences that affect our faith.

While sorrow can obscure the believer’s hope, hopelessness will weaken a believer’s faith.  Consequently, a believer may faint in the day of adversity because his strength is small (Proverbs 24:10).  Therefore, to help the Thessalonians stand strong, Paul identifies three blessings from God to comfort the grieving Christian because…

Divine hope comforts the grieving Christian…

a.         …with understanding from Holy Scriptures  (4:13a)
b.         …with the gift of holy assurance  (4:13b)
c.         …with the promise of a heavenly reunion (4:14-15)

Therefore, let us look at the first three blessings God provides for grieving Christians:

a.         Divine hope comforts the grieving Christian with understanding from Holy Scriptures (4:13a).

“But we do not want you to be uniformed, brothers,about those who are asleep…”
(1st Thessalonians 4:13a)

When asked to identify the largest denomination in the entire world, David Jeremiah responded, The Ignorant Brethren

I believe that ignorance of Scripture is a primary root for the believer’s anxieties.  Everyone lives what they believe.  In other words, our lifestyle and the exercise of spiritual disciplines reveal the depth of our spiritual life.

This is not a put-down to the uninformed Christian; it simply is a truth – spiritual ignorance hurts the believer’s walk of faith – dulling the mind thus, becoming vulnerable to sin and the forces of darkness.

Paul possessed a pastor’s heart.  He understood the negative impact of spiritual ignorance.  Throughout his letters, Paul admonished his readers not to remain ignorant, but to understand God’s truth.  Listen to some of these areas to which believers are not to remain ignorant or uninformed:

  • God’s goodness (Romans 2:4)
  • The believer’s baptism into Christ (Romans 6:3)
  • The power and limits of God’s law (Romans 7:1)
  • God’s righteousness (Romans 10:3)
  • Israel’s present unbelief & the believers’ “grafting” (Romans 11:25)
  • The faithful examples of OT believers (1st Corinthians 10:1)
  • God’s spiritual gifts for the church (1st Corinthians 12:1)
  • The afflictions and troubles of other Christians (2nd Corinthians 1:8)
  • Satan’s designs & schemes to destroy believers (2nd Corinthians 2:11)
  • The present status of dead believers (1st Thessalonians 4:13)

Therefore, knowing the Word is fundamental to all spiritual stability.  [J. Hampton Keathley III]

Returning to our text, let’s answer the question, what happens to Christians after they die?  As the body of a Christian is laid to rest (“asleep”), his/her spirit is present with Jesus (2nd Corinthians 5:8).  Next week, we’ll address the prophetic question – the rapture. 

First, understand the literary use of “asleep” koimaomai.

            1.         The literal use of “asleep” koimaomai (Strong’s #2837) refers to natural sleep.

  • The guards fell asleep and Christ’s disciples stole away Jesus’ body (Matthew 28:13).
  • The disciples fell asleep in the garden (Luke 22:45).
  • The disciples believed Lazarus was sleeping off his sickness (John 11:12)

            2.         The metaphorical use of “asleepkoimaomai refers to physical death.  Based on verses 13-15 and  other passages, we can conclude the following:

  • The dead body is lying in stillness.
  • The dead body is resting after is earthly labors; just as Israel’s kings “rested” with their fathers (2nd Chronicles 12:16; 14:1; 2nd Peter 3:4).
  • The dead body will be awakened (Daniel 12:2).

            John Calvin wrote:  Paul speaks of the dead as sleep…(because) there is a great difference between sleep and destruction.  (The sleep) refers, however, not to the soul, but to the body, for the dead body lies in the tomb, as in a couch, until God raises up the (person).

            Then a second question naturally arises:  What happens to the Christian’s soul – does the soul go to sleep? The answer is no.  The teaching of “soul sleep” is nowhere to be found in Scripture.  Rather, our soul immediately rises to heaven, to be with God.   Consider the repentant thief who died with Jesus.  Jesus said to him, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Second, upon death, the believer’s soul immediately rises to heaven.

1.         It is far better to die and be with Jesus (Philippians 1:21-23).
2.         Jesus receives the believer’s spirit, [Stephen] immediately (Acts 7:59).
3.         Jesus does not delay the believer’s [repentant thief] entrance into heaven
(Luke 23:43).
4.         The soul’s absence from the body means to be home with Jesus
(2nd Corinthians 5:8).

Third, there is no such place as Purgatory.

In other words, there is no middle ground between heaven and hell.  Roman Catholicism teaches that Purgatory (Lat., “purgare”, to make clean, to purify)…is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.[1] 

However, this Catholic teaching is wrong!  It is an affront against Jesus!  It is a demonic teaching because it diminishes the atoning sacrifice of Christ!  And anything that diminishes the cross of Christ and the sacrifice Jesus made to atone for our sins is an “anathema” [a loathsome curse from God].

Jesus described the agonies of hell and the blessings of heaven in the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31).  Indeed, just as it is appointed for men to die once, judgment will certainly follow (Hebrews 9:27).  If the “blood” of Christ has not been applied to your soul, God’s wrathful condemnation is still upon you (John 3:36).  It is by His grace alone your foot has not yet slipped into the pit of hell. 

Moreover, eternal suffering in hell will never, never, never satisfy the righteous demands of heaven.  Therefore, while you still have the opportunity, cry out to Jesus for His salvation.  Why?

The sinner’s only hope is found in Christ and Christ alone!  Jesus’ atoning sacrifice is God’s only means to cover  the sinner’s guilt and shame.  For on the cross, Jesus bore the full wrath of God for our sins.  In fact, a great exchange took place when Jesus was crucified on the cross:  While Christ took our guilt and unrighteousness upon Himself and paid the eternal price with His life and blood, He credited to the sinner’s account His righteousness and the gift of eternal life to whoever believes Jesus died for them and rose from His grave. 

Salvation is free because Jesus paid in full the sinner’s salvation.  Salvation is heaven’s gift to all who will receive Him by faith and turn away from their sins.

Remember, divine hope comforts the grieving Christian with understanding from Holy Scriptures (4:13a).


b.         Divine hope comforts the grieving Christian with the gift of holy assurance (4:13b)

“…that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1st Thessalonians 4:13b).

Death is one of those subjects that causes most people to feel uneasy and uncomfortable.  We don’t want to talk about it.  And so, when death takes someone we love, our grief is overwhelming. 

The Thessalonian believers were grieving because they did not know or understand that their deceased brothers and sisters in Christ would rise from the dead and would not miss the return of Christ. 

While the death of a saint brings great anguish of soul to family members and friends, let us remember that God permits us to grieve.  It’s natural.  After all, when Jesus stood before the tomb of His friend, Lazarus, Jesus wept (John 11:36).  He too felt the ugly reality of sin and the sting of death and the grave tear at the very fiber of a person’s soul. 

For those who have experienced such grief, you understand the “roller-coaster” ride of emotions.  Doubts fill our minds as the pain of separation plunges us into the depths of despair.  Oh, how awful and ugly is the reality of sin

and death.  If God permitted grief’s full pain to be unleashed all at once, we would die of a “broken heart” for the pain would be too great.  That is why I believe our gracious God permits varying amounts of sorrow and grief to be expressed in small amounts over time.

However, Scripture does not permit the Christian to grieve like the unbelievers who have no hope.  The Christian’s grief is very different from those who are unbelievers.  How is it different?  The Scriptures says that unbelievers have no hope.  Turn to Ephesians 2 and follow along with me as I read verses 1-3 and verse 12.  The point:  Unbelievers have no hope! 

Unbelievers instinctively know in their souls their absence of hope when death claims their loved ones.  Therefore, what can the child of God do or say when in the presence of those who have no hope?  Embrace their grief and pray for them.  Listen to them as they try to comfort themselves from the world.  They may have a measure of happiness, but they have no assurance; no hope from God.  It’s sad, very sad. 

And should they ever ask the Christian where their loved one is, point to God and say, God is righteous and just, full of grace and mercy.  He does all things right and beautiful.  He makes no mistakes.

It saddens me to think that each of us will never see some family and friends in heaven; unless God regenerates them and fills them with His desires.  Their destiny is everlasting tormented in the Lake of Fire. 

When death touches our lives and sorrow runs deep in our souls, let us remind ourselves that we will see our loved ones and friends who know the Lord.  We will see them, again.  This “separation” called death will be brief.  Therefore, let this truth comfort all of us because Christ removed the sting of death, as death does not have the final say. 

Remember, divine hope comforts the grieving Christian with the gift of holy assurance (4:13b)

a.         Divine hope comforts the grieving Christian with understanding from Holy Scriptures (4:13a)

b.         Divine hope comforts the grieving Christian with the gift of hallowed assurance (4:13b)


c.         Divine hope comforts the grieving Christian with the promise of a heavenly reunion (4:14-15).

“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.
For this we declare to you by the word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”
(1st Thessalonians 4:14-15)

Those who have believed the gospel possess…

  • …the desire to walk with God,
  • …a hunger to know the Bible,
  • …an understanding of their sinfulness,
  • …and the power to repent of their sins. 

Therefore, genuine believers understand that this heavenly reunion is possible for three reasons:

Reason #1:     Jesus Christ is God’s atoning sacrifice.  Jesus was crucified for our sins and died.  He sacrificed His life for sinners so that all that every sinner God the Father has drawn to Himself and given to Christ, will be saved.

Reason #2:     Jesus Christ rose from His grave!  Halleluiah!  The resurrection of Christ is God’s glorious declaration to the heavenly hosts and to all the earthly inhabitants that Christ’s sacrifice has satisfied heaven’s righteous demands and therefore, any sinner who believes and repents of his/her sins will be forgiven and gathered together with the saints in heaven.

Reason #3:  Jesus Christ has thus spoken!  “Thus, saith the Lord!”  Just as the Holy Spirit worked through Paul to remind and encourage the Thessalonian believers of God’s promise for a heavenly reunion, permit me to remind all of us of the three central passages that point to this future event.

  • John 14:1-3
  • 1st Corinthians 15:50-58
  • 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18

God has promised a great heavenly and unbreakable reunion.  Death does not dissolve the bond between a believer and the Lord.  It merely ushers them into His more immediate presence in glory (Philippians 1:23), where they wait with Him for the end of this present age and the final appearance of God’s righteous kingdom. [Andrew W. Young]

Divine hope comforts the grieving Christian…

a.         …with understanding from    Holy Scriptures (4:13a)
b.         …with the gift of holy assurance (4:13b)
c.         …with the promise of a heavenly reunion (4:14-15)


I appreciate Tim Challies’ following insights to help the grieving Christian:[2]

  • Express your grief but not with a spirit of despair.  Remember, sorrow and hope do not cancel out one another.  One day, God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.                   
  • Express your grief but remember, Jesus has defeated death and the grave.  While our grief may seem to be eternal, remember that Jesus conquered death, therefore, so will the believer.  Because Jesus lives, so will the believer.
  • Express your grief with hope because Jesus has promised a glorious reunion for those who trust in Him.  Therefore, encourage one another with these words of hope. 


Remember the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24)?  As they traveled back home, they discussed the events surrounding the death of Jesus Christ.  However, when Jesus met them on the road, their “eyes” did not recognize the resurrected Christ. 

As they talked, Jesus opened up the Scriptures to them [and eventually their eyes when they broke bread later that evening].  Note:  When our “hearts burn” inside us, know that God is drawing near to us, listening to us, and opening the Scripture to us.  The results are wonderful:

  • We desire a more intimate fellowship with Jesus.
  • We recognize Jesus.
  • We develop an increased understanding of Scripture.
  • We deepen our faith in God and His Word.
  • We display the fruit of His ministry through us.

Come to Jesus by…

            …Acknowledging your sins and repent [turn away from] of your sinful, selfish, and self-righteous life

            …Believing in your heart that Jesus died for you on the cross and rose from the grave!

            …Confessing Him with your mouth because your heart believes the gospel truth.

[1] Kevin Knight, “Catholic Doctrine,” [doc online]; from, accessed 2019, Mar. 7.

[2] Tim Challies, How To Grieve As a Christian, [doc online]; from, accessed 2019, Mar. 10.

%d bloggers like this: