But I do not want you to be ignorant brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 4:13–14—NKJV)

Easter Sunday morning is one of the most glorious mornings in the church calendar! The day is the epitome of biblical hope. It is not just for the promise of gray winter’s close and the guarantee of vibrant spring’s eruption of life. Rather, the meaning is most accurately celebrated in the sunrise service on Resurrection Sunday. In the darkness, before the dawn, on the first day of the week, our Savior rose from the grave, having satisfied the just wrath of His father in our behalf. It is almost as if the sun rose for only one purpose—to show to a sleepy-eyed, distracted world that there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem and that Jesus is alive! This is what biblical hope is all about! It is a complete confidence of faith that finds its wellspring at the foot of Mt. Calvary, by the entrance to the empty tomb. It inexhaustibly swells in its flow out of the life of every genuine believer. It is real, and it is unstoppable.

When the thinking man, without divine aid, surveys from the gathering darkness the wreckage of fleeting significance, the depravity of human hearts, the futility of living only for the present, and the endless meetings and partings throughout his life, he cannot help but look for a distant shore and wonder whether there is not something designed to fill the hollow voids of human experience. Without real hope, a man has just cause to be consumed by inconsolable grief.

Because of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, every believer has been gifted with a living hope that tempers every grief and lightens the heavy burden of spiritual sensitivity (Matthew 11:28–30). From the earliest evangelizing of Thessalonica, Paul had been teaching them concerning the resurrection of our Lord. Acts 17:1–3 reads, “They came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.’” Central to the Gospel is the doctrine of resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1–8). It is this hope which had firmly taken hold of the Thessalonian church. But as brothers and sisters in the Lord died, they had fallen back into the paganistic grieving that characterizes the unsaved. Paul wrote in order to dispel their ignorance and to apply the living hope of the resurrection.

What is wonderful is that Paul speaks of those who are “asleep.” It is a word that is comforting in itself, for sleep is restful, calm, necessary, temporary, and healthful. Sleep is a blessing. What parent is not convinced that their children grow when they sleep? The Lord “gives His beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2). “Sleep” is fitting for this is what the deceased body appears to be doing. But remember, it does not mean that the soul is also comatose. The rest of our passage enlightens us on the matter.

Verse 14 tells us that the departed believers were “those who sleep in Jesus.” Verse 16 says, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” “In Christ” means in union with Him, they are alive and well and in His presence this very day! Soul sleep would not allow for such a union in the sphere of Christ. Though grief is appropriate at the loss of believing loved ones, inconsolable grief is not, for they are rejoicing in His presence.

An Easter morning contrast is provided in our text. Notice that it is a blessing for saints to sleep in Jesus, but also notice the way Paul describes our Savior’s death. Verse 14 does not say that Jesus “slept” and rose again, rather he says that He “died.” His death was no “sleep of rest.” It was His first, and only, separation from His Father because He became sin for us. His death was a sacrifice for the sin of the elect in order to ransom them all from the sting of death and the victory of the grave (1 Corinthians 15:55). He died so that we may live!

Every Sunday is resurrection Sunday, for we remember that He died and rose again. The dead in Christ will rise (literally, stand up) and will be caught up together with the living believers at the rapture of the church age saints. Resurrection hope is a lively hope that tempers our every grief. Trust and obey.