Hope was high: people expected Jesus to return soon, in their lifetimes. But as some died, hope turned to fear. Would Jesus ever come back? Have we missed it?
Paul’s answer was, yes there is hope:
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
When Jesus returns, it will be for all believers and those who are already dead, get to meet Him first:
1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words.
Some people use this verse to support the idea that Jesus will come back, take all the believers, then leave the rest of the world to suffer through the tribulation. In the context of this letter and the times, it’s had to support that interpretation.
The only thing we do know for sure is that we don’t know when. We’ll be going about our daily lives in the usual way, only to have Jesus return.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don’t really need to write you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape.