The Hope we can have at the end of life
The very concept of the “end of life” is a challenge to our sense of “hopefulness.” The “end of life” implies the failing or cessation of certain things in our lives. It implies an inability to get around as well as we used to, and a failure to see or hear as well as we used to. It implies that our heart and lungs and other vital organs won’t work like they used to. It implies death, the cessation of life as we’ve known it. For many people, the “end of life” provokes a feeling of great hopelessness. But, following a passage in which he discusses the “end of life” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17), Paul says to the Thessalonians, “Therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
That ought to make us ask: What words does Paul share in these verses with which we can “encourage each other” in the face of the “end of life”?
One of the encouraging things Paul shares is found in verse 16: “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a loud command.”
What is so encouraging about that?
Here are a couple of thoughts:
In his commentary on Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, Leon Morris points out that the word translated in the New International Version as “a loud command” was used elsewhere in ancient Greek writing as “the cry made by the ship’s master to his rowers, or by a military officer to his soldiers, or by a hunter to his hounds, or by a charioteer to his horses…. In most places…it denotes a loud, authoritative cry, often uttered in the thick of great excitement.” In other words, a great command is given here.
But what is the command?
Gregory L. Fisher shares a story from his experience as a teacher at a West African Bible College. One day one of his students asked, “Reverend, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says that Christ will descend from heaven with a loud command. I would like to know what that command will be.”
Fisher recalls, “I wanted to leave the question unanswered, to tell him that we must not go past what Scripture has revealed, but my mind wandered to an encounter I had earlier in the day with a refugee from the Liberian civil war. The man, a high school principal, told me how he was apprehended by a two-man death squad. After several hours of terror, as the men described how they would torture and kill him, he narrowly escaped. After hiding in the bush for two days, he was able to find his family and escape to a neighboring country. The escape cost him dearly: two of his children lost their lives. The stark cruelty unleashed on an unsuspecting, undeserving population had touched me deeply. I also saw flashbacks of the beggars that I pass each morning on my way to the office. Every day I see how poverty destroys dignity, robs men of the best of what it means to be human, and sometimes substitutes the worst of what it means to be an animal. I am haunted by the vacant eyes of people who have lost all hope…. ‘“Enough,”’ I said. ‘He will shout “Enough” when he returns.’
“A look of surprise opened the face of the student. ‘What do you mean, “Enough?”’
“‘Enough suffering. Enough starvation. Enough terror. Enough death. Enough indignity. Enough lives trapped in hopelessness. Enough sickness and disease. Enough time. Enough!’”
Our hope is that at the end of our lives, or when Christ returns (whichever happens for us first), Christ will call us to Himself with a command—a command that promises that the pains and trials of this world will have come to an end, a command that lets us know that the full joy and love of heaven are about to begin and will never end!
These are words with which we can encourage one another: We can look forward to love-filled and joy-filled life in heaven with Jesus forever!