Grief At the Death of Family/Friends

1 Thessalonians

Grief At the Death of Family/Friends

January 12th, 1958 @ 10:50 AM

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

1-12-58    10:50 a.m.



You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the morning message from the fourth chapter of the first letter to the Thessalonians.  In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to one of the tremendous, great, revealing, apocalyptic passages in the Word of God:


But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope.

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep.

For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

[1 Thessalonians 4:13-18]


On this passage, I am preparing four sermons.  The first sermon is the morning message of this hour Grief at the Death of Friend and Family.  The second sermon is upon the great apocalyptic revelation which Paul describes in this passage: the translation of the saints, the rapture of the church, the taking away, the catching out, of God’s people in this earth to Himself in heaven.  The third sermon is a corollary.  It is entitled The Great Separation: The Earth Without a Christian – how it is here, what it shall be here when God’s children are all taken away.  And the last sermon, the fourth one, is entitled Forever with the Lord: The Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

The sermon this morning will be most manifestly incomplete.  It is the beginning of the quatrain.  It is entitled Grief at the Death of Our Friends and of Our Family.

"But I would not have you without knowledge . . . " [1 Thessalonians 4:13] – agnoeo.  That word "know" in English is taken from the word gno, the Greek root word gno.  And, agno is "without knowledge, not to know."

"But I would not have you, my brethren, to be agnoeo, to be without knowledge, concerning them which are asleep" [1 Thessalonians 4:13].  He’s speaking to Christian people.  He’s writing to a bereaved church.  He has not been gone but six months.  He has preached to them the hope of the Gospel of Christ, and, while Paul has been away, some of their beloved family members have perished.  They have died.  Their own hands have buried them and laid them away.

And they have sent word to the holy apostle and asked, concerning these that their own hands have laid away, "What of them?  Do they share in the kingdom of God?  Do they have a place in that eternal glory?  What of these who have died and there still is no appearing of the Lord; there’s no presence of Jesus; there’s no consummation or fulfillment of the wonderful promises in Him?  What of these who have been buried away?"

So he writes: "I would not have you without knowledge, my brethren, concerning them which are" – and he uses a word that is distinctly Christian.  They used to call it a graveyard, but when the Gospel of the Son of God began to be preached, the Christian people began to use the Greek word koimeterion, a sleeping place.

That’s why the catacombs were built.  The pagan world burned their dead.  To them, the house was just dust and ashes, and the life was forever perished, and all hope was gone.  But the Christians never burned their dead – never.  It was inconceivable to the Christian that the body of Christ should be burned like a pagan, like a heathen.  They carefully embalmed the body of our Lord with spices, wrapped it in a winding sheet, reverently, devoutly, laid that body to rest [John 19:38-42].  Even though they were not acquainted with the glorious doctrine, or else their hearts were without understanding and they could not realize it, that the third day He would live again.  But after that glorious pronouncement, the Gospel, the good news: "He is alive.  He is not here.  He lives" [Luke 24:3-7], the Christian never burned their dead, but they carefully laid them away, and they called the place where they laid their beloved dead a koimeterion, a sleeping place.  We have it in our English language a cemetery.  It’s the same Greek word, except we pronounce it in English "cemetery" – asleep.

"I would not have you without knowledge, brethren, concerning them which are asleep . . ."  [1 Thessalonians 4:13].  A new word, a new persuasion, a new hope, a new Gospel.  This is the Christian message: "That you sorrow not, even as others who have no hope" [1 Thessalonians 4:13].  What Paul was speaking of there: the general and universal lack of knowledge.  The harsh word of the translation here is certainly correct: "ignorance" – the lack of knowledge of the world concerning the state of these who are fallen asleep.

What of the dead?  To the superstitious animist who lives in Africa, who lives in the heart of heathen lands, the visitation of death is a terror full of fear and fright and dark superstition.  By witchcraft and fetish, by the arts of the necromancer, by every superstition of device, he seeks to flee away.  He is frightened by the presence of death.  It is an awful and a terrible and a fearful visitation.

There are those who are not superstitious, who are not animists, whose eyes and minds are not clouded with heathen darkness, who have in their hands an open Bible, and yet who so misinterpret, whose exegesis of the passages of the Book is so far at an alien to the revelation of God, that they bring forth and teach strange doctrines concerning these who are dead.  For example, they have a doctrine of soul sleeping.  The body is laid awake and the soul of soul is laid awake in the dark and in the night and in death, even though the Scriptures are so plain, so clear.  "Today," said Jesus, "Thou shalt be with Me in paradise" [Luke 23:43] to the thief dying with Him on the cross [Luke 23:39-43].  Paul: "To be absent from the body is to be present and at home with the Lord" [from 2 Corinthians 5:8].  In the Revelation: "I saw . . . under the altar the souls of them who had been beheaded for the word and testimony of Christ" [from Revelation 6:8-9], and he saw the saints in glory who were coming out of the great Tribulation, martyred children of God.

Oh, the doctrine, strange and unknown, that you hear as they speak of the dead.  It is a thing that the pagan world looked into, peered into, but could never fathom or understand.  The great Greek philosopher, as he studied and pondered, almost discovered the secret of every piece of knowledge that is available to man.

Four hundred years before Christ, the Greek philosopher was describing the atomic structure of this world.  You think it’s new.  It’s not new at all.  He used the word atom, "uncut," the last division of matter.  And the science of astronomy, and medicine, physics, metaphysics, mathematics – all are his words and his science.

It is the Greek philosopher peered into the gloom of the grave and sought to find an answer for the eternity of that inevitable night.  They had no word and no message.  Socrates [d. 399 BCE], the best and the greatest Greek of them all, when he drank the hemlock, refused to be afraid, because he said, "For me to be afraid would be to be that I knew what was beyond death, and I do not know" [Apology," by Plato, c. 399 BCE].  Agnoeo: "I do not know."  That very word: "I do not know."  "Brethren, I would not have you agnoeo – I do not know" [1 Thessalonians 4:13].

One of the travesties of the Christian faith is this: that the bitterest, severest critics, denouncers, of the great hope in Christ is not the infidel nor the agnostic nor the unbeliever, but it is the preacher and minister of Christ Himself.  In how many pulpits, in how many places, through how many books, does the preacher ridicule and scorn with a supercilious information and a puffed-up pride of knowledge and education all of these great revelations of God?

To him, Jesus is not deity, just another man – a good man, but a man – and the Scriptures are not the inspired Word of God, and He was never born of a virgin, and He’s not God, and He didn’t rise from the dead, much less will He ever come again.  Just like the Sadducees’ ecclesiastical materialism and skepticism, they laughed and made fun of the resurrection from the dead, and the stock joke by which they sealed every mouth and shut up every witness was that thing they came to Jesus about.  There was a man who had a wife, and according to the levirate marriage [Deuteronomy 25:5-10], when he died without sons, then his brother had to take her and try to raise up children to his name.  And he died, and the third and the fourth and the fifth and the sixth and the seventh brothers, all seven of them, married to that woman; and last, she died [Matthew 22:23-27].  "And in the resurrection – ha, ha," said the Sadducees, "and in the resurrection, ha," said the Sadducee, "whose wife shall she be?" [from Matthew 22:28] That’s the religious, ecclesiastical, ministerial materialist and skeptic and unbeliever, and they’re today just like they were there: "Ha, ha – the resurrection!  Ha, ha."

The answer of the Lord is eternal.  God hath said: "I am the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.  I am the God of those who trust in Me.  I am not the God of the dead, but of the living [Matthew 22:32].  And they live in His sight," said the Lord.  As for marriage, there’s no procreation in heaven [Matthew 22:29-30].  We’re like the angels Gabriel, and Michael, and Raphael.

"I would not have you without knowledge, brethren, concerning them which are asleep . . .   For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord" [from 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 15]. Paul says: "I say this by direct revelation from God, from Christ Himself."  No other way could we know.  God has to say it.  The Lord has to reveal it.  Jesus must open that door that we might look.  And He did.

"This we say unto you by the word of the Lord" [1 Thessalonians 4:15].  It is the authority of Jesus Christ, and this is the basis of his comfort. We’re not to sorrow as others who have no hope "for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him" [1 Thessalonians 4:14].

Paul does a thing there that I have never heard discussed, and it is this. He bases our translation, our resurrection, upon two indisputable facts:  first, that Jesus died; second, that Jesus rose again.  And, he says, if these two things are true, then they are a part of a great spiritual sequence.  "Then they who trust in Jesus will God raise up and bring with Him" [1 Thessalonians 4:14].  He doesn’t forsake His own.  He doesn’t leave to perish in the soil and the dust and the dirt of the earth the least of His saints.  If He arose, we shall rise, too; crucified with the Lord, raised with the Lord, translated to meet the Lord.

These great, great theologians sometimes say that the greatest chapter in the Bible, the very height of all revelation, is the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter.  It is the resurrection chapter.  It is the translation chapter, and he does the same thing in the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians that he does here in the fourth chapter of First Thessalonians.  He bases our hope, our resurrection, our immortalization, upon the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ:


Brethren, I declare unto you the Gospel which I delivered unto you –

got it from Jesus –

That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures;

That He was buried, that He arose again the third day according to the Scriptures:

And that He was seen of Cephas

And of James

And of five hundred.

And last of all of me, as one born out of due time

Now, if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead . . .

[from 1 Corinthians 15:1-12]


Then is that remarkable, incomparable revelation of our own resurrection and translation:


Brethren, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

But I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound . . . and we shall be raised incorruptible.

[from 1 Corinthians 15:50-52]


He does the same thing in both passages.  He bases our hope upon two indisputable facts: that Christ died for us and that He rose again for our justification. "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him" [1 Thessalonians 4:14].

May I point out to you he refers to us that we "sleep in Jesus"?  He says that Jesus died – died.  Jesus died.  He died the death of the damned.  Jesus died, the just for the unjust [1 Peter 3:18].  He tasted death for every man [Hebrews 2:9].  He trod the winepress of the wrath and fury of Almighty God, and rich red blood poured out [Isaiah 63:1-4; Revelation 19:15].  Jesus died [Romans 5:8].

We don’t die.  We fall asleep [1 Thessalonians 4:14].   And there is the most unusual construction: "We fall asleep."  "We who are asleep," and the Greek is dia, "through," Jesus.  You have it translated "in Jesus" – "we which sleep in Jesus."  The Greek is "we sleep through Jesus."

Wonder what that strange construction meant?  It meant that Jesus suffered for us.  He died for us.  The judgment of our sins and folly fell upon Him [2 Corinthians 5:21].  And we – we just fall asleep through the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.  He bore the agonies of the damned.  He went down into the valley.  There did He grapple with our last great enemy, and He came up and up, a victor over the grave, and He tore away the sting from the scorpion dragon of death.  And now, "O grave, where is thy victory? Now, O death, where is thy sting?" [1 Corinthians 15:55].  He has conquered for us, dying in our stead, that we might live in Him.  Jesus died.  We fall asleep.

And, then, some day – and here I have to close – some day, some day, these that fall asleep, some day, these shall rise, be raised, at the voice and command of God, at the shout of Michael, the archangel [1 Thessalonians 4:16].  These shall break their bonds asunder and live in His sight, and we who are alive and remain shall meet them, caught up together with them to be with the Lord forever and forever [1 Thessalonians 4:17].   Hallelujah!  Amen!  God be praised!

Now, I conclude with a little word concerning we who grieve at the death of friend and family.  "I would not have you without knowledge, brethren, concerning them which are asleep" [1 Thessalonians 4:13] – lay it out before us, and your heart’s broken, and the tears fall unbidden, and the light of the day has gone down, and the soul is crushed.  "That ye sorrow not as others who have no hope" – no hope.  How those two go together: "without God and without hope."  He that has no hope of a resurrection has no hope.  He that has no hope of immortality has no God [1 John 5:11-13], nor to him does God exercise a providential care.  No hope.  No hope.

But we, now, but we, the aged, fall asleep.  How shall I do in Christ?  How shall I be?  How shall my heart respond?  The aged fall asleep in Christ.  Here’s my father, my mother: the aged fall asleep in the Lord.          

Why, bless your heart, we’re to look upon that in the same way as we stand and see an architect pull down an old, tottering house, in order to build a better one.  And there, he takes off the roof, and he takes down the doors, and he pulls down the house.  But, first, he sends out the occupant, and after the occupant is gone, old house is pulled down, and there he builds a new and a more glorious and a more beautiful home for the occupant.

That’s what Paul said when he said, "Brethren, this I say, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" [1 Corinthians 15:50].  While I’m in this house, I can’t have my new house.  God has to tear down this old house first before He can construct my new house, the one made without hands, eternal in the heavens [2 Corinthians 5:1].  Same thing as an old statue and it’s rusty and it’s mutilated.  And they take that old statue and cast it in the fire.  There it is melted, and they recast it.

Only God does some better thing for us.  When you recast an old statue, it still comes out brass and iron.  But when God shall recast our stature, it shall come out, oh, immortalized and glorified.  We shall plant in the earth this house of clay, dust and ashes; God shall raise it up immortalized, glorified: "When this mortal shall have put on immortality and when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption" [1 Corinthians 15:53].

When I see the fallen form of the aged – there lies my father; here lies my mother; here lies my aged friend – I am not to see the old house torn down, but I am to see, by faith, the new house, the better house, made without hands, eternal in the heavens [2 Corinthians 5:1].

"Sorrow not as others who have no hope" [1 Thessalonians 4:13].  Here is a youth who has died.  My boy, my girl, in the very prime of life, cut down and taken away.

If the girl had married, taken by her husband to some far country, and you heard that she was prospering and happy with her husband, you’d be glad.  You’d cry because she’s so far away, but you’d be happy for her.  If you had a boy, and in a far land he was elevated and honored, given great, great degree, you’d be glad for him though he’s far away.

You know why?  Because "Some day," you’d say, "We’ll see that child again.  He’s over there, prospered and blessed and honored and received and elevated.  We’ll see him again."  And you have hope.

And a child, a little child is laid away.


Many days a stricken mother,

To her loss unreconciled,

Wept, bitter tears complaining,

"Death has taken away my child."


But one night as she was sleeping,

To her soul there came a vision;

And she saw her little daughter

In the blessed fields Elysian.


All alone the child was standing,

And a heavy pitcher holding;

Swift the mother hastened to her,

And around her arms enfolding.


"Why so sad and lonely, darling?"

Asked she, stroking soft her hair,

"See the many merry children,

Playing in the golden fair?


"Look! They’re beckoning and calling.

Go and help them pluck the flowers,

Put aside the heavy pitcher,

Play away the sunny hours."


From the tender lips a-quiver,

Fell the answer on her ears:

"On the earth my mother’s weeping,

And this pitcher holds her tears.


"Tears that touch the heavenly blossoms,

Spoil the flowers where’er they fall;

So as long as Mother’s weeping,

I must stand and catch them all."


"Wait no longer," cried the mother.

"Run and play, sweet child of mine;

Never more shall tears of sorrow

Shroud your happiness sublime."


Like a bird released from bondage,

Sped the happy child away;

And the mother woke, her courage

Strengthened for the lonely day.

[adapted from "Legend of the Pitcher of Tears," by Mary A. Burroughs]


"That you sorrow not as others who have no hope" [1 Thessalonians 4:13].  We here, but they with our Lord in glory, and, some day, some triumphant day, some glorious day, at the sound of the trumpet, at the voice of the archangel, at the command of God, we shall see them and one another again [1 Thessalonians 4:16].  "Wherefore comfort one another with these words" [1 Thessalonians 4:18].

We have a hope.  Oh, what a Gospel message!  What a preaching.  What a faith.  What a commitment.  What an invitation.  What God hath done for us.

And that’s the appeal of this sacred and holy morning hour.  Somebody you, give his heart in faith to Jesus; somebody you, put his life with the children of God in His church.  Would you come?  Would you give me your hand?  "Pastor, I give you my hand.  I give my heart in faith to Jesus."  A family of you, put your life with us in the church.  Down these stairwells at the back, at the front, from side to side, while we make this appeal, while we sing this song, would you come?  Would you make it now, while we stand and while we sing?