According to 1 Thessalonians 4:13, what was Paul’s purpose for writing verses 13-18? Why should this text mean so much for us today?
Why were the Thessalonian believers grieving as if they had no hope? A major factor was probably the short period that Paul was with them. We know that Paul talked about the death and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 17:3). There is also evidence that he talked about final events, even if his instruction was misunderstood. But he may not have had time to clarify issues related to the resurrection of believers.
A further element is the pagan background of most of the believers to whom Paul is writing (1 Thess. 1:9). Though the mystery religions of the time offered a picture of the afterlife, most pagans had no hope of life after death. A poignant example of this is found in a second-century letter: “Irene to Taonnophris and Philo good comfort. I am as sorry and weep over the departed one as I wept for Didymas. And all things, whatsoever were fitting, I have done, and all mine, Epaphroditus and Thermuthion and Philion and Apollonius and Plantas. But, nevertheless, against such things one can do nothing. Therefore comfort ye one another. Fare ye well.”-Quoted in Adolf Deissmann, Light From the Ancient East (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1927), p. 176.
It is ironic that this letter to a mother who has lost her son ends with the same words as 1 Thessalonians 4:18, even if they have a radically different twist. Comfort one another, even though there is no hope? That is what she was saying. What a contrast to what Paul expresses to the Thessalonians.
Paul’s purpose for the passage is outlined in contrasting phrases at the beginning and the end. Paul writes in order that they might not grieve as do those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). And he intends that the truth about the nature of the Second Coming will give them glorious reasons to comfort each other in times of loss (1 Thess. 4:18).
Someone once said, “In the long run, we’re all dead anyway.” From a totally human perspective, that’s right. From a biblical perspective, however, that view is very short-sighted. In the long run, what is the great hope we have in Jesus, and how can we learn to take comfort in that hope right now?