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. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.
The apostle Paul mentions that some Christians had “fallen asleep,” a biblical metaphor for death. To have a member of their congregation die unexpectedly must have had a big impact on the young Church. Paul wanted to instruct them and strengthen their faith and hope. God’s truth about what happens after death gives powerful comfort.
Verses 16 and 17 go on to describe the second coming of Christ, which will be announced by the trumpet of God. At His return, the followers of Jesus Christ who have died will be resurrected first, apparently just shortly before those who are alive are changed to spirit and also meet Christ as He comes through the clouds and then descends to the Mount of Olives. As Zechariah records it, “And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east” (Zechariah 14:4).
The hope of the resurrection is a sure hope and real encouragement to Christ’s followers. Of course, there is sorrow at the death of a loved one or friend. But it can be a hopeful sorrow, which is far more comforting than the hopeless sorrow Paul mentions in verse 13.
For more about what the Bible teaches about life after death, see our section on “Life After Death.”