The Agora
Bible Commentary
1 Thessalonians

1 2 3 4 5

1 Thessalonians 4

1Th 4:1

Vv 1-12: Exhortations.

Vv 1,2: The traditions: These verses mark a sudden change in the tone of Paul's letter. In absolute earnestness and surpassing intensity Paul is urging upon his readers the necessity of daily obedience to God, in every facet of one's life. He can see the dangers that frequently attack the new believer, particularly in regard to the lowering of spiritual and moral standards. And he wants fervently to guard them against going back to the "world" from which they had been delivered.

These two verses, with their emphasis upon a formal, written code, or "tradition", serve as a "heading" to introduce the sections concerning sexual purity (vv 3-8) and brotherly love (vv 9,10) and diligence (vv 11,12).

FINALLY...: Here begins a drastic change of thought. The "then" or "therefore" (AV) points back to all of 1Th 2 and 1Th 3: 'Since our relations with you have been so close, since we have labored so diligently among you, since you have suffered thus far for the gospel's sake, and since we love you and pray for you continually, therefore we ask you, brothers, to remember...'

WE INSTRUCTED YOU: That which the new believers had received from Paul and the others were the "traditions" -- formal, organized teaching (cp Col 2:6,7; Rom 6:17; Phi 4:9).

HOW TO LIVE: In Greek, this phrase reads, "The How it is Necessary to Walk" -- as though it were a formal compilation: what we might entitle "the Principles of Daily Living" (compare "the Faithful Sayings" of the Pastorals). This sort of traditional catechism was apparently in use in many locales. It was indeed necessary for new converts not at first appreciative of the big practical moral difference between the old pagan life and the new Christian life. "Walk" here is a Hebraism -- the "halakah" -- rules for daily living. In this Hebrew sense "walk" has now become standard terminology, as (in the first century) the equivalent, "The Way", became standard (John 14:4-6; Acts 9:2; 16:17; 18:25,26; 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14; etc).

HOW TO LIVE IN ORDER TO PLEASE GOD: That is, "walking so as to please God", with possible ref to Enoch. In Gen 5:22 it is written that "Enoch walked with God." But the LXX has "Enoch pleased God", which is directly quoted in Heb 11:5. To walk with God is to please God. Contrast this with 1Th 2:15 -- those who pleased not God.

NOW WE ASK YOU: "Erotao": signifying to ask: as a beggar would ask for alms (Acts 3:3), or as one would ask a question (Mat 21:24). It is used to describe Christ's prayers to the Father (John 14:16; 16:26; 17:9,15,20). The only occurrences in Paul's letters are here: 1Th 5:12; 2Th 2:1; and Phi 4:3. In each case the word denotes a direct and urgent appeal.

AND URGE YOU: "Parakaleo" -- to call alongside, to comfort, to encourage. This word has been used earlier (1Th 2:11, 3:2).

TO DO THIS MORE AND MORE: To overflow exceedingly (cp notes, 1Th 3:10,12).

1Th 4:2

INSTRUCTIONS: Paul makes use of a military word, "parangello" -- the verb form of which means "to give orders or commands" -- as in Acts 1:4: "He charged them not to depart from Jerusalem." The noun form is used here and only in three other places: 1Ti 1:18 ("this charge I commit unto you"), Acts 16:24 (the charge given to the Philippian jailer), and Acts 5:28 (the charge given the apostles by the Sanhedrin). In these passages may be seen the strong force of this word, the moral imperative. These "instructions" were, very literally, marching orders!

1Th 4:3

Vv 3-8: Sexual purity: The readers have been exhorted, first of all, to purity (vv 3-8). They are now exhorted to love (vv 9,10). Having been warned against the cardinal vice of the pagan world, they are urged to increase in the fundamental virtue of the Christ-like life.

These words were almost certainly written in Corinth, a city notorious for almost every form of vice. They are strikingly similar to words later written by Paul to believers in Corinth: "Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? for ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1Co 6:18-20).

The Holy Spirit would not have moved Paul to sound this warning against sexual vice unless it were necessary. Moral corruption in the cities of the Empire was so general, and the people so familiar with it, that even believers felt little shock or surprise anymore. Something very similar is true today, especially for those of us who live in or near large cities. Immorality of every sort is practiced, and even condoned by the previously "respectable" parts of society. Even some "church leaders" seem to have trouble understanding or defining "sin." Our young people especially need to ponder the words of Paul here, and be on their guard. An affectionate love of Christ, and a solid Bible knowledge, will provide a shield against the arrows of the enemy. Let us develop an awareness of our own innate weaknesses, and recognize that even we, who think we stand, can all too easily fall.

IT IS GOD'S WILL: "Thelema" comes from the verb "thelo", which means "to will" in the sense of "purpose", "resolve", "design." It is not just a passive wish, but an active purpose which God holds for His children. Everything he does is with the intent of fulfilling this purpose. (Rom 8:28). The concept of "the will of God" encompasses not only His overall plan of salvation for mankind in general (1Ti 2:4; Rom 1:10), but also His detailed plans for the lives of individual believers.

THAT YOU SHOULD BE SANCTIFIED: God's will for His people is that they be holy, even as He is holy (Lev 11:44,45; 1Pe 1:15,16). "Hagiasmos" (from "hagios" -- "holy") refers to the process of becoming holy, and therefore implies effort by the believer as well as the purpose of God; sanctification does not come about automatically or without effort. Notice the precise order in 1Co 1:30, where Paul says that Christ is made to us: (1) wisdom... ie, learning the Truth; (2) righteousness... ie, baptism, covering of sins; (3) sanctification... ie, an ongoing effort to live a holy life, and (4) redemption... ie, the glorification of the body.

It is perfectly plain that all four steps are essential to the believer.

THAT YOU SHOULD AVOID SEXUAL IMMORALITY: One feature (and by no means an incidental one) of the sanctification of believers is sexual purity. There is no room in true Christian theology for the view that the body does not matter, but only the mind or the "spirit." A pure mind and an impure body are totally incompatible; the believer must be continually concerned with the life of the flesh as well as the life of the spirit.

SEXUAL IMMORALITY: "Porneia" (fornication) is the equivalent of the Old Testament "zanah" and includes every sort of sexual sin; it comprehends even the more limited term "moicheia" (Old Testament "naaph") -- adultery. "Porneia" includes harlotry (the root word, in fact, signifies "to sell"), premarital unchastity, extramarital infidelity, and even incest, homosexuality, and bestiality (although these last are not in Paul's mind in this particular verse). In its root meaning of buying and selling, it includes the sins of purchasing and reading and viewing pornographic materials, and coveting in one's own heart that which is unlawful (Mat 5:28; cp 1Th 4:6). "Porneia" is even used in the figurative sense to refer to idolatry and moral confusion (Rev 18:3), because one who follows false gods has "sold out" himself in a cheap and degrading way, and has been "unfaithful" to the true Lord.

1Th 4:4

TO CONTROL HIS OWN BODY: "How to possess his vessel" (AV): The difficulty in translating this phrase is seen in the NIV -- where the text itself has "to control his own body" but the margin has "to live with his own wife" or "to acquire a wife." There are at least these possibilities, and the proper understanding of the phrase revolves around the two words "ktasthai" (acquire, or possess) and "skeuos" (vessel).

"Skeuos" is used literally of household utensils and containers (Mark 11:16; Luke 8:16; Rev 2:27; 18:12), and metaphorically of persons who are instruments for somebody's purpose (Acts 9:15). Men in general are referred to as the vessels either of God's mercy or His wrath (Rom 9:21-23). The human body is pictured as a piece of pottery, a fragile vessel (2Co 4:7). In certain ways the wife is even a "weaker vessel" (1Pe 3:7) than is the husband.

"Ktasthai" may signify either to acquire (as at one moment) or to possess and maintain and control (on a continuing basis). It does not seem likely that Paul would have been interested in his converts learning how to obtain a wife, having elsewhere stated that it is good not to marry (1Co 7:1); therefore the third of the three possibilities ("to acquire a wife") should most probably be eliminated. This leaves the other two views -- and the choice must hinge on which of the two figurative meanings of "vessel" (either one's own body or one's wife) is more likely in this context.

Either view seems reasonable and permissible, but a comparison with the practically parallel 1Co 7:2-5 would favor the translation of "to live with his own wife": "But since there is so much immorality ("porneia"), each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband" (v 2, NIV).

The verses that follow (vv 3-5) then suggest the definition of "ktasthai" / "possess" in 1Th 4:4, ie, to "fulfill his marital duty" by "not depriving each other." All a man's sexual desire should be directed toward his wife. To desire otherwise would be to imitate the Gentiles (1Th 4:5). And to act otherwise, following lustful thoughts with sinful actions, would be to "defraud" another man (v 6) -- that is, the husband of (or the one who will later become the husband of) the woman who is partner to his adultery. And Paul does not even mention the obvious fraud perpetrated against the wife herself!

1Th 4:5

PASSIONATE LUST: "Epithumia" means very strong desire, and can be used in a good sense (1Th 2:17; Luke 22:15; Phi 1:23). Most characteristically, however, it indicates an evil desire, and that a very fierce, even a violent, desire. It is used elsewhere of sexual passion in an evil sense (Rom 1:26; Col 3:5).

LIKE THE HEATHEN, WHO DO NOT KNOW GOD: The Gentiles, those with no concepts of the Law of Moses or Christian principles, know nothing of holy and honorable behavior. Their guiding principle is passionate desire because they do not know God (Eph 4:17,18; 1Co 1:21; Gal 4:8; 2Th 1:8; cp Psa 79:6; Jer 10:25). Such reprehensible behavior is a consequence of their refusal to respond to God's revelation of Himself (Rom 1:18-32).

1Th 4:6

OR TAKE ADVANTAGE OF HIM: "Pleonekteo" is related to the Greek words for coveting, which almost invariably have a sexual connotation (ie, Eph 4:19; 5:5; Col 3:5; 2Pe 2:14; 1Co 5:10,11; 6:10).

THE LORD WILL PUNISH MEN FOR ALL SUCH SINS: "Ekaikos" is used elsewhere of a magistrate (Rom 13:4). The "Lord" is Jesus, who will have divine authority to avenge or punish, in a judicial capacity, when he returns (1Th 2:19; 3:13; 2Th 1:8; 1Co 4:5). Believers are not to seek vengeance on those who have wronged them, but to leave the matter in the Lord's hands (Rom 12:19, citing Deu 32:35).

AS WE HAVE ALREADY TOLD YOU AND WARNED YOU: Paul had previously taught the Thessalonians of such matters, although the instruction necessarily had had to be brief.

1Th 4:7

FOR GOD DID NOT CALL US TO BE IMPURE, BUT TO LIVE A HOLY LIFE: Paul has been the instrument of calling the Thessalonians to a new and holy life in Christ (1Th 2:12), by the gospel message. By the same message, they must learn and remember that they have become "a new creation" -- former things are passed away. Though the grace of God is available to cover their sins, they must not suppose that it is of no consequence whether or not they sin. "How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Rom 6:2).

God has called us not for ("epi") impurity, but in ("en") sanctification. "For" expresses purpose, but "in" expresses even more: it conveys the sense of atmosphere, of the settled, immutable condition in which believers should live. This atmosphere for the believer is sanctification. It is the very air he breathes!

1Th 4:8

THEREFORE, HE WHO REJECTS THIS INSTRUCTION DOES NOT REJECT MAN BUT GOD: Supplying the ellipsis: "Therefore he who rejects this instruction rejects not only Paul as a teacher, but also God." (The understanding of "not/but" as "not only/but also" is a very common Hebraism). In like manner, God comforted Samuel when he was rejected by the people, "for they have not (only) rejected thee, but they have (also) rejected me, that I should not reign over them" (1Sa 8:7). And Jesus, confronted with the impenitence of Israel, tells his disciples: "he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me" (Luke 10:16; cp Luke 7:30).

WHO GIVES YOU HIS HOLY SPIRIT: Paul is claiming the authority of God in giving this warning: "God, who has given unto US (Paul, Silas, etc) His Holy Spirit" (AV). (The suggestion, in the NIV and some other versions, that this Holy Spirit was given to "you" would surely nullify Paul's warning and exhortation here. If they all had received Holy Spirit inspiration, what further need of specific instructions?)

The giving of the Holy Spirit (to Paul at least) is closely associated with the sanctification of believers. But it must not be presumed that the Holy Spirit, acting as an independent agent, and without the participation of the believer, can achieve sanctification. Instead, sanctification is achieved, on an ongoing basis, by the believer's taking heed to the word which Paul, animated by the Holy Spirit, was communicating to them. Jesus prayed that believers be sanctified by the Truth, and he added that "Thy word is truth" (John 17:17,19). The saints are made holy by their understanding of, and submission to, "the truth."

1Th 4:9

Vv 9,10: Brotherly love.

BROTHERLY LOVE: The Greek "philadelphia" expresses natural affinity and affection for one's relatives. This word was taken over by the ecclesia and elevated to a spiritual level in describing the close ties in God's own "family" (Rom 12:10; Heb 13:1; 1Pe 1:22; 3:8; 2Pe 1:7).

WE DO NOT NEED TO WRITE TO YOU: Paul has had occasion to remark on the way the Thessalonians displayed love for one another. He had referred to their "labor of love" (1Th 1:3), of which he had received word through Timothy (1Th 3:6).

TAUGHT BY GOD: This represents one word in the Greek, a word that occurs here alone in all the NT. (A similar expression is found in John 6:45.) God's coming Kingdom will be marked by the fact that all Zion's children will be taught of God (Isa 54:13). There is a natural interpretation of this verse -- and one which renders unnecessary any theorizing about "an indwelling Spirit": God, in all His loving provisions for mankind (Mat 5:44,45), and especially in the gift of His Son for those who believe (John 3:16; 1Jo 3:16), is constantly teaching us by example how we ought to love one another. "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God: for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another" (1Jo 4:7-11).

FOR YOU YOURSELVES HAVE BEEN TAUGHT BY GOD TO LOVE EACH OTHER: Do we need anyone to write to US "about brotherly love"? The subject, says Paul, is fundamental. We are taught of God to do it: we are taught by God's own example in giving His only begotten Son to die for us on the cross; by that Son's whole pre-eminent life; perhaps especially by his washing of his disciples' feet just before he suffered: "For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you" (John 13:15). Such matters may be comprehended more easily than almost any other teaching of Scripture. Comprehended easily, no doubt. But how difficult to apply the lessons!

"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35). This is Christ's test of discipleship. We might want to propose other tests, with which we would feel more comfortable; but how wise and fitting is this one. What sort of faith do we have if it does not compel us to love the men and women who share it? What sort of faith do we have if it does not compel us, out of an eager yearning in love, to share it with the poor, suffering souls around us?

The reaction of many of us, whenever the subject of love is mentioned, is either one of shyness or fear or else a feeling that it is not practical. If we are shy or afraid, it is because we have a wrong conception of its nature. We think that it has something to do with emotion and sentiment. It has not! Neither is it impractical any more than Jesus himself or Paul or Peter or John were impractical. Just how practical, how sweetly reasonable, this love is, is seen in the previous chapter: "And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: to the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints" (1Th 3:12,13).

The end: their being established in holiness at the Judgment. The means to that end? Their increasing in love. The end cannot be attained without the means.

1Th 4:10

AND IN FACT, YOU DO LOVE ALL THE BROTHERS THROUGHOUT MACEDONIA: Again, Paul refers to the reports of their faith and love that have "sounded out" throughout their own province, and even beyond (1Th 1:7,8) -- this all in the short time of a few months!

The rapid link-ups among the new ecclesias in Macedonia, which this verse and the verse in chapter 1 imply, is a fine model for modern-day communities which profess the same love for one another.

TO DO SO MORE AND MORE: As exemplary as they had been, Paul must urge them to increase further (1Th 3:12). This phrase is almost identical with that of 1Th 4:1; which like (1Th 3:10,12) alludes to the overflowing springs of water near Thessalonica. Greater love is always a possibility for believers, because the ultimate example of love in Christ himself (John 13:34; 15:12) is infinite and unapproachable.

1Th 4:11

Vv 11,12: Diligence.

MAKE IT YOUR AMBITION: The KJV has "study" -- but that is incorrect, at least as regarding modern definitions: book-learning is not the issue here! The RSV has "aspire", which is good. The verb "philotimeisthai" ("philo": love; "timee": esteem or honor) signifies ambition, or the love of honor. It occurs twice elsewhere in the NT, surprisingly in good senses: Rom 15:20 ("So I have strived -- been ambitious -- to preach the gospel") and 2Co 5:9 ("We labor -- are ambitious -- that we may be accepted of him.")

TO LEAD A QUIET LIFE: The opposite of being a "busybody" (2Th 3:11). It was used of looking after one's own business and keeping out of public life. It may refer also to the cessation of argument (Acts 21:14). Clearly it denotes tranquillity of life. Paul may have in memory the recent incident in Thessalonica itself, where "certain lewd fellows of the baser sort", lazy and boisterous men with nothing better to do, were easily stirred up against the preaching of the gospel (Acts 17:5-9).

Similar exhortations to quietness and sobriety -- and against laziness and trouble-making -- form important parts of all Paul's "Pastoral Letters" (see, for examples, 1Ti 3:2,3,7; 5:13-15; 2Ti 3:2-4,6; Tit 1:10,11; 2:2-4,6).

TO MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS: Not that different from "to be quiet". It may be a warning against undue interference in ecclesial affairs, in matters best left to the chosen elders -- or even to excessive, meddlesome interest in the personal affairs of one's neighbors.

AND TO WORK WITH YOUR HANDS: The Greek cultures despised manual labor, with an elitist attitude that expected slaves to do this sort of work. This philosophy was rejected by Paul, as to his own way of life (1Th 2:9; 1Co 4:12) and in his teaching (Eph 4:28; 2Th 3:7-10). In this, as in other ways, the believer refused to take his standard from the community in which he lived. Rather, he held that all things he did should be done as though serving Christ directly (Col 3:17). And he remembered that Jesus himself had been a manual laborer (Mark 6:3).

One must not be guilty of idleness. No religious theories, no study of prophecy, not even an early or immediate expectation of Christ's coming can excuse one for neglecting his daily work. Manual labor is honorable and dignified. Such labor is the believer's duty whether the end is approaching or not. He may have glimpsed the glories of the future age, but he lives still in the necessities of the present. When the Lord does return, he will find his servants doing nothing better than working quietly at their assigned tasks, caring for themselves and their families, while using every spare moment to preach the Truth and serve the brotherhood.

1Th 4:12

SO THAT YOUR DAILY LIFE MAY WIN THE RESPECT OF OUTSIDERS: "That ye may walk honestly" (AV): Or, in a "seemly fashion" (Rom 13:13; 1Co 14:40 -- sw); literally "in good form." The contrast is given in 2Th 3:6: "disorderly." Paul is here concerned with the effect to be made by believers on non-Christians. Similarly, he writes elsewhere: "Walk in wisdom toward them that are without" (Col 4:5). And he exhorts the elders to "have a good report of them which are without" (1Ti 3:7). Compare also 1Co 10:32,33 and 1Pe 2:12.

SO THAT YOU WILL NOT BE DEPENDENT ON ANYBODY: If all the able-bodied members worked with their hands they would be able to support themselves and their dependants, and not fall into poverty and become a continual drain on the generosity of others. It was taken for granted that those who were destitute through no choice of their own would be supported by the church (Eph 4:28; 1Ti 5:3-8).

1Th 4:13

1Th 4:13 -- 1Th 5:11: Problems concerning Christ's coming.

Vv 13-18: Believers who fall asleep.

BROTHERS, WE DO NOT WANT YOU TO BE IGNORANT...: This is a common expression of Paul (Rom 1:13; 11:25; 1Co 10:1; 12:1; 2Co 1:8) when he wants to correct an erroneous idea, or to explain something that has caused perplexity. It is invariably accompanied by the address "brothers", revealing the affection and concern Paul feels for his charges.

ABOUT THOSE WHO FALL ASLEEP: The Greek "koimao" is the common word for sleep, from which we derive the English words "coma" and "cemetery" (a "sleeping-place"). In the NT death is often equated with sleep (Mat 9:24; 27:52; John 11:11; Acts 7:60; 13:36; 1Co 15:6,18,20,51; 2Pe 3:4). (In 1Co 7:39, the same word for "sleep" is actually translated "dead" in the KJV.) Almost without exception, it is those who are in covenant relationship with God who are so characterized (cp v 14 here: them which "sleep in Jesus"). The OT also uses the same figure (Gen 47:30; Deu 31:16; Psa 13:3; 1Ki 22:40; etc), though not so frequently. It occasionally refers in similar fashion to those who will never be resurrected, as sleeping "a perpetual sleep" (Jer 51:39,57; cp Isa 26:13,14; Psa 76:5,6).

Saints, who are dead "in Christ" (v 14), are nevertheless so related to life by the surety of a resurrection that in God's eyes they are simply "asleep." It may even be said that to Him they are alive (Luke 20:38), on the principle that God may call those things "which be not as though they were" (Rom 4:17). He counts their death no more an interruption of life than we would so count sleep!

Sleep is a resting to awaken refreshed. It is no disadvantage to those who so pass their time, and may even be a gain (John 11:12). Those who are dead with Christ will also live with Christ (2Ti 2:11).

OR TO GRIEVE LIKE THE REST OF MEN, WHO HAVE NO HOPE: The assurance our hope gives us is that our dead ones, dying in the Lord, will be restored to life and to us (Tit 1:2; 3:7; Acts 23:6). There is no room in this -- no matter the outward appearance -- for the inconsolable grief that the rest of mankind bows under because it has no hope. The world has no hope (Eph 2:12), because its ignorance alienates it from the life God promises (Eph 4:17,18).

1Th 4:14

GOD WILL BRING WITH JESUS THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN ASLEEP IN HIM: "Bring" is in the sense of "lead" (John 18:28; Acts 8:32; 9:27; 17:15,19; Rom 2:4; 8:14), as a guide or companion (2Ti 4:11). God will bring forth (from the grave) those who sleep in Jesus, so that they will be with him. Since all believers form the "One Body" (1Co 12:12-27) they must be together, and they must not be separated from their Head.

God will lead them forth from death "with him (Jesus)" -- that is, through him (2Co 4:14) or after his example (1Co 6:14; Heb 2:10).

An alternative view, equally likely: When Christ appears from heaven, he will bring with him the "lives" of the saints, until then "hid with Christ" (Col 3:3,4). Though they have lived on earth, the saints have been spiritually in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph 1:3; 2:6). Thus it is their true selves -- their abiding reality -- which is revealed when Christ returns, bringing "new Jerusalem" (Rev 21:2) with him, the "house not made with hands eternal, in the heavens", with which his followers desire to be clothed (2Co 4:16; 5:4). This immortality is "the hope laid up in heaven" (1Pe 1:4), after the pattern of the golden pot of manna (Heb 9:4; Rev 2:17). The saints do not go to heaven to put on this immortality; instead, it is brought from heaven to them in the person of Christ.

1Th 4:15

ACCORDING TO THE LORD'S OWN WORD: A ref to Christ's Olivet prophecy (see refs, v 15 -- 1Th 5:10).

Paul claims to be speaking by the power of inspiration, as in 1Co 2:13; 7:10; 14:37; 2Co 2:17; and 7:12 with 1Co 5:4.

WE WHO ARE STILL ALIVE, WHO ARE LEFT TILL THE COMING OF THE LORD: Did Paul expect to be alive when Christ returned? It would appear so when he writes about "we who are alive". But in his later letters he reckons with the possibility and even the likelihood of his own death before Christ returns (1Co 6:14; 2Co 4:14; 5:1; Phi 1:20; 2Ti 4:6). It is clear that Paul believed in the possibility of Christ's imminent return -- as did the entire first-century church. Nothing Jesus said and nothing the apostles wrote should be construed so as to leave that possibility out of account for any believer (Rom 13:11; 1Co 7:26,29; 10:11; 15:51,52; 16:22). Jesus himself had warned his followers about the dangers in supposing "delay" (Mat 24:48; 25:5; Luke 19:11-27). However, as Paul grew older and experienced more and more of the infirmities of the flesh -- not to mention more and greater persecutions -- he began to consider, as any of us might today, the possibility of his death before the second coming. Surely such an expectation, tempered by practical considerations, should be the example for believers in all ages.

THE COMING: See Lesson, "Parousia".

1Th 4:16

THE LORD HIMSELF: "This Jesus" (Acts 1:11), and no substitute or representative.

WITH A LOUD COMMAND: "Keleusma" signifies a call, a summons of authority, or a command. The word occurs in the LXX of Pro 30:27: the locusts marching forth in ranks at the word of command. This suggests that the loud shout, the voice of command by which the dead are raised (John 5:28,29; 11:43) -- like the "voice'' of instinct that commands the locusts -- will not necessarily be heard by all. The "whisper" of an angel can wake the dead, when breathed by the command of him who is the resurrection and life (John 11:25).

THE VOICE OF THE ARCHANGEL: The Bible names only one archangel, Michael (Jude 1:9), the one who stands up in Dan 12:1,2 -- as a signal for the resurrection of the dead.

TRUMPET CALL OF GOD: See Lesson, Trumpet, the.

THE DEAD IN CHRIST WILL RISE FIRST: That is, before the events described in v 17. Not necessarily the very first thing to happen at the second coming. The dead are brought back to life before Jesus takes any action whatsoever toward those who were concerned about the deaths of their loved ones in Christ.

"On this it is contended that the accepted will come forth from the grave first but a reference to the context will show that the comparison implied in these words, is between the dead righteous and the living righteous, and not between the righteous dead and the wicked dead. The Thessalonians were apparently mourning the death of some of their number in a way that indicated a fear on their part that the deceased had lost something by dying. Paul assures them that this was a mistake. We who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent (or go before) them who are asleep, for the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first.

"THEN (or second) we who are alive and remain shall be caught up, etc. Paul simply means to teach that the dead are restored to life and perfected before the living enter upon the inheritance, and that, therefore, the dead lose nothing by dying. Therefore, says he, comfort one another with these words" (Xdm Ast).

1Th 4:17

CAUGHT UP: "Harpazo" signifies to be snatched or plucked away (Acts 8:39; John 10:12,28; Jude 1:23), conveyed quickly from one place to another -- with no particular regard as to direction. (Compare an Old Testament instance of such a "snatching away" in 2Ki 2:11). Thus Paul speaks of himself being caught away (not "up") (the same word -- "harpazo") to the "third heaven" in 2Co 12:2,4.

The removal implied in "harpazo" is from one location to another on the earth (esp Acts 8:39). The saints are to be transported miraculously and instantaneously to the judgment seat (Rom 14:10), which is on earth (Psa 122:5; Mat 25:31; etc).

"This will be an awesome event, greater than any in the history of the world thus far, for it will lead to the manifestation of the sons of God, a moment for which the whole creation waits. If we do not prepare for it now, we shall be given no time for it then, because we shall be 'caught up' or lit snatched away by force. It will happen during the day or night, depending on which part of the world we live in: we may be at work or play; we may be found in a situation or place in which we would prefer not to have been discovered. But in a second, with no opportunity for protest or objection, whether we are enthusiastic or lukewarm, hard-working in Christ's service or have left the Truth, we shall find ourselves in the grip of a power which is beyond our mortal knowledge" (TNL 182,183).

TOGETHER WITH THEM: What simple comfort there is in Paul's closing words. "Together with them" (v 17)! Families, both natural and spiritual, united again in the Lord. "so shall we ever be with the Lord" (v 17). "Lo, I am with you alway" (Mat 28:20), he had said -- and now, at the end of the age, he will be with us still and forever in a more intimate fashion. "And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. And in that day ye shall ask me nothing" (John 16:22,23).

IN THE CLOUDS: The elect gathered together to Christ, coming in the clouds of heaven (Mat 24:30).

While it is true that in one passage "cloud" refers to the witnesses, or the saints (Heb 12:1), the word is in fact different in the Greek. The most dominant Scriptural theme suggested by "the clouds" is the Shekinah Glory of the Almighty. In the Old Testament God consistently manifested Himself to Israel in the cloud and the fire (Exo 13:21,22; 14:19,20,24; 16:10; 19:16-19; 20:18; 24:15-19; 33:18-21 with 34:4-7; 40:34-38; Num 10:34; 12:5,10; 14:9,10,14,21,22; Deu 31:14,15; Psa 104:3; 105:39; 1Co 10:1,2). In such He appeared also to David (Psa 18:6-15); Ezekiel (Eze 1:4; 10:4); Elijah (1Ki 19:11-13); Solomon (1Ki 8:10,11); Job (Job 38:1); and the apostles (Luke 9:34,35). The clouds of glory are associated with the judgments of God (Joel 2:2; Zep 1:15; Eze 30:3; Isa 19:1; 25:5). As Jesus ascended in such clouds (Acts 1:9), so he will return in clouds (Acts 1:11, Luke 21:27; Mat 26:64; Rev 1:7; 14:14-16; Dan 7:13).

MEET: A special Greek expression ("apantesis") which was always (and only) used to describe the ceremony of meeting the incoming VIP. It occurs three times in the NT: Act 28:14,15; 1Th 4:16,17; Mat 25:6,10. The Greek here in 1Th 4 clearly indicates that the saints will be miraculously lifted up to meet the returning Lord at some point in the upper atmosphere, and then caused to escort him back, in joyful, triumphant procession, to the earth's surface -- there to be "ever with the Lord". But wherever can we fit a literal judgment seat into this sequence of events? It can't be before we are "caught up", as this would then mean the "meeting in the air" would not be a "meeting" at all, in the sense of the Greek expression used. And it can't be after we "meet the Lord in the air", because there could be no joyful, triumphant meeting and procession if the wicked are still present and all concerned are still wondering whether they are destined for life or death! However, Mat 25:6,10 clinches the deduction made above from 1Th, that the unrighteous will not be present when the righteous meet their Lord. The invitation to "meet" him (in the special Greek sense of traveling outwards to meet an incoming potentate) went to both classes -- but only the wise virgins were in a position to accept the invitation. The foolish virgins were left behind, and later found themselves locked out of the scene of rejoicing. It seems impossible to fit a literal judgment seat into this sequence, either. So what are we to make of all this? Does Scripture intend us to regard the judgment seat as real in essence, but symbolic rather than literal in its nature? (Just as the Biblical devil is real enough in essence, but is a symbolic devil and not a literal one.) Or is there some other explanation that fits the facts better? (AH) See Lesson, Collapsed time.

IN THE AIR: "Eis" -- into the air. Not in heaven (Greek "ouranos"), but into the air (Greek "aer") which extends by the most liberal estimate only a few miles above the earth! This phrase should be translated: "Then we... shall be caught away into the air in clouds, in order to meet the Lord." There is no suggestion in these words that the saints remain for any time in the air, or that they are carried any appreciable distance above the earth itself. Instead, there is the idea (with "harpazo") of almost instantaneous transport (Latin "rapture") through the air from one place to another on earth. The saints are gathered "from the uttermost part of earth to the uttermost part of heaven" (Mark 13:27), that is, from all places. It is clear the saints will reign with Christ on the earth (Gen 13:15; Num 14:21; Psa 37:29,34; Pro 10:30; 11:31; Isa 11:9; Dan 2:44; Zec 14:16; Mat 5:5; Luke 13:28; Rom 4:13; Rev 2:26). Their dominion will be "on the earth" (Rev 5:10), "under the whole heaven" (Dan 7:27).

AND SO WE WILL BE WITH THE LORD FOREVER: Where? Suspended in the air, no more than a few miles above the earth? Or upon the earth, assisting the Lord in the subjugation and ruling and teaching of the mortal nations, thus helping to fill the earth with the glory of God? There can be only one answer.

This passage (1Th 4:13-18), if taken alone (like 1Co 15), could be construed as teaching that no unworthy "saints" will be raised or judged at the return of Christ. Such "arguments from omission", however, are always dangerous. Paul omits reference to those who are ultimately rejected (as he does also in 1Co 15:52) because he is intent on offering comfort and assurance. He must have known, moreover, that the Thessalonians had no misunderstanding about the punishment of the wicked -- or else he would have been more specific and detailed here. (This consideration by itself suggests they knew more about the events of the last days than we might first suppose.)

There is an enormous body of evidence to prove that worthy and unworthy are raised and judged together (Dan 12:1,2; Mat 8:10-12; 12;36,37; 13:30, 40-43, 47-50; 22:1-14; 25:1-30, 31-46; John 5:28;29; Acts 25:15,25; Rom 2:5-11; 2Co 5:10; 2Ti 4:1; Heb 6:2; 1Pe 4:4; 1Jo 4:17; Rev 11:18). There is no problem then in understanding that between the "rapture" and the "being forever with the Lord" there must intervene a judgment which eliminates the unworthy.

Similarly, it may be pointed out that Paul does not speak of a resurrection to condemnation for anyone not "in Christ." But again, an argument from omission would be dangerous. It is true that those who are "in Christ", nominally or otherwise, will be raised to a different sort of judgment than will those (few or many) who have absolutely and knowingly rejected the gospel. The first will be brought to a judgment seat for a decision; the others, only to be condemned, since for them there can be no possibility of acceptance. Paul, with his mind intent on comfort, omits reference to this class altogether here. The Scriptures as a whole, however, have a good deal to say about such a third class of resurrected ones (Mark 16:16; Luke 19:27; John 3:19; 12:47-50 with Deu 18:18,19; Acts 24:25; 1Pe 4:3-5).

1Th 4:18

THEREFORE ENCOURAGE EACH OTHER WITH THESE WORDS: Once joined with Christ, we will be always with him. As we cannot be separated from his love even now (Rom 8:38,39), so we will not be denied fellowship with him in the age to come. This is comfort indeed, the only real comfort.

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