David Guzik's Commentary on the Bible
1 Thessalonians 4
1 Thessalonians 4 - CONFIDENCE IN THE COMING OF JESUS
A. Instructions regarding sexual purity.
1. (1 Thessalonians 4:1-2) How to walk and to please God.
Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
a. Finally then: Paul’s use of finally does not mean he is finished. It means he now began the closing section of the letter, with practical instruction on how God wants His people to live.
i. “The word rendered ‘finally’ (loipon) is an adverbial accusative, ‘as for the rest,’ and serves to mark a transition rather than a conclusion.” (Hiebert)
b. That you should abound more and more: Paul was thankful for the growth he saw in the Thessalonians, but still looked for them to abound more and more in a walk that would please God.
i. Abound more and more: This means that Christian maturity is never finished on this side of eternity. No matter how far a Christian has come in love and holiness, they can still abound more and more.
c. Just as you received from us: What Paul wrote in the following verses was nothing new to the Thessalonians. In the few weeks he was with them, he instructed them in these basic matters of Christian morality. Paul knew it was important to instruct new believers in these things.
d. How you ought to walk and to please God: Paul took it for granted that the Thessalonians understood that the purpose of their walk - their manner of living - was to please God and not themselves. When the Christian has this basic understanding, the following instruction regarding Biblical morality makes sense.
i. “When a man is saved by the work of Christ for him it does not like open before him as a matter for his completely free decision whether he will serve God or not. He has been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). He has become the slave of Christ.” (Morris)
e. For you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus: These were not suggestions from the pen of Paul. These are commandments from the Lord Jesus, and must be received that way.
i. Morris on the word translated commandments: “It is more at home in a military environment, being a usual word for the commands given by the officer to his men (cf. its use in Acts 5:28; Act_16:24). It is thus a word with a ring of authority.”
2. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 a) The command to be sexually pure.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter,
a. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: Paul gave these commands to a first-century Roman culture that was marked by sexual immorality. At this time in the Roman Empire, chastity and sexual purity were almost unknown virtues. Nevertheless, Christians were to take their standards of sexual morality from God and not from the culture.
i. Paul said this was a commandment (1 Thessalonians 4:2). That word was a military term describing an order from an officer to a subordinate, and the order came from Jesus and not from Paul.
ii. The ancient writer Demosthenes expressed the view of sex in the ancient Roman Empire: “We keep prostitutes for pleasure; we keep mistresses for the day to day needs of the body; we keep wives for the faithful guardianship of our homes.”
b. The will of God, your sanctification: Paul made it very clear what the will of God was for the Christian. The idea behind sanctification is to be set apart, and God wants us set apart from a godless culture and their sexual immorality. If our sexual behavior is no different than the Gentiles who do not know God, then we are not sanctified - set apart - in the way God wants us to be.
i. Those who do not know God do not have the spiritual resources to walk pure before the Lord; but Christians do. Therefore, Christians should live differently than those who do not know God.
c. That you should abstain from sexual immorality: We live differently than the world when we abstain from sexual immorality. The ancient Greek word translated sexual immorality (porneia) is a broad word, referring to any sexual relationship outside of the marriage covenant.
i. The older King James Version translates sexual immorality as fornication. “Fornication is used here in its comprehensive meaning to denote every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse.” (Hiebert) “The word requires broad definition here as including all types of sexual sins between male and female.” (Thomas)
ii. The broad nature of the word porneia shows that it isn’t enough to just say that you have not had sexual intercourse with someone who is not your spouse. All sexual behavior outside of the marriage covenant is sin.
iii. God grants great sexual liberty in the marriage relationship (Hebrews 13:4). But Satan’s not-very-subtle strategy is often to do all he can to encourage sex outside of marriage and to discourage sex in marriage.
d. That each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor: We live differently than the world when we possess our body in sanctification and in honor. Immorality is the opposite of honor because it degrades and debases the self. Those who do not restrain their sexual desires act more like animals than humans, following every impulse without restraint.
i. The phrase, that each of you should know “Indicates that the demand being made applies to each individual member of the church. The same moral standards hold for all.” (Hiebert)
ii. Some interpret this passage so that the vessel each one should possess is a wife, and that Paul here encouraged Christians to get married and express their sexuality in marriage instead of immorally. Yet it seems that instead, Paul meant to encourage each Christian to possess or hold his own body (vessel) in a way that honored God. Sexual immorality is a sin against one’s own body (1 Corinthians 6:18).
d. Not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God: This plainly means that the sexual conduct of the Christian should be different than the prevailing permissiveness of the day.
i. “The Gentiles knew gods who were the personification of their own ambitions and lusts but they did not know the true God, the God who is Himself holy and wills the sanctification of His followers.” (Hiebert)
f. That no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter: When we are sexually immoral, we take advantage of and defraud others and we cheat them in greater ways than we can imagine. The adulterer defrauds his mate and children. The fornicator defrauds his future mate and children, and both defraud their illicit partner.
i. “Adultery is an obvious violation of the rights of another. But promiscuity before marriage represents the robbing of the other that virginity which ought to be brought to a marriage. The future partner of such a one has been defrauded.” (Morris)
ii. Repeatedly in Leviticus 18 - a chapter where God instructed Israel on the matter of sexual morality - the idea is given that one may not uncover the nakedness of another not their spouse. The idea is that the nakedness of an individual belongs to their spouse and no one else, and it is a violation of God’s law to give that nakedness to anyone else, or for anyone else to take it.
3. (1 Thessalonians 4:6-8) Reasons for the command.
Because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.
a. Because the Lord is the avenger of all such: This is the first of four reasons for sexual purity. We can trust that God will punish sexual immorality, and that no one gets away with this sin - even if it is undiscovered.
b. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness: This is the second reason why Christians should be sexually pure - because of our call. That call is not to uncleanness, but to holiness; therefore, sexual immorality is simply inconsistent with who we are in Jesus Christ.
i. Paul developed this same line of thought in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1Co_6:15-20, concluding with the idea that we should glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
c. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God: The third reason for sexual purity is because to reject God’s call to sexual purity is not rejecting man, but God Himself. Despite the petty ways many rationalize sexual immorality, we still reject God when we sin in this way.
i. Paul’s strong command here did not seem to come because the Thessalonians were deep in sin. No specific sin is mentioned; it seems that this was meant to prevent sin rather than to rebuke sin, in light of the prevailing low standards in their society and because of the seductive strength of sexual immorality.
d. Who has also given us His Holy Spirit: This is the fourth of four reasons for sexual purity given in this passage. We have been given the Holy Spirit, who empowers the willing, trusting Christian to overcome sexual sin. By His Spirit, God has given us the resources for victory; we are responsible to use those resources.
B. Living the quiet life before God.
1. (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10) We should live a life of increasing love.
But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more;
a. But concerning brotherly love you had no need that I should write to you: These principles are so basic that Paul knew they were obvious to the Thessalonian Christians. The Thessalonians were taught by God about the importance of love, yet we must all be reminded.
b. And indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in Macedonia: It wasn’t that they Thessalonians were without love; their love toward all the brethren was well known, but they had to increase more and more in their love.
2. (1 Thessalonians 4:11) We should live a life of work.
That you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you,
a. That you also aspire to lead a quiet life: This means that we should have an aspiration or ambition in life, and that we should aspire to lead a quiet life.
i. Aspire has the thought of ambition, and is translated that way in several versions of the Bible. Quiet has the thought of peace, calm, rest and satisfaction.
ii. The quiet life contradicts the hugely successful modern attraction to entertainment and excitement. This addiction to entertainment and excitement is damaging both spiritually and culturally. We might say that excitement and entertainment are like a religion for many people today.
· This religion has a god: The self.
· This religion has priests: Celebrities.
· This religion has a prophet: Music video channels.
· This religion has scriptures: Tabloids and entertainment news and information programs.
· This religion has places of worship: Amusement parks, theaters, concert halls, sports arenas; and we could say that ever television is a little chapel.
iii. The religion of excitement and entertainment seduces people into living their lives for one thing - the thrill of the moment. But these thrills are quickly over and forgotten, and all that is important is the next fun thing. This religion conditions its followers to only ask one question: “Is it fun?” It never wants us to ask more important questions such as, “Is it true?” “Is it right?” “Is it good?” “Is it godly?”
iv. We need to live the quiet life so that we can really take the time and give the attention to listen to God. When we live the quiet life we can listen to God and get to know Him better.
b. To mind your own business: This means that the Christian must focus on their own life and matters instead of meddling in the lives of others. “Mind your own business” is a Biblical idea.
i. “There is a great difference between the Christian duty of putting the interests of others first and the busybody’s compulsive itch to put other people right.” (Bruce)
ii. “Paul, however, does not mean that every individual is to mind his own business in such a way that all are to live apart from one another and have no concern for others, but simply wants to correct the idle triviality which makes men open disturbers of the peace, when they ought to lead a quiet life at home.” (Clarke)
c. Work with your own hands: We must recognize the dignity and honor of work. Work is God’s plan for the progress of society and the church. We fall into Satan’ snare when we expect things to always come easily, or regard God’s blessing as an opportunity for laziness.
i. Manual labor was despised by ancient Greek culture. They thought that the better a man was, the less he should work. In contrast, God gave us a carpenter King, fisherman apostles, and tent-making missionaries.
ii. “There is nothing more disgraceful than an idle good-for-nothing who is of no use either to himself or to others, and seems to have been born merely to eat and drink.” (Clarke)
3. (1 Thessalonians 4:12) We should live a life that is an example, lacking nothing.
That you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.
a. That you may walk properly toward those who are outside: When we combine the love of our brothers with work, we walk properly. People who are not yet Christians (those who are outside) will see our example and be influenced to become followers of Jesus.
i. Hiebert on properly: “Means, ‘in good form, decorously, in an honorable manner, so as to cause no offense.’ Believers can never be indifferent to the impact produced by their example.”
b. And that you may lack nothing: Paul completes the thought he began in 1 Thessalonians 3:10 (that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith). If they followed his teaching and example, they would lack nothing and come to the place of genuine Christian maturity.
C. Concerning Christians who have died.
1. (1 Thessalonians 4:13) The believing dead are thought of as being “asleep.”
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.
a. But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep: In the few weeks Paul was with the Thessalonians, he emphasized the soon return of Jesus, and the Thessalonians believed it earnestly. This was part of the reason that they were the kind of church Paul complimented so highly. Yet after Paul left, they wondered about those Christians who died before Jesus came back. They were troubled by the idea that these Christians might miss out on that great event and that they might miss the victory and blessing of Jesus’ coming.
i. It is with some interest we note that four times in his letters, Paul asked Christians to not be ignorant about something:
· Don’t be ignorant about God’s plan for Israel (Romans 11:25).
· Don’t be ignorant about spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1).
· Don’t be ignorant about suffering and trials in the Christian life (2 Corinthians 1:8).
· Don’t be ignorant about the rapture and the second coming of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
ii. Remarkably, these are areas where ignorance is still common in the Christian world.
b. Who have fallen asleep: Sleep was a common way to express death in the ancient world, but among pagans it was almost always seen as an eternal sleep.
i. Ancient writings are full of this pessimism regarding death:
· “Of a man once dead there is no resurrection.” (Aeschylus)
· “Hopes are among the living, the dead are without hope.” (Theocritus)
· “Suns may set and rise again but we, when once our brief light goes down, must sleep an endless night.” (Catullus)
ii. Christians called death sleep, but they emphasized the idea of rest. Early Christians began to call their burial places “cemeteries,” which means, “dormitories” or “sleeping places.” Yet the Bible never describes the death of the unbeliever as sleep, for there is no rest, peace or comfort for them in death.
iii. Though Paul, using idioms common in his day, referred to death as sleep, it does not proved the erroneous idea of soul sleep, that the present dead in Christ are in a state of suspended animation, waiting for a resurrection to consciousness. “Since to depart from this world in death to ‘be with Christ’ is described by Paul as ‘very far better’ (Philippians 1:23) than the present state of blessed communion with the Lord and blessed activity in Hi service, it is evident that ‘sleep’ as applied to believers cannot be intended to teach that the soul is unconscious.” (Hiebert)
c. Lest you sorrow as others who have no hope: For the Christian death is dead and leaving this body is like laying down for a nap and waking in glory. It is moving, not dying. For these reasons, Christians should not sorrow as others who have no hope when their loved ones in Jesus die.
i. As Christians, we may mourn the death of other Christians; but not as others who have no hope. Our sorrow is like the sadness of seeing someone off on a long trip, knowing you will see them again, but not for a long time.
2. (1 Thessalonians 4:14) There is full assurance that Christians who have died yet live.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
a. If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep: We have more than a wishful hope of resurrection. In the resurrection of Jesus we have an amazing example of it and a promise of our own.
i. For the Thessalonian Christians, their troubled minds were answered by the statement, God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. “It is best to understand the words to mean that Jesus will bring the faithful departed with Him when He comes back. Their death does not mean that they will miss their share in the Parousia.” (Morris)
b. Jesus died: When Paul wrote about the death of believers, he called it sleep. But in his description of Jesus’ death, he did not soften it by calling it sleep, because there was nothing soft or peaceful about His death.
i. “He endured the worst that death can possibly be . . . It is because there was no softening of the horror of death for Him that there is no horror of death for His people. For them it is but sleep.” (Morris)
c. We believe that Jesus died and rose again: This was the confident belief of the Apostle Paul and the early Christians. We will certainly live, because Jesus lives and our union with Him is stronger than death. This is why we do not sorrow as those who have no hope and why we have more than a wishful hope.
i. When a sinner dies, we mourn for them. When a believer dies we only mourn for ourselves, because they are with the Lord.
ii. In the ruins of ancient Rome, you can see the magnificent tombs of pagans, with gloomy inscriptions on them. One of them reads:
I WAS NOT
I AM NOT
I CARE NOT
Or one can visit the murky catacombs and read glorious inscriptions. One of the most common Christian epitaphs from the catacombs was IN PEACE, quoting Psalms 4:8 : I will both lie down in peace and sleep; for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. We should look at death the same way those early Christians did.
iii. Sadly, not all Christians are at this placed of confidence and peace. Even Christians have, in unbelief, had the same fear and hopelessness about death. The author once read an inscription reflecting this un-Christian despair on an Irish tombstone in a Christian cemetery on the Hill of Slane, outside of Dublin:
O cruel Death you well may boast
Of all Tyrants thou art the most
As you all mortals can control
The Lord have mercy on my soul
3. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-16) Those asleep in Jesus are not at a disadvantage.
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. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
a. By the word of the Lord: Paul emphasizes that this was an authoritative command, though we do not know whether Paul received this by direct revelation or if it was an unrecorded saying of Jesus. One way or another, this came from Jesus and did not originate with Paul.
i. “In no place does the apostle speak more confidently and positively of his inspiration than here; and we should prepare ourselves to receive some momentous and interesting truth.” (Clarke)
b. We who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep: Paul wanted the Thessalonians to know that those who are asleep - Christians who have died before Jesus returns - will by no means be at a disadvantage. Those who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede them. God will allow those who are asleep to share in the glory of the coming of the Lord.
i. “The living will have no advantage over those fallen asleep; they will not meet the returning Christ ahead of the dead, nor will they have any precedence in the blessedness at His coming.” (Hiebert)
ii. We who are alive means that Paul himself shared in this expectancy. It wasn’t because Paul had an erroneous promise of the return of Jesus in his lifetime. “More feasible is the solution that sees Paul setting an example of expectancy for the church of all ages. Proper Christian anticipation includes the imminent return of Christ.”
c. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout: When Jesus comes, He will come personally. The Lord Himself will descend, and come with a shout. The ancient Greek word for shout here is the same word used for a ship’s master command to his rowers, or a commander speaking to his soldiers. “Always there is the ring of authority and the note of urgency.” (Morris)
i. Apparently, there will be some audible signal that prompts this remarkable event. It may be all three descriptions (shout, voice, and trumpet) refer to the same sound, or there may be three distinct sounds. The rapture will not be silent or secret, though the vast majority of people may not understand the sound or its meaning.
ii. When Paul heard the heavenly voice on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:7; Act_22:9) his companions heard the sound of a voice, but they did not hear articulate words. They heard a sound but did not understand its meaning. It may well be that the shout/voice/trumpet sound that accompanies the rapture will have the same effect. The entire world will hear this heavenly sound but will have no idea what its meaning is.
d. With the voice of an archangel: This doesn’t mean that the Lord Himself is an archangel. The only one described as an archangel in the Bible is Michael (Jude 1:9). Paul means that when Jesus comes, He will come in the company of prominent angels.
i. With the voice of an archangel means that Paul clearly did not designate a specific archangel. “It is even possible that he does not mean that an archangel will actually say something, but simply that the voice that will be uttered will be a very great voice, an archangel type of voice.” (Morris)
e. With the trumpet of God: Believers are gathered with the trumpet of God. In the Old Testament, trumpets sounded the alarm for war, and threw the enemy into a panic, in the sense of the seven trumpets described in Numbers 10:9 and Revelation 8-9. Trumpets also sounded an assembly of God’s people, as in Leviticus 23:24 and Numbers 10:2. Here, the trumpet of God gathers together God’s people.
i. “It was by the sound of the trumpet that the solemn assemblies, under the law, were convoked; and to such convocations there appears to be here an allusion.” (Clarke)
ii. There are three other associations of trumpets and end-times events. One is the last trump of 1 Corinthians 15:52, which seems clearly to be connected with this same trumpet of 1 Thessalonians 4. The others are the seven trumpets which culminate at Revelation 11:15 and the trumpet gathering the elect of Israel at the end of the age in Matthew 24:31.
iii. Hiebert compares this trumpet of 1 Thessalonians 4 and the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 : “The subjects are different: here it is the church; there a wicked world. The results are different: here it is the glorious catching up of the church to be with the Lord; there it is further judgment upon a godless world. Here ‘the last trump’ signals the close of the life the church on earth; there the ‘seventh’ trumpet marks a climax in a progressive series of apocalyptic judgments upon the living on earth.”
iv. As to the trumpet of 1 Thessalonians 4 and the one mentioned in Matthew 24:31, we can also observe:
· The subjects are different: Matthew refers to Jewish believers during the great tribulation; Thessalonians refers to the church.
· The circumstances are different: Matthew refers to a regathering of the elect scattered over the earth, with no mention of resurrection; Thessalonians refers to the raising of the believing dead.
· The results are different: Matthew refers to living believers regathered from all over the earth at the command of their Lord who has returned to earth in open glory; Thessalonians refers to the uniting of the raised dead with the living believers to meet the Lord in the air.
f. And the dead in Christ will rise first: Paul’s point to the Thessalonians is clear. The prior dead in Christ will not be left out of either the resurrection or the return of Jesus. In fact, they will experience it first.
i. “It is only after the faithful departed have taken their place with the Lord that the saints on earth are caught up to be with Him, or more strictly, to be with them and meet Him.” (Morris)
ii. “ ‘The order of the resurrection,’ he says, ‘will begin with them. We therefore shall not rise without them.’” (Calvin)
g. Will rise first: Many wonder how are the dead in Christ raised are first. Some believe that they now have temporary bodies and await this resurrection. Others believe that they are now disembodied spirits who wait for resurrection. Still others conjecture that the dead in Christ experience their resurrection immediately.
i. There will come a day, when in God’s eternal plan, the dead in Christ will receive their resurrection bodies. Yet until that day, we are confident that the dead in Christ are not in some kind of soul sleep or suspended animation. Paul made it clear that to be absent from the body means to be present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8) Either the present dead in Christ are with the Lord in a spiritual body, awaiting their final resurrection body; or, because of the nature of timeless eternity, they have received their resurrection bodies already because they live in the eternal now.
ii. However God will do it, we are confident that His promise is true. “Though the bones be scattered to the four winds of heaven, yet, at the call of the Lord God, they shall come together again, bone to his bone . . . We doubt not that God will guard the dust of the precious sons and daughters of Zion” (Spurgeon)
4. (1 Thessalonians 4:17) Jesus comes to meet His Church.
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 thus we shall always be with the Lord.
a. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them: Those alive and remaining until this coming of Jesus are caught up to meet Jesus in the air, together with the dead in Jesus who have already risen.
i. The verb translated caught up here means to seize, or to carry off by force. “There is often the notion of a sudden swoop, and usually that of a force which cannot be resisted” (Morris). In the ancient Greek, the phrase to meet was used as a technical term to describe the official welcoming of honored guests.
ii. This passage is the basis for the New Testament doctrine of the rapture, the catching away of believers to be with Jesus. The word rapture is not in the ancient Greek text, but comes from the Latin Vulgate, which translates the phrase caught up with rapturus, from which we get our English word rapture.
iii. Paul’s statement, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is both dramatic and fantastic. He speaks of Christians flying upward, caught up . . . in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. We wouldn’t believe this unless the Bible told us it were so, not any more than we would believe that God who became a baby, that He did miracles, that He died on a cross and He lives in us.
iv. Paul’s language here is so straightforward and free from figurative speech that there is no missing his intent. “The Apostle’s declarations here are made in the practical tone of strict matter of fact, and are given as literal details . . . Never was a place where the analogy of symbolical apocalyptic language was less applicable. Either these details must be received by us as matter of practical expectation, or we must set aside the Apostle as one divinely empowered to teach the Church.” (Alford)
b. Shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: Paul’s plain language leaves no doubt regarding the certainty of this event. Yet the timing of this event in the chronology of God’s prophetic plan is a matter of significant debate among Christians.
i. Many - though certainly not all - Christians believe the Bible teaches that there will be an important seven-year period of history before the Battle of Armageddon and triumphant return of Jesus. The debate about this catching away centers on where it fits in with this final seven-year period, popularly known as the Great Tribulation, with reference to Matthew 24:21.
· The pre-tribulation rapture position believes believers are caught up before this final seven-year period.
· The mid-tribulation rapture position believes believers are caught up in the midst of this final seven-year period.
· The pre-wrath rapture position believes believers are caught up at some time in the second half of this final seven-year period.
· The post-tribulation rapture position believes believers are caught up at the end of this final seven-year period.
ii. The adherents of these different positions each believe their position is Biblical, and these differences of understanding should not make dividing lines of Christian fellowship. Nevertheless, this author’s opinion is that the pre-tribulation rapture position is Biblically correct. Even other references to the return of Jesus within 1-2 Thessalonians support this understanding:
· 1 Thessalonians 1:10 shows believers waiting for the return of Jesus. The clear implication is that they had hope of His imminent return, not the expectation of an imminent great tribulation.
· 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 assures us that those believers who died would share equally with the living in the events of the rapture and the resurrection, answering their fear that somehow the dead in Christ were at a disadvantage. But if Paul believed Christians would go through the great tribulation, he would count the dead in Christ as more fortunate than those living Christians who might very well have to endure the great tribulation. It would have been logical for Paul to comfort the Thessalonians with the idea that the dead in Jesus were better off because they won’t have to experience the great tribulation.
· 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10 comforts Christians enduring hardship, promising them a coming rest, while their persecutors will face certain judgment. But if Paul knew that the church was destined to pass through the great tribulation, it would have been more appropriate for him to warn these Christians about worse trials and suffering ahead, rather than hold the promise of a coming rest.
c. And thus we shall always be with the Lord: The manner in which Jesus will gather us to Himself is impressive. But the main point is that whatever the state of the Christians (dead or alive) at the Lord’s coming, they will always be with the Lord. This is the great reward of heaven - to be with Jesus. Death can’t break our unity with Jesus or with other Christians.
i. We shall always be with the Lord is an important truth with many implications.
· It implies continuation; it assumes you are already with the Lord.
· It implies hope for the dying; in death we shall still be with the Lord.
· It implies future confidence; after death we are with the Lord.
· It implies advancement; we will one day always be with the Lord.
ii. “We shall be so with him as to have no sin to becloud our view of him: the understanding will be delivered from all the injury which sin has wrought in it, and we shall know him even as we are known.” (Spurgeon)
5. (1 Thessalonians 4:18) The exhortation: comfort one another.
Therefore comfort one another with these words.
a. Therefore comfort one another: Paul did not tell them to take comfort, but to give comfort. In the way God works, we always receive comfort as we give it.
i. “Paul does not himself seek to comfort or encourage his readers but rather bids them actively to comfort or encourage ‘one another.’ The present imperative places upon them the continuing duty to do so, both in private conversation and in the public services.” (Hiebert)
b. With these words: The truth of the return of Jesus for His people, and the eternal union of Jesus and His people is to be a source of comfort for Christians.
i. This concluding statement of Paul only makes sense if the catching away of the previous verses actually delivers Christians from an impending danger. If the catching away only brings humanity to God for judgment, there is little comfort in these words, as understood by Clarke: “Strange saying! Comfort a man with the information that he is going to appear before the judgment-seat of God! Who can feel comfort from these words?”
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Galatians, Philippians, Philemon, 1 Thessalonians: Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament
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Ezekiel 1-19: Word Biblical Commentary [WBC]