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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
1 Thessalonians 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-18

The end of Chapter 3 has encouraged their abounding love. Here the apostle adds to this the entreaty that they abound in obedience. No amount of love can make up for a disobedient walk, for love and obedience necessarily go together. A child's love for its parent is only convincing where there is an obedient character. They had seen consistent Christianity in the example of the servants of God and had received godly instruction by word of mouth. This had already taken good effect, but we must not be satisfied with any measure of progress. Faith would stir us always to "abound more and more." Notice again in these verses the name "The Lord Jesus." It is a tender appeal rather than any suggestion of a preemptory demand, though indeed "com­mandments" that faith could never ignore.

Verses 3 to 6. Nothing can be more precious than the will of God to an obedient heart. If we know a certain thing is the will of God, do we not wholeheartedly desire to do this -without any direct command to do so? This certainly should settle any matter for the child of God. But His will is our sanctification. Since it is true that "we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10), and also that the Lord Jesus prays, "Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth" (John 17:17), it is certainly evident that this is God's will. In Hebrews 10:1-39 the position of the believer is that

of being sanctified, or set apart as sacred to God. In John 17:1-26 sanctification is seen as a progressive work in the soul, for the prospering of which the Lord prays. Then certainly it is only right and proper that the believer should willingly sanctify himself to God in practice.

This involves abstaining from fornication. His body is for the Lord, not for corrupt purposes, a vessel to be possessed in separation from evil and in honorable devotion to the Lord. All passionate desire is to be judged and firmly turned from. These things might be prevalent among "the Gentiles which know not God," but the Christian is of a completely different character. The possessing of his vessel applies to all the conduct of the believer, and verse 6 warns against going beyond the bounds of propriety to defraud or oppress one's brother in any matter. In whatever relationships we may be placed we must be careful to respect the proper responsibilities of such relationship. It would, of course, be easier to take advantage of one's brother than of a stranger (cf. 1 Timothy 6:2), but this is sin. "The Lord is the Avenger of all such," and of this they had been warned by Paul beforehand.

Uncleanness is here put in contrast to holiness. It is not only righteousness to which we are called, but holiness, which involves the love of what is good and the hatred of evil. Righteousness does not require such feelings as this, but the believer must be holy as well as righteous. If we should think lightly of unseemly conduct, this is not simply despising men's opinions but despising God Himself who, in the very fact of giving us His Holy Spirit has provided the power to both discern and to refuse uncleanness.

As to the fact of brotherly love it is God Himself, by the implantation of the divine nature, who teaches saints to love one another. They had no need that Paul should teach them this. In fact in all Macedonia their hearts went out to others who were redeemed by the blood of Christ and the apostle rejoiced in the manifest exercise of such love. Nevertheless it was needful that he beseech them to "increase more and more." Though he had told them practically the same thing in ch. 3:12, yet this was necessary again. It is similar in Philippians in regard to joy in the Lord (Philippians 3:1). For how easily it seems that true joy in the Lord can wane rather than increase, and love toward others become feeble in its exercise rather than to abound. Such exhortation we constantly need.

But again, to "study to be quiet, and to work with your own hands" was important. The thrill of a newfound faith, the excitement of a wonderfully prosperous work of God, might too easily occupy souls. There must be a settling, a learning to quietly estimate things rightly and soberly. This studying therefore is a true, consistent application of the heart. Work with the hands is, of course, a good balancing factor to keep souls from a one-sided type of emotional Christianity. The reality of their faith would be proven to "them that are without" by an honest walk steadily maintained. This was to be diligently cultivated. The latter part of verse 12 may be translated "and that ye may have need of no one," that is, that they would not be dependent upon men.

The subject of the rapture of the saints at the coming of the Lord Jesus is one of a number concerning which Paul would not have us ignorant. There was real need of enlightenment as to this subject, for the truths here found had not before been revealed. But no doubt the sorrow of the saints at Thessalonica was made the occasion of this wonderful revelation. Evidently some among them had already departed to be with Christ, though it was so short a time since they had been converted to God. Suffering persecution as they did, it may, of course, have been possible that some were martyred. The apostle had taught them that, in accordance with Old Testament teaching, the Lord Jesus would come in glory to judge the world, and that the saints would be with Him in this marvelous. event. Now they had suffered the sorrow of some of their number having passed away, and they evidently feared that these would therefore not have part with the Lord Jesus in His coming in glory. But the apostle assures them that there is no reason to sorrow for these sleeping saints as they might for others who had died without mercy. He appeals to the blessed truth of the death and resurrection of Christ as a basis for the comfort he gives them. If He had risen again then those who had "fallen asleep in Jesus" could be certain to also come with Him in glory. But how could this be? To answer this question required a new and definite revelation of God, and this is now for the first time communicated by Paul, beginning with verse 15.

This was a direct "word of the Lord" through the apostle, just as he had also received a direct revelation from the Lord as to the Lord's supper (1 Corinthians 11:23), and another concerning the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers as members of the one body of Christ (Ephesians 3:1-13).

Historically this event of the rapture of saints to glory will take place seven years before the coming of the Lord in power and glory "with His saints," but these are commonly looked at as two aspects of His coming rather than as two "comings."

But those who are living when the Lord comes will have no priority whatever on this account. Those who have previously died in Christ will have the same blessed place of privilege as they. Two verses show us the marvel of events connected with this proper and blessed hope of saints of God today.

First theLord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout. It is a personal, real coming of our Lord in bodily form, just as "Jesus Himself" drew near and went with the two on the way to Emmaus following His bodily resurrection (Luke 24:15); or just as "Jesus Himself" appeared bodily in the upper room on the same evening (Luke 24:36). It will be no vision or apparition, but a bodily coming of the blessed Lord Himself. "All that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth" (John 5:28-29). Of course at the first resurrection it will be only believers who hear that voice and come forth. Later the ungodly will hear it also and come forth to the judgment of the great white throne. The first is a resurrection "from among the dead," just as Lazarus alone was raised by the powerful voice of the Son of God.

"With the voice of the archangel" is added here. Only Michael is referred to in Scripture as "the archangel" (Judges 1:9). Whether there may be others we cannot say. Since Michael is called Israel's "prince" (Daniel 10:21), and the dispensation of law was "ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator" (Galatians 3:19), it has been suggested that the archangel's voice may have some connection with the raising of Old Testament saints at the coming of the Lord. Whether this is so it would seem unwise to judge, however, without more solid grounds. But at least the occasion is seen to be one of great angelic rejoicing.

"The trump of God" is also heard, and this is a divine, declared testimony. It will be "the last trump" (1 Corinthians 15:52) so far as the assembly on earth is concerned. The seven trumpets of Revelation are of a different order, for they are those of judgment, bearing a clarion testimony to a world in rebellion against God. This "trump of God," however, is to be heard by saints, who by this are to be gathered together unto the Lord. It seems clear that, as others have pointed out, this connects with Numbers 10:4, where the blowing of one trumpet was the signal for gathering the princes of Israel unto Moses. The saints so gathered, of course, are to reign with Christ, and for this reason are represented as princes. The gathering of "all the assembly to Moses at the door of the tabernacle, on the other hand, by the blowing of both trumpets would speak apparently of the regathering of Israel for millennial blessing (Numbers 10:3).

"And the dead in Christ shall rise first," that is, they rise before the living are caught up in order that all may be "caught up together." Corinthians 15 supplies the fact that "we shall be changed" (verse 52). For if the dead are raised incorruptible, then our condition must, of course, conform to theirs in incorruptibility, and immortality. No doubt this refers directly to our bodily condition, while 1 John 3:2 adds, "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." This is, of course, far more than bodily, but moral and spiritual conformity to His image.

"Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." In perfect unison thus all the saints shall meet Him. Wonderful joy indeed! In those very clouds that have once obscured heaven from earth we shall meet Hirn, and in the atmosphere above the earth's level. Let the world argue about the physical impossibility of this great prospect. We shail experience it while they weary their minds and tongues with idle speculations and unbelieving questions. "So shall we ever be with the Lord." This is clear enough that our portion is eternally heavenly - in the Father's house, with the Lord, where He is, not to leave His presence again to return to live on earth, as some have imagined. Certainly there will be an earthly people but those who have been taken by our Lord to heaven, the Father's house, will have this as their permanent abode.

"Wherefore, comfort one another with these words." Blessed theme of pure comfort and encouragement!

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/1-thessalonians-4.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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