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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
1 Thessalonians 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1-2

1 Thessalonians 4:1-2. Furthermore το λοιπον, as for what remains to be said, in subserviency to the important end of your being presented before God in the final judgment, perfected in holiness; we beseech you, by the Lord Jesus — By his authority, in his name, and for his sake; that as ye have received of us — While we were among you; how ye ought to walk — If you desire to adorn your Christian profession; so ye would abound more and more — Striving continually to make advances in every Christian grace and virtue. Here the apostle reminds the Thessalonian believers that from his first coming among them he had exhorted them to conduct themselves in a holy manner, if they wished to please and continue in the favour of the living and true God, in whom they had believed; and that he had explained to them the nature of that holiness which is acceptable to God. And the same method of exhortation and instruction he undoubtedly followed in all other cities and countries. For you know — You cannot but remember; what commandments we gave you — Commandments very different from those enjoined by the heathen priests, as pleasing to their pretended deities.


Verses 3-6

1 Thessalonians 4:3-6. For — As we solemnly assured you, and charged you to keep continually in remembrance; this is the will of God, your sanctification — That, as God hath chosen us from the rest of the world to be a people dedicated to his honour and service, we should not pollute ourselves with those abominations which are so common among the heathen, but that we should be perfectly holy in heart and life; and therefore, to mention one single branch of the contrary; that ye should abstain from fornication — And every other kind of lewdness, so commonly practised among those who are unacquainted with the true religion. This beautiful transition of the apostle, shows that nothing is so seemingly distant, or below our thoughts, but we have need to guard against it. That every one of you should know — Should learn and accustom himself to exercise that holy skill; how to possess his vessel — His body; for this word in some other passages signifies the body, (1 Peter 3:7 :) Giving honour to the wife as the weaker vessel. That is, as weaker in body. (1 Samuel 21:5,) And the vessels, bodies, of the young men are holy. The body was called by the Greeks and Romans a vessel, because it contains the soul, and is its instrument. The apostle’s meaning may be, Let every man consider his body as a vessel consecrated to the service of God, and let him dread the impiety of polluting it by any vile, dishonourable indulgence whatever, or by putting it to any base use. Or, as some think, by his vessel, he may mean his wife. In sanctification and honour — In a chaste and holy manner, answerable to that dignity which God has put upon it by making it his temple. Not in the lust of concupiscence εν παθει επιθυμιας, in the passion of lust; not indulging passionate desires; as the Gentiles — The heathen; who know not God — To any saving purpose; and are ignorant of that pure and sublime happiness which arises from contemplating, adoring, imitating, and having communion with him. That no man go beyond

The bounds of chastity, or of matrimony; or overreach, as some render υπερβαινειν; and defraud — Or, exceed toward, his brother, in any, or in the, matter — Namely, of which the apostle had been speaking. Beza, Le Clerc, and some others, understand this as a prohibition of injustice in general; but the context seems to determine its meaning to that kind of injury by which chastity is violated. Probably the apostle intended here to prohibit three things; fornication, (1 Thessalonians 4:3,) passionate desire, or inordinate affection in the married state, and the breach of the marriage contract. Because the Lord is the avenger of all such — Will severely punish all such gross misdeeds; as we also have forewarned you, &c. — As I formerly testified to you when I preached to you in Thessalonica. For God hath not called us — In so extraordinary a manner, and separated us from the rest of the world; to uncleanness — To leave us at liberty to defile ourselves with any kind of sin; but unto holiness — Of heart and life. He therefore that despiseth — The commandments we give by authority from God, and according to his will; despiseth not man — Only or chiefly; but God — Speaking in and by us; who hath also given unto us — Who are his divinely-commissioned teachers; his Holy Spirit — To guide us in what we deliver. What naked majesty of words! how oratorical, and yet with how great simplicity! a simplicity that does not impair, but improve the understanding to the utmost; that, like the rays of heat through a glass, collects all the powers of reason into one orderly point, from being scattered abroad in utter confusion!


Verses 9-12

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12. As touching brotherly love — That peculiar affection which one disciple of Christ owes to another; ye need not so much that I should write unto you; for ye yourselves — Independent of any teaching of mine; are taught of God — By his Spirit; to love one another — In an especial manner, even with pure hearts fervently, 1 Peter 1:22. And indeed ye do it — And not only with respect to the brethren in your own city, but toward all who are in Macedonia — All the believers in that province, relieving them in their necessities according to your ability. But we beseech you that ye increase more and more — In this divine and necessary endowment. And that ye study — Literally, that ye be ambitious, to be quiet — To live quietly in the practice of those peaceful and humble virtues which suit the genius of Christianity; an ambition worthy of a follower of Jesus: and to do your own business — Without meddling, uncalled, with the concerns of others; and to work with your own hands — Not a needless caution; for to attend to temporal matters is often a cross to them whose hearts have been lately filled with the love of God. That ye walk honestlyευσχημονως, decently, as becomes Christians; toward them that are without — The enclosure of the church; that they may have no pretence to say, (but they will say it still,) “This religion makes men idle, and brings them to beggary.” And that ye may have lack of nothing — Needful for life and godliness: more than which no Christian should desire, unless that he may have wherewith to supply the wants of others.


Verse 13

1 Thessalonians 4:13. I would not have you ignorant, brethren — The apostle had intimated, (1 Thessalonians 3:10,) that he desired to make them another visit at Thessalonica, in order to perfect that which was lacking in their faith. Perhaps what he now proceeds to say was part of what he wanted to teach them, as not having seen it proper when he was with them to enter into such discoveries as are here made. But having been informed that they lamented over their dead with immoderate sorrow, and perhaps that they hired mourners on such occasions, and were even apt to repine at the divine providence for taking their pious friends and relatives from them, he here proceeds to give them information well calculated to support and comfort them in such circumstances. Concerning them who are asleep των κεκοιμημενων, who have slept; who have departed this life. The death of the body is termed its sleep, because it suspends the exercise of all the animal functions, closes all its senses, and is a cessation of all motion and feeling in it; and because it shall be followed by a reviviscence to a more vigorous and active life than it now enjoys. That ye sorrow not — Immoderately: herein the efficacy of Christianity greatly appears, that it neither takes away nor imbitters, but sweetly tempers, that most refined of all affections, our desire of, or love to the dead. As others — Who are unacquainted with the truths of the gospel. It was the custom of the heathen, on the death of their relations, to make a show of excessive grief, by shaving their heads, and cutting their flesh, (Leviticus 19:27-28,) and by loud howlings and lamentations. They even hired persons, who had it for a trade to make these howlings and cries. But this show of excessive grief, as well as the grief itself, being inconsistent with that knowledge of the state of the dead, and with that hope of their resurrection, which the gospel gives to mankind, the apostle forbade it, and comforted the Thessalonians by foretelling and proving Christ’s return to the earth, to raise the dead, and carry the righteous with him into heaven. Who have no hope — Many of the heathen entertained a kind of belief of a future state, but that belief being derived from nothing but an obscure tradition, the origin of which they could not trace, or from their own wishes, unsupported by any demonstrative reasoning, could scarcely be called belief or hope, and had very little influence on their conduct. See note on Ephesians 2:12. Add to this, none of them had any knowledge or expectation that the righteous, or virtuous, would be raised from the dead with glorious, immortal, incorruptible bodies, and taken to heaven; neither had they any conception of the employments and enjoyments of that immortal state. St. Paul’s discourse, therefore, concerning these grand events, must have given much consolation to the Thessalonians under the death of their relations, as it assured them that if they all died in Christ, they should all meet again, and spend an endless life in complete happiness, never more to part. In this light death is only a temporary separation of friends, which is neither to be dreaded nor regretted. Concerning our knowing one another after the resurrection, see on 1 Thessalonians 2:20.


Verse 14

1 Thessalonians 4:14. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again — Namely, 1st, In attestation of the truth of his doctrine, in which he taught expressly the immortality of the soul, Matthew 10:28; Luke 23:43; and the resurrection of the body, John 5:28-29. 2d, For the expiation of sin, and the procuring of justification and peace with God for the penitent that should believe in him, however guilty they had before been, Hebrews 9:26; Romans 4:24-25. 3d, That he might procure and receive for us the Holy Spirit, to work that repentance and faith in us, assure us of our justification and of our title to that future felicity, and to prepare us for it by inward holiness; and, 4th, That he might ascend, take possession of it in our name, receive our departing souls, and raise from the dust our fallen and corrupted bodies, and so exalt us to that immortal, glorious, and blessed state; even so them also which sleep in Jesus — Who die in the Lord, (Revelation 14:13,) in union with him, and possessed of an interest in him; will God bring with him — They will be found in the train of his magnificent retinue at his final appearance, when he comes to judge the world, and reward his faithful servants.


Verse 15

1 Thessalonians 4:15. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord — By a particular revelation from him. No words, as Dr. Doddridge observes, can more plainly assert that, in what follows, the apostle declares precisely what God revealed to him, and consequently that there can be no room for any such interpretation of this passage, as supposed him to be at all mistaken in any circumstance of the account he gives. That we who are alive and remain — This manner of speaking intimates the fewness of those who will be then alive, compared with the multitude of the dead. It is well observed, says Whitby, by the Greek scholiasts, that the apostle speaks these words, not of himself, but of the Christians that should be found alive at the second coming of Christ: so Chrysostom, Theodoret, Œcumenius, and Theophylact; for he well knew that he was not to live till the resurrection: yea, he himself expected a resurrection, saying to the Corinthians, He that raised up the Lord Jesus, shall raise up us also by Jesus, and present us with you, 2 Corinthians 4:14. He laboured that he might attain to the resurrection of the dead, Philippians 3:11. Yet some divines have inferred, from this and some other places in the epistles, that the apostles themselves thought and taught, that they might live until the second coming of Christ; and that St. Paul afterward changed his opinion on this subject, and admonished the Thessalonians of it, 2 Thessalonians 2:2-6. But this certainly is a dangerous mistake, and highly prejudicial to the authority of the apostles, and therefore to the Christian faith. Indeed, if the churches of Christ had once received this doctrine from them, and afterward had understood, even from their own confession, that it was a mistake, this would naturally have led them to conceive that the apostles might have been mistaken also in any other doctrine, and to suspect the truth of all that was contained in their epistles. This the apostle seems to insinuate, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2. But that this apostle taught no such doctrine in either of his epistles to the Thessalonians, will be exceeding evident, 1st, From the following words in that chapter, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Let no man deceive you by any means, declaring them deceivers who either taught this doctrine, or imposed it on them as taught by the apostles; and also having said, in opposition to such an opinion, that day was not to come till there was a falling away first, adding, Remember you not that when I was yet with you I told you these things? He therefore had taught them the contrary before he had written either of these epistles, and, of consequence, cannot rationally be supposed to contradict himself. 2d, From the very words used in proof of this opinion, which are introduced with this solemn declaration, This we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, &c., in which words he most plainly vouches the authority of Christ for the truth of what he says; and therefore, if he were mistaken, either our Lord himself must have erred with him, or the apostle must vouch Christ’s word, and his authority, when Christ had spoken no such word, and given him no authority to declare such doctrine in his name; both which assertions overthrow the certainty and truth of all St. Paul’s epistles. And hence it follows that the apostle could not deliver this assertion in any other of his epistles, for all the learned agree in this, that these epistles to the Thessalonians were the first epistles St. Paul wrote; whence it must follow that he could not deliver, in his following writings to that church, or any other churches, that doctrine which he had so industriously before confuted, and declared very dangerous, in his epistle to the church of Thessalonica.

The truth is, such expressions as these, we who are alive, (1 Thessalonians 4:15,) we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, &c., (1 Corinthians 15:51,) are not to be understood of the writers themselves: they are mere figures of speech used by the best authors to draw their readers’ attention, or to soften some harsh or disagreeable sentiment; without intending to represent themselves either as of the number, or of the character, of the persons with whom they class themselves. Thus Hosea says, (Hosea 12:4,) God spake with US in Bethel; and the psalmist, (Psalms 66:6,) WE rejoiced, namely, at the Red sea, when divided; and, (Psalms 81:5,) I heard a language I understood not, that is, in Egypt, though neither were in existence at the times when the facts referred to happened. This figure in the mouth of Christ’s disciples has a singular propriety, because all of them making but one collective body, of which Christ is the Head, and which is united by the mutual love of all the members, individuals may consider every thing happening to the members of this body, as happening to themselves. We shall not prevent — Or anticipate; them who are asleep — Shall not receive our glorified bodies before them.


Verses 16-18

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. The Lord himself — The Lord Christ, arrayed in all his own glory, and in that of his Father; shall descend from heaven — “This expression does not imply that the Lord Jesus will fix his tribunal on the earth; but that he will descend so as to fix his seat in the air, at such distance from the earth that every eye shall see him, and every ear shall hear his voice, when he passes the awful sentence by which their state shall be unchangeably fixed. This conjecture is confirmed by 1 Thessalonians 4:17, where we are told that, after the judgment, the righteous shall be caught up in clouds to join the Lord in the air.” — Macknight. With a shout — Raised by millions of happy attendant spirits. The word κελευσματι, so rendered, denotes the shout which the soldiers of an army used to make at their first onset to encourage one another in the attack; it is therefore used with great propriety to express the loud acclamation which the whole angelical hosts will utter to express their joy at the coming of Christ to raise the dead and judge the world. The voice of the, or rather, (as the article is wanting in the original,) an archangel — He, probably, who will preside over that innumerable company of angels who are to attend Christ when he comes to judge the world. And the trump of God — Sounding, doubtless, with more loud and terrible blasts than those uttered on mount Sinai when the law was given. Perhaps the voice of God himself is meant, or a great and terrible sound made by attendant angels, analogous to that of a trumpet. This circumstance is mentioned likewise 1 Corinthians 15:52, where see the note. And as Theodoret remarks, If the loud sound of the trumpet, when the law was given from mount Sinia, especially when it sounded long, and waxed continually louder and louder, was so dreadful to the Israelites, that they said to Moses, Let not the Lord speak to us lest we die; how terrible must the sound of this trumpet be, which calls all men to that final judgment that will determine their lot for ever! And the dead in Christ — Those that had departed this life in a state of union with, and conformity to him; who had received his Spirit in its various graces, and imitated his example; shall rise first — Shall spring forth out of their graves in forms of glory, to the infinite astonishment of the surviving world, before the rest of the dead are raised, or the living saints are changed. Then we who are alive — Those in Christ who are found living at his coming; shall be caught up — That is, after their bodies are changed and rendered glorious and immortal; together with them — Namely, with the saints now raised, while the wicked remain beneath. What is intended by the expression caught up, Dr. Scott (Christ. Life, vol. 3. pp. 1, 204) thinks shall be effected by the activity of the glorified bodies of the righteous. But this opinion does not seem consistent with the original word, αρπαγησομεθα, here used, which implies the application of an external force. Doubtless they shall be caught up by a mighty and instantaneous operation of the divine power; to meet the Lord in the region of the air — Where his throne shall then be erected; and there, having been openly acknowledged and acquitted by him, they shall be assessors with him in that judgment to which wicked men and angels are there to be brought forth; and when the final sentence is passed upon them, shall accompany their re-ascending Saviour. And so shall we ever be with the Lord — Where we shall spend a blissful eternity ill the sight and participation of his glory. Wherefore — Make these grand events the subject of your frequent meditation; and when your hearts are distressed with grief for the loss of your pious friends, or on any other occasion which can arise in this mortal life; comfort one another with these words — The tenor of which is so important, and the truth contained in them so certain, as being taught by the infallible dictates of the Spirit of God, and revealed to us by him, from whose fidelity, power, and grace, we expect this complete salvation.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/1-thessalonians-4.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 12th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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