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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
1 Thessalonians 4

 

 

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Verse 1

PART SECOND.

THE PROSPECTIVE AND HORTATORY SECTION, 1 Thessalonians 4:1 to 1 Thessalonians 5:28.

1. Exhortation to sanctification, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8.

1. Furthermoreλοιπον ουν. Finally, then. The writer has finished the history, and proposes to conclude; but his conclusion, in the glow of thought, becomes nearly as long as his history. The then, or therefore, indicates that this second, or hortatory part, is deduced from the first part, and specially from 1 Thessalonians 3:13, the stablish… holiness.

Beseech you… and exhort—Literally, we ask you, as a favour; and we exhort you as your duty. By—Rather, in. It is not adjuratory, but states the exhortation to be in Jesus.

How—Literally, the how; the method and type of the new Christian holiness, unknown to the world hitherto.

Abound—If we have the true type of holiness, we cannot be too holy, although we may make too high a profession; and we may change the type by giving it an overdoing spirit. The true type recognises the proper modifications.


Verse 2

2. For ye know—Again appealing to their memories as to the how enjoined by the commandments which he gave in his preaching while with them. By—Rather, through Jesus; as their moral commandments were first given by him.


Verse 3

3. For this—To sum up the whole of these commandments.

Will— Without the Greek article, a will. So Bengel, “Many are God’s wills or volitions. Acts 13:22.” But it is a very dangerous distinction which some theologians make, (as Barnes here,) between God’s decree or “secret will,” and his commandments or “revealed will;” as if God decreed one thing and commanded its opposite.

Sanctification—Holiness; avoidance of evil and practice of good, through the blessed guidance and aid.

Abstain from fornication—Which abstain is a particular branch of sanctification; the negative, of which 1 Thessalonians 4:4 gives the positive.


Verse 4

4. Vessel—Some ancient and most modern commentators (including Wesley and Clarke) understand by this word wife; our translators, the Vulgate, and many commentators, understand the body. If the meaning be wife, then Paul’s advice is, avoid fornication by getting a wife and living in chaste matrimony. The authority for this import of the term vessel is not strong. It is used in that sense by the Rabbies, but not by St. Paul or any sacred writer. Lunemann argues vigorously for that meaning here, quoting the usual Rabbinical passages. So Megilla on Esther 1:11, thus comments: “At Ahasuerus’ feast, certain impious persons said that the Medic ladies were the more beautiful; others the Persian. Said Ahasuerus to them, “My vessel, which I use, is neither Medic nor Persic, but Chaldaic.’” That Paul ever was aware of this import is not hereby proved: and certain it is he never elsewhere uses the word vessel in the sense of wife, or of exclusively the female sex. When with him vessel means person, it is either masculine or belongs to either sex. Acts 9:15, “a chosen vessel;” Romans 9:21, “vessel unto honour;” 22, “vessels of wrath;”

23, “vessels of mercy;” 2 Corinthians 4:7, “earthen vessels;” 2 Timothy 2:21, “vessel unto honour.” The words of 1 Peter 3:7, which seem to limit the term to the female sex, really do the reverse. That passage simply affirms that of the two vessels, male and female, the female is “the weaker” one. The biblical import of the word, therefore, seems to be strongly against the word wife or woman, and in favour of person or body.

But the Greek of the word possess does signify acquire, get possession of, purchase, rather than simply possess. It not only suits the idea, get a wife, but is, in fact, used in Ruth 4:10 (Septuagint) to signify getting a wife by purchase. The word might, indeed, be used to signify get possession, morally, of your body, and hold it to the law of chastity; but no so striking case of this ethical sense can be quoted as the above marital one of getting a wife. So far as this word is concerned, the argument is favourable to the latter meaning. The phrase in sanctification and honour is most suitable to the mastery of the body, and the application to which that mastery is to be positively directed: just as the next phrase, next verse, describes the negative application.


Verse 5

5. Master your body and use it not in the lust, or passion, of concupiscence, or sensual appetite. This seems to give the balance very decisively in the sense of body. Before vessel, however, the Greek has the word own, omitted by our translators. From this Lunemann strongly argues from the antithesis between having a wife of your own and meddling with other women. But, in spite of his logic, the answer of Olshausen is valid. Nothing material is more a man’s own than his body; and St. Paul might well emphasize the thought that every man should take care of the purity of his own. The strongest argument in favour of the meaning wife. is 1 Corinthians 7:2. Let every man have his own wife; which looks very strongly like a parallel passage, a saying the same thing in slightly different words.

As the Gentiles—Who not only were licentious, and often made a boast of license, but even transformed it into a religious rite.

Know not God—They know Jupiter, Mars, and Venus, the impersonation of their own ambition, war, and lust; but God, who wills your sanctification, they know not.


Verse 6

6. The verbs go and beyond, here, know, 1 Thessalonians 4:4, and abstain, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, are three co-ordinates, all unfolding the branches of sanctification of 1 Thessalonians 4:3. This third branch implies purity from business frauds.

Go beyond— Overrun, or overreach his brother. That is, his brother Christian: but Lunemann well remarks, that St. Paul applies the precept to the treatment of Christians, not because he would not include all other men, but the Christian circle is what he has in his present view.

In any—Rather, the.

MatterThe business matter at any time in hand. See Winer’s New Testament Grammar on the phrase. We prefer, with Lunemann, against Alford, to interpret this verse of business fraud, rather than overreaching, etc., in sexual matters, because the Greek words lie in the former line of thought; because it supposes a less arbitrary complication of iniquity than the other; and because, in a community so full of commercial greed as well as license as Thessalonica, we can hardly suppose that St. Paul’s reproof would be confined to the last alone.

Avenger—Punisher of all such as are guilty of fornication and fraud.

Forewarned—The fore, says Lunemann, means before the execution of the judgment; the past tense warned places the utterance of the warning at St. Paul’s first visit.


Verse 7

7. For—Ground of these warnings.

Not called us—Says Erasmus, (quoted by Lunemann,) “God has not called us under the law that we should be impure, since, indeed, the very cause and condition of our calling is, that we should cease to be what we once were.”

Uncleanness—Impurity; primarily applicable to sexual impurity, but capable of including any moral contamination, as here of both adultery and fraud. These were closely allied vices, and, to the chaste and unselfish mind of the apostle, both were a foul stain upon the body and soul.


Verse 8

8. Despiseth—These warnings of vengeance upon all violations of the law of purity in sex and business.

Not man—Though I am but a man, who declare the law.

But God—Who is real author of the law.

Holy Spirit— By which he both inspires this declaration and bears it home upon the conscience.


Verse 9

2. Exhortation to brotherly love and quietness, 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12.

9. But… ye need—How was there need to write so fully and severely in regard to lust and fraud as in the last paragraph, and nothing in regard to brotherly love? Not, we may reply, because here, as in the Corinthian Church, there had been any flagrant outbreak of lust or any fornicator to excommunicate. So far as public notoriety was concerned, it was in this respect a blameless Church. But, 1. The paragraph upon these two vices is preventive rather than corrective. It seeks by the most solemn warnings to forestall future vice rather than to rebuke the past. 2. The law of chastity, according to the new life, needed to be laid down with the awfulness of the penalty on transgression. Heathenism had made the crime trivial, jocular, rather smart, and even religious and right. All this must Christianity reverse, and place it among the most heinous sins, and subject it to the most fearful penalties. But as to brotherly love, the Christians were taught of God, or, in a single Greek compound, God-taught. The first inspiration of spiritual life was love to Christ and love to the image of Christ in the Christian brother. It was the God-given instinct of the Christian being, and they needed no formal law or prescribed penalty.


Verse 10

10. Ye do it—Timothy had seen it and reported.

More and more—What you have is of the right sort; let it richly abound.


Verse 11

11. Study to be quiet—A slight caution against what has perhaps alloyed the purity or endangered the continuance of this love. Harmonious love cannot well endure and abound unless each one keeps his place and performs well each his respective part. Love can hardly exist among a community of idlers, and pauper parasites upon others’ bounty.

Do your own business—It would seem as if some of the Church imposed upon the liberality of others, neglecting industry, and looking in some degree to donations for a support. Lunemann objects that this supposes the Church divided into two classes of givers and takers. But it only implies that there were some known to Timothy who negligently depended too much on the liberality of their brethren, and so endangered the harmony and love of the Church. There is no allusion, either here or in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, to any influence derived from the expectation of the immediate advent of Christ as producing this neglect of business. At the time of writing this first epistle, indeed, it does not appear that Paul understood that there was any commotion about the immediate Coming. Evidently Timothy had brought him no such information. On the contrary, the excitement therefrom arose after this epistle, and not from St. Paul’s previous preaching, but from causes detailed in the second chapter of the second epistle.

With your own hands—As Auberlen (in Lange’s Bibel-Werk) suggests, the Thessalonians were doubtless mostly handicraftsmen. And we may add the idlers, predisposed to live upon others, were, no doubt, all hand workers. Paul, therefore, here utters no rebuke on brain workers, who are as truly workers as mechanics are.

As we commanded you—And set the example. 2 Thessalonians 3:8-10.


Verse 12

12. Honestly—Reputably; securing the respect of heathen that are without the Church. Even in his first preaching, irrespective of any special tendencies to idleness in the Church, St. Paul had made effort to form the new Christians into models of regular, conscientious industry, in the midst of Greek idleness, in order to impress and correct the outside world.

May have lack of nothing—So that there may be no Christian mendicants, and no pagans to taunt the Christians as loungers or vagrants.


Verse 13

3. Exhortation to composure in regard to lately deceased brethrensince they will not be overlooked at Christ’s coming, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

13. But—This is the earliest written part of St. Paul’s apocalypse. See notes on 1 Corinthians 15. The commentator needs search for no occult connexion between this and the previous paragraph, for St. Paul here introduces an entirely new topic. It was suggested, we suppose, by information derived from Timothy, or some other comer from Thessalonica, of the state of feeling among some mourning Christians there who feared that their lately deceased Christian friends would lose their blessed share in the glorious advent of Christ.

One is tempted to ask in surprise, Could it he that the apostle preached there more than three weeks, and gave glowing descriptions of the coming of Christ, (Acts 17:2-4, and notes,) and never described the resurrection? Were those Thessalonians really ignorant of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead? Olshausen vainly supposes that they understood the final resurrection of all mankind, but feared that none but living Christians would share the glorious first resurrection one thousand years earlier than the final. But, first, There is no mention ever made by St.

Paul of two bodily resurrections, or of any intervening thousand-year period, nor any indication that he ever held any such doctrine. Second, It is difficult to conceive how they could have imagined any such first resurrection without including, what is held to be its very purpose and essence, the glory of all believers therein.

But it is not so easy to fix in the mind and memory of a series of miscellaneous audiences of pagan hearers an entire new system of Christian doctrine in a brief time. Some will hear a particular doctrine explained, others not. Some will remember; others not. So that important blanks will remain. And St. Paul preached to the living; and many would forget that the dead were concerned. And it is remarkable that some of the most vivid and extended descriptions of the last day in the New Testament omit the resurrection. Such is the case in our Lord’s great discourse in Matthew 24, 25. Such in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10. The resurrection, as Auberlen remarks, was a difficult thought for the Greek mind to take in. It is possible, also, that these doubting mourners were but a small part of the Church, and many of them even new converts from heathendom who had never heard St. Paul. We can easily conceive, therefore, that there should be those who feared that a scene like 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10, might concern the living only, and not the dead.

Have… ignorant—Paul’s habitual formula in negative or positive shape of starting a new topic. “I would that ye knew.” Colossians 2:1. “I would not that ye should be ignorant.” 1 Corinthians 10:1. So 1 Corinthians 11:3, and Philippians 1:12.

Are asleep—More literally, “have fallen asleep,” as if alluding to the lately deceased. The idea of sleep is vividly impressed upon the imaginations of all persons who gaze upon the face and form of one lying in the stillness of death. This impression, however pertains properly only to the body, and the word in Scripture, authorizes no belief of “the sleep of the soul.” In fact, even in our natural sleep, the soul may be in one sense unsleeping. While the body is lying in perfect stillness, the mind may be roaming the world in dreams. And that striking fact has served to keep alive among barbarous tribes the belief in the separateness and immortality of spirit.

Sorrow not… as—He does not forbid sorrow, but would prevent that sorrow of despair rising from no hope of immortality.

No hope—In the most primitive ages the Egyptians retained, probably from original tradition, a vivid belief in a resurrection of the body. It was this belief that largely inspired the practice of embalming the body, as if thereby the resurrection would be facilitated. The mission of Moses seemed to be to draw out the doctrine of God and reconciliation with him by atonement for sin, and even the doctrine of immortality was left in the background. The earlier classic ages believed in Elysium and Tartarus. But as speculation grew powerful, tradition grew dim, and faith declined and left no hope. See notes, 1 Corinthians 15. Nothing in all poetry is more pathetic than the lines of the Greek Moschus, ending with “we shall sleep the long, limitless, unawakable slumber.” Theocritus says, “There are hopes in the living, but hopeless are the dead.” AEschylus, “Of the once dead there is no resurrection.” And the pagan epitaphs are often sentences of everlasting extinction. Says Mr. Withrow in his work on the Catacombs:

“Domus aeterna, an eternal home, and Somno aeternali, in eternal sleep, are written on their tombs, frequently accompanied by an inverted torch, the emblem of despair.” So also “Infanti dulcissimo quem Dii irati aeterno somno dederunt—To a very sweet child, whom the angry gods gave to eternal sleep.” And so, with a sad gayety, “While I lived, I lived well. My play is now ended, soon yours will be. Farewell and applaud me.”— Catacombs, pp. 435, 438.


Verse 14

14. Jesus died—Both here and in 1 Corinthians 15:3, Paul says died of Christ; but sleep of the saints. An indication that in accordance with the spirit of Christianity he sees in sleep a thought of the waking. Even with hopeful pagans this emblem was used. A Greek epitaph says, “He sleeps; say not the good can die.” Our Lord in John 11:11, and other places, naturalized this language in Christianity. The Catacombs, those cities of the dead saints of the first centuries, cut beneath the surface of the earth in the soft rock, are made morally luminous by the spirit of purity and hopefulness pervading the epitaphs. The image of hopeful sleep is predominant. “Zoticus hic ad dormiendum—Zoticus here laid to sleep; Dormitio Elpidis—The sleeping place of Elpis; Dormivit et Requiescit— He has slept and is at rest.”—Catacombs, p. 430. The true life and glory of the spirit above, as contrasted with the corpse and sepulchre, are thus indicated: “She departed, desiring to ascend to the ethereal light of heaven.” “Here sleeps in the sleep of peace the sweet and innocent Severianus, whose spirit is received into the light of the Lord.” “Here rests in the sleep of peace Mala.… Received into the presence of God.”— Catacombs, pp. 427, 8. These passages record the testimony of the early Church. 1. To the essential distinction of body and soul; the duality of man’s constituted nature: 2. To the supernal existence of the soul above, while the body lies in the tomb below; a denial of the sleep of the soul: 3.

To the resurrection of the same body; as the body that wakes is the same body that sleeps.

Sleep in—Or rather, through Jesus. But how can the saints be said to be dead through Christ. Most commentators seem to think it to be too refined to make Paul say that their death is made to be a sleep through Jesus. They, therefore, connect through with bring, and read, God will, through Jesus, bring them with him; bring them, that is, from the grave into resurrection. But Alford argues, that inasmuch as sleep is spoken of Christian death alone, Paul truly means that so blessed a distinction is through Christ. Wordsworth plausibly renders it, “those who have been laid asleep, sommo compositos, through Jesus.”

Will… bring— That is, from their graves, back to us, which are alive.


Verse 15

15. Word of the Lord—Some understand the words of Christ in Matthew 24:31. Others refer the phrase to the meeting of the bridegroom by the sleeping virgins. Others, to a tradition of Christ’s declaration. Lunemann parallels it to “the word of the Lord” in 1 Kings 20:35, and interprets it, correctly, of a special revelation to St. Paul. So Galatians 1:12; Galatians 2:2; Ephesians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 12:1. We— Lunemann and Alford utter more forcible protest than argument in behalf of the supposition that this word demonstrates St. Paul’s expectation to be one of the alive at the Parousia. Note on 1 Corinthians 15:51.

Shall not prevent—Shall not go before. The old English meaning of the word; which comes from pre, before, and venire, to go. One may go before another, either to stop him, or to lead him. The latter sense of the word has been lost in modern times; so that preventing grace would now mean the grace that stops a man, and not, as properly, the grace that leads him forward. St. Paul means that the living shall take no precedence of the raised dead; the latter shall have an equal entrance; in fact, their resurrection shall be first; that is, shall precede the resurrectional change of the living.


Verse 16

16. Lord himself—Not by messenger or representative, but his own personal self. Then shall our eyes behold Him. The Himself is emphatic with divine dignity.

From heaven—From God’s right hand in the highest heavens. See note on 2 Corinthians 12:1-4.

With—No commotions of nature are here described, though other passages assure us of their existence. 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 20:11. Only the three vocalities of the descending powers are given, the shout of the mighty host; the voice of the archangel, their leader and the Lord’s herald; and the trump of God, a strain of celestial music. These announce the Incarnate Person in the rear; to whom the whole host is as an advance procession.

Shout— Generally signifies the cry of an onward movement. An archangel rather than the. To inquire which archangel, Michael or Gabriel, is useless, though popular fancy generally designates the latter. The word signifies chief-angel, and is used here to designate him as present captain of the lord’s host.

Trump of GodVocal symbol of the divine Presence and Person; as the glory is the visible symbol. Its tones are heard, but no instrument is seen. It was, probably, never heard but once by human ears, and that was at Sinai. Exodus 19:16-19. Then, as here, it was the announcing strain of the celestial hosts forming the advance procession of the approaching divine One. Then there were “thunders and lightning’s, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled… to meet with God… And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, [as if the Jehovah were slowly coming,] and waxed louder and louder, [as he drew nearer and nearer,] Moses spake, [as if He had now arrived,] and God answered him with a voice” [as being now present.] And so these present peals, sounding to human souls like the piercing and ever-increasing tones of a trumpet, are the signal of the approaching CHRIST.

Rise first—This does not mean the first of two resurrections; but first and before we which are alive are changed. First and then in the next verse are correlatives.


Verse 17

17. Then we—After the dead have first risen.

Caught up—This upward movement is preceded by the change by which this mortal puts on immorality. By that change the glorified body is able to neutralize gravitation by volition. But in this case they are caught up by divine power, the phrase implying great suddenness.

With them—The dead in Christ.

In the clouds—The passage quoted by Alford from Theodoret, comparing this to our Lord’s ascent upon a cloud, misses the mark. The true parallels are Daniel 7:13, and Revelation 1:7 : “Behold, he cometh with clouds;” an image of altitude and misty grandeur.

In the air— Simply a designation of locality or region; aerial space. Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 2:2. The grand congregation of the judgment may be in pure space; for these resurrection bodies, absolved from the power of gravitation, and of power by pure volition, can tread upon a plane of pure space as easily as Jesus trod upon the sea, or as we tread upon a pavement. Of a burning world, a resurrection and condemnation of the wicked, and a new earth, no account is here given; for, as Lunemann well notes, St. Paul does not here profess to give a full picture of the last things, but simply such a glimpse as shall meet the doubt and grief in regard to the late deceased Christians.

Ever be with the Lord—Not as limited to this one mid-space region, though it and the new earth may be within their future range; but in the highest heaven, the capital of the great system centred by the throne. And now science demands, Where is the final heaven of the glorious resurrection, as distinguished from the intermediate paradise of the blessed disembodied spirit? And where is the final hell, gehenna, as distinguished from the hades or Tartarus of the intermediate state of the impenitent? See note on 2 Corinthians 12:1-4; Ephesians 1:2; Ephesians 4:8-10.

Astronomers of the present day assure us that all planets are destined, in time, to narrow their orbits, lose their heat, and fall into the sun. The sun, as satellite to a greater sun, is to fall into and be swallowed by its central sun; and finally, the utmost central sun will swallow the whole system of stars and suns, from which all heat will have departed and form a final lifeless, frozen char. It may be, then, that our whole material system of worlds, as well as our earth, is under the doom of sin, sin older than the fall of Adam, and so may be destined to become the eternal abode and monument of sin and wrath. The “everlasting fire” of Matthew 25:41, was prepared for sinners older than man, namely, the devil and his angels. This may be the final Gehenna. But whither goes the energy, which scientists tell us is departing with the heat from the present entire material system, and pouring into immensity? The ingenious authors of the “Unseen Universe” suggest that it goes to crystallize into a future universe, including that Future State, that Heaven of the resurrection, to which our faith is looking. So he who is Lord of all said to his disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you.” That place may be in the present highest heavens; the circumambient zone that girds our starry universe, separating it, perhaps, from other universes, with which our history does not connect. That future state, formed of the pure forces that gave life and power to this dark system, may be the new heavens and earth “wherein dwelleth righteousness.” It may gradually supplant our present stellar system.

The terms distinguishing the regions of the invisible world are so irregularly translated that the English reader may be aided by the following summary:— Hades (which should never be rendered hell, but be used in English without change as the generic name of the intermediate abode) occurs in the following passages: Matthew 11:29; Matthew 16:18; Luke 12:15; Luke 16:23; Acts 2:27; Acts 2:31; 1 Corinthians 15:55; Revelation 1:18; Revelation 6:8; Revelation 20:13.

Paradise, (the blessed phase of hades,) Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7. A comparison of Revelation 2:7, with Revelation 22:2 suggests, that as in the eternal state beyond the judgment hades is merged in gehenna, (Revelation 20:14,) so paradise is merged in the eternal heaven. Tartarus, in verb form, (the adverse phase of hades,) 2 Peter 2:4. Gehenna, (hell,) the final opposite of heaven. Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:29; Matthew 10:28; Matthew 18:9; Matthew 23:15; Matthew 23:33; Mark 9:43; Mark 9:47; Luke 12:5; James 3, 6.


Verse 18

18. Comfort… words—After they had been read unto all, (1 Thessalonians 5:27,) record them in your memories; and be ready to remind one another of their consoling import.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/1-thessalonians-4.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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