1 Thess. 4:1-12 - Exegesis - THE CALL TO HOLINESS
Introduction: In many of his epistles, the Apostle begins with a doctrinal section followed by a practical and exhortational section concerned with the Christian walk or how Christians should live. In this epistle, rather than beginning with doctrine, there is a personal and historical section in which he demonstrates his thanksgiving for the Thessalonians, reviews his ministry, and shows his deep concern for them in their sufferings and present state. However, with chapter four, the Apostle moves to a series of exhortations which deal with the Christian walk.
Paul begins this section (4:1) with "finally then." "Finally" is the Greek particle loipon, a particle of transition often found toward the end of a letter. It means "for the rest," not necessarily implying that he was ending the letter, but marking a transition in the subject matter (see Phil. 3:1). Paul turns from their thanksgiving and prayer for the Thessalonians to the exhortations needed for this body of believers in view of Timothy's report.
"Then" is oun, a coordinating, inferential conjunction meaning, "therefore, consequently, then." What is now introduced is the result or an inference from the preceding. Just as the missionaries had prayed earnestly for the faith and spiritual growth of the Thessalonians, so now Paul exhorts them, in keeping with those prayers, to holiness in their daily walk.
God is deeply concerned with our daily walk, with how we live the Christian life. The Lord came not just to make us children of God and get us into heaven, but to enable us to live as the children of God ought to live in a dark and sinful world that does not know Him.
This final portion of the book, then, falls into five major sections: (1) The Call to Holiness (4:1-12); (2) The Comfort of His Coming (4:13-18); (3) The Comfort and Challenge Concerning the Day of the Lord (5:1-11); (4) The Conduct of the Assembly (5:12-22); and (5) The Concluding Remarks (5:23-28).
The immediate section, 4:1-8, was particularly necessary in view of the cultural background of the Thessalonians. In contrast to the Jews who had the Law, these Gentiles had come out of gross idolatry which had little or no restraint on their moral character especially in matters of sex. In fact, prostitution was a very prominent part of their religious life since the worship of the so called gods involved the use of temple prostitutes. The moral climate in the Roman Empire was morally decadent. "Immorality was a way of life; and, thanks to slavery, people had the leisure time to indulge in the latest pleasures. The Christian message of holy living was new to that culture, and it was not easy for these young believers to fight the temptations around them."74
Especially in view of the moral climate that has developed in this country in the last 40 years, William Barclay has a significant comment about conditions in Rome. He writes:
In Rome, for the first five hundred and twenty years of the Republic, there had not been one single divorce; but now, under the Empire, as it has been put, divorce was a matter of caprice. As Seneca said, "Women were married to be divorced and divorced to be married." In Rome the years were identified by the names of the consuls; but it was said that fashionable ladies identified the years by the names of their husbands. Juvenal quotes an instance of a woman who had eight husbands in five years. Morality was dead.75
Pointing to the fact that in Greece immorality had always been quite blatant, Barclay also quotes Demonsthenes who said:
We have courtesans for the sake of pleasure; we have concubines for the sake of daily cohabitation; we have wives for the purpose of having children legitimately, and of having a faithful guardian for all our household affairs.
In Greece, home and family life were near to being extinct, and fidelity was completely non-existent.76
The Greek gods which the ancient world worshipped and the debauchery that accompanied such worship were simply the products of man's own vain imaginations or their foolish and darkened hearts (see Rom. 1:8f.; Eph. 4:17f.). These gods were half human, half god, and as immoral as the hearts that hatched them, which gave them (in their debased perspective) a license to act according to their own fleshly desires. Their consciences became dull and hardened and the law of the conscience had little effect. The Psalmist declares, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord" (Ps. 33:12a), but the opposite always occurs when nations either ignore the Lord or turn away from Him, as we see happening in our country today.
But, through the gospel of the Lord Jesus, God comes into our lives, regardless of our condition or culture, joins us into union with Him through faith in the Savior, and begins a reformation movement to transform us into the moral character of the Savior. This occurs as His life is lived out in ours by the Holy Spirit according to the Word. This is not a matter of simply changing cultural patterns like Westernizing natives, but changing the spiritual and moral fiber of men and women. God, who is holy, is deeply concerned with our walk.
As a result, a number of passages like 1 Thessalonians 4:1 address the concept of the believer's walk. The Christian life is compared to walking. Walking becomes a visual aid to teach us how to live. By means of walking we move from one sphere to another; we seek to carry out certain responsibilities at work, at home, in the church, and in society. We do many things, some good and some not so good. But walking also means taking one step at a time, and with each step, while one foot is off the ground as we move forward, we are susceptible to being knocked off balance, to stumbling, or stepping into trouble.
In verse one, the Apostle speaks of "how you must live (literally, "walk")." The Greek word here is peripateo, from peri, "about, around," and pateo, "to walk." It portrays one walking about in all the various areas or arenas of life. Because of the emphasis of this passage, an addendum is included at the end of this lesson with an overview of some of the key passages on the believer's walk.
The General Exhortation (4:1-2)
4:1 Finally then, brothers and sisters, we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received instruction from us about how you must live and please God (as you are in fact living) that you do so more and more. 4:2 For you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
Verses 1 and 2 form a gentle and general reminder of the previous instruction they had received from Paul and his associates concerning how they should live and please God. In the word "live" (literally, "walk") the emphasis is on actions, and in the words "please God" the emphasis is on motives.
The nature, strength, and emotion of this appeal is seen in the use of two terms, "we ask" and "urge." The verb "we ask" is the Greek erotao, which is normally used between those who are of equal rank or status. It is the only word used by the Lord Jesus in His prayers to the Father (see John 14:16; 16:26; 17:9, 15, 20). Paul was appealing to them as fellow believers in the Savior. "Urge" is parakaleo, "appeal to, exhort, encourage" (see as previously discussed in 2:12). This word is somewhat more emphatic and formal, especially with the words, "in the Lord Jesus" attached. On their behalf, as a fellow believer, he makes his appeal, but he exhorts them by the Lord Jesus. This draws attention to the great importance of following both the previous instruction and that which would follow.
"That as you received instruction from us about how you must live and please God ..." This reminder of their former instruction draws our attention to several practical lessons:
(1) After these missionaries led their converts to the Lord, they also began to teach them how to live and please God. They laid a doctrinal foundation and then taught them the moral obligations of that doctrine. This was Paul's practice and forms a precedent for us: first doctrine, then duty; precept and then practice. Doctrine should lead to godly practice, but a godly practice that is in keeping with God's Word as to its character and the means (root to fruit). Learning to live and please God is a matter of biblical instruction. It is neither natural nor innate. Without the Word, there is simply no way any of us are going to be able to walk as we should so we are able to please the Lord (Col. 2:6). Over and over again in the Old Testament we read that God's people are to walk in His ways, statutes, and laws, i.e., according to the Word (Lev. 26:3; Deut. 5:33; 8:6; 10:12; Josh. 22:5).
(2) Further, this is not an optional issue. Paul says "how you must live." "Must" is dei, which refers to a logical and moral necessity, one which arises out of the divine constraint or the nature of the relationship involved, an inner compulsion that grows out of the situation. For a commentary on this principle one only needs to consider Titus 2:11-14 and 1 John 3:1-3.
(3) Living or walking as we ought to walk means pleasing the Lord. The Apostle may have in mind Genesis 5:22. There the Hebrew has "Enoch walked with God," while the Septuagint (LXX) has "Enoch pleased God." In Hebrews 11:5, the LXX is quoted. Here Paul seems to combine the two concepts.77 To please God, we must walk with Him in the light of His Word.78
(4) The Apostle adds, "even as you are walking" to assure them that he is not insinuating they have not been walking as they should. We all need growth and to be on guard against the temptations of world around us.
(5) Thus, the Apostle continues with, "that you do so more and more." Literally, "that you may abound or excel more and more." Paul uses the verb perisseuo, "to be over and above, overflow, abound, excel." To this he adds the adverb, mallon, "to a greater degree." The goal of Paul's plea concerns the believer's daily walk in the pursuit of excellence and increase, or progress in the daily life of holiness, set apart living to the Lord (cf. vss. 1 and 10). This means being stretched and that means becoming uncomfortable. Too often we are simply concerned with keeping the status quo and we shrink from commitments that might stretch us.
There are serious consequences for failure to follow God's directions. When men and nations refuse, God turns them over to their own devices and the schemes of their own hearts (Ps. 81:12-13; Rom. 1:18f.; Eph. 4:16f.).
The emphasis in verse two on the commandments by the authority of the Lord Jesus would add a further emphasis to show that none of this is optional if we are to please God. In fact, to stress the imperative nature of our walk and pleasing God, the Apostle will later give three reasons for obedience in verses 6b-8.
It seems that far too often some Christians just want to hear new truth. Certainly, God wants us to grow in the knowledge of His Word, but we also need the exhortation to excel still more in the truth we know; our goal should be to press on to greater and greater appropriation of the truths which we already know and are already practicing, but to only a limited degree.
The Exhortation to Sexual Purity (4:3-8)
4:3 For this is God's will: for you to become holy, for you to keep away from sexual immorality, 4:4 for each of you to know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, 4:5 not in lustful passion like the Gentiles who do not know God. 4:6 In this matter no one should violate the rights of his brother or take advantage of him, because the Lord is the avenger in all these cases, as we also told you earlier and warned you solemnly. 4:7 For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. 4:8 Consequently the one who rejects this is not rejecting human authority but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
The general exhortation of verses 1-2 is now followed by specific instructions. Verse 3 begins with "for" (Greek gar, a conjunction of explanation or continuation) to introduce the needed exhortations, especially in view of the cultural background of the Thessalonians. The first has to do with sexual purity (vss. 3-8), the second with brotherly love (vss. 9-10), and the third with orderly living (vss. 11-12).
The walk that pleases God is first defined with the words, "the will of God," and then as "your sanctification." With the statement, "This is the will of God," Paul brings into focus the constant battle and a key issue going on in the hearts of men. "Will" is thelema, "what is willed." It points to the sovereign will and plan of God for the Christian. But all men by nature tend to follow the desires, thelemata, of the flesh and mind which are opposed to the will of God (see Eph. 2:3) and which can never please God (Rom. 8:8). It is not that all of those desires are evil, for many of them are God given. Sex is not evil. From the beginning God created marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman and sex was to be a part of that union for the continuance of the race and for pleasure in marriage. What makes many of man's desires (thelemata) evil is his self-centered commitment to follow those desires contrary to God's will (as in adultery) and at the expense or exploitation of others. The specifics of God's will are clearly set forth in many places in Scripture, even though Christians often seem to have a great deal of difficulty applying it in everyday decision-making (cf. 5:16-18; 1 Peter 2:15). Nevertheless, Paul describes this in general terms as "your sanctification."
"Sanctification" is the Greek hagiasmos, from hagiazo, "to set apart, consecrate, dedicate, sanctify." Taking the New Testament as a whole, there are three aspects and phases of sanctification: (1) positional or past, a position of being set apart to God in Christ, which every believer has at the moment of his salvation (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11); (2) progressive or present, a progressive growth in holiness of life that ought to be true of every believer (1 Cor. 1:30; 1 Thess. 4:3), and (3) prospective-ultimate or future, the believer's future condition in heaven, when believers will be "without blame" (3:13). In this passage the Apostle is clearly dealing with the issue of present or progressive sanctification.
But Paul does not leave this in just general terms. That which is the will of God, or our pursuit in present sanctification, is spelled out in three appositional infinitive clauses in the Greek text that give examples of what sanctification means.79 This is easily seen in the "that" clauses of the NIV and NASB in verses 3b, 4, and 6. The translation of the NIV is given below to illustrate.
It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. (NIV)
The Three Instructions (vss. 3b-6a)
Abstain From Immorality (vs. 3b)
"... for (that) you to keep away (avoid, abstain) from sexual immorality ..." The first instruction is general and is designed to produce greater holiness through avoiding sexual immorality. Paul called his readers to avoid it, pointing to the need for exercising self-discipline as enabled by God's Spirit (as the end of this section suggest in vs. 8).
"Keep away from" is apecho, "to hold back, keep off, be distant." In the middle voice as used here, it means "to hold oneself from, avoid." The middle voice draws attention to the subject's personal participation in the action on himself with vested interest. This stresses personal responsibility along with the benefits that will result in pleasing God and protecting ourselves from sin and avoiding its consequences (see 4:6-8).
The word porneia, translated "sexual immorality," is broad and includes all forms of illegitimate sexual practices. Bruce writes,
While porneia means primarily traffic with harlots (pornai), ... it may denote any form of illicit sexual relationship. But "immorality" is too vague a rendering. In some New Testament passages porneia appears to have a more general sense. Christianity from the outset has sanctified sexual union within marriage (as in Judaism); outside marriage it was forbidden. This was a strange notion in the pagan society to which the gospel was first brought; there various forms of extramarital sexual union were tolerated and some were even encouraged. A man might have a mistress (hetaira) who could provide him also with intellectual companionship; the institution of slavery made it easy for him to have a concubine (pollake), while casual gratification was readily available from a harlot (porne). ... There was no body of public opinion to discourage porneia, ... Certain forms of public religion, indeed, involved ritual porneia. In Thessalonica it was sanctioned by the cult of Cabiri of Samothrace, ...80
Thus, by calling for believers to keep away from fornication, Paul had in mind all the particular social conditions to which these believers were susceptible in Greece stemming from their past history as idolaters. The Thessalonians lived in a pagan environment in which sexual looseness was not only practiced openly but was also encouraged. As Bruce has pointed out, in Greek religion, prostitution was considered a priestly prerogative, and extramarital sex was sometimes an act of worship. But to a Christian the will of God is clear: holiness and sexual immorality are mutually exclusive. No appeal to Christian liberty can justify fornication.
Point: Christians are to avoid and abstain from any and every form of sexual practice that lies outside the circle of God's revealed will; Christians are to avoid adultery, premarital and extramarital intercourse, homosexuality, and other perversions.
Know How to Possess Your Vessel (vss. 4-5)
In these verses, the Apostle moves from the general to the specific and from the positive to the negative. A great deal of debate exists regarding the meaning of verse 4 with two interpretations being prominent. The debate concerns the meaning of "vessel" (skeuos). Taking "vessel" to refer figuratively to one's own body, some interpret verse 4 to mean, "learn how to control one's own body with its sexual passions since our own bodies are our vessels" (2 Cor. 4:7; 2 Tim. 2:20-21). How to do this is not explained by the Apostle. "Know" is an infinitive of oida in Greek which may refer to knowledge learned from the Word or the revelation of God. This would be a command to learn and apply what God's Word says about self-control of one's body and sexual urges through the control of the Spirit (vs. 8) and the Word filled life.
But a second and equally prominent view (as suggested by the NET Bible's translation) holds this clause to mean that believers are to learn how to acquire a wife or husband81 and live with one's spouse in the sanctity of marriage. In this view, the verse is dealing with one's approach to and maintenance of the marriage relationship according to the teaching of Scripture.
Of course, both aspects are important to believers, but perhaps there is stronger support for the second view because of the following reasons:
(1) "Possess" is the Greek ktaomai which, in every occurrence in the New Testament, is used in the sense of "acquire, purchase for oneself, or gain." Compare Luke 18:12; 21:19; Matthew 10:9; Acts 1:18; 8:20; 22:28. In none of these passages is this word used in the sense of "get control over or mastery over."
(2) By contrast, ktaomai was frequently used of courtship and contracting a marriage, i.e., acquiring a wife (cf. LXX uses kataomai in Ruth 4:5, 10). Because of this, Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich chose "acquire a wife" as the most probable meaning, and the NET Bible and the RSV translates it accordingly.82
(3) "Vessel," skeuos, is used of any instrument, object or thing used for any purpose. It is used (1) of vessels in religious worship (temple vessels), (2) of men as instruments of the Lord (Acts 9:15; 2 Cor. 4:7), and (3) of husband and wife as vessels (1 Pet. 3:7). That 1 Peter 3:7 includes the husband is clear by the term "weaker." In general, he is the stronger and she is the weaker physically speaking.
So, we do have a biblical basis for using "vessel" for a marriage partner and for using kataomai in the sense of contracting a marriage (Ruth 4). Further, it was used of women in rabbinical literature.
(4) Clearly, one way to avoid sexual impurity is through marriage and a proper understanding of sex and marriage as God designed it. This is particularly true for Paul's audience due to the cultural climate of Greece. This does not depreciate a woman's position in marriage as just a vessel to satisfy sexual desires as verses 4b-5 illustrate, and because, in the final analysis, the principles are applicable to both men and women in their approach to marriage.
Verse 4b then points us to positive biblical attitude that must guard and guide one's approach into marriage, "in holiness and honor." Then verse 5 warns against the wrong goal that must not be the objective of marriage.
With the clause, "in holiness and honor," the preposition "in" (Greek en) points us to the sphere or controlling atmosphere that is to surround, control, and guide the process of courtship, entrance into and maintenance of the marriage relationship whether man or woman.
As mentioned previously, "holiness" or "sanctification" basically means "set apartness," a state of "holiness." It refers to the progressive aspect of sanctification, the process of being set apart to the Lord and His purposes and plan. Marriage must be entered and maintained by the principles of Scripture. Scripture sets marriage apart from the motives, ideas, and values of a world that "does not know God" (vs. 5).
"Honor" is time which means "a valuing, a price paid or received," then "esteem, preciousness, respect." Marriage must be entered and maintained in an atmosphere of respect for it is a special and holy creation and institution of God. It is not just a convenience or a means of power or position or an excuse for sex. It is a life-long commitment of two people committed to ministry and love wherein they seek to complement and complete each other.
Having stressed the positive, the Apostle then turned now to the negative focus in verse 5: "not in lustful passion like the Gentiles who do not know God."
Such behavior is a mark of heathenism. A heathen is one who "does not know God." Here Paul put his finger on the key to overcoming sexual temptations. A Christian can overcome because he knows God; this makes all the difference!83
Simply put, believers are never to enter into marriage, as the unbelieving world does, simply because of passionate lust (en pathei epithumias). "Passionate" is pathos and refers to what one suffers or experiences as in suffering, like the passion of Christ, or of sexual passion. "Lust" is epithumia, "desire, longing, craving." Sexual desire is God given and is not wrong. One only has to read the Song of Solomon, a love poem of sexual love and passion within marriage, to see God's blessing on sex in marriage. It only becomes wrong when it controls one's life and goes beyond the limits of the marriage relationship in which there is personal commitment to each partner for life.
We should note that Paul did not say the heathen do not know about God. The reason, they behave as they do is because they do not know God personally, even though they may know about Him. When a person comes to know God by faith in Jesus Christ, not only should his attitudes toward sex and marriage drastically change, as he gains a knowledge of the Word, but he also discovers that God gives him the ability to handle sexual temptation as he couldn't before. Knowing God intimately is fundamental to living a life in sanctification and honor. This is why both having relationship with God (through faith in Christ) and maintaining a close walk with Him (through daily intimate fellowship) is vital to having and keeping a pure walk before God.
Do Not Trespass and Defraud a Brother (vs. 6a)
"In this matter no one should violate the rights of his brother or take advantage of him, ..." As mentioned previously,84 this verse begins with another infinitive which may be setting forth a third explanation of the clause, "this is the will of God, your sanctification" (vs. 3a), or it might possibly be introducing the purpose or intended results of following the instruction of verses 3-5. Ryrie writes: "Verse 6 is probably to be understood as the result of obedience to the injunctions of verses 3 and 4. If fornication is abstained from, no man will go beyond his brother."85
Whether Paul intended the two infinitives here86 introduced with "to me" to be understood as expressing purpose or result, or simply as appositional to "this is the will of God, your sanctification," the end result is that verse 6 does give us the intended result of obedience. A biblical approach to marriage and sex according to these instructions will keep one from violating the rights and taking advantage of others in the matter of sex and marriage.
Thus, in 4:4-5, Paul made his appeal on the basis of the importance of sexual purity for the sake of obedience to God's will (vs. 3), and for the Christian's own spiritual benefit and that of his or her marriage. In verse 6 Paul made his appeal on the basis of the others involved in immoral behavior.
But who is "the brother"? Typically, the Apostle uses "brother" as a term for believers, but due to the context, many see "the brother" in this verse as most likely another person, not necessarily another Christian male. "This seems clear from the fact that this person is a victim of illicit sex. Sexual immorality wrongs the partner in the forbidden act by involving him or her in behavior contrary to God's will and therefore under His judgment."87 Ryrie agrees though he acknowledges this is not the Apostle's normal use of "brother." He writes, "Paul uses "brother" here not in the restricted sense of a brother in Christ but in the general sense of a brother man. There is no other instance in Paul's writings of this use of brother."88 Paul's point is that just as stealing is a sin against one's neighbor, so sexual immorality is a transgression against others.
Three Reasons for Obedience-Why Sexual Immorality Must Be Avoided (vss. 6b-8)
(1) The first reason is set forth, God is avenger of all sin (see Rom. 6:23a), and sexual fornication is sin. In the context, "in all these cases" or "in all such things (sins)" refers to all the various forms of sexual sin not specifically described here, but covered by the general term "sexual immorality" or "fornication." Sexual sin will not go unpunished. It has its immediate consequences in the personal discipline of God on the believer who transgresses and on a society which ignores the laws of God. The tremendous effect of this can be seen on the home and in the transmission of sexually-transmitted diseases so prevalent in our world today. But there is also the future aspect of loss of rewards for those believers who ignore God's truth.
With the words, "just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you," the Apostle reminds them of their former instruction, instruction that came with a solemn warning. "Warned" is diamarturomai, "to solemnly warn, affirm solemnly, charge, warn." This is a compound verb (dia + marturomai) and carries the idea of thoroughly.
Sexual immorality wrongs the partner in the forbidden act by involving him or her in behavior contrary to God's will and therefore under His judgment. Two or more people practicing sex out of God's will are calling God's wrath down on themselves (Heb. 13:4). The initiator of the act takes advantage of his partner in sin by fanning the fire of passion till self-control is lost ...
Everyone who fears the wrath of God should abstain from immorality because judgment follows such sin as surely as day follows night. That God always judges sin is a basic Christian truth which Paul had taught them and warned them about when he was in Thessalonica.89
(2) Verse 7 sets forth a second reason Christians must avoid sexual immorality. "For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness." Sexual sin clearly goes against God's calling for believers. In the previous reason of verse 6b, the Apostle focuses us on the sure prospect of God's judgment, but the second argument against sexual sin focuses us on the purpose and plan of God who has called each Christian into a life-changing, sanctifying relationship with Himself. This means purifying the believer's life from the degenerating behavior of a world that lives under Satan's dominion because it does not know God.
"Impurity" is the Greek akatharsia, "uncleanness, filthiness, impurity." It literally meant "refuse" and was used of the contents of graves. From this it came to be used of sexual sins. This gives us some idea of God's attitude toward such sin. "Sexual immorality frustrates the purpose of God's call. Certain pagan cults promoted unclean ceremonies, but Christ's plans for a Christian are to clean him up. A holy life demonstrates God's supernatural power at work overcoming what is natural, and it glorifies God."90
With the word, "holiness" the Apostle again called their attention to the general principle that must guide the believer's life. The noun used here is hagiasmos ("sanctification"), which occurs here for the fourth time in this epistle (cf. 3:13; 4:3-4) and the verb hagiazo ["to sanctify"] is used in 5:23. God's will for believers is to set them apart from the mentality (viewpoint, aspirations, beliefs) and actions of a world that does not know God.
(3) The third reason Christians must avoid sexual immorality is set forth in verse 8, which really has two parts: (a) Sexual purity is grounded in the truth of God's revelation, and (b) God has provided the Holy Spirit as our enabler.
In this verse Paul drew a conclusion based on his preceding arguments. First, sexual purity is grounded in the truth of God's holy revelation. It is something which man normally will not arrive at on his own because of his own self-centered interest.
Greco-Roman ethics were based largely on the principles of self-interest and respect for another's property. The individual was expected to do what was to one's advantage, regardless of its effect on others, so long as one did not violate another person's property. When the Romans discuss morality, they use terms such as duty, loyalty, prudence, and utility. There were certain restrictions because of class and societal obligation, but no action in itself was immoral, except for incest, cannibalism, and murder of a blood relative, things taboo in almost every society anthropologists have studied.
Whereas most Christians today would define their sexual morality as based on religious teaching, the Greeks and Romans made no such connection. In the words of R. Flaceleire, "The domains of religion and sexual morality were then regarded as completely separate."91
"Consequently" is the translation of toigaroun, an emphatic compound particle introducing a sharp inference, "for that very reason, then, therefore." It occurs only here and in Hebrews 12:1 in the New Testament. Bruce points out that it is as emphatic in Hellenistic Greek as it was in classical Greek.92 "Rejects" and "rejecting" is atheteo, "to declare invalid, set aside, reject, not recognize." God has given plenty of evidence to validate the nature and uniqueness of the Bible as God's inspired and accurate Word. The issue is not a matter of poor evidence, but of blindness and hardness of heart. The problem is that men love darkness and refuse to come into the light as the Savior points out in John 3.
The point is simply that God has not been silent; He has spoken and revealed His will in both the Old and New Testaments to protect man from himself and to bring him into a life-changing relationship with the living God. Sexual purity is simply a practical application of the basic truths of God's revelation and reveal His holy will.
Paul's attitudes toward sexual uncleanness did not arise from his background or personal preferences. They were the logical consequences of divine revelation. The Thessalonians and later readers of this epistle should realize that to reject these instructions is to reject the Person from whom they came originally, that is, God.93
The second part of this third reason against sexual immorality is seen in the words, "who gives His Holy Spirit to you." The gift and ministry of the Holy Spirit, who is our enabler, is inseparable from the kind of holy living called for in these verses. Literally, the Greek has, "the Spirit of Him, the Holy one." The Greek word order places special emphasis on the character of the Spirit as "holy," the One given to enable us to be set apart to the will of God in sanctification and in honor.
Lest anyone feel that God is asking more than is reasonable of weak mortals, Paul concluded this exhortation with a reminder that God has also given believers His indwelling Spirit. This Person of the Trinity is so characterized by holiness that He is called the Holy Spirit. The indwelling Holy Spirit has power enough to enable any Christian to learn how to control his own body, even in a pagan, immoral climate. The exhortation is to avoid sexual immorality; the enablement comes from the Holy Spirit.94
Frame has an excellent comment here regarding the gift of the Spirit. He writes:
... Three points are evident in this appended characterization of God, each of them intimating a motive for obedience. (1) Not only is God the one who calls and judges, he is also the one who graciously puts into their hearts his Spirit whose presence insures their blamelessness in holiness when the Lord comes (3:13). In gratitude for this divine gift, they should be loyally obedient. (2) This indwelling Spirit is a power unto holiness, a consecrating Spirit. Devotion to God must consequently be ethical. (3) The Spirit is put not eis hemas ... "into us Christians" collectively, but eis humas "into you" Thessalonians, specifically. Hence each of them is individually responsible to God who by the Spirit is resident in them. In despising, the individual despises not a man but God.95
The Exhortation to Excel in Brotherly Love (4:9-10)
4:9 Now on the topic of brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another. 4:10 And indeed you are practicing it toward all the brothers and sisters in all of Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more,
The phrase "now on the topic of" (peri de) is a frequent formula used by Paul to introduce a new subject (4:9; 5:1). He uses it some six times in 1 Corinthians (7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1, 12) to introduce his answers to the Corinthians' questions. He is probably using it in response to different elements brought back by Timothy in his report (3:6) regarding the conditions at Thessalonica.
In verses 1-2, we have a general exhortation as to how we ought to walk and please God, and by the process of growth to excel. From the general, the Apostle moved to the specific area of holiness of life in the realm of sexual purity (vss. 3-8). Now the transition from sexual purity to brotherly love is a natural one. We see a similar emphasis and relationship in 3:12-13.
3:12 And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we do for you, 3:13 so that your hearts are strengthened in holiness to be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Sexual sins, regardless of their nature, are self-centered and usually involve the exploitation and use of another for selfish reasons. Even though sexual sins are couched in terms of love by society, they are really acts of self love (vs. 6).
"Brotherly love" is philadelphia from philos or philia. It refers to a friendship love, a deep affection as in close friendships and in marriage. The other part is adelphos, which means "brother." It refers to the kind of love and affection that should exist, not because of physical birth, or nationality, or secular alliances, but because of our spiritual relationship as brethren in Christ and children of God through faith in Christ.
By way of application, regardless of personality differences and conflicts, all believers should be bound together in warmth and concern for each other because of their relationship in Christ. Brothers in Christ are often closer than blood brothers because of their spiritual bond and oneness of mind in the Lord (see Phil. 2:1-5).
"You have no need ... , for you are taught by God to love one another." "Taught by God" is theodidaktoi (pl), a term found only here in the New Testament (cf. didaktoi theou in John 6:45). But what does this mean? Is the Apostle saying we don't need biblical instruction on loving one another? Obviously not because the New Testament has so much to say on this subject and because the church is often so poor at loving.
The sense Paul has in mind seems to be that we are God-taught to love one another in two ways: (1) By the example given to us by the Father in sending His Son (1 John 4:9-11, 19), and (2) through the continuing inward ministry of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us (vs. 8; Gal. 5:22; 2 Cor. 5:14). "Deeper than human language can reach, God Himself speaks to the believer's heart."96
The phrase, "to love one another" is an important one for two reasons. First, because it reiterates one of the primary commands of the New Testament. This command is repeated thirteen times in the New Testament97 and is to be the badge of our identity as disciples of the Lord. Our Lord said, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). The second reason is because this phrase takes the concept of philadelphia, brotherly love, and lifts it to new heights. Love in this phrase is agape which is a sacrificial love, a love produced by the Spirit, and a love that reaches out to the unlovable or even to one's enemies, those who need our forgiveness just as we all need God's forgiveness.
With verse 10, the Apostle confirms his comments in verse 9. Note the "and indeed" (kai gar). They were already living examples of loving one another; they had been showing love toward all the brethren in Macedonia. How, he does not say, but probably through hospitality as an expression of love frequently urged in Scripture (Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:2; 1 Pet. 4:9). Furthermore, this verse shows the extent of love. Love is to extend to all the brethren and not just to a few with whom one might have special rapport. It should be limited only by the opportunities afforded to express it.
Once again in keeping with the need for continued growth, he urged them to excel. As before, "to excel still more" is literally, "to abound more." For comments on this, see verse 1. No matter how much we love, due to the very nature of love and the difficulties with loving, there is always room for improvement in our capacity to love both in quantity and quality.
We don't need anyone to tell us to love since we are taught of God, but because of the devastating effects of the fall, even as regenerated people, we do need reminders and biblical instruction on how to deal with the forces in our own hearts that are so debilitating to our ability to love-our fears, our self-protective strategies for dealing with our hurts, our lack of maturity, and our failure to reckon with our own sinfulness. Because of this, we often simply do not love as we should.
We might compare Paul's prayer for the Philippians (Phil. 1:9). Here the Apostle prays that love may abound still more and more, but the additional clause, "in real knowledge and all discernment," is tremendously instructive. "Real knowledge" is epignosis, a word which often refers specifically to biblical truth or the knowledge of God and the spiritual things of God. "Discernment" is aisthesis, which refers to spiritual insight, perception denoting moral and spiritual understanding of the issues involved (cf. Phil. 1:10-11). Love needs the wisdom of the Word along with a personal relationship with the Lord, the fruit of righteousness by Jesus Christ, so we can make loving and wise choices and not simply sentimental choices which are so often simply selfish.
See Addendum 2 at the end of this lesson for some principles on "love" and "loving the brethren."
The Exhortation to Walk in an Orderly Manner (4:11-12)
4:11 and to aspire to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, as we commanded you. 4:12 In this way you will live a decent life before outsiders and not be in need.
If you will notice, verse 11 is connected to the preceding section and the exhortation to excel in love with a simple connective, "and," (the Greek kai, a coordinating conjunction, "and, even, also"). These verses stand in close grammatical and logical connection with the preceding. While there is a change in emphasis, what we have in these next two verses is actually a further application of the responsibility to excel in love through walking in a biblical and orderly fashion. Hard work and individual accountability to responsibly care for one's own life and needs is not unrelated to the subject of Christian love.
The two are not completely unrelated. Nothing disrupts the peace of a Christian community more than the unwillingness of members to shoulder their part of the responsibility for it (Hiebert, p. 180). To disturb tranquillity violates the love that permeates a truly Christian community. More specifically, some members of the Thessalonian church appear to have taken advantage of the liberality of other Macedonian Christians (cf. 2 Cor 8:1-5) in accepting financial help while making no effort at self-support (Lightfoot, p. 60).98
It is important for us to note that our daily habits of living, the very way we conduct our own business, can manifest love of the brethren just as much as special demonstrations or actions of Christian love. In other words, love touches our lives in many ways which we often fail to recognize. So, the Apostle challenged the Thessalonians to reflect on some of their everyday patterns as it might affect them in their ability to show brotherly love. Undisciplined living very often results in pain to others and disturbs the peace of the body of Christ and can cause believers to fall into disrepute with outsiders.
Paul's exhortations here demonstrate that while this was a loving and growing body of believers, it was not a perfect church (as no church is), and there were conditions that needed changing. Are you looking for a perfect church, or are you willing to be a part of the change process?
Three Exhortations (vs. 11)
To Lead a Quiet or Restful Life
Each of the verbs in verses 11 and 12 employ the present tense. This, along with the nature of the verbs used, ("aspire," "lead a quiet life," and "work") suggest Paul has in mind patterns of life which are to be regular and consistent goals for believers. "To aspire" introduces the responsibility to lead a quiet life. The Greek has one word here, philotimeomai, literally, "to love honor," but certainly, for emphasis, there is a kind of play on the word philadelphia. When our conduct is not biblical, it will affect the lives of others in negative ways. The idea is "consider it an honor" or "strive eagerly for." Having "a quiet life" is to be something Christians are to strive for or have as their ambition. But what does it mean "to lead a quiet life"?
The word translated quiet (hesuchazein) means quiet in the sense of restfulness (cf. Acts 22:2; 2 Thes. 3:12; 1 Tim. 2:2, 11), rather than quiet as opposed to talkativeness (sigao; cf. Acts 21:40; 1 Cor. 14:34). The former means "undisturbed, settled, not noisy," while the latter means "silent." Paul was telling the Thessalonians to be less frantic, not less exuberant. A person who is constantly on the move is frequently a bother to other people as well as somewhat distracted from his own walk with God. The latter can lead to the former. But a Christian who strives to be at peace with himself and God will be a source of peace to his brethren. Such quietude constitutes a practical demonstration of love for others.99
The Apostle does not tell us here precisely what was causing some to be restless and busybodies within the church. Second Thessalonians 3:6-15 gives part of the picture, but the problem could have been from several causes:
(1) Anticipation of the coming of the Lord was causing an imbalanced excitement in their expectation of the Lord's return. This was evidently causing idleness. Ignoring the fact that no one knows the precise day nor hour of the Lord's return (Matt. 24:36), some of the believers at Thessalonica had evidently stopped working and were instead going about from house to house as busybodies.
(2) Self-seeking ambition within the church-seeking to play 'spiritual king of the mountain,' zealousness for position and recognition by others-could have been another cause. Such ambition often leads people to run from one person in the church to another to gain influence in an attempt to promote their own agenda. And of course, such behavior often results in spreading rumors and tearing others down in an attempt at self promotion.
(3) Self-appointed confronters, people who see it as their God-appointed role to go about straightening out everybody else. Some people seem to think they have the 'gift of criticism.' There is a place for brotherly rebuke or bold love that reaches out to help a brother with an obvious weakness (cf. 5:14; Rom. 15:14; 2 Thess. 3:15). But most often such people have hidden agendas behind their actions. It's not really love at all, but a way to promote their ideas or opinions, or to prove they are right on some point. The point is, people bashers, as we might call them, are often restless and nervous. They fail to seek and find their significance in the Lord, and so, as a human mechanism to meet their needs to control or dominate, they run about tending to everyone else's business, interfere in other's lives, and create havoc in the body of Christ.
Paul's solution as given here is found in our next exhortation.
To Tend to Your Own Business (vs. 11b)
"Attend to your own business" is simply and literally, "and practice your own." "Attend" is prasso, "to do, practice, be engaged in" or "achieve, affect, accomplish, perform." "Own" is idios and means "private, distinct, one's own." It refers to what is private and personal and is used of friends, property, home, country, and personal affairs. It has the article and is neuter and means, "your own things" in the sense of "affairs, business."
Obviously, one of the solutions for restlessness is to tend to your own life and affairs which of course would involve getting one's spiritual life in order, getting the planks out of one's own eye that one might have the ability to really help others in their failures. When our first priority is taking care of our own lives, not in a selfish, self-centered way, but in a truly biblical way, we are less likely to become nosy people who go around bashing others in the name of loving confrontation.
However, we must balance this with our responsibility to be involved with and caring for others. Our tendency is to go from one extreme-nosiness, to the other extreme-isolationism.
To Work With Your Own Hands (vs. 11c)
"Although the Greek generally looked down on manual labor as the work of slaves and others, the Jews did not have this attitude. The emphasis here, however, is not on manual labor as opposed to some other form but upon working as opposed to idling."100 Paul deals with this problem in more detail in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-11. Some evidently did not respond to this word, so he not only dealt with it again, but (1) defined the refusal to work as being "unruly" and "undisciplined" (2 Thess. 3:6, 11), (2) again pointed to the results, "acting like busybodies," or "meddlers" in the words of 1 Peter 4:15, and (3) gave directions for church discipline showing how the church is to handle such people in the body.
While we all have a responsibility to help those in need, we also have a responsibility not to help them if they refuse to work or look for a job. Part of the help that people in this condition need is help in finding work, and if needed, the admonition and instruction to prompt them to look for work. They must understand God wants them to be self-supporting and productive in society rather than dependent on society. See also 1 Timothy 5:8.
Two Motivations or Reasons (vs. 12)
Testimony to the Outside World (vs. 12a)
"In this way" translates the Greek, hina, a conjunction of purpose or intended result. "Live" is peripateo, "to walk" and refers to one's conduct in all the various areas of life. "A decent life" is an adverb, euschemonos, which means "in a way that is fitting, decently, becomingly." It consists of eu, "good, well" plus schema, "form, figure, fashion." It is used in 1 Corinthians 14:40 of doing all things properly and in order (cf. Rom. 13:13). It refers to a pattern or form of life that is becoming and attractive rather than derogatory to those without the faith (cf. 1 Pet. 4:14-16).
The unbelieving world is watching and we should always be concerned about how our lives look to those outside the body of Christ. They cannot see our hearts nor the justifying work of God imputing the righteousness of Christ to our account. What they need and want to see is authenticity-lives that back up our profession with works and a walk consistent with our talk.
Provision for One's Own Needs (vs. 12b)
The final purpose is the ability to meet one's own needs. "Need" is chreia, "need, necessity." It refers to an actual need (not wants), something needed for a situation or condition for it to be right. Here it would include food, clothing, shelter and the basics necessities of life. If the unsaved have to work to pay their bills, why should Christians not have to work as well? Work is not a curse. Work is a blessing and a gift.
There are a number of reasons why work is a blessing and is to be promoted by the Christian community and supported in society:
(1) To provide for our needs and our family's needs (1 Thess. 4:12; 1 Tim. 5:8).
(2) To keep us from being a burden on others (1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Cor. 11:9).
(3) To give to those who have need within the guidelines of 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (see also Eph. 4:28).
(4) To be productive in society. God has ordained work to meet the needs of others by providing goods and services. Work is not a curse. It is a way to use the gifts and talents God gives us in productive ways.
(5) To avoid idleness which leads to temptation and meddling (cf. our passage and 2 Thes. 3:6f.).
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 - Exegesis (Donovan)
CONTEXT: Paul, Silvanus (also known as Silas), and Timothy were the founding fathers of the church in Thessalonica. However, they were able to remain in Thessalonica for only a short time-perhaps no longer than three weeks (Acts 17:2), before their preaching stirred opposition that forced them to leave (Acts 17:10 ff.). Paul and his colleagues were anxious to learn what was happening in the little church in Thessalonica? Paul was unable to go, so he sent Timothy to assist the fledgling congregation-and to report back regarding the situation there (3:1). Timothy brought a good report, which Paul greeted with great joy (3:6-8). Nevertheless, Timothy's report also mentioned reasons for concern. Paul is writing this letter, in part, to "perfect that which is lacking in (the) faith" of Christians in Thessalonica (3:10). Chapter 4 provides significant clues regarding the problems that Timothy surfaced:
In our text, Paul addresses these concerns.
1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-14. THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN ASLEEP IN JESUS
13 But we don't want you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning those who have fallen asleep, so that you don't grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
"But we don't want you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning those who have fallen asleep" (v. 13a). This suggests that Paul is breaking new ground here-that he didn't teach the Thessalonian Christians what would happen to believers who died while awaiting Jesus' return.
Keep in mind that Paul was able to remain in Thessalonica for only a short time-possibly as little as three weeks (Acts 17:2). The amazing thing is that he was able to establish a viable church in that short time. It's not at all amazing that he failed to teach those new Christians the whole body of Christian doctrine-which, after all, was in the process of being formed. This was one of Paul's first letters, so he is having to "make it up" as he goes along-learning what problems exist and finding ways to address them.
"concerning those who have fallen asleep" (v. 13a). "Fallen asleep" is a euphemism (a milder substitute) for death. That leads us to ask whether Paul is shying away from the word death. Is he trying to soft-pedal the issue of death?
The answer to that question is surely "No!" The substitution of "sleep" for "death" was quite common, both in scripture (Daniel 12:2; Matthew 27:52; Mark 5:39-42) and in secular literature. In letters yet to be written (especially Romans and 1 Corinthians 15), Paul will address the issue of death and resurrection explicitly and boldly.
"so that you don't grieve like the rest, who have no hope" (v. 13b). This is not a call to forego the grieving process. Even if we firmly believe in the resurrection of the dead, the death of a loved one deprives us of his/her company, so grief is both natural and appropriate. We might also grieve at the thought of a life cut short-or when a loved one experiences a particularly difficult death. We need to be careful to respect the grieving process-and not to deny it.
But Paul isn't suggesting that Christians shouldn't grieve, but rather that they shouldn't "grieve like the rest, who have no hope." While some Gentiles believed in life beyond death, the Christian faith in resurrection went far beyond the standard Greek or Roman belief system.
"For (Greek: gar) if (Greek: ei) we believe that Jesus died and rose again" (v. 14a). This is one of those places where little words mean a lot. The little Greek word gar ("for" or "because") connects this phrase with verse 13. The reason that Christians "don't grieve like the rest, who have no hope" (v. 13) is that "we believe that Jesus died and rose again" (v. 14a).
Also note the little word, ei (if). The word "if" often sets up an IF/THEN statement. IF a certain thing is true ("if we believe that Jesus died and rose again"), THEN it follows that another thing is also true ("God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus"). While we don't find the word "then" in verse 14, the phrase "even so" (houtos) is the functional equivalent.
Christ's death and resurrection constitute the central belief of the Christian faith. Belief in the resurrection-both Christ's resurrection and the general resurrection of believers in the last days-is foundational to the Christian faith. Elsewhere, Paul says, "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith also is in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:14).
The New Testament includes a number of accounts of people who saw the resurrected Christ (Matthew 28:9-10, 16-20; Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:13-43; John 20:11-23; 21:1-23; 1 Corinthians 5:5-7). Most of these accounts involved several people, and one included five hundred (1 Corinthians 15:6).
Especially important is the fact that Paul had experienced the risen Christ personally on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:4-6)-an experience that turned Paul from the church's chief persecutor to its chief apostle. As an apostle, Paul suffered beatings, imprisonment, shipwreck, and a host of other miseries for the sake of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). Paul's willingness to endure these hardships makes sense only if he had, in fact, experienced the risen Christ personally.
"even so (Greek: houtos) God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus" (Greek: dia tou Iesou) (v. 14b). As noted above, the Greek word houtos is the functional equivalent of "then" in an if/then statement. "IF we believe that Jesus died and rose again" (v. 14a), THEN it stands to reason that "God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus" (v. 14b). Thus, we have no reason to "grieve like the rest, who have no hope" (v. 13b).
Jesus promised his disciples an eternal home, saying, "In my Father's house are many homes. If it weren't so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also" (John 14:2-3).
"fallen asleep in Jesus" (dia tou Iesou-through Jesus). This is a difficult phrase, and scholars offer a number of interpretations, some of which seem quite tortured.
In most cases, "through Jesus" (dia tou Iesou) means that Jesus is the agent who makes something possible. Thus, "grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (dia Iesou Christou) (John 1:17; see also Romans 2:16; 5:21; Galatians 1:1). In other words, Jesus is the agent who makes grace and truth possible.
However, Paul doesn't mean that Jesus made it possible for Thessalonian Christians to die ("fall asleep"). He instead means that these Christians died in a state of belief in Jesus, which has opened the door to their salvation.
1 THESSALONIANS 4:15-17. THE DEAD IN CHRIST WILL RISE FIRST
15 For this we tell you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left to the coming of the Lord, will in no way precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with God's trumpet. The dead in Christ will rise first, 17 then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. So we will be with the Lord forever.
"For this we tell you by the word of the Lord" (literally, a word from the Lord) (v. 15a). Paul mentions the word of the Lord to give authority to what he is about to say.
In his writings, Paul is careful to distinguish between "the word of God," by which he means God the Father (1 Corinthians 14:36)-and "the word about Christ," by which he means the message about Christ (Romans 10:16)-and "the word of the Lord," as in this verse. He uses theos (God) when he means God the Father. He uses kyrios (Lord) when he means Jesus Christ. In this verse he is referring to a word from Jesus.
"that we who are alive, who are left to the coming (Greek: parousia) of the Lord, will in no way precede those who have fallen asleep" (v. 15b). What Paul says in this verse goes beyond what Jesus says in the Gospels-but is consistent with it (see Matthew 24:29-41).
In verses 15-17, Paul directly addresses the concern of the Thessalonian Christians that their deceased brothers and sisters might be disadvantaged when Christ comes again. No, he says, they will not be disadvantaged. All the faithful, dead or alive, will be equally advantaged.
Later, in his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul will speak of an advantage enjoyed by deceased believers. Those who "are at home in the body (i.e., those who are alive) ...are absent from the Lord" (i.e., aren't yet permitted to see the Lord face to face). Paul expressed his willingness "to be at home with the Lord," (i.e., dead) implying that those who are at home with the Lord walk by sight (i.e. see Jesus and know by fact rather than by faith that he is Lord) (2 Corinthians 5:6-9).
"For the Lord (Greek: kyrios) himself will descend from heaven with a shout, (Greek: keleusma) with the voice of the archangel, and with God's trumpet" (Greek: salpinx) (v. 16a). In verse 15, Paul spoke of "the coming (parousia) of the Lord." The people reading this letter would associate the word parousia (coming) with the coming of the emperor or other important person. Such visits, both then and now, are accompanied by fanfare, large crowds, and an air of celebration.
"the Lord (kyrios) himself will descend from heaven." As noted in the above, Paul uses theos (God) when he means God the Father. He uses kyrios (Lord) to speak of Jesus. In this verse, he is talking about the Second Coming of Jesus to save the faithful and to judge the wicked (see 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:7).
The Lord "will descend from heaven with a shout "(keleusma). The word keleusma was used by commanders urging on troops-or coaches urging on their teams. A keleusma shout is intended to encourage, but it also has the ring of authority-of command.
"With the voice of the archangel" (archaggelou). The voice of the archangel will announce Christ's coming. It is a voice intended to command attention.
The word archaggelou is a combination of archon (chief) and aggelos (pronounced angelos and meaning angel)-so archangels are leaders of angels-or, as in this verse, the Lord's principal spokespersons.
Daniel 10:13; Jude 9; and Revelation 12:7 mention the name of one of the archangels-Michael-who will fight against and defeat the great dragon, Satan. 1 Enoch, an apocryphal work, lists the names of seven archangels-Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Sariel, Gabriel, and Remiel. The mention of seven angels and seven trumpets in Revelation 8:2 - 11:15 almost certainly involves the seven archangels.
"and with God's trumpet" (salpinx). In the Old Testament, the shofar was a trumpet crafted from the horn of a sacrificial ram. It was used for several purposes-to announce the Sabbath and other religious observances, to call soldiers to battle, and to warn people of impending danger. At Mount Sinai, a trumpet was one of the four signs (the others being thunderings, lightnings, and a smoking mountain) that alerted people to God's presence (Exodus 20:18).
In the New Testament, trumpets were used to draw attention to important events. For the most part, trumpets in the New Testament are used to signal eschatological events, such as Christ's Second Coming. Jesus said, "(The Son of Man) will send out his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together his chosen ones from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other" (Matthew 24:31).
Paul wrote about the sounding of the last trumpet, at which "the dead will be raised incorruptible" (1 Corinthians 15:52). The book of Revelation spells out in considerable detail the seven trumpets that will sound in the last days to announce a number of cataclysmic events (Revelation 8:2 - 11:15).
In this letter to the Thessalonians, Paul says that God's trumpet will be part of the fanfare used to signal the coming of the Lord Jesus, whose coming will usher in the salvation of the faithful.
"The dead in Christ will rise first" (v. 16b). Not all the dead will rise, but only "the dead in Christ"-those who have made Christ the Lord of their lives.
Paul's point in this verse is the faithful dead will not be disadvantaged in the Parousia-Christ's Second Coming. Before anything else happens, they will be raised from the dead.
"then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air" (v. 17a). Nor will the faithful dead enjoy an advantage over those who are living at the time of Christ's Second Coming. All will "be caught up together...to meet the Lord in the air."
"in the clouds." Clouds are associated with the presence of the Lord in both testaments (Exodus 13:21-22; 16:10; 19:9; Daniel 7:13; Mark 9:7; 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27; Revelation 1:7; 14:14-16).
The phrase "in the air" is unusual, but supports Paul's imagery. Christ will descend from heaven and we will ascend from earth, so we will meet Christ in the in-between space-"in the air."
"So we will be with the Lord forever" (v. 17b). Note that Paul doesn't emphasize spiritual geography here. He doesn't talk about going to heaven, but rather being "with the Lord forever." That's Paul's concern-being with the Lord.
In the only place where Paul talks about heaven as our destination he says, "For our citizenship is in heaven," where "the Lord Jesus Christ...will change the body of our humiliation to be conformed to the body of his glory" (Philippians 3:20-21). Even there, he emphasizes the changes that the Lord will make rather than the wonder of attaining a heavenly existence.
That is not to say that our destination isn't heaven. It is rather that Paul's concern was our relationship with the Lord. Going to heaven (often our first concern) was so secondary to Paul that he doesn't even mention it.
1 THESSALONIANS 4:18. COMFORT ONE ANOTHER WITH THESE WORDS
18Therefore comfort one another with these words.
"Therefore comfort (Greek: parakaleo) one another with these words" (v. 18). The Greek word parakaleo combines two words, para (to the side of) and kaleo (to call), and means "to call by the side" or "to encourage" or "to comfort."
This verse sharpens the focus of Paul's concern, which is the comfort of those who are grieving at the death of loved ones. He wants them to be reassured that their loved ones haven't forfeited anything by dying prior to Christ's coming.
That doesn't mean that Christians shouldn't grieve. The loss of a loved one through death is a terrible thing, and the survivor should feel free to grieve. However, we need not "grieve like the rest, who have no hope" (v. 13).
1Thess. 4:1-18 Extra Commentary
1 Thessalonians 4:1 "Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort [you] by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, [so] ye would abound more and more."
"Furthermore" (Greek loipos) marks a key transition in the book. Here Paul introduces his exhortation on practical Christian living.
"By the Lord Jesus": To give added weight to his words, Paul appealed here to the fact that he wrote with the authority of Christ Himself (see verses 2, 15; 5:27; 2 Thess. 3:6, 12).
"Please God": (2:4, 15; 2 Cor. 5:9; Eph. 5:10, 17; Col. 1:10; Heb. 11:6; 13:15-16; 1 John 3:22). This is done by obedience to the Word of God (verse 3).
We see in this that Paul is calling them to walk holy before their God. There is only one way to walk that is pleasing to God. That is to walk on the straight and narrow path of righteousness. You might even explain it as walking in the footprints Jesus has left for us. Paul reminds them that Christianity is a daily walk.
The word "abound" in this particular instance, would mean to live therein. This is speaking of steadfastness in the Lord. Paul has explained and preached before to them about walking uprightly before God. He taught them that the only way to please God is to have faith in Him and walk in His ways. We should, like these people, try to please God and not ourselves.
The word "furthermore" shows us that this chapter is directly connected to the chapter before. This is just a further explanation of what God expects from each of us. True salvation is a free gift. We do not do anything to earn it. It is, however, up to us to walk in the salvation that has been given us. We must walk in newness of life. We must desire to please God in all that we do.
1 Thessalonians 4:2 "For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus."
"Commandments we gave you": Paul appeals to his apostolic authority, speaking as a representative of the Lord Jesus.
Paul is saying in this, the commandments were God's. He explains that he was the messenger that God sent them by. Everything Paul said to them was as an oracle of God. The Spirit of God put the Words in Paul's mouth and Paul spoke them.
1 Thessalonians 4:3 "For this is the will of God, [even] your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:"
"The will of God": All of God's Word contains God's will, both affirmations and prohibitions.
Specifically, God's will includes salvation (1 Tim. 2:4), self-sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2), Spirit filling (Eph. 5:18), submission (1 Pet. 2:13-15), suffering (1 Pet. 3:17), satisfaction (5:18), settledness (Heb. 10:36). And particularly here, sanctification, which literally refers to a state of being set apart from sin to holiness.
In this context, it means being set apart from sexual impurity; holding oneself away from immorality by following the instruction (in verses 4-8).
The New Testament delineates three kinds of holiness:
(1) Positional holiness (1 Cor. 6:11);
(2) Progressive holiness (Rom. 6:12-23);
(3) Perfected holiness (3:13). The second kind is in view ere.
Sanctification in this verse, means purification or holiness. This means that God Himself has purified them for Himself. We are set aside for God's purposes when we are sanctified. We may be in the world, but we are no longer of this world. We are in Christ and He is in us.
"Fornication" (Greek porneia) means any form of sexual impurity.
Abstain, means to hold one-self off. It also means refrain. Fornication means, adultery, incest, idolatry, or harlotry of any kind. This includes homosexual and lesbian acts.
We see the seriousness of sexual sin. It is adultery in the physical, but spiritual adultery is included as being forbidden. It is covered in idolatry. Stay away from spiritual adultery and physical adultery, is what Paul is saying.
1 Thessalonians 4:4 "That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor;"
"Possess his vessel": Two interpretations of "vessel" are usually offered. The term can mean:
(1) The wife (Ruth 4:10, LXX, 1 Peter 3:7), which one acquires, or
(2) The body (2 Cor. 4:7; 2 Tim. 2:21), which one possesses.
The latter is most likely since:
(1) The reference (in 1 Peter 3:7), is used only in a comparative sense ("someone weaker"), referring to general humanity, not femaleness;
(2) Being married does not guarantee sexual purity;
(3) Paul would be contradicting what he taught (in 1 Cor. 7), about the superlative state of singleness (7:8-9); and
(4) If taken in the sense of marrying a wife, Paul would be talking to men only and ignoring how women were to stay pure.
Therefore, "possess his own body" is the preferred translation/interpretation.
This is really saying, let your spirit rule over your flesh. Paul, in Corinthians had said we have this treasure in earthen vessels. The flesh of man came from the earth. This then, is speaking of the flesh of mankind.
To possess anything, means you have control over it. This is what is being said then, have control over your flesh and walk holy before your Lord.
1 Thessalonians 4:5 "Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:"
Concupiscence means longing for what is forbidden, or lust.
The Gentiles here are speaking of those who are not Christians. Gentile believers are the spiritual house of Israel. This is speaking of those who are not saved. The Gentiles who know not God are doing whatever is pleasing to the flesh.
1 Thessalonians 4:6 "That no [man] go beyond and defraud his brother in [any] matter: because that the Lord [is] the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified."
"Go beyond" means overstep this moral law.
"Defraud his brother": The context, which remains unchanged throughout (verses 1-8), demands that this refer to all the destructive social and spiritual implications for illegitimate sexual activity.
"Avenger": This means it is God who ultimately works out just recompense for such sins (Col. 3:4-7; Heb. 13:4).
This is speaking of going beyond the fraud. It includes sin of all kind. This is just saying do not sin against your brother. God sees everything we do against anyone. He especially watches over the brethren. Vengeance is mine saith the Lord.
"Defraud" means literally "take advantage of," "rob," or "cheat."
"In any matter" (or "in this manner"), refers to the sexual misconduct, deplored in the previous verses. It could refer to infidelity to one's spouse, or to an unmarried person committing adultery with someone's spouse.
1 Thessalonians 4:7 "For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness."
"Called us": Whenever the epistles refer to the "call" of God, it is always a reference to His effectual, saving call, never to a general plea. It is linked to justification (Rom. 8:30).
This uncleanness is not in the physical sense. This is uncleanness of the heart. It is not the dirt on the outside of man which destroys him; it is having an unclean heart. Our call is to be a sermon to others in the way we conduct our daily lives.
1 Thessalonians 4:8 "He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit."
"Despiseth": Paul's language here seems to echo Jesus' words (in Luke 10:16).
"Given unto us his Holy Spirit": God's Spirit is a free gift to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation (Acts 2:38; Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 3:16; 12:13; 2 Cor. 6:16).
When we despise man, we are despising God's creation, because God made man. When we despise the creation of God, we are finding fault with the Creator, who made this creation.
It is impossible for flesh man not to despise, but when we become spirit man, with the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, the Spirit within us knows only love. He loves the unlovable through us.
Verses 9-10: Taught of God to love": Through God's Word (Psalm 119: 97-102), and by God Himself, they were loving believers (Rom. 5:5; 1 John 2:7-11; 3:14; 4:7-8, 12).
1 Thessalonians 4:9 "But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another."
The great commandment that Jesus gave unto us was to love God with everything within us. The second commandment was like unto it. Look with me at what it is.
Matthew 22:39 "And the second [is] like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
This is printed in red in my Bible which means that Jesus, Himself said this. The brotherly love spoken of above is loving your brother as you do yourself. Paul says, Jesus made it so clear; there is no need for me to add to that.
1 Thessalonians 4:10 "And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more;"
Paul is saying to them that the type of love that they have for their fellows in the church there, is very good. He just wants them to expand that type of love to all of humanity. It is easy for us to love our neighbors that we see every day. We understand them. Paul is saying, love the stranger, whom you do not have much in common with.
1 Thessalonians 4:11 "And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;"
"Study" literally means "aspire" or "determine."
"To be quiet": This refers to one who does not present social problems or generate conflict among those people in his life, but whose soul rests easy even in the midst of difficulty (1 Peter 3:4). Paul later deals with those who did not "attend to their own business" at Thessalonica (2 Thess. 3:6-15).
"Work with your own hands": this and (2 Thessalonians 3:11), suggest that some believers had abandoned their occupations, believing Christ's second coming was near at hand. Greek culture looked down on manual labor, but Paul exalts it.
We are seeing in this a description of the character traits that will follow those who are believers in Christ.
Proverbs 9:13 "A foolish woman [is] clamorous: [she is] simple, and knoweth nothing."
It is impossible to learn if you are talking all the time. Be a good listener and thereby show that you are wise in the Lord. We should never take on someone else's work to do. We should be doing (to the best of our ability), the job that God has called us to do. I, for one, want to be found working when the Lord comes to get me.
God has a job for each of us to do. It is not the same job as someone else. It is unique in the fact that you are the only one called to do that specific job. Find out what the will of God is for your life and get busy doing it.
1 Thessalonians 4:12 "That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and [that] ye may have lack of nothing."
"Them that are without": Non-Christians are in view here (1 Cor. 5:2; Col. 4:5; 1 Tim. 3:7).
"Lack of nothing": The biblical means of supplying one's needs is to work. (Verses 11 and 12), are important for the Christian work ethic.
The only contact that some people have with God is, the God they see operating in your life. You are a living witness by the way you conduct your life. If you live Christ-like before them, they see Christ in your walk. If you walk the worldly life, you lead them to destruction.
Verses 13-18: Even though Paul's ministry in Thessalonica was brief, it is clear the people had come to believe in and hope for the reality of their Savior's return (1:3, 9, 10; 2:19; 5:1-2; 2 Thess. 2:1, 5). They were living in expectation of that coming, eagerly awaiting Christ.
Verse 13: (2 Thess. 2:1-3), indicates they were even agitated about some things that were happening to them that might affect their participation in it. They knew Christ's return was the climactic event in redemptive history and didn't want to miss it. The major question they had was "What happens to the Christians who die before He comes? Do they miss His return?"
Clearly, they had an imminent view of Christ's return, and Paul had left the impression it could happen in their lifetime. Their confusion came as they were being persecuted, and experience they thought they were to be delivered from, by the Lord's return (3:3-4).
1 Thessalonians 4:13 "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope."
"Them which are asleep": Sleep is the familiar New Testament euphemism for death which describes the appearance of the deceased. It describes the dead body, not the soul (2 Cor. 5:1-9; Phil. 1:23). Sleep is used of Jarius' daughter (Matt. 9:24), whom Jesus raised from the dead and Stephen who was stoned to death (Acts 7:60; John 11:11; 1 Cor. 7:39; 15:6, 18, 51; 2 Pet. 3:4).
Those who sleep are identified (in verse 16), as "the dead in Christ." The people, in ignorance, had concluded that those who die miss the Lord's return and they were grieved over their absence at such a glorious event.
Thus, the departure of a loved one brought great anguish to the soul. But there is no reason for Christians to sorrow when a brother dies as if some great loss to that person has come.
"I would not have you to be ignorant" is simply Paul's way of saying, "I have something I want to tell you (Rom. 1:13; 11:25; 1 Cor. 10:1; 2 Cor. 1:8).
"That ye sorrow not" is in the present tense: "So you will not continue to grieve." Apparently, these believers were concerned about their loved ones who had died in the Lord, especially in view of Christ's promised second coming (verses 14-15).
"Hope": (Greek elpis), means "certain expectation."
The hope spoken of here is the hope of the resurrection. Those who have not accepted Jesus as their Savior,
have no hope, because He is Life. Ignorant would mean uninformed, in the verse above. This is the beginning verse of Scriptures that are used at many funerals to comfort those who have lost loved ones.
One of the greatest promises made to those who believe is, that the death of the body is not eternal death of the spirit. Because Jesus arose from the grave, all believers in Christ will arise with Him to new life in Him.
There should not really be sorrow for a Christian who sheds this sinful flesh and goes to live eternally with God. Paul is speaking here of the Christians who have died to this world. They have experienced physical death.
1 Thessalonians 4:14 "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him."
"Will God bring with him": As Jesus died and rose, so also will those who die believing in Him rise again so they can be taken to heaven with the Lord (1 Cor. 15:51-58).
These texts describe the rapture of the church, which takes place when Jesus comes to collect His redeemed and take them back to heaven. Those who have died before that time (called "those who have fallen asleep"), will be gathered and taken back to heaven with the Lord.
"Jesus died and rose again": The certainty of the believer's hope is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:20-23).
"Bring": This presupposes that those who sleep in Jesus are with Him, and when He comes they will come with Him.
"Them also which sleep in Jesus" can be translated: "those who were put to sleep by Jesus." As a parent lovingly puts a child to bed when tired, so Jesus just as lovingly takes His saints from this life ("were put to sleep"), at the right time.
My own personal belief about death is, the instant we draw our last breath, our spirit goes to be in heaven with Jesus. Our body (the house we moved out of), goes to the grave. That body was made from the dust of the earth and it must return to dust. The real me is the spirit that was housed in that body.
There is a physical body and there is a spiritual body. It is the spiritual body that rises. To really understand this, you must read (1 Corinthians chapter 15 beginning with verse 15). Read it all the way to the end of the chapter. I will give just a sample of that here.
1 Corinthians 15:44-45 "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." "And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [was made] a quickening spirit."
Notice the statement "will God bring with Him". I believe the spirit of the Christian is with God in heaven immediately after death. There is a later, resurrection of the body. We do know that even now the Martyred Christians are in heaven crying how long.
Revelation 6:10 "And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?"
We do know that the body of Jesus came out of the tomb. We do know that it was different enough that the disciples did not recognize His body. We do know that the body still had the marks of the nails. We do know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. (Read 2 Cor. 5:8).
1 Thessalonians 4:15 "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive [and] remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep."
"The word of the Lord": Was Paul referring to some saying of Jesus found in the gospels? No. There are none exact or even close. The only explicit reference to the rapture in the gospels is (John 14:1-3). Some suggest that Jesus had said the words while on earth, their substance being recorded later in such places as (Matt. 24:30-31; John 14:1-3 and John 6:39-40; 11:25-26).
Similarities between this passage (in 1 Thess.), and the gospel accounts include a trumpet (Matt. 24:31), a resurrection (John 1:26), and a gathering of the elect (Matt. 24:31). Yet dissimilarities between it and the canonical sayings of Christ far outweigh the resemblances.
Some of the differences between (Matt. 24:30-31 and verses 15-17), are as follows:
(1) In Matthew, the Son of Man is coming on the clouds (but see Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27). In (1 Thess.), ascending believers are in them;
(2) In the former, the angels gather, in the latter Christ does personally;
(3) In the former, nothing is said about resurrection, while in the latter this is the main theme; and
(4) Mathew records nothing about the order of ascent which is the principal lesson in Thessalonians.
On the other hand, did he mean a statement of Jesus that was spoken but not recorded in the gospels (Acts 20:35)? No. There is reason to conclude this since Paul affirmed that he taught the Rapture as a heretofore hidden truth (1 Cor. 15:51), i.e., "mystery."
Apparently, the Thessalonians were informed fully about the Day of the Lord judgment (5:1-2), but not the preceding event, the rapture of the church. Until Paul revealed it as the revelation from God to him, it had been a secret, with the only prior mention being Jesus' teaching (in John 14:1-3). This was a new prior mention, being Jesus' teaching (in John 14:1-3). This was new revelation of what had previously been an unrevealed mystery.
"We which are alive and remain": This refers to Christians alive at the time of the Rapture, those who live on this earth to see the coming of the Lord for His own. Since Paul didn't know God's timing, he lived and spoke as if it could happen in his lifetime. As with all early Christians he believed the event was near (Rom. 13:11; 1 Cor. 6:14; 10:11; 16:22; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Tim. 6:14; Titus 2:13). Those alive at the Rapture will follow those dead who rise first (verse 16).
"Prevent" (Greek phthano, "precede"): The Greek emphasizes that the living will have no advantage over the dead when Christ returns.
This was a revelation that Paul had gotten from God. Paul was looking for the coming of the Lord to be at any second. Today it seems even more evident that the coming of Christ is very near. There is a generation of people who will be alive when the Lord Jesus comes. My own personal belief is that it is our generation.
It really does not matter whether we go by the way of the grave, or whether we will be living at His coming. If we are alive, we will be changed in the twinkling of an eye. Flesh and blood do not inherit the kingdom, so those living will have to be changed to an incorruptible, spiritual body.
Verses 16-17: The order of events at the time of Christ's coming is clearly given:
(1) The Lord will descend with a shout, accompanied by the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God (1 Cor. 15:52);
(2) The dead in Christ will be resurrected; and
(3) Then those remaining will be caught up with them in the clouds.
"Dead in Christ" is a technical expression for believers of the church age. "Caught up (Greek harpazo, "to seize," "snatch"): The Latin word for carry off is "raptus", from which we get rapture. The doctrine of the Rapture of the church is given its clearest expression in this verse.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:"
"For the Lord Himself shall descend": This fulfills the pledge of (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11). Until then, He remains in heaven (1:10; Heb. 1:1-3).
"Archangel": Very little is known about the organization or rank of angels (Col. 1:17). While only Michael is named as an archangel (Jude 9), there seems to be more than one in the archangelic ranks (Dan 10:13).
Perhaps it is Michael, the archangel, whose voice is heard as he is identified with Israel's resurrection (in Dan. 12:1-3). At that moment (1 Cor. 15:52, "twinkling of an eye"), the dead rise first. They will not miss the Rapture, but be the first participants.
"Trump of God" (1 Cor. 15:52). This trumpet is not the judgment trumpets of (Rev. 8-11), but is illustrated by the trumpet of (Exodus 19:16-19), which called the people out of the camp to meet God. It will be a trumpet of deliverance (Zeph. 1:16; Zech. 9:14).
The trumpet that gathered the people, throughout the Bible was a silver trumpet. This trump that is blown will be silver, because it will redeem the people from this earth. Silver means redemption. The reason there is no silver in heaven is because we have already been redeemed.
This is the last chronological mention of silver in the Bible. The voice of the Lord and the trump are so enveloped in one, that it is hard to separate the one from the other. We can see in the following verse that many times the voice is spoken of as a trumpet.
Isaiah 58:1 "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins."
This shout will wake the dead. This is the same shout that brought Lazarus from the grave. The dead in Christ just means that these will rise before the living in Christ who will be changed and rise. In Jude, Michael is spoken of as the archangel. My belief is that Michael is like a general under Jesus.
Whether the archangel is actually sounding or whether this is the voice of Jesus who is now King of kings and Lord of lords, I am not certain. It really does not matter. We know that this pure sound calls the Christians from the earth.
1 Thessalonians 4:17 "Then we which are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord."
Although the word Rapture does not occur in the English Bible (the Latin Bible uses the verb here from which rapture derives), the idea is expressed in the words "caught up." The Rapture is the first phase of Christ's return, involving every Christian alive at the time. These Christians will be caught up to meet Him in the clouds, instantaneously receiving glorified bodies.
"Caught up": After the dead come forth, their spirits, already with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23), are now being joined to resurrected new bodies; the living Christians will be raptured, literally snatched away (John 10:28; Acts 8:39). This passage, along with (John 14:1-3), and (1 Cor. 15:51-52), forms the biblical basis for "the Rapture" of the church.
The time for the Rapture cannot be conclusively determined from this passage alone. However, when other texts such as (Rev. 3:10 and John 14:3), are consulted and compared to the texts about Christ's coming in judgment (Matt. 13:34-50; 24:29-44; Rev. 19:11-21), at the end of a 7 year tribulation, it has to be noted that there is a clear difference between the character of the "Rapture" in that there is no mention of any judgment, while the other texts feature judgment.
So then, it is best to understand that the Rapture occurs at a time different from the coming of Christ of Christ in judgment. Thus, the Rapture has been described as pre-tribulational, before the wrath of God unfolded in the judgments of (Rev 6-19).
This event includes complete transformation (1 Cor. 15:51-52; Phil. 3:20-21), and union with the Lord Jesus Christ that never ends.
All those who have died "in Christ" will be resurrected; those who are alive and saved at the time of the Rapture will be caught up with Christ before the start of the "Seventieth Week of Daniel." That is, the Great Tribulation.
There are many reasons to believe that the Rapture precedes the Tribulation, but fundamentally this view is consistent with a historical-grammatical interpretation of the Scriptures.
A close examination of the prophetic Scriptures reveals a distinction between the Rapture (which relates to the church), and the revelation of Christ in power and glory (which relates more to Israel).
"We which are alive" is speaking of the Christians alive at the coming of Christ who will be changed in the twinkling of an eye.
1 Corinthians 15:51-54 "Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, " "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal [must] put on immortality." "So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory."
1 Thessalonians 4:18 "Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
"Comfort one another": The primary purpose of this passage is not to teach a scheme of prophecy, but rather to provide encouragement to those Christians whose loved ones have died.
The comfort here is based on the following:
(1) The dead will be resurrected and will participate in the Lord's coming for His own;
(2) When Christ comes, the living will be reunited forever with their loved ones; and
(3) They all will be with the Lord eternally (verse 17).
"Comfort": The Christian's hope of the resurrection brings solace in the face of death, in contrast to the hopelessness of the heathen.
Christians should have no fear of death. We should be comforted to know that there is an eternity of life awaiting us with the Lord Jesus. The beginning of the 14th chapter of John tells us exactly why we should not let our heart be troubled or afraid.
When a Christian dies, we should celebrate their home-going, not grieve deeply for their departing. We are really grieving for us who were left behind.