1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary Verses 13-18

1 Thessalonians 4 Verses 13-18
1 Thessalonians 4 Verses 13-18
Explaining the Book
Explaining the Book
1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary Verses 13-18
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1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary: The human experience of grief is as old as sin. When our father Adam disobeyed God, sin entered into the world - and death though sin. This death - in all of its various lifelong forms and manifestations - leads to grief in just as many forms.

Our responses to this originally-unnatural grief are interesting. One major response to seeing others experience grief is to console or comfort them.

Consoling others who are experiencing grief is something that God has done from the outset.

When Adam and Eve sinned - along with the punishment that ensued - there was also consolation offered. God was the first to console mankind and he did so with the promise of a seed of the woman - Jesus Christ - who would crush the serpent’s head.

When Cain killed his brother Abel, God consoled Eve by giving her another son in Abel’s place - Seth.

God’s consolation in mankind’s grief is always perfect and appropriate. Mankind’s attempts at consoling our grieving fellow-man can sometimes miss the mark.

[S] In a second-century letter of consolation from a person named Irene to two other folks named Ta-on-no-phris and Philo who were mourning - apparently for someone who died - the following is stated. This is Irene speaking…

“I am as sorry [elypēthēn] and weep over the departed one as I wept for Didymas.… But nevertheless, against such things one can do nothing. Therefore comfort ye one another.”

(Green)

How do you like that comfort and consolation? Comfort one another because - really - you can’t do anything about what happened.

God has better consolation for believers - even and especially you lose a believing loved on to death. God’s consolation to believers is his truth.

And that’s what we’ll see this evening in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Please turn with me to that passage.

Let’s read the passage and find in the explanation of the details this message of God’s Truth Giving Us Comfort.

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary Text

1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 AV 1873

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.

14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

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.

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:

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.

18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

If God’s Truth Gives Comfort, then it’s ignorance of his truth that hinders it - which is exactly what we see in verse 13…

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary Verse 13

1 Thessalonians 4:13 AV 1873

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.

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren

13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren,

13 Οὐ θέλομεν δὲ ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν, ἀδελφοί,

Though the Thessalonians very well may have known certain aspects of what Paul is about to tell them, they in some ways did not possess a perfect knowledge of what he’s about to say.

The area in which the Thessalonian believers were ignorant was…

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary concerning them which are asleep

concerning them which are asleep,

περὶ τῶν κοιμωμένων,

This therefore is the third concern which Paul is taking up in this letter to these believers. He apparently received some sort of communication from Timothy that informed him that these believers were struggling with this matter.

Paul had addressed the matter of sexual purity with these believers and then of brotherly love and responsibility. Now he needed to speak with them concerning those who are asleep.

Obviously, Paul isn’t giving instruction about literal physical sleep, as will become very apparent as we go along in this section. As if some of the believers there were being lazy and sleeping way too much.

Paul’s speaking of believers who have physically died. And their death is viewed as mere sleep. Because some day they will awake in the resurrection and be reunited with their fellow-believers and the Lord himself.

As pleasant as that sounds, reality lived-out is often not as flowery. The Thessalonians had experienced the harshness of death - possibly as a result of persecution that would have terminated in the death of some of their dear loved ones. Or perhaps it was death as a result of disease or so-called natural causes.

Whatever the case, the Thessalonians were faced with the following temptation as their response to the temporary death of their beloved fellow-Christians…

that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope

that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.

ἵνα μὴ λυπῆσθε καθὼς καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ οἱ μὴ ἔχοντες ἐλπίδα. 

The ignorance of the Thessalonian believers was leading at least some of them to despair. They were sorrowing as others which have no hope.

Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:11-13 that before we were brought near to God through the blood of Christ that we ourselves were “having no hope and without God in the world”. This is the state of every lost person in this world.

This lack of hope affected everything in your life, not the least of which areas was your conception of death.

What does this sorrowing without hope look like?

You have the example of the ancient Epicurean disciples whose gravestones contained this hopeless series of four short sentences: “I was not. I was. I am not. I care not.”

(https://epicurus.today/the-epicurean-attitude-to-death/)

Or, the Sicilian poet named Theocritus from around 300 BC said, “Hopes are for the living; the dead are without hope.”

{Green, G. L. (2002). The letters to the Thessalonians (p. 218). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos.}

Is that true? Is either of those ways correct interpretations of reality in the life of a believer? Is all there is to you mere physical existence and when that’s taken from you, you’re just done? Do you have hope only up to the point of death - but when death comes your hope ends?

Paul is going to correct those - and any other aberrant - ways of thinking by pointing you to the central frame of reference for believers when it comes to the matter of death - the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in verse 14…

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary Verse 14

1 Thessalonians 4:14 AV 1873

14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again

14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again,

14 εἰ γὰρ πιστεύομεν ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἀπέθανεν καὶ ἀνέστη,

And we do - don’t we! We believe that Jesus died for our sins on the cross, that he was buried, and that he rose again on the third day. This is the Gospel. It’s what every truly born-again Christian believes. It’s God’s message that alone has any power to save a person.

If  and since you believe the Gospel, then - whether you know it or not - you believe the next assertion…

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him

even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

οὕτως καὶ ὁ θεὸς τοὺς κοιμηθέντας διὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἄξει σὺν αὐτῷ. 

This is apparently another facet of the ignorance of the Thessalonian believers. They were uncertain of this reality - that God would bring with Jesus believers who had died before Jesus’ coming.

These believers are said once more to be sleeping - a euphemism for death. But actually, it’s also the correct way to think about death for a believer. Because Jesus has made death utterly temporary for those who trust him. Jesus died - he was separated from his Father - so that we never have to die in that sense of permanent separation from God. We will never even see death because Jesus has tasted death in our place. So that our temporary death can be viewed as mere sleep.

Just like waking the kids up from sleep to go to Church Sunday morning, so also will God awaken our departed beloved believers and bring them along to some event.

What event is that? We see that in verse 15. He starts this way…

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary Verse 15

1 Thessalonians 4:15 AV 1873

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.

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord

15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord,

15 τοῦτο γὰρ ὑμῖν λέγομεν ἐν λόγῳ κυρίου,

First, Paul needs to assert the authority upon which he’s going to say what’s to follow. What he’s about to say - and what he’s said already - are said by the word of the Lord.

This is prophetic wording. It could be that Paul is hearkening back to Jesus’ statements in Matthew 24 and Mark 13 and Luke 17:20-37 about his future coming. Though I think it’s more likely that Paul received a special word from Jesus directly since some of what Paul’s going to say doesn’t seem to be taught directly in those other passages.

Whatever the case, Paul has an authoritative prophetic word concerning the fact that believers who have died in Christ will be brought with him at some future point.

Here’s that future point and what we need to not be ignorant of concerning it…

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord

that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord

ὅτι ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι εἰς τὴν παρουσίαν τοῦ κυρίου

There it is - the coming of the Lord. That’s where God will bring believers who have temporarily died with Jesus. When Jesus comes, those departed believers will be brought with Christ.

But then there’s also this mention of the possibility that not all of us will pass away before Jesus’ coming. There will be some believers who are alive and remain unto that very event.

The apostle Paul categorized himself in that group. He held this great desire that he himself would be alive when Jesus returned. Of course, Paul was taken to be with the Lord before Jesus came. But he leaves us an example as to how we ought to think about Jesus' coming. We don’t know when Jesus will return. But we’re encouraged to be waiting and watching for his coming. We are to assume that it will happen in our lifetime.

If it doesn’t happen in our lifetime, that’s OK. Because we would simply find ourselves in that other group which Paul described in this passage - this cohort of believers who die before Jesus returns.

Paul now explains the relationship of those two groups when it comes to Jesus’ return - those who die before Christ’s coming and those believers who live up to the point of his return. Those who are alive unto Jesus’ coming…

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary shall not prevent them which are asleep

shall not prevent them which are asleep.

οὐ μὴ φθάσωμεν τοὺς κοιμηθέντας· 

That word prevent is defined as “to be beforehand in moving to a position; to come before; to precede.”

{Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 1053). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.}

Part of the comfort for these Thessalonian believers then was that if they lived to the point of Jesus’ return, they would not go before their departed brethren. It seems then that they were generally concerned that their loved ones would somehow miss out on Jesus’ coming. As if death kind of disqualified them from participating in this wonderful and joyful event and that only the believers who were living on earth at the time of Jesus’ return would be included in it.

But that’s not at all the case. In fact, instead of somehow being excluded from the events associated with Jesus’ coming, the resurrection of the dead in Christ will be the first thing to happen, as Paul now goes on to explain in verse 16…

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary Verse 16

1 Thessalonians 4:16 AV 1873

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:

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven

16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven

16 ὅτι αὐτὸς ὁ κύριος … καταβήσεται ἀπʼ οὐρανοῦ,

Remember that when Jesus was speaking his last words to his disciples, he was taken up into heaven. They watched him until they couldn’t see him anymore due to the clouds. And then those two angels appeared and asked the disciples why they kept looking up into the sky. Because - they said - Jesus will return in the same way in which he went up (Acts 1:6-11).

He ascended up from the earth into heaven. He will descend back down to the earth from heaven. Eventually.

But actually, as we continue studying this passage we’re going to see that Jesus is not represented as touching down on the earth this time. There will be a time when he will touch down on the earth and establish his kingdom from Jerusalem which will last for 1,000 years.

But this return of Jesus under discussion in 1 Thessalonians 4 is portrayed as him being - not on the earth - but in the clouds and in the air. And it stops there - apparently without Jesus coming all the way down to the earth.

He descends from heaven but doesn’t descend all the way to the earth at this point.

When this happens, this event will be accompanied by at least three elements…

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary with a shout

with a shout,

ἐν κελεύσματι,

The first element to attend Jesus’ descending from heaven is a shout. This is a shout of authoritative command.

Who’s voice is this and what is the content of the authoritative shouted-command at Jesus’ descent from heaven?

It’s likely that the voice is Jesus’ and the command is for the dead in Christ to rise.

John 5:25-30 records Jesus’ assertion that there’s a time coming when the dead will hear his voice and will come out of their tombs. There he speaks of both the righteous and unrighteous rising - the righteous to life and the unrighteous to condemnation. Not that these two events need to happen at the same time. And indeed we have reason to think that the dead in Christ rise first and the dead apart from Christ don’t rise until the Great White Throne Judgment after the Millennium.

At any rate, the first element involved in Jesus’ return is this shout of authoritative command from Jesus himself aimed at the dead - especially those who have died in Christ - to be raised up.

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary with the voice of the archangel

with the voice of the archangel,

ἐν φωνῇ ἀρχαγγέλου

The second element accompanying Jesus’ return will be the voice of the archangel.

The Bible explicitly identifies only one archangel - or one angel who is apparently over numerous other angels in some sort of hierarchy that we’re not quite aware of. His name is Michael.

[S] In Daniel 12:1, the prophet Daniel was given this message which includes information concerning this archangel Michael…

Daniel 12:1 AV 1873

1 And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.

Daniel 12:1 caps-off a message to Daniel from a heavenly messenger who may have been an appearance of Jesus before his first coming. He gives Daniel this lengthy message of what will happen to the Jews in the latter days (Daniel 10:14).

Then there ensues this lengthy relating of historical events - many of which have already taken place from our vantage point in history. But some have not yet.

Among those events which have not taken place is this one in Daniel 12:1 that caps off the back-and-forth political and military skirmishes described in Daniel 11.

So, I suggest that we take this verse to be sequential.

First, Michael the archangel “stands up.” And to tie that back into our passage in 1 Thessalonians 4, his standing up should be identified by his voice attending the return of Jesus.

Then there’s a time of unparalleled trouble - what we refer to as the Great Tribulation, perhaps. This comes chronologically after the event described in our passage in 1 Thessalonians 4.

But in the midst of the turmoil and distress of the Great Tribulation, God will deliver his people the Jews - at least the ones whom he’s chosen to deliver, whose names are in “the book”.

Lots of mystery wrapped up in all of that.

But there’s a time coming when Jesus himself will give a commanding shout to the dead. They will rise, especially the believers in Christ who have died. Then what we gather from Daniel 12:1 is that this will also be attended by the standing-up and the uttering of the voice of the archangel - probably Michael. And then a great time of tribulation will ensue for the Jews.

Here’s the last element that will attend Jesus’ return…

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary and with the trump of God

and with the trump of God:

καὶ ἐν σάλπιγγι θεοῦ,

Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:51ff reveals to us a mystery that no one had known up to the point when he communicated it. That mystery was that we shall not all sleep - that is, die. We believers will not all die.

But we will all be changed. In a moment this will happen - with the rapidity of the tiniest movement of your eye. The time it takes for your eye to adjust to a change in lighting.

And this is all going to happen in conjunction with a “last trumpet”. That trumpet will sound, and the dead - in Christ - will be raised incorruptible and imperishable. And we will all be changed.

Those who sleep in Christ will be raised. We know that much from 1 Thessalonians 4. And those of us who are alive and remain will all be changed - which we were not explicitly told here in 1 Thessalonians 4. We will put on immortality and be given imperishable bodies.

Some have pointed out that there seems to be a transition hinted at from the current Church age to a new age in Revelation 4:1. Before Revelation 4:1 we have mention of the Church in the world. But after Revelation 4:1 we don’t. What marks that transition of the Church being here in this world… to it not being mentioned? It’s this matter of a voice like a trumpet saying, “Come up here”. Is that not a picture of what we hear combined together in 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4? The idea of a trumpet and a voice of command declaring that the prototypical believer John must “come up” from this earth?

So, Jesus’ return will be accompanied by a shout of command, the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God.

And then this will happen…

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary and the dead in Christ shall rise first

and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

καὶ οἱ νεκροὶ ἐν Χριστῷ ἀναστήσονται πρῶτον, 

Remember, those believers who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord won’t have any sort of advantage over those who have fallen asleep in Christ. We won’t precede them. Rather, those who die in Christ will be the first to rise, as we also heard in 1 Corinthians 15.

And probably almost immediately after this event, the following events occurs in verse 17…

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary Verse 17

1 Thessalonians 4:17 AV 1873

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.

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up

17 then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up

17 ἔπειτα ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι … ἁρπαγησόμεθα

We’ll be caught up.

•           Like a bird snatching up seed (Matthew 13:19)

•           or like the people intending to take Jesus by force to make him their king (John 6:15)

•           or like the Holy Spirit catching up and transporting Philip to some other place (Acts 8:39)

•           or Paul being snatched away and rescued from the violent mob by the Roman authorities (Acts 23:10)

•           or Paul being caught up into the third heavens - into paradise (2 Corinthians 12:2,4) …

So too, those believers who are alive and remain up to the point of Jesus’ return will be caught up from this earth. We’ll be taken up. We’ll be taken away.

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary together with them

together with them

ἅμα σὺν αὐτοῖς

And we won’t go alone. We’ll be accompanied by those dead in Christ who have been raised to life once more.

They’re coming from under and from within the earth upwards. We’re coming from above and on top of the earth upwards. And together we will be caught up and snatched away.

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary in the clouds

in the clouds,

ἐν νεφέλαις

This will be our destination - at least temporarily. In the clouds.

Believers - both previously dead and currently living at that point - will be caught up together from the earth when Jesus descends from heaven.

You know where this is. This isn’t a metaphor. It’s not poetic language. We are given every reason to believe that this will happen literally. This is a hope that the apostle Paul and the Lord himself want you to be expecting and nourishing within yourself.

It’s easy to doubt that this is going to happen. So many people have so many opinions as to what’s going to happen concerning this event known as the rapture of the Church. Forget all of the noise. Focus on what God is saying to you here.

Do you think it’s impossible for God to catch you and all the raised believers in Christ up into the clouds? What about his creating this entire universe in a mere six days? What about his literally raising his Son from the dead? Is anything too hard for God?

Your future - whether you die in Christ before his return or you remain until his return - is to be caught up together with all believers in the clouds.

And when you’re brought to those clouds, this is the purpose and this is what awaits you…

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary to meet the Lord in the air

to meet the Lord in the air:

εἰς ἀπάντησιν τοῦ κυρίου εἰς ἀέρα·

You’ll finally see the Lord if you remain until his coming. Those who have fallen asleep in Jesus will have already been in his presence since the day of the death of their mortal bodies - since being absent from this body is being present with the Lord.

We will go out to the Lord to greet him. This word “meet” is used of the appropriate response to the bridegroom coming at midnight - “go out to meet him!” (Matthew 25:6). It’s used of the disciples in Rome coming out of their city to meet Paul and his company (Acts 28:15).

Those who hold that believers will go through the Great Tribulation - suffering God’s punitive wrath poured out on this world - and that this rapture will happen at the end of the Tribulation - they point out that the sense of this word seems to be that a delegation comes out to meet an honorable official and then brings that official back to the place from which they originally came.

There’s no doubt that eventually Jesus will return to earth to set up his kingdom. But can there not be a delay between this event in 1 Thessalonians 4 and the return of Jesus to set up his kingdom?

In addition, whereas with the mention of this verb “meet” in Matthew 25 and Acts 28 the context indicates a returning to the place from where they came specifically given - in 1 Thessalonians that idea of returning to the earth isn’t explicitly mentioned at all.

In fact, this is where the apostle Paul ends this idea of meeting the Lord together with all of Christ’s people…

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary and so shall we ever be with the Lord

and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

καὶ οὕτως πάντοτε σὺν κυρίῳ ἐσόμεθα

“And thus always with the Lord we will be.”

However long we’re in the clouds with the Lord and his people… or whether we linger there rejoicing for a while or go somewhere else immediately… wherever we are for that seven year period between this coming of Jesus for his Church … and his coming back to earth to establish his kingdom - the main fact of the matter is that we will forever be with the Lord.

Isn’t this what your heart yearns for? To be with the Lord and to be with his people?

Ultimately, I don’t care where and when and for how long.

Don’t get me wrong - determining the order of eschatological events is important. I’ve attempted to do some of that here with the time we’ve had. We don’t want to minimize anything that the Bible calls us to.

But can we also recognize that while Paul knew the order of end-times events, his focus is not on the spectacular and the sensational. His focus is so practical. He’s seeking to comfort believers who lost believing loved ones. And those living believers were concerned that somehow their loved one wouldn’t participate in the joyful celebration that is to be Jesus’ return.

When all is said and done, our ultimate understanding of the return of Jesus and the rapture of his Church ought to be focused on this one goal and prize: to be with the Lord.

These considerations then were intended to bring about the following inner change in those who would otherwise be worried and fearful and discouraged about the state of their believing departed loved one…

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary Verse 18

1 Thessalonians 4:18 AV 1873

18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

18 ὥστε παρακαλεῖτε ἀλλήλους ἐν τοῖς λόγοις τούτοις.

The consolation of this world is hopelessness and powerlessness.

The consolation of the Lord is hope and power.

Hope through God’s truth - in this case the truth concerning the resurrection. And power through God’s power to raise both us and those believers whom we love and to bring us to a joyful end.

[S] God’s truth is your only consolation. God’s truth truly gives you comfort in this world of thorny ways.

May the Lord comfort you as you heed his truth from his word.

3 comments

  1. Paul, we’re missing you. We pray all is well. Vacation? We pray the Father’s hand upon you, to keep you fully in His care and wisdom.

    1. So sorry for the lateness in posting. I am backlogged on two messages and will be delivering my third tomorrow morning. I will plan to post soon!

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