Studies In 1 Thessalonians
Tom Bentley, Ballymena, N. Ireland
CHAPTER 4. 1-18
1. 4. 1-8. HOLINESS IN OUR PATHWAY – PURITY
2. 4. 9-12. HARMONY ALONG OUR PATHWAY – PEACE
3. 4.13-18. HOPE FOR OUR PATHWAY – PROSPECT
- Practical Holiness, vv. 1 - 8
Set in the Context of Thessalonian Pollution.
v.1 The Authority of the Exhortation, 'in the Lord Jesus'. – Holiness meets with God's Pleasure.
v.2 The Ministry of the Exhortation, 'through the Lord Jesus'. – Holiness fulfils God's Will.
v.3 The Intensity of the Exhortation, 'that' . . . 'that' . . . ’that'. – Holiness displays God's Knowledge. v.3 'that ye should abstain from fornication'. v.4 'that ye should know how'. v.5 'that no man transgress'. Holiness denotes God's Call.
v.8 The Summary of the Exhortation, ‘rejecteth not man, but God'. – Holiness Confirms God's Gift.
- Persistent Harmony vv. 9 - 12. Set in the Context of Thessalonian Politics.
v. 9 Taught of God to Love One Another.
v.10 Exhorted to Love even more Abundantly.
v.11 Serenity – Work Consistently.
v.12 Honesty – Walk Carefully.
- Perfect Hope vv.13 - 18. Set in the Context of Thessalonian Philosophy.
v. 13. The Enlightenment of a Revealed Truth. It Moderates our Sorrow.
v. 14. The Extent of a Received Truth. It Eliminates Superstition.
v. 15. The Establishment of a Realized Truth. It Pulsates with Authority.
v. 16. The Endorsement of a Reaffirmed Truth. It Substantiates His Authority.
v. 17. The Enjoyment of a Rapturous Truth. It Obviates our Suffering.
v. 18. The Encouragement of a Repeated Truth. It Stimulates our Spirit.
The ‘parousia’, which means Presence or Coming,
(i) Has A Commencement.
(ii) Has A Continuance.
(iii) Has A Consummation.
The following words are unique to this chapter:
v. 6, ‘transgress’, huperbaino, ‘to go beyond’;
v. 9, ‘taught of God’, theodidakatos;
v. 15, 17, ‘remain’, perilipomai;
v. 16, ‘shout’, keleusma.
Verse 1. ‘Finally then’, is how the RV translates loipos oun, see Eph. 6. 10; Phil. 3. 1, 4. 8, etc., which denotes a transition of subject and conveys the idea of ‘in consequence of, and in accordance with the matter prayed for in what has preceded'. Here the attention of the readers is directed to the implication of the intercession made by Paul. Grounded on what the apostle has prayed for them from God, the Thessalonians now have a responsibility to put it into practice. The Christian is to comfort himself, so as to be of pleasure to the Lord, doing everything in his life, whether personally or corporately for the glory of God.
In the prayer, the order of request is significant: Paul prays for their ‘love’, and then their ‘holiness’. Shall we term this the positional order? It was ‘His love’, says the hymnwriter, ‘that first drew us to Him’. Our next issue is His holiness. Having been made conscious of the divine nature, for God is love, we become consciously aware that He is also holy. That this may reach the inner being of the readers Paul uses two words of strong inferential appeal, namely ‘beseech’, from orotao, ‘to ask’, and ‘exhort’, from parakaleo, ‘to admonish’. ‘Beseech’ denotes the earnestness of the request as from an affectionate friend, while ‘exhort’ signifies the compelling and encouraging nature of the message as from a spiritual adviser.
Before we proceed with this verse, it would be appropriate to classify the material that lies ahead within the compass of verses 1 to 12. Note very carefully that the subject matter of verses 1 to 8 is holiness, while in verses 9 to 12 it is that of love. Shall we term this the practical order? Therefore, in relation to my constitutional standing before God, it is love and holiness but with respect to my conditional state before God, it is holiness and love. It would be incongruous to be holy before God and to be unholy before men. Likewise, to claim I am loved of God and not to have love for others is plainly contradictory. Now, with all this in view the appeal comes ‘by the Lord Jesus’, or more correctly and explicitly, ‘in the Lord Jesus’, showing it is in the very atmosphere of His presence that the apostle is urging this appeal. It is not presumption on the part of Paul to bring such a demand upon the company in Thessalonica; it is given in the very consciousness of the Lord's prevailing presence. Nor was this the first time that Paul had confronted the Thessalonian believers with their moral responsibilities. They had actually appropriated this earlier, as the word ‘received’, parelabete, implies. It is the same word as used by John in that familiar text of John 1. 12. Paul is able to remind them of their former instruction and reception of such practical truth that he now expands and explains. Clearly, the apostle had urged upon them the duty of living irreproachable lives summed up in the word ‘walk’, and of constantly aiming at pleasing God, cp. Col. 4. 5; Eph. 5. 15, respectively. The closing words of this verse assure us that the life of the believer in Christ is an abundant life, John 10. 10. They have conformed, and yet there is plenty of room for a continuous abounding in the life that is life indeed.
Verse 2. For the eighth time Paul credits the Thessalonians with their intimate knowledge of the things of which he speaks. In this there is an instructive insight to the measure and extent of the apostle’s teaching while among them. In the above verse we noted how Paul ‘beseeches’ and ‘exhorts’, and now he is reissuing ‘commands’, see 2. 11. These came originally ‘by the Lord Jesus’, literally ‘through the Lord Jesus’. Paul was not the original source of what he taught. Nor should anyone cast any disfavour upon the ministry that warrants obedience, under the surmise that it is merely coming from the human mouthpiece – a habit sadly developed by many who wish to evade the application of the word of God
At this stage it is useful to view this section we are studying from a suggested outline. We are considering the features of the paragraph formed by verses 1 to 8. God is mentioned five times and with a vitally important association, viz.,
v. 1 The Pleasure of God; v. 3 The Will of God;
v. 5 The Knowledge of God; v. 7 The Call of God;
v. 8 The Gift of God.
Next we note that the Lord Jesus is mentioned three times, viz.,
v. 1 The Atmosphere of His Presence;
v. 2 The Authority of His Person.
v. 6 The Assurance of His Punishment (judicial for the unbeliever, governmental for the believer).
Then it is good to note the involvement of the apostle, viz.,
v. 1 Beseeching and Exhorting; v. 2 Commanding;
v. 6 Warning and Testifying.
But what is our part in this solemn section? Five infinitives obtain, viz.,
v. 3 ‘That’ ‘To Abstain’ - from fornication.
v. 4 ‘That’ ‘To Know’ - by personal, progressive perception. ‘To Acquire’ - in personal holiness and honour, not in passion, his vessel, Ruth 4. 10.
v. 6 ‘That’ ‘To Transgress’ - Not to transgress in ‘the’ matter, moral, not material. ‘That’ ‘To Defraud’ - ‘the’ matter, being adultery.
Verse 3. The apostle has reminded the Thessalonians of the privilege of striving to please God. They could not please Him better than by being holy and pure in heart and in habit. ‘For this is the will of God, even your sanctification’, not the whole of God’s will, for the definite article is absent, cf. 5. 18, but God’s will in its immediate application to the Thessalonians. Though there are many other things that are embraced by the term the will of God, His will includes within it the injunction that follows. As saints of God we are obliged to concern ourselves with those things that are within the interest of God for our spiritual and moral preservation and purity. ‘Even your sanctification’, is from ho hagiasmos humon, denoting an intensely practical manner of life, indicative of the transforming power of God in a life yielded to Him. ‘The will of God’ for the believer is further expressed by the five infinitives that follow, the first being ‘that ye should abstain from fornication’, which translates apechestai humas apo pases porneias. Here is Paul’s first use of the word ‘fornication’ in his epistles and under divine inspiration he almost invariably condemns most strongly this sin. Here it appears in the context of contemporary practice. It was normal practice in Thessalonica. In the heathen world of Paul’s day all forms of impurity were prevalent, and it is not much changed in our day. Public opinion in the heathen world did not seriously condemn fornication, nor does it today. Certain forms of pagan religion even sanctioned the vice. The temptation, therefore, to converts from heathenism was exceedingly severe, and needed earnest exhortation and warning even in the case of so promising a company as that of Thessalonica. Such a need faces us squarely today, so let us all take heed to this timely prompting of the Holy Spirit of God in His word which is never out of date nor out of step with current trends.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, 6. 13, fornication is set in the context of Christian principle. It is abnormal practice in the fellowship. When he writes to the Ephesians he places fornication in the context of Christian propriety. It is subnormal in a believer, Eph. 5. 3. Let us now place this solemn injunction in a category that the context demands. Paul is addressing not only all the saints generally, but the unmarried specifically. Attend now to the word and its form. It is first of all a present infinitive, which means it is an on-going action, ‘to abstain’, ‘to hold back’, ‘to prevent’, stressing the constancy of the action. Next it is in the middle voice, indicating that it is in the person’s interest thus to act, ‘to hold one’s self off’. This reveals the personal concern the believer will sustain in his unrelenting effort to keep away from this evil. ‘From’, simply means ‘away from’, emphasizing clearly the completeness of the separation from such evil. Unfortunately the AV and the RV omit ‘all’, or ‘every’, which is taken from the word pases, so it is every conceivable form of fornication that is in question, specifying the content of the subject. In our semi-pagan society where immoral behaviour of this kind is treated lightly, it is necessary that we, the children of God, denounce it as promiscuous and licentious, not only by lip, but by life. Thank God we are assured that, we can know deliverance from this vice by the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit of God who indwells us.
Verse 4. Paul addresses the married element now as he proceeds with his exhortations. By the very fact of its position in the text, emphasis is placed on the word eidenai, ‘should know how’, being the perfect tense infinitive with the force of the present tense. It is from oida, ‘absolute knowledge’, signifying a progression of knowledge or skill necessary to accomplish a desired goal. Purity is not a momentary impulse. The third infinitive that Paul uses is ‘to possess’, which translates ktasthai, the present tense, middle voice from the verb ktaomai, ‘to acquire’, ‘to get or procure a thing for one’s self’. What is to be acquired in this context is problematic to some, but not when the word Paul uses here is seen as being descriptive of what Boaz did as recorded in Ruth 4.10. Here the LXX uses the same word as Paul employs. This stipulates then that, what is ‘acquired’ is not his body, as some propose, but his wife. If Paul is referring to the body in this verse, then it is simply a repeat of the former verse, which is unnecessary. In Thessalonica it was common for a man to have a wife for a family and many other women for the satisfaction of lust, hence the applicability of this verse as explained. How is this vessel to be possessed? The steps are clear: i. ‘in sanctification’, which entails, practical holiness; ii. ‘in honour’, which envisages the dignified privileges marriage alone provides, in sharp contrast to its violation as seen in Romans 1. 26, 27.
Verse 5. ‘Not in the lust of concupiscence’ endorses the high morality the word of God expects even in the holy intimacies of wedlock. God is not prohibiting a natural impulse, but what is here termed as ‘lustful passion’. The verse closes with a sharp contrast between Gentiles that know not God and those who do. Again an important word is omitted in the AV, it is kai, ‘also’, confirming the contrast noticed already. May the Lord help us to maintain this distinction in both personal and in corporate testimony.
Verse 6. This verse offers further injunctions against carnal impurity through the two remaining infinitives, the first of which is ‘that no man go beyond’, which translates to mee huperbainein. Obviously this assumes obedience to the foregoing exhortations of verses 3-5. The verb, huperbaino, finds its only use here in the New Testament. It is made up of huper, ‘over’, and baino, ‘to step’, ‘to go beyond’, which stresses that it is not within the bounds of morality for any person, committed to doing the will of God, to transgress in the issue of adultery under any circumstances. The last of these important infinitives confirms this, as Paul states, ‘and defraud his brother in the matter’, RV. ‘To defraud’ is taken from the infinitive form of the word pleonekteo which occurs four times in 2 Corinthians. Three of the references denote avarice, covetousness and gain. But within the context of these verses it relates to moral chastity. No one desirous of fulfilling the will of God in his life will overreach himself and deprive a fellow believer of his rights in the context of moral rectitude. The reasons are abundantly manifest, ‘Because the Lord is the avenger of all such’. The Lord will inflict punishment on the wrongdoer and being a child of God the judgment will be governmental not judicial. Paul is stating a general principle of divine judgment, but in particular the application to the believer is serious and sure. The readers of this epistle in the first instance knew exactly what Paul meant for they had been previously advised regarding the rectitude of God in matters of moral uncleanness. It serves a welcome insight to the range of teaching these early believers had under Paul’s ministry, for the word ‘forewarned’ indicates the fact of an action in past time. He adds a second word signifying the experiential nature of the teaching, ‘testified’, taken from diamarturomai, ‘to testify’. Note the prefixed preposition dia which affords added thrust to the word, so that it indicates Paul ‘solemnly testified’, leaving the saints in no doubt as to its implications for them in holy behaviour amongst a pagan society where such principles were unknown, unwanted and unheeded. Today it is still necessary to advance the infallible, authoritative, inerrant testimony of the word of God against all licentiousness and immoral practices in a society where freedom of will permits of no restraint by the word of God or by the God of the word.
Verse 7. God, in these verses we are enjoying, involves us in His Pleasure, v. 1; His Will, v. 3; His Knowledge, v. 5; and now in this verse, His Call. His call has not been ‘unto uncleanness’, epi akatharsiai, which indicates ‘uncleanness in a moral context, the product of profligate living and of gross impurity’. Already we have noted in these studies that to live in such a moral cesspool of wickedness was general procedure in Thessalonica, but what Paul is stressing here is that God has not called us unto the contemporary uncleanness of the day in which we live. While in my secular calling, working in an office of men and women who knew nothing of these blessed principles, they would talk and exult in their sinful practices which were simply their manner of life. They made ‘no bones about it’, as we would say. But thank God, in those days we rejoiced in this very truth, we were not called to follow the contemporary lifestyle they unashamedly adopted. Note the remarkable change of the preposition from epi to en: our calling is ‘in holiness’. This is the orbit in which our lives move. It is practical holiness, and is always characteristic of those who consciously and conscientiously respond to the call of God. (For further use of the preposition ‘in’, en, with a similar sense, see peace, 1 Cor. 7. 15, and hope, Eph. 4. 4).
Verse 8. How serious is it then for a believer to disregard these principles and violate them? Paul adds that God did something else and now he occupies us with the gift of God, the Holy Spirit. Paul resorts to the principle of logic by using the word ‘therefore’, toigaroun, which appears only here and in Hebrews 12. 1, and simply means ‘consequently’. Next he uses the present tense of the verb atheteo, ‘despiseth’, which literally is ‘keeps on despising’, indicating a persistency on the part of the transgressor. It is a strong word that the apostle uses here for it reveals a total disregard of the divine stipulations with the intention of making them null and void and therefore totally inapplicable and hence unacceptable. The person who thus acts is not despising what man says, but what God says. Often saints reject the ministry given and attribute it to a human source, but when the word is read and ministered, as here, it is God’s word that is despised, not man’s. What the believers must learn now is how serious it is to despise what God has said especially in view of the gift He has given us, the Holy Spirit, John 14. 17; Rom. 5. 5. But note the form of the construction here, which in my opinion is absolutely unique in the New Testament. The literal rendering of this closing phrase is telling: ‘the Spirit, his, the Holy’, to pneuma auton to agion, which denotes the Spirit’s entity as a Person, His eternal relationship and His essential character. What a gift God has given. May we live in the constant good and in the compliant godliness this divine gift imposes, remembering that the sins of fornication and adultery are (a) against God whom it dethrones, 1 Cor. 6. 15, 19; (b) against our brother whom it defrauds, v. 6; (c) against man’s self whom it degrades, 1 Cor. 6. 18.
It was observed that in Paul’s prayer exercise as recorded in 3. 11-13 the themes took the instructive order of love and holiness. This is the means by which we have come to know God. ‘Love divine first drew us to Him’ said the hymnwriter, and that is true. Having been drawn to Him by love divine, we obtain some appreciation of all that He is as a God who is holy. Positionally we are constituted holy. The order in these two exceptionally practical paragraphs, verses 1 to 8 and 9 to 12, is now reversed as holiness and love. This then is the practical outworking of what we are before God in Christ. Having learned the nature of the call of God unto holiness this makes incessant demands upon our relationships with our brethren. How could we love them, in the divinely accepted sense of the exhortation, if we are not holy with them?
Let us view then these paragraphs in light of the will of God for us. We are before God in the development of love and holiness and before men in the display of holiness and love. When considering verses 1 to 8 we viewed them against the background of The Iniquity of Thessalonica’s Polluted State, now let us see verses 9 to 12 against the backdrop of The Independency of Thessalonica’s Political Status.
Rome had granted Thessalonica political freedom. It was an independent city. Obviously, this political status had worked its way into the mental fabric of the Thessalonians for they in response to the gospel had certainly displayed a liberty that had clearly become discernible by the apostle. Paul showed them that he could be independent too, thus he worked night and day with his hands, 2. 9, so that he would not be chargeable unto any of them. This does not mean that he did not keep on receiving gifts from other assemblies. His thanks to the Philippians makes it clear that he welcomed their giving, Phil. 4. 16. Nor did it mean that even by working as he did to provide for his needs he had enough, but rather, he makes it clear that the saints in Philippi had ministered to his necessity while he was in Thessalonica.
Verse 9. Paul is concerned then about brotherly love. ‘Brotherly love’ is philadelphia, a compound word made up of phileo, ’to love’, ‘to delight in one’, and adelphos, ‘a brother’, ‘from the same womb’. The emphatic touch which Paul wishes to make is discernible in the definite article tes, stressing it is the love of the brethren. This was something distinct and clearly recognizable within assembly life at Thessalonica. It is still required today, Rom. 12. 10; Heb. 13. 1; 1 Pet. 1. 22; 2 Pet. 3. 7. Note: 1 Pet. 3. 7, ‘loving as brethren’, RV, ‘taught of God’ translates theodidaktoi, composed of Theos, ‘God’, and didaktos, ‘taught’. It is only used here in our New Testament, but notice that it has affinities with John 6. 45, which is taken from Isaiah 54. 13. Being 'taught of God' may refer to the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, teaching the believer the precious practice of loving the brethren, 1 John 3. 14, 18. It may also refer to the teaching given by the Lord Jesus during the days of His flesh, when He spoke so much about love for one another, John 13. 35; 15. 12.
Verse 10. ‘And indeed ye do it’ indicates how conspicuous the Thessalonians were in the way they loved one another. Theirs was not a parochial but a provincial love. It was not a passing love, it was a permanent love, for the word ‘do’ is poeite, the present tense form of the verb poieo, affirming that they did it habitually. ‘Toward all the brethren’, reads eis pantas tous adelphos, which gives us both the direction and destination of their love. Just how many companies of Christians existed in the region of Macedonia at that time is not known, however, we know that there were assemblies in Philippi, Berea and Thessalonica. With the expanding outreach in the gospel of the Thessalonians, others could well have been founded. Some suggest there may have been testimonies in Amphipolis and Pella. ‘But we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more’, expresses a loving and spiritual discontent rather than an unloving and carnal criticism. Paul wishes to know of continual increase. The word is rendered ‘abound’ in 3. 12 and 4. 1 and simply means to be at hand in abundance. Paul is urging, ‘keep it coming’.
Verse 11. Restlessly strive to rest, sounds rather contradictory. Surely either one or other of the propositions must prevail. ‘Study’ is philotimeisthai, the present indicative of philotimeomai, ‘to be fond of honour’, ‘to have one’s ambition’, cf. Rom. 15. 20, and so ‘to make it one’s aim’, 2 Cor. 5. 9. The word is somewhat similar in meaning to that translated by ‘endeavoured’ in 2. 17. ‘To be quiet’ is rather an elusive word, for it hardly means ‘quietism’, especially when we reflect on the energetic activity of the Thessalonians in the gospel throughout the province of Macedonia. Obviously it is related to a life lived free from unnecessary interference in the affairs of others. It is freedom from disturbance rather than complete inactivity. ‘And to work with your own hands’, does not necessarily mean manual labour exclusively. However, it is the charter of dignity for work of any sort, whether it is professional or otherwise. The preachers seeing the situation, urged the saints to work, thus establishing them in an independence of others' charity. The servants had done this whilst among them.
Verse 12. ‘That ye may walk honestly’, renders hina peripatete euscheemonos. These words clearly indicate that each believer in fellowship in a local church is under the watchful eye of outsiders. They have a right to watch our conduct in business, in domestic life, and in every other aspect of our living, as to how we behave before them. The word ‘honestly’ is taken from the compound euscheemonos, which has eu, ‘good’, and schema, ‘form’, therefore ‘good form’. It is translated ‘decently’ in 1 Corinthians 14. 40; see Rom. 13. 13. For the Christian professing godliness there is a style of living and even gesture, which should make him distinguishable. The last word, ‘nothing’, is difficult, because it can be either in the masculine or in the neuter. Most render it in the neuter and it is important to observe that when the Greek uses ‘have need of‘ it is usually followed by a thing rather than a person. Following this conclusion then, the apostle is advocating financial independence by working consistently and contentedly.
Already we have noted verses 1 to 8 of this chapter, as set against the background of Thessalonica’s Iniquity due to its Polluted Morality; whereas verses 9 to 12 reveal Thessalonica’s independency due to its Political Autonomy. Now in the section before us, verses 13 to 18, we meet with Thessalonica’s Ignorance due to its Philosophical Obscurity. An old inscription in Thessalonica speaks about ‘no reviving after death and no meeting again after the grave’. The City’s necropolis had similar inscriptions on headstones, one such reads: ‘From death there is no waking and from the grave there is no rising’. Often pagan cults have their own subtle influence on those who have been brought up within their environment. Few fully realize the effect such a background can have especially when it comes to death and all that it entails. Those who have worked in situations where a pagan society obtains will appreciate the approach Paul adopts. In the verses that follow we will note his use of the word ‘asleep’ which anticipates an awaking. Note also the term ‘rose again’, indicating Paul’s selected use of terms that give the necessary thrust against the paganism that prevailed and its obvious influence on the bereaved saints in Thessalonica.
Verse 13. THE ENLIGHTENMENT OF A REVEALED TRUTH – It Moderates our Sorrow.
Paul adopts a polite and tactful approach which he employs efficiently and frequently in subsequent writings, cf. Rom. 1. 13; 11. 25; 1 Cor. 10. 1; 12. 1; 2 Cor. 1. 8. The sense is clear. Paul does not wish the saints to be in the dark nor to have any lurking uncertainty regarding their departed. He inserts the heartwarming word ‘brethren’ to disarm any possible objection to the use of the word ‘ignorant’. ‘Them which are asleep’ is from ton koimaomai, literally, ‘concerning those who are falling asleep’. The word for ‘asleep’ appears eighteen times in the New Testament, fifteen of which refer to death. It was our Lord Jesus who used the figure of sleep for death, John 11. 11, in relation to a believer. Let no one confuse the term to advance the error of soul sleep. It is wondrously clear that the whole concept of death has been transformed by the revelation of divine truth. This is what Paul is declaring when he adds, ‘that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope’, showing the purpose of the teaching which divine truth imparts. The whole non-Christian world is here embraced and that solemnly, for they are without hope, having spurned the light of divine revelation.
Verse 14. THE EXTENT OF A RECEIVED TRUTH – It Eliminates Superstition.
The Argument: ‘since we believe’ renders ei gar pisteuomen confirming it is not a conditional, hypothetical case. Paul, including himself and his associates, indicates it is the certain belief of all of them. There is an established historical fact that ‘Jesus died and rose again’. More is included. There is an essential doctrinal facet. More than historical; it is vital to the faith and of essential value to the truth.
The Assurance: ‘them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him’, The late A.M.S Gooding said there are at least seven interpretations possible for the term ‘in Jesus’. These could not be listed here but we suggest the expression could indicate ‘they sleep through Jesus’, meaning of course, all that He has done in both His death and resurrection to transform death into sleep. Hence we view Him as the cause of the change. ‘Will God bring with him’ offers great diversity of thought among many, particularly as to the occasion of which Paul speaks. Paul could have used the expected term ‘will raise up’, cf. 2 Cor. 4. 14, but instead he resorts to axei, ‘will bring’, marking the blessed association of the departed saints with Christ at the rapture. To bring into this expression any concept of the kingdom is totally unwarranted. The concern of the Thessalonian believers was not, would their dead miss the kingdom; it was, would they miss the coming. Paul answers that thoroughly and clearly.
Verse 15. THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A REALIZED TRUTH – It Pulsates with Authority.
Looking at the opening expression of this verse it is important to note the text insists on the rendering ‘in the word of the Lord’ which interprets en logoi Kuriou. No prophetic quotations appear, no Old Testament announcements function, it is solely ‘in the word of the Lord’. It is extremely useful to note the absence of anything prophetic in this passage, for Paul is speaking by divine revelation of the rapture, which includes resurrection but is more than resurrection. In contrast refer to 1 Corinthians 15, where resurrection is the theme. There Old Testament quotations appear freely, but not here, for the church forms no part of prophecy whatsoever. ‘We which are alive’ strikes a note of imminency in Paul’s touch. This is something we should ever maintain in our souls for the coming of the Lord is to be a daily and distinct reality. ‘Shall not prevent’ advances that we who are alive when the Lord comes will not have any precedence over those who have fallen asleep. ‘Not’, used for emphasis, is a double negative asserting a ‘positively not’ affirmation. We will have no precedence in blessedness as the word indicates. The word is ‘prevent’, phthasomen, from phthanto, ‘to come before’, see 2. 16, affirming we who are alive at His coming will not get a head start on the believing dead.
Verse 16. THE ENDORSEMENT OF A REAFFIRMED TRUTH – It Substantiates His Sovereignty.
The Gracious Emphasis: ‘himself’, this welcome emphasis appears earlier in 3. 11, and later in 5. 23; see 2 Thess. 2. 16, 3. 16. The very position of this lovely identifying word in the text denotes the importance it carries. It is Christ our Lord, personally, punctually and privately, for there will be none other with Him.
The Glorious Emergence: ‘from’ heaven. In chapter 1 verse 10 it is ‘out of’, ek, indicating where He is coming from, but here, it is ‘away from’, apo, denoting where He is going. This confirms where He is at present, seated now at the right hand of God, Heb. 1. 3, and shows where He is coming to, that is to the air to receive His own.
The Grand Effect: ‘in’, en, ‘a shout’; ‘in’, en, ‘voice of archangel’; ‘in’, en, ‘trump of God’. Few pay attention to the indefiniteness of these three phrases, in the sense that there is no definite article preceding any of these entities. Already we have noted, where the definite article ‘the’ appears, the subject is identified, but where it is absent, as here, the subject is qualified. The voice will have a resilient effect, ‘shout’, it will have a resounding effect ‘voice of archangel’, while the ‘trump’ confirms its revealing effect. The ‘shout’ will carry the touch of a call, a command and a confirmation, to which all who hear it will respond through the exercise of divine power.
The Great Exclusiveness: ‘the dead in Christ’, identifies those who are in view when the moment of rapture is reached. Many suggest that the term ‘the dead in Christ’ includes the saints of the Old Testament from Adam onwards. In each of its occurrences throughout the New Testament the expression ‘in Christ’ relates surely to the saints of this dispensation exclusively. Both J. N. Darby and W. Kelly maintain this exclusive nature to the term but alter their view drastically when it comes to this verse. The reason being that they have respectively relegated the resurrection of Daniel chapter 12 to a national issue rather than maintaining its physical identity. Abraham is never seen to be, ‘in Christ’, nor any other saint of a past dispensation. Admittedly they ‘are Christ’s’, 1 Cor. 15. 23, but they are never seen as being ‘in Christ’. The difference between 1 Corinthians chapter 15 and 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 being that the one is speaking of resurrection where the subject is supported by quotations from the Old Testament, but the other is resurrection and rapture, without any quotation from Scripture whatsoever. ‘The dead in Christ will rise first’, is a logical rather than a chronological priority, as the dead must rise first if the living are to be ‘together with them’, v. 17. The word ‘first’, proton, is surely placed strategically so as to bring specific comfort to the Thessalonian believers whose concern lay with those who had died. So far from their beloved dead having no share in the parousia, they will, in the order of God’s counsels, be raised before those who are still alive will be changed.
Verse 17. THE ENJOYMENT OF A RAPTUROUS TRUTH
– It Obviates our Suffering.
What a Togetherness! ‘we . . . together with them’, the unity of the glory. The destiny of an apostle is the same as that of the whole believing company of the saved, hence Paul says ‘we’, for how could he avoid using any other terms when ‘you’ or ‘they’ would have been too detached?
What a Triumph! ‘shall be caught up’, the certainty of the glory. The Greek verb harpazo means ‘to snatch’. The suddenness of the act is obvious but do not miss the force of the word Paul employs. It is used to confirm the power of the Saviour to hold every one whose trust is in Him. No one can snatch them out of His hand, John 10. 28, cf. 29. Other uses prompt interesting reflection, e.g., Judg. 21. 21 LXX; Matt. 13. 19; 2 Cor. 12. 2, 4; Jude 23. It is significant that in non-biblical literature the word is used to describe the action of a magnet.
What a testimony! ‘in clouds’, the dignity of the glory. The cloud is a veil rather than a vehicle – a veil of glory. It is the shekinah glory, for the majesty of the event is not withheld from the church.
What a thrill! ‘with a view to the meeting of the Lord in the air’, the ecstasy of the glory. No language could ever describe that moment when we shall have the joy of seeing Him for the first time and under such circumstances as the rapture will afford. This is the purpose of the action, to see Him and, to add John’s sublime assurance, to be like Him.
What a term! ‘forever’. Amen, so let it be! The eternity of the glory. There are some remarkable parallels with Exodus 19. 16 to 18 that can be usefully applied by referring to the Septuagint Version, LXX, ‘cloud’; ‘trumpet’; ‘meet’; ‘descend.’ Both passages relate to majesty and to glory. The one is the giving of the law for an earthly people; the other is the manifestation of grace at the climax of the earthly pilgrimage of the saints in this dispensation.
Verse 18. THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF A REPEATED TRUTH
– It Stimulates our Spirit.
The words written and the truth expressed are to be used as a comfort to the sorrowing, an appeal to the flagging, and a stimulus to the listless. A scripturally instructed intellect is the answer to unspiritual emotion.