1 Thessalonians 4
PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS
|A Life Pleasing to God||Plea to Unity||Exhortations to the Purity||A Life that Praises God||Live in Holiness and Charity|
|A Brotherly and Orderly Life|
|The Lord's Coming||The Comfort of Christ's Coming||Questions Concerning the Coming of the Lord||The Lord's Coming||The Dead and the Living at the Time of the Lord's Coming|
READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")
FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL
This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.
1. First paragraph
2. Second paragraph
3. Third paragraph
EXPANDED OUTLINE OF VERSES 1-12
A. Introductory remarks, 1-2
B. Warnings about sexual immorality, 3-8
1. be holy, 3a
2. practice abstinence from sexual immorality, 3b
3. be sexually self disciplined, 4-5
4. practice appropriate sexuality by not defrauding your covenant brother's sexual rights
C. Exhortations to other Christians, 9-12
1. Christians are to love one another, 9-10
2. live better and better, 10b
3. live quiet lives, 11a
4. tend to your own affairs, 11b
5. do your own labor, 11c
6. so that you may be a witness to the lost, 12
WORD AND PHRASE STUDY
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:1-8
1Finally, then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. 2For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 7For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. 8So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.
4:1 "Finally then" This is literally "for the rest." This begins Paul's practical section. Most of Paul's letters can be divided into a doctrinal section and a practical section although it is hard to do this in 1 Thessalonians. Paul used this phrase to introduce the last major subject, not as an immediate prelude to a closing (e.g., II Cor. 13:11; Eph. 6:10; 2 Thess. 3:1).
▣ "brethren" Paul often uses this term to start a new subject (cf. 1:4; 2:1,9,14,17; 3:7; 4:1,10,13; 5:1,4,12, 14,25,26,27; 2 Thess. 1:3; 2:1,13,15; 3:1,6,13).
▣ "request and exhort" Paul uses these present active indicatives to emphasize continuing action and to soften his commands as an Apostle (cf. 4:2,11; 2 Thess. 3:4,6,10,12).
▣ "as you received from us instruction" This is an aorist active indicative, which points to the time Paul was with them personally. This is the Greek term that means "receive traditional teachings from another" (cf. 2:13; I Cor. 15:1). Paul not only taught them how to be saved (justification), but also how to live as saved people (sanctification).
▣ "as to how you ought to walk" This is a present infinitive. Walk is a biblical metaphor for lifestyle faith (cf. 2:12; Eph. 2:10; 4:1,17; 5:2,15; Col. 1:10; 2:6). Christianity was originally called "The Way" (cf. Acts 9:2; 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22; 18:25-26). This speaks of an abiding lifestyle faith. Our initial response in repentance and faith must be followed by continuing obedience and perseverance. Eternal life has observable characteristics! In Christ every day is sacred, special, and used for worship and ministry.
▣ "and please God" God's will for His children is not heaven when they die only, but Christlikeness now (cf. Rom. 8:28-29; Gal. 4:19; Eph. 1:4; 2:10; I Pet. 1:15).
NASB"(just as you actually do walk)"
NRSV"(as, in fact, you are doing)"
TEV"This is, of course, the way you have been living"
NJB"as you are already living it"
A Greek manuscript problem is connected to this phrase. This phrase is missing in the Greek manuscripts Dc, K, L, and the Textus Receptus texts. It is present in MSS א, A, B, D*, F, G and also in the Syriac, Coptic, and Vulgate translations. It is surprising that the early manuscripts have it and the later ones omit it. This implies that it was dropped out accidently. The UBS4 rates its inclusion as "A" (certain).
This is either present indicative or imperative mood. It is probably indicative in that it asserts Paul's confidence in their Christlike lifestyle (cf. NASB, NRSV, TEV, and JB).
▣ "that you excel still more " They were doing well, but Paul urged them on to even greater holiness (cf. v. 10). See Special Topic: Abound (Perisseuō) at 3:12.
This is a rare military word for authoritative commands handed down through the ranks (cf. I Tim. 1:5, 18).
▣ "by the authority of the Lord Jesus" These were not Paul's personal thoughts but Jesus' teachings. Paul's Apostolic authority rested on Jesus' authority (cf. v. 8).
4:3-6 This is one sentence in Greek.
4:3 "For this is the will of God" There is no article, therefore, this is one of God's wills (cf. Eph. 5:17), after salvation (cf. John 6:40).
▣ "your sanctification" This word shares the same root word with "holy" and "saints." Sanctification, like justification, is an initial instantaneous act of grace (cf. I Cor. 1:2,30; 6:11). Positionally, believers are in Christ. However, it should develop into lifestyle character, progressive sanctification (cf. v. 7; 3:13; Rom. 6:19-23). God's will for every Christian is Christlikeness!! We cannot separate justification from sanctification!
▣ "abstain from sexual immorality" This is literally "fornication." Premarital and extramarital sex were distinguished in the OT by separate words, but this word's meaning was broader in scope in the NT. "Fornication" meant all inappropriate sexual activity, including homosexuality and bestiality. Often pagan worship included sexual activity (cf. 5:22).
NASB, NKJV"to possess"
TEV"how to take"
This is a present middle (deponent) infinitive. It is literally "to continually acquire or possess."
NASB, NKJV"his own vessel"
NRSV"your own body"
NJB"the body that belongs to him"
This can refer to "his own body" or "his own wife." Theodore of Mopsuestia, Augustine, rabbinical usage, I Pet. 3:7, and the Septuagint interpret this in the sense of "wife" (cf. TEV). But the early Church Fathers (i.e., Tertullian and Chrysostom) interpreted it as "body" and this fits the context best (cf. NRSV, JB, NIV). Vessel is used in the sense of "body" in II Cor. 4:7.
▣ "in sanctification and honor" Knowing Jesus changes the way one lives. Believers are stewards, dependant on another's will. God's will is to use every believer to show His transforming power to a lost world. Christian marriage is a powerful witness in a fallen confused world!
4:5 "not in lustful passion" This refers to fallen mankind's inability to control themselves sexually (pagan worship). Self control is a characteristic of a Spirit filled, Spirit led life (cf. Gal. 5:23).
▣ "like the Gentiles" This is literally "the nations." Here, however, it does not refer to non-Jews but to all non-Christians. The lifestyle of the pagans of Paul's day was very immoral.
▣ "who do not know God" This does not exclude "natural revelation" (cf. Ps. 19:1-6 and Romans 1-2), but speaks of personal knowledge (cf. Gal. 4:8-9). In the OT "know" has the connotation of intimate, personal relationship (cf. Gen.4:1; Jer. 1:5). Gentiles are estranged from God (cf. E ph. 2:11-13; 5:8; Col. 1:21).
4:6 "transgress" This term means "to go beyond bounds."
▣ "defraud" This term means "to take advantage of." It is related to the term "greed."
▣ "his brother" This may relate to taking sexual liberties with another believer's family (cf. v. 9). But the term "brother" in context could refer to any other human, similar to "neighbor" (cf. v. 12).
▣ "in the matter" This has the definite article and therefore refers to vv. 3-5 (i.e., sexual purity). The word itself rfefers to business affairs. Therefore, it could be used metaphorically for sexual matters or Paul changes subjects in v. 6 and is now dealing with financial issues. I think the first option is best.
▣ "because the Lord is the avenger in all these things" This refers to even-handed justice—both temporal (cf. Rom. 1:24,26,28) and eschatological (cf. Matt. 25:31ff.). YHWH is an ethical God (cf. Gal. 6:7.) In vv. 6, 7a and 8a, three different reasons are given why the believers should live holy lives.
▣ "as we also told you before and solemnly warned you" This is a strong statement concerning sexual purity (cf. Heb. 13:4). See Special Topic: Paul's Use of Huper Compounds at Gal. 1:13.
4:7 "God. . .called" God always takes the initiative (cf. John 6:44,65) both in salvation and in sanctification.
4:8 "he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God" This is literally "treat as of little value." Paul asserts that along with the truth of the gospel goes the lifestyle imperatives. These are God's truths, not Paul's, 2:13; 3:1-2.
▣ "who gives His Holy Spirit to you" This is a present active participle. This refers to the indwelling Spirit as both an initial and ongoing experience (i.e., Acts 2:38; II Cor. 1:22; 5:5; I John 3:24). As with the resurrection, so also the promise of divine indwelling. All three persons of the Trinity are involved in all the redemptive events. Believers are indwelt by (1) the Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:9-10); (2) the Son (cf. Matt. 28:20; Col. 1:27); and (3) the Father (cf. John 14:23).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:9-12
9Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; 10for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 11and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.
NASB"love of the brethren"
NRSV"love of the brothers and sisters"
TEV"love for your fellow believers"
NJB"loving our brothers"
This is the Greek term, philadelphia. This refers to love for covenant partners (cf. Rom. 12:10; Heb. 13:1; I Pet. 1:23; II Pet. 1:7). The balancing statement about loving the lost is in v. 12 (cf. 3:12).
▣ "you have no need of anyone to write to you" This was Paul's tactful way of affirming them and yet encouraging them to greater effort (cf. v. 10c). This does not refer to doctrinal matters (i.e., the Second Coming), but practical, ethical lifestyle.
▣ "for you yourselves are taught by God" This is present tense. The teaching continues as the indwelling Spirit continues (cf. 5:1; John 14:26; 16:13; II Cor. 9:1; I John 2:20,27), which is a sign of the New Covenant (cf. Jer. 31:33-34). The Greek term theodidaktoi (found only here in the NT) means "God taught" (cf. John 6:45) and its object is to "love one another" (cf. John 13:34; 15:12,17; I John 2:7-8; 3:11,23; II John 5).
4:10 "you do practice" This is another present tense verb which speaks of continuing action (cf. v. 17). Paul affirms their love but challenges them to do even more (as he did their lifestyle purity in v. 1).
▣ "to excel still more " They are doing a good job, but need to keep on even more (cf. v. 1). Love is the signature of God. We never love enough (cf. 3:12). See Special Topic: Abound at 3:12.
NASB"to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life"
NKJV"that you also aspire to lead a quiet life"
NRSV"to aspire to live quietly"
TEV"Make it your aim to live a quiet life"
NJB"we do urge you, brothers, to go on making even greater progress and to make a point of living quietly"
Verse 11 is a series of four present infinitives used as imperatives, commanding continuing action. This is probably exhorting patience and normalcy in the excited atmosphere of the anticipation of the Second Coming (cf. 2 Thess. 3:10-12). "Stay ready and stay faithful," not "get ready," is the NT message in this area.
The term "ambition" means "consider as an honor" or "aspire." It is also used in Tom. 15:20 and II Cor. 5:9.
▣ "work with your hands" Remember the historical occasion for the writing was that some in the church misunderstood Paul's preaching on the Second Coming and had quit working anticipating Christ's return (cf. 2 Thess. 2:1-4 and 3:6-15).
In Greek culture, manual labor was believed to be exclusively the work of a slave. But in Hebrew culture, everyone needed a vocation—a means of supporting themselves, even rabbis (cf. Acts 20:35; I Cor. 4:17).
Some early Greek uncial manuscripts, א*, A, D (NRSV), add "work with you own hand," but others (א2, B, D*) omit it. UBS4 is uncertain whether it should be included ("C" rating).
▣ "just as we commanded you" This is a strong term for "order" (cf. II Thess. 3:4,6,10,12).
NASB, NRSV"that you will behave properly toward outsiders"
NKJV"that you may walk properly toward those who are outside"
TEV"In this way you will win the respect of those who are not believers"
NJB"so that you are seen to be respectable by those outside the Church"
People are watching. We are witnesses (cf. Matt. 5:13-16; Col. 4:5; I Tim. 3:7; 5:14; 6:1; Titus 2:5).
NASB"not be in any need"
NKJV"that you may lack nothing"
NRSV"and be dependent on no one"
TEV"and will not have to depend on anyone for what you need"
NJB"though you do not have to depend on them"
Apparently the Christians who quit work were expecting the other Christians to provide all their needs. Believers are to use their resources for the needs of the Christian family (cf. II Cor. 8-9; Eph. 4:28), but not for those who refuse to work!
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:13-18
13But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not 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 the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18Therefore comfort one another with these words.
4:13-5:11 The context about the Second coming runs through 5:11. Remember its focus is pastoral. Doctrine is given, but only as it serves a godly lifestyle now!
4:13 "we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren" This is a common phrase in Paul's writings (cf. Rom. 1:13; 11:25; I Cor. 10:1; 12:1; II Cor. 1:8). Usually it introduced an important statement, similar to Jesus' use of "Amen, amen." Knowledge of Christian truth (doctrine and world-view) gives believers a stability in a fallen world.
▣ "about" Timothy might have communicated some questions from the Church concerning the Second Coming to Paul.
1. What about the believers who had already died? Would they participate in the end-time events?
2. Would believers be surprised by the Second Coming and thereby be unprepared for the end-time events?
Paul often uses this preposition "about" to introduce his answers to the Corinthian Church's questions (cf. I Cor. 7:1,25; 8:1; 12:1; also 1 Thess. 5:1).
NASB"those who are asleep"
NKJV"those who have fallen asleep"
NJB"those who have died"
Greek manuscripts vary here: (1) some uncial manuscripts have a present participle, א, A, B, and (2) others have a Perfect participle, such as D, F, G, K, and L. Scribes probably changed the original present to a perfect following the usage in Matt. 27:52 and I Cor. 15:20 (i.e., Metzger, p. 632).
Jesus used the OT euphemism for death, "sleep" (cf. BDB 1011, i.e., II Sam. 7:12; I Kgs. 22:40; references in NT: Matt. 27:52; John 11:11-13; Acts 7:60; I Cor. 7:39; 11:30; 15:18; II Pet. 3:4). The English term "cemetery" is derived from this Greek word.
This does not refer to the doctrine of "soul sleep," that believers wait unconsciously until Resurrection Day. The NT speaks of conscious, but limited fellowship (cf. Luke 16:19-31; 23:43; II Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23) until Resurrection Day, the Second Coming.
▣ "that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope" The verb "grieve" is a present passive subjunctive (cf. Eph. 2:12). Believers must not continue to be grieved by physical death because we know the truths of the gospel.
1. Jesus died for us
2. the Spirit who raised Him will raise us
3. He is coming back for us
4. those who have died are already with Him
The pagan world (i.e., "the rest," cf. 5:16) was at a loss for comfort at death. Socrates said, "Oh, that there were some divine word upon which we could more securely and less perilously sail, upon a stronger vessel." See Special Topic: Hope at Gal. 5:5.
4:14 "if" This is a first class conditional sentence which is assumed true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes.
▣ "we believe" This is the important theological verb (present active indicative) for human's putting their faith in Christ. This is the Greek verb pisteuō, which is translated into English by "faith," "trust," or "believe." See Special Topic: Believe at Gal. 3:6. This personal trust is characterized in the NT by using all the common Greek verb tenses:
1. Aorist (past simple act), Acts 15:11; Rom. 8:24; II Tim.1:9; Titus 3:5
2. Present (ongoing process), I Cor. 1:18; 15:2; II Cor. 2:15; I Thess. 4:14
3. Perfect (past action which has come to completion and abides as a state of being), Eph. 2:5,8
4. Future (in verb tense or context), Rom. 5:9,10; 10:9; 13:11; I Cor. 3:15; Phil. 1:28; 1 Thess. 5:8-9; Heb. 1:14; 9:28
It is an initial decision, followed by lifestyle discipleship that will one day be consummated in an eternal body and face-to-face fellowship with the Triune God (cf. I John 3:2). The theological progression can be seen in Rom. 8:29-30, from election, to justification, to sanctification, to glorification.
▣ "that" This hoti clause gives doctrinal content to the gospel. See SPECIAL TOPIC: BELIEVE, TRUST, FAITH, AND FAITHFULNESS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT (ןמא), E. #5.
▣ "Jesus died and rose again" These are both aorist active indicatives which reflect historical facts. These gospel truths are the basis for the believer's hope: (1) vicarious substitutionary atonement (cf. Isa. 53; Mark 10:45; II Cor. 5:21) and (2) bodily, physical, eternal resurrection (cf. 1:10; I Cor. 15).
▣ "God will bring with Him" This is a difficult phrase because the verb (agō) has such a wide semantic field (to bring, to lead, to lead away, to lead out, to go, to go away, etc.). Does it imply that the dead are with Jesus in heaven or that the dead will be raised at Jesus' coming?
In context the pronoun refers to Jesus, at His coming. The Thessalonian believers did not understand Paul's preaching about the Second Coming. They wanted to know if those of their church who had already died would participate in the end-time events. This is Paul's positive response. Not only will they participate, they will receive their new bodies first and will accompany Jesus on the clouds of heaven.
The NT is not clear about the state of believers between death and Resurrection Day. When this passage is compared to II Cor. 5:6,8, postulating a disembodied period becomes a logical necessity. Believers are with the Lord, but as yet do not have their resurrection bodies.
4:15 "For this we say to you by the word of the Lord" Paul was not giving his personal opinion but was relating Jesus' teachings (cf. 4:2), however, this particular saying of Jesus is unrecorded in the Gospels. It is uncertain if this refers to
1. oral Christian tradition (cf. Acts 20:35)
2. Jesus' sermons, like Matt. 24 or Mark 13 or Luke 21
3. if this was part of Jesus' personal revelation to Paul while in Arabia, Gal. 1:17
4. later, direct revelation like II Cor. 12:1ff
This phrase implies that Paul is stating something he had received, which means that his eschatological views were not uniquely his; he is passing on what he received. The problem is we moderns to not know the source of this revelation or how wide spread it was known.
NASB, NKJV"we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord"
NRSV"we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord"
TEV"we who are alive on the day the Lord comes"
NJB"left alive until the Lord's coming"
The use of the pronoun "we" could mean (1) Paul expected the Lord back during his lifetime or (2) the editorial use of we. See Special Topic: Jesus' Return at 2:19 and 3:13. This expectation of an "any-moment" return of the Lord is the privilege of every generation of believers, but the experience of only one. This does not imply that Paul was inaccurate which would question inspiration.
This may also be just a literary technique because in 2 Thessalonians Paul asserts a delayed Second Coming as Jesus did in Matthew 24 (and parallels) and Peter in II Peter 3.
NASB"will not precede"
NKJV, NRSV"will by no means precede"
TEV"will not go ahead"
NJB"will not have any advantage"
This is a strong double negative, "never—no, never." Those saints who have died will fully participate in all the end-time events as will the believers who are alive at the Second Coming. The KJV "prevent" is misleading. In 1611 English it meant "precede." No human can prevent the Second Coming.
4:16 "the Lord Himself" The Greek text emphasizes Jesus' personal return—not a surrogate (cf. John 5:25-28).
▣ "will descend from heaven" Jesus will leave the Father's presence a second time to retrieve the family of faith (cf. John 14:2-3).
NASB, NKJV"with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God"
NRSV"with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet"
TEV"There will be the shout of command, the archangel's voice, the sound of God's trumpet"
NJB"at the trumpet of God, the voice of the archangel will call out the command"
The question remains how many heavenly persons are related to these three parallel events. There is a shout (this word is found only here in the NT), a voice and a trumpet blast. The JB assumes all three are done by the archangel and then Jesus descends. Other translations imply the first "cry," "command" or "shout" is from Jesus and then the archangel calls for the trumpet blast.
Heaven is prepared for this event—it is on the calendar. The uncertainty of when and how the event will occur fades into insignificance with the knowledge of Who will be coming. Jesus is coming again to receive His own.
▣ "the archangel" No article appears, thus, it should read "an archangel." Although Dan. 10:13 implies several, the Bible only mentions one: Michael (cf. Jude 9). He is the national angel of Israel.
▣ "trumpet" The sounding of trumpets was a cultural way of announcing the approach of royalty in the East (cf. Heb. 12:18-19). However, it also functions in other ways.
1. divine judgment, Rev. 8:2; 11:15-19
2. resurrection, I Cor. 15:52
3. gathering of the elect by angels, Matt. 24:31
This was a very important means of communication in the OT, used for religious and military events (cf. Exod. 19:16; Isa. 27:13; Joel 2:1; Zeph. 1:16; Zech. 9:14; I Cor. 15:52).
Two types of trumpets appear in the OT: (1) silver trumpets (cf. Num. 10:2,8-10; 31:6) and (2) the left horn of a ram called the shophar (cf. Exod. 19:16,19; 20:18; Lev. 25:9; Joshua 6).
It is possible that all three sounds (shout, voice, trumpet) refer to the sounds of the angel because in Rev. 4:1 the angel's voice is called a trumpet (cf. Rev. 1:10).
▣ "and the dead in Christ will rise first" This phrase causes confusion about where the dead go between their death and resurrection day. This verse implies that they will remain in the grave (cf. Matt. 27:52-53). However, II Cor. 5:6,8 implies that they are with the Lord. The solution may be in postulating a disembodied state. The physical body remains in the grave, the life force goes to be with the Lord. There are many unanswered questions here. The Bible does not provide a clear teaching passage on this subject. See William Hendricksen, The Bible On the Life Hereafter.
Most translations translate it as if the saints are with God/Jesus and return with Him (cf. NASB). Another view is found in TEV, "Those who have died believing in Christ will rise to life first."
4:17 "caught up" Our theological concept of "rapture" originates from this verb. "Rapture" is a Latin rendering of the Greek verb here (harpazō – future passive indicative), which implies a forceful "snatching away" (cf. John 6:15; 10:12, 28-29). This event is also mentioned in I Cor. 15:51-52.
Many have disagreed about this end-time event. Some expect a secret rapture of believers (cf. Matt. 24:40-42) before a thousand-year reign of Christ upon the earth. Often a seven-year tribulation period (cf. Dan. 7:25; 9:27) is linked to this. Some theologians have the rapture before, in the middle, or after this seven year period. The order and nature of these end-time events are ambiguous at best. Dogmatism is surely inappropriate here.
Believers are going to meet the Lord in the air, because in the NT the air was seen as the realm of Satan (cf. Eph. 2:2) and Greeks thought the lower air (atmosphere) was unclean and, therefore, the domain of unclean spirits. Believers will be reunited with their Lord in the midst of Satan's kingdom to show its complete overthrow.
▣ "together with them" This church had misunderstood Paul's preaching about the Second Coming. Paul wrote both I and 2 Thessalonians to answer these questions. The church wanted to know: (1) Would the Christians who had died participate in these end-time events? and (2) When would dead and living believers be reunited? This subject is picked up in 2 Thess. 2:1.
▣ "in the clouds" Clouds are the traditional means of the transportation of deity (cf. Dan. 7:13; Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Acts 1:9-11; Rev. 1:7). The image calls to remembrance the Shekinah cloud of the OT exodus experience (cf. Exod. 13:21,22; 14:19,20,24; 16:10; 19:9,16; 24:15,16,18; 34:5; 40:34-38) which symbolizes God's presence with His people.
▣ "to meet" This is the Greek word apanēsis, which is used in the sense of meeting someone and then accompanying them (cf. Matt. 25:6; Acts 28:15). So believers meet the Lord and return to a recreated earth with Him!
▣ "in the air" The air was the dominion of Satan and his followers (cf. Eph. 2:2). We are going to meet the Lord there to show the complete victory. I think that while believers are united with Christ in the air, the in prophecy of cleansing and renewal in II Pet. 3:10, heaven is depicted as a restored Garden of Eden (cf. Genesis 1-2 compared with Revelation 21-22).
▣ "we shall always be with the Lord" Nothing further can be said (cf. Psalm 23:6). The Second Coming is referred to repeatedly in 1 Thessalonians (cf. 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-11). Notice that neither in this book nor 2 Thessalonians does Paul mention (some see I Cor. 15:25 as a reference to an earthly reign) a thousand-year reign but an eternal reign, like Dan. 7:13-14.
Paul's terminology implies the eternal kingdom begins when Jesus returns. All of the other end-time events are simply not mentioned as in I Cor. 15:50-58. Paul does not even imply that Jesus returns completely to the earth. In Robert G. Clouses' The Meaning of the Millennium, all four major millennial positions are articulated by various authors. In the a-millennial response George E. Ladd makes this surprising statement, "I admit that the greatest difficulty to any pre-millennialism is the fact that most of the New Testament pictures the consummation as occurring at Jesus' parousia" (pp. 189-190). This is exactly what Paul is asserting here without any further elaboration.
4:18 This, like v. 13, shows the purpose of Paul's presentation of these end-time events. The believers had many concerns about their fellow believers who had died. Would they be involved in the wonderful events of the Lord's return? Paul assured them that all believers, alive and dead, will be ultimately involved in the Second Coming. Remember this passage is primarily pastoral (as is I Cor. 15:58), not didactic. How this fits into other eschatological passages is not clear.
▣ "comfort" This is a present active imperative.
This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.
1. Where in the Bible is the most detailed discussion of the Second Coming?
2. What was the reason for Paul writing this passage?
3. What is the Rapture? Who is involved? When will it occur?
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