1 Thessalonians 4:16

Saturday, 12 August 2017

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 1 Thessalonians 4:16

In this verse, Paul explains the dead in Christ rising first by beginning with “For.” After this word, he will give details about what will occur which are parenthetical in nature. Then the final sentence picks up the main thought once again. To see this laid out, “For (…) the dead in Christ will rise first.” The words between these two thoughts simply give details of the sequence of events which will lead up to this. That sequence of events begins with, “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout.”

The word translated as “will descend” is only used this one time concerning the second coming of Christ. It was used by John concerning Christ’s first advent when He came as a Man. It is also used when the Spirit descended on Christ at His baptism in Matthew 3.

Here the word “shout” is one found only here in Scripture. It signifies the shout of a command. Further, the word translated as “with” is the Greek word signifying “in.” The clause reads, “Because Himself the Lord in a loud command, in the voice of an archangel…” The context does not make it known if this is actually the voice of the Lord, or the voice of the archangel. John 5:25-29 speaks of the dead rising at the voice of the Son of Man, but with the mentioning of the archangel, it may be that he is the chosen herald, announcing the coming of Christ. Thus it would add a dignity to the event which is often seen among earthly kings and nobles. It is possible, as some interpret this, that there is both a shout of the Lord which is accompanied by the voice of the archangel, thus these are two separate parts to the events being described..

Concerning “the voice of an archangel,” who is being described can only be speculated on. The term “archangel” is only used here and in Jude 1:9 where Michael is named. Michael is then identified in Daniel as “one of the chief princes,” and “your prince” when speaking to Daniel, an Israelite. As he is one of a number of “princes,” it could be him or another unnamed archangel. Jewish writings do identify others, and Gabriel is noted in both Daniel and Luke as an angel, and as he is said in Luke to “stand in the presence of God,” and because he is the herald of the messages given to Daniel and Zechariah, he is a likely choice to again herald the sound of this memorable event in redemptive history. This is certainly possible because the Greek has no article before “archangel.” Instead it simply says, “(an) archangel.” This is important because in Jude, Michael is identified with an article, “the archangel.” This then means that he is not the only archangel, and so it is highly inappropriate to definitively single Michael out for this event, especially when it relates to the church, and not specifically to Israel.

Paul next says, “and with the trumpet of God.” Again, the Greek preposition is “in” the trumpet of God. It is as if His descent occurs during the shout and during the blast, signifying that He is the center of attention, not the voice or the blast itself. They sound forth only to call our attention to Him. It is reminiscent of the amazing events of the descending of the Lord upon Mount Sinai in Exodus 19:16-20. The sound of a trumpet from God is referenced elsewhere in Scripture many times as well.

Finally, Paul says, “And the dead in Christ will rise first.” This is the explanation of the previous verse. Those who are dead in Christ will hear the events, they will respond to the call, and they will come forth… to life! To everlasting life!

Life application: If you want life, you need Christ. Call on Christ, and be one of those who will be taken up to be with Him forever. His word is true, the message has been written, and we have the surety of God’s word that these things will come about.

Lord God, the idea of eternal life is something we cannot even imagine. It is written on our hearts to live forever, but what that really means is beyond our ability to mentally grasp. No matter what it will be like, there is one truth which we can rejoice in… We will be with our Lord Jesus. Because He has defeated death, we too can do so by calling on Him. It is a guarantee from Your wonderful word that we can be freed from this body of death and be granted eternal life with You. May that day be soon! Amen.

1 Thessalonians 4:15

Friday, 11 August 2017

For 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 by no means precede those who are asleep. 1 Thessalonians 4:15

For this we say to you” is given to build upon the words of verses 13 and 14. Paul has made statements which pertain to those who have died, and to the future concerning them as well. Those in Thessalonica could say, “What is he talking about? How could he know these things? He is just saying this to give us comfort in our sorrow, but it cannot be true.” This is certainly a possibility, and so the words “For this we say to you” will then be built upon with, “by the word of the Lord.”

Paul claims direct inspiration from the Lord in this. There is nothing else in Scripture which matches what he says here. In other words, it cannot be said that he is simply repeating a previous thing found elsewhere in Scripture. Nor is this something that was passed on to him through a third party. Instead, he is explicitly stating that he was instructed by the Lord. It is the word of the Lord bearing the full authority of the Lord, and it is now being transmitted to the believers at Thessalonica (and thus to us!).

Understanding this, he continues with this “word of the Lord” by saying, “that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord.” There is a time when the Lord will return. That is as sure as anything to be found in Scripture. The exact time is left unstated, and the way which He will return has to be fleshed out of several passages in Scripture, including Paul’s words here. He is certainly returning again. But He isn’t just coming back to an empty world, or a world devoid of believers. Rather, there will be believers on earth waiting for Him. This is what it means when He says “that we who are alive and remain.”

Understanding this, Paul’s words which include the word “we” in no way implies that Paul expected this to occur in his own life. It was probably a hope of his, but the words must be taken generally. For all he knew, he could die that day. The timing of one’s life is up to the Lord. And so Paul is speaking as a broad picture of the coming of the Lord for whatever Christians were alive at that time, not specifically for a time he himself would participate in. Further, the words “who are alive and remain,” indicates that the timing is an unknown thing. It was unknown to Paul; it remains unknown to all to this day.

From there, he then goes on to explain, that those who are alive when He comes, “will by no means precede those who are asleep.” The words here have a strong emphasis on the negative. The Greek reads, “remaining unto the coming of the Lord no not shall precede those who have fallen asleep.”

This emphasis shows two things to the anxious Thessalonians. First, those who have died will be quickened first. There is no reason for the confusion someone introduced into their minds that they would not participate in this first resurrection. Secondly, there was to be no fear for those who were facing death that they would be included in the first category and somehow miss the blessed return of Jesus. In fact, just the opposite is true. Those who have died in Christ would receive the honor of being quickened first!

Life application: We may mourn over the loss of a loved one who is in Christ, but we can also rejoice that they will have the honor of being raised to new life before we who are left alive at His coming. Isn’t an extra moment of seeing the Lord’s face worth more than all the riches we possess? Certainly it is so. We should rejoice for their gain, even in our loss.

Lord God, though we weep at the side of a believer in Christ who has passed on, we should also rejoice for them. They will have an honor that those who are alive at Your coming will not have. They shall be raised unto their eternal life before those still alive. They will hear Your call, and they will be glorified. Only then will those who remain be changed. And one moment of beholding Your glory is worth more than all the earth’s riches. In the sadness of our loss, we should also rejoice in the gain they possess. Thank You for tending to Your people so carefully. Amen.

1 Thessalonians 4:14

Thursday, 10 August 2017

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4:14

The words “For if” are stressed in the Greek, “If indeed…” In other words, this is not a question which asks, “If we can just believe.” Rather it is an emphatic statement containing no doubt as in, “For we certainly believe.” This is what the gospel hinges on. Nobody that Paul is writing to as one of the brethren (noted in the previous verse) would be considered as such unless he believed this particular precept which he now states – “that Jesus died and rose again.”As he says in Romans 10 –

The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:8, 9

To not believe in the death and resurrection of Christ, is to not be a Christian. Either one believes this and is saved, or he does not believe it, and is not saved. Paul takes the two verbs, died and rose again, and places them side by side as a single action. He did this also in Romans, speaking of the two things as one unified whole –

It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” Romans 4:24, 25

The focus here then is on the humanity of Jesus. Though fully God, His humanity died, and it was up to God to raise Him, having been satisfied with His work. In the gospel of John, Jesus stated that He would lay down His own life and take it up again, but it is His divine nature which accomplished this. This is shown true because in Romans 10:9, it says God has raised Him. In His humanity, He literally died, and He literally rose again from the grave. As this is so, and as we are in Christ because of belief in what He has done for us, then Paul next says, “…even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.”

In this there is surety. There is no, “We hope this will happen.” Paul states it as a matter of fact. As Christ arose, so will those who sleep in Him. There is literally nothing to question because it is impossible for it to not occur. In the words of Paul though, he doesn’t actually say, “in Jesus,” but rather dia, or “through Jesus.”

The symbolism of what Paul is saying is missed by translating this word as “in.” Jesus is the way. He is the door. He is the One who welcomes us through Himself. When our physical bodies die, we pass through Christ Jesus into a state of rest. As believers, we are in Jesus, and so the actions which occur in this manner are through Him. It is one of the infinite blessings we possess because of simple faith in what He has done for us.

Further, the verb for sleep in this verse is passive. Therefore, instead of “who sleep,” it should read, “who have fallen asleep,” or “who have been laid asleep.” God has directed the moments of their lives, and at some point their lives ended, symbolized by the word “sleep.” Likewise, at some point, God will again direct the movement of what occurs for them, bringing them to a new state. We are participants in what occurs, not the initiators of it.

As an exciting second possibility, Vincent’s Word Studies renders this verse as, “…them also that are fallen asleep will God through Jesus bring with him.” In this, Jesus is “represented as the agent of the resurrection.” In either translation, we are the participants, and God is the One to do the work. We sleep; God raises. Depending on how Paul’s words are formed, they tell us that the sleep is either through Christ, or the resurrection is through Christ. In the end, it is all about what Jesus has done for us, and what God will do through Jesus for us. We have a surety that those who have died before us are safe and secure in the hands of our most capable God.

Life application: If you have believed in the work of Jesus Christ, you are saved. Nothing is going to change that. Someday, unless the Lord comes first, your earthly life will end, just as it has happened to the countless believers in Christ thus far. But that is not the end of the story. It is simply the closing of one act. God has set the plan, and it will not be thwarted. We shall be raised to eternal life because of the work of Christ Jesus.

Lord God, the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus gives us the absolute assurance that we too will be raised to eternal life. If we have believed in this gospel message, nothing can thwart what You have promised. For those we love and who have gone before us, they are safely in Your capable hands. For those of us who remain, our lives contain a surety that we too are, even now, carefully kept by You. No fear here. Because of Jesus, our future is assured. Praise You, O God, because of what You have done through Jesus! Amen.

1 Thessalonians 4:13

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13

This verse begins the third major section of the chapter. He gave his “Finally then” in verse 1. Then he introduced what is “the will of God” in verse 3. Next he added, “But concerning brotherly love,” in verse 9. Now, there is another “But” which is one of great hope for those who have lost loved ones before the coming of the Lord. As the letter was written 2000 years ago, that is a lot of lost loved ones, and it is also a lot of hope in the hearts of God’s people.

But I do not want you to be ignorant,” (some translations say “we” here), speaks of a matter which, if mistaught or misunderstood, would leave believers with sadness, confusion, and possibly even bitterness towards the faith. It is possible that there were already erroneous ideas being bandied about which were causing heartache and pain over “those who have fallen asleep.”

What can be inferred here is that even at this early time after the establishment of the church in Thessalonica, some of the congregation had passed away. Without Paul being there, it may be that someone went up to the one grieving and said, “I’m so sorry for your loss. It is too bad that this happened before the Lord’s coming. Now they will never know what glory they have missed.” In this, there is the erroneous assumption that death meant the end of that person’s hopes for a return to the Paradise lost so long ago. Paul will now correct this, showing that death is a defeated enemy, and nothing can block a believer’s access to the glory which is promised. No, not even death itself.

In this, he again first calls them “brethren.” The words here are exclusively for believers. They are first and foremost to living believers, and they are (as will be seen in the next verse) pertaining to believers who have died. These verses cannot be applied to anyone outside of a personal faith in Christ Jesus. In the term, “fallen asleep,” there is already a clue as to where Paul is going with this. A person who is asleep is expected to awaken at some point. A person who is dead is not. Paul uses this most friendly and comforting term, and he then applies it to believers who have, in fact, died. It is reminiscent of his words to the Corinthians concerning the defeated foe –

O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?” 1 Corinthians 15:55

As the people he refers to now are merely “asleep,” there should not be the sense of grieving that there would be over someone who had died. To bolster this, he then says, “lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.” The word “others” is speaking of anyone who is not in Christ. When a person not in Christ dies, there truly is “no hope.” And even if a person in Christ dies, an unbelieving friend or family member still senses only loss. Because they don’t believe in a resurrection, they have no hope for the one who will actually someday be resurrected. To the one suffering the loss, there is only the anguished thought of eternal separation.

But in Paul’s words there is hope. If he is making a contrast of those who have no hope, then that means there must, in fact, be hope! He will continue with his thought about this marvelous hope through to the end of the chapter.

Life application: Death is a sad time, even for Christians, because we will miss the fellowship and happiness that we share together now. But there is also a sense of joy in knowing that our beloved friend or family member is with the Lord. There is great comfort in Jesus Christ. Let us rest in Him in our times of sadness, drawing from the well of comfort He has given us – the pages of Scripture.

Lord God, we all suffer sadness and loss. This is especially so when we lose a loved one. But in Christ, there is a comfort which even death cannot extinguish. For those who have gone to sleep in His arms, there is the sure hope of awaking at His call on that great Day which He has set aside for us. The countless millions who have gone to Him will come to life anew, and we who are alive and awaiting that Day will be changed in a moment. And what a glorious day that will be. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.

1 Thessalonians 4:12

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing. 1 Thessalonians 4:12

Paul continues with his exhortation to “increase more and more” from verse 10. He now tells them to “walk properly.” To walk signifies the conduct of one’s life, as it does consistently in Scripture. In this case, the word means “having good form,” and it is the opposite of walking in a disorderly fashion, as is noted in 2 Thessalonians 3:6. He then adds on to this the words, “toward those who are outside.”

There are a multitude of reasons which can be inferred as to why we should so walk. We want to be right examples for others, we would not want to be seen as inviting sin and unholiness, we would not want to be seen as subversive to the society in which we live, and etc. In walking properly, we would avoid such things, bring honor to the Lord, and have no reason for accusation against the title of “Christian.” However, if we are walking properly and we suffer, then Peter tells us the benefit of that –

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed.” 1 Peter 3:14

Finally in this verse, Paul says, “and that you may lack nothing.” This can be taken in the neuter, as in this translation, or it can be taken in the masculine, and thus read, “may lack of no man.” In other words, not sitting around idle waiting for the rapture to happen. In such a case, they would be dependent on others. This is certainly the intent of the passage.

Paul will soon speak of the coming rapture, and he will continue to define events which will occur around that event in his next letter. In both, he indicates that this is what some were doing. They were sitting around, waiting on the coming of the Lord, and were not productive in their regular, or their Christian, lives. This attitude is certainly contrary to “walking properly.”

Unfortunately, there is an entire section of believers out there today who still fit this sad pattern. They are unproductive because they are speculating on what is known but to God. Equally unfortunate, they turn their lack of productivity around and claim that it is they who are doing the Lord’s business by being “watchmen” for the Lord’s coming. Reject this type of behavior and walk properly in this life you have been given.

Life application: We are here to live out our lives to the full, not sit around watching 10 rapture date-setting videos a day. That is a waste of the life the Lord has given us. Let us not fall into that sad routine.

Heavenly Father, it is wonderful to know that You have chosen a day for the Lord’s return for us, but until that day comes, You want us to walk properly, and not be dependent on anyone else for our needs. Help us to fix our eyes on Jesus, but keep our feet planted in proper conduct as we walk in this world. Help us to be honorable, productive members of society. We pray this to Your glory as we are evaluated in the eyes of those around us. Amen.