The Latter Epistles – 1 Thessalonians 4

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.  For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.  The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before.  For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.  Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.
Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.  And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia.  Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.

  • 1 Thessalonians 4:1-18

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 ‘Paul’s Exhortations’: “Chapters 4 and 5 are divided into four brief sections that address the problems the Thessalonians confronted.  The apostle’s first exhortation is to live cleanly in the midst of a sex-saturated society, and he begins by reminding them that he has already taught them how to live…
“Paul had not taught them, as many people think Christianity teaches, that they ought to live a good, clean life.  Buddhism teaches that.  Islam teaches that.  Most religions advocate a moral lifestyle – and Christianity certainly does, but that’s not the primary emphasis.  Christianity is not so much concerned with rules and laws but with a relationship.  Because we have a love relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we naturally want to please Him.
“Now, what one quality of life is essential for pleasing God?  faith!  Without faith it is impossible to please God.  You cannot please Him by your own efforts, struggling to live up to a moral standard.  You please God by depending on Him alone and allowing Him to live His life through you.  This life produces behavior that is morally pure.
“This is not to say that we will be perfect, but we will make progress, and perfection in Christ will be our continuous goal.  If our lives are marked by impurity, that’s a clear sign we are not living a life of truth. … [1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 is] what God expects of those who are in a living relationship with Him.”

  • Ray C. Stedman, Adventuring through the Bible

1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 ‘sanctification’: “Greek hagiasmos … lit. ‘set apart’ – refers to a process whereby God sets aside that which is holy.  However, sanctification is perfect only in principle; it is not yet attained by humanity.  But though we still remain in a fallen world, we stand in relation to God as though we were already made perfect (Heb. 10:10).  Christ’s one and only sacrifice sanctified us (made us holy), and that sanctification has the lasting result that it continues to work in us, making us holy (Heb. 10:14).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Greek without bold/italics)

1 Thessalonians 4:8 ‘Spirit, soul, body’: “Greek pneuma – 4:8; 5:19, 23 – lit. ‘spirit’; Greek psyche – 5:23 – lit. ‘life’; Greek soma – 5:23 – lit. ‘body.’  First Thessalonians 5:23 is the only place in the NT where the being of a person is delineated into three portions.  Yet in this passage, all three make up a whole person.  The spirit enables a person to contact and be regenerated by the divine Spirit (John 3:6; Rom. 8:16). The psuche, which is translated ‘soul,’ speaks of a person’s personality or essence.  Finally, the NT writers identify the body as a physical entity separate from one’s soul or spirit.  As this verse indicates, God works from the inside out, sanctifying our entire being for eternal life.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Greek without bold/italics)

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 ‘Christian love’: “Sometimes the Greek introductory formula peri de (but concerning) introduces a reply to a question and so it has been suggested that Paul is answering a question asked by the Thessalonians in a letter they had sent with Timothy.  This is not likely, however, since the exhortation to love is found rather frequently in Paul’s writings.  Only here and in Romans 12:10 does Paul use the compound philadelphia (brotherly love).  The family solidarity of the early church made such terms as ‘brother,’ ‘brotherhood,’ and ‘brotherly love’ popular among believers.”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

1 Thessalonians 4:13 ‘not be uninformed’: “The more we Christians know of our religion, the better for our peace and happiness.  The apostle says, ‘We do not want you to be uninformed.’  He knew that was an ill condition and we may well shun it.  Depend on this – the more thoroughly we understand the gospel, the more we will find that the gospel blesses us and makes us happy.  Each word eternal wisdom speaks is pure.  We must give heed, then, to the sure word of Scripture, and so we will journey as with chart in hand, escaping a thousand dangers to which untaught travelers are exposed and enjoying a thousand delights which they cannot discern.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ‘The Rapture of the Church Explained’: “This central passage provides one of Paul’s most detailed descriptions of the doctrine of the rapture of the church.  Along with 1 Corinthians 15:51-58, this passage is one of the more crucial revelations about the end of the church age.  While the Old Testament and the synoptic Gospels reveal much concerning the second coming of Christ, the rapture is not developed until the writings of the apostle Paul.  The rapture was first mentioned cryptically by Christ Himself in John 14:1-3 when He explained that He would return to take believers home to the ‘Father’s house.’  Paul writes, ‘Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed’ (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).”

  • Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson, Exploring Bible Prophecy from Genesis to Revelation

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ‘Wonderful Mixed Metaphors’: “So to 1 Thessalonians 4, where generations have taken Paul’s wonderful mixed metaphors as though they were meant literally.  After all, in the next chapter Paul declares that the thief is going to come in the night, so the woman will go into labor, so you mustn’t get drunk but must stay awake and put on your armor.  In chapter 4, writing about a situation where some in the church had died, he has five things to say about what will happen at the end.  First, when the last day comes, we will be with those who have died in the Lord.  Second, the Christian dead will be raised to new bodily life, and the Christian living will be transformed – essentially the same point he makes at the end of 1 Corinthians 15.  Third, this will be a great act of vindication, especially for those Christians who have suffered for the faith.  Fourth, this will all happen when Jesus is revealed as king and lord of the whole world, like Caesar but much more so.  Fifth, when this happens, the reappearance of Jesus will be like Moses coming down from Mount Sinai will the Law to judge the people.”

  • N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture

1 Thessalonians 4:16 ‘a loud command’: “Have you ever wondered what that command will be?  It will be the inaugural word of heaven.  It will be the first audible message most have heard from God.  It will be the word that closes one age and opens a new one.
“I think I know what the command will be.  I could very well be wrong, but I think the command that puts an end to the pains of the earth and initiates the joys of heaven will be two words ‘no more.’
“The King of kings will raise his pierced hand and proclaim, ‘No more.’
“The angels will stand, and the Father will speak, ‘No more.’
“Every person who lives and who ever lived will turn toward the sky and hear God announce, ‘No more.’
“No more loneliness.
“No more tears.
“No more death.  No more sadness.  No more crying.  No more pain.”

  • Max Lucado, And the Angels were Silent

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ‘Christ’s Return’: “But do you think that God Almighty has surrendered and gone away forever?  No!  God says, ‘I’m running creation, even though it is groaning under the plow and the bulldozer, under the heel of the foe.’  And one of these days the great God Almighty is going to send His Son ‘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: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds.’  We will be changed, raised, glorified, and made into the image of God.  He’s going to clean house down here and there shall be peace from the river to the ends of the earth.  Where the dragon lay, there shall be roses blooming and the fruit of paradise.  Then we’ll see that God was wise.  But we’re going to have to be patient and go along with God for a little while, because we’re under occupation.”

  • A. W. Tozer, The Attributes of God II

1 Thessalonians 4:17 ‘rising again’: “It is a great truth that you will rise again.  It is a sweeter truth that you will ‘always be with the Lord.’  Whatever else you draw comfort from, neglect not this deep, clear, and over-flowing well of delight.  There are other sources of good cheer in connection with the glory to be revealed, for heaven is a many-sided joy, but still none can excel the glory of communion with Jesus Christ, wherever comfort one another in the first place and most constantly, with these words, ‘So we will always be with the Lord.’”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

My Thoughts

The Apostle Paul transitions in the first paragraph from what the Thessalonians have been doing to what they need to do.  They have been suffering persecution as they try to spread the Gospel, but then Paul points out that some things needed to be addressed.  Why?  It was not, as many argue, that Paul was obsessed with sex and sexual immorality.  It was that sexual immorality was rampant in the first century.  People today are obsessed with sexual immorality, and they twist recorded history to claim that the situation today is different, modifying both history and the definitions of the words that are used.

As I have written a few times, Satan does not change his stripes.  He uses the tricks that work.  It is always a lie of some kind, but sex seems to be an easy way of distracting human beings, whatever inclinations you may have.  It also knits the person into the world.  Between consenting adults, what is the problem?  And now, it seems that the definitions of “adult” and “consenting” have been blurred.

Entering into sexual immorality accomplishes two things.  For those who have some bit of conscience left, doing something against God’s Law infuses us with guilt.  We have a hard time in returning our eyes toward God when the knowledge that we have sinned beats down on us.  We need to refocus on God so that the sin may not happen again.  But the other thing that happens is that something replaces God as being the focus of our attention.  There is a victim to the sin; the victim is us, and our relationship with God.  We are distracted and then the guilt prolongs the distraction while increasing the agony.

While many turn to the history books and say that the Romans got soft and thus lost their empire, the Romans were distracted and apathetic as well.  I have heard two arguments regarding soft.  They became content and tired of constantly warring.  But others said that the Christian teaching did not mesh well with a warring nation, that Christianity was the cause of their softness.  While might does not make right, a warring nation never really understands peace.  A Christian nation should want and understand peace, but they cannot, for their own defense, become a pushover, as some suggest the Romans had become.  Sexual immorality had become a problem and was equal in degree of the cause with many pleasures that became more important than national defense, even more important to God.

But there are a great number of parallels between first and second century Rome and North America, most of Europe, and pockets of the other continents.  Sexual immorality, in all forms, is the carrot that Satan displays.  It is easier than ever to obtain porn, without having to pay for it.  They give school children in the USA tablets.  While sites can be blocked in using the “.com” address, inventive school children can still reach those sites once they copy the string of letters and numbers, probably copied off their parent’s computer.  I know; my grandson admitted that the boy next to him on the school bus had “cracked the code” and all the boys were watching porn as they went back and forth to school.  Our grandson knew this was wrong and told his parents.  He was taught well as a result.  He even left his tablet at school unless he had homework that was due – less temptation.  But what of the other boys on the bus?  How many were addicted to porn before the age of ten?

But then, Paul talks of the rapture.  In the scholarly writings above, Rev. LaHaye and Rev. Wright seem to have opposite viewpoints to one another, but do they?  LaHaye is speaking of the clearest text describing the rapture, but if the mental image is a bit different than what will actually happen, no one is going to complain when all believers are with Jesus.  Which to a great extent is what Rev. Wright is saying.  The promises that Rev. Wright details could happen exactly as we imagine from what the text says, but Rev. Wright allows for some of the mechanics (taken literally of figuratively) to be different, as long as the substance – the promises God makes in other Scripture as well as here – the substance never changes.

Like Max Lucado says above, the promise, regardless of the mechanics, is that all the suffering and the bad stuff of this world will be over.  “No More.”  And we will be with Jesus, forever.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

“1. In what ways will a lifestyle that bears witness to God affect human sexuality?  Work relationships? Small group dynamics?
“2. What do you say to someone who believes you can do anything you want, as long as you mind your own business (v. 11) and no one gets hurt (v. 6)?  Would you say anything different to a Christian who believed the same thing about sexual freedom?  If so, what?
“1. Of all the places you live (at home, work, school, or church), where do you feel the need for more faith, more hope, or more love?  How can the group help you ‘put it on’?
“2. Does the reality of Christ’s return encourage or threaten you?  How so?  How can you be better prepared for that time?
“3. How does this passage help you as you consider your own death?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

The Serendipity Bible divided 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5 into three sections for group discussion.  The middle section overlaps the end of chapter 4 and the beginning of chapter 5 where the rapture and Christ’s return are discussed.  The second half of the first question applies to 1 Thess. 5:8 but could be answered in a discussion of either chapter.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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