1Thessalonians 4 - Outline of 1Thessalonians (Book Notes menu page)
In the closing verses of ch. 3 (1The 3:12,13), Paul prayed that the Lord would cause the new believers to abound in love, 'to the end that' their hearts would be established in blameless holiness, before God, at the coming of Christ. In the first half of the chapter before us (4:1-12), Paul reminds them (of what he had previously taught), that as Christians anticipating Christ's return, their daily living ought to be characterized by purity and holiness.
1. Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren,
and exhort [you] by the Lord Jesus,
that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God,
[so] ye would abound more and more.
2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.
...we beseech you... exhort you... as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk... commandments...-
A walk {ie., way of life} of holiness is not optional for Christians. The English word 'ought' sometimes has that connotation. But the GK word means 'must' or 'of necessity.' In the clause above, the first two verbs ('beseech... exhort') strongly implore the new believers to follow the prescribed path, as set forth in the 'commandments' {proclamations, mandates} which had been delivered, through the preaching of God's Word (cp. 2:13).
     Some professed Christians, claiming "freedom in Christ," think that freedom from bondage to the Law means freedom from any moral constraints. Yet, the Law is good. In our natural state, you and I fall short of its standard of righteousness, because we are in bondage to sin (Rom 7:12-15). In Christ, the believer is set "free from the law {ie., the principle} of sin and death" (Rom 8:2-5). While we were dead in sins, we could no more fulfill the Law, than a dead bird can fly. But, having been made alive in Him, we soar above it with Him. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, the believer, is enabled to live a holy life that pleases God (Rom 8:6-14).
...how ye ought to walk... to please God, so ye would abound more and more.-
Through Christ, the believer enters into "life... more abundantly" (Joh 10:10,11). But to experience this abundant life, the sheep must forsake their natural waywardness, in order to heed and follow the Shepherd (Joh 10:27-29).
In the following verses, God's Word provides practical guidance concerning...
  1. the sanctity of Marriage (v.3-8)
  2. the ministry of brotherly Love (v.9,10)
  3. the necessity of honest Work (v.11,12)
3 For this is the will of God, [even] your sanctification,
that ye should abstain from fornication:
4 That every one of you should know
how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;
5 Not in the lust of concupiscence,
even as the Gentiles which know not God:
6 That no [man] go beyond and defraud his brother in [any] matter:
because that the Lord [is] the avenger of all such,
as we also have forewarned you and testified.
7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.
8 He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God,
who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
...the will of God... your sanctification... abstain {ie., hold back from, refrain} from fornication...-
Fornication {GK=porneia} refers to any illicit sexual activity, including but not limited to adultery. God's desire, that His children be holy {set apart as clean vessels for His use}, requires that they maintain sexual purity, as they await the Lord's coming (1The 3:13; 1Joh 3:2,3).
... to possess his vessel in sanctification {ie., holiness} and honour {ie., recognizing its value}.
In the NT, the word 'vessel' is used to refer to a believer's own body (eg., 2Tim 2:20,21), and also to a man's wife (1Pet 3:7). In either case, a believer is responsible for what he/she does with his/her 'vessel.'
  • He must take charge of his body, to keep it holy, because the Lord purchased it at great price (1Cor 6:18-20).
  • He must also keep his sexual life exclusively for his wife, in order to maintain the holiness of the marriage relationship (Heb 13:4).
...not in the lust {ie., passion} of concupiscence {ie., desire, craving}... as the Gentiles which know not God.
Sexual promiscuity was widespread in the world of the ancient Greeks and Romans. For example, religious prostitution and other sexual perversions were common features of the worship of Aphrodite (the goddess of fertility, in Corinth). At Thessalonica, similar practices were involved in the worship of the Cabiri (a group of promiscuous gods). Little consideration was given to faithfulness in marriage. "Sexual enjoyment was held to be as natural and reasonable and as sinless as eating and drinking." [in quotes, from GWms]. Doesn't that last sentence sound like society today?
     Such looseness is incompatible with the holiness of God, who created mankind as sexual beings, and who designed marriage as the bond between one man and one woman (Mat 19:4-6). The unsaved world, driven by fleshly desire, disregards and distorts God's design, in order to satisfy their cravings for what He has forbidden (eg., Rom 1:24-27). But God's children are called to honor and obey Him with their bodies (eg., Eph 4:17-24; 1Pet 4:3).
...that no man go beyond {lit., over step} and defraud his brother in any {lit., this} matter.
The root meaning, of the GK word for 'defraud,' is 'covetousness' (ie., greediness for what does not rightfully belong to you). A brother is not to covet his neighbor's wife (Ex 20:17). There is no place, in a believer's life, for adultery, wife swapping, incest, rape, or other sexual deviancy.
...because the Lord is the avenger of all such...
The righteous Judge is right to punish all who misuse the gift of sexuality. 1Cor 6:9-11; Eph 5:3-10
...for God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.
See Titus 2:11-14 (and also the two references above).
...he that despiseth, despiseth {ie., rejects as of no value}... God... His Holy Spirit.
Men, who live to follow their fleshly lusts, disregard God's Word as foolishness (Rom 1:22-24). They reject the warnings delivered by God's messengers (v.6c), because they reject God's authority. In contrast, believers submit to the will of God (v.3), because they are led by His Spirit (Rom 8:12-14).
9. But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you:
for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.
10 And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia:
but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more;
But as touching brotherly love...
(This is Paul's second point, in this section, regarding practical aspects of the Christian life.)
In contrast to the erotic 'love' of sensual passion (v.5), which might overstep and defraud a brother, believers are to exercise noble and holy love toward one another.
...brotherly love {GK=philadelphia, brotherly affection}...
'Phileo' love expresses fondness and affection. It is the love of friend for friend.
As brothers in the Lord, believers are to honor and respect each other. Rom 12:10
     But I am also to have 'agape' love for my Christian brother, giving myself for his good, even when a matter arises that mars my 'feelings' of affection toward him (eg., 2Pet 1:7, "to 'brotherly kindness' {GK=philadelphia} add 'charity' {GK=agapao}"). We are to love one another with the love that Christ demonstrated toward us (Eph 5:2).
...for ye are 'taught of God' {GK=theodidaktos} to love {GK=agapao} one another.
The Lord Jesus Christ commanded all, who are His disciples, to love one another (Joh 13:34,35; 15:12-13,17). The Holy Spirit continually teaches God's children to love those whom He loves (eg., 1Joh 5:1).
...and indeed you do... but we beseech you... that ye increase more and more {ie., super-abound exceedingly}.
The Thessalonian believers were already examples to others, throughout the northern region of Greece, in the way they loved their fellow believers. But as Paul had prayed, previously, he desired that they would overflow with the love of Christ (1The 1:9; 3:12). Such love, which is inherent in God's nature, is planted within the believer through the new birth, and brought to fruition by the indwelling Holy Spirit (1Joh 4:7; Gal 5:22; also see Eph 3:17-19).
11 And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business,
and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;
12 That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without,
and [that] ye may have lack of nothing.
This is the third and final point, in this section of practical aspects of a believer's walk (v.1-12).
Shortly after receiving a response to his first letter, Paul wrote his second epistle to the Thessalonians, in which he re-iterated this instruction. Apparently, some thought that because the Lord's return is imminent (ie., He could come at any moment), there was no need for them to engage in earthly employment. Consequently, they had become freeloaders (2The 3:10-12). Their thinking was contrary to Paul's life example (eg., 1The 2:9) and teaching...
...that ye study {ie., be diligent, make it your ambition}...
that ye may...
  • ...walk honestly toward them that are without {ie., toward unbelievers, who are outside of Christ}.-
    The GK word for 'honestly' implies 'honorably and decently.' Beyond simple 'truthfulness' (honesty), the believer is to have an impeccable reputation in his dealings with all men. cp. 1Pet 2:12 (where a different word for 'honest' means 'good, commendable, admirable'); 3:16,17
  • ...lack nothing...- ie., having no need to beg from others, but having excess with which to help others (Eph 4:28b).
Having considered some practical matters pertinent to the walk of believers, awaiting the Lord's return, Paul turns again to the subject of Christ's coming.
The second coming of Christ will occur in two stages...
During the short time that Paul and his co-workers had been with the Thessalonian believers, they had taught them the major doctrines of the faith, including eschatology (ie., biblical prophecy concerning the end times). However, because the time was brief, the new brothers had been left with questions and misunderstandings, which needed clarification.
13. But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren,
concerning them which are asleep,
that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again,
even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
...ignorant {ie., without knowledge, without understanding}... concerning them which are asleep...-
Paul had taught these new believers that the second coming of Christ was imminent {ie., it could happen at any moment, without any warning}. They were to live in watchful anticipation of Christ's return to take them unto Himself (eg., 1:10; 2:19; 3:13). Paul's understanding was consistent throughout his ministry (eg., compare his teaching in 1Thessalonians, the first of his epistles, with Php 3:20,21, one of his last letters).
     Here, Paul addresses a point of uncertainty in the minds of the new believers at Thessalonica.
  • 'Will believers who die, before Christ returns, be excluded from the joy of His Presence?'
...them which are asleep... them also which sleep in Jesus...-
The Bible does not teach 'soul sleep' (a suspension of consciousness between death and resurrection).
Rather, the word 'sleep' is a euphemism for physical death.
  • A dead person looks to be asleep.
  • The GK word for 'sleep' is derived from a word (GK=keimai), which means 'to lie down.'
    The implication is that a dead person, like a sleeping person, has not ceased to exist, but is temporarily disconnected from earthly surroundings. This picture is re-inforced by the GK word for 'resurrection' {GK=anastasis} which means 'a standing up.' [The English word 'cemetary' is also related to the GK word 'keimai.' It is a place where the dead 'lie down' for awhile.]
  • Consider the testimony of some other biblical passages...
    • at death, the body returns to dust, the spirit returns to God. Eccl 12:7; 2Cor 5:8
    • the body is a man's 'tent' {a temporary dwelling}. 2Cor 5:1-5
      Our bodily groanings are warnings of the temporary nature of this present life.
    • the body is to be raised, but changed from natural to spiritual. 1Cor 15:44
...I would not have you to be ignorant... that ye sorrow not... as others which have no hope.
According to J.V.McGee...
  • "In Thessalonica they have found an inscription which reads: 'After death, no reviving, after the grave, no meeting again.'"
  • "The Greek poet, Theocritus, wrote: 'Hopes are among the living; the dead are without hope.'"
Believers also grieve the separation from loved ones at the grave. But for us, the separation is temporary. Having the confident expectation of life beyond... our tears are 'until we meet again,' not in the despair of a final 'good-bye.'
...for if {ie., since} we believe that Jesus died and rose again...
...even so them also who sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.
Note that it is plainly stated that Jesus 'died.' When He took our sins upon Himself, He died the death that we deserve (2Cor 5:14). Because of sin, all men are spiritually dead (separated from God, Eph 2:1) and worthy of the second death (eternal separation from God, Rev 20:14,15). Jesus took upon Himself my sin and the eternal separation (from God) which belonged to me (Mat 27:46). Yet, God raised Him from the dead. His resurrection is the foundation of the believer's hope. My life is hid in Him, who paid my penalty yet lives. (1Cor 15:17-20; Col 3:3,4).
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord,
that we which are alive [and] remain unto the coming of the Lord
shall not prevent them which are asleep.
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout,
with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God:
and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17 Then we which are alive [and] remain
shall be caught up together with them in the clouds,
to meet the Lord in the air:
and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
...this we say... by the word of the Lord...-
ie., Paul's understanding of this matter was received by direct revelation from God.
Paul next explains how God will bring those who "sleep in Jesus" to be with Him (v.14).
for... we who are alive and remain... unto the coming {GK=parousia, presence} of the Lord...-
Paul was watching for the imminent return of Christ. But when he wrote "we...," he was not declaring that he himself would be among the living at that time. His point is: Those believers who are physically alive {GK=zao}, when Christ comes, will not have an advantage over those who died prior to His coming.
     The phrase "alive and remain" (occurring in v.15 and v.17) further distinguishes these physically living believers from those who have previously departed from the earthly scene. Because the word 'remain' is closely related to the word 'remnant' (eg., Rom 11:5), this may also be intended to distinguish true believers from apostate religious people who have 'departed' from 'the faith' (1Tim 4:1).
...for... we... shall not prevent {ie., precede, have an advantage over} them which are asleep.
Verses 16-17 trace the order of various elements of the Parousia...
  1. the Lord Himself shall descend...
    • from heaven...- He will be the very same Jesus who ascended into heaven (Acts 1:11).
    • with a shout {ie., a call, a command}...-
      Compare the "loud voice" which called Lazarus from the grave (Joh 11:43).
      The words of His command are heard, prophetically, in Rev 4:1.
    • with the voice of the {lit., an} archangel...-
      It is the Lord Himself who descends and issues the command, with a voice that is powerful and clear, like that of an archangel (as opposed to Gabriel or Michael speaking in His behalf).
    • with the trump of God...-
      The sound of His voice is like a trumpet, calling God's people together. See Rev 1:10; 4:1 (cp. 1Cor 15:52).
  2. the dead in Christ shall rise {GK=anistemi, stand up} first...-
    The bodies of dead believers will be raised from 'sleep.'
  3. then, we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them...
    • in... clouds {the definite article is missing}...-
      This may refer to 'clouds' of saints as they rise above the earth...
    • to meet the Lord in the air.-
      Christ's coming 'in the air' is to receive His own. His coming will bring great joy for the true church.
         Not long after this meeting in the air, the Lord will return to the earth (accompanied by His saints). [The events of Revelation ch.6-18 take place during the intervening period.] At His return to the earth, He will come in wrath, to judge His enemies and to establish His Millennial Kingdom (eg., Zech 14:3,4; Rev 19:11-21; 20:1-4). His coming in judgment is addressed in the last chapter of this epistle (ch.5).

    The several distinct steps (# 1-3, above), in the Lord's coming for His saints, will happen suddenly and very quickly (1Cor 15:51,52).
    • ...we shall be caught up {GK=harpazo, snatched away} together with them... (v.17)-
         (cp. the use of this word in Acts 8:39; 2Cor 12:2,4; Jude 1:23 'pulling out'; Rev 12:5).
      This event is commonly referred to as "The Rapture" of the saints. The English word 'rapture' is derived from the Latin Vulgate translation of v.17, where GK= harpazo is translated by the Latin word 'rapiemur' (which has essentially the same meaning).
  4. So, shall we ever be with the Lord.
    The word 'ever' {GK=pantote} means 'always, in all circumstances.' Our Bridegroom has assured us that He will receive us unto Himself, "that where I am, there ye may be also" (Joh 14:2,3). The Bride desires nothing more than to be with Him, in His presence (which is why we watch eagerly for His 'Parousia' {ie., His presence, His coming to be with us and we with Him}, 1The 1:10; 2:19; 3:13).
wherefore, comfort {GK=parakaleo, come alongside, encourage} one another with these words.
It will not be long before the Lord wipes all tears from the eyes of His saints, as we are gathered to Him and re-united with loved ones who have died in the Lord (Rev 21:4). When faced with the presence of death, there is no adequate comfort, apart from the blessed assurance that we will stand together in our Lord's presence. Freed from the fear of death, we ought to encourage one another to serve the Lord without reserve (1Cor 15:51-58).

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