1Thessalonians: Chapter 4
In the previous chapters in this first epistle to the young believers at Thessalonica, Paul relived his love for them. In this chapter, he now looks to encourage them in their walk with the Lord.
|1-8||To walk and please God|
|9-10||Increasing brotherly love|
|13-15||The rapture of the church|
In 1Thessalonians 4:1-2, Paul's urges to the church at Thessalonica emphasizes that his messages are in the name of the Lord, and not himself. His exhortation to them was to live to please God as they are living, and to do more, unlike some who have taught, or teach today to just wait for the Lord’s return. All the instructions they were given by Paul were by the authority of the Lord Jesus. Our walk with the Lord is not stationary or sedentary, but active, fruitful in His will, and always increasing toward holiness, Romans 6:20-22, Colossians 1:10, 1Peter 1:14-16.
In 1Thessalonians 4:3-8, Paul is giving further instructions to the church regarding each person’s sanctification, which in the Greek is "hagiasmos", which means consecration or purification, which is found in the blueletterbible.org web site (Blue Letter Bible. "1 Thessalonians 4 - King James Version." Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2008). Paul instructs the church that this is done through avoiding sexual immorality. Each person needs to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable. We are not to be in passionate lust as those who do not know Christ, nor are we to defraud another.
In 1Thessalonians 4:3, Paul uses a very common word in our present-day vernacular, fornication, which is indicative to its acceptance, or lack of shame associated with the word in our secular culture. Paul uses the Greek word "porneia", which means illicit intercourse, or as a metaphor, the worship of idols, which is found in the blueletterbible.org web site (Blue Letter Bible. "1 Thessalonians 4 - King James Version." Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2008). The Greek culture looked favorably on illicit sexual activity among the men, whereas wives were expected to be faithful child bearers and keep the home. In the ancient Greek culture, they combined sex with idol worship. This type of behavior, though socially acceptable in its time, and becoming so in our culture, is the antitheses to God’s character and His will for all mankind. It is a manifestation of the will of the flesh, Galatians 5:19-21. At an early church council of the apostles in Jerusalem concerning the Gentiles, the apostles wrote to the Gentile churches that they such abstain from such practices, Acts 15:23-29. Unfortunately such practices in the church sometimes exceed that of the culture in which the church is part of, 1Corinthians 5:1-5, Revelation 2:20-23 (the church of Thyatira). Fornication, among other behaviors, are characteristics of accepted practices during the tribulation years, as seen with the blowing of the sixth trumpet, Revelation 9:20-21.
In 1Thessalonians 4:9, Paul continues to teach the church concerning the love among the brethren. The emphasis is on God being the source of instruction, and that each member in the church would abound in that love, which in the Greek is the word "Philadelphia". This means love of brothers or sisters, and the love for the Christian brethren, which is found in the blueletterbible.org web site (Blue Letter Bible. "1 Thessalonians 4 - King James Version." Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2008). All Christians have the same Father, and His love is what we share among each other. The promise to the children of Israel is that the Lord will teach them and the result will be peace, Isaiah 54:11-13. The Lord reaffirms this during his discourse with the Jews, John 6:43-47. For the church, the Lord has given spiritual discernment, 1Corinthians 2:11-15.
In 1Thessalonians 4:11-12, Paul further instructs the church how they are to continue living their lives responsibly, 1Thessalonians 2:1-9. They, and we, are to live a life that is not meddling with others, but to work just as Paul and his team did while they in their midst. We are to live a life that others would be respect who were not of the church, and we are not to be dependent upon others for our livelihood.
1Thessalonians 4:13 is the beginning of a critical passage that teaches the rapture of the church. Recall in the previous chapters in this book concerning the rapture:
- 1Thessalonians 1:1-10 taught that Christ would rescue us from the wrath to come, which occurs during the tribulation
- 1Thessalonians 2:1-20 dealt with the glory and the crowns that we would enjoy in the presence (parousia) of the Lord
- 1Thessalonians 3:1-13 described how we would be blameless in the presence of the Father when Jesus comes (parousia) with all His holy ones
In 1Thessalonians 4:13, Paul is giving the believers at Thessalonica more information concerning the rapture by contrasting the hope we have in Christ versus those who do not believe. For the Christian, death is given as an example of sleep with respect to the body, such as with Stephen when he was stoned, Acts 7:54-60.
In 1Thessalonians 4:14, Paul notes that as Christians, we do not need to grieve like the world since Christ, as the firstfruits of the resurrection, also resurrected others after His resurrection, Matthew 27:51-53. We have the promise in this verse that God will do likewise for those who have died in Christ during the first resurrection. The strength of the gospel of Jesus Christ, 1Corinthians 15:3-4, is the Lord’s resurrection, 1Corinthians 15:12-20:
- After Christ’s resurrection, He appeared to many for 40 days, giving proofs of His being alive, Acts 1:3-5
- The ascension of Christ occurred after He told the disciples that it was not for them to know the times or dates set by the Father, and He was taken up and a cloud hid Him from their sight, Acts 1:6-9
- The promise given them by two angels was that Jesus will return in the same way, in the clouds, Acts 1:10-11
- He left in the clouds
- He did leave with all His saints who were resurrected with Him (since none remained behind as a witness to the Lord), discriminating between the two phases of His return
- first in the clouds to catch up His church, where He will appear himself as he left
- second when He appears with all His saints in judgment at Armageddon
In 1Thessalonians 4:15, Paul is describing two parts of the rapture at His coming (parousia), and the order of them:
- The resurrection of the dead in Christ first
- Then those who are yet alive
In 1Thessalonians 4:16-17, Paul is elaborating on the events concerning the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the rapture of the church. The characteristic of the Lord's coming in the clouds is that He will arrive from heaven, and give a loud command. The sound will be commanding, with the voice of the archangel, and with a trumpet call of God. The immediate response will be that all the dead in Christ will rise first in their resurrected bodies to meet the Lord in the clouds. After that, we who are alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds. We will all meet the Lord in the air, those who were resurrected, and those translated from their physical bodies to their eternal bodies. From that moment forward, we will be with the Lord for evermore.
The word rapture, is not found in any of the original Greek texts. However, it is found in the Vulgate text, and is the Latin translation for the word found in the Greek manuscripts, found in 1Thessalonians 4:17. The Greek word at the center of these translations is “Harpazo,” which in English is “caught up.” It is used in this verse to characterize the event of the rapture (the Latin word), or the catching up those who are yet alive at the Lord’s appearing, which will be a sudden event. In the Blue Letter Bible web site (Blue Letter Bible. "1 Thessalonians 4 - King James Version." Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2008), harpazo has three definitions, to seize, carry off by force, to seize on, claim for one’s self eagerly, or to snatch out or away.
Paul ends this tremendous section with the encouragement that we are to encourage ourselves with these words, 1Thessalonians 4:18. The other word of encouragement is that we are not appointed to suffer wrath, since we have received salvation through Jesus Christ, 1Thessalonians 5:1-11. Similarly, the church of Philadelphia also received encouragement from the Lord as He will keep the church from the worldwide trial, Revelation 3:10-13, and there will be a crown for righteousness to all who long for Christ’s appearing, 2Timothy 4:8.