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Same Message, New Method (part 3)

Our Hope In God
1 Thessalonians 4:13–18
Intro: What seems most probable is that the church simply had not understood the teachings regarding the resurrection that Paul must have given during the weeks the church was being founded (cf. 5:1). H.-A. Wilcke suggests for instance that the church was unclear on the timing and sequence of events. They feared that the living would participate in the parousia but the dead would be raised later—after the joy of the parousia or even after the millennial reign. Such fears would explain Paul’s assertion “we [who remain alive] will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.” The view of Plevnik is similar. He proposes that utilizing assumption imagery, Paul presented the taking up of the faithful at the parousia. In the context of Jewish apocalyptic thought such imagery assumes, however, that the one taken up is alive. As a result the church was not certain that the dead would participate at the parousia. Paul’s assurance that the dead “will rise first” brings them back to the same status as the living and allows them to participate fully at the parousia.60
Martin, D. M. (1995). 1, 2 Thessalonians (Vol. 33, p. 142). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Thessalonians 4. Exhortations regarding the Dead (4:13–18)

This is not a passage about the parousia but a passage about grieving for the dead. This does not mean that it is improper to mine these words for insight into the coming of the Lord (any more than it is wrong to study the Christological content of Phil 2:6–11). First Thessalonians 4:13–18 and 5:1–11 are classic texts, useful for the study of Pauline eschatology. We must not, however, allow interest in last things to blind us to the use for which these verses were intended—as a word of encouragement to a church dealing with death.

1. Remember His Power
-vs. 16 “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God...”
A. The Lord Will Come
1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary a. Believers Who Died before the Parousia (4:13–18)

‘One word of command, one shout from the archangel, one blast from the trumpet of God and the Lord himself will come down from Heaven!’

-The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Thessalonians 4. Exhortations regarding the Dead (4:13–18) The disciples witnessed Jesus’ ascent into the clouds and were told he would return in the same way (Acts 1:9–11; cf. Mark 13:26)
-Eventually the long-awaited Jesus will descend—this time not as a babe but with grand display and heavenly entourage as befits the heavenly Lord himself. He comes “with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God.” Martin, D. M. (1995). 1, 2 Thessalonians (Vol. 33, p. 150). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
B. He Will Be In Control
1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary a. Believers Who Died before the Parousia (4:13–18)

The loud command (keleusma) is used of the cry of the charioteer to his horses or the hunter to his hounds; it is the shout of the ship’s master to the rowers, or of the commander to his soldiers. Always there is the ring of authority and the note of urgency. It is not said who will utter the command, but it may well be the Lord (cf. John 5:25, 28). If not, then the command, the voice and the trumpet call may all be ways of referring to the same thing (Rev. 1:10 has ‘a loud voice like a trumpet’). Hendriksen and others hold that the Lord utters the command, while the voice and the trumpet call are identical. We should reject translations that might give the impression that the Lord responds to a command (e.g. JB, ‘At the trumpet of God, the voice of the archangel will call out the command and the Lord himself will come down’). He is in control.

1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary a. Believers Who Died before the Parousia (4:13–18)

The dead in Christ (even death does not break the union; we are still in him) are to rise first, i.e. before the events of the next verse. It is unlikely that Paul has in mind the ‘first resurrection’ (Rev. 20:5), or that he is thinking of the resurrection of all men. He is simply pointing out that, far from the faithful departed missing the parousia, they will have a prominent place.

17. After that, believers who remain alive on earth will be caught up with them in the clouds. The verb harpagēsometha combines the ideas of force and suddenness seen in the irresistible power of God. We should not overlook the fact that believers will be caught up with them. There will be a reunion with Christ, but there will also be a reunion with the friends who have gone before.

1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary a. Believers Who Died before the Parousia (4:13–18)

meet the Lord in the air. The expression translated to meet is a kind of technical term ‘for the official welcome of a newly arrived dignitary’ (MM), and is very suitable in this context (cf. Matt. 25:6; Acts 28:15). It is a measure of the Lord’s complete supremacy that he should meet his saints in such a region, for the air was held to be the abode of all manner of evil spirits (cf. Eph. 2:2). At the same time this is not anything more than a meeting-place. It seems that the Lord proceeds to the earth with his people (cf. 1 Cor. 6:2).

2. Remember His Protection
A. We Have The Hope of Resurrection
-vs. 13 “…concerning them which are asleep …sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.”
-Both Christians and non-Christians rightly express grief at the loss of a loved one. The distinction that is highlighted in v. 13 is that the non-Christian has “no hope.” Martin, D. M. (1995). 1, 2 Thessalonians (Vol. 33, p. 144). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
-The hopelessness of the non-Christian world stemmed from the one fact they all shared: they did not possess the one true hope, the Christian hope, which Christ validated by his resurrection. Martin, D. M. (1995). 1, 2 Thessalonians (Vol. 33, p. 144). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
-vs. 14 “…them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.”
--Koimaō, a common word for “sleep,” was often used as a euphemism for death in Greek, Jewish, and Christian writings as well as in Paul’s epistles. Martin, D. M. (1995). 1, 2 Thessalonians (Vol. 33, p. 143). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
-The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Thessalonians 4. Exhortations regarding the Dead (4:13–18) It is this expectation that makes Christian grief the grief of temporary separation. It is still grief, but it is grief moderated by the anticipation of a certain and joyous reunion in Christ.
--(came from vs. 14) The God who raised Jesus will also raise Jesus’ followers. It is Jesus’ resurrection that validates the gospel and guarantees the believers’ resurrection (cf. 1 Cor 15:17–20). Martin, D. M. (1995). 1, 2 Thessalonians (Vol. 33, p. 145). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
B. We have the Promise of Resurrection
-vs. 15 “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord...”
-the “for” indicates that the “word of the Lord” that follows is the basis for the assurances given in v. 14. “This” looks forward to the teaching expressed in vv. 15b–17. Paul assured the church that what he was about to say was “according to the Lord’s own word.” It was not human speculation but divine revelation Martin, D. M. (1995). 1, 2 Thessalonians (Vol. 33, p. 147). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
-vs. 16,17 “…the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air...”
-Several revelations are made in the verses that follow: (a) the dead will rise and join the Lord prior to the living joining him (v. 16), (b) the Lord’s descent will be with “a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God” (v. 16), (c) those who were dead and the those living “will be caught up together” (v. 17), and (d) all believers will be with the Lord forever (v. 17). Martin, D. M. (1995). 1, 2 Thessalonians (Vol. 33, p. 147). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
3. Remember His Prosperity
A. We will have eternal fellowship
-vs. 17 “…and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
-This emphasis on the unity of the event for the living and the dead stresses two points. First, the living have no advantage over the dead in the end. Both groups will experience reunion with the Lord together. Second, the dead and the living will themselves be reunited—a reunion that will know no end. For “we will be with the Lord forever.” Martin, D. M. (1995). 1, 2 Thessalonians (Vol. 33, pp. 152–153). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
-The point clearly made is that those who die before the parousia will participate in it along with those who are alive when he comes, and both will enjoy the life with the Lord that follows. Martin, D. M. (1995). 1, 2 Thessalonians (Vol. 33, p. 150). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
B. We should anxiously await His return
-vs. 18 “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
-The Thessalonians demonstrated their faith by eagerly awaiting the coming of Jesus, the Son of God, from heaven (1 Thess 1:3, 10). Martin, D. M. (1995). 1, 2 Thessalonians (Vol. 33, p. 150). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
-The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Thessalonians 4. Exhortations regarding the Dead (4:13–18) His primary intent in the passage was to comfort the living in the face of death and enable them to use his teachings to comfort one another (v. 18).
1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary a. Believers Who Died before the Parousia (4:13–18)

Paul calls on his readers not simply to take heart, but actively to encourage (see on 3:2) each other with what he has written. Whiteley sees this as very important. Paul’s words are a source of continual strengthening for the believer, not a spur to fascination with the future. They convey the assurance that the power of God will never be defeated. God is supreme, and when he sees that the time has come, he will draw this age to its close and usher in the new age with the parousia. Whether we live or whether we die, we do not go beyond his power. Even in the face of death, that antagonist that no human can tame, we can remain calm and triumphant, for we know that those who sleep sleep in Jesus and that they have their place in the final scheme of things. Well might Paul call on his friends to encourage each other with these words.

The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Thessalonians 4. Exhortations regarding the Dead (4:13–18)

In the midst of distress, comfort often comes in the form of the presence of one who cares. The one who cares may not be able to solve the problem afflicting the one suffering any more than Paul could end persecution, vanquish death, or eliminate loss. But just as joy shared is joy intensified, paradoxically suffering shared is suffering diminished. Just as the Thessalonians were called to comfort one another, so also believers of every age are called to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “mourn with those who mourn” (Rom 12:15).

The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Thessalonians 4. Exhortations regarding the Dead (4:13–18)

But it is not only the presence of an empathetic fellow sufferer that is comforting. The “word” can comfort also. The word Paul shared in vv. 13–17 does not eliminate loss, but it does put it in a larger context. The sufferer often can see only his suffering; it becomes his entire world. The presence of a fellow sufferer broadens that world and lets the sufferer know that he is not alone. Hand in hand with the comfort of Christian companionship, the gospel provides the comfort of Christian hope. The hope expands our world beyond the moment of mourning by placing it in the context of eternity. The moment of loss is seen in the context of certain future reunion and eternal togetherness in the presence of the Lord. The loss remains a reality, but it is a temporary reality. The grief is real, but it is no longer grief without hope. The harsh reality of separation is joined by the joyous promise of reunion as the fact of death is transformed by the promise of life eternal.

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