H. Edward Lafferty
The two letters to the Thessalonians are believed to be the first two epistles written by Paul, and were written in AD49 or AD50 by most estimates. They seem to have emanated from Paul’s recent visit to Thessalonica just prior to his arrival in Athens and were written during his approximately two-week-long sojourn in Athens. They seem also to be the first two that were written by Paul of the thirteen epistles that are attributed to him. Although the letter to the Hebrews is anonymous as to authorship, the writer takes the position that Paul also wrote Hebrews – a contention of many Biblical thinkers and historians. But we will not be dogmatic...
When he arrived in Athens the apostle had found to his disappointment that the thinkers of the City were interested only in various degrees and brands of philosophy – in humanistic considerations of belief and conduct. Their purely idolatrous society was evident as their “gods” were publicly displayed in multiple examples of statuary and were as numerous as in any ancient civilization.
The apostle discovered in Athens a monument to “The Unknown God” upon which he commented acridly but helpfully had the Greeks listened to him. Cf., Acts 17: 23.
The writer has been privileged to ascend and on several occasions to stand where Paul stood on Mars Hill adjacent to the magnificent structures of the Acropolis (notably the Parthenon, Temple of Athena Nike (the Winged Victory), and the Erechtheum), from which Paul could address great crowds of listeners below – and view the entire city of Athens from that vantage point.
I Thessalonians One
1Th 1:1 Paul, and Silvanus (Silas being a diminutive form of this name), and Timotheus, unto the church (the ecclesia, or congregation) of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace (Greek, charis, or divine influence upon the heart) be unto you, and peace (reassurance, confident rest), from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Firstly, Paul stresses the spiritual position of the brethren to whom he is writing: they are “in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ;” by this statement Paul means that they are in covenant relationship with the Father and His Son, and thus bear His name. We know of no other possible meaning of this phrase or its implications.
The reader receives the immediate impression that this tome from the hand of the apostle is for the purpose of admonishing the readers’ continuation in faith and in well-doing; it is not to be a letter of contention by any means.
It abounds in thanksgiving and praise for the deep love and commitment which his brethren at Thessalonica have demonstrated for Paul and conveys his deep affection for them as well.
The Thessalonians' Faith and Example
1Th 1:2 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;
1Th 1:3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;
It is to be noted that these three elements are often combined in the acknowledgments of the apostle – faith, love, and hope. These are the consistent, effective adhesives of the soul of man to the soul of God and His Son, making all one – unifying, strengthening, and blessing each of the faithful in Christ Jesus.
1Th 1:4 Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of (from, or by) God.
The element of election is always foremost in the mind of the apostle as he addresses his beloved brethren in Christ. Election is the cement of true brotherhood and the kindred spirit that is shared by all brethren for each other. It is his constant reminder that each of his beloved fellows has been chosen by the Almighty for His work and glory – not the other way around. Of course, each one’s faithful response to His election is required for the plan’s activation and operation. Election follows the specific calling of the Spirit; our response to the call IS His election (or selection).
1Th 1:5 For our gospel (the apostle is using the editorial “our” in this case, stressing that his Gospel is the same as that of his Master) came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
Readers were being reminded of the various channels by which their faith had been revealed and established – by Paul’s words, by miracles that he did by the power of the Spirit, and by the numerous examples of both his words and his conduct in the context of the Holy Spirit – all leading to great reassurance of his brethren of their veracity and their efficacy ... leading them onward to salvation itself in the spirit of grace.
In that way, they had themselves become obvious, observable followers of both Paul and of the Lord, whose very words Paul spoke with utter consistency and in deeply persuasive tones, always supported by appropriate scriptural examples and references ... which is a sober lesson for us today when we deign to instruct others in the faith of our spiritual Fathers.
The result was that those hearers had become numbered among the faithful – now designated as “in Christ” (as noted in verse 1). He exults in their faithful reception, even in the face of opposition (“affliction”), of his words ... for they are also the words of the Master and of the Almighty Himself.
1Th 1:6 And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:
1Th 1:7 So that ye were ensamples (illustrations, or examples) to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
In any case, the effect of the word upon each of them could be (and indeed was) observed to be operating in their lives – creating in each one the quality of longsuffering, resulting in the faithful, the patient believer which each of His followers is called upon to be – through all afflictions and temptations and hazards of discipleship...
The hierarchy of Originating Savior, Benefitted Teacher, and Eager Student was thus preserved, and the lower members moved up the ladder of responsibility. Many of the taught ones had become the teachers ... the conveyors of the message of salvation to their neighbors and friends of Macedonia and all the Greek lands to the south (known as Achaia) and every region into which they came, so that the Gospel was efficiently spread abroad, much to their credit.
They had become collectively the surrogate of Paul himself so that it did not continue that he needed personally to speak anything for the Gospel’s effective dispersal to the people. His brethren were now the effective conveyors of the Gospel message.
That principle gained even deeper traction most effectively after Paul was imprisoned and could no longer circulate abroad in his role as Ambassador to the Gentiles.
Their message was heard widely and consistently; its efficacy was unquestionable!
1Th 1:8 For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.
The godly response of the Thessalonian brethren had been readily apparent just as Paul had wanted. They had obviously and resolutely turned away from their former lives of idolatry and superstition to serve the One God in the heavens...
Th 1:9 For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in (by which he indicates acceptance, or reception) we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;
1Th 1:10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
Instead of being bound in the fetters of superstition and fear from the Greek panoply of gods – idols representing demons with mere human characters – they resorted to availing themselves of the integrity of uprightness and universal respect and compassion of their deity in carrying forth their lives and professions in living faith! They had been freed from that particular brand of “bondage” just as the Jewish believers had been freed from the impossible constraints of the Law of Moses. <HEL> I Thessalonians One ...
Paul's Ministry to the Thessalonians
1Th 2:1 For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain (“our visit to you was no failure” – Moffat):
The apostle refreshes their memory of his first initiation at Thessalonica – how he had suffered at their hands (cf., Acts 17: 1 et seq) and a seeming reference to resistance of the same region by his being cast into gaol (jail) at Philippi from which he and Silas were miraculously liberated by an earthquake!
1Th 2:2 But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.
Their mission had not been aborted by the distasteful, ominous events at Philippi; they had gone on straightway to Thessalonica and then onward to Berea, faithfully preaching the Gospel of Christ.
He makes the pointed comment that this was so because their message was not only true; it was necessary for them to continue its teaching even under those adverse circumstances.
1Th 2:3 For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: (from these words the reader might deduct that the future apostle’s past life as Saul the persecutor may have been tinged unconsciously with all these qualities: deceit ... uncleanness ... and guile. His transformation has been a 180 degree turnaround).
In this deliberate form of words – “we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the Gospel,” we note the poignant humility by which he spreads the Word of life:
1Th 2:4 But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.
The former “pleaser” of the Pharisees as Saul the persecutor, the apostle now pointedly discusses the divine source of his present motivation – as pleasing God the Father Who has recently presided over Saul’s conversion to Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.
His message therefore had not been compromised in any manner...
1Th 2:5 For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness (by which he means self-seeking); God is witness:
1Th 2:6 Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.
The last two verses are clarified by Moffat’s translation: 5 “We never resorted to flattery (you know that), nor to any pretext for self-seeking (God is witness to that); 6 we never sought honour from men, from you or from anybody else, though as apostles of Christ we had the power of claiming to be men of weight.”
Such a spectacle should have been a distraction to his listeners.
The result was that he had never been overbearing or demanding of any special treatment, but had been gentle in his presentations – nourishing and feeding the little ones their vital nutrients which would lead to spiritual health and salvation.
These are notably words of tenderness and deep regard by Paul for his listeners as they should be ours as we present the principles of salvation to any who are willing to hear.
He is deeply conscious that his hearers’ ignorance is largely not their fault – the simple fact being that they have never heard the words of life spoken by any messenger on any prior occasion.
They have not heard it spoken because no teacher had come into their midst prior to Paul. And they had not read it because most of them are illiterate. They are simply unlearned through no fault of their own.
And now he, Paul, has been sent to help them!
1Th 2:7 But we were gentle (affable, and kind) among you, even as a nurse (literally as one who nourishes) cherisheth (fosters) her children:
1Th 2:8 So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.
The apostle’s unabashed affection for his hearers is evident. That should be our attitude as well – not only toward those outside the pale of the Covenant, but in our fraternal discussions with our dear brothers and sisters of faith as well.
And lest his readers do not recall his diligent evangelistic efforts, he reminds them of its ardor and persistence on their behalf. He was intent upon not being chargeable with the loss of any soul who remained un-taught but was willing to hear his instructive words of life.
1Th 2:9 For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.
As a point of instruction for his readers, Paul also points out his impeccable conduct among them as a preacher of the Gospel of Christ. He had delivered the vital message on a plane of high integrity and with selfless determination to each of them, asking no favor of personal support whatever.
1Th 2:10 Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:
In order that the hearers should not miss this vital point, the apostle reminds them of the fatherly nature of his instruction to them – as a father nourishes and guides his dear children with the highest order of integrity in the vital affairs of their maturing little lives.
1Th 2:11 As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children,
His next point of instruction is emphasizing not only hearing his words but also DOING them: “walking worthy of God,” Who is calling them to His Kingdom and the glory that they may enjoy as citizens of it!
1Th 2:12 That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.
That stark realization by the apostle brings forth the appreciative phrases he now pens: it has compelled him to thank God without interruption or deviation that they had received his words not AS HIS words but as God’s words – for only words with this certification are truly effectual to bring salvation to them.
1Th 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
By expressing this realization the apostle certifies the immense power of the message of salvation – that it shall without fail bring about the good results that it consistently promises.
1Th 2:14 For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches (Greek, ekklesias, the congregations, in their consistency of doctrine and conduct) of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews:
Paul’s words necessarily included the persecution that had come and would further come to them as true Believers.
It would include vilification of each of them by their neighbors and friends because they had departed from the “old religion” of idolatry and necromancy ... had cast aside superstition and immorality and ungodliness in favor of their new lives of freedom in Christ Jesus, including their universal acknowledgement of YHVH as the Creator and Sustainer of the earth and of every man and beast and creeping thing upon it.
That had also been the appalling fate (but at the same time, the privilege) of the Jews of Judea and Samaria who had now turned to Christ – had shunted aside their devotion to Moses’ Law and had adopted the freedom of saints in Christ Jesus by baptism into His name. They, too, were shunned and vilified by their contemporaries and relatives who remained in their state of ignorance of The Way (cf., John 14: 6).
His reference to those persecutors is brought into high relief by his definition of them as having killed the Lord Jesus as well as their own appointed prophets ... and to have persecuted Paul in his newfound profession.
These, he avers, “please not God” as they think to do, but are even their own worst enemy (they “oppose themselves,” cf., 2 Timothy 2: 25).
1Th 2:15 Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men (including themselves):
On more than one occasion the authorities had caught up the missionaries of Christ’s Way and had brought them before magistrates who had beaten them and fined them, and had forbidden them to speak further of their “new doctrines” of insurrection – that there is another King besides Caesar. One instance of this in Jerusalem is found in Acts 4. But the Gentiles’ stubborn resistance occurred in Philippi, in Ephesus, and in other Gentile venues as well.
1Th 2:16 Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.
Paul's Longing to See Them Again
Now Paul holds not back his deep longing to be back with his brethren in Thessaloniki and to experience the strength and devotion of close fellowship and renewed association with them; for this is the material of the towering spiritual strength that he always seeks.
1Th 2:17 But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire.
But Paul’s longing for them and his intention to return to them has been stifled by an hindrance which he attributes to Satanas – in Greek it means “(false) accuser” or adversary, and may have been any number of seemingly natural roadblocks to his intended plans to return to Thessaloniki. This usage is consistent with all other scriptural references to similar circumstances and is not indicative of a supernatural, powerful, determined, evil being of some mystical sort which controls all man’s movements.
Instead, it is indicative of the power of the infernal flesh of mankind – his ineptitude to follow God’s ways or to perform His works – and can include resistance even from the angels of light in principle, as when YHVH advised His children in Egypt to follow the angel that He had placed within their congregation, “for My name is in him” – Exodus 23: 20, 21. How often did that angelic being act as resistance – as an adversary – to God’s People when they had done or were about to do something that was opposed to His will??
1Th 2:18 Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us.
As Paul concludes this portion of his loving admonitions to his brethren he offers his estimation of their supreme worth to him, and attests to his deepest feelings for them in the superlative terms that he now applies to them as his HOPE, his JOY, and his CROWN OF REJOICING!
These are appraisals of the highest quality and value from their spiritual mentor – their resident apostle! And incidentally, the apostle now notes one of the superb advantages of these chosen of God that is to be exhibited “at His coming” – namely, their being there in person to behold their Savior face to face – an entirely unique experience for all but a few of those who shall be there at that time and place!
1Th 2:19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?
1Th 2:20 For ye are our glory and joy.
<HEL> ~2,000 words. I Thessalonians Two.
Paul’s next words about being no longer able to forbear (forbear what?) make little sense until we read his comments in verse 5: he had an intense desire to know their present state or affairs.
For that reason, he had left back in Thessaloniki his close companion and fellow-servant, Timothy (and Silas), to consolidate their standing in Christ and to strengthen the Ecclesia there. That decision resulted in Paul being alone in Athens, once he had been deposited there by his escorts from Thessaloniki.
1Th 3:1 Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;
1Th 3:2 And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith: (for the historical account of this, see Acts 17: 14, 15. The implication is that that close support of Timothy ((and Silas)) would) stabilize and strengthen the Ecclesia at Thessaloniki – a result greatly desired by Paul).
1Th 3:3 That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.
The record of Paul’s arrival in Thessaloniki is found in Acts 17. The powerful Jews of its synagogue complained to the authorities that Paul was teaching that there was a King greater than Caesar, for which they were fined and released.
The brethren of the young Ecclesia realized the imminent danger for Paul, so they sent him escorted on his journey to Berea. After a short time there, he proceeded on to Athens where he stayed about two weeks, and from which he wrote his first two epistles to the brethren back in Thessaloniki – brethren who were constantly on his mind due to the Judaisers who had persecuted them – and had given them “tribulation” there.
1Th 3:4 For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.
At this point his lack of forbearance of verse one becomes clear: he is anxious for word of how the congregation at Thessaloniki is faring in the face of the tribulation rendered upon them by the Jews of the city. In short, he worries that his brethren might be persuaded to relinquish their newly-discovered Truth, and fall victim to the Judaisers.
Such an event would cause their loss from the ranks of the Believers, and render the efforts of Paul to no effect.
1Th 3:5 For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain.
Fortunately, Timothy came to Athens to find Paul forthwith – but Paul, if our memory is correct – had moved on down to Corinth, forsaking his only attempt to evangelize the philosophers and “wise men” of Athens. Timothy was apparently informed of Paul’s movements and then proceeded to Corinth where he found his friend and mentor and gave him the extremely good news of the durable spiritual strength of the brethren in Thessaloniki.
His heartfelt report is reviewed by Paul, thankful for the comfort that the report has brought.
Timothy's Encouraging Report
1Th 3:6 But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you:
1Th 3:7 Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by (learning of) your faith:
1Th 3:8 For now we live (Greek, zao, he is made lively, or quickened, encouraged), if (that) ye stand fast in the Lord.
This news is reassuring to Paul, and settles his troubled spirit as to their faithfulness...
Note well Paul’s continuing deep anxiety as to the spiritual welfare of his brethren; they are his only concern for they are his direct charge from the Lord of Life by dint of the great commission that had been given him at Damascus!
1Th 3:9 For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God;
The first words of this next line are stilted to modern readers. Moffat translates the verse 9 “How can I render thanks enough to God for you, for all the joy you make me feel in the presence of our God?”
Paul is absolutely exulting in Timothy’s good report of their state of being.
1Th 3:10 Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking (meaning defective) in your faith?
He had established this Ecclesia during his second missionary journey, so he prays to be divinely guided back to them at some future time, but there is no evidence that he was ever able to return. On his third sojourn he seems to have been turned back toward Asia from Philippi and never reached Thessaloniki.
1Th 3:11 Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.
His closing words of this chapter are a kind of benediction in which he lovingly prays for their benefits of spiritual increase and abundant care for one another and “all men” as an example of his own sincere love for them.
1Th 3:12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:
Is is possible that we modern believers do not consider “all men” (i.e., strangers to the covenants of promise) to the extent that we should? The Gospel is readily available to whomsoever it attracts, and has no price except the dedicated service that it requires of every participant in the race for life.
1Th 3:13 To the end he may stablish (or strengthen) your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
<HEL> ~1000 words. I Thessalonians Three.
A Life Pleasing to God
Paul was meticulous in the examples that he set for those who he now taught Truth. Here he encourages his flock at Thessaloniki “as ye have received of us (again, the editorial “we”) how we ought to walk” and so please the Almighty. Such a course of conduct would be the basis for their further continuance in well-doing.
1Th 4:1 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.
1Th 4:2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.
Paul had been the personal conveyor of those principles to them, handing them down directly from the Lord Jesus Himself to their ears.
The Moffat rendering of the next three verses is even more explicit in its instructions than the KJV: 3 “It is God's will that you should be consecrated, that you abstain from sexual vice, 4 that each of you should learn to take a wife for himself chastely and honourably, 5 not to gratify sensual passion like the Gentiles in their ignorance of God.”
We cannot be certain of the reason for this abrupt discussion of self-control at this place in his letter. No hint of any such conduct seems evident until now. But for a good reason the apostle feels compelled here to advise purity of sexual conduct on their parts.
1Th 4:3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification (properly, purification, or holiness), that ye should abstain from fornication (the Greek is porneia, including adultery and incest):
1Th 4:4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel (to take a wife – Moffat) in sanctification (in chastity, or purity) and honour (the honorable state of marriage);
1Th 4:5 Not in the lust of concupiscence (not to gratify sexual passion as per Moffat, meaning outside of marriage), even as the Gentiles which know not God:
1Th 4:6 That no man go beyond and defraud (not overreach, or cheat) his brother (or his sister-wife, especially) in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.
The apostle is clearly counseling an exemplary, chaste life for his beloved brethren and their families – a level of conduct unknown to the Gentiles round about them ... far above their standards of behavior. He not only counsels honesty and uprightness in all matters; his next words address the extreme contrast: of uncleanness versus holiness.
1Th 4:7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness (or sanctification).
Their lives are set upon the high plane of self-control and propriety in every way both between themselves and with each one’s neighbor.
1Th 4:8 He therefore that despiseth (Moffat’s gloss makes it clear that his meaning is that “he who disregards this disregardeth not man...”), despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
The entire standard of the Believer’s spiritual conduct is divinely mandated, not as naturally acquired through or catering to “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, or the pride of life” (cf., I John 2: 16).
Some might confuse this dishonorable conduct as constituting “brotherly love,” but it does not. His reminder is that they are well aware of the innate meaning of that admonition (to love thy neighbor ... and brother and sister!) as taught them of the Almighty and His Son...
1Th 4:9 But as touching brotherly love (the Greek for these two words is philadelphia, or fraternal affection) ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.
1Th 4:10 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;
1Th 4:11 And that ye study (his meaning is to be diligent) to be quiet (i.e., live a quiet, steady life), and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;
1Th 4:12 That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without (Moffat reads: “... so that your life may be correct in the eyes of the outside world”), and that ye may have lack of nothing.
He is admonishing them that they avoid even the appearance of evil as also in I Thessalonians 5: 22.
The next section of his papyrus contains some of the most notable considerations and direct instructions regarding the day that all of them were looking forward to experiencing.
The Coming of the Lord
Th 4:13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep (that are deceased, or are in the death state), that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
Many of his contemporaries cherished the notion of an extended life after death beyond the skies just as today. But Paul is drawing for them an unmistakable contrast with those pagan expectations ... reviewing the real Truth of the matter for their reinforcement in the faith of Christ. Their faithful pursuit of the spiritual pathway shown His followers by Christ will lead inevitably to their (and our!) also following His literal pathway in the most realistic of terms.
1Th 4:14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
Take careful note that Paul – always the preacher of the fundamental articles of salvation – is addressing Believers (not unbelievers) in this statement of basic, saving Bible doctrine.
IF we believe that Jesus died and rose again (and therefore have followed His prescribed pathway to unity with Him via baptism into His name and have striven to conduct our lives faithfully), all Believers will be led along the identical pathway to resurrection from the death state if they have died before Jesus returns. As in all spiritual matters, He is the trail-breaker of those who follow Him, that they may have a clearly marked course to follow through this valley of the shadow of death that we travel.
At His Second Coming He will cause the covenanted “sleepers” to awaken at the sound of the last trump, and to stand again in their mortal bodies to appear before His Judgment Bema for their final assize.
1Th 4:15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain (are living) unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (precede) them which are (or have been) asleep.
Some will naturally be alive when He returns, so it will not be necessary for them to enter the death state at all; and all shall be escorted to the place of Judgment at the same time.
And now the apostle gives a clear picture of the order of the magnificent events of the Second Coming of the LORD from heaven...
1Th 4:16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel (Gabriel? – Luke 1: 19, 26), and with the trump (the sound of the shofar) of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
This is a clear statement of the fact that the resurrection of the dead is a limited, ordered affair: only those who are “in Christ” will be raised from the dead – those who have taken His name upon themselves in baptism.
ALL the others shall remain in the death state in perpetuity. Of that order of deceased ones – even the chief ones who have ruled over them ... “They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise: therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish.” Isaiah 26:14.
1Th 4:17 Then we (also, without exception, WE who are “in Christ” ... which means only those bearing His name in baptism) which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in
the clouds (“the” is not implied in the Greek; the term is “in a cloud”), to meet the Lord in the air (in that which is breathed, the atmosphere): and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
In this summary statement, the apostle is addressing the fate of only one of two classes of folk who shall stand before the Master at that time of Judgment: the godly ones.
Correlating his summary statement here with all the remaining teachings of scripture, Paul is relating that the dead in Christ will arise and be reconstituted as mortal beings, then be gathered together with the living in Christ (also still constituted mortal beings at that time), and that both groups will be gathered before the LORD “in the air” or atmosphere of the earth (it extends to only about sixty miles above the surface, therefore cannot mean “in heaven” where God dwells), where, if successful in their quest for Life will remain so, “ever” with the Lord.
It is a simple doctrine and extremely opposite to the prevalent teachings of “evangelists” and broadcast preachers of today, who claim that the resurrected dead are transported to heaven to “be with God” forever.
If that is so, then Paul is a liar...
But he is not a liar – and beseeches that each comfort one another with these reminders.
1Th 4:18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
<HEL> ~1,600 words. I Thessalonians Four
The remaining text of this epistle is replete with short, telegraphic messages of strong exhortations. They set a perfect stage for his brethren being “found without blame” at His coming. His reassuring words express his fervent hope, that “whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him” (Vs. 10). Our paltry endeavors are inevitably boosted by the divine energy that enlivens and strengthens our walk.
Verses 16-22 covey personal benefits it is true, but are surely elements of each Believer’s personal ministry to others. The qualities are evidently divine in character, being relatively unknown to the natural man. They are to be cultivated diligently – and practiced without ceasing. For they define the man of God, given to prayer, willing to teach any who will hear, standing firm against the evil that is without. In such a man or woman, the inner sanctuary of self is willingly given over to His service in deep appreciation of His largess... His compassion... and His love for us.
The Day of the Lord
1Th 5:1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
Times and seasons in this instance mean the general conditions under which His Second Coming will occur. The observers at that time in future history will recognize their days as the end time by certain signs that shall have come to pass – prophecies that shall have been fulfilled in their lifetimes, or are less recently a matter of record.
Its approach will be stealthy in the eyes of some – as the unheralded approach of a thief who intends to rob an household; he does not show himself to the unwary homeowner.
We understand from these words that most of the population will not be aware of His near approach, for the apostle is speaking of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, Who shall come as a thief...
1Th 5:2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
Evidently, from this next statement, the apostle acknowledges that that “day” shall come after a time of trouble which may seem to have become more or less settled. The recent dangers to the general society may seem to have been quelled – a much greater level of security to have been established ... for they shall make the claim (“when they say...”) at that time that peace and security have seemingly been achieved...
At that time of unwariness, sudden destruction falls upon them as the inevitable labor pangs of an expectant mother befall her near her expected time of delivery. Both are expected by the wise observers in both cases; but the implication is that observers in the first case will not have a high level of awareness that His coming is near.
Note particularly Paul’s observation as to the unwary ones’ fate: they shall not escape!
I Th 5: 3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
But there is a great difference between those blissfully unaware folk and the elect of God – those who are watching the signs of the times and have been by them alerted to the nearness of his approach. These are not taken by surprise. They behold the distinct glow of the sunrise just beyond the horizon, and are preparing for the arrival of the Bridegroom!
I Th 5:4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
The enlightenment of the Word is a wonderful thing, for the awareness of those who are not “in darkness” indicates their enlightenment solely by God’s word – with which they are intimately familiar. That simple fact is an illustration that what anyone knows and believes is important; there is a right and a wrong view of things. Those who are enlightened by God’s Word are the blessed ones, and reap the better benefits.
1Th 5:5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
So the clear instruction to the called of God is that he not slumber in the daytime, but watch closely without any impediment such as strong drink (“be sober”).
1Th 5:6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
1Th 5:7 For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
We believe his implication here is that the diligent Believer will not slumber in an excessive way, perhaps spending some of his nighttime hours in meditation and study of God’s word instead of sleeping – and that he shall certainly not be drunken at any time.
The contrasting requirement, then, is conduct that is opposite to that of slovenly persons who sleep excessively and tend to be drunk.
It is to be alert and appropriately clad with faith, hope, and love – the same qualities as recommended in chapter one, verse 3. These are to be so consistently and naturally displayed as to be considered articles of defense – as a breastplate ... and as an helmet – both defensive habits of the soldier of Christ.
1Th 5:8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
I Th 5:9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath (Greek, orge, or punishment), but to obtain salvation (deliverance, or safety) by our Lord Jesus Christ,
1Th 5:10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
Here is another clear benefit of the death of the LORD Jesus: the apostle’s almost incidental explanatory phrase here – “whether we wake or sleep” – reassures his readers that it will not be a disadvantage for any of them to have lain down in the sleep of death before His Second Coming (as all these shall have done), because whether one is awake (living) or asleep in death, all shall live again together with their Savior ... surely information that comforts and reassures and strengthens each one.
1Th 5:11 Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.
Paul’s letter is approaching its end as he gives his final spiritual advice to those who will read his parchment, or hear it read; these words are for their encouragement and reassurance...
Final Instructions and Benediction
1Th 5:12 And we beseech you, brethren, to know them (acknowledge them) which labour (literally, those who work to the point of exhaustion) among you, and are over you (who stand before you as leaders) in the Lord, and admonish (who instruct and warn) you;
1Th 5:13 And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves.
If there is any society which should dwell in peace it is Believers in the LORD Jesus Christ experiencing “the peace that passeth understanding” (Philippians 4: 7), for only in Him dwells salvation – deliverance from this dreary, monotonous climate of mere human activity – deliverance into the glorious liberty of the sons of God!
1Th 5:14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded (the Greek word indicates the mentally challenged ones of course, but also it demands support for those who are faint-hearted – the dispirited Believer who has been worn down by challenges that he or she could not handle well) , support the weak, be patient toward all men.
Whoever among our number has been fortunate enough to have tutored a new prospect in the Word realizes the importance of the quality of patience – of a careful, well-planned set of instructions that hopefully will nullify in advance any shallow objections of our subjects and effectively tutor them in the basic principles of salvation from the beginning.
In his letter to Philippi, Paul emphasizes this quality of grace in our speech in these words which he penned to the Colossians, in 4:6 “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” This intelligent, thoughtful, empathetic approach indicates that Paul has come a long way from his much earlier, more primitive days of overbearing persecution of his future brethren in the spirit of Pharisaical “wisdom!”
The result is a platform of inherent balance and equity for all concerned ... each treating the other as he would be treated ... a universal requirement of diligent professors of His Word.
1Th 5:15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.
Note now how the apostle reverts to the short, meaningful, almost staccato quality of advice that leaves a lasting impression upon hearers – many of them readily quoted by ourselves today as our desired standard of conduct.
1Th 5:16 Rejoice evermore.
1Th 5:17 Pray without ceasing.
1Th 5:18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
1Th 5:19 Quench not the Spirit.
1Th 5:20 Despise not prophesyings.
1Th 5:21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
1Th 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.
Such well-ordered conduct can have but one effect: that it nourishes and sets apart those who so comport themselves in the Spirit of Truth, and that it encourages all hearers – even those who might have been hostile to our message in the beginning.
These are qualities that set men apart unto the Almighty and His work – and mark them as godly servants intent on blessing His holy name in all their efforts, rendering glory to Him and minimizing their own parts in it.
1Th 5:23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1Th 5:24 Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.
1Th 5:25 Brethren, pray for us.
1Th 5:26 Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.
1Th 5:27 I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.
Paul’s benediction is consistent with his other writings. In this blessing he recognizes that the overall governing factor in one’s successful life of service to Him is His grace toward each of us ... His unbounded love for each of his brothers and sisters, and His intimate recognition of their limitations and failures along with His willingness to be patient with them and to extend His everlasting love to each of them without limit.
1Th 5:28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. The first epistle to the Thessalonians was written from Athens.
<HEL> ~7,700 words. Studies in I Thessalonians. April 23, 2021.