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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

1 Thessalonians 4

The first part embraces the following topics:

(1) An exhortation to increase and abound in the Christian virtues which they had already manifested; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2.

(2) A particular exhortation on the subject of sanctification 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, in which two points are specified, probably as illustrations of the general subject, and embracing those in regard to which they were exposed to special danger. The first was fornication, the other was fraud.

(3) An exhortation to brotherly love; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10.

(4) An exhortation to quiet industry, and to honesty in their dealings. particularly with those who were Christians; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.

The second part is designed to comfort the Thessalonians who had been bereaved; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Some of their number had died. They appear to have been beloved members of the church, and dear friends of those to whom the apostle wrote. To console them he brings into view the doctrine of the second coming of the Saviour, and the truth that they would be raised up to live with him for ever. He reminds them that those who had died were “asleep” - reposing in a gentle slumber, as if they were to be awakened again 1 Thessalonians 4:13; that they should not sorrow as they did who have no hope 1 Thessalonians 4:13; that if they believed that Jesus died and rose again, they ought to believe that God would raise up all those who sleep in Jesus 1 Thessalonians 4:14; that in the last day they would rise before the living should be changed, and that the living would not be taken up to heaven and leave their departed friends in their graves 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16, and that both the living and the dead would be raised up to heaven and would be forever with the Lord 1 Thessalonians 4:17. With this prospect, they had every ground of comfort which they could desire, and they should sustain each other in their trials by this bright hope; 1 Thessalonians 4:18.

Verse 1

Furthermore then - Τὸ λοιπὸν To loipon. “As to what remains.” That is, all that remains is to offer these exhortations; see the 2 Corinthians 13:11 note; Galatians 6:17 note; Ephesians 6:10 note; Philippians 4:8 note. The phrase is a formula appropriate to the end of an argument or discourse.

We beseech you - Margin, “request.” The Greek is, “we ask you” - ἐρωτῶμεν erōtōmen. It is not as strong a word as that which follows.

And exhort you - Marg, “beseech.” This is the word which is commonly used to denote earnest exhortation. The use of these words here implies that Paul regarded the subject as of great importance. He might have commanded them - but kind exhortation usually accomplishes more than a command,

By the Lord Jesus - In his name and by his authority.

That as ye have received of us - As you were taught by us. Paul doubtless had given them repeated instructions as to their duty as Christians.

How ye ought to walk - That is, how ye ought to live. Life is often represented as a journey; Romans 6:4; Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 5:7; Galatians 6:16, Ephesians 4:1.

So ye would abound more and more - “That is, follow the directions which they had received more and more fully.” Abbott.

Verse 2

For ye know what commandments - It was but a short time since Paul was with them, and they could not but recollect the rules of living which he had laid down.

By the Lord Jesus - By the authority of the Lord Jesus. Some of those rules, or commandments, the apostle refers to, probably, in the following verses.

Verse 3

For this is the will of God, even your sanctification - It is the will or command of God that you should be holy. This does not refer to the purpose or decree of God, and does not mean that he intended to make them holy - but it means that it was his command that they should be holy. It was also true that it was agreeable to the divine will or purpose that they should be holy, and that he meant to use such an influence as to secure this; but this is not the truth taught here. This text, therefore, should not be brought as a proof that God intends to make his people holy, or that they are sanctified. It is a proof only that he requires holiness. The word here rendered “sanctification” - ἁγιασμὸς hagiasmos - is not used in the Greek classics, but is several times found in the New Testament. It is rendered holiness, Romans 6:19, Rom 6:22; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; 1 Timothy 2:15; Hebrews 12:14; and sanctification, 1 Corinthians 1:30; 1Th 4:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13, and 1 Peter 1:2; see the Romans 6:19 note; 1 Corinthians 1:30 note. It means here “purity of life,” and particularly abstinence from those vices which debase and degrade the soul Sanctification consists in two things:

(1) In “ceasing to do evil;” and,

(2) In “learning to do well.” Or in other words, the first work of sanctification is in overcoming the propensities to evil in our nature, and checking and subduing the unholy habits which we had formed before we became Christians; the second part of the work consists in cultivating the positive principles of holiness in the soul.

That ye should abstain from fornication - A vice which was freely indulged among the pagan, and to which, from that fact, and from their own former habits, they were particularly exposed. On the fact that they were thus exposed, and on the reasons for these solemn commands on the subject, see the Acts 15:20 note, and 1 Corinthians 6:18 note.

Verse 4

That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel - The word “vessel” here (σκεῦος skeuos), probably refers to the body. When it is so used, it is either because the body is frail and feeble, like an earthen vessel, easily broken 2 Corinthians 4:7, or because it is that which contains the soul, or in which the soul is lodged. Lucret. Lib. iii. 441. The word vessel also (Greek σκεῦος skeuos) was used by the latter Hebrews to denote a wife, as the vessel of her husband. Schoettg. Hor. Heb. p. 827. Compare Wetstein in loc. Many, as Augustine, Wetstein, Schoettgen, Koppe, Robinson (Lex.), and others, have supposed that this is the reference here; compare 1 Peter 3:7. The word body, however, accords more naturally with the usual signification of the word, and as the apostle was giving directions to the whole church, embracing both sexes, it is hardly probable that he confined his direction to those who had wives. It was the duty of females, and of the unmarried among the males, as well as of married men, to observe this command. The injunction then is, that we should preserve the body pure; see the notes on 1 Corinthians 6:18-20.

In sanctification and honour - Should not debase or pollute it; that is, that we should honor it as a noble work of God, to be employed for pure purposes; notes, 1 Corinthians 6:19.

Verse 5

Not in the lust of concupiscence - In gross gratifications.

Even as the Gentiles - This was, and is, a common vice among the pagan; see the Acts 15:20 note; Romans 1:29 note; Ephesians 4:17-18 notes, and the reports of missionaries everywhere.

Which know not God - See the Romans 1:21, Romans 1:28 notes; Ephesians 2:12 note.

Verse 6

That no man go beyond - ὑπερβαίνειν huperbainein. This word means, “to make to go over,” as, e. g., a wall or mountain; then, to overpass, to wit, certain limits, to transgress; and then to go too far, i. e., to go beyond right - hence to cheat or defraud. It is not used elsewhere in the New Testament. The idea of overreaching is that which is implied in its use here.

And defraud - πλεονεκτεῖν pleonektein Margin, “oppress,” or “overreach.” This word properly means, to have more than another; then to have an advantage; and then to take advantage of any one, to circumvent, defraud, cheat. It is rendered “got an advantage,” 2 Corinthians 2:11; “defraud,” 2 Corinthians 7:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:6; “make a gain,” 2 Corinthians 12:17-18. Compare for the use of the adjective, 1 Corinthians 5:10-11; 1 Corinthians 6:10; Ephesians 5:5; and the noun, Mark 7:22; Luke 12:15; Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 9:5; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:5; 2 Peter 2:3, 2 Peter 2:14. It is the word commonly used to denote covetousness. Taking advantage of, is the idea which it conveys here.

In any matter - Margin, “or the.” According to the reading in the margin, this would refer to the particular matter under discussion 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, to wit, concupiscence. and the meaning then would be, that no one should be guilty of illicit intercourse with the wife of another. Many expositors - as Hammond Whitby, Macknight, Rosenmuller, and others, suppose that this is a prohibition of adultery, and there can be no doubt that it does include this. But there is no reason why it should be confined to it. The Greek is so general that it may prohibit all kinds of fraud, overreaching, or covetousness, and may refer to any attempt to deprive another of his rights, whether it be the right which he has in his property, or his rights as a husband, or his rights in any other respect. It is a general command not to defraud; in no way to take advantage of another; in no way to deprive him of his rights.

Because that the Lord is the avenger of all such - Of all such as are guilty of fraud; that is, he will punish them; compare Romans 12:19 note; Ephesians 6:9 note.

As we also have forewarned - Doubtless when he was with them.

Verse 7

For God hath not called us unto uncleanness - When he called us to be his followers, it was not that we should lead lives of impurity, but of holiness. We should, therefore, fulfil the purposes for which we were called into his kingdom. The word “uncleanness” (ἀκαθαρσία akatharsia), means, properly, “impurity, filth;” and then, in a moral sense, “pollution, lewdness,” as opposed to chastity; Romans 1:24; Rom 6:19; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 4:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5.

Verse 8

He therefore that despiseth - Margin, “rejecteth.” That is, he who disregards such commands as these which call him to a holy life, is really rejecting and disobeying God. Some might be disposed to say that these were merely the precepts of man, and that therefore it was not important whether they were obeyed or not. The apostle assures them in the most solemn manner, that, though communicated to them by man, yet they were really the commands of God.

Who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit - This is a claim to inspiration. Paul did not give these commands as his own, but as taught by the Spirit of God; compare notes on 1 Corinthians 7:40.

Verse 9

But as touching brotherly love - The “peculiar charity and affection which one Christian owes to another.” Doddridge; see the notes on John 13:34.

Ye need not that I write unto you - That is, “as I have done on the other points.” They were so taught of God in regard to this duty, that they did not need any special instruction.

For ye yourselves are taught of God - The word here rendered “taught of God” - θεοδίδακτοί theodidaktoi - occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is correctly translated, and must refer here to some direct teaching of God on their own hearts, for Paul speaks of their being so taught by him as to need no special precepts in the case. He probably refers to that influence exerted on them when, they became Christians, by which they were led to love all who bear the divine image. He calls this being “taught of God,” not because it was of the nature of revelation or inspiration, but because it was in fact the teaching of God in this case, though it was secret and silent. God has many ways of teaching people. The lessons which we learn from his Providence are a part of his instructions. The same is true of the decisions of our own consciences, and of the secret and silent influence of his Spirit on our hearts, disposing us to love what is lovely, and to do what ought to be done. In this manner all true Christians are taught to love those who bear the image of their Saviour. They feel that they are brethren; and such is their strong attachment to them, from the very nature of religion, that they do not need any express command of God to teach them to love them. It is one of the first - the elementary effects of religion on the soul, to lead us to love “the brethren” - and to do this is one of the evidences of piety about which there need be no danger of deception; compare 1 John 3:14.

Verse 10

And indeed ye do it - See the notes on 1 Thessalonians 1:7.

But we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more - See the notes at 1 Thessalonians 3:12. Here, as elsewhere, the apostle makes the fact that they deserved commendation for what they had done, a stimulus to arouse them to still higher attainments. Bloomfield.

Verse 11

And that ye study to be quiet - Orderly, peaceful; living in the practice of the calm virtues of life. The duty to which he would exhort them was that of being subordinate to the laws; of avoiding all tumult and disorder; of calmly pursuing their regular avocations, and of keeping themselves from all the assemblages of the idle, the restless, and the dissatisfied. No Christian should be engaged in a mob; none should be identified with the popular excitements which lead to disorder and to the disregard of the laws. The word rendered “ye study” (φιλοτιμέομαι philotimeomai), means properly, “to love honor, to be ambitious;” and here means the same as when we say “to make it a point of honor to do so and so. Robinson, Lex. It is to be regarded as a sacred duty; a thing in which our honor is concerned. Every man should regard himself as disgraced who is concerned in a mob.

And to do your own business - To attend to their own concerns, without interfering with the affairs of others; see the notes on Philippians 2:4; compare 2 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Timothy 5:13; 1 Peter 4:13. The injunction here is one of the beautiful precepts of Christianity so well adapted to promote the good order and the happiness of society. It would prevent the impertinent and unauthorized prying into the affairs of others, to which many are so prone, and produce that careful attention to what properly belongs to our calling in life, which leads to thrift, order, and competence. Religion teaches no man to neglect his business. It requires no one to give up an honest calling and to be idle. It asks no one to forsake a useful occupation; unless he can exchange it for one more useful. It demands, indeed, that we shall be willing so far to suspend our ordinary labors as to observe the Sabbath; to maintain habits of devotion; to improve our minds and hearts by the study of truth, to cultivate the social affections, and to do good to others as we have an opportunity; but it makes no one idle, and it countenances idleness in no one. A man who is habitually idle can have very slender pretensions to piety. There is enough in this world for every one to do, and the Saviour set such an example of untiring industry in his vocation as to give each one occasion to doubt whether he is his true follower if he is not disposed to be employed.

And to work with your own hands, as we commanded you - This command is not referred to in the history Acts 17:0, but it is probable that the apostle saw that many of those residing in Thessalonica were disposed to spend their time in indolence, and hence insisted strongly on the necessity of being engaged in some useful occupation; compare Acts 17:21. Idleness is one of the great evils of the pagan world in almost every country, and the parent of no small part of their vices. The effect of religion everywhere is to make people industrious; and every man, who is able, should feel himself under sacred obligation to be employed. God made man to work (compare Genesis 2:15; Genesis 3:19), and there is no more benevolent arrangement of his government than this. No one who has already enough for himself and family, but who can make money to do good to others, has a right to retire from business and to live in idleness (compare Acts 20:34; Ephesians 4:27); no one has a right to live in such a relation as to be wholly dependent on others, if he can support himself; and no one has a right to compel others to labor for him, and to exact their unrequited toil, in order that he may be supported in indolence and ease. The application of this rule to all mankind would speedily put an end to slavery, and would convert multitudes, even in the church, from useless to useful people. If a man has no necessity to labor for himself and family, he should regard it as an inestimable privilege to be permitted to aid those who cannot work - the sick, the aged, the infirm. If a man has no need to add to what he has for his own temporal comfort, what a privilege it is for him to toil in promoting public improvements: in founding colleges, libraries, hospitals, and asylums; and in sending the gospel to those who are sunk in wretchedness and want! No man understands fully the blessings which God has bestowed on him, if he has hands to work and will not work.

Verse 12

That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without - Out of the church; comp notes on Colossians 4:5. The word rendered honestly, means “becomingly, decorously, in a proper manner;” Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 14:40. It does not refer here to mere honesty in the transaction of business, but to their general treatment of those who were not professing Christians. They were to conduct themselves toward them in all respects in a becoming manner - to be honest with them; to be faithful to their engagements; to be kind and courteous in their conversation; to show respect where it was due, and to endeavor in every way to do them good. There are few precepts of religion more important than those which enjoin upon Christians the duty of a proper treatment of those who are not connected with the church.

And that ye may have lack of nothing - Margin, no man. The Greek will bear either construction, but the translation in the text is probably the correct one. The phrase is to be taken in connection not merely with that which immediately precedes it - as if “their walking honestly toward those who were without” would preserve them from want - but as meaning that their industrious and quiet habits; their patient attention to their own business, and upright dealing with every man, would do it. They would, in this way, have a competence, and would not be beholden to others. Learn hence, that it is the duty of a Christian so to live as not to be dependent on others, unless he is made so by events of divine Providence which he cannot foresee or control. No man should be dependent on others as the result of idle habits; of extravagance and improvidence; of the neglect of his own business, and of intermeddling with that of others. If by age, losses, infirmities, sickness, he is made dependent, he cannot be blamed, and he should not repine at his lot. One of the ways in which a Christian may always do good in society, and honor his religion, is by quiet and patient industry, and by showing that religion prompts to those habits of economy on which the happiness of society so much depends.

Verse 14

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again - That is, if we believe this, we ought also to believe that those who have died in. the faith of Jesus will be raised from the dead. The meaning is not that the fact of the resurrection depends on our believing that Jesus rose, but that the death and resurrection of the Saviour were connected with the resurrection of the saints; that the one followed from the other, and that the one was as certain as the other. The doctrine of the resurrection of the saints so certainly follows from that of the resurrection of Christ, that, if the one is believed, the other ought to be also; see the notes on 1 Corinthians 15:12-14.

Which sleep in Jesus - A most beautiful expression. It is not merely that they have calm repose - like a gentle slumber - in the hope of awaking again, but that this is “in Jesus” - or “through” (διὰ dia) him; that is, his death and resurrection are the cause of their quiet and calm repose. They do not “sleep” in paganism, or in infidelity, or in the gloom of atheism - but in the blessed hope which Jesus has imparted. They lie, as he did, in the tomb - free from pain and sorrow, and with the certainty of being raised up again.

They sleep in Jesus, and are bless’d,

How kind their slumbers are;

From sufferings and from sin released,

And freed from every snare.

When, therefore, we think of the death of saints, let us think of what Jesus was in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Such is the sleep of our pious friends now in the grave; such will be our own when we die.

Will God bring with him - This does not mean that God will bring them with him from heaven when the Saviour comes - though it will be true that their spirits will descend with the Saviour; but it means that he will bring them from their graves, and will conduct them with him to glory, to be with him; compare notes, John 14:3. The declaration, as it seems to me, is designed to teach the general truth that the redeemed are so united with Christ that they shall share the same destiny as he does. As the head was raised, so will all the members be. As God brought Christ from the grave, so will he bring them; that is, his resurrection made it certain that they would rise. It is a great and universal truth that God will bring all from their graves who “sleep in Jesus;” or that they shall all rise. The apostle does not, therefore, refer so much to the time when this would occur - meaning that it would happen when the Lord Jesus should return - as to the fact that there was an established connection between him and his people, which made it certain that if they died united with him by faith, they would be as certainly brought from the grave as he was.

If, however, it means, as Prof. Bush (Anastasis, pp. 266, 267) supposes, that they will be brought with him from heaven, or will accompany him down, it does not prove that there must have been a previous resurrection, for the full force of the language would be met by the supposition that their spirits had ascended to heaven, and would be brought with him to be united to their bodies when raised. If this be the correct interpretation, then there is probably an allusion to such passages as the following, representing the coming of the Lord accompanied by his saints. “The Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.” Zechariah 14:5. “And Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh, with thousand of his saints;” Jude 1:14. “Who,” says President Dwight (Serm. 164), “are those whom God will bring with Him at this time? Certainly not the bodies of his saints ... The only answer is, he will bring with him ‘the spirits of just men made perfect.’”

Verse 15

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord - By the command or inspired teaching of the Lord. Prof. Bush (Anastasis, p. 265) supposes that the apostle here alludes to what the Saviour says in Matthew 24:30-31, “And they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven,” etc. It is possible that Paul may have designed a general allusion to all that the Lord had said about his coming, but there cannot have been an exclusive reference to that passage, for in what he says here there are several circumstances mentioned to which the Saviour in Matthew does not allude. The probability, therefore, is, that Paul means that the Lord Jesus had made a special communication to him on the subject.

That we which are alive - See this fully explained in the notes on 1 Corinthians 15:51. From this expression, it would seem, that some of the Thessalonians supposed that Paul meant to teach that he himself, and many of the living, would survive until the coming of the Lord Jesus, and, of course, that that event was near at hand. That this was not his meaning, however, he is at special pains to show in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10.

And remain unto the coming of the Lord - Those Christians who shall then be alive.

Shall not prevent them which are asleep - Shall not precede; anticipate; go before. The word prevent with us is now commonly used in the sense of hinder, but this is never its meaning in the Scriptures. The word, in the time of the translators of the Bible, was used in its primitive and proper sense (praevenio), meaning to precede, or anticipate. Job 3:12,” why did the knees prevent me?” That is, why did they anticipate me, so that I did not perish, Psalms 79:8, “Let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us;” that is, go before us in danger. Psalms 119:147, “I prevented the dawning of the morning and cried;” that is, I anticipated it, or I prayed before the morning dawned. Matthew 17:25,” Jesus prevented him, saying;” that is, Jesus anticipated him; he commenced speaking before Peter had told him what he had said; compare Psalms 17:13; Psalms 59:10; Psalms 88:13; Psalms 95:2; 2 Samuel 22:6, 2 Samuel 22:19; Job 30:27; Job 41:11 The meaning here is, that they who would be alive at the coming of the Lord Jesus, would not be “changed” and received up into glory before those who were in their graves were raised up. The object seems to be to correct an opinion which prevailed among the Thessalonians that they who should survive to the coming of the Lord Jesus would have great advantages over those who had died. What they supposed those advantages would be - whether the privilege of seeing him come, or that they would be raised to higher honors in heaven, or that they who had died would not rise at all, does not appear, nor is the origin of this sentiment known. It is clear, however, that it was producing an increase of their sorrow on the death of their pious friends, and hence it was very important to correct the error. The apostle, therefore, states that no such disadvantage could follow, for the matter of fact was, that the dead would rise first.

Verse 16

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven - notes, Acts 1:11.

With a shout - The word here used (κέλευσμα keleusma), does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. It properly means a “cry’ of excitement, or of arging on; an outcry, clamor, or shout, as of sailors at the oar, Luc. Catapl. 19; of soldiers rushing to battle, Thuc. 3:14; of a multitude of people, Diod. Sic. 3:15; of a huntsman to his dogs, Xen. Ven. 6:20. It does not mean here, that the Lord would himself make such a shout, but that he would be attended with it; that is, with a multitude who would lift up the voice like that of an army rushing to the conflict.

With the voice of the archangel - The word archangel occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, except in Jude 1:9, where it is applied to Michael. It properly means a chief angel; one who is first, or who is over others - ἄρχων archōn. The word is not found in the Septuagint, and the only archangel, therefore, which is named in the Scriptures, is Michael; Jude 1:9; compare Revelation 12:7. Seven angels, however, are referred to in the Scriptures as having an eminence above others, and these are commonly regarded as archangels. Revelation 8:2, “and I saw the seven angels which stood before God.” One of these is supposed to be referred to in the Book of Tobit, 12:15, “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One.” The names of three only of the seven are mentioned in the Jewish writings: Michael, the patron of the Jewish nation, Daniel 10:13, Daniel 10:21; Daniel 12:1.

Gabriel, Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21; compare Luke 1:19, Luke 1:26. Raphael, Tobit 3:17; 5:4; 8:2; 9:1, 5; 12:15. The Book of Enoch adds that of Uriel, pp. 187, 190, 191, 193. Michael is mentioned as one “of the chief princes,” Daniel 10:13; and as “the great prince,” Daniel 12:1; compare notes on Ephesians 1:21, and see an article by Prof. Stuart in the Bibliotheca Sacra. No. 1, on Angelology. It seems evident from the Scriptures, that there is one or more among the angels to whom the name archangel properly belongs. This view is in accordance with the doctrine in the Scriptures that the heavenly beings are divided into ranks and orders, for if so, it is not unreasonable to suppose that there should be one or more to whom the most exalted rank pertains; compare Revelation 12:7. Whether there is more than one to whom this name appropriately belongs, it is impossible now to determine, and is not material. The word here (in Greek) is without the article, and the phrase might be rendered, “with the voice of an archangel.”

The Syriac renders it, “with the voice of the prince of the angels.” On an occasion so august and momentous as that of the coming of the final Judge of all mankind; the resurrection of the dead, and the solemn transactions before the tribunal of the Son of God deciding the destiny of countless million for ever, it will not be inappropriate that the highest among the heavenly hosts should be present and take an important part in the solemnities of the day. It is not quite certain what is meant here by “the voice of the archangel,” or for what purpose that voice will be heard. It cannot be that it will be to raise the dead - for that will be by the “voice of the Son of God” John 5:28-29, and it seems most probable that the meaning is, that this will be a part of the loud shout or cry which will be made by the descending hosts of heaven; or perhaps it may be for the purpose of summoning the world to the bar of judgment; compare Matthew 24:31.

And with the trump of God - The trump which God appoints to be sounded on that solemn occasion. It does not mean that it will be sounded by God himself; see the notes on Matthew 24:31.

And the dead in Christ - Christians.

Shall rise first - That is, before the living shall be changed. A doctrine similar to this was held by the Jews. “Resch Lachisch said, Those who die in the land of Israel shall rise first in the days of the Messiah.” See Wetstein, in loc. It is implied in all this description, that the interval between their resurrection and the change which will occur to the living, will be brief, or that the one will rapidly succeed the other compare notes, 1 Corinthians 15:23, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52.

Verse 17

Then we which are alive - Those who shall then be alive; see 1 Thessalonians 4:15. The word here rendered “then” (ἔπειτα epeita), does not necessarily mean that this would occur immediately. It properly marks succession in time, and means “afterward, next, next in the order of events;” Luke 16:7; Galatians 1:21; James 4:14. There may be a considerable interval between the resurrection of the pious and the time when the living shall be caught up to meet the Lord, for the change is to take place in them which will fit them to ascend with those who have been raised. The meaning is, that after the dead are raised, or the next thing in order, they and the living will ascend to meet the Lord. The proper meaning of the word, however, denotes a succession so close as to exclude the idea of a long interval in which other important transactions would occur, such an interval, for example, as would be involved in a long personal reign of the Redeemer on earth. The word demands this interpretation - that the next thing in order after the resurrection of the righteous, will be their being caught up with the living, with an appropriate change, into the air - though, as has been remarked, it will admit of the supposition of such a brief, momentary interval ἐν ἄτομος ἐν ῥιπη ὀφθαλμου en atomos en rhipē ophthalmou, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52) as shall be necessary to prepare for it.

Shall be caught up - The word here used implies that there will be the application of external force or power by which this will be done. It will not be by any power of ascending which they will themselves have; or by any tendency of their raised or changed bodies to ascend of their own accord, or even by any effort of their own will, but by a power applied to them which will cause them to rise. Compare the use of the word ἁρπάζω harpazō in Matthew 11:12, “the violent take it by force;” Matthew 13:19, “then cometh the wicked one and snatcheth away;” John 6:15, “that they would come and take him by force; John 10:12, “the wolf catcheth them;” Acts 8:39, “the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip; 2 Corinthians 12:2, “such an one caught up to the third heaven;” also, John 12:28-29; Acts 23:10; Jude 1:23; Revelation 12:5. The verb does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament In all these instances there is the idea of either foreign force or violence effecting that which is done. What force or power is to be applied in causing the living and the dead to ascend, is not expressed. Whether it is to be by the ministry of angels, or by the direct power of the Son of God, is not intimated, though the latter seems to be most probable. The word should not be construed, however. as implying that there will be any reluctance on the part of the saints to appear before the Saviour, but merely with reference to the physical fact that power will be necessary to elevate them to meet him in the air. Will their, bodies then be such that they will have the power of locomotion at will from place to place?

In the clouds - Greek, “in clouds” - ἐν νεφέλαις en nephelais - without the article. This may mean “in clouds;” that is, in such numbers, and in such grouping as to resemble clouds. So it is rendered by Macknight, Koppe, Rosenmuller, Bush (Anasta. 266), and others. The absence of the article here would rather seem to demand this interpretation Still, however, the other interpretation may be true, that it means that they will be caught up into the region of the clouds, or to the clouds which shall accompany the Lord Jesus on his return to our world. Matthew 24:30; Matthew 26:64; Mark 16:19; Mark 14:62; Revelation 1:7; compare Daniel 7:13. In whichever sense it is understood, the expression is one of great sublimity, and the scene will be immensely grand. Some doctrine of this kind was held by the ancient Jews. Thus rabbi Nathan (Midras Tillin, 48:13) says, “What has been done before will be done again. As he led the Israelites from Egypt in the clouds of heaven, so will he do to them in the future time.”

To meet the Lord in the air - In the regions of the atmosphere - above the earth. It would seem from this, that the Lord Jesus, in his coming, would not descend to the earth, but would remain at a distance from it in the air, where the great transactions of the judgment will occur. It is, indeed, nowhere said that the transactions of the judgment will occur upon the earth. The world would not be spacious enough to contain all the assembled living and dead, and hence the throne of judgment will be fixed in the ample space above it.

And so shall we ever be with the Lord - This does not mean that they will always remain with him in the air - for their final home will be heaven - and after the trial they will accompany him to the realms of glory; Matthew 25:34, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom,” etc. The time during which they will remain with him “in the air” is nowhere mentioned in the Bible. It will be as long as will be necessary for the purposes of judging a world and deciding the eternal doom of every individual “according to the deeds done in the body.” There is no reason to suppose that this will be accomplished in a single day of twenty-four hours; but it is impossible to form and conjecture of the period which will be occupied.

Verse 18

1. This passage 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 contains a truth which is to be found in no pagan classic writer, and nowhere else. except in the teachings of the New Testament. For the elevated and glorious view which it gives of future scenes pertaining to our world, and for all its inestimable consolations, we are wholly indebted to the Christian religion. Reason, unassisted by revelation, never dared to conjecture that such scenes would occur; if it had, it would have had no arguments on which the conjecture could be supported.

2. The death of the Christian is a calm and gentle slumber; 1 Thessalonians 4:13. It is not annihilation; it is not the extinction of hope. It is like gentle repose when we lie down at night, and when we hope to awake again in the morning; it is like the quiet, sweet slumber of the infant. Why, then, should the Christian be afraid to die? Is he afraid to close his eyes in slumber? Why dread the night - the stillness of death? Is he afraid of the darkness, the silence, the chilliness of the midnight hour, when his senses are locked in repose? Why should death to him appear so terrible? “Is the slumbering of an infant an object of terror?”

3. There are magnificent scenes before us. There is no description anywhere which is more sublime than that in the close of this chapter. Great events are brought together here, any one of which is more grand than all the pomp of courts, and all the sublimity of battle, and all the grandeur of a triumphal civic procession. The glory of the descending Judge of all mankind; the attending retinue of angels, and of the spirits of the dead; the loud shout of the descending host; the clangor of the archangel’s trumpet; the bursting of graves and the coming forth of the million there entombed; the rapid, sudden, glorious change on the million of living people; the consternation of the wicked; the ascent of the innumerable host to the regions of the air, and the solemn process of the judgment there - what has ever occurred like these events in this world. And how strange it is that the thoughts of people are not turned away from the trifles - the show - the shadow - the glitter - the empty pageantry here - to these bright and glorious realities!

4. In those scenes we shall all be personally interested. If we do not survive until they occur, yet we shall have an important part to act in them. We shall hear the archangel’s trump; we shall be summoned before the descending Judge. In these scenes we shall mingle not as careless spectators, but as those whose eternal doom is there to be determined, and with all the intensity of emotion derived from the fact that the Son of God will descend to judge us, and to pronounce our final doom! Can we be too much concerned to be prepared for the solemnities of that day?

5. We have, in the passage before us, an interesting view of the order in which these great events will occur. There will be:

(1)The descent of the judge with the attending hosts of heaven;

(2)The raising up of the righteous dead;

(3)The change which the living will undergo (compare 1 Corinthians 15:52);

(4)The ascent to meet the Lord in the air; and,

(5)The return with him to glory.

What place in this series of wonders will be assigned for the resurrection of the wicked, is not mentioned here. The object of the apostle did not lead him to advert to that, since his purpose was to comfort the afflicted by the assurance that their pious friends would rise again, and would suffer no disadvantage by the fact that they had died before the coming of the Redeemer. From John 5:28-29, however, it seems most probable that they will be raised at the same time with the righteous, and will ascend with them to the place of judgment in the air.

6. There is no intimation here of a “personal reign” of Christ upon the earth. Indeed, there is no evidence that he will return to the earth at all. All that appears is, that he will descend “from heaven” to the regions of “the air,” and there will summon the living and the dead to his bar. But there is no intimation that he will set up a visible kingdom then on earth, to continue a thousand or more years; that the Jews will be re-collected in their own land; that a magnificent city or temple will be built there; or that the saints will hover in the air, or reign personally with the Lord Jesus over the nations. There are two considerations in view of this passage, which, to my mind, are conclusive proof that all this is romance - splendid and magnificent indeed as an Arabian tale - but wholly unknown to the apostle Paul. The one is, that if this were to occur, it is inconceivable that there should have been no allusion to it here. It would have been such a magnificent conception of the design of the Second Advent, that it could not have failed to have been adverted to in a description like this. The other consideration is, that such a view would have been exactly in point to meet the object of the apostle here. What could have been more appropriate in comforting the Thessalonian Christians respecting those who had died in the faith, than to describe the gorgeous scenes of the “personal reign” of Christ, and the important part which the risen saints were to play in that great drama? How can it he accounted for that the apostle did not advert to it? Would a believer in the “persocial reign” now be likely to omit so material a point in a description of the scenes which are to occur at the “Second Advent?”

7. The saints will be forever with the Lord. They will dwell with him in his own eternal home; John 14:3. This expression comprises the sum of all their anticipated felicity and glory. To be with Christ will be, in itself, the perfection of bliss; for it will be a security that they will sin no more, that they will suffer no more, and that they will be shielded from danger and death. They will have realized the object of their long, fond desire - that of seeing their Saviour; they will have suffered the last pang, encountered the last temptation, and escaped forever from the dominion of death. What a glorious prospect is this! Assuredly we should be willing to endure pain, privation, and contempt here for the brief period of our earthly pilgrimage, if we may come at last to a world of eternal rest. What trifles are all earthly sorrows compared with the glories of an endless life with our God and Saviour!

8. It is possible that even the prospect of the judgment-day should be a source of consolation; 1 Thessalonians 4:18. To most people it is justly an object of dread - for all that they have to fear is concentrated on the issues of that day. But why should a Christian fear it? In the descending Judge he will hail his Redeemer and friend; and just in proportion as he has true religion here, will be the certainty of his acquittal there. Nay, his feelings in anticipation of the judgment may be more than the mere absence of fear and alarm. It may be to him the source of positive joy. It will be the day of his deliverance from death and the grave. It will confirm to him all his long cherished hopes. It will put the seal of approbation on his life spent in endeavoring to do the will of God. It will reunite him to his dear friends who have died in the Lord. It will admit him to a full and glorious view of that Saviour whom “having not seen he has loved;” and it will make him the-companion of angels and of God. If there is anything, therefore, which ought to cheer and sustain our hearts in the sorrows and bereavements of this life, it is the anticipation of the glorious scenes connected with the Second Advent of our Lord, and the prospect of standing before him clothed in the robes of salvation, surrounded by all those whom we have loved who have died in the faith, and with the innumerable company of the redeemed of all ages and lands.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.