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Bible Commentaries

Smith's Bible Commentary

1 Thessalonians 4

Verses 1-18

Let's turn to first Thessalonians chapter four. Paul the apostle was called of God by the Spirit to go to Macedonia, as he saw in a vision a man from Macedonia saying, "Come over and help us." It was good that Paul did have a dramatic call of God, because I'm certain that once he arrived in Macedonia and experienced some of the adverse reception, he could've very well questioned "Lord, did you really call me here?"

His first stop was at Philippi where evil men were stirred up against him, and they had him arrested and beaten, and he was thrown in the dungeon and then ordered out of town. He next went to Thessalonica where after three Sabbath days in the Synagogue almost the whole town gathered to hear his message, but the Jews were stirred by envy, and again Paul had to leave town to save arrest. They had gone to the house of Jason, where Paul was staying, to arrest him, but he had already escaped. Having been such a short time in Thessalonica, they went to Berea; trouble stirred in Berea. Paul left Timothy and Silas there as he went on to Athens to sort of get the whole situation cooled down a bit.

When Timothy and Silas had strengthened the brethren in Berea, they met Paul in Athens, but Paul's heart was stirred concerning those in Thessalonica, that he had had such a short time to minister to only three Sabbath days. Wondering how they were doing, he was stirred in his heart for them. He sent Timothy back to Thessalonica. He went on to Corinth and began a ministry in Corinth. Timothy met Paul in Corinth, reported to him the condition of the church in Thessalonica.

Basically things were going on very well, but some problems had arisen, and so Paul immediately wrote to them to encourage them in the faith. And now as we come into the fourth chapter, we have a definite change in the division of the book, because in chapter four, Paul begins his exhortation. Up to this point it's been sort of an apologetic, and now he begins to exhort them and he declares that in verse one.

Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as you have received of us how you ought to walk and to please God, so you would abound more and more ( 1 Thessalonians 4:1 ).

Again, as we mentioned last week, I am amazed that Paul was able to give them so much instruction in so many areas of doctrine in such a very short time. With them less than a month, and yet, he established them in sound doctrine. But, as he said, he was laboring night and day among them. "But, even" he said, "as I talk to you before, how you ought to walk and please God." The basic desire for each of us should be to please God. That's the key to the Christian life.

The man who is outside of Jesus Christ lives to please himself. The man who is in Jesus Christ lives to please God. The man who lives to please himself is rarely pleased. The man who lives to please God has found real satisfaction. I think one of the greatest pleasures in life is to know that you've done that which pleased the Father. I walked today in the will of God. As Jesus said, "I do always those things that please the Father," and so ought we to live to please God.

For you know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you should abstain from fornication ( 1 Thessalonians 4:2-3 ):

Now, you remember the fifteenth chapter of Acts when the early church had gathered to determine what relationship the Gentile believers should have to the law. Peter said, "I suggest that we put no burden upon them that neither we . . . the yolk of bondage of them, that neither we nor our fathers were able to bear." Paul testified of the miracles that were wrought through grace among the Gentiles. And then James said, "Let's put on a no greater burden that you've already received. Keep yourself from things that are strangled and from fornication and if you do this you do well. God bless you."

The Greek culture, the Roman culture, was a culture in which fornication was a very common practice. In that pagan society, much of the worship of their gods involved fornication as they sought to become one with their gods. And many of the spiritual rights within their temple were fornication. It was a very common practice in that culture. And so Paul is exhorting them again to live a pure life, a sanctified life, a life that is set apart unto God and to keep themselves from the common practice of fornication. If ever there was a time when Paul's exhortation was needed, it is today, as we have again evolved into a pagan society and their very practices have become extremely common again. It's a very accepted thing in our society.

I was reading an interesting commentary that was written back in nineteen fifty-one. And in this commentary, it told about an article in the Woman's Home Journal in the nineteen . . . October, nineteen fifty-one issue (I believe it was) that was an article against the smut and pornography that had begun at that time to enter into the United States, and how the city of Chicago was able to deal with it and get rid of all the smut peddlers and all of the pornography out of the city. Nineteen fifty-one. But look at how much we have degraded since then.

And with the introduction of all of the pornography, I don't know if you can get a novel that's been written in the last forty years that isn't centered around sexual subjects, incest and all kinds of sexual experiences. It's in all of the novels. It's just something that has pervaded the literature and with it an attitude of laxity towards real moral living. And so, Paul's exhortation to the Thessalonians is an important exhortation in our day: that we are different from the world. We are not to live to please our own flesh. We are to live to please God. We are to keep our lives separate from the world and from the corruption of the world, in order that we might live a life that is pleasing unto Him. And so, this is God's will for you: that you live a separated life, a life of dedication and consecration to God, and keep yourself from fornication.

Paul, in Galatians five, lists fornication as a part of the works of the flesh. But at the end of that list of the works of the flesh, he says something that we better pay close attention to: he said, "For we know that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Paul said, "Don't be deceived on this issue." And there are a lot of people that are deceived thinking that they can live any kind of a life that they want, and God will accept their lower standard of living. But God demands a high standard from His children. And Paul said that every one of you should know how to posses his vessel in sanctification and honor, your vessel being your body.

"We have this treasure," Paul said, "in earthen vessels are in our bodies that the glory may be of God and not of us" ( 2 Corinthians 4:7 ).


That every one of you ought to know how to posses his vessel [how to keep your body] in sanctification and honor [in purity]; And not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God ( 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5 ):

Vast difference between us and the world around us, and there should be.

That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified ( 1 Thessalonians 4:6 ).

Now again Paul said I . . . you remember I told you about this. "I testified to you about this. Be honest and fair in your dealings with your brothers." We're not to defraud our brothers. My heart is grieved over the problems that have arisen within the body of Christ, and especially in these days when a lot of the various businesses advertise with Christian symbols, and you expect from a Christian you want to patronize them because, first of all, you want the Christians to have the business. You hope for their success in business, but you also expect honesty, forthrightness. In dealing with a Christian you expect them to be honest.

You know the problems of taking a car to a mechanic. There's just a lot of corrupt practices. There's a lot of unnecessary charges; there're a lot of charges for work that isn't done. And so if you find a Christian mechanic, you get excited and say, "Oh, I can trust him." And we should be able to, and so in any business. But, Paul here is warning, "Don't defraud, don't cheat, be square, be honest. I told you this when I was there. I forewarned you that God is the avenger."

Now this is the problem, I think, with our society, is that we have failed to take into consideration that there is a day of reckoning coming; that there is a day of judgment coming. People have gotten by with so much. They've been able to get by and, of course, with the leniency of our court today, they're getting by with more and more. Just hope that you don't get arrested for, or pressed by the IRS; that's about the only thing you go to prison for anymore you know. Or like this poor woman Betty DeDe who hid her child because the courts ordered her to deliver him over to her homosexual husband. So she's facing imprisonment, though murderers and rapists can walk our streets. She's a danger to our society hiding her husband from her...I mean hiding her son from her homosexual husband, and not turning him for the visitation rights. And she needs to be dealt with and put in prison and taught a lesson. What a danger to our society, but don't you worry, you know. I cannot understand...there's no sense getting into that. I just...

So, don't defraud your brother, because God's gonna judge you. God is the avenger of all such which do that. And we've warned you about the judgment of God that's gonna come. Paul was faithful in warning them, and I think that we need to warn people about the judgment of God; you're not gonna get by. Ultimately God is going to judge. He is the avenger of those that do such things.

For God has not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness ( 1 Thessalonians 4:7 ).

God said, "Be ye holy for I am holy, saith the Lord" ( 1 Peter 1:16 ). And God has called us to holy living, to pure living, living before Him in all righteousness and purity and holiness.

And he therefore that despises [that is despises holiness, the holy life] despises not man, but God, who has also given unto us his Holy Spirit ( 1 Thessalonians 4:8 ).

A lot of times when, you know, you start really emphasizing the living of a holy life and things of this nature, people get upset with you, as though we were the ones that made the rules. No, we didn't make the rules. We weren't called to make the rules; we were called to declare to you the rules that God has made, and if you have any argument with holiness, your argument is with God. And this is what Paul is saying to them. You're not really having an argument with man; you're having an argument with God. He is the one that has given His Holy Spirit.

Psychologists tell us that a person's mental equilibrium or well-balanced life depends upon the difference between their ego and their super ego. Your ego being your real self, and super ego being your ideal self. And if there is a vast difference between your ego and your super ego, then you are mentally disturbed because of this difference that exists between the two. And the closer a person's ego is to their super ego, the more well adjusted that person is mentally.

And so, when a person is having a conflict and he has very high ideals, the super ego (this me as I really, you know, am within my heart and all) this the way I really know I should live and want to live, but this is the way I'm living. And if there is a vast difference between the two, then I have real mental problems, and I go to a head-shrink and I tell him, "Hey, I know I just am not getting along with anybody and all." And so, he seeks to understand what my super ego is: how do I perceive myself, and then these things that I'm doing and that are troubling me. And the general practice is to bring my super ego down closer to my ego. You're unrealistic; nobody lives that purely. You know that's foolish to think that you should, you know, not do those things. Everybody is doing those things. And what they're trying to do is bring down the level of the super ego or bring down your ideals more in keeping with the reality of your own nature. When we come to Jesus Christ, He seeks to bring the ego up to the super ego.

Now, if we are guilty of trying to bring man's super ego down to the level of the ego, then we're not really following the scriptural pattern. For the gospel of Jesus Christ is always lifting and elevating a man into a life of purity and righteousness and holiness. And so God has given to us His Holy Spirit. And what is the purpose of the Holy Spirit? To conform us into the image of Jesus Christ. "For you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you and you will be witnesses" ( Acts 1:8 ). You can achieve the ideal. You can walk in holiness and purity, as God has required us to walk. And God, by the power of His Spirit, will lift us into a higher level of living, closer to the ideal and, in fact, more and more we come closer to the ideal. As we, with an open face, beholding the glory of the Lord, we're being changed from glory to glory into the same image.

So the gospel is so elevating as it brings man up into the level that God would have him to live. God's not called us unto uncleanness, He's called us to holiness and He's given us His Holy Spirit.

But as touching brotherly love you need not that I write unto you ( 1 Thessalonians 4:9 ):

You remember in the first chapter, Paul said that everywhere they had such love. Not only for . . . their love was known and all. It was something that was a mark of the church there in Thessalonica, and the word of their love has spread abroad.

But as touching brotherly love you need not that I write unto you: for you yourselves are taught of God to love one another. And indeed you do it toward all the brethren which are in all of Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that you increase [do it] more and more ( 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 );

In other words, increase. "Though you have a great reputation of having love and all, I would that you would even continue to increase in this love."

We had a wonderful time at the family camp this last week, as the Spirit ministered to us from the first epistle of John. And as God's Spirit ministered to us out of this epistle, the message that the Spirit kept bringing us back to and emphasizing was the importance of love towards one another. As John said, "He that saith he love God and hates his brother is a liar; the truth isn't in him. By this we know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren."

The mark of the true body of Christ is that of great love for one another. Jesus said, "By this sign shall men know that you are my disciples that ye love one another" ( John 13:35 ). And so the love among the body of Christ is, first of all, a sign to the world that indeed they are the disciples of Jesus, but it also becomes the personal sign unto me that I have passed from death into life, because of the love that I have for the brethren.

Now, as John told them, "Beloved, let us not love in words but in deeds and truth." It isn't just saying, "Oh, I love you, brother." In fact, there was a fellow around here for quite a while that used to always come up and say, "Oh, we love you so much. Oh, we love you so much," and he hated me more than anybody else. It was like Shakespeare said, "Thou protesteth too much." In the words, oh he had the words, but in the action, in the deeds, there were cruel cutting things. It isn't what I'm saying; it's what I am doing that God is observing. And so we found that in first John. People say a lot of things, but what they say isn't necessarily true unless their life backs up what is being said. "So let us not love in words," John says, "but in deed and in truth." And so you've been taught of God to love one another.

And indeed you do it toward all the brethren which are in all of Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that you increase more and more; And that you study to be quiet ( 1 Thessalonians 4:10-11 ),

Now this means to live sort of a quiet life. You know, with some people everything is a crisis, and they live from one crisis to the next. But he says, "Study to be . . . just live a quiet life." And that really is a simple life, and we need to learn to just live a simple life, a quiet life.

And that you study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you ( 1 Thessalonians 4:11 );

Now, evidently there were some problems in the church in Thessalonica of some lazy brethren who would take advantage of the love. Oh, we're supposed to love one another, well great. "Just love me, brother, and pay my rent you know, and bring me food and support me." And they weren't really willing to work. They just wanted to go surfing all the time and be supported by the church. And when Paul wrote his second letter, which we'll be getting into next week, Paul in his second letter talked about these fellows a little more directly. And he said, "Look, if they don't work, don't feed 'em. Let everyone work laboring with his own hands that he might provide that which is honest in the sight of the Lord."

So Paul's encouragement for us to be diligent in our business, to work laboring with our own hands.

That you might walk honestly toward them that are without, and that you may have lack of nothing. But I would not have you ( 1 Thessalonians 4:12-13 )

So now he leaves this area, and now we go into the interesting area of where are those who have died.

In the church of Thessalonica, Paul had taught them concerning the coming again of Jesus Christ in the establishing of God's kingdom upon the earth. A glorious truth and a blessed hope. But since Paul had been there, some of the members had died. And they were grieving. They thought, "Oh, what a shame. They died before Jesus came and thus they're gonna miss the glorious kingdom of God." And they were really sorrowing and grieving over those who had died prior to the return of Jesus, figuring, "Aw, they missed it. They died before He came."

So this section, Paul is devoting to correct their misconceptions concerning those who were asleep in Christ. And the term asleep does not at all connotate soul sleep, but it is only a figure of speech to describe death, and the death of the believer. You remember when Jesus came to the house of Jairus and the daughter? They said, "Don't trouble the Lord any more, your daughter is dead." And Jesus said, "Fear not, only believe." And they came to the house and everybody was wailing and crying and Jesus said, "The little girl isn't dead, she's only sleeping." And they laughed in discorn, and so He put them out. You remember when He was at the Jordan River with His disciples and they received a message from Mary and Martha, "Come quickly. Lazarus is dying." And He had stayed for a couple of days at the Jordan River and He said, "Now let us go that we might see Lazarus." And as they were talking, Jesus said, "Well, he's asleep." And the disciples said, "Well, that's good; if he's sleeping he's probably getting better." But Jesus was referring to the fact that Lazarus had died.

It's a phrase that was used in the Old Testament. You remember how many times . . . and it referred to the king "and he slept with his fathers"? It was a term that was used, too, for the death, usually of the believer, but does not connotate soul sleep doctrine. For those that are dead are certainly in a conscious state, as is declared by Jesus. Now you have Ecclesiastes, Old King Solomon coming as a humanist saying that, you know, that the grave is the end, there's no thought, there's no consciousness or whatever.

But you have Jesus, on the other hand, saying that there was a certain rich man that faired sumptuously every day, and a poor man was brought daily and laid at his gate. He was full of sores, and the dogs came and licked his sores, and he ate the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. And the poor man died and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. Moreover, the rich man died and in hell lifted up his eyes being in torment, and seeing Abraham afar off and Lazarus being comforted said, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus unto me that he may take his finger and dip it in water and touch my tongue. I am tormented in this heat." So Jesus speaks of Hades as being a conscious state. Lazarus being comforted, the rich man in a conscious state of torment.

Now, you may try and pass that off as a parable, but there is no reason to pass that off in a parable. Never in a parable was any person named. And if it was a parable, what is the purpose of the parable but to illustrate a truth? And if what Jesus said was not a truth, how can you illustrate a truth with a lie? And what was Jesus trying to illustrate? Somebody definitely taught that Hades was a conscious state.

So I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are asleep, sorrow not, even as others which have no hope ( 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ).

Now, there is two kinds of sorrow for the dead: that sorrow for them because you have no hope, the world sorrow for the dead. They're gone. It's all over, that's the end. But the sorrow of the believer is not as those who have no hope. You see, our sorrow really isn't for the person that is gone. Our sorrow is for ourselves because we're still here, and we're going to miss them. We sorrow for what's been taken from us. I won't be able to call them on the phone anymore. I won't be able to go over and see them. I won't be able to go over to receive the input that they have given into my life that has blessed me and meant so much to me. And I sorrow for what I have lost, but if they are a child of God, I rejoice for them that they are there in the presence of our Lord. So we sorrow not as those who have no hope.

For if we believe [and surely we do] that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him ( 1 Thessalonians 4:14 ).

Now, Jesus is coming again for His church. And when He comes, here Paul tells us that God is going to bring them (those who are asleep in Jesus), that He's going to bring them with Him. And this is important to note, because a lot of people become confused on this issue.

For this we say unto you [and Paul says this is] by the word of the Lord [this is a revelation from the Lord to us], that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [precede] them which are asleep ( 1 Thessalonians 4:15 ).

They have actually preceded us. We're not going to precede them.

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words ( 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ).

In writing to the Corinthians in his second epistle, Paul said,

"We know that when this earthly tent, our body, is dissolved that we have a building of God that is not made with hands, that is eternal in the heavens. So then, we who are living in these bodies do often groan, earnestly desiring to be freed from the body. Not that we would be unembodied spirits, not that we might be naked, but that we might be clothed upon with a body which is from heaven. For we know that as long we are living in this body, we are absent from the Lord, but we would chose rather to be absent from this body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore, we labor, that whether present or absent, we be accepted of Him."

The Bible, you see, teaches that man basically is a spirit living in a body possessing a consciousness. The body is the instrument that God has given to me to be the medium by which I can express myself. The body is not me; it's only a tent in which I'm living for a while, a tent that is gradually wearing out. And when this tent wears out, when the body, through age, accident, illness, can no longer fulfill the purposes for which God planned and designed, then God, in His love, is gonna release this spirit from this body. And when this tent is dissolved, I have a building of God not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. And so death for the child of God is just moving day, when you move out of the tent and into the house, the building of God not made with hands. Jesus said, "In my Father's house are many mansions. I'm going to prepare one for you"( John 14:2 ).

I heard the other day of some high-pressured evangelist who had some vision of dying and going heaven, and the Lord showing him his glorious new mansion. And he described, you know, the columns and everything. Well, I hope my body doesn't look like that when I get there. The word is actually "there are many abiding places, I'm going to prepare one for you." The building of God not made with hands, eternal in heaven. It's a reference to our new bodies that our spirits will move into you. Bodies that are designed by God to exist in the environmental conditions in heaven, even as God designed these bodies to exist in the environmental condition of the planet earth. And He made them out of the earth for the earth. So, God has made a new body for me that is designed by God to exist in the environmental conditions of heaven. A universal model, one that is adaptable, probably for all climates and environments, whereas this body is quite limited. It is necessary that I keep it right here close to earth.

A couple months ago at the Beale Air Force Base, we saw them suiting up the pilot for the SR-71, gonna fly that thing up eighty-five thousand feet or so. And so as they suited him up, it's the very same suits that they use in the . . . for the astronauts' moon flights and all. And we watched them as they put on the suit, fastened on the helmet, fastened everything down and then pressurized it. Checked all the gauges to see that there was no leaks. The man who was giving us the briefing said that when you get up to eighty thousand feet, if you did not have this pressurized suit on, the fluids in your body would begin to boil and they would pass right on out through the skin, because the body is made and designed to withstand the fourteen pounds per square inch. You get up there, you don't have that pressure pushing against the body, and so you have to put on the pressure suit.

God could give us all pressure suits. But, we saw this guy as he then walked out to the van. And they were carrying the two tanks of nitrogen and oxygen, and he had to walk sort of funny because of the suit and all, and clumped on out. And they helped him to get in the van and then they helped him out of the van and up the ramp and into the SR-71, where he sat down and then took off and went skyward.

But God has designed a new body, a building of God not made with hands, eternal in heaven, vastly superior to the body we now have. One that will not know aging processes, one that will not experience pain. Directly from God...perfect. One that will not age or grow tired. And so, we who are in these bodies do often groan earnestly, desiring to be delivered or move out, not that I would unembodied, an unembodied spirit out there in the ethereal universe someplace, but that I might be clothed upon with the body which is from heaven.

Now, another aspect of the whole thing that needs to be taken into consideration, and that is, I live in a time dimension continuum while I'm in this body and living on the planet earth. And so I talk about last week and next week and I think of things in terms of past, present and future. The moment I leave the earth plain, the body plain, I enter into the eternal where there is neither past or future, but everything is present. So to be absent from the body is to be present in the eternal presence of the Lord. So you can't really say that something is future once you enter into the eternal, for everything is now.

Those who are asleep in Jesus, the Lord is gonna bring with Him when He comes. For we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord aren't going to precede them, they have preceded us.

"But the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a voice of the archangel, the trump of God, the dead in Christ have risen first really and we who are alive and remain a that point shall be caught up to meet them together with the Lord: and so shall we ever be with the Lord."

Now that's the important thing. "So shall we ever be with the Lord." The Lord is coming again to this earth to establish His kingdom reign, and He shall rule and reign over the earth for a thousand years, so shall we ever be with the Lord. We will come and we will reign with Him as a kingdom of priests upon the earth. And so shall we ever be with the Lord.

And so the rapture of the church; the catching up. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:0 said, "Behold, I show you a mystery. We're not all going to all sleep, but we're all going to be changed in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye. For this corruption must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality." We won't die, but there is a necessary change. We will be changed in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, as move out of our tents and into our new buildings of God not made of hands, the new bodies that God has prepared for us.

How old will I be? What will I look like? Well, you know there is some people that sort of object to the change of body. They wanna sort of hang on to what they look like. Personally, I don't anticipate having gimpy football knees anymore. I imagine I will have a head of hair and a few other things that have been missing for a while. Won't be wearing these glasses. It's interesting, we really don't know, except that Paul said, "Some of you will say, 'How are the dead raised and what kind of a body will they come?'" In other words, when they come with Jesus, what kind of a body will they have? Will we know them? Will we recognize them? And he said, "When you plant a seed into the ground it does not come forth into new life until it first of all dies. And then," notice, "the body that comes out of the ground is not the body that you planted, but God gives it a body as pleases Him, so is the resurrection of the dead."

I don't expect this body to be resurrected and refurbished, refitted. I'm looking forward to moving into a whole new model, a building of God not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. The body that comes out of the ground is not the body that you planted. All you planted was a bare grain, by chance weed or some other grain, and God has given it a body as pleasing to Him, so is the resurrection of the dead. We are planted in corruption, but we are gonna be raised in incorruption. We were planted in weakness, but we're gonna be raised in power. We are planted in dishonor; we are gonna be raised in glory. We are planted as a natural body; we're gonna be raised as a spiritual body. And the difference between the celestial and the terrestrial, and so forth, and as we are born in the image of the earth and been earthly, so shall we bear the image of the heavens.

So, you can interpret and understand that as you wish, but I'm looking forward to that building of God not made with hands, eternal in the heaven. That new body where my spirit shall dwell and I shall live and be with Him and His kingdom forever. That's the important thing. This corruption must put on . . . metamorphosis, change of body, and the Bible teaches us what death is to the child of God.


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Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4". "Smith's Bible Commentary". 2014.