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Bible Commentaries

Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament

1 Thessalonians 5

Verses 1-11



This wonderful argument opens with the thirteenth verse of the fourth chapter, and closes with the eleventh verse of the fifth chapter, unfortunately severed in twain in the middle by the insertion of the fifth chapter. Of course, by this time you know that the divisions into chapters and verses, and insertion of italicized words, and the postscripts, are all postapostolic, and without authority.

13. But we do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as those having no hope. ” The sleep here is that of the body, as the immortal soul never sleeps. This is confirmed by the allusion to the heathen, who have no doctrine of the resurrection to comfort them, burying their dead with no hope of ever seeing them. It can not refer to the soul, because the heathen all teach the soul’s immortality, but not that of the body, which is alone peculiar to Christianity.

14. If we believe that Jesus died and is risen, so also God will bring with him those who sleep in Jesus. ” Of course, the souls of the saints will descend with Jesus in the rapture, and receive their risen bodies. But this same word “sleep,” here occurs as in preceding verse, referring to the body, as the souls of the saints do not sleep. This confirms the rapture, as he must come for them, in order to bring them with him when he descends on the throne of his glory.

15. For I say this to you in the Word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who remain till the coming of the Lord, may not go before them that are asleep; i. e., the buried saints will rise before we living saints shall be translated. This still confirms the reference to the body, as our bodies will be transfigured.

16. The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God. and the dead in Christ shall rise first. ” The adverb, first, here has been misconstrued, contrastively with the second resurrection, which is untrue. The simple fact revealed is, that the sainted dead will rise before the living are translated.

17. Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we shall be forever with the Lord. ” It does not state here that the Lord comes to the earth; but we, with all the risen of the bridehood, “ will be caught up to meet him in the air. ” “Shout” is keleusma, defined as the shout of a hunter to his dogs, a sea captain to his sailors, and a general to his soldiers. Remember, the saints are sleeping in the dust on all sides of the globe. Hence, it He were to come very near, the mass of the earth would intervene between him and the saints on to other side. Hence, the probability that he will call from a great distance in the firmaments, thus obliterating the earth’s diameter, as they will simultaneously rise from all parts of the earth’s surface. Every member of the bridehood, living and dead, will hear that call, the latter rising promptly and flying up into the firmament, and the former waiting a short time. The rapture is the first great miracle in the revealed catalogue of latter-day wonders. This must take place preparatory to the descension of our Lord on the throne of his millennial glory, and before the great Tribulation. The prophecies have already been so fulfilled, that we need not be surprised at any moment to hear the trumpet of our Savior roar from the skies, summoning his saints to meet him in the air. Then the first resurrection will take place, including the members of the bridehood; i. e., the sanctified. (Romans 10:6). Modern theologians have obscured these Scriptures by explaining the first resurrection as spiritual, and thus doing away with it altogether. In that case, they are forced, by their logic, to do away with the second resurrection, thus spiritualizing and utterly doing away with the resurrection of the body. and plunging headlong into Swedenborgianism. Nearly all of the heresies Originate either from spiritualizing the literal Scriptures or literalizing the spiritual. Do not tinker with God’s Word, but believe it as he gives it. The Bible teaches that the bodies of all will he raised. The New Testament declares a special resurrection, “out from among the dead.” (Philippians 3:11.) This was the beau ideal for which Paul and his comrades were running, disencumbered of every burden, that they might take no risk. The translation, which will be the glorious privilege of all the sanctified who are living on the earth when he comes and calls his Bride to “meet him in the air,” will simply consist in the elimination of all ponderous matter out of our bodies, so we will not weigh anything (as nothing but the weight of our bodies keeps us on the earth now). This done, our bodies will rise, responsive to the impulses of our spirits, and of course fly away to meet our Savior. When the trumpet sounds, the glorified bodies of the rising saints all round the world will flood the firmament; the splendor which eclipsed the mortal eyes of Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration will illuminate the entire firmament with a glory so bewildering, that we who are alive would be lost in contemplation. In the midst of the unearthly glory, before we are aware, we will find ourselves flying and commingling with the enraptured millions of risen saints. We should not only have constant faith in justification and sanctification, but for translation, as we know not what moment our Lord will call. If we are sanctified wholly, we re ready for translation, responsive to our faith like Enoch (Hebrews 11:5). The transfiguration of the Holy Ghost is the climax of mediatorial restitution. Glory to God I am looking for my Lord and the transfiguration.

18. So exhort one another in these words. ” The Church has lost power and glory unutterable by the delinquency of the pulpit on this commandment. O how she needs this inspiring truth this day to raise her out of worldliness and apostasy, to plunge beneath the cleansing fountain, wash, and be clean, put on her white robes and get on her watchtowers, waiting with glowing expectancy for the coming of her Lord!

1. Concerning the periods and epochs you have no need that I write unto you.

2. You know well that the day of the Lord cometh as a thief in the night. ” Time is a parenthesis in eternity, interjected for the accommodation of the mediatorial kingdom, and divided up into periods and epochs. We are living in the sixth dispensation i. e., that of the Holy Ghost; the Edenic, Antediluvian, Patriarchal, Mosaic, and Messianic have come and gone in their appointed times, each winding up with a signal revolutionary epoch. These times and seasons i. e., epochs and periods of revolution and development are ordered and determined by the sovereign and discriminating wisdom of the Father only. Hence, since the inauguration of the Holy Ghost dispensation on the day of Pentecost, the Son has been sitting on the right hand of the Father, awaiting his time for his coronation King of the nations, having been crowned King of saints at his ascension. Meanwhile the Bride has been waiting in constant anticipation the return of the Bridegroom. A thief always comes suddenly and unexpectedly to the parties from whom he steals. As the coming of our Lord to the earth to steal away his Bride is unknown, both to the Church and her Divine Spouse, is known only to the Father, therefore it will be the greatest surprise that ever fell on a slumbering world and an apostate Church.

3. This describes the terrible anguish and awful pall that shall come to the godless millions of a fallen world and a slumbering Church, when awakened by the trump of the archangel and the shout of the descending Christ, calling all the members of his bridehood, living and dead, to meet him in the air. The institutions of the old dispensation all focalized in the first advent of Christ, like rivers flowing into the sea. That great and notable event was the exchange station, where all changed cars for the glorious new departure of the gospel dispensation. In a similar manner all the institutions of the new dispensations focalize and have their fulfillment in the second coming of Christ, when the gospel dispensation will wind up, and the glorious kingdom usher in, Satan, the present king of the nations, having been arrested, taken out of the world, and locked up in hell. (Revelation 20:0.)

4. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day may overtake you as a thief.

5. For all you are the sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night nor of darkness.

6. Therefore let us not sleep as the rest, but watch and be sober. ” Sin is the only thing that ever made the human soul drunk. Entire sanctification is absolutely necessary to the complete sobriety of the soul. The smallest amount of sin intoxicates you to the extent of its power. The two great commandments prominent in the Pauline battle-cry are, “Watch, and be sober;” i. e., be on the constant lookout for your coming King, and wholly sanctified as a qualification to receive him. His coming as a thief in the right is only applicable to the fallen world and slumbering Church, and not to his true people, who are watching and waiting his arrival.

7. Spiritual slumber and intoxication are peculiar to spiritual night. When the bright day of Eden passed under the eclipse of Satan’s black wing, the dismal night of sin supervened upon the whole world, and will continue till relieved by the glorious millennial day, whose auspicious dawn methinks I see in the present holiness movement, gilding every land with the fair- fingered Aurora of the coming kingdom.

8. But let us, being of the day, be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith an love, and the helmet, the hope of salvation. ” The apostle exhibits the powerful antithesis of a debauched world and a slumbering Church on the one hand, panic-stricken with the most terrible surprise in the world’s history, and the faithful few on the other, washed in the blood, filled with the Spirit, and on the tiptoe of thrilling anticipation, anxiously watching and waiting their Lord’s return, and consequently not taken in the surprise of the midnight cry, destined to come upon all the world as a “thief in the night.”

9,10. That whether we may watch or sleep, we shall live along with Him. ” Here is evidently an allusion to the bodies of the saints, in (ontradistinction to their souls, as the great multitude sleep in the dust, and only the present generation are living upon the earth, and watching with mortal eyes to see their coming King. Hence, the admonition of the apostle that, whether we live to behold his glorious coming or fall asleep with our predecessors, we shall enjoy spiritual and eternal life with him.

11. Therefore exhort one another and edify one another, as you also do. ” Paul had so faithfully preached to those people the Lord’s return to the earth, that he now affirms in their behalf that they are exhorting and edifying one another with these inspiring truths. How strange the contrast of the modern pulpit, silent on the Lord’s coming; with the apostle Paul so positive, explicit, and importunate, night and day, by speech and pen hammering this great truth into the minds of the people, so as to perfectly familiarize them with it, till they can all preach it to one another in their daily conversation. This verse closes that celebrated paragraph on the Lord’s second coming, which opens with the thirteenth verse of the preceding chapter, and so unfortunately interrupted by the division of the fifth chapter coming right in the middle. God help us all to be true to the commandments, winding up this memorable paragraph on the coming of the Lord and the rapture of the saints; i. e., “ exhort and edify one another by these inspiring truths. ” Let it be said of us, as of the Thessalonians, “as ye do.”

Verses 12-15



12. We entreat you, brethren, to know those who labor among you, standing before you in the Lord, and admonishing you. ” This is a simple allusion to the preachers and teachers who stand before you, This being the attitude of a preacher, no allusion to ecclesiastical authority, as E.V. would indicate; but the people raised up by the Holy Ghost to instruct you in the truth of God, and correct all of your errors and mistakes.

13. And esteem them exceedingly in Divine love on account of their work. ” This is a still further confirmation of the allusion purely to the people whom the Holy Ghost at the time uses for your instruction and admonition, and not, as E.V. would infer, the ecclesiastical officials. You see that you are not to appreciate them for any personal or official consideration, but simply for the sake of their work, and they are true to God, preaching and expounding to you the pure word of life, and warning you faithfully against all sin, error, and wrong-doing in every respect. In that case you are to “esteem them exceedingly in love;” i. e., the Divine agape, which is poured out in the heart by the Holy Ghost. “Live in peace among yourselves.” If you will all get the “peace of God,” which comes only in entire sanctification, you will have no difficulty in living in peace.

14. We exhort, you, brethren, admonish the disorderly. ” When God speaks of disorder, he means sin. How sad to see a preacher standing before a congregation of his own members, heterogeneously blackened with a vast diversity of sins, and all tangled up in the devil’s lassoes, and talk out his soft, delicate, smooth, little sermonette, ingeniously manufactured for the occasion, to pass over the heads, and hurt nobody, and let the people drop through his fingers into hell; instead of thundering against every damning sin like a messenger from heaven, and doing his utmost to bring the people to repentance! What an awful account when he meets his congregation, covered with shame and “everlasting contempt,” as they all stand before the great white Throne! “ Comfort the small-souled. ” “ Feeble-minded ” (E.V.) is incorrect and misleading, as if they were demented or the mind enfeebled in some way. The literal Greek is simply “small-souled” people. Multiplied millions of people in this world are the one talented class, having small souls. We should be very careful with them, lest we grieve and discourage them. Though their souls are ever so small, if we can squeeze them through the pearly gate, they will have all eternity in which to grow. If you meet them a million of years from now, you will find they have developed into giants. There is a maxim among swine-feeders, “that the runt will make the biggest hog;” but you must give him time to grow. “ Assist the weak. ” This world abounds in people “weak,” physically, mentally, spiritually, influentially, and financially. They all deserve our sympathies, encouragement, and support. “ Be long- suffering toward all. ” “ Let patience have its perfect work. ” Our Savior suffered to the end of his life without the slightest resentment, and died praying for his murderers. He is our example. If we go to heaven, we must walk in his footprints.

15. See that no one may render evil for evil, but always pursue good toward one another and toward all. ” Good is abundantly competent to conquer evil, if you will only give it a chance. In the day of Elisha the prophet, Benhadad, the king of Syria, finding all of his plans against Israel thoroughly anticipated and defeated, convening the magnates of the army in war council, tells them to look out for the spies who report all of his plans to the armies of Israel. A man stands up, and says, “O king, we are all true and loyal men! but there is a prophet in Israel who tells the king all of your counsels the moment you whisper them in your bedchamber.” Then says Benhadad: “Our first campaign must be to capture that man; who knows where he is?” “At Dothan,” is responded from a person present, claiming to have correct information as to his whereabouts. With all expedition the Syrian army is dispatched to Dothan, with orders not to return without the prophet Elisha, dead or alive. When Elisha and his boy preacher walk out of their chamber at day-dawn, Gehazi exclaims, “O Master, we die to day; do you not see we are surrounded on all sides by the Syrian army?” “Yes; but those on our side are many more than those who are against us.” “Why, there is not a single one on our side to fight for us.” Then Elisha asks the Lord to open Gehazi’s eyes. Then he looked around and saw the whole mountain covered with angels and war-chariots of fire, so that his fears all departed. Then Elisha dropped on the Syrian army such an optical illusion as to enable him to take complete command of them, mistaking him for their leader, and march them to Samaria, and turn them over to the king of Israel. When he thought he must kill them, the prophet said, “Not so; but give them all their dinners, and send them back to the king of Syria in peace.” This signal act of kindness made the Syrians ashamed, so they troubled Israel no more, but lived with them in peace. “When you undertake to overcome evil with evil, you make a great mistake, utilizing the weaker force and neglecting the stronger, as if a man would shoot a popgun, and neglect to fire off the loaded cannon at his disposal.

Verses 16-22



16. Rejoice ever more.

17. Pray without ceasing.

18. In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. ” This beautiful and notable Scripture received great notoriety during the Wesleyan holiness movement as the shibboleth of the embattled host. It was everywhere rendered prominent as the Wesleyan standard of entire sanctification, insisted upon by the great founder of Methodism. While it is the standard of John Wesley and his followers, it is still more consolatory that it was the standard of Paul and the Apostolic Church. When you get the artesian well of entire sanctification in your soul, you will find this high standard of religion not only practicable, but easy, restful, and infinitely enjoyable. In the infancy of the experience, you will find it necessary to be exceedingly vigilant, probably involving a degree of care and labor which will soon obliviously evanesce, superseded by a delectable, unutterable rest in which to “ rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, ” will become habitual, settled, and permanent, and almost as spontaneous as breathing, so as to transpire currently and uniformly without attracting attention or observably encumbering the will. Amid the sweet tranquillity of the soul’s imperturbable repose, constant joy, incessant prayer, along with holy gratitude, become the normal state of our spiritual life, natural and unconscious as breathing.

19. Quench not the Spirit. ” The Greek word for quench means to put out fire by throwing water on it. Fire is the symbol of the Holy Ghost throughout the Bible. Hence, you are never to throw Satan’s cold water on the Lord’s fire. Popular Churches and fashionable preachers are avowedly and habitually Spirit quenchers, always ready to throw cold water on the fire of the Holy Ghost, thus keeping their Churches in a North Pole atmosphere, freezing out every spark of spiritual life. This is awfully wicked, and grievous to the Holy Spirit. Satan’s plan is to freeze people here, and burn them in hell through all eternity. A cold religion is the devil’s dumping-cart into hell. The scribes and Pharisees at the present day are awfully fearful of fanaticism. They would better fear hell-fire. Satan’s counterfeit religion in all ages has denounced God’s salvation as “fanaticism.” Dr. Clark says, “There is very apt to be some fox-fire where there is much true fire.” We certainly would better have religion with fanaticism, than none at all. The man who throws away all the wheat to get rid of the chaff, starves to death as the result of his blind folly. People who, through fear of fanaticism and excitement, let their Churches freeze out and die, are laughingstocks for devils in hell.

20. Despise not prophecies. ” The Greek and Hebrew for prophecy means to boil up like an artesian well, flowing impetuously, incessantly, and forever. Prophecy is one of the nine Pauline spiritual gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:10.) We have it defined (1 Corinthians 14:3):

“He that prophesieth, speaketh to men edification, exhortation, and comfort.”

This gift was the crowning glory of the pentecostal experience. It fills with the Holy Ghost, imparts tongues of fire, split in twain, one prong to preach hell-fire to sinners, and the other heavenly fire to sanctify the Christians. It lets the tongue loose at both ends and in the middle, to speak red-hot words incessantly and forever; indiscriminately, regardless of race, rank, or color, administering edification, exhortation, and comfort to all you meet, whithersoever you go. God’s plan is to save the world by preaching, not the modern scientific sermonizing, which is unknown in the Bible; but this everlasting talking, exhorting, praying, entreating, and comforting. Dead pastors are opposed to all this, as they think the people would monopolize their business and take it out of their hands. Moses thought very differently when God laid the spirit of prophecy (this very thing) on the seventy, and they all broke out preaching with all their might, like a holiness camp-meeting under a pentecostal baptism, and the people running to him from all the seventy prophets in different parts of the encampment, telling him to stop them or they will take his business forever out of his hands. Moses, thus bewildered by their multitudinous clamor, leaps and shouts with stentorian voice, “Would God that every man in Israel did prophesy!” Here we have the positive commandment, “Despise not prophecies;” i. e., we are not only to permit every man, woman, and child to throw their mouths open, and talk freely for the Lord; but to encourage them. But the clerical wiseacre says, “They are incompetent, having neither intellect nor education.” Jesus says, “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praises.” What a contrast with the dumb Churches of the present day!

21,22. Abstain from every evil sight. ” Your eyes belong to God. If you give the devil the use of them in any way, he is certain to corrupt your heart. You should be constantly turning your eyes away from the devil’s advertisements, conspicuous throughout our cities, purposely to arouse lust and allure into his hell-dens. You should never permit yourself to look at anything evil, if you don’t want a fiend from the bottomless pit to creep into your heart.

Verses 23-28



23. The God of peace himself sanctify you wholly. ” The sinner is a stranger to the God of peace; to him he is the God of wrath and retribution. Hence, sanctification is not for sinners. Repentance and justification are the gospel pertinent to them. The appeal here is to Christians only. Hagiasai, sanctify, is in the aorist tense, and means instantaneously take the world out of you; from alpha, not, and ge, the world. Regeneration takes you out of the world, and sanctification takes the world out of you. Hence, we must have a double divorcement from the world before we can go to heaven. Against the gradualistic theology, which everywhere curses the modern pulpit, the New Testament is outspoken and decisive from Alpha to Omega. The aorist tense in this passage and hundreds more admits of no gradualism. It positively means “ sanctify you this moment. ” The gradualism in the plan of salvation is all on the human side. We gradually approach sanctification, suddenly enter it, and gradually progress indefinitely. The Greek for “wholly” is holoteleis, from holos, the whole, and telos, perfection. Hence, it means entirely unto perfection; i. e., every constituency of your being sanctified unto Completion. Paul makes no provision for sin, and gives no place to the devil. In E.V. this word is an adverb, qualifying sanctify. In the Greek it is a compound adjective, with a double superlative signification. It does not occur in the classic Greek. Paul, a tiptop linguist, manufactured this wonderful compound superlative adjective to describe the people whose responsibility he must bear at the pearly portals. The word describes the pronoun you, in the text. Hence, you, yourself, must be complete in every constituency of your being if you ever enter heaven. Many adroit tergiversations are resorted to by Satan’s preachers to evade a clear and unequivocal revelation of God’s truth in this passage. But not one of them can stand before the white light radiated by the Holy Ghost from these inspired words, “May your whole spirit, mind, and body be preserved blamelessly at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The rank and file of the modern clergy are dichotomists i.e., advocates of the two natures; i. e., soul and body unfortunately confounding spirit and mind, and preaching intellectualism and metaphysics, instead of spirituality. John Wesley was a trichotomist, like the apostle Paul, preaching the three constituencies of humanity spirit, mind, and body. Total depravity applies to the human spirit only, not to the mind and body. Man in the fall became a spiritual corpse, retaining his intellectual and physical life, though terribly wrecked and dilapidated. A thousand systems of counterfeit religions prevail in the world this day, consisting of mentality and materiality, without a solitary vestige of spiritual life Satan’s illusory passports to hell, all competent to live and prosper without the Holy Ghost, who alone can quicken the dead human spirit into life, sanctifying it with our entire being for an eternity of bliss. The silly heresy somewhat prevalent among ignorant people, vindicating the theory that sin remains in the body after the soul is made pure, is utterly eradicated and annihilated by this passage, as we see here that sanctification includes spirit, mind, and body; i. e., our entire being, leaving no pocket for the devil. Here you see also the peculiar prominence given to the Lord’s second coming by apostolic preaching, as in this powerful and importunate prayer for the entire sanctification of the Thessalonians, the petition involves their abiding in the experience till the Lord comes. Hence, we have the New Testament standard of religion here clear and unequivocal; i. e., entire sanctification of spirit, soul, and body, and perseverance in the experience till the Lord comes. Hence, you see the glorious climax of the New Testament gospel culminating in these beautiful and transcendent truths; i. e., and the Lord’s return to the earth to execute righteous judgments against the wicked nations and fallen Churches, and establish his kingdom from the heads of the rivers to the ends of the earth.

24. Faithful is he who calleth you who also will do it. ” Your omnipotent Savior, who is infinitely abundantly able to do this work, Calls you to sanctification. Hence, it is wicked, rebellious, and blasphemous to say you can not get it. It is not your work, but that of the omnipotent God, who creates a world in a moment. Hence, you are left without excuse, as you have nothing to do but turn over your sanctification into his hands, raise the shout of faith, and be loyal to God. He does it without any help on your part.

26. Salute all the brothers with a holy kiss. ” The word kiss is philema, from phileo, to love, and simply means a love token given a literal kiss of the lips, or a cordial salutation in some other way. It is certainly our privilege to administer the kiss; however we should not sticklerize, lest we be brought under bondage. In this glorious full salvation the Lord breaks from our necks every yoke which Satan and men have put on us. So let us jealously conserve our perfect spiritual freedom, never permitting men or devils to lay the weight of a feather on our consciences, and see that we do not manufacture yokes with our own hands, and put them on our own necks. The world is in the devil’s bondage, and unsanctified Christians in legal bondage. Let us all watch and pray, lest men, devils or our own hands, ever interfere with this blessed, sweet, and glorious liberty, a prelibation of heavenly bliss.

27. I adjure you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the brethren. ” This verse solves the problem of legal oaths, as here we see that Paul administers an oath to the brethren, that this letter should be read to all the saints. As these people had been so recently converted out of heathenism, it was a matter of the most vital importance that it should be read to every one of them; hence Paul adjures them in the name of the Lord, thus tightening up their obligations, and augmenting the certainty of the great end in view that every disciple should hear this letter. It was not enough simply to read it in the public audience, but they must make certain investigation, finding out every absentee, hunting him up, and reading this letter to him.

28. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. ” This is simply an apostolic benediction, such as we find, in diversified forms and magnitudes, concluding every epistle. The popular superstition prevalent in the Churches, using only 2 Corinthians 13:13, in the dismission of a congregation, and restricting the privilege to an ordained clergyman, is by no means commendable. It is certainly the gracious privilege of every Christian conducting religious service to pronounce these benedictions pursuant to the light and leading of the Holy Spirit.

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Godbey, William. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5". "Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament".