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Bible Commentaries

Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books

1 Thessalonians 4

Verses 1-2

"As to the Rest"

The use of the word "finally" in 1Th_4:1 does not mark the end but a transition. We might say, "As to the other matters," or "As to the rest." Because of his love for them, Paul pleaded with and tried to persuade them to take certain steps. This persuasion was based upon their being in Christ and under His direction. They had been taught by Paul and the others in reference to the kind of life they should live. One goal of that instruction was for them to please God. The A. S. V. correctly adds the words "even as ye do walk" after the words "please God." Paul then encouraged them to keep growing because the alternative is to shrink back and die. Like a military leader, Paul had given the Commander's instructions to the church ( 1Th_4:2 ).

Verses 3-6

God's Desire for Men to be Set Apart for His Service

The apostle expressed God's desire for every man be set apart for His service. Paul wrote from Corinth, which may explain why he mentioned fornication first. It was a sin that had been dressed up by incorporating it into idol worship. At Corinth, prostitutes served in the temple of Venus. Christians need to exercise control over their fleshly desires and avoid this sin. Paul's desire was that every Christian should know how to bring his body under control and keep it morally pure for God's service.

Sensual fulfillment was, by the idolatrous people of Paul's day, considered to be an acceptable goal. Since they did not have a close relationship with God, they gave themselves fully to the pursuit of desires brought on by leaving passion uncontrolled ( Rom_1:24-27 ). Christians, knowing the true God of heaven, could not follow such a course. Sexual immorality defrauds the innocent. By taking advantage of them, the seducer sins against God. Further, other parties, like an innocent mate, can be hurt when one participates in such sins. Certainly, God had avenged such wrongs wrought by the people of Sodom and Gomorrah ( 1Th_4:3-6 a; Gal_6:7-8 ; Col_3:6 ).

Verses 6-8

The Purpose of Paul's Warning

Apparently, Paul had devoted some of this teaching in Thessalonica to warning the brethren of God's avenging wrath in situations where one is defrauded. One has to wonder if the so-called social diseases and A. I. D. S. are not manifestations of such wrath. God's call, which goes forth in the gospel ( 2Th_2:14 ), has a twopronged purpose. Negatively, it prohibits uncleanness. Positively, it brings the Christians to sanctification, or holiness, as Paul wrote in verse 3.

When Paul warned the Thessalonians against rejection, McGarvey said he was referring "to the forewarning and testifying of verse 6." As he went on to write, such rejection would not really be of Paul but of God, in whose behalf Paul spoke (compare Act_5:4 ). The Christian who rejects God's warnings, as revealed by the inspired penman, rejects the Holy Spirit and the Father. To fail to obey God, is to reject him ( 1Th_4:6 b-8; 1Jn_5:3 ).

Verses 9-12

An Exhortation to Brotherly Love and Work

Anytime someone listens to one of God's messengers, it could be said that he is taught of God. The Thessalonians may have been taught by listening to Paul or by reading the writings of other inspired men ( Joh_13:34-35 ; 1Jn_4:20-21 ). The love of the brethren is a central element in the teachings of Christ and His apostles. The Christians in Thessalonica had heard God's instruction and were displaying love for the brethren in all of Macedonia. Paul urged them to keep on growing in this most important characteristic.

A Christian, according to Paul, is not one striving to get ahead or make a great name for himself. Instead, he should "aspire," or "be ambitious" (A. S. V. margin), which Thayer tells us refers to "those who are not running hither and thither, but stay at home and mind their business." In other words, Paul was telling the Christians to tend to their own affairs and not pry into those of others. Also, he instructed them to be busy working with their own hands. God knew the importance of man working, so he gave Adam a job in the garden ( Gen_2:15 ). All of this had, seemingly, been dealt with by the apostle while he was with them. By following these instructions, Paul said the brethren would set a good example for those outside of the church. Too, they would not lack because of a failure to work. God never meant for his people to be parasites on society ( 1Th_4:9-12 ; Col_4:5 ; Eph_4:28 ).

Verse 13

"I Do Not Want You To Be Ignorant"

It appears some at Thessalonica thought the blessings of Christ's second coming would only be enjoyed by those who were living at the time of the Savior's return. Such a misunderstanding of one of the most basic doctrines about Jesus Christ could have led to a terrible state of spiritual depression, especially when Christian loved ones died before the Lord's return.

Paul wanted to be sure they had plenty of teaching on this important topic and were not left doubting because of ignorance ( Rom_1:13 ; Rom_11:25 ). It was critical that they understand that those who were already asleep, or those resting in the bosom of the earth in death, had not, and would not, miss the resurrection. The loss of those counted as dear loved ones is filled with shock and immediate sorrow. Unbelievers are burdened with an extra amount of sorrow when their loved ones die because they see no escape from the tomb. Paul did not want the brethren to suffer this additional sorrow ( 1Th_4:13 ).

Verses 14-15

Christ's Resurrection Is Proof God Can Raise the Dead

Belief in Christ's resurrection from the dead is central to the Christian's faith ( 1Co_15:1-4 ; 1Co_15:12-20 ). If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, then His claim to be the Son of God would have proven to be invalid.

Kelcy suggests that the doctrine of the resurrection must have been especially difficult for Greeks to accept ( Act_17:32 ). The Christian, who believes in Christ's resurrection, will believe in the resurrection of all the saints. This is true because God has shown His power over death by raising His Son. Clearly, Paul taught that those who are God's sons in the church, or family of God (compare 1Ti_3:15 ), will also be raised by the One who has power over death. In fact, the apostle was delivering the words of the Lord when he said living saints will not go before dead saints to meet the Lord ( 1Th_4:14-15 ).

Verses 16-17

Paul's Description of the Second Coming

Paul described the Lord's second coming with quick, powerful words. He said the Lord will come down from heaven in a way that will cause all on earth to be able to see him ( Rev_1:7 ). As He descends, He will give a shout, which Kelcy says is a cry of command, perhaps for the dead to come forth. McGarvey suggests the archangel will then call for all of the angels to perform their various duties ( Mat_13:41-43 ). At about the same time, a trumpet will sound, which may serve as an announcement of the king's coming. Perhaps as a result of the cry and/or the trumpet, the dead saints will rise from the grave first. Then, the living saints will be caught up into the air with them. All of the saints, both dead and living, will then rise to meet the Lord in the air. From that point forward, there will be no more separation of the saints from the Lord. Instead, they will be in His presence where they have so fervently wished to be ( 1Th_4:16-17 ; Php_1:23 ).

Verse 18

The Second Coming Is a Message of Comfort

Though Paul was many miles away from the young church in Thessalonica when he penned the words of this letter, he deeply desired that they know the comfort available to those who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord. Words of truth about the resurrection surely should have given, and continue to give, hope to all who are in Christ. They should give special reassurance to those whose loved ones have died in Christ. For that reason, Paul urged his readers to use the truth about the resurrection to comfort one another ( 1Th_4:18 ).


When Will the Lord Come Again?

The questions which the Thessalonians seemingly asked about the condition of dead saints when Christ comes again might have logically led one to ask when He would come. Paul must have already dealt with this matter since he wrote as if they already knew the answer. Jesus clearly taught that His coming would be sudden and unexpected. No signs will precede that day which would point to its being at hand ( Mat_24:36-51 ; Mat_25:1-13 ; Luk_12:39-40 ). Just as a thief does not call ahead to announce his coming, the Lord's coming will have no special sign occurring before it and will therefore be a surprise.

Unbelievers, according to Paul, reassure themselves by saying there is no reason for concern. He explained that the second coming would be as sudden as the onset of labor pains. Those who fail to be watchful will not escape the Lord's wrath ( 1Th_5:1-3 ).

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Bibliographical Information
Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". 2014.