Bible Commentaries
1 Thessalonians 4

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

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Verses 1-18


Timothy reported some things that called for exhortation and instruction. In the first place, fornication was indulged in by some who had no proper understanding of its sinfulness (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 ). This inconsistency is probably explained by the circumstance that the church was composed of Gentiles chiefly, rather than Jews. (See Acts 17:0 and compare such passages in the epistle as 1 Thessalonians 1:9 .) Paganism, out of which they came, knew not the meaning of “sin,” and as for “fornication” it may be said to have been part of their religion, just as the grossest licentiousness is now connected with certain forms of heathen worship. Under these circumstances these young Christians may have been slow to apprehend their duty in the premises and the real meaning of “sanctification.” This exhortation had its effect, however, for in Paul’s second epistle to the church he does not mention the offense.

In the second place, the imminency of our Lord’s return which had taken hold of this church, had reacted in some cases in the direction of idleness (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 ). If He were coming so soon, why such carefulness as to physical necessities? The answer is practically that of John Wesley, that if one knew He would come tomorrow, the duties of today should be performed just the same. “Study (or be ambitious) to be quiet,” attend to your business, work for two reasons: that. you may be enabled to pay your honest debts, especially to the world’s people with whom you deal; and that you yourselves may have your physical necessities supplied (1 Thessalonians 4:12 ).


But the chief difficulty in the church was doctrinal, arising also out of a misapprehension about the Lord’s Second Coming. The difficulty concerned the relation of the dead to the living saints at His coming (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ). There was a fear that the departed would be at some disadvantage in the matter of time when that event took place. But Paul teaches (1) that the dead saints will return with Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:14 ); (2) that their bodies shall be raised first (1 Thessalonians 4:15-16 ); and (3) that the translation of the living saints shall then follow (1 Thessalonians 4:17-18 ). In other words, something like that which took place in the lives of Enoch and Elijah in earlier dispensations, will take place in the life of the whole church, i.e., the true body of Christ in the present dispensation. Paul taught this “by the word of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15 ), which means not any word which our Lord spake on the subject while on earth, but a special revelation vouchsafed to Paul after He had arisen from the dead.

The subject is continued into chapter 5 where the first three verses treat the condition of the world when Christ comes, and the next eight are an exhortation to the church. The world will be taken unawares, but the church should not be so taken (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5 ). To guard against this the church should be wide awake concerning this doctrine and the hope of His coming (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 ). The reason for this is that while “wrath” awaits the world in that day, “salvation’’ in the fullest sense awaits the church (1 Thessalonians 5:9 ). Whether we are “awake,” i.e., alive on the earth when He comes, or “asleep” and come with Him, we shall “live together with Him” as the close of the preceding chapter indicated.


1. What three subjects called for exhortation and instruction?

2. How do we explain the presence of “fornication” in this church?

3. What reason is there to believe that Paul’s words were heeded?

4. What probably led to idleness?

5. How does Paul meet the situation?

6. What was the doctrinal difficulty in this church?

7. What three things does Paul teach about the second coming of Christ for the church?

8. What shows that the world will be unprepared for His coming?

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. 1897-1910.