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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

1 Thessalonians 4

Verses 1-18

1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 . We beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us the moral maxims of life and conduct, not only in word but also in writing, how ye ought to walk, and to please God, see that ye keep them with conscientious regards; for we received those principles not only from the law and the prophets, but also from the Lord Jesus. Such a christian conduct is requisite to satisfy every man’s own mind of his regeneration; it is also required of the church, and expected of the world, otherwise you will be despised. A single stain of concupiscence after baptism, and a holy profession, cannot be wiped away.

1 Thessalonians 4:3 . This is the will of God, even your sanctification. The two principal words, Αγιωσυνη unearthly, 2 Corinthians 7:1; and Οσιοτης , John 17:17, sanctify them through thy truth, are equivalent to purity, piety, religion. Both those words in the LXX are illustrative of the Hebrew, קדשׁ kadesh and kadaish, prepared, separated, or sanctified. It is applied to persons, and vessels, sprinkled with blood, and separated from common use for the service of the sanctuary; and also to the Israelites, as a holy nation. The apostles bring forward those words to instruct the christian church in all the glory and beauty of holiness, to which they are called in Christ Jesus. Be ye holy, as he that hath called you is holy.

Abstain from fornication. This is repeated from 1 Corinthians 6:18, where comments occur.

1 Thessalonians 4:4-5 . Every one of you should know how to possess his vessel, his body, here called a vessel, in sanctification and honour: not in the lust of concupiscence. This language would seem strange now, in any pastoral letter to a christian church; but the state of morals among the gentiles that knew not God, rendered it necessary. In England we wink at certain haunts of infamy. In Paris, and in Amsterdam, they license certain dancing houses; but in opulent Corinth, a thousand women were kept adjacent to the temple of Diana. Certainly, we are yet in a better state than the heathen world. But at the same time those magistrates, like the heathen without God in the world, are not aware that indictments are already preferred against them for thousands of slow and painful murders, by suffering open prostitution to exist.

1 Thessalonians 4:6-8 . That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter for God hath not called us to uncleanness, but to holiness. Daniel Heinsius quotes here the case of David, and recites the parable of Nathan, a sad case of defrauding his neighbour. But the word applies as well to the concupiscence of money, to frauds in trade, and obtaining goods under false pretences. No man ought to waste his neighbour’s goods. If success be denied him in trade, he ought to stop when he can offer his creditors something decent, and not to go on robbing his relatives and friends to the last shilling, till the foulest acts of shame overtake him all at once. Then the odium falls on religion.

1 Thessalonians 4:13 . I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep. Why does the apostle speak of the death of these saints, and of the depths of sorrow which afflicted the church under their loss? Why does he speak of the most tremendous judgments of the Lord on those who had troubled them, and of punishing them with everlasting destruction? And why was Timothy so specially sent away from his work to know their affairs, and to comfort them? Though history be silent, yet there is but one conclusion, that the jews, the fountains of persecution, as Tertullian says, had excited the magistrates, or the tumult, to put some of the church to death.

1 Thessalonians 4:14 . For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. Death is uniformly in the hebrew and christian scriptures regarded as a sleep; but the dead who sleep in the dust, says the prophet, shall awake. Daniel 12:1-2. Our Saviour enjoyed a short repose after the agonies of death, and put on immortality as a garment; and if the head arose, the members shall follow. This is our hope: Christ is the firstfruits of them that slept. If the gentiles by idolatry have lost this hope, it assuredly was revealed in the patriarchal covenants. Eternal life was revealed in the law, however denied by the sadducees, and now it is a special subject of revelation to the church, by the ministry of St. Paul.

1 Thessalonians 4:15 . For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. They shall not take precedence, or have any advantages superior to what those shall enjoy who slept in the dust. This acceptation of the word “prevent” is happy, though less used now. “Prevent us, oh Lord, in all our doings.” The Lord prevented, or went before St. Paul to Rome; or if we might be allowed to say so, he got there before him, and so arranged that Paul should not be sent to the common prison. Providence likewise so ordered it, that his bonds should turn out for the furtherance of the gospel.

But did St. Paul, and the saints at Thessalonica, expect to live till Christ came on the clouds of heaven? I answer, no: the time is indefinite. It is a form of speech justified by the coming of the Lord as a thief in the night. Add to this the day of his coming to burn Jerusalem was near at hand. Paul was a prophet; he foretold the falling away in the church, and the revelation of the man of sin in the temple of God. He foretold the call and conversion of the jews, and the salvation of Israel; in a word, he foretold his own martyrdom. St. Peter, in like manner, spake of the longsuffering of God, and said, a day with the Lord is as a thousand years, proofs indubitable that our christian prophets were divinely inspired. It was wise to speak of those things as near, for we are in crowds rushing into eternity. We already hear the martial trumpet sound to awake the dead, that every one may appear in his own order, to meet the Lord in the air, and rejoice for ever in his presence.

1 Thessalonians 4:16 . The dead in Christ shall rise first. The apostle is not here speaking of any precedence which the saints are to have in the resurrection over the rest of the dead, but of the resurrection of the righteous dead, as opposed to living saints, who shall receive their summons to meet the Lord at his coming. The apostle assures the Thessalonians, who had some doubts on this point, that “they who are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall not prevent,” or have precedence of, “them that are asleep.” On the contrary, “the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them.” He is plainly speaking, not of the dead in Christ, as distinguished from those who are not in Christ; but of the dead in Christ, as distinguished from the living.

1 Thessalonians 4:18 . Wherefore comfort one another with these words, the only words which can console us under bereavements of our own flesh. Such is the wisdom of God, that death shall repair his own breaches, and restore more than he has taken away.


How unspeakably valuable is revelation. Seeing we are passing away from this world, it uplifts the curtains of the world to which we are hasting. St. Paul says, he would not have believers ignorant of a future state, and the happiness of separate spirits. He would have the eyes of their understanding opened, to know what was the hope of their calling, and the glory which awaits them at the resurrection of the just, the nuptial joys of the church when the bridegroom shall return.

This hope of a glorious resurrection is peculiarly consolatory to the mind under the loss of relatives, and all the sufferings of the present life. Thy brother, said the Lord to Martha, shall rise again. What then are these light afflictions, compared with an eternal weight of glory? And the time is near, the day is at hand. And though men may kill the body, the hope laid up for us in heaven is above the wrath of man, and the power of the grave.

The hope is enhanced and made perfect by the superior intercourse and the felicity we shall enjoy in the society of those so dear to us, while sojourning upon earth. Oh what intelligence shall there expand the soul! And it is likely that new powers will open, which could not bloom to perfection in these cold regions of sorrow and death. Oh what beautiful and glorious bodies will they receive, when all infirmity shall be left in the tomb. Their grandeur, though in a humble degree, shall then be like that of the blessed Saviour. Let us therefore put on the Lord Jesus in all his sanctifying glory, that on hearing the first sound of the trumpet we may rebound among the countless myriads, and worship at his feet. Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.