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Bible Commentaries

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

1 Thessalonians 4


1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 Paul exhorteth the Thessalonians to proceed in their endeavours to please God by a holy and just conversation.

1 Thessalonians 4:9,1 Thessalonians 4:10 He commendeth their love to one another, entreating them to abound in it,

1 Thessalonians 4:11,1 Thessalonians 4:12 and quietly to follow their respective callings.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 And that they might not sorrow for the dead, as men without hope, he briefly deseribeth the resurrection of the just, and Christ’s second coming.

Verse 1

He descends to some particular duties about their walking, which he ushers in by a general exhortation in this first verse; wherein we may observe his style: he calls them brethren, and speaks to them with much condescension and earnestness, and in the name of Christ, &c. And the subject he insists on is their walking, the course of their life and conversation, which he describes by the rule of it,

as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk; he refers them to the directions he had given them about it as the rule; for he did in his ministry not only open gospel mysteries, but explain moral duties. And not only to walk in them, but to abound more and more, to press forward to a greater exactness and excellency in their Christian conversation. And he here useth motives:

1. From the Person in whose name he speaks to them, which is the Lord Jesus Christ; for he was but Christ’s minister and ambassador.

2. From the knowledge they had received of their duty, and therefore they could not plead ignorance.

3. Their walking as they had been instructed by him would please God.

Verse 2

This explains what he said before; what they had received of him about their walking he here calls commandments, not so much his own as the Lord’s, as the word itself imports here used, and is expressed in the text.

By the Lord Jesus: though the apostle had authority, yet it was but derivative from Christ; and therefore not to walk as the apostle had commanded would be disobedience to Christ himself. And he minds them of what they knew, that their knowledge might be exemplified in practice; for as faith, so knowledge, is dead which doth not influence the life; and they knew that he commanded them not in his own name, but in the name of Christ.

Verse 3

What in the former verse he called commandments from Christ, he here calls the will of God; or he had some further duties to lay before them, which he had not yet given commandments about, which were the will of God. There is the secret and revealed will of God, and his revealed will is about things to be believed or practised. The latter is here meant, so that the will of God is put figuratively here for the things he willeth, or commandeth of us. And that which the apostle first mentions is sanctification, which is often taken for holiness in general, which consists in men’s conformity to the will of God both in the heart and life. But I think not so taken here, but for chastity, as opposite to the sin of uncleanness, as the apostle explains it in the next words. For to

abstain from fornication is the will of God. And by it is meant all unchasteness, either of persons married or unmarried; and that either in the heart, or in speech, or in the eye, or lascivious gesture, as well as in the very act itself. It was a sin common among the Gentiles, especially the Grecians, and judged as no sin. And therefore it is particularly mentioned and forbidden to the believing Gentiles by the council of Jerusalem, lest they should apprehend it not to be an evil, Acts 15:20. For it is not so evident by the light of nature as many other moral evils; and therefore the apostle tells the Thessalonians that it is the will of God they should abstain from it, and that is a sufficient ground either of doing or not doing. This will of God is expressed in the seventh commandment, which though the Jews well knew, yet these new converted Gentiles might not yet so well understand. And therefore the apostle in his several Epistles to the Gentile churches doth dehort them from it, especially the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and that by many arguments. It is a sin which corrupts and effeminates the mind, captivates the heart, consumes the flesh, and wastes men’s estates. So that this will of God that forbids it is a good will, Romans 12:2, as all the commandments of God are said to be for our good, Deuteronomy 10:13.

Verse 4

This is added as a means to prevent that sin. By vessel some understand the married wife, who is called the weaker vessel, 1 Peter 3:7; and her husband is to possess her in sanctification, in chastity, as the Greek word may signify here.

And honour; for as marriage is honourable to all men, Hebrews 3:4, so to live chastely in a married estate is honourable also. For by whoredom man gets dishonour, and his reproach shall not be wiped away, Proverbs 6:33. Others by vessel understand the body, which is the vessel of the soul; the soul carries it up and down, useth it in the several functions of the vegetative, sensitive, and intellectual life. And so some understand the words of David to the priest, 1 Samuel 21:5; The vessels of the young men are holy, being kept from women; that is, their bodies. Fornication is said above all other sins to be a sin against the body, 1 Corinthians 6:18, and he that keeps his body chaste possesseth his vessel, keeps it under government; whereas by fornication we give it to a harlot, and that which is a member of Christ we make it the member of a harlot, 1 Corinthians 6:15; and though the words are directed properly to the masculine sex, the word εκαστον being masculine, yet under that the female is comprehended. And because the practice of this duty requires care, skill, and much watchfulness against temptations, therefore saith the apostle that every man may know

how to possess his vessel in sanctification. To which is added,

and in honour; for acts of uncleanness dishonour the body; Romans 1:24; God gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies, & c. God hath bestowed much curious workmanship upon the body, it is part of Christ’s purchase, and, with the soul, is a member of Christ, a temple of the Holy Ghost, in all true saints, alld therefore should be possessed with honour. Or it is to be kept to the honour and glory of God, as 1 Corinthians 6:20, and to be offered up a holy sacrifice to him, Romans 12:1.

Verse 5

Any violence of affection we call passion, whether of love, or anger, or desire, because the soul is passive, or suffers thereby. The Stoics said passions were not incident to a wise man; and: They that are Christ’s, saith the apostle, have crucified the flesh with the passions and lusts, Galatians 5:24. And lust is usually taken for all inordinate affection, either with respect to the object or degree; though the Greek word doth signify only desire, and is sometimes taken in a good sense, as Philippians 1:23; for, there are good lustings as well as evil, as Galatians 5:17, the Spirit lusteth against the flesh; but here the word is taken in a bad sense, for the lust of uncleanness, which the apostle here calls

the lust of concupiscence. The philosophers distinguish of the affections or passions of the soul, some are irascible, some concupiscible. The former are conversant about evil, to repel it or fly from it; the latter about good, either real or imaginary, to pursue it or embrace it. And the lusts of concupiscence are either of the mind or of the flesh, Ephesians 2:3; here we understand the latter, that fleshly concupiscence that is conversant about women, which if by vessel in the former verse is understood man’s lawful wife, then he forbids all unchasteness even towards her; if the body, then he forbids all unchaste usage of the body in any kind, or towards any person whatsoever. And, to avoid fornication, he forbids lust that leads to it.

Even as the Gentiles which know not God; which the apostle useth as an argument to them: Though ye are Gentiles by nation as well as others, yet not in state, such as know not God. There is a natural knowledge of God, which the apostle speaks of, Romans 1:21, which the Gentiles had; and supernatural, which is by the Scriptures; to know the mind, will, nature, decrees, and counsels of God as they are there revealed: and the knowledge of God in Christ; this is meant in the text, and this the Gentiles had not, and therefore no wonder though they followed the lust of concupiscence, they wanted the rule of God’s word to direct them, and that effectual knowledge of God, and presence of his grace, that would have restrained them from such lust. But these Thessalonians now, since their conversion by the gospel, were come to this knowledge of God, which they had not before, and therefore were not to live as before they did. Knowledge ought to influence our hearts and lives, and to sin against knowledge is the great aggravation of sin, and will make men more inexcusable. But yet where knowledge is wanting what wickedness will not men practise! The Gentiles were alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that was in them, Ephesians 4:18. The Jews crucified Christ, and Saul persecuted the disciples, through ignorance, 1 Timothy 1:13. Much more are those Christians to be condemned, who, having more knowledge than the Gentiles, yet practise worse than they; as the apostle upbraids the Jews upon this account, Romans 2:27.

Verse 6

This some understand to be another part of sanctification, mentioned before, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, taking the word sanctification in a more general sense. And as before he spake of chastity, so here of commutative justice in commerce and traffic; and the rather because Thessalonica was a city of great trade and merchandise, and it is true that sanctification doth comprehend this righteousness in it, and will restrain men from that which is opposite to it, which, as the apostle speaks, is going beyond and defrauding his brother. To

go beyond, is that which we call overreaching; when in buying or selling we keep not a just measure, when we observe not a due proportion between the price and the commodity, considering it either in its natural worth, or in such circumstances as make it more or less valuable: or, to take advantage of another’s ignorance or necessities, to take unreasonable profit: or, to break covenant with another, answering to the Hebrew word Gnabhar, used in this sense, Deuteronomy 17:2; the original word signifies to transgress, or go above the due bounds. And to defraud is, when, out of a covetous mind, we exact upon another beyond what is meet. Some refer the former word to injustice by force, and the latter by fraud, 2 Corinthians 7:2. And the evil is the greater because done to a brother. There is a brother by a common relation, and so all men that partake of human nature are brethren; or by special relation, which is either natural, civil, or spiritual. We may understand the word in all these senses, especially the last, that those that are brethren in Christ and in the faith, should not defraud one another. And when the apostle adds, in any matter, the word any not being in the Greek, we may better read it, in dealing, or doing; the word is general, and is to be restrained by the subject matter spoken of. There is another sense of the words, agreeable to the former verses, and the verse that follows, and so some understand the apostle as still speaking of chastity; and so here he forbids the invading another’s bed, transgressing the bounds of marriage, whereby men go beyond or defraud their brother, usurping the use of another man’s wife, whom he hath no right to. And then in any matter we must read, in that matter which he had been speaking of before, or it is a modest expression of the act of adultery. The Hebrew Bo is often used in the Old Testament for carnal copulation, and thence the Greek βαινω and υψερβαινω, here used; and the other word, ψλεονεκτειν, denotes excessiveness in it, Ephesians 4:19. And the reason he adds is: because the Lord is the avenger of all such. Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord, Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19. Whether we understand it of fraud, or overreaching in dealings, when man cannot right and relieve himself, the righteous God will avenge the unrighteousness of men; or of the fraud of the marriage bed, which is done in secret, and man cannot avenge himself, Hebrews 13:4.

As we also have forewarned you and testified: and this the apostle saith he had forewarned them of, and testified. Though the light of nature told the heathen that God was an avenger of wickedness, Acts 28:4, and the heathen could say, ’Eχει θεος εκδικον ομμα. God hath a revengeful eye; yet the apostle had in his preaching assured it. He had told them of Christ’s coming to judge the world, when he would execute vengeance, Jude 1:15; and this they were before ignorant of: and though God sometimes takes vengeance in this world, yet he seems to refer to this last vengeance, because he speaks of it as that which he had forewarned them of, and testified in his ministry, and whereof they had not so clear a testimony in natural conscience.

Verses 7-8

These two verses are added, as further arguments to persuade to that chastity he had spoken of, called sanctification, 1 Thessalonians 4:3,1 Thessalonians 4:4. The first is taken from their Christian calling, which is not to uncleanness, but to chastity, called holiness. When they were Gentiles in state, they lived in the lust of uncleanness, but they were now called by the power of the gospel, and brought to such a profession that did forbid and condemn it. And the author of their call is God himself, though the apostles and other ministers were the instruments. Whence he fetcheth this second argument, 1 Thessalonians 4:8, that if this chastity he despised, or rejected, as we may read the text, it is not man, but God, that is despised. To despise a minister in a commandment he delivers from God is to despise God himself, Luke 10:16, &c.; and the apostle doth here intimate, not to obey the commandment of God is a despising God. Or, that the apostle was despised by some because of the outward meanness of his person, or questioning his authority.

Who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit: this he adds as a third argument; so that what he had preached to them, was not from himself, but from the Holy Spirit. Or if by us he means these Thessalonians also, as some copies read it, he hath given you, &c., then he argues from the gift of the Holy Spirit they had received against living in the sin of uncleanness. This would be very disagreeable, not only to their holy calling, but the Holy Spirit God had given them. Or else these arguments of the apostle are to persuade to universal holiness, taking sanctification and holiness in a larger sense; and uncleanness, for all sin in general standing opposite thereunto. Sin is often spoken of in Scripture under the notion of filth, defilement, pollution, &c., and so was typed forth under the law; and to be cleansed from sin is a cleansing man from filthiness, 2 Corinthians 7:1; so that to live in sin, as the apostle argues, is to live in uncleanness, to contradict our holy calling, to despise God, and to walk contrary to the nature and dictates of his Holy Spirit.

Verse 9

But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: the apostle proceeds from chastity and justice to speak of brotherly love, which is love upon a spiritual ground; to love the saints as such, with respect to God as a common Father, and so all his children are brethren, 1 Thessalonians 2:8,1 Thessalonians 2:9; so Hebrews 13:1. And he persuadeth the practice of it by a loving and winning insinuation; Sure you are forward enough of yourselves; as he useth the same artifice, Acts 26:27,Acts 26:28; 2 Corinthians 9:1; wherein the apostle tacitly commends them, and hereby would engage them to answer the commendation, and good opinion he had of them.

For ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another; what need I write to teach you that which you have already been taught of God? The saints have this promise, Isaiah 54:13; Jeremiah 31:34; fulfilled, 1 John 2:26,1 John 2:27; and this Divine teaching is always efficacious, for none teacheth like God. Not that all teaching of men is to be laid aside, as some enthusiasts would hence infer, but that the apostle thought he had less need to teach that which God himself had so effectually taught them. Hereby we perceive that God’s teaching doth not only enlighten the mind, but reacheth the affections, and especially inclines the heart to love, for God is love; and though they were taught other things of God besides this love, yet he mentions only this as the most proper work of the Spirit of God by the gospel; and though common love of man to man may be found in mere nature.

Verse 10

As an evidence of the truth of their love for which he commended them, and that they were taught it of God, he gives a practical instance of it in this verse; else the apostle might have been thought to flatter, or to command a love that was without fruit; and therefore he saith not, ye profess it, but ye do it: so 2 Corinthians 8:11, perform the doing of it.

Toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia; which was a large province, wherein were planted many churches. Their love was not guided by interests, opinions, civil relations, or self-respects, but it reached to all that were brethren; and that in some real effect of it, in some work of charity, or liberality, or otherwise, not here mentioned, but we read of it, 2 Corinthians 8:1,2 Corinthians 8:2.

But we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; but, however, their love was not yet perfect, and therefore he beseecheth them to abound more and more; either meant as to the extent of it, not to confine it only to Macedonia, or as to the degree of it, to excel men in it, as the Greek word may be rendered: and the same word the apostle useth, and upon the same account, 2 Corinthians 8:7. Neither love, nor any other grace, is made perfect at once; even those that are taught of God, are taught by degrees. And love being a grace so suitable to the gospel, and their present suffering state, he therefore especially exhorts to a progress in it.

Verse 11

And that ye study to be quiet: he exhorts to quietness, and yet to be diligent; and probably he might see this needful, either by what he himself had observed amongst them, or by what he had heard of them, as appears by what he writes in his Second Epistle, 2 Thessalonians 3:10,2 Thessalonians 3:11. To be quiet is to be of a peaceable temper and carriage, as the Greek word ησυχαζειν importeth both; and stands contrary to strife, contention, division, either upon a civil or religious account. And to

study to be quiet, because the thing may be difficult, especially in some circumstances of times, places, and persons. And the Greek word φιλοτιμεισθαι implies an ambitious study. Quietness we should pursue with a holy ambition, as that which is honourable to ourselves and our profession, Proverbs 20:3. The same word is used 2 Corinthians 5:9, where it is rendered we labour, & c. Study is properly the exercise of the mind, yet it here comprehends any kind of labour. This agrees with what the apostle elsewhere exhorteth to, Hebrews 12:14; see 1 Peter 3:11.

And to do your own business: he next commendeth to them diligence, and that in our own business; and this he prescribeth as a good way for quietness, contentions often arising from meddling in the affairs of other men which concern us not; for which he rebukes some in this church, 2 Thessalonians 3:11. But yet only to seek our own things is a great fault, and lamented by the apostle, Philippians 2:21. We are to concern ourselves in the affairs of others when called to it, and not otherwise; and then we may reckon them among our own things. A Christian’s calling is either general or particular, and what falls not within the compass of one of these, is to be accounted not our own business. And our doing and suffering ought to be kept within the sphere of our calling; for to suffer otherwise, is to suffer as busybodies, which the apostle cautions against, 1 Peter 4:15; as a bishop intruding himself into another’s office, to which the word there alludes.

And to work with your own hands; this condemneth idleness, and living out of a calling; we are not only to keep within our own sphere, but to stretch forth our hands to work. The same precept he gives to the Ephesians, Ephesians 4:28, not to steal, but to work with their hands, that they may not only eat their own bread, 2 Thessalonians 3:12, but have to give to him that lacketh. Not that there is no other work but that of the hands; the ministers of the gospel are excused from that, 1 Corinthians 9:6, but not from work; there is the work of the head, and the tongue, and the foot, and the lungs, as well as of the hands; but either under one species he comprehends all, or it may be he fitteth his speech to the condition of the people to whom he writes, who generally had such occupations wherein they wrought with their hands, Thessalonica being a great place of trade. And the apostle speaks of the churches of Macedonia as a poor sort of people, 2 Corinthians 8:2, and liberal beyond their power; though some among them might be tempted to idleness by the charity of others to them, which, as some conceive, was the occasion of the apostle’s thus writing. But if men have estates, and upon that account need not work, yet no man is to be idle: men’s time, parts, or other talents are to be employed, and account thereof is to be given, Matthew 25:19; and the unprofitable servant is cast into outer darkness, Matthew 25:30. Some way or other every man is to work, and may work, for profit to himself and others, unless under some invincible impediment.

As we commanded you; he means, when he was with them. He might probably observe some occasion for this commandment. Industry is of good report with all; and by meddling in others’ affairs, and unquiet carriage and idleness, they might dishonour their Christian profession among the heathen, which might be the chief reason of this commandment: and the apostle doth not act herein as a civil magistrate, commanding about civil affairs for the public welfare; but as a minister of Christ, with respect to a spiritual end, as appears by what follows.

Verse 12

He enforceth his commands by a twofold reason, the former is ab honesto, the other is ab utili. First:

That ye may walk honestly, or decently, as the word is rendered, 1 Corinthians 14:40.

Toward them that are without; that is, Gentiles, infidels, so they are described, 1 Corinthians 5:12; Colossians 4:5; as those that were received into the church of Christ are said to be within. The apostle would have them honour the gospel before the heathen in such moral actions which they did approve of, and were able to judge of, not understanding the higher mysteries of faith and gospel holiness; which he calls walking in wisdom totoards them that are without, Colossians 4:5. The other reason is ab utili:

That ye may have lack of nothing; or, of no man, have no need to beg of any man. It might offend and be a stumblingblock to the Gentiles, to see Christians to beg of any, and especially of themselves, for their necessary relief. Or, of nothing; that you may by your own labour be able to subsist, and not depend upon others, and so not be a burden to friends, or a scandal to strangers. For every man to subsist by his own labour, was the primitive law to Adam, Genesis 3:19, commended often by Solomon in his Proverbs, and enjoined by the apostle to believing Christians, 2 Thessalonians 3:10.

Verse 13

The apostle now proceeds to a new discourse, about moderating of their sorrow for the dead, not for all, but the dead in Christ. He had either observed their sorrow in this kind excessive, while with them; or else by Timothy, or some other way, he had heard of it. Wherein observe in general, he doth not condemn their sorrow, but the excess of it. Grace destroys not nature, but regulates it; nor reason, but rectifies it; nor takes away the affections, but moderates them; doth not make us Stoics, or stocks. Affections are good when set upon right objects, and kept within due bounds, and this Christianity doth teach, and grace doth effect. And to mourn for the dead, especially the dead in the Lord, is a duty that both nature and grace teach, and God requireth; and the contrary is reproved by God himself, Isaiah 57:1, and to die unlamented is reckoned as a curse, Jeremiah 22:18,Jeremiah 22:19. It is only then immoderate sorrow the apostle here means; and to prevent it, or remove it, gives many instructions and arguments. And he supposeth their ignorance might be a great occasion of it, and so instructs them about the doctrine of the resurrection, and Christ’s personal coming again, which by the light of nature, while Gentiles, they knew nothing of, or were very uncertain in. And the apostle, because of his short stay among them, had not had opportunity to instruct them about these things, and therefore doth it here distinctly and fully; as he doth the Corinthians, hearing there were some among them, even of the church itself, that said there was no resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:12. It is such a mystery to reason, that it is hard to believe it; and the most learned of the heathen doubted of it, and some exploded and scoffed at it, as we find, Acts 17:18, even such as yet held the immortality of the soul. And hereupon in this verse the apostle doth assert two things in general to relieve them against immoderate sorrow.

1. He calls the death of the saints a sleep., {see Daniel 12:2; Luke 8:52; John 11:11; 1 Corinthians 15:20,1 Corinthians 15:51} whether referring to those that are already dead, or do die, or that shall afterwards die; and why should they then excessively mourn? After sleep we know there is awaking, and by sleep nature is revived; and so it shall be with the saints in death. Hereupon the grave is called a bed, Isaiah 57:2; and the burying place, cemeterium, a place of sleep. And:

2. There is hope in their death, as Proverbs 14:32; there is hope concerning their happy state after death, and hope of their resurrection, and seeing them again at Christ’s coming; it is not an eternal farewell. This the apostle here intends. And they will be then seen in a more excellent state, and probably so seen then as that their Christian friends may know them; else the apostle’s argument would not have so much strength, and so well suit the present case. The heathen and infidels buried their dead without this hope, as they are said to be without hope, Ephesians 2:12; and so were excessive in their sorrows, which they expressed by cutting their flesh, making themselves bald, doleful songs, and mourning ejulations, expressed sometimes upon instruments: and which the Jews had learned from them, as appears by God’s often reproving it, and Christ’s putting out the minstrels, Matthew 9:23,Matthew 9:24; and as that which he forbade them, Leviticus 19:28; Deuteronomy 14:1. And the apostle may refer to this in the text, as that which is not only grievous to nature, but dishonourable to a Christian’s faith, hope, and profession. We are hereby the betrayers of our faith and hope, and the things we preach will seem false and feigned. Cypr. de Mortalitate. And though man is said to die without hope as to a return to his former state of life here, Job 14:7-10; yet not with respect to the life at the resurrection, in them that die in Jesus.

Verse 14

As in the former verse the apostle made use of the hope of the resurrection, as an argument against immoderate sorrow, so here he proves the resurrection by Christ’s rising again, &c.

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again; he supposeth they did believe that Christ died and rose again; it was that which he had taught them, and which they had received, as being the two first and fundamental points of the Christian faith, without which they could not have been a church of Christ.

Question. But how doth Christ’s resurrection prove the resurrection of the saints? He being the eternal Son of God, might have a privilege above all.

Answer. This first shows the thing is possible, God hath already done it in Christ.

2. Christ rose for our justification, Romans 4:25; and in justification sin is pardoned which brought in death, and which alone by its guilt can keep under the dominion of death.

3. Christ rose not as a private person, but as the Head of the body, his church, Ephesians 1:4,Ephesians 1:20, &c., and so loosed the bands of death, and conquered the grave, for his people.

4. As the first-fruits, 1 Corinthians 15:20, which was a pledge and assurance of the whole harvest to follow.

5. God hath predestinated the elect, whom he foreknew, to be conformed to the image of his Son, Romans 8:29.

6. He is not complete without them, Ephesians 1:23.

Lastly: They sleep in Jesus, as the text speaks; not only live but die in him, Revelation 14:13, their union remains with Christ even in death.

Even so them also which sleep in Jesus; by which words also the apostle distinguisheth believers from all others; it is only they shall have the privilege of this blessed resurrection who sleep in Jesus. And perseverance in Christ to the end is here also intimated.

Will God bring with him; and though their resurrection is not expressed in the text, yet it is implied in this saying. By God is meant, as some understand here, the Son of God, who is to come from heaven, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, and who will bring the spirits of just men, made perfect in heaven, with him, and unite them to their bodies, which cannot be done without their resurrection: whereby the apostle gives another argument against excessive sorrow for the saints departed, they shall return from heaven again with Christ at his coming. Others understand it of God the Father, who will raise the dead, and then bring them to his Son, and bring them with him to heaven. Those that read the text, those that sleep, or die, for Jesus, and so confine it only to martyrs, restrain it to too narrow a sense.

Verse 15

The apostle here sets down particularly the manner of the Lord’s coming, the method and order how all the saints shall then meet with him and with one another, which we find not so distinctly in any other scripture; and whereby he further prosecutes the argument he is upon.

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord; that they might not think that what he speaks was either by some tradition from others, or an invention of his own; and that is ground enough for faith, to which our judgment and reason ought to be captivated.

That we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep: that which he saith here about the resurrection, Christ’s coming, the ministry of angels, the sound of a trumpet, the voice of Christ at that day, we have it in the evangelists; but the method and order of all the saints meeting together, and meeting the Lord in the air, we find not in any express words before written; the apostle speaks it here by extraordinary revelation, which is the word of the Lord, though not then written. And this order is expressed:

1. Negatively. The saints then living upon earth shall not be with Christ sooner than those that were fallen asleep, and be caught up into the air while the others are in the grave; and the apostle speaks as if he should be one of that number: surely he could not think the coming of Christ should be in the age wherein he lived; he speaks otherwise, 2 Thessalonians 2:2; or that his life should be prolonged to that day; for the time of his departure, he saith, was at hand, 2 Timothy 4:6. But he looks upon the whole body of saints together, and himself as one of that number, and so speaks, we which are alive and remain, & c.; as in 1 Corinthians 15:51; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.

2. Affirmatively. The dead in Christ shall rise first, that is, before they that are alive shall be caught up into the air; they shall stay till the rest be risen: as 1 Corinthians 15:51; We shall not all sleep, but be changed, and in a moment; which the apostle calls clothed upon, 2 Corinthians 5:2, and which he rather desired than to be unclothed, 1 Thessalonians 4:4; and then they that are dead in Christ shall rise, and be united to these in one visible body.

Verse 16

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout; the means which effect this. The word shout in the Greek signifies a command, or word of command; alluding to mariners or soldiers summoned to be ready with their assistance when called upon; and may refer to the angels whom Christ now summons to attend and assist in that day. And the evangelist speaks of the voice of Christ, John 5:28, which is there said to raise the dead. Whether this is an oral shout and voice from the mouth of Christ, or only an expression of his Divine power, whereby he shall awaken them that sleep out of their graves, is a question I shall not be curious about.

With the voice of the archangel: Christ is said to come with all the holy angels, Matthew 25:31; and to send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, Matthew 24:31. But here is mentioned only the archangel and his voice, instead of all the rest, they all coming under his conduct. Though there be not such distinct orders of angels as the schoolmen affirm, yet there is order among them, as archangel implies. And whether he will put forth an audible voice or not at that day, or whether this archangel be not the same with Christ himself, who is the Head of all principality and power, Colossians 2:10, I leave it as doubtful; but, however, it is certain the angels shall be ministering to Christ at that day, especially in the resurrection of the elect, Matthew 24:31, and severing the righteous from the wicked, Matthew 13:41.

And with the trump of God; as 1 Corinthians 15:52. And whether this is to be taken literally, and distinct from the shout and voice before mentioned, or used only to show forth the Divine power of God that shall gather all the elect together out of their graves, as the trumpet in war gathers the scattered army, or as the silver trumpets under the law assembled the congregation of Israel, I shall not be positive. And this is the account of the saints that are raised.

Verse 17

Christ will have a church to the end of the world, and some will be found alive at his coming, and will be

caught up, or snatched up, to denote its suddenness, it may be in the arms of angels, or by some immediate attractive power of Christ; and it will be

together with them that are now raised from the dead; they shall all ascend in one great body, and it will be

in the clouds; as Christ himself ascended in a cloud, Acts 1:9, and so will return again, Matthew 24:30, he making the clouds his chariots, Psalms 104:3.

To meet the Lord in the air:

1. To congratulate his coming, when others shall flee and tremble.

2. To put honour upon him; as the angels will also attend him for that end.

3. To receive their final discharge.

4. To be visibly joined to their Head.

5. To be assistants with him in judging of the world, and to reign with him upon earth.

And whether the last judgment will be upon the earth, or in the air, I shall not determine; but after this Christ and his saints shall never part. Their first meeting shall be in the air, and their continuance will be with him while he is in this lower world, and after that they shall ascend with him into heaven, and so be for ever with him. Augustine imagined that the saints that are found alive shall in their rapture die, and then immediately revive, because it is appointed to all men once to die; but the apostle saith expressly: We shall not all die, but we shall all be changed, 1 Corinthians 15:51.

Verse 18

The apostle makes application of all this discourse to the end he designed, which was to comfort them under their sorrows for departed Christian friends; and he saith not, be ye comforted, but

comfort one another, to put them upon the great duty of Christian sympathy; though this is a duty we owe to all, yet especially to the saints, and more especially of the same particular congregation. And funeral sorrows are usually most afflictive, and therefore need to be allayed with words of comfort; and not with any words, but, saith the apostle,

with these words, or these things, as the Hebrew, the things or words that he had before laid before them. The philosophers used many arguments against the fears of death, and for comfort under funeral sorrows, but Christians should fetch their comforts from the Scriptures. These are the best, most solid, most durable, and universal, and therefore the apostle commends them to the believing Romans, Romans 15:4, as here to these Thessalonians particularly. These considerations, that those which sleep in Jesus shall rise again, and that we shall meet them again, and we and they shall be for ever with the Lord together, are a great relief against the sorrows of their departure hence. And the comforts arising hence may serve to support under other sorrows as well as these, which the apostle also might intend in the words.

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Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.