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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

1 Thessalonians 4

Verse 1

1 Thessalonians 4:1. Furthermore then, is, as if he had said, As to what remains.

Verse 3

1 Thessalonians 4:3. For this is the will of God, For the will of God is, that you should become holy, and abstain from all impurity. The sense of the original word πορνεια, is very general, and extends to all acts of uncleanness.

Verse 5

1 Thessalonians 4:5. As the Gentiles, which know not God, The idolatrous Gentiles in general, and those of Thessalonica in particular, were remarkable for their impurity; and how brutish and preternatural the vices of many in the heathen world were, and those not condemned, but practised in the world instances, by their philosophers, may be seen in numbers of ancient Greek and Latin authors. And were those philosophers the fit men to educate youth? to shew them the beauty of virtue, and the odiousness of vice?—The representations of the boundless and unnatural lusts which their own poets gave the heathens, even of their chief gods, were enough to encourage their votaries in the like enormities: nay, such monstrous obscenities became part of their religious worship, as Christian and chaste ears could not even bear to have mentioned. See Ephesians 5:12. What their satirists, Horace, Juvenal, and Persius have intimated, and what Suetonius has suggested, as to the emperors themselves, would make a modest person blush even to read or hear; and when the people, philosophers, emperors, and gods were such notorious offenders, how exact a picture has the Apostle drawn of the heathen world, in Romans 1:21-32.

Verse 6

1 Thessalonians 4:6. That no man go beyond and defraud, &c.— And finally, that no one over-reach or injure his brother in that respect; namely, of adultery or impurity. All the best commentators allow this to be the sense of the passage.

Verse 8

1 Thessalonians 4:8. Despiseth not man, but God, The apostles and evangelists alone had the whole scheme of the gospel revelation immediately from God, and were the great fountains of Christian knowledge, as it related either to faith or practice. They therefore were to be attended to, as truly divine oracles; and he that despised them despised that Spirit from whom they had their inspiration: and if we understand it according to the common reading,—that God had given his Holy Spirit to the apostles, and that what they taught was by divine inspiration, and therefore not to be despised, we shall see confirmations of this great truth, in Luke 10:16. Acts 5:4. 1Co 2:10; 1 Corinthians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 11:23; 1Co 15:1; 1 Corinthians 15:3.Galatians 1:11-12; Galatians 1:11-12.

Verse 9

1 Thessalonians 4:9.— St. Paul here commends them for their love to each other; but generally when he commends them, it is to introduce some further advice,—as he does here; for immediately after the commendation, he presses them to abound therein more and more, 1 Thessalonians 4:10. There seem to have been some idle persons and busy bodies among the Christians at Thessalonica, who went about tattling from house to house, and would not work for a subsistence, but were burdensome to their neighbours, and a scandal to Christianity. They seem to have given the Apostle a great deal of trouble and uneasiness; as appears, not only from 1Th 4:11-12 but also from 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12. 1 Timothy 5:13. However, to take off the harshness of the reproof in the passage before us, he introduces it with the commendation of their love to each other; that they might not be discouraged, as if their Apostle had entirely condemned their conduct. Comp. 1 Corinthians 11 1Th 4:2 with 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The phrase of being taught of God, is used Isaiah 54:13. Joh 6:45 and alluded to in various other parts of scripture. The contentions of the heathen gods could never have taught them this brotherly love; but the example and command of the God of love, of Jesus the Prince of peace, plainly pointed outthis harmony and mutual benevolence, for which the primitiveChristians were remarkable. See Hebrews 13:1. 1Pe 2:17 and Philemon 1:1.

Verse 11

1 Thessalonians 4:11. That ye study to be quiet, &c.— Idleness is utterly unbecoming a reasonable creature, and is not only a great vice itself, but the seed of many and greater vices. Nothing can be a higher scandal to any denomination, or profession, than lazy, pragmatical, officious people, who mind every body's business but their own. They are a common nuisance, and ought to be discouraged, if the churches would have peace, and recommend religion. But, indeed, idleness, in every sort and degree, stands condemned by the Christian institutes. See Acts 20:34.Romans 13:13; Romans 13:13.Ephesians 4:28; Ephesians 4:28. Colossians 4:5. 2 Thessalonians 3:7-13. 1 Peter 4:15.

Verse 12

1 Thessalonians 4:12. Honestly Decently, reputably, The word rendered of nothing, μηδενος, may be translated of no man. The Apostle bids them mind their own business and work with their own hands, that they may be in repute and credit among their heathen neighbours. For a man who cannot maintain himself, and is reduced to beggary by idleness, is an object of universal and just contempt.

Verse 13

1 Thessalonians 4:13.— The Apostle had intimated, ch. 1Th 3:10 that he wanted to make them another visit at Thessalonica, in order to perfect that which was lacking in their faith. Perhaps what he says here was part of what he wanted to teach them, as not having seen it proper before to enter into these discoveries; namely, whether the last generation should die at all or no; and whether the dead saints should be raised before the living were transformed. But, having heard that they still lamented over their dead, like their heathen neighbours, and perhaps that they still hired mourners,—were apt to repine at the Divine providence,—to lament, and be excessively dejected; he here delivers two most important truths, to dry up their tears: 1. He briefly repeats what he had taught already, strongly asserting the resurrection of the pious dead to an eternal life of holiness and happiness, in consequence of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and according to his express and repeated promises. 2. He makes this new discovery,—that the last generation of saints should not die at all, but be on a sudden changed into immortals. From which he concludes, that the Christians ought to leave off their excessive lamentations for their deceased friends, and no longer imitate their heathen neighbours, who, though they might have some obscure notions and expectations of the immortality of the soul, had no such hopes as the Christian of a resurrection from the dead, and of an eternal life of such holy and glorious enjoyments; in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the holy angels, and of all the wisest, worthiest, and best of men, who will be perfect and happy as well as they, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

Verse 14

1 Thessalonians 4:14. Which sleep in Jesus The state of the bodies of the pious dead in their graves is not only here, but in many other passages of scripture, described as a short sleep, compared with that eternal life into which they shall awake in the morning of the resurrection. This 14th verse ought to be read in a parenthesis, it being a repetition of what the Apostle had more fully instructed them in before. The resurrection of Christ was the grand fact upon which the whole Christian religiondepended; and with it, the resurrection of mankind in general, but more especially of the just, was joined in the closest connection. This is what the Apostle elsewhere shews at large; here he only reminds the Thessalonians of it in a short parenthesis, and passes on to the further discovery mentioned in the preceding note.

Verse 15

1 Thessalonians 4:15. That we which are alive, &c.— Because here and elsewhere St. Paul speaks in the first person plural, and thereby seems to join himself with those who should be alive at Christ's second coming, when the dead are to be raised, and the living transformed,—some have too hastily concluded that he thought the day of the Lord to be just then at hand; and that he, and several of the Christians of that age, should be of the number of those who should (not die and be raised again, but) be transformed: but they are great strangers to St. Paul's stile and manner, who have not observed in what a latitude he uses the word we; sometimes thereby meaning himself, and at other times himself and his companions; sometimes the Apostles, and at other times the Christians in general;—in some places the Jewish, and in other places the Gentile Christians. Besides, how often are all Christians considered as one church, one family, one kingdom, one city, one building, the members of one and the same body, whether they be in heaven or on earth, in what age or nation soever they live! Further, to confirm this interpretation, it is evident that St. Paul expected not to escape death, but that he should die, and rise again, 2 Corinthians 5:6; 2 Corinthians 5:8. Philippians 1:23; Philippians 3:10-11; Philippians 3:21. And, finally, when the Thessalonians, by the means either of some weak or some designing persons, were led into this mistake, St. Paul himself wrote them a second Epistle, in which he assures them, that he did not design to say any such thing as that the day of the Lord was at hand; for a grand apostacy was first to happen in the Christian church. See the notes on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. Dr. Heylin renders the latter part of this verse thus: "That we who remain alive until the coming of the Lord, shall not enter [into bliss] before those who are departed."

Verse 16

1 Thessalonians 4:16. With the trump of God: It was a custom among the ancients to summon assemblies by the sound of a trumpet: to which custom probably the Apostle here alludes. It has generally been inferred from the next clause, that good men shall rise before the wicked, and 1Co 15:23 seems to favour it. Dr. Heylin renders the verse, For as soon as the order shall be given, by the voice of the archangel, and by the trumpet of God, the Lord himself shall descend from heaven; and the dead, &c.

Verse 17

1 Thessalonians 4:17. Shall be caught up together with them, &c.— A cloud conducted by angels was our Lord's triumphal chariot when he ascended; and such a bright cloud will be his triumphal chariot when he comes down as judge on the great day, Acts 1:9; Acts 1:11.Revelation 1:7; Revelation 1:7. Daniel 7:13. And it is here intimated, as if his faithful saints also were thus to ascend into glory. Dr. Heylin reads this verse, After that, such of us as are then alive shall, together with them, be taken up into the air, upon the clouds, to meet the Lord; and so we shall eternally live with him.

Inferences.—Who would not wish to be instructed in every thing which might conduce to our walking so as to please God? Who would not delight in frequent exhortations to abound in such a conduct more and more, that every day may improve upon the last, till we perfect holiness in his fear? Blessed be God, the rules are plain, and our own conscience must bear witness to the reasonableness and goodness of them. This is the will of God, even our sanctification; that we should be honoured with his amiable image, and, by sharing something of his moral character, may share something of that happiness which in the perfection of holiness he enjoys. He has, indeed, given us a compounded nature, and has appointed us for a time to struggle with its animal powers, that, by a victory over them, we may approve our duty and obedience, and be fitted for a purer happiness above than this low state of being will admit. Let the professors of Christianity, therefore, learn to possess their vessels in sanctification and honour, and not be captives to the mean lusts of concupiscence and uncleanness; as the heathens, who, not having the knowledge of God, were less inexcusable than we in those indulgences, for which the knowledge of themselves, by the light of their inferior dispensation, would, in some degree, condemn them.

Let us, as we dread the displeasure and vengeance of God, the supreme Guardian of the rights of his creatures, take heed that we do not allow ourselves, even when it is most in our power, to go beyond, or defraud our brethren in any matter; but endeavour to shew that we have, indeed, been taught of God to love one another, and that we have received into our very hearts that maxim which our gracious Redeemer has given us, that we should do unto others as we would they should do unto us. On this principle, likewise, let us diligently employ ourselves in our own proper affairs, that, instead of being the burdens of society, we may, in our respective spheres, be its supports; and, quietly attending to what lies within our own province, let us leave ambitious schemes and projects to others; thinking ourselves happy enough if we may be approved by him, who will one day reward or punish, not according to the distinction and elevation of our stations, but according to the integrity or unfaithfulness with which we have behaved ourselves in them. So shall we secure a testimony even in the consciences of those that are without, who would, perhaps, ungenerously and unrighteously rejoice in an occasion of charging upon the gospel of Christ the follies and irregularities of its professors.

They will never be able to charge any thing on the gospel itself, if they take their ideas of it from the writings of these, its authentic teachers. And let it be remembered, that they gave such abundant evidence of the authority with which they taught, that he who despiseth them, despiseth not man, but God, from whom they derived the Spirit by which they preached and wrote. His voice let us hear with reverence, his dictates let us humbly obey. The hour is near in which he will assert the honour of his word, and demonstrate to all the world the wisdom of submitting to its dictates.

Again. Who can be sufficiently thankful for the strong consolations which the latter part of this chapter administers! How many drooping hearts have been cheered by them in every age, while successively mourning over the pious dead! How often have we ourselves been driven to them, as to a sacred anchor, when our hearts have been overwhelmed within us! and if God continue us a little longer, what repeated occasions may arise of flying to them again! When Providence is pleased to make such breaches upon us, let us not sorrow as those who have no hope, for our pious, deceased friends, or for ourselves. Surely we cannot doubt the very first and most fundamental articles of our faith, the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God; and if we do, indeed, assuredly believe these, what a blessed train of consequences will they draw after them! and this consequence most apparently, that they who sleep in Jesus shall not finally perish, but shall he brought with him to grace his triumph.

And, O what a triumph will that be! Let us now anticipate the joy with which, if faithful here, we shall then lift up our heads, and see our complete salvation drawing nigh. What though we die, and moulder in the grave? the saints then alive shall not prevent us: though the last memorial of our names may long have perished from the earth, it shall appear that they are written in heaven. And when the Lord himself descends from heaven, with that earth-rending shout, when the trump of God shall sound, his dead shall live, like his dead body shall they revive; they that dwell in the dust shall rise and sing; for his dew is as that falling upon herbs, and the earth shall call forth its dead. (Isaiah 26:19.)

But who can now conceive the rapture with which so many millions shall start up at once from their beds of dust, all arrayed in robes of glory; and, spurning the earth in which they have been so long intombed, and all that is mortal and corruptible, shall soar aloft in one joyful company, with those faithful saints who shall then be found alive, to meet the Lord in the air; forming a mighty host, bright as the sun, clear as the moon, and awful as an army with banners (Song of Solomon 6:10.), they shall soar to meet their Lord, attracted by Divine love, and borne on in their flight by an almighty power. They shall ascend to him; they shall be owned by him; they shall be seated near him: for Christ, who is their life, shall appear; therefore shall they appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:4.).

Nor shall it be merely the triumph of one day, or of any limited period, how long soever. It is the promise of his faithfulness and of his love to his persevering saints, that so they shall ever be with the Lord. It is a glory that shall never decay, a meeting secure from all danger, from all possibility of future separation. In what circumstance of affliction may not these consolations be felt! What torrent of tears are they not able to stop! What groans of distressed nature will they not be sufficient to turn into songs of joy! Thanks, everlasting, ever new, ever growing thanks be to God, who always causeth his believing people to triumph in Christ, in the views of such a felicity! And let the whole choir of saints, the living and the dead, unite in one joyful Amen.

REFLECTIONS.—1st. We have,

1. An exhortation to obedience. Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, in his name and by his authority, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk, and to please God, so ye would abound more and more, with greater watchfulness, diligence, and zeal, according to God's holy word. For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus, so clearly that none can plead ignorance, and urged upon your consciences with those most powerful arguments which should engage your obedience thereunto. Note; the more clearly the path of duty is marked out to us, the more steadily are we bound to walk in it.

2. A caution against all impurity, as most opposite to the Christian character. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you should be in heart and conduct obedient to all his commands; particularly that ye should abstain from fornication, that common sin among the Gentiles, and to which, in the days of your unregeneracy, you may have been addicted; that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel, his body, in sanctification and honour, with such purity and chastity as never to be guilty of an action unworthy those who are the temples of the Holy Ghost, and that would defile and disgrace you in the sight of God and every real Christian; not in the lust of concupiscence, indulging the vile affections of the natural heart, even at the Gentiles which know not God: that no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter, not only abstaining from every act of injustice, but especially from robbing them of that which is dearer to them than any earthly goods, the affections or the person of their wife; or drawing them into any horrid and unnatural acts of lewdness: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified, and will execute condign punishment on such workers of iniquity. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness, in his gospel enjoining all purity of heart and conversation on his people. He therefore that despiseth our admonitions, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit, by whose inspiration I speak, and whose office it is to sanctify the bodies, souls, and spirits of the faithful, and prepare them for the glory which is promised. Note; Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge; and into his kingdom shall nothing enter which defileth or maketh unclean.

2nd, The Apostle inculcates,
1. The great duty of brotherly love. But as touching brotherly love, ye need not that I write unto you; for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another, and are exemplary for your fervent and enlarged charity: and indeed ye do it, not only towards the members of your own church, but toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia. But, as there is still room for much higher advancement, we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more. Note; (1.) We are never so high in grace, but we have summits of holiness yet to climb, and shall continue to have, till we reach the heavenly Zion, and come to join the spirits of the just there made perfect. (2.) All good comes from God: unless we are taught of him, as every true believer will be, no human lessons can lead us into the spirit of Christianity.

2. Of quietness and industry in our callings. And that ye study to be quiet, make it your holy ambition to live in peace with all men, not officiously intruding into other people's affairs; and to do your own business, minding the concerns of your own family and calling; and to work with your own hands, as many as by your station must earn your bread by daily labour, as we commanded you, idleness and Christianity being utterly inconsistent: that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, paying every man his due; and that ye may have lack of nothing, but be furnished with all that yourselves and families may need, and not be burdensome to any.

3rdly, The Apostle suggests the most encouraging arguments to support the Thessalonians under the loss of their near and dear relatives. But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, and departed in the faith of Christ, that ye sorrow not even as others which have no hope, as the heathen who make such howling and lamentation for the dead; since we have a hope full of immortality: for if we believe that Jesus died, and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him, raising their bodies from the dust at the last day, as his was raised from the tomb. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord, even those members of his church who will be numbered among the living in the great day of his appearing and glory, shall not prevent them which are asleep, so as to anticipate their resurrection: for the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout of triumph and exultation, with the voice of the archangel that shall attend his orders, and with the trump of God, like that tremendous sound which once issued from Sinai's top; and the dead in Christ, those who departed in his faith and fear, shall rise first, in virtue of their union with their exalted Head; then we which are alive and remain, as many saints as will then be found among the living, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so all we ever be with the Lord, enjoying that eternal blessedness in his immediate presence, which is the summit of our felicity. Wherefore comfort one another with these words, under all your present trials and discouragements, and in the prospect of your own approaching dissolution. Note; (1.) They who die in the faith of Christ, return to his bosom, and their dust sleeps sweetly under his care, waiting a resurrection day. (2.) The faithful shall shortly meet together in bliss, around the Redeemer's throne, and spend a happy eternity in his unceasing praises. (3.) This reviving hope is the comfort and support of the faithful Christian, living and dying.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.