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Bible Commentaries

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

1 Thessalonians 4

Verse 1

1Th 4:1. The gist of this verse is that the brethren in Thessalonica had been informed by Paul about how they should live. To please God, it was necessary that they grow or abound more and more in that good manner of walk.

Verse 2

1Th 4:2. Paul always made it plain that he was not preaching on his own authority. He had learned that nothing would be acceptable to God that did not agree with his Son. He understood that the former system under the law was replaced by that under Christ. (See Php 3:9.)

Verse 3

1Th 4:3. The Thessalonians were Gentiles in the flesh, and had formerly lived in the indulgences of carnal pleasure, prominent among them being that of fornication; some even mixed it with their idolatrous exercises. Sanctification is from HAGIOSMOS, which Thayer defines, "consecration, purification." Act 15:9 says that the hearts of mankind are purified by faith, and Rom 10:17 says that faith comes by hearing the word of God. All of this shows that sanctification is the result of hearing (in the sense of heeding) the word of God, thus giving another name for righteousness.

Verse 4

1Th 4:4. Possess is a key word in this verse. It comes from KIAOMAI, which Thayer defines, "to acquire, get or procure a thing for one's self." The sexual desire is a natural one, and God has provided a lawful means of gratifying it, namely, the marriage relation. A wife is called a vessel (1Pe 3:7), and Paul means for a man to possess (acquire) a wife as the means of lawful gratification, instead of finding satisfaction by committing fornication. The same thing is taught in 1Co 7:2 as to the proper means of sexual gratification.

Verse 5

1Th 4:5. The original Greek word for concupiscence is defined by Thayer, "desire for what is forbidden, lust." The verse means the opposite of the preceding one. To commit fornication would be to obtain that which is forbidden by the Lord. The Thessalonians were Gentiles, but they had been made acquainted with God, and hence were expected not to do like the Gentiles who do not know Him.

Verse 6

1Th 4:6. Defraud his brother. When a man commits fornication, he has the relation with a woman who is another man's wife or some man's unmarried daughter. To do so is "to gain or take advantage of another, to overreach," which is Thayer's definition of the word defraud in our verse. God will revenge all who do this, and Paul gives warning in this epistle, even as he had done previously when among them.

Verse 7

1Th 4:7. This verse gives us a clear• meaning of holiness. The subject being discussed is forncation, which is still under consideration in this verse. Hence the conclusion is that refraining from the uncleanness of fornication would be to show a quality of holiness.

Verse 8

1Th 4:8. Thayer defines the original for despiseth, "to reject, refuse, slight." When a man commits fornication he rejects the law against that evil and does wrong against man; that is, a human being. However, Paul means that it is not only a sin against man, but it is also against God, the giver of law against the evil act. It is just that God should restrict us in our bodily practices, since He has given unto us his holy Spirit. The practical use of this Spirit with us is the teaching which He offers through the inspired word, that shows man a higher life in the use of his body.

Verse 9

1Th 4:9. The duty of mutual love is not new to the New Testament teaching. Lev 19:18 commanded, "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," and the same thought is expressed in Psa 133:1. But the command is given new meaning for Christians by the unspeakable example of love that was shown to the world by Jesus.

Verse 10

1Th 4:10. These remarks were not in the nature of criticism, for the brethren in Thessalonica had shown their love for others in that they displayed the good example to the other Macedonians (chapter 1:7). The point is that Paul wishes them to increase in the good spirit.

Verse 11

1Th 4:11. To study means to be concerned, and be quiet denotes to be settled and not meddlesome. It is explained by the apostle in the same sentence where he says to do your own business. To work with your own hands means to engage in some manual labor or occupation that will bring them an income. Paul had given these instructions orally when he was in their midst. (See 2Th 3:10.)

Verse 12

1Th 4:12. To walk honestly means to walk in a becoming manner. To be dependant upon others for the necessities of life is not always a fault, but it is so if one brings the condition on himself by a spirit of idleness. Them that are without refers to the people of the world. If they see Christians who are not willing to work for their own living, they will have an unfavorable opinion of the Gospel. In 2Th 3:10, Paul teaches that if a man will not work when he is able, he has no right to the good things of life. It is very plain that a lazy man is not a true Christian.

Verse 13

1Th 4:13. Would not have you to be ignorant simply denotes that Paul did not wish the brethren to be uninformed on the subject he was about to discuss. Them which are asleep means the Christians who had died, the last word being a figure of speech based on the apparent condition of those who are dead. The term is used with reference to death in the following passages. Act 7:60 Act 13:36; 1Co 15:6 1Co 15:51; 2Pe 3:4. Sorrow over the death of loved ones is natural and right, which Jesus showed by his attitude toward the sisters of Lazarus (Joh 11:35). But there is a difference between the sorrow when it is for those who "sleep in Jesus," for in that case there is a hope of a happy life after the resurrection.

Verse 14

1Th 4:14. If we believe, etc., means that it is as reasonable to believe one part of this verse as the other. The resurrection of Christ is a fact, hence the same God who brought his Son from the dead and up to Heaven, is able to bring others from death into Heaven. The same thought is expressed in other words in Heb 2:10, where it is said that God will be "bringing many sons unto glory." It should not be overlooked that it is only those who sleep in Jesus who are being given such a prospect. All the dead will be resurrected at the last day (Joh 5:28-29; Act 24:15), but the resurrection of the unsaved is not being considered at all in this chapter.

Verse 15

1Th 4:15. Paul, speaking on authority of the word of the Lord, takes it for granted that there will be Christians living when the resurrection day arrives. The same is taught in 1Co 15:51, and hence we have the assurance that no matter what may happen among the people of the world, true Christianity "shall not perish from the earth" while it is permitted to exist. Prevent is from PHTHANO, which Thayer defines, "to precede." The faithful disciples who are living when Christ comes will not precede the ones in their graves in going up to meet Him to be taken to heaven.

Verse 16

1Th 4:16. Shout is from KELEUSMA, which occurs only once in the Greek New Testament. Thayer defines it, "an order, command, specifically a stimulating cry." He then explains that by which animals are roused and urged on by man, as horses by charioteers, hounds by hunters, etc., or that by which a signal is given to men, such as to rowers by the master of a ship; to soldiers by a commander; with a loud summons, a trumpet-call." The Englishman's Greek New Testament translates it, "a shout of command." Mat 16:27 shows that when Jesus comes again, he will be "with his angels." They will be ac- companied by the archangel (whose name is Michael, Jud 1:9), whose voice will announce the coming of the great Master and Judge. Trumpets have long been used to signal the approach of important events, especially those of conquest (Exo 20:18; Num 10:1-9; Jos 6:1-5; Jdg 6:34-35; 1Sa 13:3; and many others). The second coming of Christ will mark his final victory over all his enemies (1Co 15:24-26); it will be fitting, therefore, that the event be signaled with the trump of God. Shall rise first. This cannot mean the first resurrection numerically, implying a second, for there will be only one literal resurrection; everybody will rise in the same hour (Joh 5:28-29). The word is explained in Thayer's lexicon to mean "before anything else is done." The idea is that the dead in Christ will be raised before the living in Christ are changed and taken up to meet Christ.

Verse 17

1Th 4:17. Alive and remain refers to the Christians who will be living on the earth when Christ ccmes. Caught up together means that after the dead in Christ have been raised incorruptible (1Co 15:52), and the living in Christ have been changed (same verse), then all will ascend in one group to meet the Lord in the air. So shall we ever be with the Lord. The first word refers to the condition just described, namely, the righteous changed into an incorruptible body, and living in the constant presence of the Lord. This denotes that no sin will ever be committed by the righteous after the resurrection. The same grand truth is taught in Rev 22:11.

Verse 18

1Th 4:18. Comfort is rendered "exhort" in the margin, and that is one of the definitions given in the lexicon. However, verse 13 indicates that Paul wrote these verses for the comfort of those who were sorrowing over the dead, hence the word in the common version is correct.
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Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/znt/1-thessalonians-4.html. 1952.