“But we do not want you to be uninformed,brethren,about those who are asleep…”
The Thessalonians had gladly welcomed the word of God; but with the passage of time and the march of events, questions had risen in their minds. A primary one was, What becomes of believers who die before the parousia? Referring back to I Thessalonians 3:11-13, the original readers might have felt that these words imply that Christ will come during their lifetimes.
With the words we do not want you to be uninformed, Paul uses a formula to introduce something that is new to his readers. The word brethren is added to show the affectionate attitude that accompanies this new teaching. For similar passages see Romans 1:13, 11:25, I Corinthians 10:1, 12:1, II Corinthians 8:1. Sleep is a frequent metaphor for the death of a believer. Its use as a present tense participle points to an action that is continuing. He is speaking of the regular occurrence of death that is taking place daily among them. It is important to remember that the metaphor of sleep applies only to the body, not the soul. The metaphor is appropriate for two reasons. First, when sleeping, one continues to exist. Second, when sleeping, one is in a temporary state.
FROM THE EMOTIONAL STANDPOINT 4:13B
“…that you may not grieve,as do the rest who have no hope.”
The Christian view of death stood in total contrast to that of the pagan. Most pagans believed that death ended it all; and those who believed in life after death certainly did not glory in it. The following is the kind of condolence that a pagan could give to another. It is taken from the first century. “Irene to Taonnophris and Philo, good comfort. I am as sorry and weep over the departed one as I wept for Didymas. And all things, whatsoever were fitting, I have done, and mine (5 names are given). But, nevertheless, against such things one can do nothing. Therefore comfort one another.”
Aristides, observing Christians, is quoted in the Ante-Nicene fathers as saying, “And if any among them passes from the world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God, and they escort the body as if he were merely setting out from one place to another.”
The words that you may not grieve do not present a stoic, unfeeling viewpoint. The present tense of that verb speaks of grieving as a continuous activity. Grief is sustained; but it should not be a contin- uous, debilitating thing.
Unbelievers are described by three terse expressions. First, they are described as outsiders(4:12), pointing to their separation from Christ. Second, they are termed the rest, which points to their depri- vation of the blessings of Christianity. Finally, and most tragically, they are said to have no hope. There is no article with this noun, meaning they have nothing that even bears the character of hope.
THE NATURE OF THE INSTRUCTION 4:14-17
THE BASIS OF OUR HOPE 4:14
“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”
The word if introduces a condition assumed to be true. The simple condition is to believe. Faith is only made valid by its object and is here presented as two-fold. That Christ died points to the act that secured our salvation; and that Christ was raisedshows the act that proves the sufficiency of the death of Christ. The aorist tense of each points to definite historical events. Christian hope does not rest on philosophical speculation but on historical events.
What do the words fallen asleep in Jesus mean? The preposition in is diaand literally means throughor by means of. Taking this meaning, Paul is saying, “Through Jesus, death becomes sleep.” The empha- sis would lie on the transforming power of the death and resurrec- tion of Christ relative to death. Christians, then, do not die in the fullest sense of the word; and this is because of Jesus.
The words shall bringstrongly imply that they must presently be with Him. He does not say they shall be raised.This means the body is not what returns with Christ. When a believer dies, his body goes to the grave; but his soul and spirit go to be with Christ. It is the soul and spirit that wait to come back with Christ.
This answers the question, What part will believers who have died have in Christ’s return? The answer is simple: Their souls and spirits will accompany Him to meet their resurrected bodies in the air.
THE CERTAINTY OF OUR HOPE 4:15
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord,that we who are alive, andremain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallenasleep.” ItsAuthority
The pronoun thispoints to that which follows, making these words an introduction to what follows. The divine authority of the things about to be taught is stressed, saying this is all supported by the word of the Lord. ItsParity
One of the concerns of the Thessalonian church had been the rela- tionship that believers who had died would bear to the return of Christ. Verse 16 assures them that there will be parity between the dead and the living at this great event.
THE REALIZATION OF OUR HOPE 4:16-17
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout,with the voice of the archangel,and with the trumpet of God;and the dead in Christ shall rise first.17Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” ThePerson of the Arrival
The word Himself is emphatic. It is no human being, no angel, not even Gabriel, nor any of the highest of God’s creation, but the Lord Himself who will return—deity descends! TheMajesty of the Arrival TheMajesty of the Shout
The word shout means a cry of command. It was used, for example, of the cry made by the ship’s master to his rowers.
TheMajesty of the Voice
The word has no definite article with it. For this reason it is best not to assign it to one such as Michael.
TheMajesty of the Trumpet
This is associated in the Old Testament with “Forward March!”
THE VALUE OF THE INSTRUCTION 4:18
“Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
Rarely is a passage assigned a specific application, but here is one of those passages. It is designed to encourage and support and, as has been suggested, is the one true funeral sermon for the believer.
Study Index for 1 THESSALONIANS by Chester McCalley
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