About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

Home Page

1 Thessalonians 4

Previous Section - Chapter 3

Next Section - Chapter 5

ch. 4:1-12    ch. 4:13-18


Living To Please God (ch. 4:1 - 12)


In chapter 4 verse 1 Paul speaks about these people pleasing God.  Note how we please God.  It is by the way we live.  Pleasing God, like loving others, is not in word but in action.  We please God by living right.  Many Christians don't think in terms of pleasing God.  I heard one pastor say that he did not want to disappoint Jesus.  This is a good attitude to have.   


In verse 2 Paul mentions that he had previously told the Thessalonians how they should live to please God.  In fact Paul says that they are doing just that, but now he urges them to please God in their lifestyle even more.  There is no end to maturing in Christ.  If we think we're mature, we're really not.  He reminds them that the instructions he gave them was from the authority God gave them as apostles.  Paul believed that he had special authority as an apostle over those churches that he started.  Indeed this is the nature of an apostle.  That being said, this is not abusive authority.  It is not a dictatorship.  It's the authority to encourage and uplift people.  Paul speaks of authority here, but remember, this apostle with authority viewed himself as a servant.  There is no real authority without first having a heart of a servant.  Biblical authority presupposes a life of servitude.


The difference between modern day apostles and the apostle Paul is that modern day apostles, yet having some authority, are subject to what Paul taught.  Modern day apostles do not preach their own gospel as some think.  They preach the gospel as found in the New Testament.  Thus modern day apostles differ from Paul in that Paul preached the gospel as it was taught to him by God, while modern day apostles preach the gospel as taught to them by Paul.


In verse 3 Paul says that “it is God’s will that you should be sanctified”.  This means that it is God’s will that these people should be set apart unto their God, that is to live for Him and not themselves.  If this is the case then, they “should avoid sexual immorality”.  Each person should “learn to control his own body …  not in passionate lust as the heathen…” as Paul says in verse 5.  Paul says that such sexual sin is a “wrong to your brother”.  Elsewhere Paul says that sexual sin is a sin against your own body, but here he says that it can also be a wrong towards your brother as well.  This might be in reference to committing adultery with a brother's wife. 


Note the alternate rendering to "control your own body".  Some translate this as "live with your wife", or "find a wife".  The thought here concerns adultery.  Don't commit adultery.  Instead, have sex with your wife.


The Greek word that is translated as "body" in the NIV and "wife" in some other translations means "a vessel".  The Rabbis interpreted this word as "wife" as does the Septuagint in some cases.  The Greek word that is translated as "control" in the NIV means to take, as in "take control".  I tend to see the word "body" and not the word "wife" as the proper word here.  We control our own bodies.  We don't necessarily control our wives.     


In verse 6 Paul says that “God will punish men” for such sins”, unless they have been covered by the blood of Jesus because of their trust in Him.  It is for this reason that Paul says each man should have his own wife and vise versa in 1 Corinthians 7:2.


In verse 5 Paul points out that heathens live a life of passionate lust.  This sounds much like today's world, but today's world isn't quite at the same depth of depravity as was the case in Paul's day.  Sex parties in town squares were prevalent.  Divorce was the norm.  Running around on your wife, or wives, was routine.  Temple prostitutes were a regular part of pagan worship.   


In verse 8 Paul is quite pointed when he says that anyone “who rejects these instructions does not reject man but God, who gives you His Holy Spirit”.  Once again Paul is making use of his God given apostolic authority.  Remember, God has entrusted Paul with His message, and Paul is relating this message to others, so if someone rejects the message, they aren’t really rejecting Paul, but God.


In verse 9 and 10 Paul repeats himself when he tells his readers to love their brothers, something that they were already doing, and something that Paul says God Himself taught them.  But even though they were doing well in this area of their lives Paul urged them on to do better. There is always room for improvement, even in the stronger areas of our lives.


In verse 11 Paul exhorts his readers “to live a quiet life, and to mind their own business, and to work with their own hands…”   This is something that Paul himself did.  Paul got into much trouble with his opposition, but he did not really go looking for such trouble.  Paul minded his own business, that is, he worked hard in the ministry that God had for him.  He supported himself in this ministry and he was encouraging the Thessalonians to do the same.


One reason why Paul thought such a lifestyle was important was to “win the respect of outsiders”.  We should live our lives in such a way that non-Christians, even though they don’t believe like us, will respect us for the life we live.  If there is to be disrespect shown to us as Christians, it should be a result of us preaching the gospel, not because we are living an unholy life. Christians should not be seen as immoral, cheats, drunkards, or any other such thing.


The other reason why Paul tells these people to work with their own hands and to live a quiet life is so that they will “not be dependent on anyone”.  This too was very much evident in Paul's life.  He did not want to be dependent on others.  He would rather give than be given to; because of his love for those God had given him.  


The Coming Of The Lord (ch. 4:13 – 5:12)


In verse 13 Paul goes into a teaching mode when he tells his readers that he “does not want them to be ignorant”.  What Paul is about to speak about now is the return of Christ, and concerning these issues he wants his readers to be in complete understanding, especially since there were some who were teaching things different than what Paul taught.


The return of Christ is a huge subject.  Many have given up on trying to understand the events leading to the return of Jesus.  I don't think Paul would like that.  He says we should not be ignorant of these things, but many Christians are.  We should be keeping our eyes open for the events leading to Jesus' return.


Paul did not want these people to be ignorant like “those who fall asleep”.  The words "fall asleep" is in reference to death.  Those who die without Jesus, die without any hope.  Paul himself had great hope in death.  He looked forward to the day when he would pass from this life into resurrection life.


I will not go into "soul sleep" in detail here other than to say I don't believe in this teaching.  I bring it up here because those who believe in soul sleep use the word "sleep" here as part of their proof for their doctrine. This doctrine states that when we die we don't immediately go to heaven.  Instead, our soul sleeps until the day Jesus returns to earth.


In verse 13 Paul speaks about those without hope and grieve over death.  Paul doesn't grieve about dying because he knows death for him is the gateway into paradise.  The Greco/Roman culture in which Paul lived in many respects did grieve over death.   


In 1 Corinthians 15 you read Paul’s most conclusive thoughts concerning the resurrection of the dead.  Here he says that because Jesus died and rose from the dead, so we also will rise from the dead at some future point.


In verse 14 Paul goes on to say that because of the resurrection of Jesus, when Christians pass away, they will also return with Christ at the end of the age.  To me the picture looks like this.  When a Christian dies, he goes immediately to be with Jesus in heaven.  Then, when Jesus returns to earth those who have died in faith will return with Jesus and the angels.  At that moment, those who are alive will meet Jesus and the saints in the sky.  The eventual home of the believer is the new earth, as seen at the end of the book of Revelation.   People often think Christians will live forever in heaven, but that is not so.  The book of Revelation makes it quite clear that the believer will live forever on the new earth. 


In verse 15 he says, “according to the Lord’s own word … we who are still alive … will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep in the Lord”.  There is no direct quote by Jesus found in the New Testament that makes this statement, so we cannot be conclusive in just where Paul heard this quote from the Lord.  Did he hear Jesus say this by a revelation, or possibly when he was caught up into the third heaven?  We simply don’t know. We do know that Paul believes that Jesus made this statement.  I am sure that there are many statements that Jesus made that are not recorded in the Bible.


Note here that Paul considered himself in the group that would survive unto the day of Christ.  Does this mean that Paul felt that he would really see the coming of the Lord from an earthly position?  Not necessarily.  In 1 Corinthians 6:14 and 2 Corinthians 4:14 he groups himself with those who would be raised into a new body and return with Christ.  This letter was written most likely before the Corinthian letters, so unless he changed his mind between the two time periods, we really don’t know for sure just how Paul felt about this point. It is my feeling that as time went on Paul knew that he would die for the sake of the gospel before Jesus returned.  That might be evident in his letter to the Philippians.   


Paul's use of the word "we" in this verse might well be taken as "a corporate we".  That is, we as Christians, not necessarily "we as you and I".  I am not convinced that Paul's use of the word "we" here means him and others.  I think it could easily mean, "we, as the church, as those Christians who are alive at the end of this age."  You might call this "we" a generic "we", not a personal we which includes himself.   


Paul says that those still alive at Jesus’ second coming “will certainly not precede” those who have died in the Lord.  The dead in Christ will rise first to meet Jesus, then after that, those alive in Christ will be “caught up”, or “raptured”, and taken from this earth. 


In verse 16 we not that at the moment of the return of Jesus three things will happen, maybe simultaneously.  They are; there will be a trumpet call, an archangel’s voice will announce this coming, and Jesus Himself will give a loud command.  What specifically the angel and Jesus say at this point is not stated by Paul. 


Earlier in this section we noted that Jesus was coming back to earth with those who were dead in the Lord.  Here we note that Paul says that those who are dead in the Lord will rise first to meet Jesus.  Then after that those who are still alive will be raptured up, or taken up to meet Jesus in the air. How can we correlate these two verses?  This is my explanation.  The souls of the saints return with Jesus to earth.  Then, their dead bodies are raised into their resurrected bodies.  Then, those saints who are alive will be caught up in the air and their earthly bodies will become their resurrected bodies.  


To help explain this we can take a look at history.  In Paul’s day the Romans had a custom that when an outside Roman official visited the city, some of the city leaders would leave their post and meet them while entering the city gates and then escort them to wherever that official was going to.  This would be understood by Paul’s readers.  This is how it will be at the end of this age, when Jesus comes.  We will go and meet him and escort Him, or at least return with Him to his destination, that being the earth. 


In verse 17 the Greek word “harpazo” is the word translated as “caught up” in this passage.  This word is also used in Acts 8 when Philip was caught up, or transported super-naturally from one place to another.  It is also used when Paul says that he was caught up into the third heaven.  This word basically means to “snatch away”.  The word implies a sudden and forceful snatching away”.  This will be a very dramatic event, one that comes suddenly and forcefully on the world.


This is where we get our ideas concerning the “rapture” of the church.  One thing we need to note here is that there is no hint of just when this catching up will take place. Paul will shed a little more light as he goes on.  Of course many doctrinal positions have been taken from these verses over the years concerning just when this event will take place.  As it stands right now in 2014, I lean towards a pre-tribulation rapture, although that historically has not been my thinking.   


Many Christians say we shouldn't think too much about the return of Jesus to earth.  Those who do so are too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good, or so they say.  That's not what Paul is saying in verse 18.  He tells these new believers that speaking to each other about the return of Jesus should be an encouraging thing.  We are supposed to encourage each other with talk about Jesus' return.

Previous Section - Chapter 3

Next Section - Chapter 5

Home Page