1 Thessalonians Chapter 4: Overcoming Sin, Raising of the Sleeping Saints, Christ’s Second Coming

Nov 19th, 2009 | By | Category: 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

1 Thessalonians Chapter 4: Overcoming Sin, Raising of the Sleeping Saints, Christ’s Second Coming

1 Thess. 4:1 Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.

1 Thess. 4:2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.

Paul stressed growth—he wanted the Thessalonians to “abound [increase] more and more.” They (and we, too) were not to be satisfied with the attainment of just a certain level of development.

Other translations properly begin this chapter with the word “Finally,” meaning to sum up what has been said in the first three chapters. These chapters were introductory about the Thessalonian church, the Apostle Paul’s desire to know of their spiritual welfare, the news he received through Timothy of their activities, etc. Now, after commending the Thessalonians for their zeal and work in the face of persecution, Paul began to warn them of certain dangers they were facing and of attainments and growth that were still needed.

In the short time that Paul was with them, he had given considerable instruction and “commandments,” telling how they “ought to walk and to please God.” The epistles to the Thessalonians were written only about a year after Paul had been there—a much shorter interim than with other epistles.

1 Thess. 4:3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:

God’s will for us is our sanctification. Usually we quote just this portion of the verse, but notice the context. Sanctification for the Thessalonians was not just separation to do God’s will, but separation in abstaining from fornication. The bottom line is that without holiness shall no man see the Lord. Being imperfect, we must fight and subordinate wrong desires with the goal of getting control, as far as possible, so that we will hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: … enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:21).

“Fornication” is passionate lust, inordinate desires of the flesh. The pursuit of happiness down through history, as well as today, has been the pursuit of inordinate desires. Even with all of our light, understanding, and education—Bibles, concordances, etc.—the flesh is one of our three greatest enemies, the world and the devil being the other two. The world and the flesh are often related, for example, pride, pomp, and wealth. It is true that history repeats itself in regard to the trials of the Christian, but what is apparent today is that education is meaningless for sanctification. The determining factor in sanctification is our will—whether we want to pursue sanctification wholeheartedly. Do we truly will to do God’s will? How sincere is our commitment?

“Fornication” is broader than just adultery. The United States is supposed to be a Christian nation, but 100 and 200 years ago society was more moral and people lived on a higher level.

Morals are going downhill today.

Comment: In ancient cities such as Ephesus and Pompeii, the way to the brothel was publicly and openly made manifest. Then, with the advent of Christianity and certainly during the period when Bible societies proliferated, sins were kept more private and secret, but now, in our day, sins are again flaunted openly.

Reply: Some are even bold enough to have Scripture studies on television and give perverted, distorted explanations, showing they are looking for ways to justify immorality. The Bible predicted that such conditions would prevail at the end of the age. What makes our day different is that in spite of the increase of knowledge, conditions are worse.

Comment: Sanctification means to be set apart for holy service, and the idea of servitude is that we have tied ourselves with Christ to be a servant of God. “Fornication” is an illicit union, whether along physical lines or in yielding to the world and its pleasures. Our union is with Christ, not with the world, the flesh, or the devil.

Reply: The history or derivation of “sanctification” is “two handfuls of incense.” Having our hands full of holy incense means we are wholly committed to serve the Lord to the best of our ability. When the high priest went into the Holy with a censer hanging from one wrist, a vessel containing blood suspended from the other wrist, and his hands full of incense, he had to be very careful not to spill the incense. His circumspectness pictures what we are trying to do, spiritually speaking, in the present life. Both the censer and the blood were set down on the Incense Altar in the Holy as the high priest withdrew his hands and then crumbled the incense over the censer with the live coals.

The Apostle Paul was addressing this epistle to a mostly Gentile Church in a city that was accustomed to pagan living and pagan worship. In connection with the worship of Roman gods and many Grecian ones too, fornication was an approved part of the religious services.

Revenue from the vestal virgins, a paid harlotry, went into the church coffers dedicated to a particular god and hence was a means of support. Neither this type of fornication nor other immoral practices done under the name of religion were considered sin. In fact, the daughters of many of the nobility took a year or more of service with these rituals and then returned to a normal life. Therefore, because the Thessalonians had a background of mixing religion and immorality, they needed special instruction to truly separate themselves from their former practices.

1 Thess. 4:4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;

1 Thess. 4:5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:

Each Christian should learn how to possess (master, control) his own body (“vessel”).

“Concupiscence” is passionate lust. This verse helps us to realize the focus of Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians. Of the many kinds of lust (for power, influence, gain, money, etc.), he was discussing immorality, which was a problem for them because of their background and training. They had no standard. When Paul arrived with the gospel message, they happily accepted Christ, but now they had to battle their background and training, which was a hard thing to do. In other words, their past practices made it difficult for them to live a Christian life, so Paul wanted them to see a clear-cut separation between the two and to keep that separation continually in mind.

Comment: Thessalonica and Ephesus were contemporary cities. Having been to Ephesus, we know pubic immorality was practiced there. Therefore, we can assume that such immorality was common throughout the empire with every major city having sexual pleasures available.

The Thessalonian church was composed of mostly Greeks, many women, and some Jews (Acts 17:1–4). Paul wanted the Jews to understand that they, too, were included in this admonition.

Because they had a better background under the Mosaic Law, if they began to deflect, it would be harder for them to return to moral practices. The instruction was not to live in lustful passion.

Comment: For verses 4 and 5, the Phillips translation reads, “God’s plan is to make you holy, and that entails first of all a clean cut with sexual immorality. Every one of you should learn to control his body, keeping it pure and treating it with respect, and never regarding it as an instrument for self-gratification, as do pagans with no knowledge of God.”

Reply: Inordinate appetite can occur in other areas as well—for example, food, clothing, and pride—but “concupiscence” gives the slant of the apostle’s advice here. He was speaking about passionate lust, passionate inordinate desire.

Comment: Paul was saying, “Pagan worship in temples with pagan gods and goddesses is the common practice, but now that you are Christians, your life should be different.”

1 Thess. 4:6 That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.

The thrust of this verse is not about money but about immoral sexual practices, which are Satan’s chief weapon. All down the age, lust has been a problem, in poor times as well as in more affluent times. No amount of education in itself will deliver one from such practices. We must pray for more of God’s Holy Spirit to combat this foe, for we are all born in sin and “shapen in iniquity” (Psa. 51:5).

“That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter.” For example, adultery, the switching of partners, was practiced back there. Not only with a married couple but also with those who are engaged or “keeping company,” it is wrong for another party to flirt and cause temptation. All of these examples are included in the term “fornication.”

“Because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.” When Paul’s sermons are seen and heard on tape in the Kingdom, how interesting they will be! Here he was reminding the Thessalonians to increase and abound in the advice previously given.

The Diaglott reads, “That none overstep the bounds and cheat his brother by the practice [of sexual immorality].” Phillips says, “You cannot break this rule without in some way cheating your fellow-men [consecrated or otherwise]. And you must remember that God will punish all who do offend in this matter, and we have warned you….”

The context of these verses pertains to physical lust, and not to a general warning against any kind of illicit union. “Concupiscence” limits the meaning.

1 Thess. 4:7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.

This verse harmonizes with verse 3 and again shows that the apostle was talking about morals: “This is the will of God [for you], even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication.”

In Indonesia, Malaysia, and countries east of Vietnam, these unclean practices were done until very recently in connection with religious services. Similarly, when the Israelites left Egypt in the Exodus and subsequently made a golden calf and accompanied it with music and revelry, they did not see the incongruity of mixing this behavior with religion, for such practices had been commonly done in Egypt. Paul was saying that God calls us to holiness (sanctification), not to the uncleanness and fornication that is practiced by heathen religions.

1 Thess. 4:8 He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.

Comment: This verse is strong. One who commits gross sin is really manifesting hatred for God.

The same principle can be stated the opposite way: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3). If we keep God’s commandments, we are manifesting love for Him.

Reply: There is a responsibility attached to despising God’s instruction.

Fornication should not be benevolently overlooked—unless, of course, repentance is manifested (see 1 Corinthians 5). Christians who commit fornication show by the very act that they despise God. One who despises God and His instruction in this manner should not be lovingly forgiven without evidence of repentance; otherwise, there will be a leavening effect all around.

In the final analysis, the epistles provide a history of the Church and its struggle. Fornication has been a part of the Church’s development, and it is a problem. While some in Thessalonica definitely benefited from Paul’s advice, many ignored his counsel. The same thing happened when Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He did all he could to get them to see his place in God’s arrangement as an apostle, but some rejected his reasoning. The humble ones, however, were helped to properly reason on the matter.

Part of verse 8 in Phillips reads, “It is not for nothing that the Spirit God gives us is called the Holy Spirit.” The underlying principle as to why God’s Spirit is called holy is that it is not given in vain. We are to avoid uncleanness, and if we reject this advice, we are rejecting (despising) God Himself!

1 Thess. 4:9 But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.

1 Thess. 4:10 And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more;

Phillips reads, “Next, as regards brotherly love, you don’t need any written instructions. God himself is teaching you to love each other, and you are already extending your love to all the Macedonians.”

Notice how the Apostle Paul mixed the positive with the negative. After warning the Thessalonians about the dangers and the problems, he then gave a commendation. He said in effect, “I do not have to write to you about loving one another, for you know what to do.

However, there is always room for improvement.” Not only were the Thessalonians showing brotherly love in their local ecclesia, but their influence was extending to Macedonia, a larger area of which Thessalonica and Philippi were a part.

Verses 9 and 10 refer back to 1 Thessalonians 1:8. The zeal of the Thessalonian brethren was an example to others. Even though they suffered persecution, they were very active in preaching the gospel. However, in spite of their zeal and its beneficial influence on brethren elsewhere, Paul had to warn them about possible dangers in going into other territories, as verses 11 and 12 bring out.

The remarkable thing about conversion is that if one who is known for debauchery becomes a convert, the change is startling. Others can see what God has done with His Holy Spirit, and of course the individual is aware of the power received, for the reformation could not have occurred in his (or her) own strength. Paul stated the principle: “God’s grace is sufficient for us, for His strength is made perfect in our weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9 paraphrase).

“But we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more.” Those who want to be members of the Little Flock, to live and reign with Christ, must be more than overcomers.

Thus there is always room for improvement. The Lord, who can read the heart, sees the daily efforts of those who are always trying to better their characters and diligently follow Scriptural advice and instruction. For such individuals, the chances of making their calling and election sure are greatly increased for becoming members of the rulership element. Proverbs 16:32 says, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” Conquering a city as a general requires much thought, reasoning, and effort, but the one who rules his spirit is greater than the most famous generals of history.

1 Thess. 4:11 And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;

1 Thess. 4:12 That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.

We are to be quiet and moderate in spirit, to mind our own business, and to work with our own hands. This counsel was given because some of the Thessalonians walked in a disorderly way, not supporting themselves and being busybodies; that is, they sponged on the brotherhood and minded other people’s business (2 Thess. 3:6–11). The Scriptures tell us, as a general rule, to owe no man anything (Rom. 13:8). Of course Paul was not referring to those who were infirm or incapable of working.

“Walk honestly toward them that are without, … that ye may have lack of nothing.”

Employees owe their employers an honest day’s work. For example, employees should not take advantage of lunch hours or coffee breaks by extending them beyond the authorized time. We should try to be industrious and put a little money aside—not an inordinate amount—for such things as sickness, emergencies, and helping someone else.

In the short time Paul was at Thessalonica, he could foresee three major dangers and/or temptations that were facing the brethren:

1. Fornication

2. Busybodying

3. Sponging (not working and expecting other brethren to support them indefinitely)

In spite of Paul’s sound advice, many fell along these lines.

Those who did not work went around to brethren who would shelter them, thereby getting all the latest gossip. Those who practiced this way of life lost sight of the gospel and what they should be doing. Therefore, not only the spongers but also the host who permitted the sponging needed correction. In other words, when the brethren went to other places, there was a temptation to overreach themselves. At first the visiting was pleasant, but then things could get too familiar and turn into a busybodying and/or sponging situation.

In doing the Lord’s work, we should not neglect to support ourselves and hope, instead, that the brethren will indefinitely provide food and shelter. This danger could even occur with colporteuring. Therefore, a time limitation should be set or an understanding reached in advance so that the visitor will not take advantage of the host.

In regard to being quiet and minding our own business, the caution was against the attitude that since we are all brothers and sisters and love each other so much and are all stewards of the Lord’s work, we should know each other’s business. The following clichés are used: “What is yours is the Lord’s, and what is mine is the Lord’s.” “We are all working together, so your home should be my home.” Such attitudes sound generous and benevolent, but they are really infringing on the rights of others. Generosity and hospitality should be spontaneous, not forced, for forced hospitality robs a person of the virtue of sacrifice. The principle of hospitality should be taught, but its application should be voluntary, that is, left up to the individual as far as possible. However, if we see that someone is going to do wrong or get into trouble, we should warn the individual—that is another matter.

Sometimes a sponging situation is very cleverly achieved. It is fine to help a brother in need, but the help should not become obligatory. Otherwise, sponging can become a way of life. For instance, a host may be agreeable to taking in a brother or a sister, and the individual is agreeable because of not having to work. Satan is busy pressing all the levers of the old man.

Comment: Some time ago a television news program showed a limousine pulling up and a person getting out to go down into the subway to beg. That mind-set is unbelievable.

Reply: Another method is to have a donation basket filled with bills so that a person feels like a heel putting in a quarter or a 50-cent piece.

We should work with our own hands so that we will not be dependent on others. This way we will not bring reproach on the truth either among the brethren or, especially, among the unconsecrated. In regard to activities in other areas (and the Thessalonians were zealously active elsewhere), brethren might be in a home where only one partner is consecrated. The unconsecrated member observes the actions of the consecrated very critically. It would cast an aspersion on the truth if a consecrated person sponged on a “mixed” home. Therefore, the consecrated should be very careful of their conduct when an unconsecrated person, near to the truth because of a consecrated husband or wife, is present. The lesson is not to sponge.

1 Thess. 4:13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.

Presumably this subject was introduced because some of the consecrated had died—and not through natural causes but through persecution because of standing up for their faith. Now Paul was comforting the brethren by saying, “Do not worry about them, for they fell asleep in Christ.”

In the past this text was sometimes misunderstood to mean that when we attend a funeral, we should not cry. But that is not what Paul was saying. His words were to “sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” The reason we cry is the distinction. We cry because we will miss the deceased party, not because of hopelessness. Today the atmosphere in a funeral parlor for the brotherhood, as well as for the world, is usually one of fellowship and visiting rather than sorrow. Neither extreme is proper. Being too serious gives the impression that there is no hope, but too much gaiety is also out of order. In other words, verse 13 is saying that we do not sorrow to the extent that those in the world sorrow, who feel they will never see the deceased loved one again.

Comment: Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus, and he is our perfect pattern.

1 Thess. 4:14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

Notice that God and Jesus are both mentioned in this verse. “Them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” Paul’s many visions gave him advance information and knowledge of things to come—things he could not utter. Nevertheless, what he saw influenced his choice of words and phrases. In verse 14, as well as elsewhere in his epistles, certain nuances seem to indicate that God Himself makes the decision with regard to anyone who goes into Second Death. Jesus is our Advocate, and no man can come unto God except through him (1 John 2:1).

Jesus is also our Counselor—he is made unto us wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30). However, we were begotten by God and through His Word. When the Father wishes to draw an individual, Jesus makes sure he is on hand as the instrument (as Instructor, High Priest, Captain, etc.) to bring about salvation in a gradual manner. 1 Corinthians 6:14 reads, “And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.” This verse indicates that God determines whether a person gets life or death. Of course there are different levels of life, but God makes the decision. God has not called us unto uncleanness, and “this is the will of God, even … [our] sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3,7).

What a marvelous favor God extends to us when He makes the call available! The principle of “unto you, and to your children” is sometimes the basis of the call. “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). For example, Paul mentioned Timothy’s mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5).

Thus God follows a certain pattern or line of faith in making the call available before He goes to those who are in complete darkness.

Comment: Jesus’ prayer in John 17:9 shows that the Father does the calling: “I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.”

“Them also which sleep in Jesus” refers to the consecrated, not to all mankind. While the Little Flock are raised first, the Great Company are included in this expression. Thus the Thessalonian brethren were not to be concerned about the dead from the standpoint of whether they were Little Flock or Great Company. On the other hand, verses 15–17 do not include the Great Company but are talking about only the Little Flock.

1 Thess. 4:15 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 shall not prevent them which are asleep.

The two words “coming” and “prevent” need clarifying as follows: “We which are alive and remain unto the presence [Greek parousia] of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep.”

The Second Presence is a period of time during which Jesus sits down in the Harvest as a Refiner of silver and gold and is on the shore drawing in the net, using angels to sort and separate the fish (Mal. 3:3; Matt. 13:47–50).

Paul was saying that there would come a time in history—a specific date in the future—when the dead in Christ, those who were sleeping in Jesus, would be changed to spirit life, but what about the newly consecrated who would need time to make their calling and election sure?

That future date would not interfere with Christians who were still in the flesh. All of the sleeping saints would be raised as a group, but those down here, on this side of the veil, would be given time. In other words, verse 15 is talking about those who would die after 1878 but before the feet members go off the earthly scene as a group.

Notice that Paul used the pronoun “we.” He included himself as being among those who would be “alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord,” but of course he was one of the sleeping saints when the date 1878 came. Paul’s terminology was a result, among other things, of his being caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2–4). Through visions and statements from the Lord, he was given a tremendous knowledge of events future from his day. Although he could not “utter” these things, his understanding influenced his choice of words.

Comment: Paul used the word “sleep” or “asleep” three times in this chapter to emphasize that death is a sleep until the time of the resurrection.

Paul introduced the subject matter of verses 13–15 not only because some of the consecrated had died but because the thought had become prevalent that the consecrated would live right into the Kingdom. Paul was trying to straighten out the misconception of the Thessalonians and also to set the order straight in regard to the consecrated being with Jesus. The sleeping saints would be with Christ ahead of those who were alive at his presence. Paul was assuring the Thessalonians that not only would those who died before Jesus’ return not miss out but they would be with Jesus first—they would receive their change prior to the ones who were alive and remaining. When some of the dedicated Christians died, the Thessalonians who had the wrong viewpoint wondered why they themselves were still alive, and they began to question their own relationship with the Lord.

1 Thess. 4:16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

1 Thess. 4:17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

The nominal systems interpret the “shout” as literal, as being an audible sound that coincides with Jesus’ sudden, literal, visible return to whisk away all Christians from the trouble to follow. Some view the shout with foreboding and some as good news, but the good news occurred in 1878 to the sleeping saints, not to Christians who were still on this side of the veil in the present life. For those alive down here in 1878, the words “first” and “remain” were very important. In other words, the living saints were not caught up together with the dead saints.

The nominal view is that when that date comes, the dead in Christ will be raised and those who are Christians down here will be caught up together with them at the same time, but verse 16 says that the dead in Christ will be raised first and the others remain for a period of time for development. We should notice the Apostle Paul’s use of the word “first,” for he used it very astutely in several places.

Comment: Down through the Gospel Age, the popular view has been that when Christians die, they instantly go to heaven, but that thought is immediately dispelled by verses 16 and 17. If every individual Christian went to heaven immediately upon death, these verses would be a discrepancy, for they are talking about a point in time when the Lord himself would descend and then the sleeping saints would arise.

Reply: Hence we see the importance of Bible study, not of the preacher.

Comment: Paul said to the church in Corinth, “Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,” showing that Christians down through the age slept in death, but that at the end of the age, circumstances would be different (1 Cor. 15:51).

Jesus descended from heaven (1) with a shout, (2) with the voice of the archangel, and (3) with the trump of God—three different terms used to signify messages. We will consider them one at a time.

The “shout” (Greek keleusma) is one of encouragement. (The same word is used when a coxswain at the stern of a boat in a race calls out numbers to determine the stroke and the rhythm of the rowers so that they will pull in unison.) The shout provided instruction, encouragement, and enlightenment when the dead in Christ were miraculously raised to spirit life. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he called with an authoritative voice. Therefore, we can say that the shout is an enthusiastic voice of command.

The Book of Revelation mentions the blowing of seven trumpets, or messages, and “the trump of God” would be the last one, the seventh trumpet, which was blown, spiritually speaking, in 1878. Verse 16 has become understandable chiefly through the ministry of the Pastor, the seventh messenger. Why is the seventh trumpet said to be “of God”? Of course God was responsible for the preceding six trumpets as well, but the seventh is especially identified with Him in that, eventually, it will be triumphant.

The “voice of the archangel” pertains to Jesus’ being Lord of the Harvest, the Chief Reaper. He is the “voice” in God’s stead. Even though the Pastor was “that servant,” Jesus is Lord of the Harvest—Jesus himself personally directs the work, the message. Just as Jesus was an archangel as the Logos, a mouthpiece of God, so he comes in his parousia as the representative of God, having the divine nature. Actually God is behind all three messages—the shout, the voice, and the trump. It is His message at the hands of His representative, Jesus. The Book of Revelation pictures Jesus as a servant, even though he has the divine nature.

The term “the Lord himself” means that Jesus himself is here in earth’s atmosphere during his Second Presence. He is not far off in God’s heaven operating by remote control. Moreover, the risen saints are with him in earth’s atmosphere, where he is instructing them. For the risen saints to go to heaven itself prior to the marriage would vitiate the spontaneity of the wedding and their being introduced into the presence of the Father. All of the Little Flock will have that initial privilege together at the time of their glorification.

“Then” in verse 17 has the thought of “afterwards.” Notice that the verse does not say, “Then we which are alive shall be caught up”—that would be a physical, visible rapture—but “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up.” The nominal Church teaches that when the dead are raised, the living Christians will be caught up almost simultaneously to meet the Lord in the air. No, verse 16 says that the dead in Christ (those of the Little Flock who died prior to 1878) shall rise first.

Note: Verses 16 and 17 do not treat those saints who die between 1878 and the end of the age when the feet members go as a group. This in-between period is covered by Revelation 14:13, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow [with] them.”

Additional Thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17

Verses 16 and 17 are such important Scriptures that we will examine them again, reviewing and expanding the explanation already given.

When we first read these two verses, the natural reaction is to say that the shout, the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God are literal because they are so dramatic. And that would be a correct conclusion if the Scriptures did not teach otherwise. Therefore, we must find a way to harmonize all Scriptures on this topic. The New Testament contains perhaps ten texts showing that the initial part of Jesus’ Second Advent is a secret presence.

Let us consider some other dramatic Scriptures that pertain to the Lord’s Second Coming. He is pictured as coming seated in multiple ways: on a white cloud, on a white horse, on the right hand of the power of God, and as a refiner of silver and gold (Mal. 3:3; Matt. 26:64; Rev. 14:14; 19:11). The question immediately arises: How can Jesus come once, as an arrival, in a multitude of ways? To do so would be impossible. Therefore, we know right away that the very variety of dramatic descriptions—whether literal or spiritual—indicates a period of time, for the activities cannot all occur at the same time. To state the matter another way, for Jesus to come in various ways would mean various comings.

To harmonize all of the Scriptures pertaining to the Second Advent, we must start with the premise that God knows what He is doing and what He is saying and that He does not contradict Himself. Therefore, we must view the subject in a cautious manner and not allow ourselves to be so impressionable that we just blabber words which do not make sense. The dramatic texts indicate that a period of time is involved with various activities. To be seated on a horse indicates that Jesus comes as a General, overcoming something—he will judge Babylon and tear down the system. To come seated on a white cloud with a sharp sickle in his hand means he is doing a Harvest work as the Chief Reaper (Rev. 14:14). To be seated on the right hand of the power of God means that he comes with dictatorial power and authority—with an iron rod (Rev. 2:27). He will brook no interference. His word will be law, and every knee will have to bow to him (Rom. 14:11).

On the other hand, some Scriptures show that Jesus comes secretly as a thief (1 Thess. 5:2; Rev. 3:3). Does a thief blow a trumpet to announce his coming? No! A thief comes stealthily, quietly, unobtrusively. He gets into the house unawares. In other words, Jesus’ initial coming and period of presence are not with outward observation or show. He said no one would be able to point him out geographically and say, “Lo, he is here” or “Lo, he is there” (Matt. 24:23,26). In fact, if any should say he is in the desert or in the secret chambers (in a seance, for example), we are to “believe it not.” In John 14:19 he said, “Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more.”

In Galatians 1:8 the Apostle Paul said, “But though we, or an angel from heaven [come down and], preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached … let him be accursed.” He was warning that if an angel came down from heaven and appeared as Christ, the appearance would be a deception. Jesus would not be literally seen or geographically located. And yet Revelation 1:7 says that “every eye shall see him.” On the surface these statements are contradictory, so they must be harmonized.

On the one hand, multiple Scriptures say Jesus comes at his Second Advent secretly, as a thief, quietly, unobtrusively. On the other hand, a number of texts are dramatic. To harmonize the two, one set has to be spiritual or symbolic, and the other more along the line of literal or figurative statements. The point is that Jesus’ presence is not known except by a few. He is a spirit being, and humans cannot see spirit beings unless the Lord wants them to. Satan is the god of this world, but where is he? We see his fruitage, his power, his character in the depravity of earth’s society and mankind, but we do not see him personally.

Comment: Several Scriptures about Jesus’ Second Coming are found in the Book of Revelation, which is a book of symbols. Also, the Apostle Paul wrote the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians to straighten out a misunderstanding on this subject.

Reply: Yes, we will come to that point. The subject of the manner of the Second Advent can be approached three different ways. Two require too much time. The approach alluded to in Second Thessalonians is the simplest and shortest approach, and the one we will pursue. The Thessalonian brethren understood that Paul’s words were not literal when he said, “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” Proof that their understanding was correct is in the next chapter: “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:1,2). This text was not to be understood in a visual sense but with the spiritual perception that Christ would manifest his presence at the Second Advent in various ways in a symbolic fashion. His presence would be known by the events that take place as signs. If Jesus’ presence were visible, signs would not be needed. Moreover, if the Lord tells us to watch and pray lest that day come upon us unawares and then he comes visually, what would be the point? Would we see him a second earlier than the world?—for if we saw him literally, so would the world. Then the instruction would lack validity because it would merely mean that Christians perceive Jesus’ Second Advent a few seconds earlier than when every eye sees him. Such reasoning does not make sense. Therefore, each Scripture and symbol on this subject must be considered separately and in its place. That way all of the texts can be beautifully and completely harmonized.

The text already alluded to in the second epistle is as follows: “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thess. 2:1–3). Paul took many verses to explain not only the mysterious “man of sin” but also events that must precede the Second Presence of Christ, not his second arrival. The nominal systems try to take all of these Scriptures and give them a fulfillment at the moment of Jesus’ arrival, whereas it is a period of presence.

The meaning of the phrase “at hand” in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 becomes very critical. The Greek word enistemi is used seven times in the New Testament. In five of the seven times, the word is correctly and incontrovertibly translated “present.” Of the two times the word is not so translated, one of them is here (“at hand”), and the other is in 2 Timothy 3:1 (“come”): “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come [i.e., be present].” In other words, enistemi means “to be present, to be here.” The five instances the word is translated “present” are as follows:

1. “Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come” (1 Cor. 3:22).

2. “I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress” (1 Cor. 7:26).

3. “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come” (Rom. 8:38).

4. “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world” (Gal. 1:4).

5. “Which was a figure for the time then present” (Heb. 9:9).

Believing in literal signs and a literal coming put such a cap on the minds of the translators of the King James that they used “at hand” (2 Thess. 2:2)—even though they had to know the Greek word means “present.” The translators were thinking of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 about the Lord’s coming with a shout, a voice, and a trump. Paul was saying, “I do not want you to be shaken in mind or troubled in spirit to think that the day of Christ is present.” In other words, the Day of Christ was not present. If the signs were literal, Paul would not have to tell us to wait for a man of sin. If Jesus were to come literally, in a visual sense, that would end all arguments. To the question “If he is present, where is he?” the reply would be, “Just look up in the sky.” But Paul did not use that line of reasoning. Instead he went into a long explanation in 2 Thessalonians 2 that the man of sin would come first but that the coming would not be in their day because of an obstruction. Therefore, the coming of the man of sin was down the corridor of time, and when it did occur, certain things would happen. And after that, the secret presence of Christ would come.

What “shout” did the Lord descend with in 1874? The Pastor took Matthew 24:45–47, Daniel 12:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:16, and at least one other text and gave them all a past application, whereas actually each text is referring to the same period of time but to a different event within that period. For instance, Daniel 12:1 says, “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people,” but Michael’s standing up is an event yet future.

However, Matthew 24:45–47 tells us that at the Second Advent, the Lord would use a servant to administer food to the household of faith, and that event has already happened down here at the end of the age. “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.” The point is that an end-time period is being discussed, and different events take place in that period of time. The Pastor taught that all of these events occurred in 1874 or 1878, but such an interpretation does not fit.

Back to the question about the “shout” (Greek keleusma) of encouragement: What happened in 1874 and 1878?

Comment: To help determine what the “shout” is, we should realize that the word “with” is an improper translation. The word should be “during.” Otherwise, the King James sounds as if Jesus is the one who shouts. Jesus comes during a “shout.”

Reply: Yes, he comes during a shout but with the voice of an archangel, so we have to address each point separately.

Daniel 12:12 says, “Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days.” The 1,335 days (years) began with 539 and ended in 1874, at which time a lot of remarkable things happened. Consider all of the inventions and laborsaving devices.

While the Bible societies started to publish the Word of God and make it accessible to the public after the French Revolution (in 1801, 1802, etc., depending on which country), they did not get their circulation going until around 1874. And of course the blessings of present truth became available shortly after 1874, an example being the truth about hell. The list goes on and on of things that helped mankind from the burden and drudgery of history. The automobile, too, began about that time. The inventions and technology that will be used in the Kingdom Age are being developed now. The Internet is an example. At present the Internet is overwhelming because of the volume of information, but in the Kingdom, the truth will be available through that means. For instance, when someone speaks in Jerusalem, the whole world will be able to tune in on the Internet.

The Thessalonians knew that Jesus’ return and presence would be invisible. The blessing is that when he came in 1874, things began to change in the earth with many, many improvements, which are collectively referred to as “a shout.”

Now let us consider the seventh trump. Of the seven trumpets, the last was called, in a special sense, “the trump of God” because during that trump many events take place. The seventh trumpet actually blows for a thousand years. At first only the Lord’s people are aware of the connection between the events and the Lord’s presence, but it will soon be manifested to all.

Comment: 1 Corinthians 15:52 ties in the last (or seventh) trump with the end time. “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

Reply: Yes, that verse is related, but the critical part is that the dead in Christ shall be raised first, and then follows a period of time. “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:16,17). The churches erroneously teach that both events happen simultaneously—that the dead in Christ in the grave are raised first and a second or two later the living are caught up. Revelation 14:13 shows that after the initial raising of the dead in Christ, individual faithful Christians who die in the interim will receive an instantaneous change. “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.” Then, at the very end of the age, when the time comes for the Church to be complete, a group will go in the invisible spiritual rapture. A time period is involved. The order is (1) the saints in the grave were raised in 1878, the beginning of the Harvest; (2) down through the Harvest, individual saints have been receiving their change as they die; and (3) a group of feet members will go at the end of the age, as shown by the John the Baptist and Elijah pictures.

Comment: In verse 17, the word “together” means “at the same time” and “to the same place” in regard to the feet members at the end of the age.

Reply: Even though, technically speaking, the last members do go in an instant, as Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 15:52, the main point in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is that the dead in Christ will be raised invisibly to earth’s atmosphere where our present returned Lord is.

Comment: That reasoning fits so beautifully with Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:38 that the Lord gives the soul a body as it pleases Him. “God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.” Then Paul talked about spirit bodies and earthly bodies. For those who are faithful to their covenant of sacrifice, a spirit body is given.

The “shout” of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 is a shout of encouragement. Newspapers of the past contained such words in their titles as “clarion,” “herald,” “trumpet.” A “herald” implies horns, or trumpets. In other words, a newspaper is a shout, a declaration; the news is likened to a trumpet, a clarion. Therefore, present truth was part of the news of that day. The good news was that the gospel message was clarified at the beginning of the Harvest, but even in the world, there were blessings: inventions, laborsaving devices, unions (initially they served a purpose), etc.

When the feet members are caught up to meet Jesus in the air, the entire Church will go with their Lord, as a group, to meet the Father. When the dead in Christ are raised, they see Jesus first, and he says to them, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: … enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:21). When the feet members are raised from death as a group in the near future, there will be some kind of ceremony during which they will all be told, “Well done, good and faithful servants [plural].” Then each of the feet members will be taken aside personally for a private conversation with Jesus. And who will introduce the entire Church to the Father? Jesus. He will be proud to do this. It will be his joy and his privilege to introduce the Church to his Father. Jesus will also introduce the Church to the angels. After that will come the marriage of the Lamb. The marriage supper follows, and then comes the reign.

1 Thess. 4:18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

The Thessalonians were not supposed to understand verses 16 and 17 in depth. When Paul said, “Wherefore comfort one another with these words,” he was telling them that the dead in Christ would not lose out, for they would have a resurrection.

For verse 18 to make sense and to truly be of comfort, verses 16 and 17 would have to be encouragement and good news. In other words, the “shout” is not one of destruction (it is not the fall of Babylon, etc.). Rather, the setting is good news that covers a period of time, starting with Christ’s presence and the dead in Christ who were raised in 1878, continuing with the living in Christ who die in the interim, and including, finally, the last group picture of the feet members.

Comment: Verses 1 and 2 of the next chapter confirm the fact that the Thessalonians understood Jesus’ initial presence to be thief-like and secret.

Reply: The Apostle Paul must have given many discourses in the short time he was with the Thessalonians in order for them to know “perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2).

In summary, this fourth chapter is using figurative expressions about the manner of our Lord’s Second Advent. However, as we will see in the next chapter, the Thessalonians misunderstood and thought Paul was hinting that the Lord had already returned as a thief. They did not misunderstand verses 16 and 17 of this chapter, but they misunderstood what Paul was saying in 1 Thessalonians 5:4, “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.”

Comment: Romans 8:17 reads, “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together [as a group].” In Strong’s Concordance, the word “together” means “to exalt to dignity in company.”

Reply: Yes, the glory phase will occur with the introduction to the Father.

1998 and 1981 studies

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