1 Thessalonians 4:1
Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.
(a) We request and exhort you. Paul did not lay down the law like a rabbi in the synagogue, but he mentored people like a wise and gentle father (1 Th. 2:11).
(b) How you ought to walk. The Gentile believers in Thessalonica were brand new Christians. They had little experience walking in the new way of the spirit, and a lifetime of experience of living in an idol-worshipping society. Their faith, hope and love were commendable (1 Th. 1:3). But their understanding of what it meant to be a Christian was still something they had to figure out.
(c) You excel still more. Paul’s language is that of an encouraging parent teaching their child to walk.
1 Thessalonians 4:2
For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
Commandments. It seems inconsistent for Paul to give requests and exhortations in the previous verse then to start preaching commandments in this one. He’s not. The original word for commandments (paraggelia) is derived from a word that means “to transmit a message” (Strongs). He is referring to instructions or charges he has given by the authority of the Lord Jesus. If the Thessalonians had forgotten those instructions, Paul is about to remind them.
1 Thessalonians 4:3
For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;
(a) The will of God. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified in your conduct, not because your salvation hinges on it, but your wellbeing does. Your Father wants you to prosper in all things and not destroy yourself with sin.
(b) Your sanctification. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified in your conduct, not because your salvation or sanctification depend on it, but your wellbeing does. Sin is destructive.
Those who teach progressive sanctification read these words as a recipe for DIY holiness: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.” The implication is that we can sanctify ourselves through our conduct. Such a message is an insult to Jesus who is our sanctification from God (1 Cor. 1:30).
When you were born again and put into Christ, you became as holy and righteous as he is (Acts 26:18, 1 Cor. 6:11). “If the root is holy, so are the branches” (Rom. 11:16). You were sanctified by God the Father (Jude 1:1), God the Son (Heb. 2:11, 10:10, 13:12), and God the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:16, 2 Th. 2:13, 1 Pet. 1:2). You are well and truly sanctified!
Holiness is not something to strive for; it’s something to work out. Think of a toddler learning to walk. The toddler has within them everything they need to walk, run, and jump. They just need to work it out. That’s how it is with holiness. We are whole—God has given us everything we need in Jesus—we just need to learn how to live whole. It’s a new and wonderful experience for us. We have not been this way before but with our eyes fixed on Jesus the Holy One, we cannot fail.
(c) Abstain from sexual immorality. Sexual immorality may have been considered normal in parts of the pagan world, but it was a path to disease, death and the breakdown of families.
1 Thessalonians 4:4-5
that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God;
(a) The Gentiles. Unlike the Jews, the Gentiles did not have a long history of worshipping God. Typically they were idol-worshippers (1 Th. 1:9).
(b) Who do not know God. In other words, “Since you know who your Father is don’t act like someone who doesn’t.”
Further reading: “If we’re holy, why does God call us to be holy?”
1 Thessalonians 4:6
and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.
(a) Defraud his brother. Don’t take advantage of others.
(b) The Lord is the avenger. God is not a punisher, as some translations have it, but an avenger who makes things right. See entry for Rom. 12:19.
1 Thessalonians 4:7-8
For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.
(a) In sanctification. Paul reinforces his earlier point that sanctification is God’s will (1 Th. 4:3). Your heavenly Father does not want you to destroy yourself and others by sowing to the flesh.
(b) He who rejects this. “These aren’t my words; they are from your Father. Reject them and you are rejecting him.” He is not saying, “Sin and God will stop loving you or cut you off.” He is saying that sin is contrary to your Father’s good will for you.
Some say grace gives us a license to sin (Rom. 6:1). This scripture refutes such a lie. Sin is dangerous, like juggling hand grenades. It has no place in the abundant life that Christ gives us.
1 Thessalonians 4:13
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.
(a) Those who are asleep refers to those who have died. Some of the Thessalonians had passed away and Timothy may have brought this sad news to Paul.
(b) Grieve. It’s normal to grieve when a loved one dies, but our grief is not the bitter grief of those who have no hope of the resurrection. We can take comfort that we will see our loved ones again.
1 Thessalonians 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.
(a) Believe. The chief takeaway of the new covenant is to believe in the Risen Lord (see entry for John 3:16).
(b) Jesus died and rose again. The resurrection was a central theme of Paul’s message. See entry for 1 Cor. 15:3.
(c) Those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. The same God who raised Jesus from the dead will resurrect those who have died in Christ.
1 Thessalonians 4:15
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
(a) We say to you by the word of the Lord. “What I am saying, I learned from the Lord.” Paul got this revelation direct from the Holy Spirit.
(b) Coming. The original word (parousia) comes from an oriental word used to describe the royal visit of a king, or emperor. See entry for Matt. 24:37.
(c) Will not precede those who have fallen asleep. We who are alive when Christ returns will not rise before those who have died. In fact, they will be raised first (see next verse).
1 Thessalonians 4:16
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 will rise first.
(a) The Lord Himself will descend from heaven. Jesus is the Son from heaven (1 Th. 1:10). His first arrival to earth was a humble birth in a one-horse town. In contrast, his final return will be a glorious and loud procession visible to all (Matt. 24:27). If history is a play, the final scene is where the Author and Hero of the story steps onto the stage to vanquish his foes. Jesus’ return is the climax of history.
(b) Shout. The word for shout implies a call or summons. It’s a shout to raise the dead.
(c) The dead in Christ will rise first. These words give hope to those mourning the loss of loved ones. “For those who sleep in death will rise to new life” (1 Th. 4:13).
1 Thessalonians 4:17
Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
(a) Caught up together. If the dead are resurrected, the living are raptured. Although the word rapture doesn’t appear in our English Bibles, it’s derived from a word that appears in the Latin Bible. Paul didn’t write in Latin, but in Greek, and the word he used (harpazō) means to seize or snatch away. To be raptured is to be gathered or caught up (2 Th. 2:1). Think of Philip on the desert road. One moment he was baptizing the Ethiopian; the next he was snatched away by the Spirit (Acts 8:39). It’s the same word here. The rapture or gathering of the church will be sudden and disruptive.
(b) We shall always be with the Lord. One day Jesus will return to earth to dwell with us forever.
The earth is God’s gift to humanity (Ps. 115:16) and God’s gifts are good. Although our planet has been broken and marred by sin, God has a plan. He’s not moving us out; he’s moving in. He’s not sending us to heaven; he’s bringing heaven to earth (Rev. 21:3-4).
Further reading: “What about the rapture?”
1 Thessalonians 4:18
Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Comfort one another. Many of us have buried children, parents, or spouses. Families have been torn apart by death. But when Christ returns death itself will be defeated, and we shall be with the Lord forever.
The final coming of the Great King is not something to fear but something to eagerly await (Php. 3:20). All our lives up until then will seem like a waking dream compared to the life we will share with him in eternity.
Further reading: “Six awesome things that will happen when Christ returns”
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- 1 Thessalonians 4:1
- 1 Thessalonians 4:2
- 1 Thessalonians 4:3
- 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5
- 1 Thessalonians 4:6
- 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13
- 1 Thessalonians 4:14
- 1 Thessalonians 4:15
- 1 Thessalonians 4:16
- 1 Thessalonians 4:17
- 1 Thessalonians 4:18