The Lord's coming. 4:13-18
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul the apostle speaks of his founding ministry and his continuing relationship with the church. In Chapter 4 he gives a number of exhortations on Christian living, particularly sexual purity, brotherly love and industriousness. He then, in v13-18, deals with the parousia, ie., Christ's second coming.
v13. On the issue of the second coming and the place of those who have already died, Paul does not want his readers caught up in the hopelessness of the pagan world. Some pagan philosophers touched on the idea of immortality, but most taught that there was no life beyond the grave. Yet, this is not the perspective of the Christian. In fact, it is best to speak of the dead as if they are but asleep, waiting to be awakened at the last day.
v14. For Paul, this resurrection of the dead is no vain hope. Jesus died and rose again and so those who have believed in him, but have died, will also come alive. Their immortality is dependent on a fact of history - the resurrection of Jesus.
v15. What is it about the second coming of Christ that concerns the Thessalonians? Are they worried that those who are alive at the time of Christ's return will have precedence over those who are raised from the grave? Whatever the issue, Paul counters with a direct word from Jesus: the living will not have precedence over the dead in the day of Christ's coming.
v16. Paul now goes on to describe the second coming of Christ. There is very little in the New Testament describing the coming of Christ and this particular verse gives us the fullest description we have of this event. Paul says four things of the "coming":
i] The one who comes is Jesus - "the Lord himself".
ii] He comes in descent - he comes down. This is a coming in the same manner as he left, Acts 1:11. So, it is a coming in a cloud, which coming images the coming of God onto Mount Sinai.
iii] The coming is with great majesty. There are three shouts:
The "loud command". This is most likely the shout of Jesus. At his coming he will awaken the sleeping with a shout, John 5:28.
The "voice of the archangel". Possibly the shout of Michael, but then it could be any archangel, or a shout even like an archangel.
The "trumpet call of God", 1Cor.15:52.
iv] The dead in Christ will rise first.
v17. Both deceased and living believers will be "caught up" and together greet the Lord.
v18. Having described Christ's coming and the privileged place of those who have already died, Paul directs his readers to encourage each other with his teaching. There can be no sadness for those who have died in Christ for their share in eternity is assured.
A passing shadow
When it comes to the second coming of Christ confusion reigns. We have dispensations of Christ's thousand-year reign, a number of comings, resurrections, dates and signs of the times, and in particular, we have departed believers flapping around in heaven waiting for us to join them. Then there is the rapture. I well remember a little sticker on the dashboard of a friend's car: "Beware, the driver of this car could disappear at any time!" Indeed, confusion reigns.
Paul wrote this little section in his letter so that his readers would not be ignorant of the state of those who have died. He particularly didn't what his readers to loose hope for the "dead in Christ." What then does this passage tell us of the great day of Christ's return, his parousia, his coming, his appearing?
i] The dead in Christ are asleep ("in" = through Christ) rather than just dead. This guarantees their part in the great day, v13.
ii] The security of the dead in Christ rests on the death and resurrection of Christ on our behalf, v14.
iii] The dead in Christ will participate in the day of Christ's coming, v14 (Their resurrection is assumed in this verse. "Bring" = bring from the grave).
iv] Those who are alive at the coming of Christ do not have precedence over those who are dead, v15. We all share in the parousia.
v] The coming of Jesus will be like the coming of God to Mount Sinai, v16 (He comes down in the clouds and we go up). It will be a noisy coming. There will be the shout of the Lord, the shout of the archangel and the shout of the trumpet.
vi] On this day the dead in Christ will rise first, v17.
vii] The dead in Christ and those who are alive at his coming, will all meet together with Christ in the heavenly glory, and so be with him forever, v17 (Raptured = "caught up").
1. Discuss the different views on the state of deceased believers between the time of their death and the second coming of Jesus.
2. It is generally believed that the spirit of a deceased believer goes to be with Jesus after their death. How can this view fit in with a resurrection of the dead at the time of Jesus return?
3. Discuss the 7 elements of Christ's return given above.
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