Paul has already stated that he desired to fill in what was “lacking in their faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:1). I believe that this following section on the Final Return of Jesus is Paul doing just that. The brethren are “ignorant” and Paul wants to inform them.
Although we are not ignorant (for the most part) of the Return of Jesus in the same way they are, there is still much ignorance on the subject. Much of this ignorance comes from speculative teaching. This will be dealt with in later posts. Here Paul is concerned with what happens to those who die.
The early Christians understood that the Resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit ushered in the Last Days (Acts 2:17). The expectation of Jesus returning was a key part of apostolic teaching. However, this was misunderstood by some to believe that Jesus would, for sure, return during their lifetime.*
This led them to wonder what happens to those who die before his return. If you died, would you stay in the grave and not participate in joining with Jesus? Paul wants to clear up this concern.
Basically, Paul either informs, or possibly is reminding them that those who die will be raised from the grave. Not only will those alive at the Return of Jesus participate in this great day, but those who have gone before will as well. In fact they will be raised from the grave before the rest of the saints join Jesus in the air.
Paul’s brief chronology (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17):
- Jesus will descend with a great cry, the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God
- The dead in Christ will rise
- The ones still alive will join the gathering
- We will always be with the Lord
Notice that the reason Paul gives this information is not that they have more knowledge, but to encourage them. He does not want them to have an uncontrollable grief (4:13). Paul instead wants the Second Coming to bring encouragement (4:18).
This text is normally applied to funerals to aid the grieving family. It reminds them that they will see their Christian loved one again. However, I think it also provides us with motivation to keep on pursuing the Christian life. To excel in our relationship with God, because whether we die or we remain, the end result is being with the Lord forever.
What do you think about this passage?
*Now it is important to live like Jesus could potentially return during your lifetime.
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