[You are encouraged to read the original post at Dr Shogren’s blog.]
Before we begin…
Note: this post is the eleventh in a series that I gave at San Pedro Christian Fellowship, a small congregation of English-speaking believers in Costa Rica. Those who live in the Valle Central are more than welcome to visit us, Sundays at 10:30am. This expository series is based on my volume in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament; readers might want to acquire that commentary if they wish to see the exegetical work behind these talks – warning: it’s written at a technical level. These posts in 1 Thess are Sermon Notes, not polished messages.
1 Thess 4:13-18
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Paul has said, You know how to love one another; you know how to live in purity; you know how to work and have a good reputation before “outsiders” – you are all set, just keep on doing what it is you do
Now – Timothy has gone and returned, and he says, “there is only one (doctrinal) problem, one thing where they are confused”.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death
4:13 – “do not want you to be ignorant” in NKJV, but not so abrupt; better “to be uninformed”.
Now, we know they that knew about the Second Coming of Jesus, 1:10 – you “wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” But apparently, because of the harsh persecution, and maybe some Christians were dying, they just weren’t able to connect the dots.
Eschatology = the doctrine of the last things
About those who have “fallen asleep” (NKJV); or “those who sleep in death” (NIV), or just “have died”.
There is a doctrine called “soul-sleep” that teaches that when we die, we are just dead and unconscious. I would not call it a heresy, but it contradicts what the Bible says in other places. Luke 23:42 – today you will be with me in Paradise; 2 Cor 5:8 – to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord
Rather, it refers to how the body looks when you did – and the word “cemetery” comes from the Greek word that means “sleeping place” or “dormitory”
The Thessalonians would have heard it as “those who have died”
“so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”
Part of the Greek culture was to grieve over loved ones who died.
Why should Christians keep it together emotionally? Because of “hope”. So, you can grieve your losses, but not hopelessly.
14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
Paul’s letters – he doesn’t just say things which come to mind; he answers questions, or he solves problems
Same thing in 1 Cor 15:12: “If it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?”
Here in 1 Thess – Jesus rose (so we believe) from the dead; in the same way God will resurrect the saints.
What does resurrection mean? We need to look at what Christ experienced: he was physically dead; and then his body was transformed. [what are some characteristics of his body?]
And he is reigning as king to destroy God’s enemies:
1 Cor 1525 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
How do you go about destroying death? By undoing it.
In the gospel tradition, the Second Coming involves the gathering of people from around the world:
“And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matt 24:31).
the eschatological resurrection: God in the future will give eternal life, transforming the human body into an undying form.
15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.
The fresh information: is not the fact that Jesus will return, but that at the Second Coming dead believers will ascend first, to be followed by living Christians. That’s what the Thessalonians needed to know: Christians were dying, but would they miss out on the second coming? NO!
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
There is a parallel in Joel 3:16 – “The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the heavens will tremble.”
The “trumpet of God” at the resurrection is clearly a parallel to 1 Cor 15:52: “… at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable.” And Jesus taught: “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call” (Matt 24:31).
Jesus ascended to heaven with the promise that he will “return”
Acts 1:9-11 – 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
and Paul’s later statement that
“we eagerly wait a Savior from [heaven], the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20).
Christians need to see that God isn’t going to throw away this planet, but will renew or “redeem” it. He made Adam and Eve and showed that he is interested in a perfect creation. When Christ comes back, that is what he will give us.
16 and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
The people of Christ will go forth to meet him at his parousia in two stages: first, the resurrected dead; “next,” the living believers. Paul now speaks of this second group. He repeats the phrase from 4:15, “we who still live and remain” as a rubric for living Christians. They will be “taken up together with those who were dead … in the air.”
Paul uses the future passive of the verb “taken” (from ἁρπάζω). The Latin Vulgate translates the verb as rapiemur, a form of rapio; from this is derived the English word “rapture
Paul does not divulge here the truth of 1 Cor 15:51, the “mystery” that “we will not all sleep [die], but we will all be changed”; that is, the living believers too must undergo a transformation. Paul calls it a “mystery,” perhaps another new revelation.
17 And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
But he has made the point the Thessalonians needed to hear: we, that is, the living and the dead, will be together with Jesus, and living Christians may be confident that they will see their deceased friends in his presence.
See also 5:11: “so then, encourage and build up one another.” “With these words” are not simply words of emotional support, but words of truth about Jesus’ coming
Let’s talk about the resurrection:
Jewish view of death: the Sadducees did not believe in the hereafter or the resurrection, once you’re dead, you’re dead
But most Jews did believe: An inscription from Rome (second or third century AD) over the grave of a twenty-year-old Jewish wife, not a Christian, which reflects a Jewish of the resurrection:
Here lies Regina.…She will live again, return to the light again, for she can hope that she will rise to the life promised, as is our true faith, to the worthy and to the pious, in that she has deserved to possess an abode in the hallowed land.…Your hope of the future is assured. In this your sorrowing husband seeks his comfort.
Thus, it doesn’t speak of the Second Coming of Jesus, but in general terms, of the future resurrection. Now: A few of the new Christians in Thessalonica came from that Jewish background, but most did not.
The Greek view of death varied widely.
Some Greeks believed in reincarnation: the soul goes into a new body (perhaps human, perhaps animal); that’s what Hinduism teaches
Others Greeks believed that death was the end of existence. Some believed you were absorbed into the Universe, but that you wouldn’t be aware, your individual personality would melt away
But most Greeks had “no hope” at all. They thought they would spend forever in a gloomy underworld as “shadows”, without hope or joy forever.
Tombstones have been recovered from all over the empire, and they reveal something of the popular mindset.
This meant that Paul had his work cut out for him as he taught about life and death to a Greek audience – because they didn’t believe in the idea of resurrection (Acts 17 –
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” 32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”
Paul went directly against the grain, preaching the resurrection of Jesus and also the future resurrection of all humanity: “I have the same hope in God these [Pharisees] themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Acts 24:15).
Since the Thessalonians seem to have missed out on the implications of the resurrection doctrine, Paul writes to fill in this gap in their understanding. They should not grieve as others do
If you look at books or websites about the Second Coming, it’s an absolute hodge-podge, of some good information, and a lot of junk. One man gives an incredibly detailed study that “proved” that Prince Charles of England is the antichrist, and that no other possible candidate is possible.
Where are the people who are writing about the resurrection, and how we might comfort each other?
The Christian life: people are obsessed with medical reports, health advice, and new diets. Western culture is also obsessed with “how to stay young”, live longer – but the longer we live, the more problems we have – such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s, cancer.
The gospel does not promise some final release from the physical body but its perfect transformation. Take the woman with arthritic fingers: in Christ, she can look forward to, not reincarnation (as an animal, or if she is lucky, another human being who in turn is doomed to growing old again), nor the laying aside of the body, to live as a disembodied spirit, nor being extinguished. Rather, she can experience the transformation of that very hand so that the joints work precisely as her Maker intended, and in ways beyond our current reckonings.
This expository series is based on my volume in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament; readers might want to acquire that commentary if they wish to see the exegetical work behind these talks – warning: it’s written at a technical level.
Visit Dr Shogren’s blog to comment on his article.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/cmc-gary-shogren-sm.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Copyright Gary Shogren.
Gary has a PhD in New Testament Exegesis. He serves as Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica[/author_info] [/author]