2016-09-30 - 1 Thessalonians Study
Letters to a Young Church ~ The Reality of the Return v.13-18
The Informed Believer
Paul had been spending most of his time in this letter praising the Thessalonians for their growth as believers, and for the quality of both their love for each other and their witness to the world around them. He had encouraged them to work on some areas of apparent weaknesses, and to grow in areas of strength. Now he was going to deal with an issue of great concern to them.
It is important to note, while this section is clearly prophetic in nature, the thrust of the letter is not prophetic but instructional. The reason Paul discusses the issue of Christ's return is first, because it was an area of deep concern as it related to loved ones who had died. Second, an understanding would therefore be a basis for comfort and hope to these believers, as they were coming to face the difficult reality of being a Christian in an fallen world.
In spite of all I have just stated, we do obtain some prophetic information from these verses. As we already noted, the Thessalonians had come to the realization that the current persecution they were facing was simply a precursor to ongoing difficulties. While they were facing these things in an appropriate manner,
“ … Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love …” (1 Thessalonians 3:6),
… they still needed to be comforted and encouraged by the reminder of Christ's care. The specific area of concern they have expressed related to the fate of those who had already died prior to Christ’s return.
Can you imagine the reality of Christ's return having any practical effect on our day-to-day lives? While we accept the truth of this teaching as an intellectual exercise, it rarely seems to have any influence on how we live. For the Thessalonians, this was not only a fact, but an expectation with implications.
Apparently Paul's group had talked, at the time of their initial contact, of Christ’s return for His church. This had created some confusion in the minds of the Thessalonian believers. It seems, from Paul's words, there was worry over the fate of those that had already died. The question was: What would be their fate of those, when Christ came to remove the Church to Heaven? Paul said he didn't want them to be ignorant about this; therefore it is safe to assume they were. They must have been expecting Christ to return at any moment. And this expectation was the basis of their worry.
Paul didn’t want these individuals to grieve over this question, for those who have already died. The unbeliever has no true hope regarding the fate of his loved ones, but the believer has hope for those he knows who have claimed the name of Christ.
While we grieve over the loss of a brethren, we can nevertheless rejoice that s/he is home with the Lord. We know s/he is in a better place, and we will see her again. We do not have to fear death, the great enemy.
“For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).
What is the basis of our confidence? Paul says it is the fact of Christ’s resurrection. Just as Christ rose from the dead, so He will resurrect those believers who die prior to His return. In fact, Paul tell us that these believers will return with Christ at His coming.
Paul says, “Don’t worry!” In fact, because of the very nature of this teaching, having no precedent in history, he makes it clear his words are God's words. Those who have already died will be with the Lord before those who are still alive at His coming. The Thessalonians don't have to fear that those who have already died will miss out on the “Rapture.”
We need to try to understand where Paul puts himself in relation to the “Rapture’” for he does say “we who are alive.” (v.15). Robert Thomas suggests …
“More feasible is the solution that sees Paul setting an example of expectancy for the church of all ages (Lightfoot,p.67). Proper Christian anticipation includes the imminent return of Christ. His coming will be sudden and unexpected, an any-moment possibility.” 1
There are three signs that accompany the Lord's return. First will occur a shout from Christ Himself. Actually the Greek isn't shout but, with a word of command, or a loud command, the command that comes from one with authority. Christ is commanding, in power, the gathering up of the church.
Next is heard the voice of an archangel. Some assume this is Michael, since he is the only one we find named. (see Jude 9) That is not really important; what is important is, Christ comes in His power and glory.
Last is heard a sound of a trumpet, God's announcement of His taking action.
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51–52).
The next incident is the resurrection of the dead. Paul notes this is what happens first, that is the first part of the resurrection. Actually there are three parts to the resurrection of the dead:
This first is the resurrection of the righteous dead. The second can be considered the changing of the living righteous, and the last to occur, at a later time, is the resurrection of the unrighteous to face the Great White Throne judgment.
After the resurrection of the dead comes the “Rapture” of the living. Paul says the living will be taken up into the air to join Christ and those believers who had already died. This last is the issue of importance to the Thessalonians. Those who died would not miss the return of Christ. In fact they will be with Him and will return with Him. Those who are left behind will not only have the joy of being taken up to the Lord, but will be restored to the fellowship of their loved ones who have gone on to the Lord ahead of them.
To be continued.
All verses are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.