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Jamieson, Fausset & Brown :: Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4

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The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians

Commentary by A. R. FAUSSET

CHAPTER 4

1Th 4:1-18. EXHORTATIONS TO CHASTITY; BROTHERLY LOVE; QUIET INDUSTRY; ABSTINENCE FROM UNDUE SORROW FOR DEPARTED FRIENDS, FOR AT CHRIST'S COMING ALL HIS SAINTS SHALL BE GLORIFIED.

      1. Furthermore--Greek, "As to what remains." Generally used towards the close of his Epistles ( Eph 6:10 Phl 4:8 ).
      then--with a view to the love and holiness ( 1Th 3:12, 13 ) which we have just prayed for in your behalf, we now give you exhortation.
      beseech--"ask" as if it were a personal favor.
      by, &c.--rather as Greek, "IN the Lord Jesus"; in communion with the Lord Jesus, as Christian ministers dealing with Christian people [EDMUNDS].
      as ye. . . received--when we were with you ( 1Th 2:13 ).
      how--Greek, the "how," that is, the manner.
      walk and. . . please God--that is, "and so please God," namely, by your walk; in contrast to the Jews who "please not God" ( 1Th 2:15 ). The oldest manuscripts add a clause here, "even as also ye do walk" (compare 1Th 4:10 5:11 ). These words, which he was able to say of them with truth, conciliate a favorable hearing for the precepts which follow. Also the expression, "abound more and more," implies that there had gone before a recognition of their already in some measure walking so.

      2. by the Lord Jesus--by His authority and direction, not by our own. He uses the strong term, "commandments," in writing to this Church not long founded, knowing that they would take it in a right spirit, and feeling it desirable that they should understand he spake with divine authority. He seldom uses the term in writing subsequently, when his authority was established, to other churches. 1Cr 7:10 11:17 and 1Ti 1:5 ( 1Th 4:18, where the subject accounts for the strong expression) are the exceptions. "The Lord" marks His paramount authority, requiring implicit obedience.

      3. For--enforcing the assertion that his "commandments" were "by (the authority of) the Lord Jesus" ( 1Th 4:2 ). Since "this is the will of God," let it be your will also.
      fornication--not regarded as a sin at all among the heathen, and so needing the more to be denounced ( Act 15:20 ).

      4. know--by moral self-control.
      how to possess his vessel--rather as Greek, "how to acquire (get for himself) his own vessel," that is, that each should have his own wife so as to avoid fornication ( 1Th 4:3 1Cr 7:2 ). The emphatical position of "his own" in the Greek, and the use of "vessel" for wife, in 1Pe 3:7, and in common Jewish phraseology, and the correct translation "acquire," all justify this rendering.
      in sanctification-- ( Rom 6:19 1Cr 6:15, 18 ). Thus, "his own" stands in opposition to dishonoring his brother by lusting after his wife ( 1Th 4:6 ).
      honour-- ( Hbr 13:4 ) contrasted with "dishonor their own bodies" ( Rom 1:24 ).

      5. in the lust--Greek, "passion"; which implies that such a one is unconsciously the passive slave of lust.
      which know not God--and so know no better. Ignorance of true religion is the parent of unchastity ( Eph 4:18, 19 ). A people's morals are like the objects of their worship ( Deu 7:26 Psa 115:8 Rom 1:23, 24 ).

      6. go beyond--transgress the bounds of rectitude in respect to his "brother."
      defraud--"overreach" [ALFORD]; "take advantage of" [EDMUNDS].
      in any matter--rather as Greek, "in the matter"; a decorous expression for the matter now in question; the conjugal honor of his neighbor as a husband, 1Th 4:4; 1Th 4:7 also confirms this view; the word "brother" enhances the enormity of the crime. It is your brother whom you wrong (compare Pro 6:27-33 ).
      the Lord--the coming Judge ( 2Th 1:7, 8 ).
      avenger--the Righter.
      of all such--Greek, "concerning all these things;" in all such cases of wrongs against a neighbor's conjugal honor.
      testified--Greek, "constantly testified [ALFORD].

      7. unto uncleanness--Greek, "for the purpose of."
      unto--rather as Greek, "in"; marking that "holiness" is the element in which our calling has place; in a sphere of holiness. Saint is another name for Christian.

      8. despiseth, &c.--Greek, "setteth at naught" such engagements imposed on him in his calling, 1Th 4:7; in relation to his "brother," 1Th 4:6. He who doth so, "sets at naught not man (as for instance his brother), but God" ( Psa 51:4 ) is used of despising or rejecting God's minister, it may mean here, "He who despiseth" or "rejecteth" these our ministerial precepts.
      who hath also given unto us--So some oldest manuscripts read, but most oldest manuscripts read, "Who (without 'also') giveth (present) unto you" (not "us").
      his Spirit--Greek, "His own Spirit, the Holy (One)"; thus emphatically marking "holiness" ( 1Th 4:7 ) as the end for which the Holy (One) is being given. "Unto you," in the Greek, implies that the Spirit is being given unto, into (put "into" your hearts), and among you (compare 1Th 2:9 Eph 4:30 ). "Giveth" implies that sanctification is not merely a work once for all accomplished in the past, but a present progressive work. So the Church of England Catechism, "sanctifieth (present) all the elect people of God." "His own" implies that as He gives you that which is essentially identical with Himself, He expects you should become like Himself ( 1Pe 1:16 2Pe 1:4 ).

      9. brotherly love, &c.--referring here to acts of brotherly kindness in relieving distressed brethren. Some oldest manuscripts support English Version reading, "YE have"; others, and those the weightiest, read, "WE have." We need not write, as ye yourselves are taught, and that by God: namely, in the heart by the Holy Spirit ( Jhn 6:45 Hbr 8:11 1Jo 2:20, 27 ).
      to love--Greek, "with a view to," or "to the end of your loving one another." Divine teachings have their confluence in love [BENGEL].

      10. And indeed--Greek, "For even."

      11. study to be quiet--Greek, "make it your ambition to be quiet, and to do your own business." In direct contrast to the world's ambition, which is, "to make a great stir," and "to be busybodies" ( 2Th 3:11, 12 ).
      work with your own hands--The Thessalonian converts were, it thus seems, chiefly of the working classes. Their expectation of the immediate coming of Christ led some enthusiasts among them to neglect their daily work and be dependent on the bounty of others. See end of 1Th 4:12. The expectation was right in so far as that the Church should be always looking for Him; but they were wrong in making it a ground for neglecting their daily work. The evil, as it subsequently became worse, is more strongly reproved in 2Th 3:6-12.

      12. honestly--in the Old English sense, "becomingly," as becomes your Christian profession; not bringing discredit on it in the eyes of the outer world, as if Christianity led to sloth and poverty ( Rom 13:13 1Pe 2:12 ).
      them. . . without--outside the Christian Church ( Mar 4:11 ).
      have lack of nothing--not have to beg from others for the supply of your wants (compare Eph 4:28 ). So far from needing to beg from others, we ought to work and get the means of supplying the need of others. Freedom from pecuniary embarrassment is to be desired by the Christian on account of the liberty which it bestows.

      13. The leading topic of Paul's preaching at Thessalonica having been the coming kingdom ( Act 17:7 ), some perverted it into a cause for fear in respect to friends lately deceased, as if these would be excluded from the glory which those found alive alone should share. This error Paul here corrects (compare 1Th 5:10 ).
      I would not--All the oldest manuscripts and versions have "we would not." My fellow labourers (Silas and Timothy) and myself desire that ye should not be ignorant.
      them which are asleep--The oldest manuscripts read present tense, "them which are sleeping"; the same as "the dead in Christ" ( 1Th 4:16 ), to whose bodies ( Dan 12:2, not their souls; Ecc 12:7 2Cr 5:8 ) death is a calm and holy sleep, from which the resurrection shall waken them to glory. The word "cemetery" means a sleeping-place. Observe, the glory and chief hope of the Church are not to be realized at death, but at the Lord's coming; one is not to anticipate the other, but all are to be glorified together at Christ's coming ( Col 3:4 Hbr 11:40 ). Death affects the mere individual; but the coming of Jesus the whole Church; at death our souls are invisibly and individually with the Lord; at Christ's coming the whole Church, with all its members, in body and soul, shall be visibly and collectively with Him. As this is offered as a consolation to mourning relatives, the mutual recognition of the saints at Christ's coming is hereby implied.
      that ye sorrow not, even as others--Greek, "the rest"; all the rest of the world besides Christians. Not all natural mourning for dead friends is forbidden: for the Lord Jesus and Paul sinlessly gave way to it ( Jhn 11:31, 33, 35 Phl 2:27 ); but sorrow as though there were "no hope," which indeed the heathen had not ( Eph 2:12 ): the Christian hope here meant is that of the resurrection. Psa 16:9, 11 17:15 73:24 Pro 14:32, show that the Old Testament Church, though not having the hope so bright ( Isa 38:18, 19 ), yet had this hope. Contrast CATULLUS [Carmina 5.4], "When once our brief day has set, we must sleep one everlasting night." The sepulchral inscriptions of heathen Thessalonica express the hopeless view taken as to those once dead: as AESCHYLUS writes, "Of one once dead there is no resurrection." Whatever glimpses some heathen philosophers, had of the existence of the soul after death, they had none whatever of the body ( Act 17:18, 20, 32 ).

      14. For if--confirmation of his statement, 1Th 4:13, that the removal of ignorance as to the sleeping believers would remove undue grief respecting them. See 1Th 4:13, "hope." Hence it appears our hope rests on our faith ("if we believe"). "As surely as we all believe that Christ died and rose again (the very doctrine specified as taught at Thessalonica, Act 17:3 ), so also will God bring those laid to sleep by Jesus with Him (Jesus)." (So the order and balance of the members of the Greek sentence require us to translate). Believers are laid in sleep by Jesus, and so will be brought back from sleep with Jesus in His train when He comes. The disembodied souls are not here spoken of; the reference is to the sleeping bodies. The facts of Christ's experience are repeated in the believer's. He died and then rose: so believers shall die and then rise with Him. But in His case death is the term used, 1Cr 15:3, 6, &c.; in theirs, sleep; because His death has taken for them the sting from death. The same Hand that shall raise them is that which laid them to sleep. "Laid to sleep by Jesus," answers to "dead in Christ" ( 1Th 4:16 ).

      15. by the word of the Lord--Greek, "in," that is, in virtue of a direct revelation from the Lord to me. So 1Ki 20:35. This is the "mystery," a truth once hidden, now revealed, which Paul shows ( 1Cr 15:51, 52 ).
      prevent--that is, "anticipate." So far were the early Christians from regarding their departed brethren as anticipating them in entering glory, that they needed to be assured that those who remain to the coming of the Lord "will not anticipate them that are asleep." The "we" means whichever of us are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord. The Spirit designed that believers in each successive age should live in continued expectation of the Lord's coming, not knowing but that they should be among those found alive at His coming ( Mat 24:42 ). It is a sad fall from this blessed hope, that death is looked for by most men, rather than the coming of our Lord. Each successive generation in its time and place represents the generation which shall actually survive till His coming ( Mat 25:13 Rom 13:11 1Cr 15:51 Jam 5:9 1Pe 4:5, 6 ). The Spirit subsequently revealed by Paul that which is not inconsistent with the expectation here taught of the Lord's coming at any time; namely, that His coming would not be until there should be a "falling away first" ( 2Th 2:2, 3 ); but as symptoms of this soon appeared, none could say but that still this precursory event might be realized, and so the Lord come in his day. Each successive revelation fills in the details of the general outline first given. So Paul subsequently, while still looking mainly for the Lord's coming to clothe him with his body from heaven, looks for going to be with Christ in the meanwhile ( 2Cr 5:1-10 Phl 1:6, 23 3:20, 21 4:5 ). EDMUNDS well says, The "we" is an affectionate identifying of ourselves with our fellows of all ages, as members of the same body, under the same Head, Christ Jesus. So Hsa 12:4, "God spake with us in Beth-el," that is, with Israel. "We did rejoice," that is, Israel at the Red Sea ( Psa 66:6 ). Though neither Hosea, nor David, was alive at the times referred to, yet each identifies himself with those that were present.

      16. himself--in all the Majesty of His presence in person, not by deputy.
      descend--even as He ascended ( Act 1:11 ).
      with--Greek, "in," implying one concomitant circumstance attending His appearing.
      shout--Greek, "signal shout," "war shout." Jesus is represented as a victorious King, giving the word of command to the hosts of heaven in His train for the last onslaught, at His final triumph over sin, death, and Satan ( Rev 19:11-21 ).
      the voice of. . . archangel--distinct from the "signal shout." Michael is perhaps meant ( Jud 1:9 Rev 12:7 ), to whom especially is committed the guardianship of the people of God ( Dan 10:13 ).
      trump of God--the trumpet blast which usually accompanies God's manifestation in glory ( Exd 19:16 Psa 47:5 ); here the last of the three accompaniments of His appearing: as the trumpet was used to convene God's people to their solemn convocations ( Num 10:2, 10 31:6 ), so here to summon God's elect together, preparatory to their glorification with Christ ( Psa 50:1-5 Mat 24:31 1Cr 15:52 ).
      shall rise first--previously to the living being "caught up." The "first" here has no reference to the first resurrection, as contrasted with that of "the rest of the dead." That reference occurs elsewhere ( Mat 13:41, 42, 50 Jhn 5:29 1Cr 15:23, 24 Rev 20:5, 6 ); it simply stands in opposition to "then," 1Th 4:17. FIRST, "the dead in Christ" shall rise, THEN the living shall be caught up. The Lord's people alone are spoken of here.

      17. we which are alive. . . shall be caught up--after having been "changed in a moment" ( 1Cr 15:51, 52 ). Again he says, "we," recommending thus the expression to Christians of all ages, each generation bequeathing to the succeeding one a continually increasing obligation to look for the coming of the Lord. [EDMUNDS].
      together with them--all together: the raised dead, and changed living, forming one joint body.
      in the clouds--Greek, "in clouds." The same honor is conferred on them as on their Lord. As He was taken in a cloud at His ascension ( Act 1:9 ), so at His return with clouds ( Rev 1:7 ), they shall be caught up in clouds. The clouds are His and their triumphal chariot ( Psa 104:3 Dan 7:13 ). ELLICOTT explains the Greek, "robed round by upbearing clouds" [Aids to Faith].
      in the air--rather, "into the air"; caught up into the region just above the earth, where the meeting (compare Mat 25:1, 6 ) shall take place between them ascending, and their Lord descending towards the earth. Not that the air is to be the place of their lasting abode with Him.
      and so shall we ever be with the Lord--no more parting, and no more going out ( Rev 3:12 ). His point being established, that the dead in Christ shall be on terms of equal advantage with those found alive at Christ's coming, he leaves undefined here the other events foretold elsewhere (as not being necessary to his discussion), Christ's reign on earth with His saints ( 1Cr 6:2, 3 ), the final judgment and glorification of His saints in the new heaven and earth.

      18. comfort one another--in your mourning for the dead ( 1Th 4:13 ).

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