The Apostle Paul in this chapter fulfills the role of one who prophesies, as he writes to the new believers in Thessaloniki with words to build them up, to encourage them in going on in their growth as followers of Yeshua, and to comfort them concerning the realities of the hope that we have in Messiah.
The last chapter concluded with Paul thanking God for the believers’ strength of faith in the face of suffering and persecution, and that they would continue to grow in their love to one another, and to all, so that God would establish their hearts blameless in holiness when the Lord returns with all His saints.
v 1-2 In this chapter 4, Paul puts flesh on the words that he wrote in a general way. He begins by building up the believers, telling them to progress more and more in their knowledge and way of God. When we are born-again from Above by the Holy Spirit, we know that God has called us, and by repenting from unbelief to believing the gospel, He justifies us. We then begin a new life in which we work together with God to be conformed to His image: to be holy in the whole of our life, both outwardly and inwardly. And we look to the day of being glorified with Him, who is already now back in His glory at the right hand of the Father. Until that day, we are not to think that we have attained that for which Messiah Jesus laid hold of us. There will always be more of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit to lay hold of. (Heb 2:10-12; Phlp 3:10-14)
v 3-8 The will of God is our sanctification – moral purity and sexual control (very important to God!) “Be holy, for I am holy!” Sanctification is being converted into the image of the Son of God, who is the express image of the Father.
—Heb 13:4; Rev 21:6-8 The marriage bed is honorable among all (everyone honors when a man and woman lawfully marry), and the bed undefiled (they are free to know each other as one flesh, and to enjoy with a clear conscience what God has blessed in marriage); but fornicators (practicers of any form of immoral sex) and adulterers (those specifically unfaithful to their covenant bond of marriage with their spouse) God will judge. In other words, all immoral sex (if hetero, then also obviously otherwise), as the Creator has determined it, God will judge.
—Acts 15:19-20 The Jerusalem Council of the Apostles advised and admonished the new Gentile believers about food laws and immoral sex – the two strongest drives/urges in humans everywhere: to sanctify both to the one true holy God of both Jews and Gentiles, and especially for those who believe the gospel.
—Rev 2:14, 16 Jesus is against those in the church in Pergamos (also in Thyatira, and in any other church anywhere, including ours) who believe that sexual immorality is okay, or to eat things offered to idols (for the Earth is YHVH’s, and everything in it!; or, maybe, in order to commit sexual immorality with a ‘pagan’ with whom you want to have sex?) These are doctrines of Balaam (and against the Jerusalem Council instructions from the Holy Spirit through the Apostles), who knew who YHVH is and what He said, yet sold his soul by his greed for personal worldly gain and honor. Balaam knew that he could not curse Israel for King Balak of Moab, for YHVH had blessed Israel; yet Balaam, in his greed for wealth and fame, advised Balak on how he could destroy the holy people of God: send your young women to the young men of Israel, and the Israelis will become morally defiled, and also follow other gods.
Jesus will fight against those who hold this doctrine with His sharp two-edged sword, the sword of His mouth, the Word of God. GOD DOES NOT SPEAK IDLE WORDS. REPENT, IF THE THOUGHTS AND INTENTIONS OF YOUR HEART APPROVE ANY OF THESE THINGS WHICH GOD WILL JUDGE. (Rom 1:16-32; Heb 4:11-13) We have been given liberty to agree with God, not to continue to oppose Him as we did as unbelievers. When we disagree with what God says on any matter, we are judging Him! It is foolish of us to approve what our Father and our Lord says that He will judge. (It is also wrong to disallow what God does allow through the gospel.)
The culture in this generation encourages all kinds of sexual immorality, promoting it as if there is no God and no judgment. It appears every where and in all forms. This attack on moral purity (in thoughts and imaginations, in virtual vicarious exposure through pornography, in social approval, and in legal systems), has even gained a foothold within the Body of Messiah/Christ and leading ministers of the Lord, just as back then in Pergamos and Thyatira! God’s judgment begins in His own house!
There is a continual appeal from the world and the devil to stir up in us the lust of the flesh, and of the eyes, and of the pride of life. Take heed, lest thinking you stand, you fall! (Gen 3:1-7; 1Jn 2:15-17; 1Pt 4:17-18) This lust and passion is not of God, but of uncontrolled natural desires in every person. (Rom 6; Eph 4:17-24) Paul writes that whoever rejects this truth regarding sexual immorality does not reject man, but God, who has given us His Holy Spirit! (1Cor 3:16-20; 6:15-20) Lust serves the flesh and self: what I want; what I feel; if it feels good, do it! It leads to no good. The road is wide that leads to destruction. The devil tempted Eve in this way from early on in the Garden of Eden, and we are still prone to listen to him than to believe and obey what God has said.
v 9-12 Genuine love, though, cares about not only what is good and right for yourself, but what is also good and right for the other. Love does no harm to a neighbor, to a friend, but seeks his/her good and well-being – according to God. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love respects others, rather than exploits or manipulates them. Paul writes to the believers in Thessaloniki that he did not need to write them about this, because they were taught this from God. He praised them for already doing that, but that they should increase more and more in loving one another.
They should be sure to conduct themselves even to unbelievers in a manner proper for their faith in Jesus, and that they should do what they can to work with their hands privately, that they lack nothing. If we are independent in our work — like Paul, a tent maker by trade — we are freer to legitimately earn some money and to serve the Lord and others as we sojourn in this world on our way to the heavenly Zion. Working “quietly” also says something about the things that we need to be discerning about in the world around us, which wants to engage us in many of its “hashtags”, distracting us from our pilgrimage through the way-stations of our journey. Rather than get caught up with all of the battles “of” the world, we ought to be evangelizing those who do not know the Righteous One, whose kingdom is not “of” this world.
v 13-14 Paul then deals with a subject that he sensed they did not know the truth of: the resurrection of those believers who have already fallen asleep, i.e., died. (Yeshua tasted death for every man, being separated from the Father when He bore God’s wrath on the cross for our sins. He died, so that we who believe do not have to be separated from the love and presence of God, even in death.) Paul wanted them to know that the hope that they had of the Lord’s return was in no way disconnected from those who had already died in the faith. The blessed hope for all believers — dead or alive — is the resurrection of our bodies (made new, and suitable for eternity!) at the return of the Lord, the hope which unbelievers lack.
The Greeks did not believe in the resurrection of the body, only that the spirit of a man left the body at death, and there was no physical resurrection. This is also what the Sadducees believed, and Jesus told them that they did not understand the Scriptures, or the power of God. To be saved we must believe in our heart that God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead. This same Jesus will return, the Jesus whom the apostles saw ascend in the body to Heaven; the same Jesus whom they saw and touched, and with whom they ate after His resurrection. (Rom 10:9-10; Acts 1:1-11; Jn 20; Lk 24) If Messiah is not risen, our faith is futile! (1Cor 15:12-23)
v 15-17 Paul, as in every chapter of this letter, speaks of the living hope that the believers have in expecting the return of Jesus. He tells them the word of the Lord (which maybe he had received by revelation, based upon the Scriptures, but not specifically stated elsewhere): those who are alive and remain until the Lord comes will not precede those saints who had lived before and already died in the faith. (Heb 11:39-40) “For the Lord Himself will descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Messiah/Christ will rise first. Then, we who are alive and remain shall be caught up (raptured) with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” (Ps 50:1-6)
A few remarks here about these last verses:
Jesus will come back down from Heaven, towards the spherical Earth below. There is an up and a down in the universe that YEHOVAH God created. (see, for example, Ps 89:11-12) Yeshua is now seated at the right hand of the Father far above the universe that He created and ordered! (Eph 1:18-21)
If we have died/ fallen asleep in Christ, we will be physically resurrected from among the dead (the unrighteous will not be resurrected at this time). If we are alive in Christ when He comes, we will be caught up/raptured, meeting those who are being resurrected on the way up. Therefore, the dead in Christ are resurrected from below to meet those alive above on the Earth, and both continue to rise together to meet the Lord further above in the air. From that moment in time, we shall always be in the physical presence of the Lord.
The only timing given by Paul here in this passage as to when the rapture will take place is at the coming of the Lord, and in a trying situation for the believers who are alive and remain. (Mt 24; Mt 13; Rev 2:23-29; 6:9-11) There are perhaps billions of saved people now among all of the nations of the world, so the issue of “those who remain alive at the coming of the Lord” is irrelevant at this time, and until that day and hour which no one knows, but the Father.
v 18 Paul closes by telling them to comfort and encourage one another with these words [which He received from the Lord].
Let us do the same. Maranatha! Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
This article originally appeared on Streams in the Negev, January 12, 2022, and reposted with permission.