1 THESSALONIANS Chapter 4:13-18
By Rick Rapanos
In order to do a proper commentary on these passages, or any portion of scripture for that matter , it is without question, important to use proper Biblical Hermeneutics. In regards to Thessalonians, we need to ask some questions first:
- Why is Paul writing to the Thessalonian church?
- Who are the Thessalonians?
- What is the 1st Century setting that Paul is writing in?
- What is the context of the passages?
Just like John in writing the Apocalypse, will use certain words or phrases that his audience would understand, Paul is doing the same thing here in Thessalonians. We need to keep that in mind. So with these questions in mind we will now dissect these passages and come to a proper conclusion.
The Thessalonian church was established by Paul and began to grow all within a months time. It was mostly Gentiles that formed this church. But because the believers there were from pagan backgrounds, some false beliefs followed them into the church, and so they were confused as to exactly what was meant by the “Lord’s coming, and the resurrection”. So this is the main reason why Paul is writing to them. They thought (and were right) that the Lord’s coming would happen in their day. But did not understand how it would happen, or exactly how it applied to them.
We see that at the end of almost every chapter there is a reference to the Resurrection, or Christ at His coming: 1 Thessalonians 1:10 “Whom He raised from the dead” 2:19 “At His coming” 3:13 “At the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ” 4:17 “Meet the Lord in the air.”
The words and phrases that Paul is using in chapter 4:13-18, have caused many people through the centuries much confusion. Why would Paul use these kinds of words? Words and phrases he uses no where else in all his writings? It sounds on the surface like a new doctrine, and if it is , then why does he not mention it anywhere else in scripture? It is because it is not a new doctrine, and Paul is using specific words and phrases that the Thessalonians would understand. This is exactly what John had done in the Apocalypse. Paul is writing to “clear” up the confusion , not make it worse. It is us, today, that has twisted unmercifully Paul’s words to mean something foreign to Christianity.
The Thessalonians came from a Greek culture that believed in many gods, and they also believed in the demonic, where these beliefs and superstitions affected every aspect of their lives. They would compare their pagan beliefs with the scriptures. It was almost hard for them to let go of these pagan beliefs, but Paul knows where they came from and sets forth to talk to them in their own language so to speak.
4:13 - “But I would not have you to be ignorant brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.”
“Ignorant” – the Greek word is “ AGNOEO ” and means to not know through lack of information (1). Here Paul is writing to clear up their confusion once and for all. It is funny that we today “need to clear things up” as if Paul made it worse.
“Concerning them” – The “them” are not just friends and family , but here meant to specifically mean fellow Christians, the “brethren.”
“Which are asleep” – This is in the present tense, and gives the idea of repetition, from time to time fall asleep (2). “asleep” is the Greek word “KOIMAO” and Paul is using this word simply as a euphemism for death. See examples of this word “asleep” used in Matthew 27:52, Acts 7:60, 1 Corinthians 15:16, 18,51. These, “Which are asleep” were simply waiting their turn to be resurrected as Paul explains so clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:23, (3)“But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward, they that are Christ’s at His coming.”
“That ye sorrow not” – Paul is reassuring them not to worry about those who have died in Christ. The Thessalonians thought that those who had died before the coming of the Lord would some how not be with Christ. That those who have died before the coming of Christ would be lost to the powers of the demonic forces; gods and demons were understood to have control over virtually all aspects of life. The Thessalonian church was concerned whether those who had died would be with the Lord at all, not simply at His coming. Their own fate would thus also be in doubt.(4)
“ As others which have no hope” – The “Others” that Paul is talking about are not just pagans, because they to believed in an afterlife. Here Paul is talking about all those who die without knowing Christ. They would have no hope in the resurrection and eternal life that comes only through Jesus Christ.
4:14 - “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them who sleep, will God, by Jesus, bring with Him.”
“If we believe” – This is the reason why Paul is writing 1 & 2 Thessalonians. To explain the coming of the Lord, and the resurrection of believers. If Paul meant to convey a literal far future rapture then he could have stopped right here and told them not to worry about themselves or their dead brethren at the coming of Christ because it will not happen for two thousand or more years into their future.
“Even so” – Paul is assuring them that just as Jesus rose again then they to will also be raised like Him.
“Them who sleep” – Again, the “them” that Paul is referring to are Christian believers who have died ( sleep).The Thesselonians were concerned whether their departed brethren were, or were not in the Lord’s possession.
“Will God, by Jesus, bring with Him” – The Father will bring the Saints with Him “by Jesus”. Jesus is the one who is orchestrating all the events, and this is proved by Matthew 24:1-34, and Matthew 28:18. Here in 1Thessalonians chapter 4:14, we have both God ( the Father ) and Jesus mentioned, and in Zechariah 14:1-9, you have the same event, and both are mentioned as well. Specifically the Father in Zechariah 14:5 and the Son in Zechariah 14:9. Paul uses the prophecy of Zechariah 14:1-9 to explain to the Thessalonians the approaching coming of Christ, and that of God. Why is God coming? For the re-establishment of His sanctuary. If you look at Revelation 21:1-6 you will find God has moved to earth to be among His people forever. Ezekiel 37:27,28 also reveal this (5). The other parallel verses to this same event are Matthew 16:27 and Matthew 25:31, where this “coming” is also including the angels. Now notice in Zechariah 14:5 where God is bringing with Him, ALL the Saints, not just some. Now notice in Matthew 16:27 where Jesus say’s He is coming in the GLORY of the FATHER, but in the parallel verse Matthew 25:31, Jesus say’s He is coming in HIS GLORY. This is not a contradiction but proves equality between the Father and the Son, for God say’s in Isaiah 42:8, Isaiah 48:11 that He will not “Give His Glory to another.” When Jesus say’s He is coming in the “Glory of the Father” He is in fact saying that He will come in the same way as the Father did in the Old Testament. This validates that He is God. The high priest Caiaphas new that Jesus was communicating this in Matthew 26:62-65. That’s why Caiaphas accused Jesus of blasphemy. Now back to 1 Thessalonians 4:14. Paul does not say that ONLY those who “sleep in Jesus” will be coming . Paul does not mention the ALL because he is only trying to address their concern that THEIR Brethren who sleep will be coming. In Zechariah 14:1-9, the word “LORD “ is used six times. We find specifically who this “LORD” is in verse 9, which say’s, “And the LORD shall be King over all the earth.” Who is King of Kings and Lord of Lord’s? Christ is. Who will fight against the nations? Christ. Who’s feet will stand on the Mount of Olives? Christ. Who is the one coming in judgment Christ. Why? Because He was the one rejected, and therefore the only one worthy to enact judgement and vindicate Himself. This is the assurance that Paul gives the Thessalonians, that if God will bring the Saints with Him , then it is obvious that they have been in the presence and possession of the Lord all along and not lost somewhere in the pagan netherworld.
4:15 - “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep.”
“We say” – The “we” Paul is talking about are the Apostles inspired by the Holy Spirit to write what God wanted them to write.
“By the word of the Lord” – Here Paul is assuring the Thessalonians that what he is saying does not come from him but from God.
“That we” – The “we” Paul refers to is meant to mean believers in general and does not mean that Paul thought that he himself would be alive at the coming of the Lord.
“Which are alive” – “Alive” in the Greek is “ZOE” and means life as God has it, that which the Father has in Himself, and which He gave to the Incarnate Son to have in Himself (6). This word “Alive” then means to be alive in Christ, which is to be alive spiritually. See John 5:26.
“And remain…shall not precede them” – The Greek word here for “remain” is “PERILEIPO” and means to survive (7). Survive is the better word to use, which the Syriac Peshitto also uses. So, Paul is communicating that those (Christians) distinguished by being referred to as “Alive” and “survive”, survive what? The coming of the Lord (the destruction of Jerusalem and coming tribulation that will ensue) will not precede (go before) those who have already died . It was a concern to the Thessalonians that those of them who would be still around at the coming of the Lord would be the ones participating in this “coming” and the ones “asleep” would have no part in it. Here Paul is assuring them that this is not the case.
4:16 - “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.
“The Lord” - “Lord” is “KURIOS” in Greek and refers to Jesus Christ.
“Himself” – In verse 14 it is the father bringing the Saints as a testimony to the fact that the dead are, and have been with the Lord all along. Here in verse 16 it is Christ,”Himself” because it is Christ who is exacting the judgement, and it is He who is coming in vindication. The language Paul is using here in verse 16, is very specific, warlike, apocalyptic language.
“Shall descend ” – “Descending” is to imply some kind of judgement.
“With a shout” – This does not mean that Jesus is going to yell something. The word “shout” is the Greek word “KELEUSMA” and means to command. The Syriac Peshitto renders “With a shout” as “With the mandate” The mandate / command is Judgement, Vindication, Glorification.
“With the voice of the Archangel” – Again this is not to be taken literally, as if Jesus does not have a voice of His own and has to use the Archangels voice. Again with apocalyptic language
we look to the Old Testament for clarification as to what Paul is communicating. The only
Archangel mentioned in the Bible is one called Michael. He is referred to in Daniel 10:13, as “One of the chief princes” So he is not the only Archangel, but the only one mentioned in scripture. Now why would Paul use this seemingly strange choice of words, “with the voice of
the Archangel?” In Daniel 12:1 Michael is the protector of the people of God. The faithful remnant. Not the Jews only , but all who put their faith in God. Here in Verse 16, Paul is using apocalyptic language to communicate that God’s people, whether dead or alive will be gathered to Him. These words, “descend, shout, voice of the Archangel, trump” are all connected in a single concept involving the swift destruction of enemies and deliverance from harm of war. (8)
“With the Trump of God” – According to the Old Testament and Hebrews 12:19, the “Trump
of God” was the supernatural accompaniment of Divine nature (9).
“And the dead in Christ shall rise first” – Here Paul is continuing to clear things up for the Thessalonians: They thought that they would have some part in the second coming, but that the already dead would not. That was their concern. Here Paul is telling them: No, it is the dead in Christ, not the living who would take part in the resurrection. And Paul tells us how this resurrection will happen in 1Corinthians 15:52, “ In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” No where here does it mention a so called “Rapture” which means, the transporting from one place to another. This is clearly talking about resurrection and nothing more. Backing up a bit to 1 Corinthians 15:51, Paul tells the Corinthians, “ Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” The “we” that Paul is referring to is not meant to include himself , but believers as a whole (See example 1 Corinthians 10:22). If Paul really meant to include himself , and meant a so called rapture, then Paul was mistaken, because he would have thought that he would be part of the so called rapture. But he died before the coming of the Lord. And seen as how scripture is inspired, then we really have to blame the Holy Spirit for giving Paul the wrong information or that he interpreted it wrong. Based on this, we know that Paul did not state that he would be a alive at the coming of the Lord. He did not know, nor did he assume to know when the coming of the Lord was. The “sleep” that Paul is referring to is those who are asleep in Jesus since the Ascension (Acts 1:9). He is talking about believers only here in 1 Corinthians 15:51. (See Acts 7:60, 1Corinthians 15:16). What Paul is basically saying is that not ALL believers will have died by the time of the second coming , “BUT”, we as Christians will ALL (eventually) be changed. The word, “but” is the connecting word in the sentence, and in most cases introduces contrast. So, “but” is connecting the second thought with the first thought, and introduces a contrast between the first and last thought (10). The “but” is used to show contrast between the believers who have already died with the believers who will be alive at the second coming. We see then from Thessalonians chapter 4:13-18, and 1 Corinthinians chapter 15 :51-52, that the context is resurrection not a “caught up rapture”.
4:17 - “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
“Then we ” – Again the “we” Paul is referring to are believers in general.
“Who are alive” – Those alive at the second coming.
“And remain” – The word “remain” is PERILEIPO in Greek, and means,” To Survive” (11) The Syriac Peshitto uses the better word “Survive” instead of “Remain”. What is Paul trying to say here? Survive what? The coming tribulation with the second coming of Christ. The same tribulation that John say’s he is already in (Revelation 1:9).
“Shall be caught up” – The word “caught” is the Greek word, “ HARPAZO” and means “to seize , or take by force.” The word “up” is an interpolation and does not appear in ANY manuscript. The word was added because it was assumed (in error) that if they are to meet the Lord in the “air”, then they must go “up”. This little word, “up” has caused more confusion to us in our day, and has spawned a doctrine that doesn’t exist. Those that are “seized” are saved or rescued from the tribulation. The saints that escaped Jerusalem at the start of the war between Rome and Jerusalem. (see Revelation 7:3-4). Three examples of this word “HARPAZO” we could look at are used in Matthew 13:19, John 10:12 and Acts 8:39. In the Matthew and John texts there is absolutely no way that “HARPAZO” means the transporting from one place to another or that any kind of physical and literal removal to anywhere is meant, or possible. In Acts 8:39 it say’s that, “The Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away” The text does NOT say that Philip vanished in plain sight or was “caught up “ into the air. The word “HARPAZO” is not a directional word, meaning you cannot apply a direction to it whether it is up, down, or sideways.If a direction is meant, then another Greek word would be added to “HARPAZO” to make it a compound word. We can see from this how error begets error.
“Together with them” – Those that are “seized” or rescued will be together “with them” in the sense that they are in Christ.
“In the clouds” – This word “clouds” is associated with the Glory and or judgement of God. In Acts 1:9 Jesus ascended up, and a cloud (the Glory of the Lord) received Him. When you have clouds associated with ascending (going up) you have the Glory of God implied (Daniel 7:13, Revelation 11:12). When you have clouds associated with descending ( going down ) you have the judgement of God implied (Matthew 26:64, Mark 14:62, Revelation 1:7) Here it is clear that ALL the saints will share in the Glory of the resurrection. See 1 Corinthians 15:43 where Paul tells us that the body is “raised in Glory.”
“To meet the Lord” – The word, “meet” is the Greek word, “APANTESES”, and means “ A friendly encounter.” (12). It seems that the special idea of the word was the official welcome of a newly arrived dignitary (13).
“In the air” – “Air” in the Greek is the word “AER.” This word that Paul uses is a reference to the “Place” of respiration. The idea of the exchange of oxygen within ones immediate sphere . He is speaking of a spiritual meeting with the Lord, “within ourselves”. Within our Spirits (14). Paul does not use the other word for “Air” which is ,” OURANOS , which is the air up in the sky or space.“Air” was an important component to the pagan belief system. The Thessalonians believed that the “Air” was where the spiritual realm operated in. Paul is assuring them of their victory over the forces of darkness by using this idea of meeting the Lord in the air. The “Air” then is the climatic place of final eschatological conflict wherein the risen Christ claims victory and eternal possession of His people (15) Here Paul is speaking to them using idioms that they would understand. They understood it because of the context Paul was using. Those who believe in the rapture theory have, on the other hand, ignored the cardinal rule of context. See other uses of this word “AER” and not “OURANOS” in: Acts 22:23, 1 Corinthians 9:26, 1 Corinthians 14:9, Ephesians 2:2, Revelation 16:17.
“And thus” – By Paul using the word, “thus” he is basically saying, “So there you have it.”
“We shall always be with the Lord” – Whether dead or alive we are in Christ, and so we are in fact “always” with the Lord. See 1 Thessalonians 5:10 where Paul say’s ,” Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.” The “wake or sleep” means whether we are alive or dead we will be with the Lord.
4:18 - “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
“Comfort one another” – Do you think that the Thessalonians, after reading these words of Paul, sat back and said,” This is more confusing than before. We still don’t understand it!” I don’t think so. The fact that Paul ends this with “comfort one another” attests to the fact that he said exactly what he needed to say, to communicate exactly what he wanted to communicate, by using words and phrases associated with their world view. Words that they would totally understand.
To say as the futurist does, that because the word “rapture “is not mentioned in the Bible is not a reason to say that is not communicated in Scripture is correct , as you can say that about the word. Trinity. No where is it found in Scripture. The difference is that the Trinity is communicated ALL through the Bible: from Genesis 1:26 and onward throughout the whole Bible, where as the “rapture” is not. The so called “CAUGHT UP RAPTURE ” of believers is compartmentalized in only one verse in the whole of scripture, both Old and New Testament , and that is in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. So the question must be asked: Is the “rapture” really a “rapture” as rapturists say it is , or is it something else?” We must look to the Bible for answers and not assume anything. We know that the Bible interprets the Bible. And if we follow proper Biblical Hermeneutics (interpretation principles) then we will have no problem with 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which is clearly talking about RESURRECTION and nothing more.
- Strong’s concordance #2837
- Robertson’s word pictures of the New Testament.
- Adapted from the article by Jessie Mills, Ph.D. “Rapture” www.biblicalfulfillment.org
- Adapted from “Horizons in Biblical Theology 19 (December 1997) Pages 192-212, by Dr. Randall E. Otto
- Correspondence from Jessie E. Mills Phd. March-April 2008
- Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament words, page 336
- Strong’s concordance # 4035
- Adapted from “Horizons in Biblical Theology 19 (December 1997) Pages 192-212, by Dr. Randall E. Otto.
- Adapted from the article by Jessie Mills, Ph.D. “Rapture” www.biblicalfulfillment.org.
- Adapted from, “Revelation Survey and Research” by Jessie E. Mills, Jr Page 264.
- Strong’s Concordance # 4035.
- Strong’s Concordance # 529
- Moulton & Milligan in their Greek grammar. Vol 1, Page 14
- “A Response to, ‘Silence Demands A Rapture’ by Dr. Kelly Nelson Birks.
- Horizons in Biblical Theology 19 (December 1997) Pages 192-212, by Dr. Randall E. Otto.