Chapter # 4 Paragraph # 3 Study # 3
December 21, 2014
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 prevent them which are asleep.
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:
17 Then we which are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
1901 ASV Translation:
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep.
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;
17 then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
- I. Paul's Emphasis Upon His Declarations.
- A. He used legomen, which is attested in many places to be an emphatic, doctrinal, content word.
- 1. This means that he intends the content to be "believed".
- a. The "problem" of "faith" is significantly complex; it is not a simple matter to "believe" as the Bible establishes the content for the concept.
- b. But, once "faith" has surfaced, people become, more or less, emotionally stable in regard to the particular issue of their "believing". There are, however, a multitude of issues in life that can cause emotional instability and resolving only one or two of them will not generate an impression of stability. Many particular truths must be believed in order for a person's life to exude stability.
- 2. This is simply another indication that Paul actually believed that emotions (such as grief) are directly affected by what a person holds to be fundamentally true.
- a. There are indications in the Bible that the variable degrees of "faith" ("great" or that of the size of a mustard seed) have a significant impact upon emotions.
- b. The more confident one is, the greater the stability.
- B. He added, "by the word of the Lord".
- 1. Both "word" and "Lord" are anartharous; they are not preceded by "the" as the translators indicate. This indicates the primacy of the issues: "word" and "Lord" are intensified as to qualitative content.
- 2. This adds to the claim of 2:13 that the "words" are God's, not man's. But it stands in some degree of contrast to 1 Corinthians 7:12 where Paul made a distinction between his "advice" and what the "Lord" might have said in the setting.
- 3. The "Lord" has a "history" in this letter (Paul refers to Him in 22 texts of this letter, some of which have multiple uses of the word in them).
- a. In the six verses of this current paragraph of our study, the word "Lord" is found five times.
- b. The most crucial of the prior texts in regard to our present text is the "Lord's" identity as the One Who supervises our "progressive (increasing) sanctification" (3:11-13).
- 4. He is claiming new revelation regarding the future situation of those who " have been put to sleep" and those who are yet "living" when the Lord comes.
- a. The term for "remain" ("...alive and remain...") is seldom found in biblical and extra-biblical literature according to Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon. It seems to have the meaning of "being left over".
- b. The biblical concept of every man being subjected to death ("...death passed upon all men..." and "...it is appointed to men once to die...") strongly implies that the vast majority of "believers" are "put to sleep by Jesus" as the Head of His Church and the Author and Finisher of our faith. Thus, those "left over" are simply those who are not "put to sleep". He puts the vast majority to sleep and those "left over" from this norm are those of us who are actually physically alive at the point when the Lord returns. Clearly this is a necessity for any concept of the Lord's return that does not include the actual prior physical death of those who trust in Him ("...we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed..." from mortal to immortal).
- II. Those of us who are yet living when the time comes for the Lord's return shall in no way have any temporal advantage over those whom He put to sleep.
- A. This appears to be the "big deal" because of the prior emphasis and the double negative used before the verb ("...should not in any way at all...").
- B. The question, though, is why is this such a big deal to Paul?
- 1. At issue is what is going to happen at the coming of the Lord.
- a. This is established by three of the texts in 1 Thessalonians that mention this "coming".
- 1) 2:19 addresses the "crown of rejoicing" at His coming.
- 2) 3:13 addresses the prospect of "unblameable holiness" before God when Jesus comes.
- 3) 5:23 is a repetition of this prospect.
- b. It is, apparently, this concept of exuberant ("over the top') rejoicing that has captured Paul's thought.
- 2. There is coming a time when all "grief" is going to be so overshadowed by exuberant rejoicing that "grief" will just barely be able to retain its identity even as a mere memory. Its impact will be minimized to "zero". This minimization is not the result of failing memories, but of a finally realized reality of Truth. The sufferings of this present time will finally be seen for what they are: instruments of our edification as Peter, Paul, and James all declare. The "trying of our faith" purifies it as gold is purified by extreme heat.
- 3. If our love for those who were put to sleep is anywhere on the table of legitimacy (it is not a self-absorbed idolatry), the idea that super-rejoicing will not be ours without them becomes a significant claim. This may well be an echo of Hebrews 11:39-40 except in reverse (we without them rather than they without us).
- C. That Paul refers to "we who remain unto the coming of the Lord" indicates his "desire" to be one of those "remaining" (i.e., not "put to sleep").
- 1. This clearly indicates that those not put to sleep were perfectly legitimate in their desire to be a part of that "terminal generation" which will be alive when Jesus returns from heaven.
- 2. That this is a "legitimate" desire means that the "coming" was an imminent potentiality. The great hope of all believers is the coming of the Lord for all of us; the potent desire to be among those who "yet remain" is the great motivation of all believers.
- a. It is illegitimate to give people the idea that they might be among those "yet remaining unto the coming of the Lord" if that is not at least possible.
- 1) But what about God? Does He not have a responsibility to not give us the idea that we might be among those who "yet remain" if, in fact, He knows the when and the whether?
- 2) The issue is the reason for giving the idea: Luke 12:45 indicates that without the idea, the servants may not make good decisions. Human beings need a sense of potential to keep their focus upon what is really important.
- b. It is the reality of the "possibility" that gives us the concept of imminence.