1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

1 Thessalonians 4:13‑18  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 11
" 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. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
"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.
"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: 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.
" Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
On entering upon the consideration of the above passage, the first question is-What were these saints of Thessalonica sorrowing about? They were not, I believe, mourning because they feared lest their brethren might possibly have perished. They knew them to be believers, and hence such a suspicion could not enter their minds. Neither were they indulging themselves in mere natural grief because of their loss. This with them was altogether a secondary point. Their sorrow arose from neither of these two causes. From whence then did it arise? It arose, I believe, as the Apostle intimates, from their being ignorant with regard to these saints, of something touching the hope of the kingdom. They did not, in truth, understand how they who had fallen asleep could partake with themselves of the coming glory of Christ. This fear, therefore, the Apostle meets with a positive declaration that so far from their coming short of the blessing, in any measure, that when God bringeth in the first begotten into the world, when He introduces Christ to that kingdom which he is to receive as the meed of his humiliation on the earth, He (God), will bring with Him (Christ) those who, previous thereto, shall have died in the faith.
Ah! but the Thessalonians might have replied, " Our brethren are dead, how then can they come with Christ?" This, therefore, St. Paul meets in ver. 15, by saying " that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord,* shall not prevent them which are asleep." And then he goes on, in verses 16, 17, to show that in 'order to come with Him, they must be previously raised; that, as in the case of a sovereign visiting some city or province of his dominions, the nobles dwelling therein must go forth to meet him, in order to mingle among his retinue as he enters the place, so the saints (at least those of whom he is speaking-those who have fallen asleep), must ascend in order to descend with the Lord when He comes in his glory. Having, in ver. 14, spoken of the ultimate thing, he then turns back, and in ver. 16, 17, he shows what, previous thereto, must of necessity happen.
(* " The coming of the Lord," in this 15th verse, does not refer, I believe, to his descent into the air, but to His coming in glory: What the Thessalonians were doing was this-they were drawing a false contrast between those who should be "alive and remain" up to the time of the kingdom, and those who had died. This was the mistake which the apostle was here called to meet. Hence the "coming" in question must be His coming to reign. Of His previous descent and the ascent of the church, they knew nothing as yet. He had not taught them the truth revealed in the two subsequent verses; hence he would not surely refer to it here, as though they were already instructed therein.)
The point on which the Thessalonians were ignorant, and on which they needed to be thus enlightened, was the doctrine of a "first resurrection." Like Martha, when she said of her brother, "I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day;" and like many in our own day, they had some vague thought of a general resurrection of the righteous and the wicked at the end, but of "the resurrection of life" contrasted with "the resurrection of judgment," they knew nothing. They thought that the dead and the living would meet and be equally blest in the end, but that in the interim there would be a difference; they fancied that they who were alive would "prevent," or get the start of the others. So that in proportion to the duration of the kingdom, the latter would lose the honor reserved for the former.
Probably, indeed, they had little or no idea of any of the saints, either the dead or the living, coming with Christ, but supposed, according to the notion of many at present, that He is to come and establish His kingdom on earth, as we know will really be the case with regard to His earthly people the Jews; while His Church will at the same time be manifested in heavenly glory, reigning with Him over the earth in close connection therewith. All this, then, the Apostle was called on to meet, and he does meet it, as I have said in this passage.
But it may be objected, that ver. 14 cannot apply to the Lord coming in His kingdom, because the saints spoken of here are only a part of those who are to accompany Rim then. True it is, they are but a part, but this. does not at all interfere with the interpretation here given. The fears of the Thessalonians, be it remembered, concerned the dead, not the living, for which cause St. Paul confines himself to the former, without (ver. 14) alluding at all to the latter; he speaks of those which sleep in Jesus, without deeming it needful to say what is true, that God will bring with His Son the rest of the redeemed, even the living, as well as those who have died, at the very same time.
True it is, when he comes to treat of the rapture of the saints in verses 16, 17, he speaks of the living as well as the dead. But why does he do so? Because the time was come for a new revelation to be made, not to these Thessalonians alone, but to the whole Church of God. And hence he takes occasion, from the circumstances of their sorrow, to bring this new unrevealed truth to light. He shows them "by the word of the Lord," the order of events in reference to the resurrection and ascension both of the dead and living. He tells them that when Christ descends into the air, the first thing which will happen will be that the dead will be raised, next that the living will be changed, and then that they will, in their glorified bodies, both be caught up together to heaven; all which we might be tempted to think would take some time to effect, but which, being God's work, will be done, as we read, " in the twinkling of an eye"- will be the work of a moment.
The foregoing remarks were written for the purpose of meeting a view of this passage which I find is more general among Christians than I was at all prepared to expect. " If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him!' This, it is said, applies to the coming of Jesus when He shall descend from heaven into the air, accompanied, as is thought, by the spirits or souls of those who have fallen asleep. Now after what I have said, it is needless for me to add, that I believe this view of the passage to be wholly mistaken, and that unless we allow that ver. 14 applies to the ultimate thing, as I have said, even the coming of Christ when He appears in His kingdom, and verses 16, 17, to what will previously happen, namely, the resurrection, the change, and ascension of the saints, we do not catch the object and mind of the Spirit through the Apostle.
And here, with regard to the separate spirit, before I conclude I would say a few words. True it is, that the souls of those who are asleep are now with the Lord; and equally true, that when Christ descends from heaven, they will take possession again of their bodies. But observe, the Apostle says nothing at all in this passage of spirits. He speaks of the saints as individuals, neither viewing the spirit apart from the body, nor the body apart from the spirit. What he treats of is the whole man-the believer. His word is not " the spirits of them which sleep in Jesus," but " them that sleep in Jesus will God bring with If, indeed, he at all speaks of one more than the other, it must be of the body, that part of us which dies-which ceases to act, in contrast with the spirit which cannot sleep, but which becomes more actively alive, more energetic than before, as soon as it is freed from our present bodies of sin and death. This, however, I say merely to strengthen my assertion as to the silence of Scripture with regard to the re-entrance of the spirit into the body; because, whether St. Paul speaks in verse 14 of the coming of these saints with the Lord, or in verses 16, 17, of their previously leaving their graves, he views them, as I have said, in the totality of their existence-as men raised to life-as beings composed both of body and spirit.
To me, I confess, the thought which I here venture to combat, seems to lead to the conclusion that the soul sleeps while apart from the body. Is it not so? Because those whom God brings are those who have been previously sleeping. Now, according to what has been said, it is the souls of the saints which are thus brought, in order that they may re-possess themselves of their bodies; and therefore the conclusion is, that these same souls will have been slumbering in the interval between death and resurrection.
Far be it from me to accuse any one holding this view of believing anything so false, so unscriptural, as the sleep of the separate spirit. I have no such thought or suspicion, I can truly say. Still, I repeat that the view, if duly considered, will be found to involve this conclusion, just as the denial of the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15), involves nothing less than the denial of the resurrection of Christ. The Apostle never meant, because the Corinthians failed in understanding this doctrine in reference to themselves, to accuse them of saying that Christ, their living Head, was not raised, because in so doing, he could scarcely have owned them as Christians. He deals plainly and candidly with them, however; he exposes the error of the views they were actually holding, by showing the conclusion to which, if followed out, they must of necessity lead.
Where the heart is right, and the eye is single, the Lord, in His mercy, keeps us from the consequences of many a mistake in the understanding of Scripture into which the wisest amongst us may fall. This is comforting, considering that now at 'best we see through a glass darkly. Still, as in the present case, we should be careful as to what views we are holding, not knowing what advantage the enemy may thereby gain over us, as he sometimes has done, by leading the saints to push their conclusions so far as in the end to get into positive error. May the Lord keep us simple, humble, and dependent, in the study of Scripture, on the teaching of His own blessed Spirit!
The Offerings.
Some points as to the offerings in. Leviticus having been lately cleared up to me, and brought home to my heart, I trust I may say, in a way I had not known them before, I would simply name them, with references to the passages by which they are illustrated or proved. To many readers these remarks may suggest nothing that is new; but to some they may not have occurred; and even where they have, the mention of them may stir up to renewed consideration of the subject, and thus promote growth in the truth. How happy to be fellow learners in the school of our Divine instructor
First.-The Lord's part in the peace (or prosperity) offerings being the fat of the inwards, and this being consumed on the burnt offering (see Lev. chapter 3:5), and with the meat offering (see chapter 7:12), the participation in the other parts of the peace offering of the priest that offered, the priests at large, and the worshipper, really brought them into communion with God's own joy and delight, not only in the peace offering, but also in the burnt and meat offerings, of which the fat of the peace offering was " the food."
Secondly.-The fat of all the sin offerings (except the red heifer in Num. 19) was consumed on the altar of burnt offerings, (see Lev. 4:10, 19, 26, 31, 35; 7:5; 16:2510As it was taken off from the bullock of the sacrifice of peace offerings: and the priest shall burn them upon the altar of the burnt offering. (Leviticus 4:10)
19And he shall take all his fat from him, and burn it upon the altar. (Leviticus 4:19)
26And he shall burn all his fat upon the altar, as the fat of the sacrifice of peace offerings: and the priest shall make an atonement for him as concerning his sin, and it shall be forgiven him. (Leviticus 4:26)
31And he shall take away all the fat thereof, as the fat is taken away from off the sacrifice of peace offerings; and the priest shall burn it upon the altar for a sweet savor unto the Lord; and the priest shall make an atonement for him, and it shall be forgiven him. (Leviticus 4:31)
35And he shall take away all the fat thereof, as the fat of the lamb is taken away from the sacrifice of the peace offerings; and the priest shall burn them upon the altar, according to the offerings made by fire unto the Lord: and the priest shall make an atonement for his sin that he hath committed, and it shall be forgiven him. (Leviticus 4:35)
5And the priest shall burn them upon the altar for an offering made by fire unto the Lord: it is a trespass offering. (Leviticus 7:5)
25And the fat of the sin offering shall he burn upon the altar. (Leviticus 16:25)
, etc., etc.) Thus we see, that even in that view of Christ's work, in which he was most actually and absolutely made sin for us, His own inward devotion to God, in which He was willing to be thus made sin, was infinitely pleasant and acceptable to God, forming thus a link between the sin offering and all the rest. How precious, that at the very time when Jesus was really bearing wrath for our sins; when it was impossible that God could manifest his favor to Him; when, in consequence, he had to cry, " My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" At this very time the link with God on His part (Christ's) was still, as always, unbroken! Indeed, in what one scene do we so see His complete devotion to the Father's glory, as that in which He bows to His Father's will that He should be made sin and suffer without the gate? And even when forsaken and asking "why," He calls Him "My God!"
Thirdly.-The case of the priest (see chapter iv.) whose sin interrupted the communion of the whole congregation, or the similar case of the sin of the whole congregation, is what cannot now occur. The instruction, therefore, as often in Hebrews, is by contrast not comparison. Our Priest cannot fail; and all the sins, yea, the sin of the whole congregation has once, for all, and forever, been so expiated, that nothing now can disqualify the whole church as such for communion and worship.
Fourthly.-As to the diverse force and meaning of the laying on of hands on the victim. In the one case, that of the sin and trespass offerings, a person came as a sinner, and placing his hands on the victim's head, confessed his sins, and transferred, as it were, the load of sin to the victim that suffered in his stead. In the other case, a person came as a worshipper, and placed his hands on the head of the animal, in token of being himself identified with the acceptableness of the offering.
How gracious of our God to condescend to teach us thus! May our poor hearts profit by these typical instructions, knowing, as we surely do, something of their import from the full revelation in the New Testament of the great and blessed Anti-type!