First Thessalonians 016 – Comfort One Another (part 1)1 Thessalonians 4:11b-18 • Dr. Andy Woods • February 19, 2023 • First Thessalonians
First Thessalonians 016 – Comfort One Another (part 1)
1 Thessalonians 4:11b-18 • Dr. Andy Woods • February 19, 2023
Good morning. Let’s take our Bibles, if we could, and open it up to 1 Thessalonians 4:11, and as you’re turning there, let’s also open up with a word of prayer.
Father, we’re grateful for today, and grateful for Your eternal Word that never changes. We know, Father, that there are things that we deeply need to understand and hear today. I just pray for the illuminating ministry of the Spirit that He could have His will in the life of the believer today, applying the Scripture in a way that a human teacher cannot do. And we stand in need, Father, of Your promise, the promise of Your Son in the upper room, that He would guide us into all truth. We don’t teach the Bible from a human talent-oriented perspective, but from a Spirit-led perspective. And so to prepare ourselves for Your ministry of illumination today, both in the Sunday School and the main service that follows, we’re going to just take a few moments of silence to exercise 1 John 1:9 which would be not to restore position, which is eternal, eternally secure, but to restore fellowship, if needed.
Thank You, Lord for Your eternal truth. And we ask today at Sugar Land Bible Church from beginning to end, lift up all of these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said amen.
All right. Well let’s open our Bibles if we could to 1 Thessalonians 4:11.
As you know from our study of the book that Paul has stepped away from defending himself and his credentials, which were aggressively under attack by the unbelieving Jews. Paul has defended himself against three charges in Chapters 1 through 3. And now he’s in a position to actually correct the Thessalonians based on information that he had learned about them through sending Timothy to visit them.
Paul, of course, is in Corinth. The Thessalonians are in Thessalonica. Paul had planted that church about six months to a year prior. The transition there is Chapter 4:1, where it says, “Finally then, brethren.” So that’s the hinge moving us away from Paul’s personal defense to actual correction.
In other words, he’s not looking backward, but now he’s looking forward. And he’s dealt with immorality and also laziness. A more specific outline would be he describes the general conduct of a Christian in sanctification, Chapter 4:1-2. He gives a negative command about abstaining from sexual sin, Chapter 4:3-8. And then from there, as we saw last time, he moved into more of a positive command.
In other words Verses 3 through 8, here’s what not to do, but Verses 9 through 12, here’s what to do. And rather than be involved in sexual sin, he’s getting into the subject of pursue brotherly love.
So, there’s been a general command to love, Verses 9 and 10, we looked at that last time. And you know, the word love is tossed around so much, most of us don’t even know what it means anymore. So I really appreciate Verse 11 and Verse 12, where he tells us what love looks like.
And it’s far more practical than most people give credence to. Most people, when they think of love, it’s kind of some kind of syrupy emotion. But as far as Paul is concerned, love towards the brethren will always manifest itself in actions.
So it’s in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 he said, “Here’s your ambition or your aspiration. Here’s how you behave lovingly. Make it your goal to do certain things, such as lead a quiet life, not a silent life, but a quiet life.” We saw that distinction last time. “To mind your own business and then to work with your hands.”
And we got through Verse 11, except for the very end where it says, well, actually all of Verse 11 says, “and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you,”. So Paul is putting himself in the position where he is giving commands.
His commands are on equal par with Jesus’ commands. Because Paul was functioning under Christ’s authority as a designated and delegated apostle. That’s why when you back up to 1 Thessalonians 4:9, right there in the middle of the verse, he says, “for you [the Thessalonians], yourselves are taught by God.”
Paul says, “When I speak, God speaks. When I speak, Christ speaks. When I speak, the Holy Spirit speaks.”
Now obviously Paul is not a member of the Trinity or anything like that. Jesus is unique from that standpoint, but he is functioning as an apostolic representative of Jesus. And that’s how these 27 New Testament books that we have come into existence.
You’re probably aware of the fact that Jesus never wrote a book. Let’s turn to the Jesus book here in the Bible. There is no such thing. But Jesus in the upper room anticipated that the New Testament would come into existence through the writings of His hand-picked disciples and apostles who would be carried along by the Holy Spirit and would end up penning God’s revelation without error in the original manuscripts.
Back in the upper room, Jesus made this statement in John 16:12-13, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” In other words, you can’t look at Jesus as if He is the complete source of truth. I know that sounds counterintuitive because He is the Son of God, the eternally existent second member of the Trinity, but you can’t buy into what today is being called “red-letter Christianity.” I just follow what Jesus says mindset.
Because after all, His words are in red in my study Bible, which obviously makes His words more important than Paul’s. That’s the mindset people have. Even the bumper sticker, “What would Jesus do?” Red-letter Christianity.
I’ve had many conversations with people about controversial issues. And I’ll quote Paul, and they’ll say something like, “I don’t want to hear about Paul. Just tell me what Jesus Himself said. He’s the final authority.”
Well, the problem with that mindset is Jesus Himself in the upper room said, John 16:12-13, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” So Jesus Himself put a cap or a limitation on His own teaching. It was necessary for it to be supplemented by the apostles later, as they were guided by the Holy Spirit. And if that didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have the 27 New Testament books that we have.
Jesus goes on in John 16:13. He says, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”
Jesus made a similar statement a few chapters earlier in the upper room in John 14:26. For He said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”
So when you take John 16:13 and you put it together with John 14:26, Jesus Himself talked about after He would leave through His ascension a ministry of the Holy Spirit Who would, number one, remind you of all things.
This is how John, in his Gospel, probably writing a good sixty years after Christ had left the earth, could recall with ironclad precision the ministry of Jesus. Because Jesus says that would happen. The Spirit would come upon you and remind you of all things. And that’s how the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John came into existence.
But then Jesus went a step further and He said the Holy Spirit will teach you all things. I think there, that’s a reference to the epistles. The epistles are not the wives of the apostles. The epistles are letters, instructional letters given to the church. Paul wrote 13 epistles. And then there are eight general epistles. That’s where you throw in Jude, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, Hebrews, etc., etc., etc.
So there’s eight of those. So 13 Paul would write, eight the others would write. And that’s what it means here when Jesus says the Spirit will teach you all things. He will remind you of all things. That’s Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. He will teach you all things. That’s the epistles. And then Jesus says, “He [the Spirit] will disclose to you what is to come.” The future, and that’s where you put the book of Revelation.
1 Thessalonians 4:11 – Just as we commanded you
So this is why Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says, “Just as we commanded you,” he’s giving instructions that are on equal par with the instructions of Jesus Himself.
In 1 Corinthians 7:10, Paul would say this concerning divorce and remarriage. He would say, “But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord.” So what he’s saying there is he’s telling you something that comes from the mouth of Jesus. But then, just a few verses later, in 1 Corinthians 7:12, Paul says, “But to the rest I say, not the Lord.”
So in Verse 10 he says, here’s some instructions, not I, but the Lord. In Verse 12 he says, here’s some more instructions. I say, not the Lord. In other words, what he’s doing there is he’s saying here’s what Jesus said on the matter and here’s some additional things that Jesus never talked about.
And you can’t just carte blanche throw out the additional things because Jesus Himself said the Spirit would come and guide you into all truth. So I bring this up a lot because there’s a lot of people that just don’t want to follow what Paul says. They just want to follow what Jesus says. And to do that, you have to reject what Jesus says in the upper room.
Peter had a very high opinion of Paul’s writings. In 2 Peter 3:15-16, he says, “and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, …” Peter says concerning Paul’s writings, you better pay attention to those. Because he’s writing with divine wisdom.
And this is how you make sense of different things in the Bible. For example, in our chapter, 1 Thessalonians 4:1. “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction …”
So Paul never says, I’m going to tell you some things, but make it a footnote. He’s putting his own writings on equal par with the teachings of Jesus. In fact, what Paul and the Apostles are doing is they’re taking the statements of Jesus that were just sort of seed form statements, and they’re bringing the statements of Christ in the epistles to full-fledged maturity. They’re not teaching something different than Jesus, but they’re completing what Jesus Himself said.
1 Thessalonians 4:8, this is why Paul could say, “So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” So Paul says if you reject this, you’re rejecting God Himself. Because I’m one of the hand-picked apostles and disciples that’s given the task of completing New Testament revelation, which when you read it, will complete the thoughts of Jesus and will be just as authoritative as the words of Christ Himself.
So we are embracing here at Sugar Land Bible Church the full counsel of God’s Word. Jesus, looking back on the Old Testament, clearly over and over again called it “divinely inspired.” Jesus, looking to the New Testament that hadn’t been developed yet in the Upper Room, says when it comes into existence, it will be on equal par with anything that I ever said or taught in my life and ministry.
So, gosh, how do we love? Well make it your ambition in life to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, to work with your hands, and we ought to pay attention to these things because Paul taught these things with apostolic authority. (1 Thessalonians 4:11)
So we have a general command to love, Verses 9 and 10, with specifics on how to love, Verse 11. Well, what are the results?
In other words, if we put into practice Verses 9 through 11, what can we expect to happen? And what you see there in Verse 12 is two results.
The first of which is the church will have a proper testimony to the unsaved world. So take a look, if you could, at 1 Thessalonians 4:12. It says, “so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.”
Now who are these outsiders? Well, the outsiders would be non-Christians. Charles Ryrie in the Ryrie Study Bible says, “Outsiders of Verse 12, i.e., non-Christians or non-believers.” What happens in the mind of a non-believer when a person within the church leads a quiet life, minds their own business, and works with their hands? How does the unsaved world look at that?
Well, they respect it. Self-sufficiency wins the respect of outsiders. Outsiders, their respect is not gained when we’re constantly intruding into one another’s lives, which we have to do because we’re no longer self-sufficient. We keep having to butt in constantly into the affairs of other people because we can’t supply our own needs. Well, the unsaved world looks at that, and they don’t respect it. But what we do respect is an economically self-sufficient Christian who has what we would call, at least used to call in the United States, a Protestant work ethic.
Some of your greatest sermons you could ever preach are showing up to work on time and leaving on time, and working diligently with your hands the whole time you’re at work. Now, that’ll preach. People will take notice of that. A lot of Christian young people want to go into the classroom, and they want to challenge their professor.
But I’ll tell you something that will get your professor’s attention, and it sure got my attention because I used to be a college professor for seven years, is seeing someone diligently doing their assignments, diligently listening, diligently doing well on the exams, and that particular student garners the attention of the professor far more than the student that’s kind of like Horshack and Welcome Back, Kotter, always raising their hand and all of that. I know I’m dating myself a little bit when I talk about that. Do you guys remember that? I’m not living in a time zone.
There are people that they just feel like they have to talk all of the time in class and somehow, they’re impressing the professor. That doesn’t impress the professor at all. What impresses the professor is students that routinely do well on the quizzes, do well on the exams, and have obviously gained mastery over the subject matter through diligence.
This is what Paul is talking about when he says when you apply these principles, you will behave properly towards outsiders. Now, it is interesting the concern that Paul had in terms of its reputation amongst unbelievers. We have a tendency to think, well, you know, unbelievers, we don’t care what they think. They don’t have the Holy Spirit. They’re all on their way to hell. If I behave unbecomingly, you know, what does it matter?
Well, Paul didn’t think that way. Paul wanted to make sure that the reputation of the church was protected in the unsaved world. In other words, if they’re going to have something to bring against us, let it be because of the offensiveness of our message, which is offensive enough.
In fact, the Gospel is an offense. Galatians 5:11 teaches that. If the unsaved world is going to be offended, let it be offended because of the content of the message. Don’t let it be because of the poor behavior of the Christian.
So Paul, a couple of times in his writings, talks about, I’m concerned about the reputation of the church amongst the unsaved. That’s what he’s expressing here. So for example, in 1 Corinthians 6:1, he deals with a situation where Christians can’t work out their differences so they’re suing each other, and it is litigation that’s going in front of an unsaved magistrate, an unsaved judge. And Paul says, what in the world is an unsaved judge supposed to think of this? Particularly when Jesus in the upper room said, “All men will know you are My disciples by your love for one another.” (John 13:35)
1 Corinthians 6:1 says, “Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints?” In other words, if your disagreement is so severe, let it be in-housed. Appoint someone as some kind of magistrate within the church to fix this. Don’t take it in front of an unsaved person.
Then he says in 1 Corinthians 6:6, “but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?” Paul is very upset with the Corinthians and their litigious mindset because it was damaging the reputation of the church in the eyes of an unsaved judge.
So a point of application on this is when you spend time with Christians in social media, and I’ve been guilty of this myself, and you get into some sort of public knockdown fight over a theological issue where two Christians are fighting with each other over some point of doctrine. You have to understand that when that goes on, and it’s public, because these are all public posts, the unsaved world looks at that. And they immediately, in their minds, they discredit Christianity because of it.
So that’s why you have to be very careful about those kinds of things, because now with social media, I could take every carnal thought that I have and post it and tweet it and everything else and send it out to the whole world. And I’m doing it as a pastor. What in the world is the unsaved world supposed to think of that as we watch Christians just fighting with each other in a public domain? That’s a point of application that you can do with 1 Corinthians 6.
When it gets to the issue of appointing leaders within the church, Paul lays out the qualifications for elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3:1-13. And when it comes to the selection of an elder, he says something very interesting. It says, “And he [the elder] must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”
So there was a situation here at Sugar Land Bible Church, it was before I got here. I’ve been told about it through various people that were here where there was a fellow up for office of elder. And it sort of came to the elder board’s attention at that time that this particular individual, when he was dealing with his travel agent, was very, very pugnacious, very angry, very argumentative, to the point where the travel agent says, “That’s who you’re going to pick as an elder at Sugar Land Bible Church.”
It got back to him. If I’m understanding the story correctly. And fortunately, the elder board at that time pulled that individual’s nomination. That’s exactly correct. Because an elder has to have a good reputation not only with those inside the church, but those outside of the church.
If your finances are so out of control that you’re bouncing checks all over Houston, the credit card companies know it and the banking company knows it and those you took the loan from know it, that’s not a person that you put into position in leadership in the church.
Because Paul, at least three times that I know of, 1 Thessalonians 4:12, 1 Timothy 3:7, 1 Corinthians 6:6 is concerned about the reputation of the church in the eyes of the unsaved world.
Now, don’t get me wrong, our value system does not come from the unsaved world. We march to the beat of a different drum. But there shouldn’t be anything in a person’s life where their character is sort of open to public critique. They should have sort of a lifestyle, which is where all these commands are coming from, daily life, of self-sufficiency, minding your own business, leading a quiet life, to the point where it’s actually winning the respect of the unsaved world, not losing respect.
So, why follow these instructions? There are two results, the first of which is a proper testimony to unbelievers.
The second result, also in Verse 12, is you won’t be in need. 1 Thessalonians 4:12, “so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” Paul, in the book of Ephesians 4:28 says, “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.”
What an interesting thought that is. These two hands that used to steal, these two hands that used to create mischief, now take those same two hands or your mind or your tongue or your brawn or whatever it is God has given you and put that to work in economic productivity.
Why would you do that? Well, obviously it’s to get the beach house in Florida and retire early, right? Well, that’s not what it says. And I’m not against people getting the beach house in Florida. Just watch out for the, what is it, tornadoes or hurricanes or whatever they have. Nothing wrong with retiring early, but that’s not what Paul talks about here.
It says you produce prosperity with your hands, so now you’ve got something to share with someone who is in need. So you used to steal. Now you’re in a position where you can be a blessing to someone else. So you see how this has gone full circle back to love. We have the command to love, Verse 9, now as to the love of the brethren. We talked about that last time.
And you see how practical economic self-sufficiency is now that you’re a diligent worker. And the book of Proverbs, by the way, is filled with this kind of teaching. It says diligent hands create wealth. (Proverbs 10:4)
Showing up and excelling through a consistent lifestyle at what you do, not being a clock watcher, not sort of devising how you can steal something, but you’re productive, and the corporate and business world sees that, and you keep getting promoted.
Kind of like Daniel in the Persian Empire who had an excellent spirit, and he kept just getting promoted through the Persian hierarchy. And you get yourself in a position where now you have more money than what you need, which is the definition of wealth, right?
Wealth is basically having money that you don’t need, but it’s surplus, it’s above and beyond. And there’s nothing wrong with having that. But make sure you understand why God gave it to you. God gave it to you so that you could be used as a channel of blessing to help someone else in need. So you used to steal, but now you’re prosperous enough where you’re able to help people.
So why follow these results or these instructions? Because you’re going to have a good testimony to the unsaved. In other words, when you actually get the opportunity to speak up about Jesus, now you have a platform. Because there’s a lifestyle that accompanies it. You’re not looked at as some kind of cantankerous, fighting fundy slacker, but you’re self-sufficient. The unsaved world takes notice of that. Now the time comes to give your testimony or whatever in private conversation. Now you have the respect of people and have a pulpit to speak from. That’s why we should follow these instructions.
And we should also follow these instructions because now we’re not parasites any longer. Constantly sponging off other people. But we’re actually in a position where we can be a blessing to people who happen to be in need.
One of the things that’s always impressed me about the Bible is how practical it is. And you’re not going to get more practical in God’s Word than 1 Thessalonians 4:11 and also 12.
So that completes the discussion on immorality. That completes the discussion on laziness. And now, oh my goodness, what wonderful timing this is.
Eschatology – 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11
We have a prophecy conference coming up next week. Actually this week. Paul now moves into the subject of eschatology. 1 Thessalonians 4:12 – 5:11. And here’s where he receives information from Timothy about an eschatological misunderstanding.
Eschatology is the study of the future. Eschatos – end; ology – study of; what does the Bible say about the future.
The Bible is the only holy book that’s ever been written that predicts the future with ironclad precision. And you can validate that simply by looking at the prophecies in the Bible that have already happened.
I mean, if the prophecies in the Bible concerning the birth of Jesus, the piercing of Jesus, etc., came to pass with such precision, why would we think that the Holy Spirit somehow has switched horses in midstream? The prophecies yet to come given by the Holy Spirit will also reveal the future with the same degree of ironclad precision.
So this is where Paul gets into the subject of the rapture, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and then the day of the Lord, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, that will follow the rapture. You guys see an order here? Rapture, Chapter 4, day of the Lord, Chapter 5.
Hey, I guess that means that the rapture is going to come before the day of the Lord. That’s pretty cool. That’s why Paul, when he talks about the rapture, Verses 13-18, keeps saying “we, we, we, we, we, we, we.” But then in Chapter 5:1-11, he says “they.”
See the difference? 1 Thessalonians 5:3, “While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” …”. Wait a minute, Paul, you were saying “we” in Chapter 4. Why are you saying “they”? Well, because the rapture is going to occur before the Day of the Lord, which I’ll try to defend as we get into it. The Day of the Lord is the tribulation period that’s rapidly coming upon the earth.
So one of the things that’s very, very interesting about the Thessalonian book, there’s a couple of unique characteristics, but one of those characteristics is every chapter ends with a reference to the return of Christ.
We saw that at the end of Chapter 1, Verse 10, “and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.”
We saw it at the end of Chapter 2, Verse 19, “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?”
Chapter 3, Verse 13, “so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”
Leap frogging into end of Chapter 5, Verse 23, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The dominant thought on Paul’s mind in these two letters is the return of Jesus. So it really comes as no shock that you get to the end of Chapter 4, Verses 13 through 18, and you have another reference to the return of Jesus. It’s just this one is a little different because it’s the fullest explanation or treatment we have on the doctrine of the rapture of the church anywhere in Scripture.
So what do these Verses say? Let’s just read all of them.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we [See the we here? He thought this was going to happen in his lifetime.] who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. [Therefore get on social media and start worrying about the World Economic Forum. No.] Therefore, comfort one another with these words.”
So what is going on here? Well, the Thessalonians, as you read this, already knew about the rapture. This is not teaching that he gave them for the first time. In fact, in 2 Thessalonians 2:5, in that chapter where he’s talking about the specifics of the tribulation period, he says, “Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?”
So when Paul presents eschatology, he’s not giving them new truth that they had never heard before. Their problem was its application to certain situations that Paul hadn’t covered yet. That was their problem.
So what was the issue here? Well, Paul leads all of these people to Christ. The Thessalonian church begins, Acts 17, Acts 18, right in there. The unbelieving Jews don’t like it. They turn on Paul. They push him out of Thessalonica, down into Corinth, first into Greece, then eventually into Corinth, where he wrote these two letters really back-to-back within a year or so of when he left the church.
And then he learns that the same unbelieving Jews that had turned against Paul were now turning against Paul’s converts in Thessalonica. So what had happened in Paul’s absence is the church that he had planted as being persecuted. And there’s a very strong implication that some of those people were martyred. Maybe some of them died of natural causes. I’m more of the view that some of them probably could have died of natural causes, but some of them were martyred by these unbelieving Jews who had sort of a take-no-prisoners approach.
And so the Thessalonians now are thinking, “Okay, Paul, you’ve taught us about the rapture, but what about my Sunday school teacher that just died? Is he or she going to participate in the rapture? What happens to them?” And that’s an issue that the apostle hadn’t had a chance to explain yet.
So it’s not an issue where he’s trying to give them the rapture doctrine for the first time. They already had that. What they wanted to know is how does it apply to our deceased loved ones in Christ? You know, my mom and dad loved Jesus and now they’re dead. You taught us about a rapture. Are they going to participate in it? Or do they have to wait until the beginning of the millennial kingdom, the so-called first resurrection, to receive their resurrected body?
So it’s interesting how Paul explains this in Verses 13 through 18 because he’s answering that specific question. He says in Verse 13, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, …”
The problem with the Thessalonians was ignorance.” Being ignorant, although it’s used in our culture as an insult, we call someone ignorant, basically insulting them.
That’s not how Paul uses the expression ignorance. Ignorance is very different than being mentally slow. Ignorance is not having the knowledge that you need to answer the question. It’s very different than calling someone dumb or stupid or slow. I mean, it’s an insult because they have the knowledge, but they don’t get it. So this is not a problem of intellectual slowness. This is just a gap in their knowledge.
They knew about the rapture. They did not have any divine revelation concerning the rapture’s impact on their deceased loved ones in Christ. Now, why didn’t they just go home and read their Bibles doggone it.
Well, there is no Bible. I mean, the only book that Paul had written by this point in time was Galatians. 1 Thessalonians is just coming into existence. You don’t have 2 Thessalonians. You don’t have the Corinthian books. You don’t have Romans. You don’t have the prison letters. You don’t have the pastoral letters. You probably don’t even have all four gospels yet. Arguably the only gospel, if they even had access to it, was Matthew. And the only general letter that they had access to was the book of James. James was written very early. They didn’t have the book of Revelation. They didn’t have anything but just a few scraps or a few fragments of truth.
So that’s why Paul says your problem is you’re uninformed. In other words, you’re dealing with people who don’t have a completed canon. Now our problem today is not that we’re uninformed because we are informed because we have a completed canon of Scripture. Our problem is we really haven’t applied ourselves in a disciplined way to understand what this book says. That’s our problem.
But that wasn’t their problem. Their problem was dealing with a New Testament that had at best three books in it. And I’m not even sure what they actually had in Thessalonica concerning the other two books. So the only way they’re going to get an answer to their question is they have to talk to the Apostle Paul, who had left, because he was a conduit of divine revelation.
So this then explains why Paul is unfolding this teaching. He’s filling in a gap where their understanding was incomplete. There wasn’t any truth disclosed on this particular issue yet. So he begins to talk about the rapture, and he says here’s how it’s going to start.
1 Thessalonians 4:16, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, …”
So there’s going to be a shout of the Son, the shout of Jesus, the sounding of a trumpet. In other words, this is the audible perspective that one will gain the moment the rapture happens. And then Paul says the resurrection program, the rapture program itself, will begin with the dead in Christ. Why does he say that? Because that’s who the Thessalonians are concerned about. What about our deceased loved ones in Christ? Paul says the whole rapture program will begin with the dead in Christ. The dead in Christ will rise first.
So I used to read the dead in Christ. I thought, well that must be the Episcopalians, that must be the Methodists. No. Sorry, a little joke there just to keep you awake. The dead in Christ refers to people that died in the age of the church, post-Pentecost, where their soul went right into the presence of God.
And Paul describes such people as asleep. Asleep is a euphemism, it’s a polite way of saying something for death. And it’s a wonderful description because when someone is asleep, taking a nap, the assumption is they’re going to wake up, and their sleepiness, sleepness, if that’s a word, is not something that’s going to last forever.
So when the rapture happens with the shout, with the voice of an archangel, it actually will begin with the dead in Christ, Christians who died during the church age, like some of the martyrs in Thessalonica, whose soul is in the presence of the Lord.
So what happens to a Christian when they die pre-rapture. Their soul goes right into the presence of the Lord. Philippians 1:21-23, Paul explains this. He says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;”
A Christian who dies, what happened to them? They’re in a place that’s very much better. So Paul says, “Here I am as an apostle, I’m doing fruitful labor for the body of Christ. God has me here for a reason. But the truth of the matter is, I would rather just check out and die. Because when I do that, my soul, psyche, the part of me that’s designed to live forever, will separate from my body and will go directly into the presence of the Lord.”
I almost see a little bit of resentment in Paul when he says that. He’s saying to the Philippians, “Well, I guess I have to stick around for you people to write this letter.” And writing a letter for God to the book of Philippians is wonderful, but I would really rather just go and be with Christ.
Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:8 says, “we are of good courage, [Are you of good courage today?] I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”
Where is home? Home is not here on the earth in the devil’s world. Home is with Jesus. Paul says absent from the body, present with the Lord. So people will typically ask, “Do you believe in soul sleep?” The soul just kind of goes into some kind of unconscious state and waits for its resurrection. And the Bible knows no such teaching.
When a Christian dies, they are just as much alive as we are right now. They are just as much conscious as we are right now. It’s just there at home. They’re in a place that’s better. Remember what Jesus said to the thief on the cross, the penitent thief. Luke 23:43. “And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today …” Not a thousand years from now, but today. The thief on the cross was dying. “And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.””
Where do the Old Testament saints go? I think they went to a place called Paradise. Well, where is Paradise now? Paradise is in the presence of the Lord. How do I know that? Because Paul the Apostle, in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 talks about what we would call an out of body experience that he had.
In fact, it might not even have been out of the body, because he says when this happened, I was in my body, I was out of my body, I don’t know. It happened 14 years earlier. And he was caught up to the third heaven. Where is the third heaven? I mean, my understanding of the third heaven is basically the first heaven is the distance between here on the ground and the clouds. Heaven two would be the distance between the clouds and the stars. Heaven three would be beyond the stars. Where God dwells.
Paul says 14 years earlier, I was caught up to the third heaven. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t even know. And I heard things that really cannot be communicated in human dialect. I heard the inexpressible.
And he’s narrating this experience almost out of embarrassment. He doesn’t even want to mention at the beginning of that paragraph that this happened to him. He says, “I know a man.” And then as you keep moving through the paragraph, you figure out Paul is talking about himself. And the reason he’s explaining this is he’s got all these people in Corinth who are challenging his authority as an apostle. He goes, “Let me tell you something about my apostleship. It’s so real that I had this experience 14 years earlier. I can’t even explain what happened.”
So today our culture is filled with all of these people that have supposedly these experiences. They immediately come back, and they want to be famous. They want to write a book. They want to be in a movie, and they make millions and millions of dollars talking about what they saw.
One guy, I noticed that he’s back in the news, so to speak, with this whole revival supposedly that’s broken out in Kentucky. If you want to know my perspective on that revival, just go to our pastor’s point of view from this week, Number 244, and at the 38-minute mark I try to give what I hope is a balanced perspective on that whole thing. I don’t want to get into that now.
I’m watching very carefully the Twitter feeds of the people that are endorsing this. And a lot of them are just ghosts from the past that have already been exposed as heretics. Names like Rodney Howard Brown, Todd Bentley. There’s another guy that I recognize all the way back from the 1980s. I remember him very clearly because he talked about some sort of vision that he had where he was caught up to the third heaven like Paul, and him and Jesus got into this splash fight in the water of life and all of this stuff.
All of these things that people are talking about, I’m just very, very skeptical of the whole thing. The reason is Paul himself could not even explain what he heard. And he had no ambition to immediately jump into the fray and promote himself as the guy that had this vision from God.
He said, “I didn’t even talk about this for fourteen years. And I’m only bringing it up now because my apostleship is being challenged.” But all of that to say, when Paul had this experience fourteen years earlier, he says, “I was caught up to paradise.”
So my understanding of paradise is subsequent to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, as paradise is now in the presence of God Himself. So what happens to a Christian who dies? That’s where they go. Absent from the body, is to be home with the Lord. It’s a place that’s very much better. It’s what Jesus promised to the penitent thief on the cross. Today you’ll be with me in paradise. Paradise is now in the presence of the Lord.
And so what Paul is saying is when the rapture event transpires, and it begins with a shout with the voice of the archangel with the trumpet of God, the first people involved in it are the dead in Christ. They get their resurrected bodies first.
Because as I understand it, they are in the presence of the Lord, but they do not have their final resurrected body. And so they’re looking forward to the rapture just as much as we are. So their psyche is reunited with their body. They’re going to look a lot better because the curse will have been pulled out of the body. It’s still them. And they start to descend.
So Paul says, “Don’t panic about the dead in Christ. If the rapture happens today, are they going to participate?” The fact of the matter is the whole thing starts with them. And they start to come down.
And you’ll notice, I think it’s 1 Thessalonians 4:16, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”
Verse 15, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”
Now, my goodness, help me with this you guys. What does he say in the air? Verse 17. I know I was getting there at some point. “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds …”
Clouds. I used to think you go outside, you look at the sky, and you don’t see any clouds, and you say, “Well, I guess the rapture can’t happen today.” But clouds, when you study it out in the Bible, is a reference to the glory of God. So these dead in Christ folks that we all love are coming down in resurrected bodies, and then we who are alive and remain, if this happens in our lifetime, Paul put himself into that category. He thought it was going to happen in his lifetime. We are caught up, the Greek word there is “harpazo,” Verse 17, “… then we who are alive and remain will be caught up, …” “harpazo.” From “harpazo” you get the English word “harpoon,” where you stab a sea animal, and you yank it to yourself. It literally means to be seized or caught up by force.
If rapture happens today, of course, I can’t guarantee you that it will, I would love it if it did, but if it happens today, the dead in Christ are put in resurrected bodies and they’re coming down. So the whole thing starts with them. Then we who are alive and remain at the time on the earth, secondly, are caught up. So they’re coming down with Jesus and we’re going up.
And you’ll notice that in this whole series of events that he’s describing, it’s in the air. Note Jesus’ feet don’t hit the earth. Now Jesus’ feet will hit the earth in the second advent at the conclusion of the 70th week of Daniel. But that’s not what he’s dealing with here.
So they’re coming down, we’re caught up, we meet each other in the air and there’s this massive reunion in the sky. Where I look a lot better, you look a lot better, they look a lot better. It’s like, I guess the best way I can describe it is you go to a reunion of some kind, a school reunion or family reunion, and there’s a whole bunch of people that you haven’t seen for a while. And all of a sudden you see them all at once. And it is sort of neat to see that. That’s what the rapture is.
Where you’re seeing your Sunday school teacher, your mom and dad, your aunt and uncle that love Jesus and are in the presence of the Lord, they’re coming down, we’re going up, and there’s this massive reunion in the sky. We’re together with them in the clouds.
Who’s the them? The dead in Christ. Watch this very carefully. This is very important. I can’t stop here. I’m going to make this last point and then we’ll stop.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 “… so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.”
What is the proper perspective and attitude when a Christian dies? Never tell someone not to grieve. That’s putting them under a limitation that God never put them under. Grieving at the death of a loved one in Christ is totally acceptable and it’s totally appropriate.
Paul never says, I hear this verse constantly misquoted, Paul never says do not grieve. What he says is “do not grieve as the rest who have no hope.” Don’t grieve as if you’re never going to see the person again.
The backdrop for all of this is the Greco-Roman religious systems, worshipping Greek and Roman deities which were very active in Thessalonica, which gave people no hope after the grave. They didn’t know what was going to happen to them as a disciple of those systems. They had no concept or understanding of a loved one who was a fellow disciple of that system, what would happen to them.
And so when someone would die in Greco-Roman times, you just sob uncontrollably without any sense of hope as if you’re never going to see the person again, because you really didn’t know what happened after the grave. And a lot of religious systems are that way.
They say, well, the good works need to outweigh the bad works. And so someone dies, and you say, well, I wonder if their good works outweigh their bad works. Maybe I’ll never see them again. And you just start sobbing as if you have no hope.
The Bible is not a work system, it’s a grace system. All of this is part of what we like to call God’s grace package to the Christian. This is yours as a birthright. It’s not something you have to qualify for through holy living. It’s not something that you have to qualify for by having the right view on Zionism.
I bring that up because there’s a very popular prophecy teacher today running around telling people that if they’re not Zionists, they’re not going to be raptured. Zionism or your belief in a proper perspective on Israel is not a birth issue, it is a growth issue.
What we’re dealing with here are birth issues. These are things that are given to you by grace the moment you place your faith in Christ as the Messiah. And one of the great benefits of this package deal, if I can call it that, is exactly what’s going to happen to your deceased loved ones in Christ.
They’re in a great place. Don’t feel sorry for them, believe me. And if the rapture were to occur today, you’d see them in this giant reunion in the sky. Now what if the rapture doesn’t occur today? What if a generation passes before the rapture transpires? What if we’re all dead before the rapture comes? Well, we’re going to participate in the rapture as well. We’re just going to be in that group coming down.
I mean, you’re either in the group going up or the group coming down. What happens before I die? I’m going up. If I die before the rapture occurs, I’m coming down. So you can’t get an out on this.
Everybody participates in the rapture that’s a child of God. And so this reunion is coming, and Paul says to the Thessalonians, “This is something I didn’t have a chance to explain to you. I explained to you the rapture, but I wasn’t able, as an apostle, to fill in full knowledge where you could have an understanding concerning how it impacts your deceased loved ones in Christ.” So when you grieve for a deceased loved one, don’t do it as if you have no hope of ever seeing them again. You will see them again at the point of the rapture.
And if this isn’t good news, I don’t know what is.
Let’s pray. Father, we’re grateful for providentially putting us into this passage in our verse-by-verse study just before our prophecy conference this Friday, Saturday, and having more presentations next Sunday. I pray you’ll help us to be people that rightfully understand your word for the last days and walk with an attitude of expectation and hope. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, in God’s people said amen.