1 Thessalonians


3. Exhortations toward Christian living, 4:1-5:22

iii] Instructions concerning the dead in Christ


Jesus' parousia, his "coming / appearing / presence", v15, is like the visit of an important person, a coming heralded with shouts and trumpets. In fact, his coming will be like the coming of God to Mount Sinai. When he comes, those who are his, both alive and dead, will be caught up in the clouds to meet him. This will happen in much the same way as Moses was caught up in the cloud of God's divine appearing on Mount Sinai. So, believers in Christ, both the dead as well as the living, will rise to life in the day of Christ's coming and share fully in the assumption of all believers to heaven.


i] Context: See 4:1-8. Having broached the subject of Christian living, particularly sexual purity, brotherly love and industriousness, Paul now deals with the parousia / Christ's second coming.


ii] Structure: This passage, Instructions concerning the dead in Christ, presents as follows:

Purpose, v13;

"that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope."

Creedal statement, v14;

"Jesus died and rose again ........ God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep."

Exposition, v15-17:

those who are alive at the Lord's coming will not precede those who have fallen asleep, v15;

at the parousia the dead in Christ will rise first, v16;

"we who are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds ....", v17.

Exhortation, v18:

"encourage one another with these words."


iii] Interpretation:

The eschatological problem worrying the Thessalonian believers: It is most likely that the subject of the second coming is the reason why Paul wrote this letter in the first place. It seems likely that some members of the church have died and for some reason the remaining members are concerned for them. This seems strange since the resurrection of the dead is central to the Christian faith, so what are the Thessalonian believers worried about? Marshall has a nice summary of proposed answers to this problem, opting for the commonly held view that the Thessalonians had been instructed on the resurrection of the dead at the return of Christ, but had not properly understood it. Wanamaker, following Plevnick in his work The Taking Up of the Faithful and the Resurrection of the Dead in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 1984, suggests that the problem is a peculiarly Jewish one. The Elijah experience of being assumed into heaven will be the experience of those alive at Christ's return, but those who have died, although resurrected on that day, may not experience a full assumption into heaven. So, Paul corrects this misconception. At any rate, Paul, when he was with the Thessalonians, obviously taught them on the subject of Christ's return and now he reinforces that teaching, explaining that those who have already died will participate fully in the day of Christ's coming.


Platonic dualism: Today, it is commonly held that believers who have died are already spiritually alive with Christ in heaven and will come back with him in the last day. We Westerners are greatly affected by Platonic thinking which is the source of our idea that the spirit leaves the body after death and goes to be with God. The Bible, on the other hand, reveals that the body and the spirit/soul are a unified whole such that the whole is resurrected and transformed in the last day. Deceased believers are in a state Paul describes as sleeping and will rise from the grave at the coming of Christ. The preacher needs to remember that the majority Christians believe that the spirit of their departed friends and family members has left the body, a body which is now a mere shell, such that their loved-one is presently with Jesus in heaven. There is a sense where this is true in that they are no longer constrained by time and so the day of resurrection is now their experience - see the time issue below. The strength of the Platonic idea of the duality of body and soul is not easy to shake, and for many, unwise to shake. We can always assert the truth that a deceased believer is "asleep in [the arms of] Jesus" to reinforce confidence in the security of the departed.


The problem of time in Biblical eschatology: In approaching Biblical eschatology we are able to draw out a time-line of events leading up to Christ's second coming which trace Christ's ascension to heaven, his present reign and his return to gather believers to himself, so heralding the end of the world. Systems, diverse and amazing, have expanded on these basic facts, many without Biblical warrant. Yet, God is not bound by time, so what happens in the heavenlies is not in any way constricted by the progress of time on earth. We may have been waiting for 2,000 years for the return of Christ, but that time interval does not apply in heaven. The collapse of time evident in Jesus' words to the thief on the cross, "this evening you will be with me in paradise", exposes the difficulty we face when interpreting heavenly verities. The thief, as with all of us, still awaits the day of resurrection.

God, as the creator of time, exists beyond time such that from the heavenly perspective Christ's ascension, his coming to the Ancient of Days, his enthronement and his judgment of creation, and our participation in this singular reality, is both now and not yet. We are already perfected in Christ, risen, eternally alive and reigning with him, Eph.2:6, yet at the same time we are Paul's "wretched man" entwined by sin, with our body awaiting its redemption in resurrection, cf. Rom.7:14-25. So, somehow, within the moment of Christ's ascension and enthronement, we live, we die and we rise at his "appearing /coming" to join with him in the celestial feast. The "eschatological tension" (Dunn) raised by this now / not yet paradigm, cannot be properly represented in time terms, none-the-less, this earth-bound state, this merciful moment in the mind of God, requires that we do just that. The following mouse-over illustration may help.

[Kingdom diagram expressing the impossible - a kingdom which is now, but not yet]

Where does the parousia, "coming / appearing / presence" take place? Christ's coming is usually understood as a coming to earth, but given Daniel's perspective in chapter 7 verse 13, this coming of the Son of Man with his saints / angels is a coming to heaven, an appearing in the presence of the Ancient of Days for enthronement. There have been many such comings, often acts of divine judgment, such as the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. The final coming / appearing of the messianic King will entail the judgment of the world, and unlike other such comings / appearings, this one will be witnessed by the totality of God's creation. From an earthly perspective such is a coming down, an appearing in the sky. From a heavenly perspective it is a coming to / an appearing in the presence of the Ancient of Days. This coming / appearing involves the living and the dead ascending to gather with their Lord on that day. Again, from an earthly perspective, a meeting in the sky, but from a heavenly perspective, a meeting in the throne room of heaven. This coalescing of scriptural truth defies systemization, but again we are bound to teach a simple sequence of events, of Jesus coming at the end of the world to gather those who are his and take them to heaven.


iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 4:13

All believers, both alive and deceased, will share in Christ's triumph, v13-18: i] In the opening Gk. sentence Paul broaches the subject of the status of believers who have already died in Christ, and indicates why he is broaching this subject, namely, that "we do not want you ..... to grieve", v13.

de "-" - but, and. Here serving as a connective / transitional, and so not translated, as NIV.

agnoein (agnoew) pres. inf. "to be ignorant" - to not know. The infinitive may be classified complementary, completing the sense of the verb "we [do not] want", but also as introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what Paul wants. As noted above, the Thessalonians would not be ignorant of the status of the dead at the resurrection, but their understanding is limited and/or confused and so they need further instruction on the issue.

peri + gen. "about" - about, concerning. Here expressing reference / respect, as NIV.

twn koimwmenwn (koimaw) pres. pas. part. "those who fall asleep" - the ones sleeping. The participle serves as a substantive. Variant perfect exists, "have fallen asleep", serving as a common euphemism for death. The present tense, which is better attested, is interesting since being durative it describes an ongoing state of "sleeping" = "the sleepers". Obviously describing, not so much death, but those sleeping in death about to wake. So the statement on many a grave, "At rest".

iJna mh + subj. "or to / so that [you do] not [grieve like the rest of men]" - lest [you be sorrowful as also the rest]. This construction usually forms a purpose clause, here the purpose of the teaching, "in order that you may not grieve as others do."

luphsqe (lupew) pres. pas. subj. "to grieve" - The present tense indicates that some of the Thessalonians are presently grieving for their dead. The word expresses inward sorrow.

kaqwV kai "like" - as even. The intention of this phrase is somewhat unclear. It is often treated as a simple comparative such that Paul is happy for the Thessalonians to grieve, but not like those without hope. Malherbe argues that it is emphatic, expressing a negative comparison such that Paul is forbidding any grief at all. Obviously grief in the terms of the teaching of this passage, ie. grief driven by the misguided notion that believers who have already died will not share fully in the advantages of those who are alive at Christ's coming.

oiJ loipoi (oV) "the rest" - the remaining. This word takes the same sense as touV exw, "the ones outside" = "the world of lost humanity."

oiJ mh econteV (ecw) pres. part. "who have no [hope]" - the ones not having [hope]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "the rest"; "who have nothing to hope for", Barclay.


ii] Paul's stated objective in v13 is accomplished first by a creedal statement concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus, which truth consequently applies to believers such that those who have died trusting Jesus will rise with him, v14. For Paul, this resurrection of the dead is no vain hope. Jesus died and rose again and so those who have believed in him, but have died, will live with him. Their immortality is dependent on a fact of history - the resurrection of Jesus.

gar "-" - for. Expressing cause / reason; introducing a causal clause explaining why the Thessalonians need not grieve for those who have died.

ei + ind. "-" - if. Introducing a conditional clause, 1st. class, where the condition is assumed to be true; "if, as is the case, [we believe that Jesus died and rose again] then ...." The apodosis, the then clause, is emphatically stated by the use of ouJtwV kai. The clause is difficult to translate, first because the "if" in English expresses doubt where there is no doubt in the Gk., and second because the apodosis is somewhat confusing - note how the NIV repeats it as a statement of belief. It is likely that only "Jesus died and rose again" is the statement of belief, while the apodosis deduces the truth that those in union with Christ inevitably rise with him. "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, then, on the basis of this belief we know that for touV koimhqentaV those who have died dia tou Ihsou under the agency of Jesus (ie. they have died trusting in Christ's death and resurrection on their behalf), that God will bring them to heaven sun autw/ with the risen Christ."

oJti "that" - that. Here introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what is believed. The content of what is believed (the protasis of the conditional clause / the if clause) bears the marks of a creedal formula.

kai "and" - Either adjunctive, "so also", or ascensive, "even so."

ou{twV adv. "so we believe that [God]" - thus, therefore / in this way. Probably inferential, serving to draw a logical conclusion.

axei (agw) fut. "will bring" - It is often argued that this means that when Jesus returns he will bring from heaven those who have already died, yet such an idea does not fit with a resurrection of the dead in the last day. It probably means Jesus will take the dead, along with the living, into glory with him. At any rate, those who sleep will not miss out.

sun/ + dat. "with [Jesus]" - with [him]. This preposition, expressing association, can mean either "with Jesus", or "with God." It's proximity to the verb supports "with God", "God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus", NASB, yet it is likely that the prepositional phrase dia tou Ihsou "through Jesus" modifies "those who have fallen asleep" and so "with him" means "with Jesus", as NIV.

touV koimhqentaV (koimaw) aor. pas. part. "those who have fallen asleep" - the ones having fallen asleep. The participle serves as a substantive.

dia + gen. "in [him]" - [having fallen asleep] through, by means of [Jesus]. This prepositional phrase probably expresses agency, or possibly means, best expressed with the preposition "in", as NIV. Through what Jesus has done for us in his death and resurrection, a dead believer in union with Christ is not spoken of as dead but as sleeping, about to experience, in Christ, their own rising and ascension. The dead in Christ are those who await their awakening.


iii] An exposition of the stated article of faith, v14, in the form of a word from the Lord, v15-17. The point is that those who are alive at the coming of the Lord will not have an advantage over those who have already died. All believers will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord.

gar "-" - for. More explanatory than causal; serving to introduce an explanation of v14.

touto "-" - this [we say to you in a word of Lord]. Pointing forward to the word of the Lord introduced by oJti.

en "according to" - by / in. Here adverbial, reference / respect, "with respect to", or as NIV, expressing a standard, "in accordance with."

kuriou (oV) gen. "the Lord's [word]" - [a word] of Lord. The genitive may be ablative, source / origin, "a word from the Lord", or adjectival, possessive, expressing a dependent or derivative status. Although Paul's statement seems to rely on a direct "word from the Lord", there is no record in the gospels of such a word from Jesus, but then not everything Jesus said is recorded, cf. John 21:25. There is little doubt that Paul bases what he says on Jesus' teaching, but as a prophet he is most likely using his own construction of that teaching rather than quoting the exact words of Jesus. The fact that Paul functions as the exegete of Jesus does not lessen the authority of his words. God's word is clear, those who are alive at Jesus' coming will not have precedence over" those who have fallen asleep".

uJmin dat. pro. "[we tell] you" - [we say] to you - Dative of indirect object.

oJti "that" - that. Introducing an object clause / dependant statement, indirect speech, expressing what Paul tells them.

hJmeiV "we" - Paul's use again of the epistolary plural / royal plural. Note how Paul has included himself with those who are alive at the coming of Jesus. This has prompted some commentators to suggest that Paul's eschatology was developing, such that it was only in the latter part of his ministry that he concluded that Jesus would not return during his lifetime. Marshall argues against this narrow use of "we".

oiJ zwnteV (zaw) pres. part. "who are alive" - the ones living. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting the pronoun hJmeiV, "we", as NIV. The present tense, being durative, expresses the present state of Paul and the Thessalonians, some of whom are grieving over the loss of loved-one/s.

oiJ perileipomenoi (perileipomai) pres. pas. part. "who are left" - The participle stands in apposition to "the ones living."

eiV "till / until" - to, into. Temporal use of the preposition; "until the coming of the Lord."

thn parousian (a) "the coming" - the coming, presence, appearing, arrival. When the New Testament speaks of Jesus' coming / presence / appearing, it is using the word in the sense of the appearing on the scene of a great one. There have been many divine appearings / comings, often experienced in judgment, eg. the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD is viewed as a "coming" of the Lord. The ultimate coming / appearing / presence is that of Daniel's Son of Man who comes to the Ancient of Days to take up his messianic rule. This was the "coming" seen by Stephen, Acts 7:56. This "coming" entails judgment, cursing and blessing.

tou kuriou (oV) gen. "of the Lord" - The genitive may be taken as adjectival, possessive, "the Lord's coming", or verbal, subjective, "the coming of the Lord."

ou mh + subj. "will certainly not" - no not. This construction forms a subjunctive of emphatic negation.

fqaswmen (fqanw) aor. subj. "precede" - The word can certainly take a temporal sense, as NIV, but Bruce rightly points out that it can also take a qualitative sense; "shall by no means have precedence over those who have fallen asleep", Malherbe.

touV koimhqentaV (koimaw) aor. pas. part. "those who have fallen asleep" - the ones having fallen asleep. The participle serves as a substantive.


Paul comforts the bereaved in Thessalonica with the truth that the Lord himself will act for deceased believers; he will see to their resurrection and gather them with living believers in the clouds [of heaven], such that the deceased and the living "will be with the Lord forever." There is very little in the New Testament describing the coming of Christ, but this and the next verse tell us what we need to know. Paul says five things of the "coming".

• The one who comes is Jesus - "the Lord himself".

• He comes in a cloud. This is a coming in the same manner as he left, Acts 1:11. So, it is a coming in a cloud, which coming images the coming of God onto Mount Sinai.

• The coming is with great majesty. There are three shouts:

The "loud command". This is most likely the shout of Jesus to wake the dead, Jn.5:28.

The "voice of the archangel". Possibly the shout of Michael.

The "trumpet call of God", 1Cor.15:52.

• The dead in Christ will rise first.

• Both deceased and living believers will be "caught up" and together greet the Lord, v17.

oJti "for" - that. Introducing a causal clause covering v16-17; "those who are alive will not have precedence over those who are dead because ...."

autoV pers. pro. "himself" - The reflective use of the personal pronoun.

katabhsetai (katabainw) fut. "will come down" - Used of an epiphany, parousia, "an appearing / presence" of Jesus on earth in association with his appearing in heaven, his enthronement beside the Ancient of Days and his enacting of judgment. This appearing of Christ, whether viewed from heaven or earth, is the appearing of a great one, and is accompanied with fearful pomp and glory.

en "with [a loud command]" - with [a shout / command]. Here the preposition is adverbial expressing manner / attendant circumstance, "with", as NIV. It is unclear who shouts the command and what is shouted. Possibly God shouts the command for the dead in Christ to rise, although this is more likely the role of the archangel. Anyway, we are given the word: "time's up boys, game's over!!"

arcaggelou (oV) gen. "[the voice of] the archangel" - [a voice, sound] of an archangel. The genitive is adjectival, possessive. Jude 9 has Michael as the archangel, but there are many archangels (rulers of the angels). In the synoptic tradition God sends his angels with a loud trumpet to gather in the elect, Matt.24:31. It is interesting how the "angels", the word meaning "messengers of God", can sometimes by identified with the saints, such that it is not just heavenly beings who attend Christ's appearing, but also believers. Note how believers, as messengers of God, perform a declaratory role in the proclamation of the gospel - "the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe."

salpiggi (igx iggoV) "the trumpet" - a trumpet. Often understood as a signal of war and thus of judgment. In the Old Testament, the trumpet of God announces the coming day of the Lord, a day when the lost are gathered to the Lord, and a day when the unrighteous face the judgment due them, Isa.27:13, Joel 2:1, Zeph.1:15-16, Zech.9:14-16. At the present moment the gospel serves this function.

qeou (oV) gen. "of God" - The genitive is adjectival, possessive.

kai "and [the dead]" - Here probably expressing result; "and as a result ...."

en "in [Christ]" - Taking a local sense expressing space / sphere, incorporative union, referring to those who, although dead, are in an eternal relationship with Christ due to their faith and thus rise to life at his appearing.

prowton adv. "first" - Temporal; first in time.


epeita adv. "after that" - then. Temporal adverb; next in time.

oiJ zwnteV (zaw) pres. part. "[we] who are still alive" - the ones living. This participle, as with "[we] who are alive", v15. Also "we who are left."

arpaghsomeqa (arpazw) fut. pas. "will be caught up" - will be caught up, snatched away. The phrase "caught up" means seized and carried off by force. This is often called "the rapture", but we do need to understand that there is nothing in this passage about a secret taking away of believers from the world. Shouts etc. deal with that. Paul's point is that all believers, both living and dead, will be part of the parousia. While the unrighteous, faced with judgment, watch in horror, the saints will be caught up in the clouds of heaven and join with Christ in his coming to the Ancient of Days. By this means the saints will participate in Christ's enthronement and his judgment of the world, which reality is both now and not yet.

a{ma "together [with them]" - together [with them]. This preposition often functions adverbially with temporal force, "at the same time, at once, simultaneously", but here probably just with the sense "together", reinforcing the preposition sun, "with", which expresses association, as NIV. That the dead and the living are "together" is the point Paul is wanting to make.

en + dat. "in [the clouds]" - in [clouds]. Local, expressing space / sphere, reflecting Dan.7:13. Possibly as epi, "upon [the clouds]." A Mount Sinai image (clouds and up high), an image often associated with a theophany. The imagery doesn't have to be taken literally other than to say that together we meet with the Lord.

eiV "to" - to [a meeting]. Here expressing purpose, "in order to meet."

apanthsin (iV ewV) + gen. / dat. "meet" - a public, official meeting of/with. The word is a strong one. Moffatt translates it as the "welcome of a great person on his arrival." Chrysostom took the view that the purpose of the meeting was to escort the Lord back to earth. This idea has often been repeated, but it is more likely that we escort the Lord to heaven.

tou kuriou "the Lord" - of the Lord. A genitive of direct object following the apo prefix verb "to meet with"; "a meeting with the Lord."

eiV " in [the air]" - into [air]. Spacial, "into", drifting toward a local en, "in". The aera, "air", probably means nothing more than "up", identifying where the meeting takes place.

ouJtwV "[and] so" - [and] thus. Given the points made in v16 and 17, Paul therefore draws a logical conclusion, namely that the association of both living and deceased believers with Jesus will be eternal.

pantote adv. "forever" - Temporal adverb; "always".


iv] In the final Gk. sentence Paul encourages the Thessalonian believers to encourage one another with this teaching, v18.

wJste "therefore" - Usually expressing purpose or consequence, "so, accordingly, as a result", so similar to toigaroun, v8, "consequently", but can also be inferential, particularly at the beginning of a new sentence, as here.

parakaleite (parakalew) pres. imp. "encourage" - Paul's eschatological teaching above serves as the basis of the comfort. "So then, this is the message with which you can comfort and encourage each other", Barclay.

en + dat. "with [these words]" - Instrumental, expressing means, as NIV.


1 Thessalonians Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]