by Mike Ratliff
For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 ESV)
I have been dealing with some Universalist “teachings” over the last few days hence the article on The Doctrine of Hell. In my biblical research in order to answer the claims of Universalists, I have found that much of their “doctrine” comes from a mishandling of Sacred Scripture, especially those passages dealing with the state of the dead in Christ and who makes up those who meet the Lord in the air at his παρουσια or parousia or arrival or coming or presence. In this post we will look at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and attempt to unpack Paul’s statement about our Lord’s παρουσια.
What we must never forget my brethren, Christianity is simply another religion if we ignore our Lord’s παρουσια, It is vital to our doctrines. It is vital to the meaning and purpose of the Gospel. This is why any form of Christian Liberalism attacks both the Doctrine of Hell and the Doctrine of the παρουσια of Christ. This should make it evident of the power behind these attacks. He is both a liar and a murderer. Therefore, let us open God’s Word and dig into it to feed, learn the truth, and be encouraged in the Lord.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13 ESV)
13ου θελομεν δε υμας αγνοειν αδελφοι περι των κοιμωμενων ινα μη λυπησθε καθως και οι λοιποι οι μη εχοντες ελπιδα (1 Thessalonians 4:13
Not (ου) we want (θελομεν) but (δε) you (υμας) to not know (αγνοειν), brothers (αδελφοι), about (περι) the (των) ones sleeping (κοιμωμενων), that (ινα) not (μη) you might grieve (λυπησθε) just as (καθως) also (και) the (οι) remaining (λοιποι) the ones (οι) not (μη) having (εχοντες) hope (ελπιδα). (1 Thessalonians 4:13 word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)
This passage is full of key words. The ESV translates κοιμωμενων as “those who are asleep.” This is the Greek word for sleep or slumber and is often used to refer to those who have died, however, this is referring to the bodies of those who have died, not their Souls (cf. vv. 14, 15; 5:10; 1 Corinthians 15:6, 18, 20, 51). Paul is encouraging the believers in Thessalonica to μη λυπησθε, not grieve as those do who are still alive μη εχοντες ελπιδα, not having hope. In other words, there are those who do have hope and another group that does not. Paul is letting them know that they are among those who do have this hope and it also applies to those in Christ from their community who have already died. On the other hand, this other group does not posses this hope. Why? They and those they loved who have died are not in Christ. They do not possess this expectant blessed hope that genuine believers have.
For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:14 ESV)
14ει γαρ πιστευομεν οτι ιησους απεθανεν και ανεστη ουτως και ο θεος τους κοιμηθεντας δια του ιησου αξει συν αυτω (1 Thessalonians 4:14 WHNU)
If (ει) for (γαρ) we trust (πιστευομεν) that (οτι) Jesus (ιησους) died (απεθανεν) and (και) rose up (ανεστη), thusly (ουτως) also (και) the (ο) God (θεος) the (τους) ones having slept (κοιμηθεντας) through (δια) the (του) Jesus (ιησου) will lead (αξει) with (συν) him (αυτω). (1 Thessalonians 4:14 word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)
The resurrection of Christ, ιησους απεθανεν και ανεστη, Jesus died and rose up, is central not only to the Gospel, but also to God’s plan for history. It is the basis for the hope in the future resurrection of the body (1 Corinthians 15:42-57; Revelation 21:4). Paul again speaks of those who have fallen asleep, τους κοιμηθεντας, the ones having slept. These are the Christians who have already died. Their bodies were buried or burned or whatever, but their Souls went to be with the Lord until this great day when our Lord Jesus will return with them according to the will of power of God. Again, the word κοιμηθεντας in v14 refers to the body being asleep, not the Soul.
For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 ESV)
15τουτο γαρ υμιν λεγομεν εν λογω κυριου οτι ημεις οι ζωντες οι περιλειπομενοι εις την παρουσιαν του κυριου ου μη φθασωμεν τους κοιμηθεντας 16οτι αυτος ο κυριος εν κελευσματι εν φωνη αρχαγγελου και εν σαλπιγγι θεου καταβησεται απ ουρανου και οι νεκροι εν χριστω αναστησονται πρωτον 17επειτα ημεις οι ζωντες οι περιλειπομενοι αμα συν αυτοις αρπαγησομεθα εν νεφελαις εις απαντησιν του κυριου εις αερα και ουτως παντοτε συν κυριω εσομεθα (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 WHNU)
This (τουτο) for (γαρ) to you (υμιν) we say (λεγομεν) in (εν) word (λογω) of Lord (κυριου), that (οτι) we (ημεις) the (οι) living (ζωντες) the (οι) remaining (περιλειπομενοι) for (εις) the (την) arrival (παρουσιαν) of the (του) Lord (κυριου) not (ου) not (μη) we might arrive (φθασωμεν) the ones (τους) having slept (κοιμηθεντας); because (οτι) himself (αυτος) the (ο) Lord (κυριος) in (εν) command (κελευσματι), in (εν) sound (φωνη) first messenger (αρχαγγελου) and (και) in (εν) trumpet (σαλπιγγι) of God (θεου), will come down (καταβησεται) from (απ) heaven (ουρανου) and (και) the (οι) dead (νεκροι) in (εν) Christ (χριστω) will rise up (αναστησονται) first (πρωτον), then (επειτα) we (ημεις) the (οι) living (ζωντες) the (οι) remaining (περιλειπομενοι) at same time (αμα) with (συν) them (αυτοις) we will be seized (αρπαγησομεθα) in (εν) clouds (νεφελαις) for (εις) meeting (απαντησιν) of the (του) Lord (κυριου) in (εις) air (αερα); and (και) thusly (ουτως) always (παντοτε) with (συν) Lord (κυριω) we will be (εσομεθα). (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)
These three verses covers the state of those who have already died in Christ now and what will happen to them at this glorious time and the state of those who remain, or are still alive, who are in Christ. Christ will return with the Souls of those who have died and will seize up together with them those are still alive who are in Him. He will gather them together with Him in the clouds. This is their resurrection. It parallels the resurrection of the Lord. He was crucified (died) and His body was buried, but He arose from the dead with His glorified body. For the believer this will also be the case. These who have already died are with Him now, but not with their glorified bodies. He will return with them to meet those who are in Him, but who have not died. These will all be brought together to receive their new bodies just as He did. (1 John 3:1-3; 2 Corinthians 5:3). The promise ουτως παντοτε συν κυριω εσομεθα, always with Lord we will be, is a tremendous promise for the believer, but it is not for the unbeliever. This passage is only for those in Christ.
Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:18 ESV)
Amen, let us not lose the precious, blessed hope that all in Christ have. We are not of this world, but have been resurrected out of it in our new birth in Christ. We remain here for our sanctification and to obey the Lord in the Great Commission, i.e. making disciples from all nations. Some of us teach and disciple. Others preach the Gospel. Others minister as God directs. We all have roles in the Body of Christ. However, this blessed hope is for us all.
God willing, I will exposit 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 in my next post.
Soli Deo Gloria!