1 Thessalonians 4:15
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
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(15) By the word of the Lord.—Literally, in. A most direct claim to plenary inspiration (see references). It does not mean “According to certain words which Christ spoke,” nor yet “By means of a revelation from the Lord to me,” but “By way of a divine revelation:” “I tell you this as a message straight from God.” In what way apostles and prophets became conscious of supernatural inspiration we cannot tell; but elsewhere also St. Paul speaks of possessing the consciousness sometimes and not at others. (See 1Corinthians 7:10; 1Corinthians 7:12; 1Corinthians 7:25; 1Corinthians 7:40.) He means this declaration here to hold good of the details, which are such as no one would invent and teach with such solemnity; at the same time it must be remembered, with regard to the details, that it is the very idiom of prophecy (which St. Paul here uses) to express by material imagery spiritual facts.

We which are alive and remain.—Literally, We, (that is) the quick, those who are left over. There is not the least necessity for supposing from these words that St. Paul confidently expected the Advent before his death. Very likely he did, but it cannot be proved from this passage. Had the “we” stood alone, without the explanatory participles, it might have amounted to a proof, but not so now. His converts are strongly under the impression that they will be alive at the Coming, and that it will be the worse for the departed: therefore, St. Paul (becoming all things to all men) identifies himself with them—assumes that it will be as they expected—and proves the more vividly the fallacy of the Thessalonians’ fears. It would have been impossible, on the contrary, for St. Paul to have said “we which are dead” without definitely abandoning the hope of seeing the Return. Besides which, St. Paul is only picturing to imagination the scene of the Advent; and for any man it is far easier to imagine himself among the quick than among the dead at that moment.

Shall not preventi.e., “be before,” “get the start of.” If it were not for these words, we might have fancied that the Thessalonians had not been taught to believe in a resurrection at all; which would have been a strange departure from the usual apostolic gospel (1Corinthians 15:1, et seq.). We here learn what was the exact nature of the Thessalonians’ anxiety concerning the dead. They were full of excited hopes of the coming of that kingdom which had formed so prominent a part of the Apostles’ preaching there (Acts 17:7); and were afraid that the highest glories in that kingdom would be engrossed by those who were alive to receive them; and that the dead, not being to rise till afterwards, would have less blessed privileges. This would make them not only sorry for their dead friends, but also reluctant to die themselves. The negative in this clause is very emphatic in the Greek, and throws all its force upon the verb: “We shall certainly not get the start of them that sleep;” i.e., “if anything, we shall be behind them; they will rise first.”

1 Thessalonians 4:15. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord — By a particular revelation from him. No words, as Dr. Doddridge observes, can more plainly assert that, in what follows, the apostle declares precisely what God revealed to him, and consequently that there can be no room for any such interpretation of this passage, as supposed him to be at all mistaken in any circumstance of the account he gives. That we who are alive and remain — This manner of speaking intimates the fewness of those who will be then alive, compared with the multitude of the dead. It is well observed, says Whitby, by the Greek scholiasts, that the apostle speaks these words, not of himself, but of the Christians that should be found alive at the second coming of Christ: so Chrysostom, Theodoret, Œcumenius, and Theophylact; for he well knew that he was not to live till the resurrection: yea, he himself expected a resurrection, saying to the Corinthians, He that raised up the Lord Jesus, shall raise up us also by Jesus, and present us with you, 2 Corinthians 4:14. He laboured that he might attain to the resurrection of the dead, Php 3:11. Yet some divines have inferred, from this and some other places in the epistles, that the apostles themselves thought and taught, that they might live until the second coming of Christ; and that St. Paul afterward changed his opinion on this subject, and admonished the Thessalonians of it, 2 Thessalonians 2:2-6. But this certainly is a dangerous mistake, and highly prejudicial to the authority of the apostles, and therefore to the Christian faith. Indeed, if the churches of Christ had once received this doctrine from them, and afterward had understood, even from their own confession, that it was a mistake, this would naturally have led them to conceive that the apostles might have been mistaken also in any other doctrine, and to suspect the truth of all that was contained in their epistles. This the apostle seems to insinuate, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2. But that this apostle taught no such doctrine in either of his epistles to the Thessalonians, will be exceeding evident, 1st, From the following words in that chapter, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Let no man deceive you by any means, declaring them deceivers who either taught this doctrine, or imposed it on them as taught by the apostles; and also having said, in opposition to such an opinion, that day was not to come till there was a falling away first, adding, Remember you not that when I was yet with you I told you these things? He therefore had taught them the contrary before he had written either of these epistles, and, of consequence, cannot rationally be supposed to contradict himself. 2d, From the very words used in proof of this opinion, which are introduced with this solemn declaration, This we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, &c., in which words he most plainly vouches the authority of Christ for the truth of what he says; and therefore, if he were mistaken, either our Lord himself must have erred with him, or the apostle must vouch Christ’s word, and his authority, when Christ had spoken no such word, and given him no authority to declare such doctrine in his name; both which assertions overthrow the certainty and truth of all St. Paul’s epistles. And hence it follows that the apostle could not deliver this assertion in any other of his epistles, for all the learned agree in this, that these epistles to the Thessalonians were the first epistles St. Paul wrote; whence it must follow that he could not deliver, in his following writings to that church, or any other churches, that doctrine which he had so industriously before confuted, and declared very dangerous, in his epistle to the church of Thessalonica.

The truth is, such expressions as these, we who are alive, (1 Thessalonians 4:15,) we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, &c., (1 Corinthians 15:51,) are not to be understood of the writers themselves: they are mere figures of speech used by the best authors to draw their readers’ attention, or to soften some harsh or disagreeable sentiment; without intending to represent themselves either as of the number, or of the character, of the persons with whom they class themselves. Thus Hosea says, (Hosea 12:4,) God spake with US in Bethel; and the psalmist, (Psalm 66:6,) WE rejoiced, namely, at the Red sea, when divided; and, (Psalm 81:5,) I heard a language I understood not, that is, in Egypt, though neither were in existence at the times when the facts referred to happened. This figure in the mouth of Christ’s disciples has a singular propriety, because all of them making but one collective body, of which Christ is the Head, and which is united by the mutual love of all the members, individuals may consider every thing happening to the members of this body, as happening to themselves. We shall not prevent — Or anticipate; them who are asleep — Shall not receive our glorified bodies before them.

4:13-18 Here is comfort for the relations and friends of those who die in the Lord. Grief for the death of friends is lawful; we may weep for our own loss, though it may be their gain. Christianity does not forbid, and grace does not do away, our natural affections. Yet we must not be excessive in our sorrows; this is too much like those who have no hope of a better life. Death is an unknown thing, and we know little about the state after death; yet the doctrines of the resurrection and the second coming of Christ, are a remedy against the fear of death, and undue sorrow for the death of our Christian friends; and of these doctrines we have full assurance. It will be some happiness that all the saints shall meet, and remain together for ever; but the principal happiness of heaven is to be with the Lord, to see him, live with him, and enjoy him for ever. We should support one another in times sorrow; not deaden one another's spirits, or weaken one another's hands. And this may be done by the many lessons to be learned from the resurrection of the dead, and the second coming of Christ. What! comfort a man by telling him he is going to appear before the judgment-seat of God! Who can feel comfort from those words? That man alone with whose spirit the Spirit of God bears witness that his sins are blotted out, and the thoughts of whose heart are purified by the Holy Spirit, so that he can love God, and worthily magnify his name. We are not in a safe state unless it is thus with us, or we are desiring to be so.For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord - By the command or inspired teaching of the Lord. Prof. Bush (Anastasis, p. 265) supposes that the apostle here alludes to what the Saviour says in Matthew 24:30-31, "And they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven," etc. It is possible that Paul may have designed a general allusion to all that the Lord had said about his coming, but there cannot have been an exclusive reference to that passage, for in what he says here there are several circumstances mentioned to which the Saviour in Matthew does not allude. The probability, therefore, is, that Paul means that the Lord Jesus had made a special communication to him on the subject.

That we which are alive - See this fully explained in the notes on 1 Corinthians 15:51. From this expression, it would seem, that some of the Thessalonians supposed that Paul meant to teach that he himself, and many of the living, would survive until the coming of the Lord Jesus, and, of course, that that event was near at hand. That this was not his meaning, however, he is at special pains to show in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10.

And remain unto the coming of the Lord - Those Christians who shall then be alive.

Shall not prevent them which are asleep - Shall not precede; anticipate; go before. The word prevent with us is now commonly used in the sense of hinder, but this is never its meaning in the Scriptures. The word, in the time of the translators of the Bible, was used in its primitive and proper sense (praevenio), meaning to precede, or anticipate. Job 3:12," why did the knees prevent me?" That is, why did they anticipate me, so that I did not perish, Psalm 79:8, "Let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us;" that is, go before us in danger. Psalm 119:147, "I prevented the dawning of the morning and cried;" that is, I anticipated it, or I prayed before the morning dawned. Matthew 17:25," Jesus prevented him, saying;" that is, Jesus anticipated him; he commenced speaking before Peter had told him what he had said; compare Psalm 17:13; Psalm 59:10; Psalm 88:13; Psalm 95:2; 2 Samuel 22:6, 2 Samuel 22:19; Job 30:27; Job 41:11 The meaning here is, that they who would be alive at the coming of the Lord Jesus, would not be "changed" and received up into glory before those who were in their graves were raised up. The object seems to be to correct an opinion which prevailed among the Thessalonians that they who should survive to the coming of the Lord Jesus would have great advantages over those who had died. What they supposed those advantages would be - whether the privilege of seeing him come, or that they would be raised to higher honors in heaven, or that they who had died would not rise at all, does not appear, nor is the origin of this sentiment known. It is clear, however, that it was producing an increase of their sorrow on the death of their pious friends, and hence it was very important to correct the error. The apostle, therefore, states that no such disadvantage could follow, for the matter of fact was, that the dead would rise first.

15. by the word of the Lord—Greek, "in," that is, in virtue of a direct revelation from the Lord to me. So 1Ki 20:35. This is the "mystery," a truth once hidden, now revealed, which Paul shows (1Co 15:51, 52).

prevent—that is, "anticipate." So far were the early Christians from regarding their departed brethren as anticipating them in entering glory, that they needed to be assured that those who remain to the coming of the Lord "will not anticipate them that are asleep." The "we" means whichever of us are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord. The Spirit designed that believers in each successive age should live in continued expectation of the Lord's coming, not knowing but that they should be among those found alive at His coming (Mt 24:42). It is a sad fall from this blessed hope, that death is looked for by most men, rather than the coming of our Lord. Each successive generation in its time and place represents the generation which shall actually survive till His coming (Mt 25:13; Ro 13:11; 1Co 15:51; Jas 5:9; 1Pe 4:5, 6). The Spirit subsequently revealed by Paul that which is not inconsistent with the expectation here taught of the Lord's coming at any time; namely, that His coming would not be until there should be a "falling away first" (2Th 2:2, 3); but as symptoms of this soon appeared, none could say but that still this precursory event might be realized, and so the Lord come in his day. Each successive revelation fills in the details of the general outline first given. So Paul subsequently, while still looking mainly for the Lord's coming to clothe him with his body from heaven, looks for going to be with Christ in the meanwhile (2Co 5:1-10; Php 1:6, 23; 3:20, 21; 4:5). Edmunds well says, The "we" is an affectionate identifying of ourselves with our fellows of all ages, as members of the same body, under the same Head, Christ Jesus. So Ho 12:4, "God spake with us in Beth-el," that is, with Israel. "We did rejoice," that is, Israel at the Red Sea (Ps 66:6). Though neither Hosea, nor David, was alive at the times referred to, yet each identifies himself with those that were present.

The apostle here sets down particularly the manner of the Lord’s coming, the method and order how all the saints shall then meet with him and with one another, which we find not so distinctly in any other scripture; and whereby he further prosecutes the argument he is upon.

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord; that they might not think that what he speaks was either by some tradition from others, or an invention of his own; and that is ground enough for faith, to which our judgment and reason ought to be captivated.

That we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep: that which he saith here about the resurrection, Christ’s coming, the ministry of angels, the sound of a trumpet, the voice of Christ at that day, we have it in the evangelists; but the method and order of all the saints meeting together, and meeting the Lord in the air, we find not in any express words before written; the apostle speaks it here by extraordinary revelation, which is the word of the Lord, though not then written. And this order is expressed:

1. Negatively. The saints then living upon earth shall not be with Christ sooner than those that were fallen asleep, and be caught up into the air while the others are in the grave; and the apostle speaks as if he should be one of that number: surely he could not think the coming of Christ should be in the age wherein he lived; he speaks otherwise, 2 Thessalonians 2:2; or that his life should be prolonged to that day; for the time of his departure, he saith, was at hand, 2 Timothy 4:6. But he looks upon the whole body of saints together, and himself as one of that number, and so speaks, we which are alive and remain, & c.; as in 1 Corinthians 15:51: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.

2. Affirmatively. The dead in Christ shall rise first, that is, before they that are alive shall be caught up into the air; they shall stay till the rest be risen: as 1 Corinthians 15:51: We shall not all sleep, but be changed, and in a moment; which the apostle calls clothed upon, 2 Corinthians 5:2, and which he rather desired than to be unclothed, 1 Thessalonians 4:4: and then they that are dead in Christ shall rise, and be united to these in one visible body.

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord,.... The apostle having something new and extraordinary to deliver, concerning the coming of Christ, the first resurrection, or the resurrection of the saints, the change of the living saints, and the rapture both of the raised and living in the clouds to meet Christ in the air, expresses himself in this manner; either in allusion to the prophets of old, to whom the word of the Lord is said to come, and who usually introduced their prophecies with a "Thus saith the Lord"; or in distinction from his own private sense, sentiment, and opinion of things; signifying, that what he was about to say, was not a fancy and conjecture of his own, the fruit and produce of his own brain, but what he could assert upon a sure foundation, upon the best and greatest authority, even the word of the Lord; and has respect either to some particular word of Christ, as some think, such as Matthew 24:30 or rather to a particular and peculiar revelation, and special instruction in these things, he had immediately from Christ; and it may be when he was caught up into the third heaven himself, and had an experience in himself of somewhat of that which both the living and raised saints shall feel, when they are caught up together in the clouds; since the change of the living saints, at the time of the resurrection of the dead, is a mystery which seems to have been first made known unto, and discovered by the Apostle Paul; see 1 Corinthians 15:51.

That we which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord: not that the apostle thought that he and the saints then in the flesh should live and continue till the second coming of Christ; for he did not imagine that the coming of Christ was so near, as is manifest from 2 Thessalonians 2:1 though the Thessalonians might take him in this sense, which he there corrects; but he speaks of himself and others in the first person plural, by way of instance and example, for illustration sake; that supposing he and others should be then in being, the following would be the case: and moreover, he might use such a way of speaking with great propriety of other saints, and even of those unborn, and that will be on the spot when Christ shall come a second time; since all the saints make up one body, one family, one church and general assembly; so that the apostle might truly and justly say, "we which are alive"; that is, as many of our body, of our family, of our church or society, that shall be living at the coming of Christ; and he might choose the rather to speak in this form, person, and tense, to awaken the care, circumspection, diligence, and watchfulness of the saints, since it could not be known how soon the Lord would come: however, from hence it appears, that there will be saints alive at Christ's second coming; he will have a seed to serve him till he comes again; he always had in the worst of times, and will have, and that even in the last days, in the days of the son of man, which are said to be like those of Noah and of Lot: and these are said to "remain", or to be "left", these will be a remnant, the residue and remainder of the election of grace, and will be such as have escaped the fury of antichrist and his followers, or of the persecutors of the saints: now these

shall not prevent them that are asleep; that is, that are dead, so the Ethiopic version; the reason why the dead are so called, see in the note on the preceding verses: the sense is, either they "shall not come up to them that are asleep, or dead", as the Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions render the words; they shall not come into the state of the dead, they shall undergo a change equivalent to death, but not death itself; see 1 Corinthians 15:51 or rather they "shall not go before" them; they shall not get the start of them, and be in the arms of Jesus, and enjoy his presence when he comes, before the dead in Christ, which might be thought, but this will not be the case; for the dead saints will rise before the living ones are changed, and both will be caught up together to meet the Lord, as is said in the following verses; so that the one shall not come or go before the other, or come at, or into the enjoyment of Christ first, but both together.

{13} For this we say unto you by the {f} word of the Lord, that {g} we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.

(13) The manner of the resurrection will be in this way: the bodies of the dead will be as it were raised out of sleep at the sound of the trumpet of God. Christ himself will descend from heaven. The saints (for he is referring to them) who will then be found alive, together with the dead who will rise, will be taken up into the clouds to meet the Lord, and will be in perpetual glory with him.

(f) In the name of the Lord, as though he himself spoke to you.

(g) He speaks of these things, as though he should be one of those whom the Lord will find alive at his coming, because the time of his coming is uncertain: and therefore every one of us ought to be in such a readiness, as if the Lord were coming at any moment.

1 Thessalonians 4:15. A solemn confirmation of the comforting truth τοὺς κοιμηθέντας ἄξει σὺν αὐτῷ, by bringing forward the equality between those living at the advent and those already asleep. Koppe, Flatt, and Koch erroneously assume a reference to 1 Thessalonians 4:13, making the γάρ in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 parallel to the γάρ in 1 Thessalonians 4:15, and finding in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 a new reason for comfort.

τοῦτο] refers not to the preceding, but is an emphatic introduction to what follows the first ὅτι: this, namely, we say to you, ἐν λόγῳ κυρίου, that we, the living, etc.

ἐν λόγῳ κυρίου] in or by means of a word of the Lord (comp. בִּדְבַר הַמֶּלֶךְ, Esther 1:12; בִּדְבַר יְהֹוָה, 1 Kings 20:35), that is, the following statement on the relation of the living to those who are asleep at the advent does not rest on my (the apostle’s) subjective opinion, but on the infallible authority of Christ. Comp. 1 Corinthians 7:10; 1 Corinthians 7:12; 1 Corinthians 7:25.

Pelagius, Musculus, Bolten, Pelt, and others have regarded this λόγος κυρίου, to which Paul appeals, as the words of Christ in Matthew 24:31 (comp. Mark 13:27); whereas Hofmann is of opinion that Paul might have inferred it from the promises of Christ in Matthew 26:25 ff.; John 6:39 f. But the expressions found there are too general to be identified with the special thought in our passage. Schott’s statement, that Paul might justly appeal to the prophecy in Matthew 24:31, because it contained nothing of a prerogative of the living before the dead, but on the contrary represents simply an assembling of believing confessors with a view to the participation of the Messianic kingdom, is subtle, and does not correspond to the expression ἐν λόγῳ κυρίου, which points to positive information concerning the definite subject in question. Also Luthardt’s (l.c. pp. 141, 57) view, that in λόγος κυρίου a reference is made to the parable of the virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom (Matthew 25), and for which view εἰς ἀπάντησιν (1 Thessalonians 4:17) is most arbitrarily appealed to, is evidently erroneous. Others, as Calvin and Koch, have thought that Paul referred to a saying of Christ not preserved in the Gospels, but transmitted by tradition. (So, recently, also v. Zezschwitz, l.c. p. 121, according to whom the apostle thought “on a word” which is “to be sought for in the peculiar and intimate communications of our Lord to His disciples, such as He would have given them during the forty days, when He spoke with them concerning the βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ.”) This supposition may certainly be supported by the analogy of Acts 20:35; but it must always remain precarious, the more so as there was no inducement to Christ, in His intimations concerning the period of the fulfilment of the Messianic kingdom, to make such special questions, arising only in consequence of concrete circumstances, the subject of an anticipated instruction. It is best, therefore, with Chrysostom, Theodoret, Hunnius, Piscator (who, however, arbitrarily supposes the fact described in 2 Corinthians 12:2; 2 Corinthians 12:4), Aretius, Turretin, Benson, Moldenhauer, Koppe, Olshausen, de Wette, Gess (die Lehre von der Person Christi, Basel 1856, p. 69 f.), Alford, Riggenbach, and others, to suppose that Paul appeals to information concerning the matter in hand which had been communicated to him in a direct revelation by the heavenly Christ; comp. Galatians 1:12; Galatians 2:2; Ephesians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 12:1.

ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι εἰς τὴν παρουσίαν τοῦ κυρίου] we, the living, who remain unto the presence (or return) of the Lord. From the construction of these words it undoubtedly follows, that Paul reckoned himself with those who would survive till the commencement of the advent, as indeed the same expectation is also expressed in 1 Corinthians 15:51 f. Comp. besides, 1 Corinthians 7:26; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; 1 Corinthians 1:7-8; Romans 13:11-12; Php 4:5. See also Dähne, Entwickel. des Paulin. Lehrbegr. pp. 175 f., 190; Usteri, Paulin. Lehrbegr. p. 355; Messner, Die Lehre der Apostel, Leipz. 1856, p. 282. This expectation is not confirmed by history: Paul and all his contemporaries fell a prey to death. What wonder, then, if from an early period of the Christian church this plain meaning of the word was resisted, and in its place the most artificial and distorted interpretations were substituted? For that Paul could be capable of error was regarded as an objectionable concession, as an infringement upon the divine authority of the apostle. It has therefore almost universally[57] been maintained by interpreters, that Paul speaks neither of himself nor of his contemporaries, but of a later period of Christianity. So Chrysostom, Theodoret, John Damascenus, Oecumenius, Theophylact, Erasmus, Castalio, Calvin, Musculus, Bullinger, Zanchius, Hunnius, Balduin, Vorstius, Cornelius a Lapide, Jac. Laurentius, Calixt, Calov, Joach. Lange, Whitby, Benson, Bengel, Flatt, and many others. Whilst Calvin and Cornelius a Lapide, in order to remove difficulties, do not scruple to charge the apostle with a pious fraud; supposing that he, although he was convinced of the distance of the advent, nevertheless represented himself as surviving, in order in this way to stimulate believers to be in a state of spiritual readiness at every instant; Oecumenius, after the example of Methodius, interprets ΟἹ ΖῶΝΤΕς Κ.Τ.Λ. of the souls, and οἱ κοιμηθέντες of the bodies of Christians; ζῶντας τὰς ψυχάς, κοιμηθέντα δὲ τὰ σώματα λέγει· οὐκ ἂν οὖν προλάβωσιν αἱ ψυχαί· πρῶτον γὰρ ἐγείρεται τὰ σώματα, ἵνα αὐτὰ ἀπολάβωσιν αἱ ψυχαί, ἃς καὶ περιλιμπάνεσθαί φησι διὰ τὸ ἀθάνατον· οὐ γὰρ ἄν, εἰ μὴ περὶ ψυχῶν ἔλεγεν, εἶπε τὸ ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι, τελευτήσειν μέλλων· λέγει οὖν, ὅτι οἱ ζῶντες αἱ ψυχαὶ οὐκ ἂν τὰ σώματα προφθάσωμεν ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει, ἀλλὰ μετʼ αὐτῶν τῆς ἀναστάσεως τευξώμεθα. Usually, however, in order to remove the objectionableness of the words, an appeal is made to the fact that by means of an “enallage personae” or an ἀνακοίνωσις, something is often said of a collective body which, accurately taken, is only suited to a part. Then the sense would be: we Christians, namely, those of us who are alive at the commencement of the advent, i.e. the later generation of Christians who will survive the advent. But however often ἡμεῖς or ὙΜΕῖς is used in a communicative form, yet in this passage such an interpretation is impossible, because here ἩΜΕῖς ΟἹ ΖῶΝΤΕς Κ.Τ.Λ., as a peculiar class of Christians, are placed in sharp distinction from κοιμηθέντες, as a second class. Accordingly, in order to obtain the sense assumed, the words would require to have been written: ὅτι ἡμῶν οἱ ζῶντες κ.τ.λ. οὐ μὴ φθάσονται τοὺς κοιμηθέντας, apart altogether from the fact that also in 1 Thessalonians 5:4 the possibility is expressed, that the day of the Lord might break in upon the presently existing Thessalonian church. Not less arbitrary is it, with Joachim Lange, to explain the words: “we who live in our posterity,” for which an additional clause would be necessary. Or, with Turretin, Pelt, and others, to understand οἱ ζῶντες, οἱ περιλειπόμενοι in a hypothetical sense: we, provided we are then alive, provided we still remain. (So, in essentials, Hofmann: by those who are alive are meant those who had not already died.) For then, instead of ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες, οἱ περιλειπόμενοι, it would necessarily require ἩΜΕῖς ΖῶΝΤΕς, ΠΕΡΙΛΕΙΠΌΜΕΝΟΙ (without an article). The same also is valid against J. P. Lange (Das apostol. Zeitalter, I., Braunschw. 1853, p. 113): “The words, ‘the living, the surviving,’ are for the purpose of making the contrast a variable one, whilst they condition and limit the ἡμεῖς in the sense: we, so many of us (!), who yet live and have survived; or (?) rather, we in so far as we temporarily represent the living and remaining, in contrast to our dead.” Lastly, the view of Hoelemann (Die Stellung St. Pauli zu der Frage um die Zeit der Wiederkunft Christi, Leipz. 1858, p. 29) is not less refuted by the article before ζῶντες and ΠΕΡΙΛΕΙΠΌΜΕΝΟΙ: “The discourse, starting from the ἩΜΕῖς and rising more and more beyond this concrete beginning, by forming, with the next two notions οἱ ζῶντες, οἱ περιλειπόμενοι, always wider (!) and softer circles, strives to a generic (!) thought—namely, to this, that Paul and the contemporary Thessalonians, while in the changing state of περιλείπεσθαι (being left behind), might be indeed personally taken away beforehand; although the opposite possibility, that they themselves might yet be the surviving generation, is included in the ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες with which the thought begins, and which always echoes through it.” Every unprejudiced person must, even from those dogmatic suppositions, recognise that Paul here includes himself, along with the Thessalonians, among those who will be alive at the advent of Christ. Certainly this can only have been a hope, only a subjective expectation on the part of the apostle; as likewise, in the fifth chapter, although he there considers the advent as impending and coming suddenly, yet he supposes the indefiniteness of the proper period of its commencement (comp. also Acts 1:7; Mark 13:32). That the apostle here states his surviving only as a supposition or a hope, is not nullified by the fact that he imparts the information (1 Thessalonians 4:15) ἘΝ ΛΌΓῼ ΚΥΡΊΟΥ. For the ΛΌΓΟς ΚΥΡΊΟΥ can, according to the context, only refer to the relation of those who are asleep to the living; but does not refer to the fact who will belong to the one or to the other class at the commencement of the advent. Only on the first point was the comforting information contained which the Thessalonians required.

The present participles ΖῶΝΤΕς and ΠΕΡΙΛΕΙΠΌΜΕΝΟΙ are not to be taken as futures (Calvin, Flatt, Pelt), but denote the condition as it exists in the present, and stretches itself to the advent.

Οὐ ΜῊ ΦΘΆΣΩΜΕΝ ΤΟῪς ΚΟΙΜΗΘΈΝΤΑς] shall by no means precede those who are asleep, so that we would reach the end (the blessedness of the advent), but they would be left behind us, and accordingly lose the prize. The apostle speaks in the figure usual to him of a race, in which no one obtained the prize who was forced half way to interrupt his running.

On the emphatic οὐ μή, see Winer, p. 449 [E. T. 634].

[57] Exceptions in early times are very rare. They are found in Piscator (yet even he hesitates), Grotius, and Moldenhauer. To bring the correct view to more general recognition was reserved for recent times.

1 Thessalonians 4:15. κυρίου. On the tendency of the N.T. writers to reserve κύριος, with its O.T. predicates of divine authority, for Jesus, cf. Kattenbusch, op. cit., ii. 522. Paul’s use of the term goes back to Christ’s own claim to κύριος in the higher sense of Mark 12:35 f.—λέγομεν. Contrast the οἴδατε of 1 Thessalonians 5:2 and the language of 1 Thessalonians 4:1. Evidently Paul had not had time or occasion to speak of such a contingency, when he was with them.—ἐν λόγῳ κυρίου may mean either (a) a quotation (like Acts 20:35) from the sayings of Jesus, or (b) a prophetic revelation vouchsafed to Paul himself, or to Silvanus (cf. Acts 15:32). In the former case (so, among modern editors, Schott, Ewald, Drummond, Wohl.), an ἄγραφον is cited (Calvin, Koch, Weizsäcker, Resch, Paulinismus, 238 f.; Ropes, die Sprüche Jesu, 153 f.; M. Goguel; van der Vies, 15–17; O. Holtzmann, Life of Jesus, 10; von Soden) but it is evidently given in a free form, and the precise words cannot (even in 1 Thessalonians 4:16) be disentangled. Besides we should expect τινι to be added. Unless, therefore, we are to think of a primitive collection (Lake, Amer. Journ. Theol., 1906, 108 f.) or of some oral tradition, (b) is preferable. The contents of Matthew 24:31 (part of the small apocalypse) are too dissimilar to favour the conjecture (Pelt, Zimmer, Weiss) that Paul was thinking of this saying as current perhaps in oral tradition, and the O.T. analogy of λόγος Κυρίου (= God’s prophetic word), together with the internal probabilities of the case (Paul does not remind them of it, as elsewhere in the epistle) make it on the whole more likely that Paul is repeating words heard in a vision (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9; so Chryst., Theod., etc., followed by Alford, de Wette, Ellicott, Dods, Lünemann, Godet, Paret: Paulus und Jesus, 53 f., Simon: die Psychologie des Ap. Paulus, 100, Findlay, Lightfoot, Milligan, Lueken). Cf. the discussion in Knowling’s Witness of the Epistles, 408 f., and Feine’s Jesus Christus u. Paulus, 178, 179. Later in the century a similar difficulty vexed the pious Jew who wrote Fourth Esdras (5:41, 42: I said, But lo, O Lord, thou hast made the promise to those who shall be in the end: and what shall they do that have been before us …? And He said to me, I will liken my judgment to a ring; as there is no slackness of those who are last, so shall there be no swiftness of those who are first). His theory is that the previous generations of Israel will be as well off as their posterity in the latter days. Further on (13:14 f.) he raises and answers the question whether it was better to die before the last days or to live until they came (the phrase, those that are left, “qui relicti sunt,” 7:28 = Paul’s οἱ περιλειπόμενοι). His solution (which Steck, in Jahrb. für prot. Theol., 1883, 509–524, oddly regards as the λόγος κ. of 1 Thessalonians 4:15; see Schmidt’s refutation, pp. 107–110) is the opposite of Paul’s: those who are left are more blessed than those who have died. If this difficulty was felt in Jewish circles during the first half of the century, it may have affected those of the Thessalonian Christians who had been formerly connected with the synagogue, but the likelihood is that Paul’s language is coloured by his own Jewish training (cf. Charles on Asc. Isa., iv. 15). The misunderstanding of the Thessalonians, which had led to their sorrow and perplexity, was evidently due to the fact that, for some reason or another, Paul had not mentioned the possibility of any Christians dying before the second advent (so sure was he that all would soon survive it), coupled with the fact that Greeks found it hard to grasp what exactly resurrection meant (cf. Acts 17:32) for Christians.

15. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord] Lit., in a word of the Lord,—in the character of a message coming from “the mouth of the Lord;” comp. 1 Corinthians 7:10, “I give charge,—not I, but the Lord;” and ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 above, “not men’s word, but God’s.” The “word” that follows (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17) can hardly be explained as a traditional saying of Christ, unrecorded in the Gospels, like Acts 20:35; nor as an inference from the teaching of Jesus on the subject of His return. St Paul claims to have received this communication directly from Christ, “the Lord” of His Church, as a revelation to himself (comp. Galatians 2:2, Ephesians 3:3 for similar instances), given to him expressly in order to allay the fears of his readers. The Lord is manifestly Christ, as it is four times in the immediate sequel. St Paul applies to Christ’s word the same august phrase that in the O. T. denotes “the word of God” Himself; comp. note on ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:8.

that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord] This should be: we that are alive, that remain (or survive) unto the coming of the Lord. The second designation qualifies the first,—“those (I mean) who survive till the Lord comes.” St Paul did not count on any very near approach of the second Advent: comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2. At the same time, his language implies the possibility of the great event taking place within his lifetime, or that of the present generation. This remained an open question, or rather a matter on which questioning was forbidden (see Acts 1:7; Matthew 24:36). “Concerning the times and seasons” nothing was definitely known (ch. 1 Thessalonians 5:1, see note). The Apostles “knew in part” and “prophesied in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12); and until further light came, it was natural for the Church, ever sighing “Come Lord Jesus, come quickly!” to speak as St Paul does here. The same “we” occurs in this connection in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. But from the time of the dangerous illness recorded in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, the prospect of death occupied the foreground in the Apostle’s thoughts of his own future, and he never afterwards writes “we that remain.”

shall not prevent] “Prevent” is obsolete in this sense: comp. the Collect, “Prevent us in all our doings with Thy most gracious favour.” Better, shall in no wise precede (or anticipate) those that fell asleep. The shadow which the event of their premature death had cast over the fate of the sleeping Thessalonian believers was wholly imaginary, and should be dismissed at once from the minds of their sorrowing friends. Instead of their having no place, they will have, as Christ now reveals to His Apostle, the foremost place in His triumphant return. Though dead, they are “dead in Christ” (1 Thessalonians 4:16),—departed to “be with Christ”—“absent from the body” but “at home with the Lord,” as St Paul subsequently teaches (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Php 1:23). So it cannot be that those who are found in the flesh when He comes again, will be beforehand with them in this reunion. “God will bring them with Him,” for they are with Him already.

The Apostle proceeds to support this assurance by a description of Christ’s coming, derived from the revelation, or “word of the Lord,” to which he has just appealed. This was one of the most remarkable of the many “visions and revelations” which St Paul experienced (comp. 2 Corinthians 12:1-5).

1 Thessalonians 4:15. Ὑμῖν) To you, who are worthy of knowing this.—λέγομεν ἐν λόγῳ Κυρίου, we say by the word of the Lord) The Lord, the Christ, has spoken to us; we have spoken to you: comp. 1 Kings 20:35, בדבר יהוה, ἐν λόγῳ Κυρίου, by the word of the Lord. Phrases such as these are used in respect of a matter which is now for the first time opened up (disclosed), [Many matters connected with an altogether extraordinary subject, which would be in vain sought for elsewhere, are here discussed.—V. g.]—ἡμεῖς, we) The saints, by speaking thus in their own age, have greatly added to the obligation resting on those of following ages to look for the Lord. The we is presently explained by the following words, who are alive, and further on, who remain.—οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι, who live, who remain [who live, surviving]) So also 1 Thessalonians 4:17. This is equivalent to an apposition. Who live, is an antithesis to, who sleep. There is at the same time intimated the small number of those who live, compared with the multitude of the dead; likewise the good condition of those who are asleep, so that the living may desire to be gathered to them. Men of all ages conjointly have a lively anticipation of [realize to themselves the immediate fulfilment of] some one thing;[20] and so believers, who are now long waiting, and who regard themselves in the light of persons who are to live at the coming of the Lord, have spoken in accordance with this their character (spake in the manner that became the character they represented, viz. those who shall be alive at the Lord’s coming). Those who live, and those who remain till the coming of the Lord, are the same, and these are denoted by the pronoun we. Each generation, which lives at this or that time, occupies, during that period of their life, the place of those who are to live at the time of the coming of the Lord.[21] So the we is put here, as elsewhere the names Cajus and Titius,[22] and that, too, with the greater propriety, because believers of that age [i.e. of each successive past age] have not yet been allowed distinctly to know the vast period of time to elapse till the end of the world. The present tense in both participles is in reference to [i.e. in order to suit] the coming of the Lord itself, as in Acts 10:42 [παρήγγειλεν κηρῦξαι ὅτι αὐτός ἐστιν], and elsewhere frequently. Hence Paul has not hereby asserted that the day of Christ is so near; see 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3. A similar phrase is found at Romans 13:11; 1 Corinthians 15:51; Jam 5:9; 1 Peter 4:5-6; Matthew 24:42, note.—ΤΟῦ ΚΥΡΊΟΥ, of the Lord) Jesus Christ.—οὐ μὴ φθάσωμεν, we shall not [prevent] get before or anticipate) This assurance sweetly counteracts the fear of the survivors regarding the dead, and reckons the advantage of the former, including himself, not to be greater than that of those who are asleep.

[20] Or ‘repræsentant’ means, Men of different ages aiming conjointly at some one object (for instance, the House of Commons in successive ages seeking civil liberty and good government) are joint representatives of that one idea: and so the men of each particular age might regard themselves as the representatives of it in their particular age.—ED.

[21] That is, they are called on to live in daily and hourly expectation of the Lord’s coming in their time, since the time of His coming was left uncertain for that very purpose, Matthew 25:13. Such ‘watchers’ in each generation are representatives of those who shall actually be found alive when He comes.—ED.

[22] Imaginary persons put in law as representatives to exemplify some principle.—ED.

Verse 15. - For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord; or rather, by a word of the Lord. The apostle does not refer to those portions of the gospel which record our Lord's discourses concerning the last things; nor to some sayings of Christ preserved by tradition; but to a direct revelation made unto himself by the Lord. We know from Scripture that Paul had many such revelations imparted to him (comp. 1 Corinthians 11:23; Galatians 1:11, 12). That we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord. These words are the occasion of an important discussion. It has been affirmed that the apostle here asserts that he himself expected to be alive, with the majority of those to whom he was writing, at the Lord's advent; that, according to his expectation, Christ's second coming was close at hand. "Those who are alive and remain" are distinguished from "those who are asleep," and in the former class the apostle includes himself and his readers. And a similar declaration is contained in the First Epistle to the Corinthians: "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51). Such is the view adopted by Grotius, Olshausen, Koch, Neander, Lechler, Baur, Winer, Reuse, Lunemann, Riggenbach; and, among English divines, by Alford, Jowett, Stanley, and Conybeare. Some of them suppose that Paul changed his opinion on this point - that whilst in his earlier Epistles he taught the immediateness of the advent, in his later Epistles he renounced this hope and looked forward to his own departure. There does not seem to be any ground for this opinion. On the contrary, it would appear from the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, written only a few weeks after this Epistle, that Paul did not expect the advent immediately, but mentions a series of events which would intervene before its occurrence (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3). And in this Epistle he represses the curiosity of the Thessalonians about the precise time of the advent by telling them that it was beyond the sphere of his teaching (1 Thessalonians 5:1, 2). We consider, then, that the apostle speaks here as a member of the Christian body, and uses a very common form of expression - that we Christians which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord; but not at all intending to express his confidence that he himself and his converts would be actually alive at the advent. "He spake," says St. Chrysostom, "not of himself, but of Christians who would be alive at the day of judgment." Such is the view adopted by Chrysostom, Calvin, Bengel, Hofmann, Lunge, Macknight, Ellicott, Bishop Alexander, Wordsworth, and Vaughan. At the same time, it must be remembered that the time of the advent was expressly concealed (Matthew 24:36; Acts 1:7), and that it might occur at any period; and, by reason of their proximity to the first advent, the primitive Christians would be deeply impressed with the possibility or even probability of its occurrence in their days. Christians were to be living always in readiness for this great event, and thus it became a matter of expectation. "Strictly speaking, the expectation of the day of the Lord was not a belief, but a necessity in the early Church; clinging as it did to the thought of Christ, it could not bear to be separated from him; it was his absence, not his presence, that the first believers found it hard to realize" (Jowett). Hence Paul might not regard the advent as far removed into the distant future, as wholly impossible to happen in his days, but as an occurrence which might at any time take place; but he did not teach anything definite or certain on the subject. Shall not prevent; go before or anticipate, obtain the preference over, get before, so that those that are asleep might be left behind and fail of the prize. Them that are asleep; those who are dead, so that they, the living, should be glorified before them, or perhaps hinder their glorification. 1 Thessalonians 4:15By the word of the Lord (ἐν λόγῳ κυρίου)

Or in the word. Λόγος of a concrete saying, Romans 9:9; Romans 13:9. We do not say this on our own authority. Comp. 1 Corinthians 7:10, 1 Corinthians 7:12, 1 Corinthians 7:25. No recorded saying of the Lord answers to this reference. It may refer to a saying transmitted orally, or to a direct revelation to Paul. Comp. Galatians 1:12; Galatians 2:2; Ephesians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 12:1, 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Remain (περιλειπόμενοι)

Po. and only in this Epistle. The plural we indicates that Paul himself expected to be alive at the parousia.

Shall not prevent (οὐ μὴ φθάσωμεν)

The A.V. misses the force of the double negative - shall in no wise prevent. Prevent in the older sense of anticipate, be beforehand with. See on Matthew 17:25, and see on 1 Thessalonians 2:16. The living shall not share the blessings of the advent sooner than the dead in Christ.

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