Unit: 1 & 2 Thessalonians
Theme: Walk Worthy
Lesson Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:16—5:18
Supplemental Text: 1 Corinthians 13:13; 15:20-28, 35-52; 1 Peter 4:7-10; 5:6-11
Aim: Be alert and practice self-control, faith, hope, and love.
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By Mark Scott
Being brain-dead is no small thing. Without divine intervention, being brain-dead likely means permanent, irreversible, and complete loss of brain function. Spiritual brain-deadness is also no small thing. This comes when believers are not alert to the things of God. Their spiritual antennae are not receiving any signals. The Thessalonians were spiritually brain-dead about a major doctrine—the return of Jesus. Both their joy and their daily living took a hit as a result.
The doctrinal emphasis comes early in many of Paul’s Epistles (think Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians). But the doctrinal centerpiece of 1 Thessalonians comes in chapters 4 and 5. The call to moral excellence in Christian living seems to lead up to and finds its basis in the doctrinal emphasis of the book. This section on the return of Christ is one of the longest in the New Testament. It begins in 1 Thessalonians 4:13. Evidently some of the believers felt as if those who had died before the return of Jesus would miss out on his second coming. Paul was writing to correct that fallacious thinking.
The Reality of Christ’s Return
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
The return of Christ is as sure as his resurrection. Paul said the Lord himself will come from heaven. He will not send someone else in his place. Christ’s return will be attended by three things: a loud command (like the shout of soldiers in battle); the voice of the archangel (highest angel); and the trumpet call of God (trumpets were used to announce things like festivals and battles).
When the Lord returns, believers who have already died will be resurrected first. Their spirits, which had gone to be with the Lord upon their deaths (2 Corinthians 5:6), will be reunited with their bodies, and they will rise to help usher in his processional (like an ancient king returning home). Then those alive when Christ returns will be caught up (seized or robbed) together to meet Jesus as he descends on the clouds to earth. Both the dead in Christ and those alive at his coming will be with the Lord forever. At that time, Christ will judge the world (Revelation 19–20), purify it with fire (2 Peter 3), and create the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21–22).
The Suddenness of Christ’s Return
1 Thessalonians 5:1-3
We need not be frantic about Jesus’ return. In fact, Christians should encourage each other regarding the second coming (mentioned twice in our lesson text—4:18 and 5:11). That said, there will be a surprising suddenness to Christ’s return. Paul used two examples to underline this suddenness. First, he said the Lord will come like a thief (mentioned in vv. 2 and 4). Thieves do not usually announce their coming. Instead, they operate in stealth under a cloak of darkness. Second, Paul said it will occur as labor pains on a pregnant woman. Pregnant women can have false labor and even contractions for days. But when it is time for the baby to come, the baby comes.
The Moral Purity That Attends Christ’s Return
1 Thessalonians 5:4-11
As Francis Schaeffer said years ago (and the apostle said in 2 Peter 3:11), How Should We Then Live? Which influences us more, the past or the future? Maybe the future is a more powerful shaping force in our lives than our past. Paul seemed to think so.
Paul used contrasting, morally driven comparisons to make his point—darkness and light (night and day); asleep or awake; sober or drunk. Believers (called children of the light or day) should not participate in the fruitless deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). Christians live this calling to moral purity due to three things: the armor of God (v. 8); the recipients of salvation (v. 9); and the Christian community (v. 10)—we live together.
The Body Life in Light of Christ’s Return
1 Thessalonians 5:12-18
Paul addressed both leaders and followers in this text with a host of “machine-gun” imperatives. For effective body life in the church, members need to treat their leaders (those who work hard and care for you) with respect (highest regard). Likewise, leaders are solid people helpers—they warn, encourage, and help folks, while being patient with everyone. They must see that people strive to do what is good and that they don’t retaliate.
In addition to this division of responsibilities, all believers must rejoice, pray, and give thanks. The rub for these imperatives comes when we read always, continually, and in all circumstances. This kind of body life will have an attraction all its own.