Chapters four and five each divide into two sections. As Paul began to wrap up his letter, he shifted from reminiscing and loving to instruction and commands. He addressed four areas in these final two chapters: practical Christian living, the Rapture of the Church, the Day of the Lord, and congregational living.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, Paul focused on some very practical, in-your-face teaching about how to live a Christian life. He said he had told them that certain things were necessary to live in a way pleasing to God, urging them to follow through with what he had taught them even more than they were already doing. The first area was their sanctification 1, especially in reference to sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). He gave them both a negative and positive command to help them live properly: stay away from it and get control of their bodies. The second area was their brotherly love (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10). He had already praised them for how well they were doing it, so he simply praised them again followed by an encouragement to keep it up and do even more.
The third area had to do with their relation to the unbelieving world around them, and it had three parts to it (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). First, they were “to aspire to lead a quiet life.” Christians should not be the ones causing trouble, starting arguments, or making a public spectacle (Romans 12:18). Second, Paul told them to “attend to your own business.” The opposite of this would be a busybody. While leading a quiet life, we are to keep busy in Christian service. Third, Paul commanded them to “work with your hands.” Second Thessalonians 3:10-12 explains this further. Apparently, some had quit their jobs and were relying on personal charity and the congregation to support them, as they waited for Jesus’ soon return. Paul said, “Get a job and stop mooching!” Paul’s reason for these specific commands was that unbelievers are watching. Immoral, busybodies, moochers, and troublemakers hurt our cause. Unbelievers do not like them any more than other Christians do, and they especially do not like it when they are doing these things while talking about Jesus.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul addressed a serious concern from his friends. He had apparently taught them that Jesus would return before the day of the Lord (see 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2). However, some of the congregation had died in the intervening months, and the survivors were genuinely concerned their loved ones would miss Jesus’ coming. Since the details about the Rapture were new to them, it is conceivable that they were the first ones to ever hear this revelation (1 Thessalonians 4:15). 2
Paul told them that they had no reason to grieve as if there were no hope, because Jesus’ return is the substance of our confident hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3; cf. Titus 2:13). In fact, rather than missing out on the event, Paul insisted that “those who are asleep through Jesus” (literally) will come back with him. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, death itself has changed (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).
The Rapture event actually includes five parts, only one of which is the actual “rapture.” 3 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 reveal that there will be an announcement, Jesus’ arrival into the clouds, the resurrection of dead saints, the rapture of living saints, and the eternal presence of the Savior. The last part was Paul’s emphasis. Rather than just “going to heaven,” whenever he thought of eternity, he could think of only one thing: being with Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-23). This is why he commanded his readers to “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). 4
- The key word of verses 3-8 is “holy.” It appears in some form four times in these six verses. In Paul’s letters, “sanctification” means “to set apart as holy.” ↩
- Paul continued to receive new revelation from God throughout the course of his ministry. Some of this was probably for specific ministry but much of it was recorded in the Scriptures for our instruction and benefit as well as the original readers’. ↩
- The word “rapture” means “to catch or seize” and comes from the Latin word behind “will be caught up” in verse seventeen. (The Greek word that Paul used, ἁρπάζω, harpazo, means the same as the Latin word.) ↩
- The Rapture of the Church is such an important truth that some believe it should form the foundation for all Christian counseling. ↩