Starting in chapter 4, the apostle Paul shifted his attention away from thanksgiving and encouragement (chapters 1-3) to instruction and exhortation. Verses 1-12 of chapter 4 highlight a life pleasing to God. In chapter 4:1-2, we have explicit statements of Paul’s main transition and theme: a life of practical sanctification. Paul’s flow and train of thought continues as he addresses another specific deficiency in this young church and how our actions and attitudes can please God: What happens to Christians who “fall asleep” (die) before Jesus returns? Are they second-class citizens? What should our Christian response be to our loved ones who die in the faith? How can we comfort one another?
In this section, from 4:13 and going to 5:11, we see a general theme of the coming again of the Lord, or more commonly referred to as the second coming of Jesus. It is one of the clearest passages in the New Testament that deal with the second coming. Paul certainly wanted to hammer this home, for as we noted previously, he alluded to the second coming of Jesus in every chapter of this letter! (1:10, 2:19, 3:14 and throughout these last two chapters)
It is important to mention, this section of Scripture has been abused by more people of God in the last 150 years than maybe any other in the Bible. Why? For one, some Christians see this section of Scripture as *NOT* dealing with the second coming. They would say, this section is only about the resurrection of the dead and the secret “rapture” of the church. This particular position states that first the church is raptured from the earth, then a great seven year tribulation takes place, which culminates in the real second coming of Jesus. The popular Left Behind series, based on this view from John Darby (1800-1882), strongly promotes a very specific scenario of end time events in accord with this position. Many Christians, myself included, were first introduced to Christianity and raised in churches where this eschatological view (teaching of last things/end times) was embraced as if there were no dispute and all Christians were in alignment for centuries. To quote Inigo Montoya’s famous words of wisdom to Vizzini in The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” For 1850 years of church history, the word “rapture” (Latin for “a carrying off”) was always seen in relation to believers in the context of the final, second coming of Jesus when he wraps up history…not a secret rapture of the church.
This sermon will be an “overview” of the section before we dive into verse by verse and phrase by phrase. Our aim is to see this section of Scripture in its macro and micro context, paying careful attention to the goals of the author. The plan is to not advocate or disparage any one particular view, but challenge and encourage the body of Christ with the classical consensus of what we all believe and spur one another on towards love and good deeds. This week, we will be looking at helpful guidelines to approach this section, but also engage some practical frameworks from the text that can aid us in our growth in Godliness and walking to please God.
Some questions for discussion/review:
- What is the larger context of this section starting in chapter 4? (4:1-2, 1-12)
- Related: What is sanctification and how is it different from justification and glorification? What texts are your “go to” texts for explaining the differences? (Romans 5? Romans 8?) Is it helpful to see our “eternal salvation” (Heb 5:9) as, “God saved me, is saving me, and will save”?
- What is the specific subject matter starting in verse 13 of chapter 4? Hint: What specific group is mentioned in verse 13, 14, 15 and 16 of chapter 4?
- In 2 THESS 1:8-9, Paul deals with what happens to non-believers at the second coming. Read it and in contrast, what jumps out at you compared to this section in 1 Thess?
- By bringing up the “therefore” in 4:18, what is Paul saying is his goal in bringing up this teaching?
- How can fellow believers encourage and comfort one another with this teaching? How does hope and the resurrection change everything?