The Pulpit Commentary

1 Thessalonians 4:1-18 (1 Thessalonians 4:1-18)

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1 Thessalonians 4:13 (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

With this verse the apostle proceeds to another subject, namely, to comfort those who were mourning the death of their friends. It would appear that the Thessalonians were in perplexity and distress concerning the fate of their deceased friends, fearing that these would miss those blessings which they expected Christ to confer at his advent. Their views of the time and nature of the advent and of the future state in general were confused. They expected that Christ would come immediately and establish his kingdom on earth; and consequently they feared that those who had died would be excluded from it. But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren ; a phrase often used by the apostle, when he makes a transition to new and important matters (comp. Romans 1:13 ; Romans 11:25 ; 1 Corinthians 10:1 ; 1 Corinthians 12:1 ; 2 Corinthians 1:8 ). Concerning them which are asleep ; or, are fallen asleep. The death of believers in the New Testament is frequently called "sleep." "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth" ( John 11:11 ). Of Stephen it is said that "he fell asleep" ( Acts 7:60 ). "Many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep" ( 1 Corinthians 11:30 ). "Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished" ( 1 Corinthians 15:18 ). "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" (l Corinthians 15:51). "He fell asleep" is a common epitaph on early Christian tombstones. It is to be observed that it is not of the dead generally that the apostle speaks, but of the dead in Christ, and especially of those members of the Thessalonian Church who had died. That ye sorrow not. Some suppose that sorrow for our deceased friends is here utterly prohibited; inasmuch as if we had a firm belief in their blessedness we would rejoice and not mourn. But the sorrow here prohibited is a despairing and an unbelieving sorrow; we are forbidden to sorrow as those who have no hope, no belief in a blessed resurrection. The tears of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus have authorized and sanctified Christian sorrow. "Paul," observes Calvin, "lifts up the minds of believers to a consideration of the resurrection, lest they should indulge excessive grief on occasion of the death of their relatives, for it were unseemly that there should be no difference between them and unbelievers, who put no end or measure to their grief, for this reason, that in death they recognize nothing but destruction. Those that abuse this testimony so as to establish among Christians stoical indifference, that is, an iron hardness, will find nothing of this nature in Paul's words." Even as others ; literally, as the rest ; namely, the heathen. Which have no hope ; no hope of immortality beyond death, or no hope of the resurrection. The heathen, with very few exceptions, had no hope of a future life, and hence they mourned over the death of their friends as an irreparable loss. This disconsolate feeling is apparent in their writings (for examples, see Lunemann, Alford, and Jowett, in loco ) .

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