A Commentary by John Stott
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. c). An eschatological programme.
Having outlined the Christian creed in relation to Christ, the Christian dead and the Christian living (14-15), in which he has emphasized the negative truth that those who are alive at Christ’s coming will emphatically *not precede*, or ‘have no advantage over’ (REB), those who have died, Paul goes on to make four positive affirmations, relating to four great eschatological events.
(i) The Return: The Lord himself will come down from heaven (4:16a).
We note that it is *the Lord himself* who will ‘descend’ (RSV), not one of his deputies or representatives. The Parousia will be a personal coming, a visit in person, of *the Lord*, that is, Jesus. Accompanying his return there will be a universal, authoritative, divine proclamation which presumably will both announce the end and summon the dead to rise. For the Parousia and the resurrection are inseparable. As at the creation God ‘spoke and it came to be’ (Ps.33:9), and as at the tomb Jesus called in a loud voice ‘Lazarus, come out!’ and he came out (Jn.11:43-44), so on the last day the dead will hear the creative, commanding voice of God and will obey (Jn.5:25-28). JBP captures the drama well: ‘One word of command, one shout from the archangel, one blast from the trumpet of God and the Lord himself will come down from Heaven!’ We are probably not meant to imagine three distinct noises (the *command*, the *voice* and the *trumpet*) but rather to understand the variety and repetition as indicating the overwhelming, irresistible nature of the summons.
(ii). The Resurrection: And the dead in Christ will rise first (4:16b).
Already in verse 14 Paul has assured the Thessalonians that when Jesus comes God will bring the Christian dead with him. But he did not explain how or in what form they would accompany him, although the reference to Jesus dying and rising gave us a clear hint. Now, however, Paul is explicit in supplying the missing information. Their resurrection will precede their coming. *The dead in Christ will rise first*. This sequence is appropriate. Since the Christ who comes will be the Christ who himself *died and rose again* (14), so those who have died in him will now rise with him, and the resurrected Christ will be accompanied at his coming by his resurrected people (Cf. 1 Cor,15:20-23). Again we observe the gist of Paul’s argument. There is no possibility that those who have died in Christ will ever be separated from Christ. They died ‘through’ him (14); they sleep ‘in’ him (16); they will rise ‘with’ him; and they will come ‘with’ him too (14). Christ and his people belong to each other inseparably and indissolubly.
Tomorrow: 1 Thessalonians 4:17a. (iii) The Rapture: We who are still alive…will be caught up together with them…
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.