For today’s devotion, we focus on the Epistle and read an excerpt from Concordia Pulpit Resources.
1 Thessalonians 4:13–18
Read the propers for today on lutherancalendar.org.
At Jesus’ second coming, every eye will see the risen Lord in glory! In our Epistle from 1 Thessalonians, Paul speaks of this glorious return and the hope of resurrection that is sure for all who believe.
Note: Except where otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are the devotion author’s translation.
V 13: “concerning those who sleep.” Sleep is often the New Testament description of dead believers, not as a circumlocution for the harsh reality of death, but because it accurately describes the mystery (1 Cor 15:51) of the resurrection of the body. As the body of the believing Christian lies dormant in death, so it rises to life on the day of the resurrection of all flesh. Thus death is but a sleep for the Christian.
“just as those who have no hope.” The sorrow of separation is painful even for the Christian. Yet grief is different for the Christian, for it anticipates the glorious hope of the reunion yet to come: being with the Lord (“we shall be ever with the Lord,” v 17) together with those they love.
V 15: “we say by the Word of the Lord.” The apostle invokes the Word of the living Christ as the solemn basis for his teaching, thus correcting the ignorance of the Thessalonians regarding the fate of those they love who have died in the faith.
“shall certainly not precede.” A strong adversative is used, indicating how deeply rooted among the Thessalonians was the fear that those who die prior to the return of Christ will somehow miss out on the glories of eternal life or be relegated to some lesser sphere in eternity. (All recent translations resolve the potential misunderstanding for today’s readers of the KJV’s archaic rendering of this phrase: “shall not prevent.”)
V 16: “the Lord himself.” The reflexive pronoun stresses the personal authority of Christ at his coming, supported with three datives of instrumentality: “with shout of command,” “with voice of an archangel,” “and with the [sound of the] trumpet of God.” Christ returns visibly and orally, openly and unmistakably in charge of his creation.
“the dead in Christ shall be raised first.” Here the apostle directly addresses the misbelief that the living will precede (“arrive ahead, precede,” v 15) the dead at Christ’s coming.
V 17: “we, the living ones who remain” (also in v 15). This phrase, significant in that it is repeated, teaches that neither death nor life can separate the faithful from the love of God (Rom 8:38–39). Those who have already died and those who remain until Christ’s coming likewise share in the glories of eternal life.
“we will be caught up.” In contrast to millennialist fancies such as those popularized in the Left Behind series, this rapture does not save people from earthly tribulation, but ushers the faithful, living and dead alike, into the Lord’s eternal bliss. This text is a golden opportunity to clarify many false notions of the end times. Even the Thessalonians themselves, armed with Paul’s first letter, nevertheless continued to fall into confusions, as evidenced by the need for Paul’s second epistle (e.g., 2 Thess 2:1–3).
V 18: “encourage one another” (ESV), literally, “comfort one another.” The dominical words (v 15) of hope in the face of death not only ease grief, but also lend strength and encouragement for daily living.
Devotional reading is adapted from Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 18, Part 4, Series A © 2008 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.