A Letter of Comfort
Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is not only an expression of Paul’s longing to revisit the Thessalonians and to supply for them anything that may be lacking in their faith, but it is also a message of reassurance regarding those of their brethren who’ve died (fallen asleep).
Before we jump directly into chapter five, it’s important to get a better perspective of the context for our subject scriptures. In addition, it’s in chapter four where Paul begins to comfort the Thessalonians regarding their own future and those who’ve died.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Take a moment and make some observations about what the author is relaying. I’ll share some of my observations:
- It is not unusual for those in Christ to have their faith shaken during the loss of their brethren. Here Paul is reaching out to comfort them in this regard.
- Our hope in Christ enables us to grieve differently from others in the world.
- Our faith and trust is in the God who raised Christ Jesus from the grave and His promise to do the same for those who’ve died in Christ.
- We’re assured that Christ, when he returns to earth, will bring with him those of our brethren who’ve died.
- He assures us that at the time our Lord returns, the dead in Christ will be redeemed before those who are alive.
- Paul even outlines the process for them:
- The Lord will descend from heaven
- With his commanding voice, the voice of an archangel, and the trumpet of God, the dead will be called forth from their graves. They will rise first.
- Then, we who are alive at that time will be caught up (raptured) together with them.
- Together we meet the Lord who’s still in the air. From that point forward we’ll always be with the Lord.
- With these words and God’s faithfulness we can encourage and comfort one another.
The Children of Light
Paul continues then, in his letter to the Thessalonians, to identify the circumstances that lead up to the expectations given in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10. These also assist in identifying the context for the subject scriptures, so let’s walk through them briefly.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 – Paul indicates that he has already instructed them regarding the Day of the Lord. It will come like a thief in the night upon those unaware. There will be no escape for them.
1 Thessalonians 5:4-6 – Paul continues to contrast the brethren, the children of light, with those who are unaware and in darkness. There is a distinction between those who are the children of the day and those of the night. The contrast is in regard to awareness; awareness of the work of God in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:7-8 – He then outlines our responsibility; to be sober and aware, as opposed to being asleep or even unconscious. Our weapons to maintain sobriety are faith, love, and the hope of our salvation.
This leads us to the subject scripture. It is here that Paul clarifies the underlying faithfulness of God to complete in us the work he started in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:9-10
9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.
Here are my observations:
- By calling us (vs 24), God has changed our destiny
- From disobedience, which leads to wrath
- To righteousness, which leads to life eternal
- The salvation we seek, comes through Christ
- He alone is the Lamb of God who became sin so that those who trust in him are justified and reconciled to God
- It is not obtained by any means which mankind possesses
It is in that reconciled state that committed believers receive God’s Holy Spirit as the guarantor of the inheritance promised in Christ.
The Nature of the Inheritance
It’s important that we recognize the distinction often made in scripture regarding those who inherit the kingdom of God and those who dwell in it. To inherit means to possess and have ownership in the object of inheritance. In the case of the kingdom of God, the inheritor both possesses and dwells in that kingdom. This is not the case for one who dwells in the kingdom. Ownership is not conferred upon those who are visitors or dwellers.(Galatians 3:23-29; Titus 3:4-8; Hebrews 6:11-20; 11:8-12; James 2:5)
We can see this further if we look at the characteristics of the inheritance as it’s described in scripture.
1 Corinthians 15:45-50 – The first man, Adam, became a living being. The second Adam (Christ), became a life-giving spirit. It is only those born of this spirit that can inherit the kingdom of God; flesh and blood cannot.
Ephesians 1:11-14 – It is only through Christ that we, the first to hope and believe, have obtained an inheritance – our salvation. Being sealed with the Holy Spirit, we are assured of that promised inheritance until we acquire possession of it.
Ephesians 1:15-21 – This inheritance is comparable to the great things God worked in Jesus Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand to rule over all authority, power and dominion, not only in this age but also in the age to come. These are the riches of his glorious inheritance and the hope to which he has called you.
One obvious question from these descriptions of the inheritance is when shall we receive it? This is clarified for us by Peter in his first letter to the elect.
1 Peter 1:3-5, 7, 13
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
13Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (emphasis mine)
The Day of the Lord
Unfortunately, the original question doesn’t indicate the questioner’s expectations for the Day of the Lord. When considering the many interpretations surrounding the Day of the Lord, the perspective one has concerning the day will impact the completeness of the answer provided in this article. Some attribute the period, referred to as the Great Tribulation, to be equivalent and existing at the same time as the Day of the Lord. Others view these time periods as distinct yet contiguous; one follows after the other.
For a related discussion on the relationship between the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. Read more.
The reason this matters is that those who see the two periods as equivalent (as one period) try to apply the promise of protection God makes for believers to both events within that one period; the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord(1). This thinking oversteps the promise. God’s promise of protection from wrath refers only to His wrath, not all wrath.
The second group, who distinguish these two periods as separate and congruent, recognize that the Great Tribulation is a period of Satan’s wrath, while the Day of the Lord is a period of God’s wrath. This is consistent with an unfiltered view of scripture as expressed by the original authors. The “church” is clearly subject to the wrath of Satan by the hands of the Beast power (Revelation 12:17; 13:5-8), but it is exempt from the wrath of God afforded them by the reconciliation in Christ Jesus (Romans 5:8-10; 6:20-23; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
The assurance and comfort expressed to believers in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 does have limitations depending on one’s expectations for how the Day of the Lord is defined. The comfort and assurance of being freed from God’s wrath is clearly afforded those who faithfully await the return of their Lord and Savior. That exemption from wrath is coexistent with the reconciliation to God obtained through belief in Christ. However, the promise of exemption from wrath only applies to God’s wrath, making one’s presupposition about the Day of the Lord a vital one. Take the time to study and prove whether these things are true.
There is much more to learn about each of these topics, and links have been provided to related articles. Those tagged with Read more lead you to related channel questions and their basic answers. Those tagged Discover more are part of a more in-depth study program. Any tagged with Learn more address methods, processes, and resources which can aid your approach to learning. All are free resources to assist you in gaining a more unfiltered view of God’s word.
To discover more about the plans Christ has for his body of believers, read my recent book –
The Rapture Question – An Unfiltered View
At the close of each article, the relevant presuppositions that support it will be cited. This enables the reader to gain a clearer and deeper understanding of the context. To learn more about presuppositions, see the About page.
- Faith, which is a gift of God, is the basis of the hope of salvation for all those committed to the Lord. (Romans 11; 1 Peter 1; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Jude 3)
- The divinity and supremacy of the Son of God – the creator and finisher of all things. He alone is given authority to judge in righteousness according to the will of God (Fourth Gospel 1:1-5; Psalm 96:10-13; Isaiah 11:1-5; Acts 17:30-31; Romans 2:5-11; Revelation 5; 19:11-16)
- Christ’s work includes the execution of God’s wrath at a time of His appointing (Revelation 5; Matthew 24:36-37; Mark 13:32-33; Luke 21:27-28; Joel 2:30-32)
1) The Rapture Question – second edition, John F. Walvoord – A Ground for Comfort (pg 74)
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