1 Thessalonians 4


The apostle exhorts them to attend to the directions which he

had already given them, that they might know how to walk and

please God, 1, 2.

Gives them exhortations concerning continence, chastity, and

matrimonial fidelity, 3-8.

Speaks concerning their love to each other, and love to the

Churches of Christ; and exhorts them to continue and increase

in it, 9, 10.

Counsels them to observe an inoffensive conduct, to mind their

own affairs, to do their own business, and to live honestly,

11, 12.

Not to sorrow for the dead, as persons who have no hope of a

resurrection; because to Christians the resurrection of Christ

is a proof of the resurrection of his followers, 13, 14.

Gives a short but awful description of the appearing of Christ

to judge the world, 15.


Verse 1. We beseech you, brethren, and exhort] We give you

proper instructions in heavenly things, and request you to attend

to our advice. The apostle used the most pressing entreaties; for

he had a strong and affectionate desire that this Church should

excel in all righteousness and true holiness.

Please God more and more.] God sets no bounds to the

communications of his grace and Spirit to them that are faithful.

And as there are no bounds to the graces, so there should be none

to the exercise of those graces. No man can ever feel that he

loves God too much, or that he loves man too much for God's sake.

Verse 2. Ye know what commandments we gave you] This refers

to his instructions while he was among them; and to instructions

on particular subjects, which he does not recapitulate, but only

hints at.

Verse 3. This is the will of God, even your sanctification]

God has called you to holiness; he requires that you should be

holy; for without holiness none can see the Lord. This is the

general calling, but in it many particulars are included. Some of

these he proceeds to mention; and it is very likely that these had

been points on which he gave them particular instructions while

among them.

That ye should abstain from fornication] The word πορνεια, as

we have seen in other places, includes all sorts of uncleanness;

and it was probably this consideration that induced several MSS.,

some versions and fathers, to add here πασης, all. Directions of

this kind were peculiarly necessary among the Greeks, and indeed

heathens in general, who were strongly addicted to such vices.

Verse 4. How to possess his vessel] Let every man use his

wife for the purpose alone for which God created her, and

instituted marriage. The word ακευος answers to the Hebrew

keli, which, though it signifies vessel in general, has several

other meanings. That the rabbins frequently express wife by it,

Schoettgen largely proves; and to me it appears very probable that

the apostle uses it in that sense here. St. Peter calls the wife

the weaker VESSEL, 1Pe 3:7.

Others think that the body is meant, which is the vessel in which

the soul dwells. In this sense St. Paul uses it, 2Co 4:7:

We have this treasure in earthen VESSELS; and in this sense it is

used by both Greek and Roman authors. There is a third sense

which interpreters have put on the word, which I forbear to name.

The general sense is plain; purity and continency are most

obviously intended, whether the word be understood as referring to

the wife or the husband, as the following verse sufficiently


Verse 5. Not in the lust of concupiscence] Having no rational

object, aim, nor end. Some say, "not like beasts;" but this does

not apply as they who use it wish, for the males and females of

the brute creation are regular and consistent in their

intercourse, and scarcely ever exceed such bounds as reason itself

would prescribe to those most capable of observing and obeying its


The Gentiles which know not God] These are the beasts; their

own brutes are rational creatures when compared with them. Enough

has been said on this subject on Romans 1, and 2: They who wish to

see more may consult Juvenal, and particularly his 6th and 9th

Satires; and indeed all the writers on Greek and Roman morals.

Verse 6. That no man go beyond and defraud his brother] That

no man should by any means endeavour to corrupt the wife of

another, or to alienate her affections or fidelity from her

husband; this I believe to be the apostle's meaning, though some

understand it of covetousness, overreaching, tricking, cheating,

and cozenage in general.

The Lord is the avenger of all such] He takes up the cause of

the injured husband wherever the case has not been detected by

man, and all such vices he will signally punish. Every species of

uncleanness was practised among the heathens, nor were they

reputed as vices. Their gods, their emperors, their

philosophers, and their great men in general, gave them examples

of every species of impurity; and they had no system of ethics

which forbade these abominations. The Christian religion not only

discountenances these things, but forbids them on the most awful

penalties; therefore wherever Christianity prevails, these vices,

if practised at all, are obliged to seek the deepest gloom of

midnight to cover them from the eyes of men. On this account they

are comparatively rare, even among the mere professors of

Christianity; they exist, but do not flourish.

Verse 7. God hath not called us unto uncleanness] He is the

creator of male and female, and the institutor of marriage, and he

has called men and women to this state; but the end of this and

all the other callings of God to man is holiness, not uncleanness.

And they who use the marriage state as he directs, will find it

conducive to their holiness and perfection.

Verse 8. He therefore that despiseth] He who will not receive

these teachings, and is led either to undervalue or despise them,

despises not us but God, from whom we have received our

commission, and by whose Spirit we give these directions.

See Clarke on 1Th 4:15.

Hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit.] Instead of ειςημας,

unto US, ειςυμας, unto YOU, is the reading of BDEFG, a great

many others, the Syriac, all the Arabic, Armenian, later Syriac

in the margin, some o� the Itala, Clement, Didymus, and

Ambrosiaster; this seems to be the better reading. God has taught

us that we may teach you; and he has also given you his Holy

Spirit that ye might understand and be enabled to practise these

things. It is one thing to receive a revelation from the Spirit

of God; it is another thing to receive that Spirit to enable a man

to live according to that revelation. In the first sense the

apostles alone received this Holy Spirit; in the latter sense all

true Christians, as well as the Thessalonians, receive it. I

think υμας, you, is the true reading, and that it is confirmed by

the following verse: For ye yourselves are TAUGHT OF GOD to love

one another. Griesbach has inserted it in the margin, but has not

admitted it into the text, because it has not what he deemed full

support from those MSS. which are of the Alexandrian recension;

but he thought its genuineness very probable.

Verse 9. Touching brotherly love] They were remarkable for

this; and though the apostle appears to have had this as a topic

on which he intended to write to them, yet, from the account which

he received of their prosperous state by Timothy, he finds that it

is unnecessary to spend any time in inculcating a doctrine which

they fully understood and practised. See 1Th 3:6.

Verse 10. Ye do it toward all the brethren] Ye not only love

one another at Thessalonica, but ye love all the brethren in

Macedonia; ye consider them all as children of the same Father;

and that all the Churches which are in Christ make one great and

glorious body, of which he is the head.

Verse 11. That ye study to be quiet] Though in general the

Church at Thessalonica was pure and exemplary, yet there seem to

have been some idle, tattling people among them, who disturbed the

peace of others; persons who, under the pretence of religion,

gadded about from house to house; did not work, but were

burdensome to others; and were continually meddling with other

people's business, making parties, and procuring their bread by

religious gossipping. To these the apostle gives those directions

which the whole Church of God should enforce wherever such

troublesome and dangerous people are found; viz: That they should

study to be quiet, ησυχαζειν, to hold their peace, as their

religious cant will never promote true religion; that they should

do their own business, and let that of others alone; and that they

should work with their own hands, and not be a burden to the

Church of God, or to those well meaning but weak and inconsiderate

people who entertain them, being imposed on by their apparent

sanctity and glozing conversation. An idle person, though able to

discourse like an angel, or pray like an apostle, cannot be a

Christian; all such are hypocrites and deceivers; the true members

of the Church of Christ walk, work, and labour.

Verse 12. That ye may walk honestly] ευσχημονως. Becomingly,

decently, respectably; as is consistent with the purity, holiness,

gravity, and usefulness of your Christian calling.

Them that are without] The unconverted Gentiles and Jews. See

this expression explained at large on Col 4:5.

That ye may have lack of nothing.] That ye may be able to get

your bread by honest labour, which God will ever bless; and be

chargeable to no man. He that is dependent on another is

necessarily in bondage; and he who is able to get his own bread by

the sweat of his brow, should not be under obligation even to a


I do not recollect whether, in any other part of this work, I

have given the following story from the Hatem Tai Nameh. Hatem

Tai was an Arabian nobleman, who flourished some time before the

Mahommedan era; he was reputed the most generous and liberal man

in all the east. One day he slew one hundred camels, and made a

feast, to which all the Arabian lords and all the peasantry in the

district were invited. About the time of the feast he took a walk

towards a neighbouring wood, to see if he could find any person

whom he might invite to partake of the entertainment which he had

then provided. Walking along the skirt of the wood, he espied an

old man coming out of it, laden with a burden of faggots; he

accosted him and asked if he had not heard of the entertainment

made that day by Hatem Tai. The old man answered in the

affirmative. He asked him why he did not attend and partake with

the rest. The old man answered: "He that is able to gain his

bread even by collecting faggots in the wood, should not be

beholden even to Hatem Tai." This is a noble saying, and has long

been a rule of conduct to the writer of this note.

Verse 13. I would not have you to be ignorant] Instead of

εχομεν, have, θελομεν, wish, is the reading of ADEFG, many

others, besides the Arabic, AEthiopic, Armenian, some of the

Slavonian, the Vulgate, and Itala, with many of the Greek

fathers. This is undoubtedly the true reading: Brethren, I would

not wish you to be ignorant; or, I would not that you should be


This was probably one of the points which were lacking in their

faith, that he wished to go to Thessalonica to instruct them in.

Them which are asleep] That is, those who are dead. It is

supposed that the apostle had heard that the Thessalonians

continued to lament over their dead, as the heathens did in

general who had no hope of the resurrection of the body; and that

they had been puzzled concerning the doctrine of the resurrection.

To set them right on this important subject, he delivers three

important truths: 1. He asserts, as he had done before, that they

who died in the Lord should have, in virtue of Christ's

resurrection, a resurrection unto eternal life and blessedness.

2. He makes a new discovery, that the last generation should not

die at all, but be in a moment changed to immortals. 3. He adds

another new discovery, that, though the living should not die, but

be transformed, yet the dead should first be raised, and be made

glorious and immortal; and so, in some measure, have the

preference and advantage of such as shall then be found alive.

See Dodd.

Verse 14. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again]

ειγαρ. Seeing that we believe; knowing that the resurrection

of Christ is as fully authenticated as his death.

Even so them] It necessarily follows that them who sleep-die,

in him-in the faith of the Gospel, will God bring with him-he will

raise them up as Jesus was raised from the dead, in the same

manner, i.e. by his own eternal power and energy; and he will

bring them with him-with Christ, for he is the head of the Church,

which is his body.

Verse 15. This we say unto you by the word of the Lord] This

I have, by express revelation, from the Lord: what he now delivers,

he gives as coming immediately from the Spirit of God. Indeed,

human reason could not have found out the points which he

immediately subjoins; no conjectures could lead to them. Allowing

even the general doctrine of the resurrection to be believed, yet

what follows does not flow from the premises; they are doctrines

of pure revelation, and such as never could have been found out by

human ingenuity. In no place does the apostle speak more

confidently and positively of his inspiration than here; and we

should prepare ourselves to receive some momentous and interesting


We which are alive, and remain] By the pronoun we the apostle

does not intend himself, and the Thessalonians to whom he was then

writing; he is speaking of the genuine Christians which shall be

found on earth when Christ comes to judgment. From not

considering the manner in which the apostle uses this word, some

have been led to suppose that he imagined that the day of judgment

would take place in that generation, and while he and the then

believers at Thessalonica were in life. But it is impossible that

a man, under so direct an influence of the Holy Spirit, should be

permitted to make such a mistake: nay, no man in the exercise of

his sober reason could have formed such an opinion; there was

nothing to warrant the supposition; no premises from which it

could be fairly deduced; nor indeed any thing in the circumstances

of the Church, nor in the constitution of the world, that could

have suggested a hint of the kind. The apostle is speaking of the

thing indefinitely as to the time when it shall happen, but

positively as to the ORDER that shall be then observed.

Shall not prevent them which are asleep.] Those who shall be

found living in that day, though they shall not pass through

death, but be suddenly changed, shall not go to glory before them

that are dead, for the dead in Christ shall rise first-they shall

be raised, their bodies made glorious, and be caught up to meet

the Lord, before the others shall be changed. And this appears to

be the meaning of the apostle's words, μηφθασωμεν, which we

translate shall not prevent; for, although this word prevent, from

prae and venio, literally signifies to go before, yet we use it

now in the sense of to hinder or obstruct. φθανειντινα

signifies the same, according to Hesychius, as προηκειν, to go

before, προλαμβανειν, to anticipate, be before. Those who shall

be found alive on that day shall not anticipate glory before the

dead in Christ; for they shall rise first, and begin the enjoyment

of it before the others shall be changed. This appears to be the

apostle's meaning.

Verse 16. The Lord himself] That is: Jesus Christ shall

descend from heaven; shall descend in like manner as he was seen

by his disciples to ascend, i.e. in his human form, but now

infinitely more glorious; for thousands of thousands shall

minister unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand shall stand

before him; for the Son of man shall come on the throne of his

glory: but who may abide the day of his coming, or stand when he


With a shout] Or order, ενκελευσματι. and probably in these

words. Arise, ye dead, and come to judgment; which order shall be

repeated by the archangel, who shall accompany it with the sound

of the trump of God, whose great and terrible blasts, like those

on mount Sinai, sounding louder and louder, shall shake both the

heavens and the earth!

Observe the order of this terribly glorious day: 1. Jesus, in

all the dignity and splendour of his eternal majesty, shall

descend from heaven to the mid region, what the apostle calls the

air, somewhere within the earth's atmosphere. 2. Then the

κελευσμα, shout or order, shall be given for the dead to arise.

3. Next the archangel, as the herald of Christ, shall repeat the

order, Arise, ye dead, and come to judgment! 4. When all the dead

in Christ are raised, then the trumpet shall sound, as the signal

for them all to flock together to the throne of Christ. It was by

the sound of the trumpet that the solemn assemblies, under the

law, were convoked; and to such convocations there appears to be

here an allusion. 5. When the dead in Christ are raised, their

vile bodies being made like unto his glorious body, then, 6. Those

who are alive shall be changed, and made immortal. 7. These shall

be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air. 8.

We may suppose that the judgment will now be set, and the books

opened, and the dead judged out of the things written in those

books. 9. The eternal states of quick and dead being thus

determined, then all who shall be found to have made a covenant

with him by sacrifice, and to have washed their robes, and made

them white in the blood of the Lamb, shall be taken to his eternal

glory, and be for ever with the Lord. What an inexpressibly

terrific glory will then be exhibited! I forbear to call in here

the descriptions which men of a poetic turn have made of this

terrible scene, because I cannot trust to their correctness; and

it is a subject which we should speak of and contemplate as nearly

as possible in the words of Scripture.

Verse 18. Comfort one another with these words.] Strange

saying! comfort a man with the information that he is going to

appear before the judgment-seat of God! Who can feel comfort from

these words? That man alone with whose spirit the Spirit of God

bears witness that his sins are blotted out, and the thoughts of

whose heart are purified by the inspiration of Gods Holy Spirit,

so that he can perfectly love him, and worthily magnify his name.

Reader, thou art not in a safe state unless it be thus with thee,

or thou art hungering and thirsting after righteousness. If so,

thou shalt be filled; for it is impossible that thou shouldst be

taken away in thy sins, while mourning after the salvation of God.

They that seek shall find.

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