1 Thessalonians Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern

chapter 4
1. Therefore, brothers, just as you learned from us how you had to live in order to please God, and just as you are living this way now, we ask you — indeed, united with the Lord Yeshua, we urge you — to keep doing so more and more.
2. For you know what instructions we gave you on the authority of the Lord Yeshua.
3. What God wants is that you be holy, that you keep away from sexual immorality,
4. that each of you know how to manage his sexual impulses in a holy and honorable manner,
5. without giving in to lustful desires, like the pagans who don’t know God.
To manage his sexual impulses in a holy and honorable manner. The word translated "sexual impulses" is Greek skews, "thing, object, instrument, vessel." I take "skevos" here to mean "instrument," referring obliquely to the male genitalia; I translate it figuratively. Bui if "skevos" means "vessel," then, like "mountain of myrrh" and "garden" in Song of Songs 4:6, 12-16, it refers to the female genitals and makes possible three interpretations:
(1) "to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor" (Revised Standard Version; this accords with rabbinic usage too);
(2) "to live with his own wife in a way that is holy and honorable" (New International Version, margin); and
(3) "to manage his sexual life with his wife in a holy and honorable manner," specifically addressing the importance of a husband's being considerate of his wife's sexual satisfaction (compare 1С 7:3-5, MJ 13:4). The message conveyed in my rendering is virtually equivalent to (3).

Contrast what Sha'ul writes with the commonly held opinion that he was a male chauvinist, also with the Victorian misimpression that the Bible is against sex. The Bible opposes not sex but giving in to lustful desires, like the pagans who don't know God and therefore commit adultery and fornication with impunity. 

6. No one should wrong his brother in this matter or take advantage of him, because the Lord punishes all who do such things — as we have explained to you before at length.
7. For God did not call us to live an unclean life but a holy one.
8. Therefore, whoever rejects this teaching is rejecting not a man but God, indeed, the One who gives you the Ruach HaKodesh, which is his.
9. Concerning love for the brothers we do not need to write you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other;
10. and you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do it even more.
11. Also, make it your ambition to live quietly, to mind your own business and to earn your living by your own efforts — just as we told you.
12. Then your daily life will gain the respect of outsiders, and you will not be dependent on anyone.
The tendency to laziness and dependency was deeply rooted in Thessalonica; see 2 Th 3:6-15 for Sha'ul's more detailed and strongly worded instructions on this matter. 

13. Now, brothers, we want you to know the truth about those who have died; otherwise, you might become sad the way other people
Believers in Yeshua do not need to become sad about their brothers in the faith who have died, because there is a truth from God which they can know. Other people, by contrast, since they have nothing to hope for, have every reason to be sad about the fate of those who have died. This does not mean that a believer will not grieve when a relative or friend passes; that is normal emotion, but it is the expression of one's own sense of loss, not concern for the one who has died.

For a believer, "death is gain," because he will "go off and be with the Messiah" (Pp 1:21-22), in the place he is preparing for his people (Yn 14:3). For this reason Sha'ul, facing execution, could write, "All that awaits me now is the crown of righteousness which the Lord, 'the Righteous Judge,' will award to me on that Day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for him to appear" (2 Ti 4:8).

Contrast the pitiable deathbed confession of doubt attributed to Rabbi Yochanan Ben-Zakkai, convener of the Yavneh Council (which established the parameters of Judaism after the destruction of the Temple and influences its character to this day):

"Now 1 am being led before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, who lives and endures for ever and ever. If he is angry with me, he is angry for ever. If he imprisons me, he imprisons me for ever. If he puts me to death, he puts me to death for ever. I can't persuade him with words or bribe him with money. Moreover, there are two ways ahead of me: one leads to Gan-Eden [Paradise| and the other to Gey-Hinnom [Hell], and I do not know which one will take me. How can I do anything but weep?" (B'rakhot 28b)

The theme of Yeshua's being the "firstfruits of those who have died" (1С 15:20-23) is one of Sha'ul's consistent teachings; it appears in a number of his letters (Ro 6:5, 8; 8:11, 17,23,29-30; 2C 4:14; Co 1:18; 2:12).

Will take with him, Greek axei sun avto, "will lead/bring/take with him." The text here and in the following verses leaves ambiguous whether Yeshua
(1) will take back with him on his return journey from earth to heaven those believers who have died and who are not yet with him,
(2) will (collect and] take along with him, as he reigns on earth, those believers who have died and are not yet with him, or
(3) will bring along with him, when he returns from heaven either to reign on earth or to collect living believers in a "rapture" (see vv. 15b—17&N), those believers who have died and are already with him where he is now.

But ancient notions of meeting a visitor, such as at Ac 28:15-16, where the believers met Sha'ul at Appian Market and Three Inns and accompanied him to Rome, suggest that believers who have died will meet Yeshua in the air (v. 17) and then accompany him as he descends to reign on earth. Actually, this is not so different from modern practice: we don't meet visitors in the air, but we do accompany them home from the airport. A provocative question: Hosea 2:2 says, "Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together; they will appoint themselves one head, and they will go up from the land (va'alu min ha'aretz)" Does this mean that they will make aliyah from the lands of their exile to the Land of Israel (so Rashi, Soncino, Keil & Delitzsch)? Or will the Jews be raptured from the Land of Israel while the Church stays behind?!!! (Compare Paragraph (3)(c) of vv. 15b-17N.) 

14. do who have nothing to hope for. For since we believe that Yeshua died and rose again, we also believe that in the same way God, through Yeshua, will take with him those who have died.
15. When we say this, we base it on the Lord’s own word: we who remain alive when the Lord comes will certainly not take precedence over those who have died.
The Lord's own word, probably something Yeshua said that is not recorded in the Gospels (Yn 21:25). Alternatively, his guiding Sha'ul (1C 2:16) as he thought about the question troubling the Thessalonians, namely, what would be their share in the events of the Messiah's Second Coming. 

16. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a rousing cry, with a call from one of the ruling angels, and with God’s shofar; those who died united with the Messiah will be the first to rise;
One of the ruling angels. Greek anhangelos, usually rendered "archangel," is used in only one other place in the New Testament (Yd 9), where it refers to Mikha'el, whom the Tanakh calls "one of the first-ranked princes" and "the great chief prince" (Daniel 10:13, 12:l).SeeRv 12:7&N.

God's shofar. What the King James Version calls "the trump of God" is not a winning bridge play, or even a metal musical instrument (see Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Volume 3, pp. 472-473), but a ram's horn, such as is blown at Rosh-HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, also known as the Feast of Shofars. In the Tanakh the shofar was blown to introduce solemnity, to accompany celebration, to announce a memorable event, and/or to gather people together for war or other action (Exodus 19:16-19, 20:15(18); Leviticus 25:9; Joshua 6; Judges 3:27, 6:34; 2 Samuel 6:15; 1 Kings 1:34; etc.). That End-Time events will be announced by a shofar blast is part of a Jewish tradition which originates in the Tanakh (see Isaiah 27:31. Zephaniah 1:14-16, Zechariah 9:14) and is probably built on the shofar blasts which accompanied the giving of the Torah (Exodus 19-20). This tradition finds expression, for example, in the Amidah, recited in every weekday synagogue service; its tenth blessing reads,

"Sound the great shofar for our freedom, and raise the banner [or: "raise the miracle"] to gather our exiles, and gather us into one from the four corners of the earth. Blessed are you, Adonai, who gathers the dispersed of his people Israel."

See Mt 24:31&N, 1С 15:52&N, which speak of this same final shofar blast; and Rv 8:2&N, where the seven End-Time shofar judgments are introduced. 

17. then we who are left still alive will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we will always be with the Lord.
This event, the coming of Yeshua to raise first those who have died and afterwards us who are left still alive, is known in some Protestant circles as "the Rapture of the Church" (although the word "rapture," like the word "trinity," does not appear in the New Testament). Opinions differ as to when in the scheme of future history it will take place, or whether it will take place at all.

Eschatology, the branch of theology which deals with "last things," distinguishes at least these three events:
(1) The Millennium, the thousand-year earthly rule of Yeshua the Messiah spoken of at Rv 20:2-7&N.
(2) The Tribulation (see Rv 7:14&N), described most completely at Mt 24:15-31, and perhaps to be identified with "the time of Jacob's Trouble" (Jeremiah 30:7); seeRv4:lN, 11:1-2N.
(3) The Rapture, described most completely in the present passage; see also 1С 15:51-53 and Rv 4:1N.

Since future history is not so easily discerned, there are a number of contradictory options concerning the timing of Millennium, Tribulation and Rapture, all of them supported in some measure by Scripture. The three major positions concerning the Millennium are:

(1) The Millennium is Nonexistent. This is the Amillennial position. There will be no earthly reign of the Messiah. The disembodied souls of martyred saints (Rv 6:9, 20:2) rale with Yeshua from heaven during the entire period from the first century until the Messiah's one and only future coming. This period is figuratively referred to in Rv 20:2-7 as "a thousand years." When Yeshua does return, he will judge mankind and then establish his glorious reign in the "new heaven and new earth" of Revelation 21-22.

(2) The Millennium is Present. This is the Postmillennial position. The Messiah is reigning now on earth through his spiritual presence in believers, making life better and better as the Gospel spreads throughout the world. But he will return bodily only after this figurative "millennium," whose length has already exceeded a thousand years. Popular in the nineteenth-century "age of progress," this position is more difficult to hold after the events of the twentieth century, which, to say the least, cast doubt on whether life on earth is improving. (The rash of expectation that Yeshua would return in 1000 C.E. was predicated on a version of postmillennialism that took the "thousand years" literally.)

(3) The Millennium is Future. This is the Premillennial position. After the Tribulation, Yeshua will return to earth bodily and rule for an extended period which may be a literal thousand years. At the end of this time Satan will rebel once more (Rv 20:7-10), the Great White Throne Judgment will take place (Rv 20:11-15), and the rulership of God and the Lamb in the new heaven and earth will be established (Revelation 21-22).

Premillennialists generally agree that the Tribulation is a short period, very possibly a literal seven years, immediately preceding the Millennium. But they are divided into three or four groups on the question of when, in relation to the Tribulation, the Rapture takes place. (Only in relation to the Premillennial position does the issue of when the rapture lakes place arise; for Post- and Amillennialists, the Rapture is vaguely identified with the Messiah's one and only return.) Thus for Premillennialists there are these possibilities:

(a) Pre-Tribulation Rapture. The event of vv. 15-17 takes place prior to the Tribulation. Believers are removed so that they will not have to experience the time of the greatest trouble since earth began, and they return with the Messiah to rule on earth in glory. During the Tribulation itself, 144,000 Messianic Jews evangelize the world (Revelation 7). This position, held by Dispensationalists, is expounded in J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come, and in a rather sensational way by the popularizer Hal Lindsey in his book, The Late Great Planet Earth.

(b) Mid-Tribulation Rapture. The Rapture takes place after the three-and-a-half years of false peace brought about by the Anti-Messiah, and prior to the three-and-a-half years of judgment in the Tribulation (see Rv 11:3, 12:6).

(c) Post-Tribulation Rapture. The Rapture takes place after the Tribulation, so that the Church experiences it too. This is my own position, although I am not dogmatic about it. To me it is unthinkable that what New Testament faith offers is escape from suffering; on the contrary, "in this world you will have tribulation" (Yn 16:33, KJV). Nor is it thinkable that Messianic Jews are to be faced with the decision of whether to identify with their own people the Jews and stay to suffer, or with their own people the believers (the Messianic Community, the Church) and escape. For further discussion of this approach, see George Eldon Ladd, The Blessed Hope; Dave MacPherson, The Unbelievable Pre-Trib Origin; and most recently, Israel, The Church and the Last Days, by Messianic Jews Dan Juster and Keith Intrater (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 1990).

Messianic Jews seem to hold especially strong opinions about these things — perhaps because there is no certain way of determining who is right until events eliminate all but one possibility! For the Jewish New Testament Commentary it seems less important for me to stand unyieldingly for my own viewpoint than to observe that that there are several options, and any of them can be expressed in a way that honors the Jewishness of the New Testament. For broad and thorough discussion of these admittedly fascinating matters, consult Millard J. Erickson, Contemporary Option* in Eschatology; R. Ludwigson, A Survey of Bible Prophecy; William E. Biederwolf, The Second Coming Bible; and J. Barton Payne, Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy. See also Rv 4:1&N, 20:1-15&NN; Ml 24:1-39&NN. 

18. So encourage each other with these words.
The remedy for excessive grief at the passing of loved ones who are believers is the reminder that these people are, in spirit, with Yeshua right now, and that they will be raised first at the Rapture. Grief at a loved one's death is normal, but inconsolable grief is unnecessary for believers.

Apparently some in Thessalonica expected the return of Yeshua and the end of history so imminently that they had stopped working (v. 11) — just like the cults that appear from time to time announcing that Jesus is coming back on such-and-such a date: "Sell all your goods! Head for the hills!" (What Yeshua's return has to do with selling one's possessions or living in the mountains is less than self-evident.) Others in Thessalonica seemed to be unsure of the fate of believers in Yeshua who had died. Sha'ul was well aware that such uncertainty could wreak havoc with Messianic faith — see 1С 15:12-19&N.

Still others may have been diverted by some false teaching (see 2 Th 2:1-3). Hence the need for this interesting and surprising passage, discussed more fully in the following notes. 

next chapter...