COMFORT ONE ANOTHER WITH THESE WORDS
By John C. Carpenter
 
Around A.D. 50, the apostles Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy went to the city of Thessalonica to start a Christian church. Shortly after Paul and his fellow apostles left Thessalonica, the new Christians there encountered severe persecution, a situation for which they were not prepared. When Paul heard of this persecution, he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how the new church was faring, and to help establish and comfort them in their new faith (1 Th 3:2). Timothy found that the new Christian church at Thessalonica had not only encountered severe persecution, but some members were experiencing problems of a sexual nature. Additionally, many in the new church were concerned about the eternal destiny of those who had become believers in Christ, and who had subsequently died. They were specifically concerned that believers who had died would not be saved at the coming of the Lord, and not benefit in the same manner as those who were still alive when the Lord came back to earth. The apostles Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy wrote a letter to those in Thessalonica to instruct them regarding these issues. Initially, the three apostles instructed the new church that their daily walk should be pleasing to God (1 Th 4:1), that they should abstain from fornication (1 Th 4:3), that a man should not defraud his brother (1 Th 4:6), that they should love one another (1 Th 4:9), that they should make an effort to lead a quiet life, mind their own business, and work with their hands (1 Th 4:11), and that they walk honestly and worthily towards those outside of the Christian church (1 Th 4:12). After providing these behavioral instructions to the new church at Thessalonica, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy then wrote, But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words (1 Th 4:13-18). When the apostles instructed those in Thessalonica to comfort one another with these words, they wanted the new brethren to not be ignorant about the resurrection of deceased believers. They specifically wanted the brethren to understand that as the physical body of Jesus Christ had been resurrected from the dead, the bodies of all individuals who had died while believing on Jesus as the Son of God would also be resurrected from the dead to "ever be with the Lord." The apostles also clarified that individuals living at the time of Christ's return would also be raptured and "rise" to ever be with the Lord.
 
THEM WHICH ARE ASLEEP
 
Paul and his fellow apostles clearly referred to dead believers when they wrote, But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope"(1 Th 4:13). Paul clarified this when he two verses later referred to the dead in Christ (1 Th 4:16). In verse 13 above, the word "asleep" is the Greek word "koimao," which means "slumber, decease, be dead," and does not refer to physical sleep as we know it. Holy Scriptures instruct us that following Christ's death and resurrection, ...graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept [koimao; i.e., deceased] arose (Mat 27:52). Just before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Christ told his unknowing disciples, These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth [koimao; i.e., deceased]; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep (John 11:11). After the death and resurrection of Christ, the apostle Paul wrote to those in Corinth, But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept [koimao; i.e., deceased] (1 Cor 15:20). Koimao is used when reference is made to individuals who have physically died, and are now deceased from physical life. Koimao should be distinguished from the Greek word "katheudo," which means "to lie down to rest, to fall asleep literally or figuratively." When studied in context, an additional meaning for "katheudo" is often suggested. Katheudo not only means to rest, or fall asleep physically, but also appears to suggest being spiritually unalert. For example, Christ explained in the parable of the sower that ...while men slept [katheudo; i.e., resting, lacking alertness], his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way (Mat 13:25). In this context, the verse clearly does not refer to physical sleep, but lack of alertness. After praying to His Heavenly Father and just prior to His crucifixion, Jesus returned to His disciples in the garden of Gethsemane. Scriptures tell us, And he [Christ] cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep [katheudo; i.e., resting, lacking alertness], and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch [keep awake, to be physically and spiritually vigilant] with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Mat 26:40-41). In these verses, "katheudo" refers to not only physical sleep but lack of spiritual alertness. Christ is suggesting here that His disciples were resting, and apparently too sleepy and lazy to remain physically, spiritually, and prayerfully awake and alert with Him for even one hour. Christ additionally suggests that the state of "katheudo" involves not only weakness of the flesh, but makes one susceptible to temptation from Satan. Lastly, the Greek word "koimao" should be distinguished from the Greek word "hupnos," which means "deep physical sleep, and/or spiritual sluggishness and insensitivity." Hupnos appears to be very similar to "katheudo." For example, when God informed Joseph about the birth of Christ, Scriptures tell us, Then Joseph being raised from sleep [hupnos; i.e., deep physical sleep, and/or spiritual insensitivity] did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife (Mat 1:24). This example not only suggests that Joseph was in a deep physical asleep, but was also spiritually unaware of what God was desiring to do through him and Mary, his betrothed. At one point while the apostle Paul was preaching, Holy Scriptures tell us, there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep [hupnos; i.e., deep sleep]: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead (Acts 20:9). In this example, hupnos apparently refers to deep physical sleep. Yet, Paul told those in Rome, ...now it is high time to awake out of sleep [hupnos]: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed (Rom 13:11). This use of hupnos suggests spiritual laziness and insensitivity, rather than physical sleep. After reviewing different types of "sleep" mentioned in Scriptures, it is clear that when Paul mentioned those who "sleep [koimao; i.e., deceased] in Jesus," he was referring to believers in Christ who had died. Paul not only did not want the new church to be ignorant of the fact that the physical bodies of those who have died after coming to faith in Christ will be resurrected, but he did not want the Thessalonian church to feel sorrow for those already sleeping in Christ.
 
WILL GOD BRING WITH HIM
 
After explaining that the Thessalonian church should feel no sorrow for those who had died believing in Christ, Paul and his companions then began to explain why there should be no sorrow. They wrote, For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep [koimao; i.e., deceased] in Jesus will God bring with him (1 Th 4:14). In verse 14, Paul is using logic to make the point that if Christians believe that Jesus was crucified, died, and God the Father raised Christ from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit, we should also believe that God the Father will raise from the dead the corpses of Christians who died before the return of Christ. Paul is facetiously exclaiming that this is the whole point of Christianity: resurrection of the dead and eternal life. Paul explains that if we do not believe in the resurrection of the dead and eternal life, our faith in Christ is pointless. The apostle made this exact same point to those in Corinth when he wrote, ...Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed. Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ [and no hope of being raised from the dead], we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man [Adam] came death, by man [Christ] came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming (1 Cor 15:3-23). Paul clearly taught, For since by man [Adam] came death, by man [Christ] came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive, and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. The apostle Paul made the same point to both those in Corinth and in Thessalonica, that is, everyone who sleeps in Jesus will God bring [cause to rise to heaven] with him (1 Th 4:14).
 
THE LORD HIMSELF SHALL DESCEND FROM HEAVEN
 
After explaining that Christ will cause the corpses of dead believers to be resurrected and rise with Him, Paul then explains what will happen when the Lord returns. He writes, For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God... (1 Th 4:16). In this verse, Paul and his fellow apostles make it clear that the Lord, Christ himself, will, accompanied by a shout, voice, and trumpet, return to earth from heaven for those who believe in Him as the Son of God. Jesus Christ not only personally promises us this will happen, but Holy Scriptures repeatedly assure us of this. Just prior to His crucifixion, Christ ate the feast of the passover with His disciples (John 13:1). Then, Christ encouraged His disciples by saying, Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also (John 14:1-3). The Lord's disciples knew Christ would come again because He told them so. As Christ sat upon the mount of Olives, His disciples came unto him privately, asking, ...Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? (Mat 24:3). While answering this question posed by His disciples, at one point Christ responded For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be (Mat 24:27), and later said, And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Mat 24:30). In describing the timing of His return, Christ said, But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be (Mat 24:36-39). In the Holy Scriptures, we are instructed over and over again that Christ will return for believers in Christ. Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus knew this as well when they explained to the church at Thessalonica that the Lord would descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.
 
THE DEAD IN CHRIST SHALL RISE FIRST
 
After Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy explained what would happen when Christ returns, they then explained the order in which believers would be resurrected. They wrote, ...the dead [nekros; i.e., corpses] in Christ shall rise [anistemi; i.e., stand up, arise, lift up] first: Then [secondly] we which are alive and remainshall be caught up [harpazo; i.e., seized, taken by force] together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air... (1 Th 4:16-17). Death is a reality. Christ exclaimed, I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die [apothnesko] in your sins (John 8:24). Paul explained, Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death [thanatos] by sin; and so death [thanatos] passed upon all men, for that all have sinned (Rom 5:12). We know from the story of the rich man and the beggar named Lazarus that at the moment of death the soul instantly leaves the body and goes to be either with Christ or to Hell (Luke 16:19-23). Scriptures describe death as a departure (2 Tim 4:6), while the apostle Paul taught that when the soul was absent from the body, it was present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8). In 1 Th 4:16, the Greek word "nekros" simply means "corpse," and is a reference to a physical body which no longer has breath or spiritual life in it, no longer has a soul residing in it. Nekros should be distinguished from two other Greek words for death, "apothnesko" and "thanatos." The Greek word "apothnesko" is technically defined as "physically dead, death, slain." When studied in context, it more accurately means "to die, died." While attempting to make His point that life was available only through Him, and not through Jewish heritage or keeping the Jewish law, Jesus exclaimed to unbelieving Jews, Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead [apothnesko; i.e., to die, died] (John 6:49). In a last example, Scriptures also instruct us that ...God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died [apothnesko; i.e., to die, died] for us (Rom 5:8). The Greek word "thanatos" specifically refers to either physical or spiritual "death." On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus took the twelve disciples apart and said unto them,Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death [thanatos; i.e., death] (Mat 20:18). The apostle Paul told believers in Rome, For the wages of sin is death [thanatos; i.e., death]; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 6:23). When an individual experiences physical death [thanatos], he or she is described as having died [apothnesko], and, as a result, the physical body, having no life in it, is now described as a corpse [nekros]. The Greek word "anistemi" means "to stand up, arise, lift up," while the Greek word "harpazo" means "seized, or taken by force." As the apostles wrote, "the dead in Christ shall rise [anistemi] first", suggesting the living and remaining shall also rise, secondly. They verify this suggestion by later saying, "then we which are alive and remain...shall [also rise to] meet the Lord in the air." Although both dead and living believers shall rise to meet the Lord in the air, contrary to belief, dead and living believers are not both raptured [harpazo]. Technically, when the Lord returns, the corpses of dead believers will first be resurrected [anastasis] from the grave, then rise [anistemi] to meet the Lord. Secondly, living and remaining believers will be seized or taken by force [harpazo] from their current activity, then also rise [anistemi] along with the corpses of dead believers to meet the Lord in the air. Harpazo refers primarily to the manner in which living believers will be taken, and not to their rising. The argument of when this "rising" of the saints will occur in relation to the second coming of the Lord is the cause of much discussion and division in the church, but is beyond the scope of this issue. The central point of this issue is that both the corpses of dead believers, as well as living believers, in Christ shall rise to ever be with the Lord, and believers should comfort one another with this hope and expectation. In all of His ways, God is certainly orderly, and Paul and his fellow apostles clarify in our subject verses that God has an order even to the rising of the church. This orderly progression is consistent with other Scriptures, which teach us, For as in Adam all die [apothnesko; i.e., die], even so in Christ shall all be made alive [vitalized, given life, resurrected]. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming (1 Cor 15:22-23). Orderliness is God's way, and once the corpses of deceased believers in Christ have risen, then those individuals who are alive and remain at the return of Christ will have their turn.
 
THE SECOND DEATH
 
According to New Testament Scriptures, when an individual experiences physical death [thanatos], he or she is described as having died [apothnesko], and the physical body, now lifeless, is consequently described as a corpse [nekros]. Interestingly, the apostle John, in his revelation from God, described for us a second type of "thanatos" when he wrote, And I saw the dead [nekros; i.e., corpses], small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead [corpses] were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead [corpses] which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead [corpses] which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death [thanatos; i.e., death] and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death [thanatos; i.e., death] (Rev 20:12-14). Holy Scriptures clearly teach that there are two types of "death." This second "thanatos," or death, described by John does not refer to physical death, but to the spiritual death [and eternal separation from God] of being "cast into the lake of fire." As is expected with God's perfect ways, Holy Scriptures reveal that there are two types of birth and two types of death. Speaking to a ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus, Jesus said, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again [anew, from above, a second time], he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born [physically] of water and [spiritually] of the [Holy] Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; andthat which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again [a second time of the Holy Spirit]. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit (John 3:3-8). Jesus clarifies that in order to see the Kingdom of God, one must be first born of the flesh, physically [of the water] of a woman, and then be reborn a second time Spiritually of the Holy Spirit. This is consistent with what Paul explained to those in Corinth. He taught, And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [Jesus Christ] was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural[of the flesh, physical]; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth [earthly, of the flesh, physical], earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven [heavenly, of the Holy Spirit, spiritual]. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly (1 Cor 15:45-49). As Christ did with Nicodemus, Paul explained to the Corinthians that, according to God's way and plan, the natural [physical] occurs first, followed secondly by the spiritual. After an individual is born physically, then, and only then, does he or she have the potential and opportunity to be born Spiritually. Since there are two types of birth, it is expected that there are two types of "death," and this appears to be the case. The apostle John wrote, And death [thanatos; i.e., death] and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second [afterward, again] death [thanatos; i.e., death] (Rev 20:14). This casting of the first "death" and "hell" into the lake of fire is described as the second death, which I believe represents "spiritual" death. Each and every unbeliever in Christ shall experience both physical death [the first thanatos] and spiritual death [the second thanatos]. Each and every believer in Christ, except those living at the moment of the return of the Lord who shall be "caught up and rise with the Lord," shall experience physical death [the first thanatos]. However, the corpse of each dead believer shall also be resurrected by Christ upon His return. No believer will experience the second, or spiritual, death of eternal separation from God by being "cast into the lake of fire." John verified this when he wrote, And whosoever was not found written in the book of life [i.e., unbelievers] was cast into the lake of fire [the second thanatos, or death] (Rev 20:15). The clear teaching here is that believers will not be cast into the lake of fire. As Paul and his fellow apostles described, all believers in Christ shall "ever be with the Lord."
 
COMFORT ONE ANOTHER WITH THESE WORDS
 
Our subject verses written by Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus instruct us in three essential Christian doctrines: (1) the Lord shall come again to earth for His saints, (2) at the return of the Lord the saints shall rise to heaven with Him, and (3) after they have risen, the saints shall eternally be with the Lord. In an effort to comfort His disciples before His return from earth to Heaven, Christ promised He would one day return to earth for those who love Him. He tenderly spoke,...if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also (John 14:3). Christ also referred to His coming when He said to His disciples, Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them (Luke 12:37). Christ also instructed, Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not (Luke 12:40). Christ's coming again to earth is certain. Just as certain is the fact that the corpses of those who believe on Christ as the Son of God shall rise with Christ at His return. Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus wrote to the Thessalonian church, ...the dead in Christ shall rise [anistemi] first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord (1 Th 4:16-17). In a heated discussion with unbelieving Jews, the Lord said, Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection [anastasis] of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection [anastasis] of damnation (John 5:28-29). Paul instructed those in Corinth, For since by man [Adam] came death, by man [Christ] came also the resurrection[anastasis] of the dead (1 Cor 15:21). Because Jesus Christ loosed the pains of death (Acts 2:24), the corpse of any deceased Christianshall be raised incorruptible (1 Cor 15:52), and the soul shall pass from death unto life (John 5:24-25). As the Scriptures teach, the calling and salvation of the Christian is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim 1:10). Lastly, those who believe Jesus is the Messiah and the Christ shall spend eternity with Him. Praying to His Father in Heaven, Christ said, And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (John 17:3). Christ clearly taught That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:15). He also taught, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life... (John 10:27-28). Paul taught those in Rome, For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 6:23), while the apostle John also taught, And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life (1 John 2:25). Spending eternity with Jesus Christ is not only the hope of the Christian, but the gift and promise of God. Throughout Holy Scriptures it is abundantly clear that Jesus Christ shall certainly return to earth one day. At that return, the corpses of deceased believers, as well as living believers, shall rise to ever be with the Lord. After they encouraged the church at Thessalonica to not be sorrowful for deceased believers, explained that believers would rise just like Christ, explained the mechanics and order of the rising of the saints, Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus lastly and lovingly wrote, Wherefore comfort one another with these words (1 Th 4:18). "These words" that the apostles had written to the infant church were specifically designed to encourage the church at Thessalonica, but these words should also be an encouragement to modern day believers as well. Holy Brethren, regarding the return of Christ to earth and your rising to ever be with Him, I encourage you to likewise "comfort one another with these words.  AMEN.
 
 
THE CHRISTIAN HERALD
                                                           A Judeo-Christian Bible Study
 
"He hath
shewed thee, O man, what is
good; and what doth the LORD require of thee,
but to do justly,
and to love
mercy, and to
walk humbly
with thy God?
(Micah 6:8)




 
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