Eschatological Hope of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

WikiIs there hope for Christians who have passed away? Will they participate in the eschatological hope, the parousia of the second advent of King Jesus? How ought the living Christians live their lives as they awaited the returning of their Lord and God? These were roughly the questions Paul attempted to address in his first epistle to the Church in Thessalonica (4:13-5:11).

Luke provided us with background information of Paul’s relationship with the church in Thessalonica. We learn that Paul spent three Sabbath days explaining the gospel to the Thessalonians. His labor resulted with a great number of God- fearing Greeks placing their present and future hope in the lordship of the coming king. King Jesus (Acts 17:1-4).

1 Thessalonians is an epistle Paul wrote to a church formed in Thessalonica. This church, under great persecutions and trials, became anxiously troubled by the fate of their comrades who died before the return of their King and Lord, Jesus Christ, whom they had pledged their alliance. These Thessalonians feared that their deceased comrades might not fully take part in the glorious parousia of their King (Woosley 1997: 77) What caused this worry is unknown (Schreiner 1999: 7).

Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15, assured the living Christians in Thessalonica that those who are physically dead in Christ will surely not miss the second coming of their King. They will equally participate in this second advent of Jesus (Dallas 2009: 94). Paraphrasing Tracy L Howard, Paul comforted them from their already held belief that Christ Jesus died and rose again. They, thus, needed not feared nor be troubled by the fate of their comrades who dead in Christ because through Lord Jesus, God will not only rise them up on that Day but they will also precede those who are living in meeting their returning King (Howard 1988: 170).

Paul, as Gordon D. Fee insightfully put it, provided them with “reassurance and hope for beleaguered believers” (Fee 2009: 190). Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16- 5:11, did not only offer reassurance to the church in Thessalonica but he also prepared them for that second visitation of her King.

This series of articles considered 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 contribution to the doctrine of eschatology. They explored how this passage has been interpreted over the years and which views I believe best provided a correct understanding of Paul’s discourse.

“One short sleep, we wake eternally, and death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.”

– John Donne ( 1966: 270)

Next: The 2nd Advent of King Jesus  & 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

10 thoughts on “Eschatological Hope of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

  1. The pool of natural instincts contains both good and evil. Where good means life -enhancing and evil means destructive to life. The fact that I have a strong urge for something does not mean it exists or may occur at a point time. And if, as you implied, that all instincts are planted in the individual by God, then the individual cannot be held accountable by God for doing evil since it is part of the God-given instincts.

    Of course I am inspired by the life of Jesus Christ but for me he is a historical figure, not a superman. The issue of life after death is not really what influences people to lead moral lives but rather some kind of expectation of “natural reciprocity.” The idea that you must do unto others what you expect them to do unto you – that if you are helpful to others they will in turn be helpful to you. It is only through this that paradise (peace, love and harmony of all humanity) can become a reality.

    If you read Mathew 5:1-7 (The Sermon on the mount) it does go on to say that the Kingdom of God comes not with observation but rather, the kingdom of God is within each one of us.

    Many primitive tribes conceived this idea and decorated them with real or sometimes imaginary heroes long before the birth of Christ. But of course the expression will be different from biblical ones.

    Again, the disagreements between the various Christian denominations as regards the fate of man shows that they themselves are knocking their heads against one another in the dark – in an attempt to find the answer. I am quite abreast with the concept of reincarnation but of course that will be for another discussion.

    Thanks anyway!

    • I am not addressing natural instincts per se but natural instinctive desires (e.g, hunger, thirst, fellowship and all other built-in desire that found in every culture past and present) May case is not that if X has strong urge for Y, Y exists, but that every natural instinctive desire have an object. Belief beyond natural is a natural instinctive desire. Therefore it is quite likely that there exist something beyond natural.

      Actually the belief of life ought, and does, influence people moral life. The idea of Karma and reincarnation have inspired Asians for millennia to live moral life. Christian doctrine that there is judgment day to which we will give account of our lives and future punishment/reward has shaped many peoples moral lives, including mine.

      The presence of gray-area does not eliminate the presence of black and white. Think about it. Let me know your thoughts.

      • Thanks! I must, at once, correct myself for a quotation I made earlier from the Bible. My reference was to Luke 17:20, not Mathew 5:1-7 as stated earlier. It says clearly that when the Pharisees demanded to know when exactly the Kingdom of God will manifest, Jesus answered saying, “The Kingdom of God comes not with observation, neither will they say, lo here it is (on earth) or there it is (in the heavens) but the kingdom of God is with you.” This, I suppose, is self explanatory.

        As for natural instinctive desires, especially in this modern world, they often lead to negative outcomes – anger, greed, jealousy, war etc. That is why there are laws or customs in every society. Without laws you and I will probably not live for the next 48hrs. So the instincts alone cannot provide sufficient evidence for a day of redemption. We may, if you like, compare this scenario to the BIOS of a computer. The BIOS is a little crude program that starts and controls all parts of the computer until the operating system takes over at start-up. Let us say that a virus finds its way into the BIOS and seriously corrupts it so that the computer is unable to start or it starts but shuts down and reboots repeatedly or even executes destructive scripts. Who is to blame -The Computer in question? The Manufacturer? or The virus which is said to have been created by the same manufacturer. Remember, no computer manufactured itself. The saddest part is that the manufacturer (instead of taking immediate action) has issued a press statement saying that all infected computers must wait until an unknown time when all of them will be disinfected or given a new and efficient BIOS. Humans are like computers and they are still waiting for disinfection. Pardon me, I am aware that this a sketchy analogy.

        The belief in life after death does has an influence on people but it is only remote, not immediate. If Mr. A comes to Mr. B for financial assistance, though Mr. B may also not have enough, Mr. A need not refer him to the benefits he will reap in the afterlife (in fact that will anger him, Mr. B). But rather Mr. A must speak in humanistic or brotherly tone and refer him to the fact that they are brothers.

        Lastly if you look at Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Mali, Iraq, Syria and more recently Venezuela and Ukraine etc. and even if we go back to the two world wars, you should easily notice that violence begets violence and peace gives rise to peace. Peace is a human responsibility.

        Yes! people may instinctively believe in karma, reincarnation, resurrection, divine redemption even, but this belief hardly plays an immediate and significant role in their material and practical life.

        Thanks again!

  2. Thanks Prayson! I am more inspired by the concept of “reincarnation” than by that of “resurrection” because reincarnation seem simpler and flows naturally to me since the soul, to be transmigrated possesses a “new body” in a form of a baby. The “Old body” as we all know is destroyed beyond repair, by decay, after death.

    Also, to a great extent, reason is the antithesis of instinct, so to say that “resurrection” is a reasonable hope and at the same time to draw this hope from a certain basic instinct of (civilized or modern) humanity sounds incongruous to me. Note that there is no known account of primitive people believing in “resurrection” but rather “reincarnation”.

    The ancient Egyptians spent centuries building pyramids for the Pharaohs – out of the belief in life after death – but the Pharaohs did not rise or go anywhere – isn’t this the same instinct that the Christians are proclaiming now?

    Anyhow, lets not worry too much, life must go on. Ultimately both life and death equally bring some hope.

    • Thank you for pondering these worthy ideas. Reincarnation is quite fascinating I will agree and when joined with Karma, solves the problem of evil in any formulated. I have not look for case for or against reincarnation, thus, I am agnostic toward it.

      The reasonable hope was relative to the historical resurrection of Jesus to which Christians have put all their eggs in that single basket. If Christ Jesus rose again, thus showed death had no final word, the Paul consolations base on Christ is reasonable.

      The natural instinctive desire of life beyond I will argue provide further probability that there is such life. If all natural instinctive desire (i.e. hunger, thirst, love, sex etc) have their objects, then it would follow that desire for life beyond most likely have an object.

      Think about this. Let me know your thoughts.

  3. Great topic brother,

    I believe man is a triune being because he is created in the image of God. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen” (2 Corinthians 13:14) and “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19).

    “I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”. (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

    “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow (body), and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12).

    The trinity of man is an essential part of the image relationship between him and God. Life is not ultimately physical and the body is not the whole man. And I might add that neither the body in itself, nor the soul in itself, nor the spirit in itself makes up the whole man, but he is “spirit and soul and body.” This must be seriously considered, and definitely agreed to, before anyone can comprehend with any accuracy the subject of life after death.

    There are many versus and teachings related to our body, soul and spirit, what they are and how they function within Gods plan.

    The threefold nature of man might be illustrated in several ways. Dr. Clarence Larkin uses three circles (Rightly Dividing The Word, page 86). The outer circle stands for the body of man, the middle circle for the soul, and the inner for the spirit. At this point it will be well to quote a portion from Dr. Larkin’s book:

    In the outer circle the ‘Body’ is shown as touching the Material world through the five senses of ‘Sight,’ ‘Smell,’ ‘Hearing,’ ‘Taste’ and ‘Touch.’

    The Gates to the ‘Soul’ are ‘Imagination,’ ‘Conscience,’ ‘Memory,’ ‘Reason’ and the ‘Affections.’

    The “Spirit” receives impressions of outward and material things through the soul. The spiritual faculties of the ‘Spirit’ are ‘Faith,’ ‘Hope,’ ‘Reverence,’ ‘Prayer’ and ‘Worship.’

  4. This is a very heart warming post, but I assure you, death rules. It has been 2000 years and no one has been raised yet and I am pretty sure that, the “resurrection” which has so much been acclaimed by Christians is and will remain a hope. In most African religions, there is a similar belief in dead ancestors coming back to life; not just one day but everyday – in fact they are not really dead, only moved into another world.

    Even if I am wrong with this idea, I don’t think the hope of “resurrection” justifies the persecutions suffered by them. Paul knew very well how the Christians in Thessalonica felt and he brought in the issue of resurrection only to console them.

    • You are correct that death rules. Christianity though offers an eschatological hope that death will not have the final say. It is a reasonable hope because it is based on the resurrection of the Nazarene Jew who claimed to have authority over death.

      True, it has been over 2000 years and no one has been resurrected. From this we cannot though state that there is no such thing, alas, we fall into appeal to ignorance. It is not only African religion that does have belief in life after death, but the whole humanity past to present according to Cognitive Science of Religion and Anthropology, that has always and natural have a natural instinct desire to beyond natural. The case I am working at the moment is that such instinctively desire give sense that there is such reality, outside natural.

      Paul indeed knew future resurrection brings consolation. I doubt that he himself did not believe in it because his letters tells he did. His character as portrayed by Luke in Acts and as we learn from his letters also testifying that Paul would not simply offer a false hope.

      Let me know your thoughts

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