Is 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). In the previous articles I went through different interpretations and the current debate surrounding Paul’s message, as I attempt to explore Paul’s answers to these questions:
- Eschatological Hope of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
- An Exposition Of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17
- Rapture or No-Rapture, That is the Question
- Evaluating Eis Apantēsin & Eschatological Hope
- Concise Exposition of 1 Thessalonians 4:18-5:11
Edifying as it is, assessing a diverse of competing interpretations of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, I find the rapture debate secondary to the message of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11. Paul was not attempting to provide a systematic nor biblical theology on the order or the nature of the last things per se. Paul was simply offering comfort to Christians who were worried about fate of their comrades who died before the return of Christ Jesus. These Christians were not troubled by the nature of the last times, how or when their King would return. They apparently believed that they will be present at the parousia of King Jesus. This is so since their concern was with the fate of their dead comrades, and not the living, missing out the parousia.
Paul’s case ought to be first and foremost understood, then, as a letter to a specific church with a specific need. Christians of Thessalonica feared that their deceased comrades might not fully participate in the glorious parousia of their King. This was the need Paul addressed. Paul eased their worry by reminding them that their King, who died and rose again, He Himself will make sure that those who dead in Him will be risen. Their Lord will come to be with all His people (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Paul not only offered comfort to the church in Thessalonica with this future hope but he also prepared them for that coming parousia of their King (5:1-11).
This, I believe, is the correct way of understanding the primary message of this passage. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 does not offer an orderly or detailed exposition of understanding the rapture, if indeed there is such rapture, but eschatological hope to Christians worried about the fate of their fellow Christians who died before the return of King Jesus.