Has this ever happened to you? You plan a vacation, pick the place to go, do all of the research on Trip Advisor or some other search engine about all the things there are to do at your destination. You get excited just thinking about it. Then you start your trip. You are so focused on getting to your destination, that You drive past some great things to see and never stop to look at them. Sometimes…you are not even aware they are in your way.
That’s the way it is with 1 Thessalonians 4. The part that everyone knows about and is anxious to get to…is the last part of the chapter. It’s THE destination. It’s the part of the New Testament where Paul teaches, that before Jesus physically returns to set up His kingdom after the horrible events described in Revelation, there is going to be a “catching away”, where all believers, all Christians, are suddenly going to disappear. All true believers, all around the world, will suddenly be gone. In another place, Paul describes how quickly it will happen, “a twinkling of an eye.” We would say…”faster than you can blink your eyes”. In this chapter, Paul describes what is happening in heaven when this takes place. Jesus “will descend from heaven”, or leave His place by God the Father…to come and get us. He will issue a command, a “shout”, that will cause our physical, human bodies to change into bodies made to travel thru space, “in the air” as Paul said, without a spacesuit! Great stuff, right?
The people Paul was writing to, were concerned about the other believers who had already died…family, and friends….what about them? Paul lets them know that the dead will come out of their graves first, then those living, will join them in “the clouds”, in earth’s atmosphere, to meet the Lord in “the air” somewhere. Well…I did it too! I jumped over the first part of the chapter, to get to the
But, the other stops are IMPORTANT. It’s just like driving to that destination on your vacation…you can’t get there, without going past the other places. You won’t be part of the last part of the chapter, the rapture, if you ignore the first part of the chapter. Here, Paul is addressing people who are living in a culture that encouraged people to express themselves sexually however they wanted to. Sound familiar? Paul could have addressed this letter to the church of America in 2023. He gives IMPORTANT instructions about how we are to live in our lives now…live holy lives…avoid sexual immorality. Listen to how Paul concludes ”Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not man, but God.” In another letter he wrote to those who lived in Corinth, he told them, not deceive themselves into thinking they could live dishonest and sexually immoral lives, and still inherit the kingdom of God.
The next stops are practical things, starting with brotherly love, or loving others. In verse 9, he tells them they are doing well in loving others, but tells them to do more. At yet another stop, Paul tells them to aspire to live quietly, to mind their own business, and to work with their own hands. Evidently, some believers thought that since they were free in Christ, they were free from physical labor, so Paul replies in his next letter, that if a man won’t work, he shouldn’t eat. Great things to think about and apply to our lives. So, let me encourage you, take the time to stop, and spend some time in the first part of this chapter, before you get to the “exciting stuff” at the end.