Script for Amateur Exegesis – Season 2, Episode 9: “The Lord’s Day, A Thief’s Night”

INTRODUCTION

One of the many books I read as a teenager was one written about the end of the world. It was a work of fiction, albeit one based upon a particular reading of certain biblical texts. In the opening chapter of the book, one of the main characters, an airline pilot, is flying over the Atlantic Ocean on his way to Heathrow Airport when he decides to put the vessel on autopilot, hand the reins over to his first officer, and head back to flirt with one of the flight attendants on board. As he approaches her, he expects there to be a brief, intimate liaison, but that expectation is shattered when she whispers to him, “People are missing.” She begins to explain that all across the flight multiple people have vanished, leaving behind only their clothes. When the pilot finally lands, he goes home only to find that his wife, who had just recently become a Christian, and their son have vanished as well. He has been left behind. In fact, that’s the title of the book: Left Behind.[1] In the course of the story it is revealed that the missing all have one thing in common: they had all trusted Jesus as their savior. Now, those who remained would face the darkest time in human history – the Tribulation.

Left Behind (as well as numerous sequels and even a few movies, including one starring Nicholas Cage) was the brainchild of dispensationalist Tim LaHaye and novelist Jerry Jenkins. The colorful plot follows a timeline that evangelicals like LaHaye saw in how the Bible portrayed future events. For LaHaye and his ilk, the return of Jesus was a two-phase affair.[2] The first phase – the one that gets the eschatological clock ticking – is the “Rapture,” an idea derived from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. In LaHaye’s view, what is described in those six verses isn’t the return of Jesus to reign on earth but rather his gathering of his people, both living and dead, so that he can take them up to heaven before all hell is loosed on earth for the seven-year tribulation. At the end of those seven years comes the day of the Lord, an event discussed in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. On that day, Jesus returns with all the saints to establish his kingdom on earth. 

Dispensationalism is today a sinking ship, popular only among particular segments of evangelicalism. One of its many problems is its tendency to divide biblical texts where no division is warranted. In LaHaye’s understanding of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 5:1-11, Paul is referring to two different events. But as we will see in today’s episode, this could not be farther from the truth. 

Welcome to the penultimate episode of this season of Amateur Exegesis

1 THESSALONIANS 4:13 – 5:11

Before we begin a look at today’s passage, allow me to read to you from my translation of it, based on the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek text.

[13] Now, we do not wish for you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, so that you do not grieve as the rest who do not have hope. [14] For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so then also through Jesus God will bring with him those who are asleep.[3] [15] For this to you we say by word of the Lord, that we the living who remain at the coming of the Lord will in no way[4]precede those who are asleep, [16] because the Lord himself with a command – with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God – will descend from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise first; [17] then we, the living who remain, together with them will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so always with the Lord we will be. [18] So then, exhort one another with these words.

5 [1] Now, concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for us to write to you, [2] for you yourselves know well[5] that the day of the Lord as a thief by night so comes. [3] Whenever they say, “Peace and security!” then suddenly upon them descends destruction, like the labor pains of a pregnant woman, and they in no way will escape. [4] But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness such that the day will as a thief surprise you, [5] for you all are sons of light and sons of day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. [6] So then let us not sleep as the rest but instead let us be awake and sober. [7] For those who sleep do so[6] at night and those who get drunk do so at night;[7] [8] but since we are of the day, let us be sober, clad in the breastplate of faith and love and a helmet of the hope of salvation, [9] because God has not destined us for wrath but rather to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, [10] the one who died for us so that, whether we are awake or we are asleep, together with him we might live. [11] Therefore, exhort one another and build up, one by one, just as even you are doing.

The Sleep of Death (4:13)

Paul is initially concerned with the knowledge of the Thessalonian community. He doesn’t wish for them “to be ignorant,” per v. 13. Elsewhere in the letter, Paul had appealed to what they knew and remembered: Paul and the missionary team’s exemplary behavior in 1:5, the productiveness of the initial mission in 2:1, the “shameful treatment” Paul underwent in Philippi in 2:2, that Paul did not use flattering words in his preaching in 2:5, the apostle’s “labor and hardship” which was intended not to burden the Thessalonians in 2:9, and more. Now, Paul, using what is sometimes referred to as a “disclosure formula,”[8] presents information to these ex-pagan Jesus followers. But information about what? 

He employs a prepositional phrase: “concerning those who are asleep.” Most listeners are familiar enough with this text that they know that sleeping is only a euphemism for death. F.F. Bruce notes that such usage was “commonplace in antiquity,” found in both Jewish and pagan literature.[9] But sleeping on some level suggests an awakening at some point in the future. Consider, for example, the story of Jesus’ raising to life the twelve-year-old daughter of Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, in Mark 5. Though still alive when the request to heal her is made (Mark 5:23), by the time Jesus reaches Jairus’ home the girl has died (v. 35). Outside the home, the Markan text records, Jesus “saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly” (v. 38). But Jesus doesn’t understand their turmoil: “Why do you make a commotion and weep?” he asks them. “The child is not dead but sleeping” (v. 39). Though their response to him is one of laughter (v. 40), Jesus demonstrates his divinely endowed power by taking the girl’s lifeless hand and returning her to the land of the living (vv. 41-42): “Talitha cum,” he says in Aramaic – “Little girl, get up!” Joel Marcus notes that in this intercalated pericope, there may be a message for the community to which Mark was writing his biography of Jesus. He writes that 

Jesus’ eschatologically ironic statement that the girl is only sleeping is greeted by the professional mourners, the experts on death, with derision (5:40a). They know full well that the girl is dead and that dead people don’t come back to life! This skepticism may mirror that of some in the Markan environment, perhaps even that of some prospective followers of Jesus (cf. 9:10). The early Christians’ belief in the resurrection induced puzzlement in their contemporaries, since many people were inclined to doubt life after death, and those who accepted it generally looked forward to the immortality of the soul rather than the resurrection of the body….[10]

Jesus’ choice of the metaphor of sleep for the girl’s death directly anticipates the girl’s resurrection a few verses later. Here in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, something similar is happening: Paul is using the metaphor to anticipate the resurrection he will discuss beginning in v. 14. Thus, as Colin Nicholl writes, the apostle’s euphemism “is a significant, if subtle, affirmation of Paul’s main point in 4:13-18, that deceased Christians will rise from the dead to be with Christ at his parousia.”[11]

Paul’s exhortation here is with a stated purpose: “so that you do not grieve as the rest who do not have hope.” Two questions immediately come to mind: why are they grieving and who are “the rest who do not have hope”? The first question has a superficially simple answer: they are grieving because of those that have recently died or, in Pauline terms, fallen “asleep.” But why would this be so distressing? There are a few possibilities. It could be that the Thessalonians were taken by surprise that any in their community had died before the coming of Jesus. Recall that in 1:9-10 Paul wrote that these pagan Thessalonians had abandoned idolatry for the god of Israel, and they were also waiting this god’s “son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the coming wrath.” This was part of Paul’s kerygma, the message he preached to them during his initial visit. Implicit in it is the idea that this deliverance would happen soon. Because of this, Eugene Boring posits that some in Thessalonica misunderstood what Paul had been saying. He writes that “it could be that they had understood from Paul’s preaching that the Parousia was so near that they all expected to experience it, and then were shocked at the deaths of some of their group, which called into question their whole new symbolic universe.”[12] Another related possibility is that this misunderstanding didn’t lead to them questioning Paul’s teaching per se but rather, as Joulette Bassler suggests, it created in them “the concern that those who have died before Christ returns will miss out on the glorious events of his return.”[13] Bassler points out that in some ancient texts death becomes a barrier to eschatological joy. For example, in 4 Ezra 13, in a vision wherein Ezra witnesses the destruction of a multitude who try to make war against God’s agent (cf. v. 25-26), he decries what he has witnessed, saying,

For as I consider it in my mind, alas for those who will be left in those days! And still more, alas for those who are not left! For those who are not left will be sad because they understand the things that are reserved for the last days, but cannot attain them. But alas for those also who are left, and for that very reason! For they shall see great dangers and much distress, as these dreams show. Yet it is better to come into these things, though incurring peril, than to pass from the world like a cloud, and not to see what will happen in the last days (4 Ezra 13:16-20, NRSV). 

Such grief may have led them to “a paralyzing despair or a denial of hope” in the resurrection.[14] Whatever the case may be, such grief was problematic for Paul and is directly connected to our second question: who are “the rest who do not have hope”? 

Philip Esler notes that the apostle’s usage of hope is intended “to differentiate Christ-followers from other groups,” though this undoubtedly results in some stereotyping.[15] While it is clear that some believed in some kind of afterlife, this was not ubiquitous. Philosophical schools like the Epicureans denied the existence of an afterlife altogether.[16] Even the Stoics were not exactly settled on the existence of the afterlife. The Roman emperor and Stoic Marcus Aurelius wrote, “If the universe is composed only of diverse atoms, death is dispersion; if the universe is really one unified whole, death is extinction or transfiguration” (Meditations 7.32).[17] In ancient Greek literature like the Iliad and Odyssey, the afterlife is nothing to look forward to since the dead are depicted as shadowy figures with no real life to speak of.[18] Death was not necessarily something to look forward to. “The pagan world was without real hope,” writes William Hendricksen. “The Iliad ends with funeral-rites!”[19]

Paul, then, has in view gentiles when he speaks of “the rest who do not have hope.” But what about their grieving makes it so problematic? What is it about not having hope that is so troublesome to Paul? One possibility is that pagan grieving often involved pagan cults. Florence Gillman notes that in some cults weeping was prominently figured, like the cult of Isis. Often, funerary rituals related to these cults included women whose role was that of mourner and it was with loud wailing that they would weep. “It is likely that Paul’s observance of the manner of grieving by [hoi loipo– i.e., “the rest”] coupled with his belief in the resurrection of the dead caused him to form strong opinions about funeral customs,” Gillman writes.[20]

Another possibility involves ancient voluntary associations in which, Richard Ascough notes, rituals surrounding death and burial “figured prominently in the collective lives of their members.”[21] In many such associations, death was a time to celebrate a member who had recently passed. But these Thessalonians were not part of any of those associations. So, what happened when their members died? What was their status? Were they no longer part of the community? Ascough writes, “The Thessalonians’ cessation of the forum of funerary epigraphy and commemoration, resulting from Paul’s preaching, is perceived by them to indicate that any member who dies is no longer part of the association. For the Thessalonians, the dead no longer have hope for the salvation found in Jesus’ return.”[22] Paul, therefore, writes to dispel this myth, doing so by speaking of them with language that indicates their continued membership in the community, like the phrase “the dead in Christ” found in v. 16. 

If…Then (4:14)

Why should the Thessalonians “not grieve as the rest who do not have hope”? To answer that question, Paul uses a conditional sentence. The protasis is fairly straightforward: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose.” Here Paul reminds the Thessalonians of the foundation of their hope: Jesus’ death and resurrection, a fundamental aspect of Pauline kerygma as we saw in 1:9-10.[23] Some scholars have suggested that here Paul is appropriating an early creed: his use of the first-person plural “we believe,” the mention of Jesus without the titles often associated with him like “Lord,” and more may point in that direction.[24] Regardless, for the apostle the ground of his response to the Thessalonians and therefore the ground of their hope is to be found in Jesus’ own death and resurrection which, for Paul, constitutes “a sure historical foundation.”[25] But why would this stir hope? In his commentary on the epistle, Eugene Boring mentions three “dimensions” of early ideas about Jesus’ return that are part and parcel of Paul’s apocalyptic eschatology and thus instructive here.[26]

First, the resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the general resurrection. In Jewish apocalyptic thought, there weren’t multiple resurrections that would happen sporadically throughout history. Instead, there would be a single resurrection. This is illustrated clearly by the book of Daniel: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt,” we read in Daniel 12:2 (NRSV). This single resurrection would happen at the end of time when God would finally right the world. But Paul and other early followers of Jesus came to believe Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead. This presents a problem because if Jesus had been raised to life then why hadn’t everyone been raised, and why hadn’t God brought an end to this evil age? To reconcile these issues, Paul conceived of the single end-time resurrection as being in two stages. The first stage is the resurrection of Jesus, described in 1 Corinthians 15:20 and 23 as “the first fruits” (NRSV). The metaphor is agricultural, describing the earliest yield of a harvest. The second stage is the resurrection of everyone else, the full harvest. With this single, two-stage resurrection complete, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:24 that “[t]hen comes the end, when [Jesus] hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.” As I mentioned in episode 7, in cosmological apocalyptic eschatology there is the idea that the current age is overrun with demonic powers and it is only God who can rescue humanity from their rule. This God does through Jesus, the one who died and God raised. Thus, as Martinus C. de Boer writes, 

The death and resurrection of Christ has inaugurated a unified apocalyptic drama that reaches its conclusion at the Parousia/the End (1 Cor 15:20-26). The Apocalypse of God in Jesus Christ covers events from the initial sending of the Son and his Spirit into the world to the transfer of Christ’s messianic sovereignty to God at the End (1 Cor 15:23-28).[27]

The second dimension that Boring mentions is related: Jesus’ resurrection and the general resurrection are tied together. He writes that “the resurrection event that began with Jesus will be completed, and the full harvest will fulfill the pledge signified by the firstfruits.”[28] Because it is Jesus as God’s agent who “inaugurated” this “apocalyptic drama” (to borrow de Boer’s words), Jesus will also factor importantly in the general resurrection to come. 

The third and final dimension is that for Jesus’ followers to participate in the general resurrection is to participate in Jesus’ own resurrection. This is what Paul brings out in the apodosis, the “then” clause, of the conditional sentence: “so then also through Jesus God will bring with him those who are asleep.” However, as straightforward as the protasis was, the apodosis is a bit messier. 

Setting aside the nature of the syntactical relationship between the protasis and apodosis, a topic a bit too technical to get into here,[29] there are a couple of “grammatical ambiguities” that affect interpretation.[30] The first is illustrated well by comparing two English versions of the apodosis. Let’s begin with my translation of it: “so then also through Jesus God will bring with him those who are asleep.” Now, here’s the King James Version: “even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” Can you hear the difference? In my translation, “through Jesus” is connected to God’s activity of bringing “with him those who are asleep.” In the King James Version, the Greek phrase I’ve rendered “through Jesus” is translated “in Jesus” and connected to the ones who have fallen asleep (i.e., died). Now, you may be thinking that the issue has to do with the word order in the Greek texts underlying the translations. After all, I’m using the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek text and the translators of the King James Bible were using a version of the Textus Receptus. But that isn’t the problem. Except for a couple of words that are spelled slightly different, the two underlying Greek versions are identical. Importantly, the word order is the exact same. So, what gives? Why have I connected “through Jesus” to God’s activity but the King James translators connected it to the dead? Who screwed up? The answer is that both translations are a possibility since, as Charles Cousar notes, a strict reading of the word order in the Greek text allows for the translation found in the King James Bible while the text’s ambiguity allows for a translation like my own.[31]

The Greek phrase rendered “through Jesus” or “in Jesus” is the preposition dia plus the genitive tou Iēsou. In both the Textus Receptus and the Nestle-Aland text, dia tou Iēsou appears immediately after the accusative participle rendered in my translation as “those who are asleep.” It would therefore be quite natural to render these words together as “those who are asleep through Jesus.” In fact, F.F. Bruce defends this very view, contending in his commentary that since the resurrection of believers happens with Jesus then it only makes sense that the death of believers happens through him as well, providing balance.[32] It’s a relatively strong argument to make but I’m not convinced that this is what Paul means. 

David Luckensmeyer in his work on eschatology in 1 Thessalonians notes that not only does Paul often use the preposition dia (“through”) to express the idea of agency,[33] but when he couples dia with either “Jesus,” “Christ,” or “Lord,” then, in the words of Luckensmeyer “this is exclusively the case.”[34] Since the genitive dia tou Iēsou appears right before the apodosis’ main verb axei (“he will bring”), Paul seems to be saying that God, the subject of axei, is using Jesus as his agent through whom he “will bring with him those who are asleep.” Thus, while Luckensmeyer rightly acknowledges that no grammatical argument can definitively rule out one option or the other, “the preponderance of evidence regarding Paul’s use of [dia] with Jesus, Christ and Lord makes [a genitive of agency] far more compelling.”[35] I am in total agreement with this assessment. 

The second issue has to do with the phrase “with him.” Does the pronoun refer to God or to Jesus? For some commentators, the pronoun must refer to Jesus. After all, isn’t it Jesus who they await from heaven (1 Thessalonians 1:10)? And doesn’t the rest of this passage refer to Jesus when it speaks of “the coming of the Lord” (v. 15)? Thus, “with him” surely refers to Jesus.[36] This is a possibility. But as Abraham Malherbe points out, the imagery Paul is using stems from the Jewish prophets who describe God’s gathering of his people together.[37] The phrase “will bring with him” means that those who are asleep “are both raised and brought into God’s presence.”[38] And who does this action? Ultimately, it is God who does so. Yes, it is done “through Jesus,” God’s agent, but it is still God who is ultimately behind it.[39]

A “word of the Lord” (4:15-17)

In vv. 15-17, Paul explains in a bit more detail why the Thessalonians should have hope that their dead have not been forgotten or otherwise abandoned. He begins in v. 15 by appealing to a “word of the Lord.” But what exactly is a “word of the Lord”? A number of possibilities have been raised by commentators. Perhaps it refers to a tradition that also stands behind the Synoptic Gospels. Maybe it is an agraphon, a saying of Jesus that could be found among some in the early Jesus movement but didn’t end up in any of the Gospels. Could it be Paul’s own teaching original to him, based on his authority as an apostle of the risen Lord? Is it an oracle from a Christian prophet that has been appropriated by Paul in his words of comfort to the Thessalonians?[40] All of these options have their pros and cons, though some are far more plausible than others. For example, as appealing as it might be to think that this is an agraphon, Abraham Malherbe observes that as a hypothesis to explain what Paul means it is worthless: “While possible,” he writes, “the hypothesis cannot be verified and ultimately contributes little to the exegesis of 1 Thess 4:15-17.”[41] Eugene Boring’s view is the final suggestion, namely that Paul is basing his teaching on an oracle delivered by a Christian prophet. He notes that “word of the Lord” constitutes “a very common phrase for prophetic revelation in the LXX” and is found in Paul seven times. Furthermore, in ch. 5 of this epistle, Paul refers to “charismatic prophets” whose message Paul tells the Thessalonians in vv. 21-22 they are to “evaluate,” holding to the good and rejecting the bad.[42] Taken together, it is possible Paul is thinking of a prophetic revelation, though one given to someone else and then put to work in comforting the Thessalonian community. 

The exact content of this “word” is not clear. It could be that it constitutes all of the rest of vv. 15-17. It could be that it only encompasses vv. 16-17 and v. 15 acts as a kind of summary. Or it could be that vv. 16-17 are Paul’s commentary on the word which is actually found in the rest of v. 15.  It is a complicated question about which we cannot go into detail here.[43] What we can say is that whatever this “word” comprises, Paul employs it pastorally and, therefore, to understand it we don’t necessarily need to figure out all the ins and outs of what it constituted. We simply need to appreciate its rhetorical function in the letter itself, a topic we will get to when we discuss v. 18. 

So, whether Paul is summarizing the word or appealing directly to it, he starts by saying in v. 15, “[W]e the living who remain at the coming of the Lord will in no way precede those who are asleep.” As simple as this all may seem, there is still much to unpack. First, Paul uses the pronoun hēmeis (“we”) and attaches it to two participles, rendered in my translation as “the living who remain.” Though doubted by some,[44] for many commentators this is a sign that here in Paul’s earliest surviving epistle the apostle expected to be part of the generation that saw Jesus’ return. “Paul himself expects to live to see Christ’s triumphant return and the coming of the Kingdom,” Paula Fredriksen writes.[45] This, of course, doesn’t mean Paul was an extreme optimist, discounting altogether that he might not make it. Later in the letter, in 5:10, Paul writes as if it is possible that he and the Thessalonians may all die before the End. Nevertheless, he’s hopeful and appears to believe that he will lay his eyes on Jesus before he dies. That is, Jesus’ coming was for Paul to happen very soon.

I’ve mentioned Jesus’ parousia, his “coming,” in earlier episodes. Now would be a good time to briefly discuss the word and what it means here in 1 Thessalonians. Fundamentally, it refers to an arrival such that the one arriving is present.[46] For example, in his letter to the Philippians Paul expresses his eagerness to see them, writing, “in order that your boasting in Christ Jesus may abound by my coming [i.e., parousia] again to you” (Philippians 1:26, my translation). It is also used to describe the arrival of dignitaries, such as the Roman emperor.[47] While some have seen in Paul’s use of parousia a bid by the apostle to secretly undermine Roman imperialism,[48] on balance it is far simpler to see the use of the term in Pauline thought as cohering with the apostle’s general apocalyptic outlook.[49]For Paul, Jesus is God’s eschatological agent, the one who, per Galatians 4:4-5, was sent “when the fullness of time had come…to redeem those who were under the law” (NRSV). It was this Jesus who, per Philippians 2:8-9, “became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” and was then “highly exalted” by God (NRSV).[50] He is in heaven now with God the Father (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). At the right time, God will send Jesus from heaven to deliver his people from coming wrath. 

But did this include the dead? That is the central question: were they at a disadvantage? As I already mentioned, in some strands of apocalyptic thinking, the dead were at a disadvantage because they would not be present for the events at the end of this age. In the Thessalonian context, Earl Richard contends, the perceived advantage that the living had over the dead “consisted in the living being able to welcome the returning Lord, going on ahead, and being assumed bodily with him prior to the final, general resurrection.”[51] But Paul’s response to this is emphatic: “[W]e the living…will in no way precede those who are asleep,” he writes. The apostle employs a double negative, ou mē, which I have rendered as “in no way.” With it, Richard observes, Paul is offering “a deliberate challenge to a traditional apocalyptic view that the generation of the end-time will be more blessed than those who have already died.”[52] Will the dead miss out on eschatological joy? “No way!” is Paul’s retort. Will only those who are living at the time of the parousia greet the returning Christ? “No way!” Paul replies. “The dead,” writes Joulette Bassler, “are at no disadvantage whatsoever.”[53] But how? They’re dead, aren’t they? The answer comes in vv. 16-17.  

In vv. 13-15, Paul uses the metaphor of “sleep” to talk about death. And what do you do to wake up those who sleep? Well, you make a lot of noise.[54] This is precisely what v. 16 describes: “the Lord himself with a command – with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God – will descend from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise first.” But this isn’t a divine alarm clock. As Martinus de Boer notes, this is the imagery of war.[55] Paul uses three prepositional phrases to help describe the character of the Lord’s descent: en keleusmati (“with a command”), en phōnē archangelou (“with the voice of an archangel”), and kai en salpingi theou (“and with the trumpet of God”). Abraham Malherbe notes that each of these are “military sounds.”[56] But these aren’t three distinct sounds. Rather, based on Paul’s wording in the underlying Greek text, both “with the voice of an archangel” and “with the trumpet of God” further explain what is meant by “with a command.”[57]  It would be beyond Paul’s point to try to go into depth and parse what each prepositional phrase means. What we can say is that Paul is borrowing from common apocalyptic stock imagery to tell us something about the parousia:[58] it will be, in the words of Nijay Gupta, “public, visible, and loud!”[59] And it is with this command that “the dead in Christ will rise first.” 

It must be remembered that what Paul describes here isn’t for the sake of describing it but is intended to ease the pain of his readers. This is what makes what he says at the beginning of v. 16 all the more significant. If we compare Paul’s words with what we find in the Synoptic tradition, we notice some overlap. For example, in Mark 13:27 the elect are gathered together as they are here in 1 Thessalonians 4. And in Matthew 24:31, Jesus mentions “a loud trumpet call” that accompanies the end. And in Luke 21:28, Jesus tells his disciples to “raise [their] heads” since their “redemption” was coming from the sky above them. But what sets Paul’s version apart from the Synoptics is the beginning of v. 16: hoti autos ho kyrios – “because he the Lord,” or, as in my translation, “because the Lord himself.” That is, in Paul’s scheme, Jesus is directly involved and there are no intermediaries.[60] It is “the Lord himself and no deputy,” writes F.F. Bruce.[61] Influencing Paul may have been the wording of Isaiah 63:9 LXX: “Neither an elder nor an angelos but autos kyrios [“the Lord himself”] saved them because he loved them and spared them; he himself redeemed them and took hold of them and exalted them for all days forever” (my translation). Since for Paul Jesus is a kyrios, a lord, this text would have fit naturally in his view of the impending apocalypse. And with it he is able to purchase comfort for the Thessalonians. Not only are the dead not forgotten by God, but it is Jesus himself who will come to wake them up so that they may participate in his coming. 

Once “the dead in Christ” are raised, Paul says that it is “living who remain” who are next to go, and he includes himself in this group. The verb Paul uses to describe their ascent to Jesus is from harpazō, a term that suggests a violent seizing or snatching. In the Vulgate, Paul’s harpagēsometha becomes the Latin rapiemur, the word from which “rapture” is derived. Thus, the Left Behind crowd that I mentioned in the introduction is no doubt correct that Paul speaks of “the rapture,” though how it fits into Paul’s eschatology and how it fits into theirs appears to be two separate things.[62] Earl Richard notes that harpazō was a relatively popular term used in apocalyptic literature to describe a journey to heaven, either upon death or in a vision.[63] In 2 Corinthians 12:2, Paul relates a story about someone he knew who had fourteen years prior been “caught up [harpagenta] to the third heaven”[64] where they “heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat” (v. 4). Here in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, Richard writes, the apostle’s use of harpazō “represents Paul’s attempt, by means of apocalyptic imagery, to describe the indescribable fate of the elect, their sudden translation into the heavenly sphere on that great and terrible day of the Lord.”[65]

But there is another dimension to this. Remember, Paul is trying to comfort and reassure his Thessalonian audience. In that context, the use of harpazō is not unexpected since, as Abraham Malherbe points out, the verb was often used in the Greco-Roman consolation tradition.[66] Epitaphs and letters would speak of death snatching away their loved ones from the world of the living. But here Paul has turned the term on its head, using it to describe the snatching of the living away from death. “In a neat twist,” Malherbe writes, “Paul uses the conventional language of grief to comfort.”[67] This is seen quite clearly in the apostle’s emphasis that the living who remain “together with [the dead in Christ] will be caught up.” The underlying language conveys a sense of community,[68] one that had been ravaged by death but thanks to the returning Lord is now restored.

Paul continues by describing to where the living and dead will be caught up: “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” It is helpful to keep in mind that in ancient Jewish cosmology, “the air” was the realm between heaven above and earth below.[69] The living dwell on the earth, the dead “under” it (cf. Philippians 2:10), and Jesus far above it in heaven. While we scoff at such a simplistic view of the world as modern people, Paul wasn’t a modern person and his language, Philip Esler writes, “presupposes a first-century cosmology.”[70] Thus, when Jesus returns, he is descending from heaven while the quick and the dead ascend up from the earth and they all meet somewhere in between – “in the air.” But why clouds? Those familiar with the Hebrew Bible know that clouds are often associated with appearances of divine beings: “The LORD is king!” writes the psalmist in Psalm 97:1-2, “Let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne” (NRSV). In the book of Daniel, the “one like a son of man” appears before the Ancient One with “the clouds of heaven” (Daniel 7:13). Clouds, then, are part of that stock apocalyptic imagery from which Paul draws. But here it is with yet another twist: Paul doesn’t associate the clouds with the descent of the Lord but with the ascent of the Thessalonians to meet him.[71]

Having met their returning lord in the air, Paul comforts his readers by stating, “and so always with the Lord we will be.” But what do this mean? Attached to this question we could ask another: After this grand reunion in the air, then what? There are three possibilities, the discussion of which we should preface by saying that Paul never comes out to tell us what will happen next here in 1 Thessalonians. We shouldn’t be alarmed by this since letters are occasional by their very nature and are not exhaustive. And in this case, Paul is writing not to detail all that will happen in the Eschaton but rather to show the Thessalonians that their dead are in Christ and will also reap the blessings of Jesus’ parousia. Now, what happens after they meet Jesus in the air? 

The first possibility is that they all go back to heaven to be with Jesus there. This is the default position of the Left Behind crowd.[72] If this rapture is so that the Thessalonians avoid the impending wrath of God in the seven-year tribulation, then removing them so that they can be in heaven would make sense. In other words, on this view the rapture precedes the Eschaton by a number of years. 

The second possibility is that they all return to earth, at which time Jesus sets up his kingdom. This seems like a more likely possibility than the first option since, as Colin Nicholls points out, in other “eschatological contexts,” the word parousia speaks of Jesus’ return to earth, not a return to heaven.[73] Furthermore, in ch. 5, Paul refers to “the day of the Lord” (v. 2), and since “the Lord” in 4:13-18 is Jesus, it seems likely that there it refers to him as well. In other words, 4:13-18 and 5:1-11 go together. Given cosmological apocalyptic eschatology with its emphasis on righting this world’s evils, this option is appealing.

The final possibility is that the Thessalonians remain in the air with Jesus. At first, this option may seem silly. But as Candida Moss and Joel Baden note in their 2012 article “1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 in Rabbinic Perspective,” there were some strands of Judaism that taught that at the End “the righteous will fly up to the new eschatological Jerusalem, either in the seventh heaven or floating in the clouds.”[74] Thus, it is possible that Paul, had he been familiar with such traditions, may have believed that it was “in the air” that believers remained forever. “The impulse to come down firmly either on terrestrial or celestial ground neglects all the space in between,” Moss and Baden write.[75]

Comfort One Another (4:18)

That’s enough speculation. As noted, Paul’s intent isn’t to give us all the details we as modern readers are interested in but rather it is to comfort the Thessalonians in their hour of need. This point is made expressly in v. 18: “So then, exhort one another with these words.” Here then is the rub and part of the reason Paul had prior to this pericope emphasized his own character and kerygma, noting in ch. 2 that his “appeal was made not from error, nor from an ulterior motive, nor with trickery” (2:3) but were instead from God. “And for this reason also we ourselves give thanks to God unceasingly: that having received the word of God through hearing us, you accepted it not as the word of people but rather as what it truly is – the word of God, which is working in you believers,” the apostle writes in 2:13. “Since it is words that Paul offers to resolve the Thessalonians’ theological problems,” Margaret Mitchell observes, “we can appreciate why so much of the earlier part of the letter was spent defending the truthfulness of his word.”[76] All that Paul has said before in this pericope should be interpreted in light of his overarching goal to provide relief for the Thessalonians.

The Lord’s Day, A Thief’s Night (5:1-3)

Sometimes the chapter and verse divisions found in modern editions of the Greek text and their corresponding English translations can be quite unfortunate. The beginning of ch. 5 is such a case. While it is true that there is a change in topic, indicated by the construction peri de (“now concerning”), it is not much more than variation on a theme. “While in 4:13-18 [Paul] had focused on the believers’ concern about those who had already died, in 5:1-11 Paul considers the situation of the living at the Parousia,” Florence Gilman notes in her commentary.[77] He opens this section by referring to “the times and the seasons” about which, the apostle said, “you have no need for us to write to you.” The two-word phrase “the times and the seasons” is a hendiadys.[78] That term may be unfamiliar to you but the phenomenon itself isn’t. For example, in the idiom “raining cats and dogs” the meaning is that it’s raining with intensity. If you’re the parent of a teenager, you’ve no doubt said to them at some point, “I’m sick and tired of your poor attitude.” In considering the meaning of a hendiadys, you don’t bother to parse out its constituent parts. Rather, they work together to communicate the idea. Here in v. 1, “the times and the seasons” appear to be a reference to the timing of the Day of the Lord that is mentioned in v. 2.[79] But as Paul notes at the end of the verse, Paul had “no need to write” to them about it. Why? 

According to v. 2, it is because they have already have knowledge about it: “for you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord as a thief by night so comes.” This is no doubt another item to include in the list of things that constituted Pauline kerygma. During Paul’s initial visit he had proclaimed the gospel which included the call to abandon idolatry, serve the true God, and to wait for God’s son from heaven who would rescue them from coming wrath (1:9-10). Evidently, though he had intimated its imminence, Paul had not given the Thessalonians a timetable. How could he? Instead, he stressed to them what he reiterates here: “the day of the Lord as a thief by night so comes.” 

With “day of the Lord,” the apostle is evoking the language of the Hebrew prophets mediated by the LXX. Hēmera kyriou (“day of the lord”) renders the Hebrew yōwm yhwh (“day of Yahweh”). How do the prophets characterize the day of Yahweh? According to the prophet Amos, the earliest writer to speak of the idea in the Hebrew Bible, the day of Yahweh is “darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it” (Amos 5:20, NRSV). John Barton noted that the prophet Amos likely contended with a “popular eschatology” that saw the day of Yahweh as a time to which the nation of Israel could look forward. “This was an eschatology that Amos rejected and reversed, predicting instead a day of disaster,” he writes.[80] Barton goes on to note that other prophetic texts pick up on this trope of the day of Yahweh as one of disaster. For example, God informs the prophet Ezekiel that the day of Yahweh “will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations” (Ezekiel 30:3, NRSV). The prophet Zephaniah depicts it as “a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements” (Zephaniah 1:15-16, NRSV). According to the prophets, then, the day of Yahweh looked good for neither God’s covenant people Israel nor for the gentiles. Paul’s use of “the day of the Lord” in his letter to the Thessalonians is therefore pregnant with meaning, literally. In v. 3, he compares the sudden destruction that befalls the world on the day of the Lord as “the labor pains of a pregnant woman,” destruction that they cannot escape. 

But when this day will come is unknown: it comes “as a thief by night,” Paul tells them. In his commentary, William Hendriksen observes that thieves do not announce when they will come to plunder a home: the thief “does not send a warning letter to this effect, ‘Tomorrow, at such and such a time, I’ll pay you a visit. Be sure to hide all your valuables,” Hendriksen quips.[81] While it is true that other NT texts use the metaphor of a thief, including Jesus in Matthew 24:43, this isn’t the source of Paul’s usage of it.[82] Moreover, as we’ll see when we discuss vv. 4-7, Paul’s “by night” remark plays into his exhortation of the Thessalonians in light of the uncertainty of the day of the Lord. 

The metaphor of “labor pains of a pregnant woman” also heightens the indeterminacy of the day of the Lord, and perhaps with greater effect. Today we have advanced medical equipment that can track a fetus’ development such that doctors can give women an exact date of when their child will be due. None of this was available in the ancient world. Instead, while ancient people knew that women were pregnant for around seven to ten months,[83] it was impossible to point to an exact date when birth was to be expected. Once labor pains hit, it was too late to prepare: the birth was nigh at hand! And while in Western societies, infant mortality rates are relatively low, childbirth in the ancient world could bring with it not only the death of the child but also the death of the mother.[84] Sudden destruction, indeed!

Sons of Light, Sons of Day (5:4-5)

But both metaphors – the thief who comes by night and the labor pains of a pregnant woman – are not a call to handwringing and anxiousness. One could prepare for their inevitability. In the case of labor, ancient authors mentioned a variety of things to have on hand for delivering a baby: oil, water, sponges, bandages, pillows, and more.[85] Paul doesn’t extend the labor metaphor any further than what we find in v. 3, but he does use the motif of night to contrast the attitude toward the day of the Lord that should be taken by the Thessalonian converts with that of the rest of the world that would be caught unawares. Beginning with v. 4 and continuing to v. 10 we find an “eschatological paraenesis,” as David Luckensmeyer dubs it.[86] Throughout this section we find a number of verbs in the subjunctive mood that “impart a forceful and sustained exhortation.”[87]

Paul begins by describing what the Thessalonians are not, likely for emphasis.[88] While Paul “renounces any attempt to calendarize” the day of the Lord,[89] he encourages his readers by noting that they “are not in darkness such that the day will as a thief surprise” them. According to v. 5, they are “sons of light and sons of day” and therefore “not of the night nor of darkness.” The binary of light and darkness, common among ancient and even modern religions, belongs to Paul’s apocalyptic worldview. Earl Richard writes, “Light and darkness imagery addresses the Pauline belief in two mutually exclusive spheres of power. Humans are under the sway of the power of light or darkness and produce its works.”[90] Richard goes on to note that many contemporaries of Paul used this light/darkness duality in their writings. For example, in the “Community Rule,” found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, we are told that the “Instructor” is to “teach all the sons of light about the nature of all the sons of man” and that “the sons of deceit,” who are controlled by the Angel of Darkness, “walk on paths of darkness” (1QS 3.13, 21).[91] This isn’t to say that Paul was influenced by the sect that produced the “Community Rule,” but that this was a motif common among apocalyptic thinkers. 

“So then let us….” (5:6-8)

In light of their nature as children of light and day, Paul issues a series of exhortations clothed as hortatory subjunctives.[92] Each revolves around the contrast between being awake and sober versus being asleep and drunk. Malherbe notes that the combination of being sober and awake could be found among moral philosophers like Plutarch and that here in 1 Thessalonians 5 the idea of being awake and sober forms another hendiadys.[93] At the end of v. 8, Paul couples soberness with “the breastplate of faith and love and a helmet of the hope of salvation.” In so doing, Paul has introduced another metaphor: the preparation of a soldier for battle.[94] But as Eugene Boring notes, the Thessalonians aren’t commanded to put on the armor; instead, they are described as having already been “clad in” it.[95] Paul is no doubt drawing this imagery from the biblical texts in which he was saturated.[96] For example, in Isaiah 59:17, Yahweh is described as one who “put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head” (NRSV). Similarly in the Wisdom of Solomon 5:18 we read that the Lord will arm “all creation to repel his enemies” by putting on armor that includes “righteousness as a breastplate” and “impartial justice as a helmet” (NRSV). Though the imagery is inspired by passages like these, here in 1 Thessalonians 5 it is surely a metaphor for Pauline kerygma as well as the Thessalonians’ response to it. In 1:3, Paul was thankful for the Thessalonians and in his prayers before God recalled their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” All of this was a direct result of the efficaciousness of Paul’s preaching among them, preaching that was accompanied by the power of the holy spirit (1:5). It was therefore upon their turning “to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1:9) that the Thessalonians became clothed in the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation. 

Not Destined for Wrath (5:9-11)

But if the day of the Lord is a day of destruction, what can the Thessalonians expect? In a word, salvation. Remember, the previous pericope with its discussion of the status of the dead in Christ at the parousia and the present pericope are not to be seen as discussing two separate events. Christ’s parousia happens on the day of the Lord. What Paul is emphasizing here is that because the Thessalonians are “sons of light and sons of day,” they are not going to be caught by surprise when that day comes, despite not knowing exactly when that would happen. Instead, as he said in the beginning of the letter, they await the return of Jesus because for them it means rescue from wrath (cf. 1:10). They are part of God’s eschatological family and it is for them that Jesus died “so that,” v. 10 says, “whether we are awake [i.e., are alive] or we are asleep [i.e., are dead], together with him we might live.” Or, as he said in 4:17, “and so always with the Lord we will be.” It is with all this in mind that the Thessalonians are to “exhort one another, and build up, one by one” as they had already been doing (v. 11).

CONCLUSION

In reading Paul’s words two-thousand years after the fact, it is easy to take for granted what he is saying to the Thessalonian congregation, interpreting it in light of all the history and theology that has taken place between then and now. But we cannot forget that Paul’s audience was comprised of real people with thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams, rooted in a particular historical context. They had come to believe that Paul’s message was true, but with it were certain expectations and even fears. It isn’t hard to imagine Timothy reporting back to Paul the fears of a wife whose husband passed away just a few weeks prior to the envoy’s visit. Would he miss out on Jesus’ return? And if the day of the Lord was characterized by wrath, what would be the fate of this fledgling community in Thessalonica? Would they face God’s wrath too? Paul, like a nursing mother and exhorting father, encourages the Thessalonians and reassures them that they are part of God’s family. God will take care of his own. And as we will see in the next episode, the final episode of this season of Amateur Exegesis, there are those among them whose function it is to care and instruct them before the coming of Jesus. We will explore that and letter’s closing next time on Amateur Exegesis.


[1] Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Left Behind, electronic edition (Nashville, TN: Tyndale House Publishers, 1995).

[2] Tim LaHaye, “Second Coming of Christ,” in The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy, Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson, editors (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2004), 349-352.

[3] The second half of this verse is fraught with difficulty. The main problem is with how the prepositional phrase dia tou Iēsou works in the clause. As the verse stands written, the phrase appears immediately after the participial tous koimēthentas (“those who sleep”), suggesting a translation of “those who sleep through Jesus.” F.F. Bruce (1 & 2 Thessalonians, Word Biblical Commentary [Nashville, TN: Word, Inc., 1982] 97-98) believed that connecting dia tou Iēsou to tous koimēthentas was the best way of reading the verse since it balanced the sentence. On this reading, then, dia tou Iēsou speaks to the status of those who have died, i.e., that they were believers in Jesus. However, it is also possible that the prepositional phrase belongs to axei (“he will bring”). As David Luckensmeyer (The Eschatology of First Thessalonians [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co. KG, 2009], 223), observes, whenever Paul uses dia with Jesus, Christ, or Lord, he always uses it with the sense of instrumentality (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 5:9, Romans 5:9, 1 Corinthians 15:21, etc.). And so, while “there is no grammatical argument which rules out either option,” Luckensmeyer finds that “the preponderance of evidence regarding Paul’s use of [dia] with Jesus, Christ and Lord makes the second option [e.g., instrumentality] far more compelling.” Malherbe (The Letters to the Thessalonians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Yale Bible [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000], 266) agrees, writing that it “is more natural to read dia tou Iēsou with axei and to understand it as a genitive of instrument or agent. This is in keeping with Paul’s use of dia with Christ.” Consequently, my translation reflects the position of scholars like Luckensmeyer and Malherbe rather than the view of Bruce.  

[4] Paul uses a double negative, ou mē

[5] The word I have translated as “well” is the adverb akribōs which conveys the idea of precision and accuracy. Here it modifies the verb oidate and so describes the quality of their knowledge about the coming day of the Lord, i.e., they are well acquainted with the notion that it comes as a thief by night. 

[6] Or “those who sleep sleep at night.”

[7] Or “those who get drunk get drunk at night.” 

[8] Luckensmeyer, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians, 212.

[9] F.F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 95-96.

[10] Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), 371.

[11] Colin R. Nicholl, From Hope to Despair: Situation 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 23; cf. Marcus, Mark 1-8, 371-372.

[12] M. Eugene Boring, I & II Thessalonians, The New Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 157.

[13] Joulette M. Bassler, Navigating Paul: An Introduction to Key Theological Concepts (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 89.

[14] Monya A. Stubbs, “1 Thessalonians,” in Women’s Bible Commentary, third edition, Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley, editors (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 591.

[15] Philip F. Esler, “1 Thessalonians,” in The Oxford Bible Commentary: The Pauline Epistles, John Muddiman and John Barton, editors (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 230.

[16] See the discussion in Bart D. Ehrman, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2020), 70-72; 

[17] Translation taken from The Emperor’s Handbook: A New Translation of the Meditations, C. Scot Hicks and David V. Hicks, translators (New York: Scribner, 2002).

[18] See the discussion in Ehrman, Heaven and Hell, 35-55.

[19] William Hendricksen, “1-2 Thessalonians,” William Hendrickson and Simon J. Kistemaker, Thessalonians, the Pastorals, and Hebrews, New Testament Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007 [originally published in 1955]), 110.

[20] Florence M. Gillman, Mary Ann Beavis, and HyeRan Kim-Cragg, 1-2 Thessalonians, Wisdom Commentary (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2016), 79-80. Gillman highlights how Paul’s opposition to this form of grief would have negatively impacted women whose economic stability may have depended upon it. 

[21] Richard S. Ascough, “A Question of Death: Paul’s Community-Building Language in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18,” Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 123, no. 3 (2004), 509. 

[22] Ascough, “A Question of Death: Paul’s Community-Building Language in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18,” 525. 

[23] Charles B. Cousar, Reading Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2001), 224.

[24] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 161-162; Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 225.

[25] Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959), 138. 

[26] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 162-163.

[27] Martinus C. de Boer, Paul, Theologian of God’s Apocalypse: Essays on Paul and Apocalyptic (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2020), 207-208.

[28] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 163.

[29] See the discussion in Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 265-266; Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 225-226; Nicholl, From Hope to Despair, 26.

[30] Cousar, Reading Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians, 225.

[31] Cousar, Reading Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians, 225.

[32] Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 98.

[33] See James A. Brooks and Carlton L. Winbery, Syntax of New Testament Greek (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1979), 24-26. 

[34] Luckensmeyer, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians, 223.

[35] Luckensmeyer, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians, 223.

[36] E.g., Hendriksen, “1-2 Thessalonians,” 113; Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, 140.

[37] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 266.

[38] Luckensmeyer, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians, 224.

[39] Malherbe (The Letters to the Thessalonians, 266) mentions an analogous text in Matthew 24:31. There Jesus says that the Son of man uses angels to gather together the elect. So, is it the Son of man who gathers the elect or is it the angels? It is both: the Son of man uses the angels to do his bidding. Something similar is going on in 1 Thessalonians 4:14. God is using Jesus to gather his people. 

[40] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 164.

[41] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 267-268; cf. Nichols, From Hope to Despair, 38-41.

[42] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 164.

[43] See the discussion in Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 166-167; Nichols, From Hope to Despair, 32-33; Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 269.

[44] E.g., Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, 141-142.

[45] Paula Fredriksen, Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017), 132.

[46] BDAG, s.v. “παρουσία.”

[47] Florence M. Gillman, Mary Ann Beavis, and HyeRan Kim-Cragg, 1-2 Thessalonians, Wisdom Commentary Series (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2016), 77.

[48] E.g., Edward Pillar, Resurrection as Anti-Imperial Gospel: 1 Thessalonians 1:9b-10 in Context (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013).

[49] Alexandra R. Brown, “Paul and the Parousia,” in The Return of Jesus in Early Christianity, John T. Carroll, editor (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000), 54-55. 

[50] Wayne Meeks (The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul, second edition [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003], 182) writes, “The dominant image of Jesus’ resurrection in pre-Pauline and Pauline Christianity seems to have been not the resuscitation of his corpse, as it is depicted in the passion narratives of the canonical gospels and Acts, but his exaltation and enthronement in heaven.” Meeks does not specifically appeal to this passage in Philippians but given that this passage, he so-called Carmen Christi, is generally understood to be pre-Pauline in some form or fashion, it reads in a way so as to fit in with the idea Meeks discusses.

[51] Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 242.

[52] Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 227.

[53] Bassler, Navigating Paul, 89.

[54] Nicholl, From Hope to Despair, 42.

[55] De Boer, Paul, Theologian of God’s Apocalypse, 214.

[56] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 274. 

[57] Luckensmeyer, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians, 242-243.

[58] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 169.

[59] Nijay K. Gupta, 1-2 Thessalonians, New Covenant Commentary Series, electronic edition (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016), “The Hopeful Fate of the Christian Dead (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).”

[60] Ehrman, Heaven and Hell, 176-177.

[61] Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 100.

[62] For a discussion of the rapture in dispensational theology and its relationship to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, see Anthony C. Thiselton, 1 & 2 Thessalonians Through the Centuries (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2011), 143-145.

[63] Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 246.

[64] That Paul is referring to himself is almost certain. See Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, TN: Word, Inc. 1986), 398. 

[65] Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 246. 

[66] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 276.

[67] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 276.

[68] Cousar, Reading Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians, 226.

[69] Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 247.

[70] Philip F. Esler, “1 Thessalonians,” 230.

[71] Luckensmeyer, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians, 258. 

[72] Tim LaHaye and Richard Mayhue, “Rapture,” in The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy, 309. 

[73] Nicholls, From Hope to Despair, 44; cf. Paul Ellingworth, “Up or Down, Which Way Will We Go? Looking again at 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18,” The Bible Translator, vol. 64, no. 3, 229-230.

[74] Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden, “1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 in Rabbinic Perspective,” New Testament Studies, vol. 58, no. 2, 208. 

[75] Moss and Baden, “1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 in Rabbinic Perspective,” 209. 

[76] Margaret M. Mitchell, “1 and 2 Thessalonians,” in The Cambridge Companion to St Paul, James D.G. Dunn, editor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 57. 

[77] Florence M. Gillman, Mary Ann Beavis, and HyeRan Kim-Cragg, 1-2 Thessalonians, 83. 

[78] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 288.

[79] Nichols, From Hope to Despair, 50.

[80] John Barton, The Theology of the Book of Amos, Old Testament Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 202-203.

[81] Hendriksen, “1 Thessalonians,” 122. 

[82] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 178.

[83] See Soranus, Gynecology, 2.1.

[84] For a helpful discussion of the import of this metaphor, see Gillman, Beavis, and Kim-Cragg, 1-2 Thessalonians, 89-91.

[85] Soranus, Gynecology, 2.2.

[86] Luckensmeyer, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians, 295.

[87] Luckensmeyer, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians, 295.

[88] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 293.

[89] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 179.

[90] Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 263.

[91] Translation taken from The Dead Sea Scrolls: Study Edition, Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J.C. Tigchelaar, editors, vol. 1 (Leiden: Brill, 1997)

[92] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 295.

[93] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 296.

[94] Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), 52. 

[95] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 183.

[96] Philip F. Esler, “1 Thessalonians,” 231.

One Comment on “Script for Amateur Exegesis – Season 2, Episode 9: “The Lord’s Day, A Thief’s Night”

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