1 Thessalonians 4:15-18
15. 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.
15. Hoc enirn vobis dicimus in sermone Domini, quod nos, qui vivemus et superstites erimus in adventum Domini, non praeveniemus eos, qui dormierunt.
16. 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:
16. Quoniam ipse Dominus cum clamore, cum voce Archangeli et tuba Dei descendet e cÏlo: ac mortui, qui in Christo sunt, resurgent primum.
17. 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.
17. Deinde nos qui vivemus, ac residui erimus, simul cum ipsis rapiemur in nubibus, in occursum Domini in aera: et sic semper cum Domino erimus.
18. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
18. Itaque consolamini vos mutuo in sermonibus istis.
15. For this we say unto you. He now briefly explains the manner in which believers will be raised up from death. Now, as he speaks of a thing that is very great, and is incredible to the human mind, and also promises what is above the power and choice of men, he premises that he does not bring forward anything that is his own, or that proceeds from men, but that the Lord is the Author of it. It is probable, however, that the word of the Lord means what was taken from his discourses. 1 For though Paul had learned by revelation all the secrets of the heavenly kingdom, it was, nevertheless, more fitted to establish in the minds of believers the belief of a resurrection, when he related those things that had been uttered by Christ's own mouth. "We are not the first witnesses of the resurrection, but instead of this the Master himself declared it." 2
We who live. This has been said by him with this view--that they might not think that those only would be partakers of the resurrection who would be alive at the time of Christ's coming, and that those would have no part in it who had been previously taken away by death. "The order of the resurrection," says he, "will begin with them: 3 we shall accordingly not rise without them." From this it appears that the belief of a final resurrection had been, in the minds of some, slight and obscure, and involved in various errors, inasmuch as they imagined that the dead would be deprived of it; for they imagined that eternal life belonged to those alone whom Christ, at his last coming, would find still alive upon the earth. Paul, with the view of remedying these errors, assigns the first place to the dead, and afterwards teaches that those will follow who will be at that time remaining in this life.
As to the circumstance, however, that by speaking in the first person he makes himself, as it were, one of the number of those who will live until the last day, he means by this to arouse the Thessalonians to wait for it, nay more, to hold all believers in suspense, that they may not promise themselves some particular time: for, granting that it was by a special revelation that he knew that Christ would come at a somewhat later time, 4 it was nevertheless necessary that this doctrine should be delivered to the Church in common, that believers might be prepared at all times. In the mean time, it was necessary thus to cut off all pretext for the curiosity of many--as we shall find him doing afterwards at greater length. When, however, he says, we that are alive, he makes use of the present tense instead of the future, in accordance with the Hebrew idiom.
16. For the Lord himself. He employs the term keleu>smatov, (shout,) and afterwards adds, the voice of the archangel, by way of exposition, intimating what is to be the nature of that arousing shout--that the archangel will discharge the office of a herald to summon the living and the dead to the tribunal of Christ. For though this will be common to all the angels, yet, as is customary among different ranks, he appoints one in the foremost place to take the lead of the others. As to the trumpet, however, I leave to others to dispute with greater subtlety, for I have nothing to say in addition to what I briefly noticed in the First Epistle to the Corinthians. 5 The Apostle unquestionably had nothing farther in view here than to give some taste of the magnificence and venerable appearance of the Judge, until we shall behold it fully. With this taste it becomes us in the mean time to rest satisfied.
The dead who are in Christ. He again says that the dead who are in Christ, that is, who are included in Christ's body, will rise first, that we may know that the hope of life is laid up in heaven for them no less than for the living. He says nothing as to the reprobate, because this did not tend to the consolation of the pious, of which he is now treating.
He says that those that survive will be carried up together with them. As to these, he makes no mention of death: hence it appears as if he meant to say that they would be exempted from death. Here Augustine gives himself much distress, both in the twentieth book on the City of God and in his Answer to Dulcitius, because Paul seems to contradict himself, inasmuch as he says elsewhere, that seed cannot spring up again unless it die. (1 Corinthians 15:36) The solution, however, is easy, inasmuch as a sudden change will be like death. Ordinary death, it is true, is the separation of the soul from the body; but this does not hinder that the Lord may in a moment destroy this corruptible nature, so as to create it anew by his power, for thus is accomplished what Paul himself teaches must take place--that mortality shall be swallowed up of life. (2 Corinthians 5:4) What is stated in our Confession, 6 that "Christ will be the Judge of the dead and of the living," 7 Augustine acknowledges to be true without a figure. 8 He is only at a loss as to this--how those that have not died will rise again. But, as I have said, that is a kind of death, when this flesh is reduced to nothing, as it is now liable to corruption. The only difference is this--that those who sleep 9 put off the substance of the body for some space of time, but those that will be suddenly changed will put off nothing but the quality.
17. And so we shall be ever. To those who have been once gathered to Christ he promises eternal life with him, by which statements the reveries of Origen and of the Chiliasts 10 are abundantly refuted. For the life of believers, when they have once been gathered into one kingdom, will have no end any more than Christ's. Now, to assign to Christ a thousand years, so that he would afterwards cease to reign, were too horrible to be made mention of. Those, however, fall into this absurdity who limit the life of believers to a thousand years, for they must live with Christ as long as Christ himself will exist. We must observe also what he says--we shall be, for he means that we profitably entertain a hope of eternal life, only when we hope that it has been expressly appointed for us.
18. Comfort. He now shews more openly what I have previously stated--that in the faith of the resurrection we have good ground of consolation, provided we are members of Christ, and are truly united to him as our Head. At the same time, the Apostle would not have each one to seek for himself assuagement of grief, but also to administer it to others.