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The Coming of the Lord

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.

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13 But I would not have you ignorant. It is not likely that the hope of a resurrection had been torn up among the Thessalonians by profane men, as had taken place at Corinth. For we see how he chastises the Corinthians with severity, but here he speaks of it as a thing that was not doubtful. It is possible, however, that this persuasion was not sufficiently fixed in their minds, and that they accordingly, in bewailing the dead, retained something of the old superstition. For the sum of the whole is this — that we must not bewail the dead beyond due bounds, inasmuch as we are all to be raised up again. For whence comes it, that the mourning of unbelievers has no end or measure, but because they have no hope of a resurrection? It becomes not us, therefore, who have been instructed as to a resurrection, to mourn otherwise than in moderation. He is to discourse afterwards as to the manner of the resurrection; and he is also on this account to say something as to times; but in this passage he meant simply to restrain excessive grief, which would never have had such an influence among them, if they had seriously considered the resurrection, and kept it in remembrance.

He does not, however, forbid us altogether to mourn, but requires moderation in our mourning, for he says, that ye may not sorrow, as others who have no hope. He forbids them to grieve in the manner of unbelievers, who give loose reins to their grief, because they look upon death as final destruction, and imagine that everything that is taken out of the world perishes. As, on the other hand, believers know that they quit the world, that they may be at last gathered into the kingdom of God, they have not the like occasion of grief. Hence the knowledge of a resurrection is the means of moderating grief. He speaks of the dead as asleep, agreeably to the common practice of Scripture — a term by which the bitterness of death is mitigated, for there is a great difference between sleep and destruction 574574     “Entre dormir, et estre du tout reduit a neant;” — “Between sleeping, and being altogether reduced to nothing.” It refers, however, not to the soul, but to the body, for the dead body lies in the tomb, as in a couch, until God raise up the man. Those, therefore, act a foolish part, who infer from this that souls sleep. 575575     See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 2, pp. 21, 22.

We are now in possession of Paul’s meaning — that he lifts up the minds of believers to a consideration of the resurrection, lest they should indulge excessive grief on occasion of the death of their relatives, for it were unseemly that there should be no difference between them and unbelievers, who put no end or measure to their grief for this reason, that in death they recognize nothing but destruction. 576576     “Ruine et destruction;” — “Ruin and destruction.” Those that abuse this testimony, so as to establish among Christians Stoical indifference, that is, an iron hardness, 577577     “Pour introduire et establir entre les Chrestiens ceste façon tant estrange, que les Stoiciens requeroyent en l’homme, ascauoir qu’il ne fust esmeu de douleur quelconque, mais qu’il fust comme de fer et stupide sans rien sentir;” — “For introducing and establishing among Christians that strange manner of acting, which the Stoics required on the part of an individual—that he should not be moved by any grief, but should be as it were of iron, and stupid, so as to be devoid of feeling.” will find nothing of this nature in Paul’s words. As to their objecting that we must not indulge grief on occasion of the death of our relatives, lest we should resist God, this would apply in all adversities; but it is one thing to bridle our grief, that it may be made subject to God, and quite another thing to harden one’s self so as to be like stones, by casting away human feelings. Let, therefore, the grief of the pious be mixed with consolation, which may train them to patience. The hope of a blessed resurrection, which is the mother of patience, will effect this.

14 For if we believe. He assumes this axiom of our faith, that Christ was raised up from the dead, that we might be partakers of the same resurrection: from this he infers, that we shall live with him eternally. This doctrine, however, as has been stated in 1 Corinthians 15:13, depends on another principle — that it was not for himself, but for us that Christ died and rose again. Hence those who have doubts as to the resurrection, do great injury to Christ: nay more, they do in a manner draw him down from heaven, as is said in Romans 10:6

To sleep in Christ, is to retain in death the connection that we have with Christ, for those that are by faith ingrafted into Christ, have death in common with him, that they may be partakers with him of life. It is asked, however, whether unbelievers will not also rise again, for Paul does not affirm that there will be a resurrection, except in the case of Christ’s members. I answer, that Paul does not here touch upon anything but what suited his present design. For he did not design to terrify the wicked, but to correct 578578     “Mais seulement de corriger ou reprimer;” — “But merely to correct or repress.” the immoderate grief of the pious, and to cure it, as he does, by the medicine of consolation.

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. 579579     “Prins des sermons de Christ;” — “Taken from the sermons of Christ.” 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.” 580580     “L’a affermee et testifiee assureement par ses propos;” — “Has affirmed and testified it with certainty in his discourses.”

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: 581581     “Commencera par ceux qui seront decedez auparauant;” — “Will commence with those who shall have previously departed.” 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, 582582     “Ne viendroit si tost;” — “Would not come so soon.” 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 κελεύσματος, (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. 583583     See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 2, pp. 59, 60. 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, 584584     “En la confession de nostre foy;” — “In the confession of our faith.” that “Christ will be the Judge of the dead and of the living,” 585585     Our author manifestly refers here to the Formula of Confession, commonly called the “Apostles’ Creed,” which the reader will find explained at considerable length by Calvin in the “Catechism of the Church of Geneva.” See Calvin’s Tracts, vol. 2. Augustine acknowledges to be true without a figure. 586586     “Sans aucune figure;” — “Without any figure.” Our author, in his French translation, appends the following marginal note: — “C’est a dire sans le prendre comme ceux qui entendent par ces mots les bons et les mauuais;” — “That is to say, without taking it as those do, who understand by the words the good and the bad.” 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 587587     “Ceux qui dorment, c’est a dire qui seront morts auant le dernier iour;” — “Those who sleep, that is to say, who will have died before the last day.” 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 588588     See Calvin’s Institutes, vol. 2. 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.