Paul continues to hit on the thought that what we do matters in a call to stay holy and loving. He encourages the church to continue to behave in a way that pleases God, specifically in reference to sexual immorality. (As long as there have been private parts there have been folks peeping at them, thinking about them, and using them indiscriminately when they shouldn’t. 6th century BC problems are the same as 1st century AD problems are the same as 21st Century CE problems.) Specifically, get it under control. This means don’t chase every urge your body was designed to use for good and follow it onto the internet or to a situation you don’t belong in or to an emotional/physical connection that belongs to someone else. There is no middle ground on this stuff; in all situations you pull a Joseph in Potiphar’s house: at the first sign of trouble you haul tail as far away as possible without explanation or excuse. It’s that hard, but it is that simple.
I’m not entirely sure what kind of situation is causing a brother to be wronged in regards to someone’s sexual immorality. Yes, I can think of a few options, but further pursuit is not particularly healthy and I’m not sure it’s necessary. Whatever it is, I’m assuming it can be avoided by minding your own sexual business and doing things God’s way. God has not called us for impurity but holiness, to ignore is is disregarding God, who Paul reminds us is who gives us the Holy Spirit.
On that note, though, although Paul is impressed with how they show love to each other, he wants more. Part of that is not taking advantage of other bros, not starting trouble, keeping to your own business, doing something that is tangible for society (I work in the business of financial promises, I’m not sure this qualifies) and conducting yourself with integrity and being dependent on no one. If we can summarize, don’t get caught up in a bunch other stuff, walk with God, love others and mind your business. On the final one, it’s not that you can’t accept charity when it is offered/needed, it’s just that you shouldn’t make a living off of someone else’s living, do what you can to add to the community around you and care for yourselves so that charity goes where it is needed.
In v.13, the conversation shifts as Paul wishes to set straight some either uninformed or wrongly informed thinking that he’s been made aware of by the Thessalonican church. They seem to be concerned that Jesus has not returned yet and that those who die prior to Jesus coming back are hosed. But Paul reminds them that we’re Christians, we don’t mourn death the way others do because death (sleep) is just the passing into eternal life with Jesus. He also says that those who are living will not meet Jesus prior to those who have already died, in fact the dead will rise to meet the living and they both will meet Jesus in the air upon his return that establishes his forever kingdom.
v.16 is most likely apocalyptic language, meaning that it is more likely than not figurative (cry of command, voice of an archangel, with the sound of the trumpet of God). Trumpets in the Bible traditionally are associated with the presence of God and also battle (this makes sense, Jesus’ return will coincide with the dispatching of all enemies). On the trumpet, suffice to say this description of a loud, battle-crying, archangel-shouting Jesus return action just doesn’t jive with the thought of this happening as a “secret” rapture where the dead are taken up but the living are left. I’m open to other interpretations of this section, but secret rapture is just flat out off the table, regardless of whether the language is figurative/apocalyptic or not.
Further Paul says the living and dead will get caught up together in the clouds to meet Jesus and will then always be with the Lord. That Greek word “to meet” is an important one, apantesis. It’s the word used elsewhere to describe when folks leave the city to meet an important person on the outside and then they all enter the city together. This is what we’re seeing here, everyone meets Jesus in the air, he refines the world with fire and judgment, and then we all return back to the restored creation to be with Jesus forever.
Paul expects this description to be an encouragement to the Thessalonican church. Chill out, Jesus will return, the living and the dead will meet him together, and all will be well.
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