The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 31, 2013

This post opens with Fr. MacEvilly’s brief analysis of 1 Thessalonians 4:1-18, followed by his notes on 1 Thess 4:13-18. Text in purple indicates his paraphrasing of the scripture he is commenting on.



In this chapter, the Apostle encourages the Thessalonians to perseverance (1 Th 4:1); he delivers a precept regarding the practice of purity, and the avoidance of adultery, and he adduces several motives to stimulate them to fidelity in this matter (1 Th 4:3–8). He praises their charity, and encourages the poor to engage in some honest employment, so that by this means they would not abuse the liberality of the rich (1 Th 4:9-12). Finally, he assuages their excessive grief for their departed friends, by propounding the doctrine of the general resurrection, the order and manner of which he describes (1 Th 4:13-18).


This and the following chapters are employed in such subjects of morality, as the Thessalonians, according to the information furnished by Timothy, needed instruction in. 

1Th 4:13 (4:12) And we will not have you ignorant brethren, concerning them that are asleep, that you be not sorrowful, even as others who have no hope. Because the verse numbering of some translations of this chapter differ from verse 11 on, I’ve included the alternate references in parentheses (…).

In reference to the dead, brethren, I will not that you should be ignorant of their condition, in order that you may cease from indulging in the immoderate excessive grief, in which the Pagans, who have no hope of a future resurrection, are wont to indulge.

It appears that the Thessalonians had indulged in immoderate and excessive grief at the death of their near relations, and deplored it as bitterly as they had done when in a state of Paganism, and when they regarded them as lost for ever. The Apostle proposes as a remedy for this abusive practice, the doctrine of the future resurrection of the dead—a doctrine already propounded to them, as appears from his referring to it at the end of the 2nd and 3rd chapters of this Epistle; but they practically forgot it; and hence, he takes occasion here to inculcate it anew and propound it more fully. The Apostle is by no means to be understood as censuring all grief for the dead, as had been done by the Stoic philosophers. Our Redeemer wept for his friend Lazarus, and among the crimes of the Pagans (Romans, 1) the Apostle reckons the want of “affection;” and he himself would have sorrowed for the death of Epaphroditus (Philippians, 2:27). He only censures that excessive grief which would argue ignorance, at least practical ignorance, of the doctrine of the resurrection. “We will not.” In Greek, I will not. The Codex Vaticanus has “we.”

1Th 4:14 (4:13) For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again: even so them who have slept through Jesus, will God bring with him.

For, if we believe (as we really do) that Christ has died and risen from the dead, so (ought we likewise believe) that he will resuscitate with him, and evoke from their graves, those who have died in the faith, and bring them to eternal life.

The connexion between the resurrection of Christ, and the general resurrection of all, is clearly pointed out by the Apostle (chapter 15 of his 1st Epistle to the Corinthians). It is worthy of remark, that in speaking of the death of Christ, he says, “Jesus died,” lest there might be any mistake about the reality of his death, as if it were merely apparent; whereas, speaking of our death, he says, “those who have slept,” to console those in sorrow, whose friends were not lost to them for ever, but were merely in the condition of persons asleep, to be again roused and resuscitated; and in SS. Scripture, death is frequently termed “sleep.”—(Daniel, 12:2; St. John, 11:11). Hence, the usual form among Christians of saying, he slept in the Lord, to express, that a person died, because death is but a mere protracted sleep, as sleep is but a short death. For the same reason, churchyards are termed cemeteries, or sleeping places.

1Th 4:15 (4:14) For this we say unto you in the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them who have slept.

For, this I tell you, on the authority of the word of God, or of divine revelation, that such of us as will be left in life, or shall be alive at the coming of the Lord, will not anticipate in the glory of the resurrection, those who died before us.

“We who live.” He speaks in the person of those who are to be alive at the day of judgment. In this verse, the Apostle meets an error existing in the minds of the Thessalonians regarding the manner of the resurrection; they did not imagine that it would occur “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”—(1 Cor. 15) They thought there would be in it a succession of time, and that those whose bodies were corrupted would be resuscitated more slowly; and hence, that they would see their deceased friends more tardily in glory. He removes this erroneous impression in this verse. He says, “we who are alive,” not but he knew well, that he would not live till the day of judgment; but, he wishes to teach us by his own example, always to keep in view and prepare for this great day, which virtually happens at our death.

1Th 4:16 (4:15) For the Lord himself shall come down from heaven with commandment and with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God: and the dead who are in Christ shall rise first.

For the Lord himself (and not an angel, as on Sinai), after issuing his order to the angels to attend his descent, and after the archangel, in a voice louder than the loudest trumpet, shall have evoked the dead from their tombs, shall descend from heaven; and those who died in the faith shall rise in the first place.

He now describes the glorious coming of the Judge, and mentions some circumstances calculated to give us an exalted idea of the glory and majesty that will attend him. “With commandment.” The Greek word, κελεύσματι, properly signifies the shout of sailors or soldiers rushing in concert to battle, or of labourers encouraging each other to some common exertion. The Greeks retain the idea of command, and say, it refers to the command of God, ordering all the angels to be ready. “The trumpet of God,” by a Hebrew phrase, means the loudest trumpet (v.g.) “The cedars of God,” mean, the tallest cedars. It refers to the same thing with the “voice of the archangel.” Whether the archangel shall use a trumpet or not is disputed. The more probable opinion is, that by the agitation or commotion of the air, he will cause a tremendous sound louder than thunder, like that caused by the loudest trumpet, which shall reach the dead in their graves; this by the power of God, they shall hear. Hence, it is called in the gospel, “the voice of the Son of God.” St. Thomas says it shall have an instrumental efficacy in resuscitating by its very announcement. It is commonly supposed, after St. Jerome, that it shall distinctly sound forth these words: surgite mortui et venite ad judicium (see the final phrase in the note at the end of this paragraph). “And the dead who are in Christ will rise first.” All the dead will rise at the same time, but the Apostle omits all mention of the resurrection of the reprobate, as it would not serve to console those who were in mourning. “First” does not mean that there will be any priority of time in the resurrection of the dead among themselves; it only means, as the Greek word, πρῶτον, shows, in the first place. This event of their resuscitation shall take place before that mentioned in the next verse, that is, before they are drawn into the clouds.

Note: St Jerome wrote~”As often as I consider the day of judgment, I tremble; that trumpet appears always to sound in my ears, Arise, ye dead, and come to judgment (surgite mortui et venite ad judicium).

1Th 4:17 (4:16) Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet Christ, into the air: and so shall we be always with the Lord.

And after that, such of us as shall live till then, shall be instantaneously drawn up with them in the clouds to meet Christ, into the air, and thus we shall be always with the Lord (and enjoying his glory).

“Then,” i.e., after the resurrection. The order which shall take place in the resurrection, though instantaneous, is conceived in the following way:—The Lord Jesus, accompanied with all his angels, whom he shall command to be ready, will descend from Heaven. He shall issue his command to the archangel, who, with a loud voice, like that of a trumpet, shall sound the signal of the resurrection. At this sound, all the dead shall arise—those who are then alive shall be changed—all the just shall be caught up into the air to meet the Judge, while the reprobate shall be at his left hand on the earth. The other circumstances are more fully recorded in the 1st Epistle to Cor. 15, and by our Redeemer—Matthew, 24:29 ff; Matthew 25:31 ff. From this verse, some persons infer that the men living at the day of judgment will be changed into a state of immortality, without suffering death. This is the opinion of the Greeks, who understand the words of the Apostles’ creed, to judge the living and the dead, in the same sense. Others say, that their death will take place in raptu, or, while they are being caught up into the clouds. The more common opinion, however, is, that they shall die on the earth, probably, by the agency of the fire of conflagration, and that after death, which shall be only momentary, they shall, in common with those, whose bodies were long before corrupted and for ages mouldering in their graves, and who now have come forth from heaven or purgatory to resume them, be caught up into the air, to meet Christ in the clouds. This he says in order to show that the living will not be glorified in their bodies before the dead, and that this shall occur to all at once, “in the twinkling of an eye.”—(1st Epistle to Cor. 15) They shall all, in the first place, arise; after that, they shall be taken up into the air to meet the Judge: he says, “they shall be taken up;” for, although they can go there of themselves by the quality of agility, with which they shall be clothed; still, they shall go thither, owing to a kind of draw or moral attraction to meet their Lord.

1Th 4:18 (4:17) Wherefore, comfort ye one another with these words.

Wherefore, console each other in your grief for departed friends by this announcement regarding the resurrection.

The paraphrase is the only comment the Bishop offers on this verse.


One Response to “Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18”

  1. […] Bishop MacEvilly’s Commentary on Romans 4:13, 16-18. On 13-18. […]

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