This is a chapter of challenge on the one hand, and cheer on the other. It opens with a call to holiness and concludes with the call to heaven. In view of the fact that we are a heavenly people, the apostle gives us clear instructions as to our behaviour in the world. You would hardly think that this company of believers in Thessalonica would need this kind of exhortation, for he speaks so highly of them in his introduction to the letter. He bears testimony to the fact that there had been a remarkable change in their manner of life, ‘ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God’, 1. 9. He had commended them on their ‘work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope’, 1. 3.
But, here he is encouraging them further to know how they should continue to walk and please God. It is the pathway of separation to God from all that is unclean and evil. It is a call to sanctification and a call to holiness, vv. 3, 7. We are living in a defiled world where anything goes, and everyone is at liberty to live as they please. Little wonder, then, that we are not at home here; heaven is our home! It is in view of this that we are now to consider the apostle’s second theme: the call to heaven. Let us be sure of this, ‘For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry’, Heb. 10. 37.
As he introduces this wonderful revelation, he first has to adjust their thinking.
Whilst they were eagerly waiting for the coming again of their blessed Lord, they were confused and distressed by the fact that some of their number had died, and they feared that they would miss out at His coming. So, Paul lovingly dispels their fears by explaining to them that they are not at any disadvantage because they have fallen asleep. Death no longer holds any terror for us; our Lord has conquered it and is victor over the grave. Of course, it is only the body that sleeps, for he tells them that when the Lord comes God is going to bring them with Him. So, for that to happen they must already be with Him. Oh! we need not sorrow as others who have no hope, for our hope for our loved ones, who believed Jesus died and rose again, is not lost but assured.
What Paul states here is clearly different to what the prophets of old had spoken. And, when we turn to the writings of Peter and John, we find that they are writing concerning His coming in glory, manifesting Himself to the world. But Paul, to whom had been given the secret concerning the church, is writing about our Lord’s coming for His own, and our meeting Him in the air. The apostle is not giving us his own ideas or opinions; he is communicating what he has received from the Lord, ‘this we say by the word of the Lord’. We could have no greater confirmation of the certainty of these words; they are the very words the Lord has spoken.
He is coming, beloved. We have His very own word of promise, John 14. 3. Again, three times, in His final word from heaven to John in Revelation chapter 22, He says He is coming quickly. This is one of the exceeding great and precious promises that Peter speaks about. The scoffers in their ignorance say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming … all things continue as they were’, but that is not true; they wilfully forget the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, and God’s intervention in the affairs of the nations even to this very day. His day of grace and salvation is drawing to its close, the day of the outpouring of His wrath is soon to begin, but ‘God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ’, 5. 9. He is coming for us to perfect the salvation He has already begun. It is a full and perfect salvation that He has procured for us, and He will not be satisfied until we are with Him in glory. Was not that His prayer to His Father in John chapter 17 verse 24? Are we really looking forward to His coming for us? We should be! In Matthew chapter 25 verse 6, ‘Behold the bridegroom cometh’! The words that follow are not for the bride but the friends of the bridegroom, ‘go … out to meet him’. The friends of the bridegroom, Israel, will be encouraged to go out to meet Him when He comes back to the Mount of Olives, but our meeting with Him is all arranged; it is all of His doing – ‘the Lord himself shall descend from heaven’, v. 16 – He is coming for us Himself! He is not sending His angels to gather us, as He is going to do when He gathers His chosen ones from all the nations at His coming to earth, Matt. 24. 31. He is coming for us, His bride, Himself. How, then, will it happen?
There is going to be the shout, the voice of the archangel, and the sounding of the trumpet of God. Our blessed Lord is going to give a shout. This is the only time this word for shout is used in our New Testament and it signifies a shout of encouragement. After all the discouragements and disappointments of earth, that will be an encouraging shout. But it is the shout of the victor too, for He is coming into the very sphere that has been dominated by the Devil, who is described as the prince of the power of the air, Eph. 2. 2. But it is surely a shout of gladness, for He is receiving us, His own blood-bought people, to Himself. Remember the last time He shouted? ‘It is finished’, John 19. 30. It is on the basis of that finished work that He is able to come for us. His shout on this occasion will be to His people. But the archangel is stirred to speak, ‘with the voice of the archangel’. Who is he? Jude tells us, in verse 9, that Michael is the archangel, and it was revealed to Daniel that Michael has special responsibility for His people Israel, Dan. 12. 1. This surely is Michael’s call to the nation of Israel to rise up and prepare for their King. Finally, there is the sounding of the trump of God. Is this not then God’s final alarm and warning to the nations that He demands their worship, or else they will perish in His wrath, Ps. 2. 12. This is no secret rapture, beloved, for surely the trumpet of God will be heard, and the departure of millions from the earth cannot pass unnoticed.
What will happen when He comes? Four things are mentioned in these verses:
‘So shall we ever be with the Lord’. This is not just a casual meeting. It will be an everlasting companionship. Again, the words of the hymn writer come to mind, ‘He and I in that bright glory, one deep joy shall share, mine to be for-ever with Him, His, that I am there’. He, the One who has ever been the object of His Father’s love and pleasure, the One in whom everything is going to find its fulfilment, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who is going to reign supreme over all creation, is to be our friend and companion for ever. What a promise He has made us, ‘where I am, there ye may be also’, John 14. 3.
We are not to keep the blessing of this revelation to ourselves; we are to share it with one another. I believe that when the early believers met, they used to greet one another with ‘Maranatha’; the Lord is coming! This church at Thessalonica lived in anticipation of this wonderful event, and what a power and testimony they were. May our meditation inspire and encourage us to go out and serve Him more faithfully and more devotedly till He comes.