Monday of the Second Week in Advent: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11.
4:13 – “I do not want you to be ignorant…” This is one of Paul’s standard lines to announce an informative corrective to some doctrine. In this instance, ignorance of the truth about resurrection has negative consequences: “…that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.”
4:14 – “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in this way (οὕτως) God will also bring those who have fallen asleep through Christ along with him.” That is, our resurrection will be just like Jesus’ resurrection (“in this way”), because it is of a piece with it (“with him”). There is an organic unity between the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of His followers.
4:15 – “For we say this to you by the word of the Lord” — i.e. an authoritative apostolic declaration.
4:15 – “We the living, the ones left behind at the coming of the Lord” — as good a proof as any that “left behind” means “still alive” when Jesus uses it in the Olivet discourse and the Little Apocalypse: “One will be taken and the other left.”
4:15 – “οὐ μὴ φθάσωμεν” — We will certainly not anticipate (beat to the finish line) those who have fallen asleep.” The Thessalonians are worried that the dead in the Lord will not be with them in the resurrection.
4:16 – “with a shout of command, with the voice of an archangel and with a trumpet of God” — lots of loud noise, so that even those who “fallen sleep in the Lord” will hear it and wake up.
4:17 – “then we who have been left behind will be caught up in the clouds to the escort of the Lord in the air” — Here, at last, we have an image of Jesus returning to earth. But as NT Wright points out, the image is not that of Christians going to live in the air, but to join Jesus’ ἀπάντησις, the escort-party that goes out from a city to welcome its ruler into the city. There is no question of a final disembodied heavenly existence. Rather, the faithful who are alive at Christ’s coming will join with the other saints and share in His reign.