1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Dr. Jeffrey A. D. Weima


Opening (1:1-10)

  • Letter Opening (1:1)
  • Thanksgiving (1:2-10)
  • Christ's Return (vv 3, 10a)

Defensive Function (2:1-3:13)

  • Paul Defends his Past Conduct in Thessalonica (2:1-16)
  • Paul Defends his Present Absence from Thessalonica and Comforts the Persecuted (2:17-3:10)
  • Transitional Prayers (3:11-12)

Exhortative Function (4:1-5:22)

  • Pleasing God in Sexual Conduct & Brotherly Love (4:1-12)
  • Comfort concerning deceased Christians at Christ's Return (4:13-18)
  • Comfort concerning living Christians at Christ's Return (5:1-11)
  • Exhortations on Congregational Life & Worship (5:12-22)

Closing (5:23-25)

  • Letter Closing (5:23-25)

13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, NIV 1984)


Verse 13: "those who are asleep"

  • Three times in this passage Paul refers to those who are "asleep" (vv. 13, 14, 15).
  • Verb κοιμαῶ (koimaô) literally means "sleep" (no examples of this in Paul) but figuratively refers to state of being dead (1 Cor 7:39; 11:30; 15:6, 18, 2, 51).
  • Verb "sleep" used as a euphemism for "death"
  • Use of "sleep" as euphemism for "death" found many times in OT  and in secular writings of that day
  • No justification, therefore, for finding in this verse support for idea of "soul sleep"
  • This idea further repudiated by NT passages that suggest the conscious existence of believers during intermediate state (Luke 23:43; Phil 1:20-23; Rev 6:9-11)

Verse 13: "that you may not grieve"

  • Verb "to grieve" is given in a form (present tense subjunctive) that emphasizes the ongoing or continuous nature of the action
  • Problem that Paul is addressing, therefore, is not a small or minor issue but one that was causing deep and ongoing grief in the church
  • Consequently, primary purpose of Paul in this passage is to give a word of comfort: to pastor not to predict.

Verse 14a: "We believe that ..."

  • Greek literally reads: "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again"
  • 1st Class Condition: speaker assumes truth of the condition (BDF §372.1)
  • Paul presents the first half of v 14 not as a disputable point ("If we believe that ...") but an accepted fact ("Since we believe that ...")
  • The Thessalonians do, in fact, believe this, since message of Christ's death and resurrection was passed on by Paul to his converts "as of first importance” (1 Cor 15:3)

Verse 14a: Confession of early church?

  • V 14a is likely a confession of the early church that Paul quotes
    • Reason #1: Introductory phrase "We believe that ..." used elsewhere to introduce creedal formula (Rom 10:9)
    • Reason #2: Use of "Jesus" alone extremely rare for Paul, as he normally has fuller designations "the Lord," "Lord Jesus," "Christ Jesus", etc
    • Reason #3: Verb "rise" ἀνιστῆμι, anistêmi) rare for Paul (4x--two of which are from OT quotes), as he consistently uses a different verb: ἐγείρω, egeirô (33x!)
    • Reason #4: Paul rarely speaks of Jesus rising from death; normally refers to God raising Jesus (Rom 4:24, 25; 6:4, 9; 7:4; 1 Cor 6:14; 15:4, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:20; Col 2:12; etc)
    • "Verse 14a ('Jesus died and rose again') may well be a creedal formula. Several features of the statement prompt this conclusion... Paul inherits this formula, perhaps one with which the Thessalonians were already familiar, and employs it here as the basis for an affirmation about Christian hope" (Beverly R. Gaventa, First and Second Thessalonians [Louisville: John Knox, 1988] 64)
  • Significance:
    • Adds authority to Paul's words, since he is not merely giving his own private belief nor even that of just the Thessalonian congregation but instead a truth affirmed by the entire early church.
    • This is not merely Paul's personal opinion but a weighty word of the church.

Verse 15: "will certainly not precede"

  • Paul uses a double negative in Greek.
    • Most emphatic way to negate something in Greek: "Certainly not! Absolutely not! By no means!"
    • Many translations fail to capture this emphasis: e.g. RSV "will not precede."
  • Significance: Shows that Paul is responding to some who claim that living believers will, in fact, precede deceased believers at Christ's return and so be at a disadvantage over those who are alive.

Verse 17: "will be caught up"

  • Verb "caught up" is a translation of the Greek verb ἁρπάζω  (harpazô)
  • This Greek verb was translated in the Vulgate into Latin as rapare--from which we get English word "rapture"
  • The important and complicated issue of whether "the rapture" is a biblical teaching will be taken up later in this study when we also consider two other hermeneutical categories: the historical principle and the theological principle 

Verse 18: "encourage one another!"

  • Closing command parakaleite literally means "to call alongside"
  • Same word used in John's Gospel for  the Holy Spirit: the Paraclete or "Comforter" (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7)
  • Primary purpose of this passage is not to predict the future but to comfort the church.
  • Too many preachers/teachers misuse and abuse this text by either ignoring or distorting this comforting purpose.


1. What type of literature is 1 Thess 4:13-18?

  • Literary analysis involves several things, one of which is what type of literature (genre) the biblical text consists of.
  • 1 Thess 4:13-18 clearly is part of a letter or an epistle.
  • Thus, knowledge of epistolary formulas or fixed expressions typically used in ancient letters is important for proper interpretation of this passage.

2. Evidence for start of new passage at 4:13

  • 4:13 Vocative "brothers" (adelphoi)
  • 4:13 Disclosure formula ("We do not want you to be ignorant that ...")
  • 4:13 "Now about" formula (see also 4:9; 5:1)
  • Significant shift in subject matter from the topics of holiness in sexual conduct (4:3-8) and brotherly and sisterly love (4:9-12) to new topic of eschatology--the end times when Jesus comes back

3. Evidence for end of new passage at 4:18

  • 4:18: "Therefore/So then" (hôste) signals end of discussion (see similar closing function of hôste in 1 Cor 7:38; 10:12; 11:33; 14:39; 15:58)
  • 5:1 Vocative "brothers" (adelphoi)
  • 5:1 "Now about" formula (see also 4:9; 4:13)
  • 5:2 Disclosure formula ("You know ...")
  • Thematic inclusio between 4:13 (problem of grieving) and 4:18 (solution of comfort)
  • Boundaries of passage further marked out as "new" topic versus "previously shared" topic
    • 4:1-12 Previously shared topics
      • 4:1  "We instructed ..."
      • 4:2  "what instructions we gave you ..."
      • 4:6b   "as we have already told you ..."
      • 4:11b  "just as we told you"
    • 4:13-18  New topic
      • 4:13  "We do not want you to be ignorant about ..."
    • 5:1-11 Previously shared topic
      • 5:1b  "we do not need to write to you"
      • 5:2    "For you know very well that ..."

4. Structure ("Mapquest") of 4:13-18

  • Literary analysis also involves question of the structure of a given biblical passage.
  • Paul (like the other biblical authors) is a gifted writer who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, thinks carefully not just about the words that he will write but also the structure that his argument will follow.
  • Paul thinks not just about "what" he says (the Content) but also "how" he will say it (the Form in which that content is given).
  • How does Paul get from the grieving of verse 13 to the comfort of verse 18?
    • V 13: Opening Assertion
    • V 14: Causal clause introduced with "for"
      • Deals with what Jesus has done, namely, his resurrection
      • Likely a confession of early church
    • V 15: Causal clause introduced with "for"
      • Deals with what Jesus has said, namely, the "word of the Lord"
      • Vv 16-17 explain the word of the Lord (introduced with a different "for" in Greek)
    • V 18: Conclusion introduced with "therefore"

Structure ("Mapquest") of 4:13-18

  • Opening Assertion (v 13)
    Christians grieve for deceased believers with hope.
  • Reason #1 (v 14): The Weighty Word (Confession) of the Church
    Jesus' resurrection guarantees deceased believers' resurrection, such that they will be alive when Jesus comes again and thus able to participate equally in the glory of Christ's return.
  • Reason #2 (vv 15-17) The Weighty Word of the Lord
    Paul gives not merely his opinion but a "word of the Lord"--a teaching directly from Jesus himself that deceased believers will participate equally in the glory of Christ's return.
  • Conclusion (v 18)
    Comfort one another with these words!

Last modified: Tuesday, August 7, 2018, 10:34 AM