1Thessalonians 4:13-5:24


© Rosemary Bardsley 2023

Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica had included teaching about the return of Jesus Christ. In 1Thessalonians 1:3 he referred to their ‘hope in our Lord Jesus Christ’; in 1:10 he says that the Thessalonians were waiting for God’s Son from heaven, who rescues us from the coming wrath. In 2:19 he speaks of the coming of the Lord Jesus, and in 3:13 refers to Jesus coming with all his holy ones.

So they already knew that Jesus would be returning, and that when he came their ‘hope’ in him would be fulfilled. They knew that in Christ they were safe from the outpouring of God’s wrath that would occur at that time. But there were some things they did not understand about the return of Christ that Paul now begins to explain.


The Thessalonian believers were quite concerned because some of their number had already died before the return of Christ. They were obviously worried about what would happen to these people, so Paul explains the order of some of the things involved in the return of Christ. He sets it out this way:

1. Jesus Christ died and rose again – 4:14. (Paul doesn’t mention it here, but it is obvious that he believed that Jesus also ascended back to heaven and that is where he is at this present moment – see 1:10).

2. When Jesus returns God will bring with Jesus (the souls of) those who have believed in him, but have already died – 4:14. (So if Jesus brings them with him, they are with him in heaven before he comes.) This return of Christ to earth with believers who have died will be accompanied by a loud command, the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet call of God – 4:16.

3. As Jesus descends with the souls of those already dead, their physical bodies will rise – 4:16.

4. After that, those believers who are still alive will be caught up with them to meet the Lord in the air – 4:17.

5. Both those who have already died and those still living when Jesus comes will be with the Lord forever – 4:17.

[Paul doesn’t explain here the nature of the new bodies in #3 and #4 above; he does that in 1Corinthians 15:35 – 54. See this study. ]

Paul’s reason for giving all of these details about the order of things when Christ returns was to allay their concerns about their fellow-believers who had already died. So he says in verse 18 ‘Therefore encourage each other with these words.’ For those who believe in Jesus Christ the return of Christ is not something to be worried about; it is something to be encouraged by, and that we should be encouraging each other about. The believer cannot be separated from Christ either by life or by death. We do not need to grieve like unbelievers who have no hope regarding those who have died (verse 4:13). Because we believe in Jesus, who died and rose again, we also have this confidence: that those who believe in him live even though they die.

When a believer has died, how do these verses encourage those who are united to Christ by faith?
John 5:21, 25, 26


John 11:25, 26


Romans 8:38, 39


1Cornithians 15:20 – 24


Ephesians 1:18 – 2:5


1John 5:11, 12



It is difficult for our human minds to understand many things concerning the return of Christ, but there are some things that are certain:

The return of Christ will happen. Some aspects of it are unclear to our finite minds, but it will happen.

As Paul has outlined in 4:13 – 18 there is a certain sequence of events. We may not understand how these things will happen, because none of us has experienced anything like it, but we can be sure that these things will happen. No believer will be forgotten or left out. No believer can ever be separated from Christ.

There is one thing that is not certain, and it is not certain by God’s deliberate decision: the day of his coming. So Paul says:

5:1 – about times and dates we do not need to write to you. There is actually nothing to say, because nobody knows except God the Father.

5:2 – as Paul had already taught them when he was with them, ‘the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night’. That is, abruptly, unexpectedly. Just as the thief does not say to you ‘I’m coming tomorrow night’, even so the Lord Jesus will return without any immediate warning that it will be tomorrow, or next week, or next year.

5:3 – so unexpected and unannounced will be his coming that people (unbelievers) will be carrying out their normal lives, thinking everything is okay, without any premonition that the end is near. Then the end – ‘destruction’ – will come on them suddenly, and there will be no escape.

But, Paul says, even though the time of Christ’s return is not known, believers know that he is coming.

How does Paul contrast believers and unbelievers in their attitude to the return of Christ? – 5:4 – 8





In the light of Christ’s return, what does Paul tell us to do? – 5:6, 8



Paul’s teaching here in Thessalonians has the same confident, future-directed mindset as the teaching of Jesus.

Questions about Jesus’ teaching about his return
What did Jesus teach about the suddenness and unexpectedness of his return?
Matthew 24:36 – 41


What did Jesus teach about being ready for his coming at all times?
Matthew 24:42 – 44


Matthew 24:45 – 51


Matthew 25:1 – 13 (the parable of the ten virgins)


Matthew 25:14 – 30 (the parable of the talents)


Matthew 25:31 – 46 (the parable of the sheep and goats)


If we believe Jesus Christ then we also believe that he will return, and we also believe that he expects us to be alert and self-controlled, characterized not only by faith and hope but also by love.
For further study: Jesus as King and Judge and A Challenge to Faithfulness.



In 5:9 – 11 Paul explains that having a right attitude to Christ’s return is important because of God’s good purpose for us in Christ:

God has appointed us to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
God has not appointed us to suffer wrath.
Christ died for us so that we may live together with him.

We know that Christ is coming. We know that he has saved us by his death. We know that because of him we will escape the wrath of God that Christ will implement on his return. This is the truth that we have. This is the light that we have. We are, Paul says, ‘sons of light’, therefore our lives should be characterised by that light. So Paul again commands the Thessalonians, and us, to continue to ‘encourage one another and build each other up’ – verse 11.



What instructions does Paul give the Thessalonians in 5:12 – 25?
About their attitude to their church leaders?

About their attitudes to each other?

About non-retaliation?


About their internal state of mind?

About prayer and thanksgiving?

About their responsiveness to the Holy Spirit as he teaches us through the proclamation of God’s word?


About their responsibility to test everything that is said to us?

About their attitude to evil?

These instructions were not only for the Thessalonians. They are for us also. We also live in a culture that is godless. We also are a minority group. And here we each need to ask ourselves some questions based on these final instructions:

Do we respect our church leaders?

Do we live at peace with each other?

Do we warn the idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone?

Do we make sure no one takes revenge?

Are we always kind to each other and everyone else?

Are we always joyful? Always praying? Always giving thanks? Because all of this is God’s will for us?

Do we listen to the Spirit as he teaches us God’s truth?

Do we measure everything against God’s truth, retaining what is good, discarding all that is evil?

Which of these is most challenging for you? Why?




In 1Thessalonians 5:23 – 24 Paul’s prayer for these believers is similar to his prayer in 3:11 – 13. Throughout this letter he has stressed the importance of those who are God’s ‘holy ones’ (3:13) living an increasingly ‘holy’ or ‘sanctified’ life. Every believer is ‘holy’ and in some of Paul’s letters are called ‘saints’ and referred to as ‘sanctified.’ That is positional sanctification, and is part of our salvation in Christ. But Paul urges the Thessalonians to live holy lives, and prays that this will be increasingly so, and evident at the return of Christ.

Read 5:23, 24 and answer these questions:
What does Paul call God?


How important is it to you that God is a God of peace?


What does Paul ask God to do?


What is Paul’s purpose in this prayer?


How much of our lives does Paul’s prayer include?


How much do your personal goals for your life tie in with Paul’s prayer?


What strong encouragement does Paul give at the end of this prayer?



When you think about the return of Christ, is it a frightening thing, or an encouraging thing?


When you realise that God is engaged in the on-going task of making you more and more ‘holy’, does this encourage you to co-operate with him by responding positively to the Holy Spirit as he teaches you and corrects you, or does it make you grow slack and careless?



Meditate on verse 24. What assurance do you get from this verse?