Comfort From the God of Peace
“Keep comforting one another with these words.”—1 THESSALONIANS 4:18.
1. What petitions by Paul show his interest in peace?
PAUL, the apostle, was keenly desirous that the Christian congregation should enjoy peace. Thus, 13 of his letters, as preserved for us in the inspired Scriptures, open with a petition that those addressed may enjoy peace from God. For example, to the fledgling congregation in Thessalonica, Paul writes: “May you have undeserved kindness and peace.” Toward the end of that same letter, he petitions: “May the very God of peace sanctify you completely. And sound in every respect may the spirit and soul and body of you brothers be preserved in a blameless manner at the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.”—1 Thessalonians 1:1; 5:23.
2. (a) What kind of concern did Paul display toward the congregation? (b) How may Christian elders today follow Paul’s example?
2 Paul and his companions had not spared themselves in ‘laboring and toiling’ among those new believers. Said Paul: “We became gentle in the midst of you, as when a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, having a tender affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you, not only the good news of God, but also our own souls, because you became beloved to us.” Can we not sense in those words the intimate concern, the genuine, deep-seated love that Paul felt for that congregation? Indeed, it is a pattern of the kind of love that Christian elders display in some 50,000 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses around the earth today.—1 Thessalonians 2:7-9; John 13:34, 35; 15:12-14.
3. (a) How was Timothy able to benefit the Thessalonian congregation? (b) This corresponds to what today?
3 The Tempter, Satan, had brought tribulations upon those Thessalonian Christians. So Paul sent Timothy to them, in order ‘to make them firm and comfort them in behalf of their faith.’ Timothy returned to Paul in Athens with a glowing report about their faithfulness and love. All were greatly comforted to learn of one another’s faith and integrity, and they continued to supplicate God to make up any lack. (1 Thessalonians 3:1, 2, 5-7, 10) This, too, reflects the theocratic arrangement today, with traveling overseers building up the congregations, even where Jehovah’s Witnesses serve under ban or bitter persecution.—Isaiah 32:1, 2.
‘At His Presence’
4, 5. (a) What petition does Paul here make, and why should it be of special interest to us now? (b) Why is our day of particular significance?
4 The apostle Paul concludes this part of his letter with the petition: “May the Lord cause you to increase, yes, make you abound, in love to one another and to all, even as we also do to you; to the end that he may make your hearts firm, unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the presence of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.”—1 Thessalonians 3:12, 13.
5 Paul was here looking far into the future, to the time of Jesus’ “presence and of the conclusion of the system of things” when “the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him.” Our heavenly King arrived in 1914. From his glorious invisible throne, Jesus is now judging the nations and peoples of earth, separating out humble, sheeplike humans for preservation through the “great tribulation” and for everlasting life in a paradise earth.—Matthew 24:3-21; 25:31-34, 41, 46.
Orders for Our Good
6. What exhortation of Paul must we now heed?
6 Are you one who is reaching out for that goal of everlasting life? If so, you must heed what Paul here writes to the Thessalonians: “Finally, brothers, we request you and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, just as you received the instruction from us on how you ought to walk and please God, just as you are in fact walking, that you would keep on doing it more fully. For you know the orders we gave you through the Lord Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1, 2) What are some of “the orders” that Paul here emphasizes?
7. (a) What important ‘order’ is here given? (b) Having received God’s spirit, why must we never let down our guard?
7 The first ‘order’ relates to good morals. Paul states forthrightly: “This is what God wills, the sanctifying of you, that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you should know how to get possession of his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in covetous sexual appetite such as also those nations have which do not know God.” Happily, we have come to “know” God and his Son, Jesus Christ, and are reaching out for everlasting life. How shameful it would be if we were to let ourselves be dragged back into the worldly mire of immorality! Sad to say, some have survived years in concentration camps and prisons, or spent a lifetime in zealous missionary service, only to let the Tempter later catch them off guard as to morals. Having received God’s holy spirit, may we never ‘grieve’ it through sexual misconduct!—1 Thessalonians 4:3-8; John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 10:12, 13; Ephesians 4:30.
8, 9. (a) What is “brotherly love”? (b) How may we cultivate such love, and with what benefit?
8 Paul’s next ‘order’ is with respect to phil·a·del·phiʹa, “brotherly love.” (1 Thessalonians 4:9, 10) This is a special manifestation of the principled love, a·gaʹpe, that Paul also warmly recommends here in 1Th 4 verse 9, as well as in 1Th chapter 3, verses 6 and 12. Phil·a·del·phiʹa is a very intimate affection, such as evidently existed between Jesus and Peter, and between David and Jonathan. (John 21:15-17; 1 Samuel 20:17; 2 Samuel 1:26) It can be added to a·gaʹpe in building a close companionship, as seen, for example, in the mutual joy of association that many of Jehovah’s Witnesses find together in the pioneer ministry and other theocratic activity.
9 Says Paul: “Go on doing it in fuller measure.” We can always broaden out in our brotherly love. Especially does this fine quality overflow when elders and ministerial servants take the lead in zealous Kingdom service. When all in the congregation busy themselves in ‘seeking first the Kingdom,’ differences due to human imperfection, personality clashes, and similar problems become secondary. Let us always keep our eyes on the goal!—Matthew 6:20, 21, 33; 2 Corinthians 4:18.
10. How may we, as Christians, ‘walk decently’?
10 Paul here ties in another ‘order’—that we make it our aim to live quietly, mind our own business, and work with our hands. As we thus ‘walk decently’ in our daily lives, displaying both principled love and brotherly affection, all our needs will be supplied.—1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12; John 13:35; Romans 12:10-12.
Comforted by the Resurrection Hope
11. (a) Why does Paul now introduce the resurrection? (b) How should this counsel by Paul affect us?
11 The apostle refers next to the grand hope of the resurrection. But why should Paul introduce this topic? He wanted to strengthen his brothers to endure the persecutions that were coming their way. They were in danger of losing their lives. It appears that at that time some had fallen asleep in death. Fellow believers were in need of comfort. (1 Thessalonians 2:14-20) Thinking that Christ’s “presence” was at hand, they wondered what would happen to those who had already died. What Paul now writes provides not only comfort for those losing Christian loved ones but also encouragement to endure until Jehovah’s “day” breaks forth. Paul’s counsel should help all of us to show spiritual stability as we continue to declare the good news, in anticipation of the total end of this system of things.—2 Thessalonians 1:6-10.
12. What real comfort may we have when a loved one dies, and from what source?
12 Paul says: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant concerning those who are sleeping in death; that you may not sorrow just as the rest also do who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) What comfort and peace of mind are to be found in the resurrection hope! Some five years later, Paul would introduce his second letter to the Christians in Corinth by saying: “May you have undeserved kindness and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those in any sort of tribulation through the comfort with which we ourselves are being comforted by God.”—2 Corinthians 1:2-4.
13, 14. (a) Why did Paul want Christians to be informed as to the meaning of death? (b) What do the Scriptures show to be the condition of the dead?
13 The apostle did not want us to be ignorant as to the condition of the dead. In time, a great apostasy would set in among professed Christians, so that they would return to Babylonish and Greek philosophies. Such apostates would accept the Platonic doctrine of the inherent immortality of the soul—now a basic teaching throughout the world empire of false religion. The aura of mystery that surrounds the “afterlife,” whether said to be in heaven, purgatory, or a place of eternal torment, provides no true comfort. Further, inherent immortality contradicts the resurrection doctrine, for how can someone be raised again to life if the soul does not die?
14 Paul here writes “concerning those who are sleeping in death.” Yes, “sleeping.” A person who is sleeping is not conscious of anything and is not able to perform any works. (Compare Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10.) There was an occasion during Jesus’ ministry when he said that Lazarus had “gone to rest” and that he, Jesus, would “awaken him from sleep.” When Christ’s disciples did not understand those words, “Jesus said to them outspokenly: ‘Lazarus has died.’” Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, were comforted by the hope of the resurrection, and Jesus brought them further comfort. But how their faith must have been fortified when Jesus raised his friend, already dead for four days, from the sleep of death!—John 11:11-14, 21-25, 43-45.
15. (a) How is our hope in the resurrection strengthened? (b) How may we be helped to adjust at the death of a loved one?
15 That miracle, together with Jesus’ other works in raising the dead, and preeminently Jehovah’s resurrecting of Jesus himself—all these well-documented events strengthen our confidence in the marvelous resurrection hope. (Luke 7:11-17; 8:49-56; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8) True, death brings sorrow and tears, and it is hard to adjust to the absence of a loved one. But what comfort and strength we gain from the assurance that the Sovereign Lord Jehovah “will actually swallow up death forever, and . . . will certainly wipe the tears from all faces”! (Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 21:4) One of the best cures for sorrow is keeping busy in the service of the God of peace, giving out to others the heartwarming Kingdom hope that we ourselves have so gratefully received.—Compare Acts 20:35.
Order of the Resurrection
16, 17. (a) How will “the last enemy” be brought to nothing? (b) What order of resurrection does Paul now explain?
16 Our faith is strong that Christ, “the firstfruits” of the resurrection and now enthroned at God’s right hand in the heavens, will carry to completion Jehovah’s glorious Kingdom purposes. (Hebrews 6:17, 18; 10:12, 13) As Paul states in another letter: “He [Jesus Christ] must rule as king until God has put all enemies under his feet. As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing.” How? In part through the resurrection and the removal of the effects of Adamic death. The apostle had just explained it this way: “Since death is through a man, resurrection of the dead is also through a man. For just as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive. But each one in his own rank: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who belong to the Christ during his presence.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-26) It is to this order of the resurrection that Paul next refers in his first letter to the Thessalonians, saying:
17 “If our faith is that Jesus died and rose again, so, too, those who have fallen asleep in death through Jesus God will bring with him. For this is what we tell you by Jehovah’s word, that we the living who survive to the presence of the Lord shall in no way precede those who have fallen asleep in death; because the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first.”—1 Thessalonians 4:14-16.
18. When were the anointed ones who were “asleep in death” resurrected?
18 After 1914, during Jesus’ “presence” in Kingdom power, he, as the archangel, issues the heavenly command for those “in union with Christ” to assemble. In the case of such anointed ones “asleep in death,” this trumpetlike summons calls for their spiritual resurrection into the heavens. The Watchtower has long presented the view that this resurrection of anointed Christians from death commenced in the year 1918.
19. When and how will those remaining “be caught away in clouds,” and for what purpose?
19 However, what of the remaining anointed Christians on earth, now a diminishing group of less than 10,000? These, too, must complete their earthly life course in faithfulness. As though he were with them during Christ’s presence, Paul writes: “Afterward we the living who are surviving will, together with them, be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:17; compare Revelation 1:10.) Thus, in due course, all the 144,000 will be raised to serve as priests and kings on the heavenly Mount Zion with the Lamb, Jesus Christ. “This is the first resurrection.” (Revelation 14:1, 4; 20:4, 5) But what awaits the billions of mankind who are now in their graves?
20, 21. (a) What lies ahead for the billions of mankind in their graves? (b) What group will never need to die off the earth, and why? (c) If individuals of this group should die, what happy prospect is there for them?
20 Though Paul does not specifically mention these in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Revelation 20:12 assures us that “the dead, the great and the small,” will be raised up to stand before God’s judgment throne. (See also John 5:28, 29.) However, today “a great crowd” numbering into the millions has already been gathered before that throne. As a group, these will be saved alive through the impending “great tribulation.” They are shepherded by the Lamb and guided to “fountains of waters of life,” so that they will never need to die off the earth. But due to age or unforeseen occurrence, some of them may die during the Lord’s “presence.” (Revelation 7:9, 14, 17; Ecclesiastes 9:11) What of these?
21 The joyful hope of an early resurrection lies ahead for all such “other sheep.” (John 10:16) Their faith and works, like those of Abraham of old, have already brought them into a state of friendship with God. Like those men and women of faith described in Hebrews chapter 11, these modern-day “other sheep” have endured trials. Logically they, too, will experience “a better resurrection,” no doubt early in the post-Armageddon period. (Hebrews 11:35; James 2:23) Indeed, each one who has, in faith, ‘fed on Jesus’ flesh and drunk his blood’ will share in the fulfillment of his promise: “He . . . has everlasting life, and I shall resurrect him at the last day.”—John 6:54; Romans 5:18, 21; 6:23.
22. How may we comfort one another?
22 After discussing the glorious resurrection hope, Paul admonishes: “Keep comforting one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18) Then he discusses further vital matters regarding “the presence of our Lord Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23) What are these? See the article “Peace From God—When?”
□ What petitions does Paul make on behalf of Christians?
□ What “orders” does the apostle give for our good?
□ How does God’s Word comfort us with regard to the dead?
□ What order of the resurrection does Paul describe?