Lectionary Year A
November 10, 2002
I Thessalonians 4:13-18
Step IV: Cross-Section
A. Primitive Christianity
(JFC) Jesus' immanent return, in which Paul believed, is mentioned in John21:22, II
Corinthians 5, Philippians 3:20 and Titus 2:13. Paul's Second Epistle to the Thessalonians addresses in greater details, in its 2nd chapter, the misfortunes expected to precede Christ's return. Death is a popular figure addressed in and by the New Testament, for example, in Luke 1:79, death's dark shadows are prayed for by Zechariah for God's mercies to enlighten. The pangs of death are conquered by God's raising Jesus from the grave, according to Peter's Acts 2:24 sermon. Also I Corinthians 15:54f states, classically, the same hope for victory over death, sin's sting. Moreover, I Corinthians 15:51f claims death will be replaced by a mysterious gift of "being changed" which will happen "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable and we will be changed." And, classically, Romans 5-8 speak of death as a misfortune surmounted by Christ's grace, life, death and resurrection. Furthermore, love overcomes death, according to I John 3:14. I Peter 3:19, tells of the crucified Christ, in the spirit He "went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison" and in I Peter 4:6, we read of "the reason the Gospel was proclaimed to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does." More hope for the resurrection of the dead, perhaps even from Hades/Hell, etc.
B. Old Testament and Judaism
(JFC) Isaac (Genesis 27:1-4) prepared for his death knowing only that he was getting
old, his eyes were failing and that a ritualistic meal was timely for his blessing his son and being ready to die. In Numbers 23:7-10, Balaam's oracle wanted him to die a death of the righteous. Psalm 6:5 views death as being without remembrance. Psalm 23:4 finds death in shadows. Exodus 19:10-18 records a Sinaitic theophany that resembles what we have in this Epistle Lesson. The figure of the trumpet escalating God's proclamation and/or presence is found in more apocalyptic literature of the Old Testament and Judaism. Daniel 12:1-3, using apocalyptic/eschatological images, prophesies a time when the wise and those who lead many to righteousness shall rise.
C. Hellenistic World
(JFC) Of course, these philosophers would want ignorance alleviated, too, as Paul
seems to desire in this text's opening verse. Grieving would be frowned upon by these objectively thinking scholars. They also would like no precedence and no second places for the timing of the resurrection, if they, in fact do believe in it. Some Hellenistic literature indicates these Greeks believed in the resurrection and others do not, not unlike today's thinkers. They might have been more concerned for those still living when Christ returns than for those who have died beforehand. Yet, their concern seems to be more emotional than we might expect from their pens. So, what do they truly believe? Maybe, like we contemporaneously, there were many different speculations of such a mystery. Perhaps, the Psalms of Solomon 17:44 and 18:5f give the nearest ting we have to an answer; they refer us to God's merciful dealing with the living and the dead. Trusting God helps deal with such events when we trust such an unqualifiedly trustworthy God.
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