The Second coming in 1 Thessalonians 4


I was wondering while reading this chapter: does Paul say that he and the ones he sent the letter to will be alive when Crist comes again?

Many say no, including S. John Chrysostom

“He spake,” says St. Chrysostom, “not of himself, but of Christians who would be alive at the day of judgment.”

Explaining that he sees this being alive as being a member of the body of Christ. Ok, but how does this go together with the next verses, which say:

16 … the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord…

The dead in Christ, who rise first, should be also then seen as alive, right? So to me he really makes the distinction between live and death on this earth, and really means to say he will be alive when Chirst comes again. How do you see it?

Thank you


Yeah, Paul is making a hard distinction between those who died before the Paraousia and those who will be alive for it, because he wants the reader to get that even if you die before the Parousia, you can go to Heaven.

The fact that Paul says, “we who are alive and remain,” this does not mean that he is certain that he’ll be alive for the event. If a sergeant tells his men, “We’ll push through the line, and then we who are alive and remain will outflank them,” the sense is not a guarantee that he’ll be one of the ones who’ll make it.

“We” in our daily language often means “those of us” and can mean such here. He is trying to explain what happens to people who are still alive, when it happens to people from the group of which he is a member.

Besides, lets say Paul was certain that Jesus would come in ten years - “we who are alive” probably wouldn’t include each of those to whom the letter was addressed anyway, since the community probably had some older people; and it might not include him personally since he knew there was a pretty decent chance he’d get martyred any day.

But there is no doubt in my mind that Paul thought there was a strong chance the Second Coming would be in his lifetime - I also think that he would be concerned that we don’t have the same attitude. Jesus comes like a thief in the night, and there is as good a chance in our lifetime as any other that he’ll come.


{4:13} And we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning those who are sleeping, so as not to be sorrowful, like these others who do not have hope.
{4:14} For if we believe that Jesus has died and risen again, so also will God bring back with Jesus those who sleep in him.
{4:15} For we say this to you, in the Word of the Lord: that we who are alive, who remain until the return of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
{4:16} For the Lord himself, with a command and with the voice of an Archangel and with a trumpet of God, shall descend from heaven. And the dead, who are in Christ, shall rise up first.
{4:17} Next, we who are alive, who are remaining, shall be taken up quickly together with them into the clouds to meet Christ in the air. And in this way, we shall be with the Lord always.

On the “last day”, the general Resurrection is granted first to the souls who died in a state of grace, and then to the souls in Hell. Those who are still alive on the last day, do not die and immediately rise, but are granted the benefits of the Resurrection without dying and rising.

Paul says “we who are alive” meaning faithful Christians on earth at that time. I don’t think this expression implies that Paul thought he himself would be alive at that time.


Is that the commmon teaching of the Church, that the early Christians believed in the Second coming in their lifetime? I know thee is no dogma here, but what is the position of the majoity in the Church? I keep on finding both in almost a 50-50 rate.


I haven’t explained myself well. I think there are different opinions among different groups of Catholics.

What I propose as a compromise is that Paul believed that there was a strong chance Jesus would come back in his lifetime, but was not certain, and did not say anything (especially not in the passage you cite here) that should make us conclude that he was so convinced.

I think that, were Paul dropped off in the modern day by TARDIS (for a brief zany vacation), he would be concerned that we, as a Church, are not so concerned today in the third millennium that Jesus might come back during our life time, because, you know, Jesus might.

Point being: Paul’s urgency about readying for Jesus’ return does not indicate that he had in mind any concrete timetable.


I might be horribly mistaken but I always thought that most (perhaps all) verses dealing with the coming of Christ has to do with what is called a “middle-coming” of Christ. Specifically, most of these prophecies deal with the coming in judgment of the Temple and Jewish leadership. Of course, some of the prophecies do deal with the Second Coming but, as I understand it, these prophecies are more vague and ambiguous about the imminency of the event.


Yeah, in the Gospels you get some of that, but even there it is usually constructed in a way to prefigure the end of time. But you do get some of that in the Gospels no question.

However, with Paul, it is more clearly a Parousia we’re talking about.


Of course it is possible that he has the Temple Destruction in mind as well, as a sort of prefigurement. Who knows?


There is always a chance that the Lord can come any time and that should be a motivation to live right and not assume that we can be holy when we get old and live bad until then. In Paul’s earier letters he seems to think he may be alive when the Lord comes, but he obviously gives a different impression in his latter letters when he knows his life is coming to an end. Regardless, Paul would have never been certain that he would be alive at the second coming.


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