In the Second half of 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul addresses the real reason he wrote to the Thessalonians. The early Church, and most of the Disciples, and especially Paul, were certain that Jesus would return during their lifetimes. This idea of Christ’s imminent return was what prompted Paul to oppose marriage, for example. Because of this belief, the Church at Thessalonica was worried that people who died before Christ’s return would have missed out on the glories of eternal life and the coming Kingdom.
Paul writes to assure them that whenever the Parousia occurs, Jesus will be there to take care of those who have died before He comes. The Greek word Parousia is used 24 times in the New Testament always in the context of a personal arrival or presence, and most often related to the second coming of Christ, although sometimes for arrivals of Disciples or even the “man of lawlessness”.
In the Greco-Roman world the word might have been used to talk of a state visit by a king, or the presence of a deity as by divine fire. It combined arrival and personal presence. So the use of the word in the context of Jesus would mean both His arrival and His personal presence.
Jesus himself used the word only 3 times (out of 4 in the Gospels). Once when comparing the coming (parousia) of the Son of Man to lighting (Matthew 24:27) and twice in Matthew 24:37-39 where he compares the coming (parousia) of the Son of Man to Noah’s Flood. The parallels to Paul’s usage of the word and his description of the suddenness and climactic finality of the parousia, as in the onset of child birth, are obvious.
Paul is not talking about several things here. The Parousia here is not the advent of Jesus spirit or his life within us. This will be a very public arrival with angels shouting and the trumpet call of God. Everyone will know when Jesus returns, but only you know the reality of Christ in you. The second coming is not our death. Paul is very specific about the two being separate events. Nor is it our conversion when he comes to rule and reign in us. No, Paul is certain Jesus is coming personally and publically.
And then he talks about the resurrection of those who died in Christ (his real point). He assures the Thessalonians that, just as God did once with Jesus he will raise the dead. He will gather His people to Himself from all over the world, whether they are living or dead. Some people make a big deal about the dead going first. I’m not sure there is any real significance to that because the message is that all Christians, dead and alive, will be gathered to Christ upon his return.
Then Paul tells them that they cannot know when Jesus will return (even Jesus said he did not know). People will believe they have peace and safety, that there is no end but that all will be as it always has been, and Jesus will come. Compare what Paul says with Jesus’ description of the parousia in Matthew 24.
If we can’t know when Jesus is coming why does Paul say that Christians will not be surprised? It is not because the time is known, but that Christians will be ready. The thief does not announce is arrival, but the alert homeowner, waiting with a shotgun, is not surprised. So Christians are to be prepared for Jesus’ return through righteous living, self control, faith and prayer.
How about us, why are we Christians? Is it for what it will do for us in this life, Paul disabused us about that in 1 Thessalonians 3 when he says Christians are destined for trials. No we are Christians because of the Hope of an eternal life with Christ. Anything else would be foolish, there aren’t any other good reasons to be a Christian. If that’s the case, are we living in that reality? Are we ready and hopeful for Christ’s return or are we just putting in time and hoping not to get caught unprepared?