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In June 2017 and May 2018, I had email exchanges with Prof. Larry W. Hurtado and Dean Craig C. Hill (two high-caliber NT scholars) about the second coming, the rapture and, more specifically, the saints in 1 and 2 Thess.

1 Thessalonians 3:13

2 Thessalonians 1:3–12

They did not satisfactorily answer my question(s):

Who are the saints / holy ones in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 and 2 Thessalonians 1:3–12?

Both Prof. Hurtado and Dean Hill say that the saints in 1 Thess. 3.13 refer to human believers/saints (I will only briefly quote them, I cannot reproduce all their email responses here):

Prof. Hurtado

Based on typical NT usage, I'd take the "hagioi" of 1Thess and 2 Thess to be "saints" or believers. Zech speaks of "holy ones" as angels, but the NT authors seem to have taken the word more as a label for believers... If you do a study of all instances of "hoi hagioi" (holy ones) in Paul, you will see that he characteristically applies the term to believers in Jesus... I take the holy ones in 1 Thess 3:13 to be believers, who are deceased and return with him. They are "raptured". They're the deceased. Paul directly addresses the question about them in 4:13ff... The passage in 1 Thess 4 doesn't talk about a "rapture" but a rising up of believers to meet the returning Jesus... And, again, just run down all the instances in Paul of "hoi hagioi" (holy ones). You'll see for yourself how he uses the term... First, in 1 Thess 3:13 the "parousia" of Jesus = his coming and eschatological appearance/presence. Obviously, his "saints" will be there with him. Second, the "meta" (with") phrase "with all his holy ones" seems to me to be inclusive of the believers addressed. I.e., you will be blameless before God . . . with all the holy ones/saints".

Dean Hill

Dear Brian, The possibility exists that 3:11-13 refers to angels, but I think it is likelier that it refers to humans.

However, I still dont understand how the saint/holy ones in 1 Thess 3.13 can be human believers in light of 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 and 2 Thessalonians 1:3–12.

So 3 main passages:

1 Thessalonians 3:13

1 Thessalonians 4:13–18

2 Thessalonians 1:3–12

Other relevant texts:

Zechariah 14.5

Matthew 16.27

Matthew 24.30-31

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I will preface this with saying that I believe the saints referred to in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 is a reference to the angelic host. The reason is primarily two-fold:

First, this is spoken of in clear language elsewhere.

Matthew 25:31

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.

Mark 8:38

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

The second reason is the fact that Christ comes the second time to resurrect His people and take them with Him. They're not already with Him now.

John 6:40

And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Matthew 24:30-31

Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

John 14:1-3

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

1 Thessalonians 4:15-17

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

This last verse is especially important, as it tells us that those who are alive will not go to heaven before those who are asleep (dead). Rather, the order of events is given quite clearly: Christ comes with all the holy angels. Then He calls up into the air those who were alive to see Him come. Then, both the living and the dead together at the same time go with Jesus to heaven as per John 14:1-3. This is the manner with which we are reunited with our Lord.

So it cannot be that those who come with Christ are the dead in Christ. Christ comes, bringing His angels, to gather up His people. It does not make any sense that Christ is bringing His people to come get the people He is bringing!

With that in view, we may now understand 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 accurately:

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

Christ will "bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus" back to heaven when He comes a second time. This is not saying that He brings the dead in Christ with Him on His way to the earth, but rather, that they will not be left in the grave when Christ comes; and that He will also bring them to heaven when He takes the living saints there.

Now, with regards to 2 Thessalonians 1:10; it seems quite clear that these saints being referred to are the redeemed. The immediate context suggests as much.

2 Thessalonians 1:10-12

when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.

Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul is here saying that, because they believed the testimony of the prophets and apostles, these saints will be glorified when Christ comes the second time. Thus, he states that he is constantly praying for us to be worthy of this calling; and defines the calling as being glorified in Christ, and having Christ glorified in us.

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    .....Thank you for your contribution. Very good. However, it doesnt quite address what Prof. Hurtado refers to. For example, Prof. Hurtado and Dr. Hill would both agree with you that " It does not make any sense that Christ is bringing His people to come get the people He is bringing! " But, this is not what they are suggesting and their accepted viewpoint doesn't make this blunder. It's just that Hurtado says that the saints that will come with Christ in 1 Thess 3.13 are the dead from 1 Thess 4.13-14. – XegesIs Feb 19 '19 at 0:45
  • 1 Thess. 4.14 : " For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, thus also God will bring those who have fallen asleep through Jesus together with him. " W. Hall Harris III et al., eds., The Lexham English Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012), 1 Th 4:14. – XegesIs Feb 19 '19 at 0:46
  • You are both correct - look also at v15 which says (as pointed out correctly by Jacob M) that the living will not precede the dead and the dead are raised first and THEN the living go to be with Jesus. Any explanation must account for BOTH verses. The "bring with" is what happens when God returns to heaven with EVERYONE classified as righteous. – user25930 Feb 19 '19 at 10:48
  • Yes, @Mac'sMusings is correct. The "bring with" in 1 Thess 4:13-14 is referring to Jesus bringing those from the earth back with Him to heaven. It's not talking about bringing those from heaven to the earth with Him. Added this information to the post above. – Jacob M. Feb 19 '19 at 19:44
  • Very well, I will accept this for now. Thank you Jacob M. and Mac's Musings – XegesIs Feb 19 '19 at 20:06
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I think it matters how you read this sentence

“God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Thessalonians 4:14.

If you read that they are being brought from heaven as Christ comes down then it’s human saints. But I don’t see the evidence, based on the rest of the passage, that human saints that are dead(asleep) in Christ can be coming down with Christ if they firstly need to be awoken.

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” ‭‭1 Thessalonians‬ ‭4:16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Following which those who are alive will join those who have risen.

The idea that Paul is communicating here, is that God will not leave anyone behind.

“God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Thessalonians 4:14.

and after He returns to earth with his heavenly host of holy ones, only to return back to heaven, on His return to Heaven, God will bring with him humans who have fallen asleep, not just those who are alive.

That’s all that’s saying. If you end up having fallen asleep in Christ, don’t worry He will awaken you and take you with Him.

And then Paul proceeds to explain that both the living and the dead will He bring back with Him. In what order and so on.

Therefore the text in question chapter 3:13 is referring to heavenly hosts as the saints or holy ones and not human saints or holy ones.

  • And I didn’t add any additional reasons for chapter 3:13 because Jacob M used many of the verses i would have used. I have a few more but it’s the same message Jesus coming with heavenly hosts, not humans. So +1 to Jacob M – Nihil Sine Deo Feb 19 '19 at 4:12
  • Thank you Autdodidact. Very good. I'll consider all of your inputs. That's my understanding as well. – XegesIs Feb 19 '19 at 20:08
  • It also makes a difference how you read this sentence, whether he is coming with the saints to heaven or to earth: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory." Is it a throne in the sky or on the dry land? Paul speaks of being "seated together with Christ in the heavenly places" etc. – Ruminator Feb 19 '19 at 21:13
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    In 1 Thess 3.13, Chris is coming with his saints from heaven to earth, because this passage is clearly about the parousia (greek = appearance) and the parousia is always in every other passage about appearing from heaven with his saints and coming to earth, not the reverse. The background of the Parousia or the Second Coming is the Day of the Lord in the Old Testament such as Zech. 14.5 – XegesIs Feb 19 '19 at 22:04
  • The other verse that might show the idea of humans coming down is “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” ‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:8‬ But this verse doesn’t have a time perspective. It appears to say that at the point of death a person is immediately with the Lord and there is not raising from the dead necessary. Or the transfiguration event where Moses and Elijah were present or Jesus’ quote “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” ‭‭Mat 22:32‬ – Nihil Sine Deo Feb 20 '19 at 0:35
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"Who are the saints / holy ones in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 ...?" The answer depends upon who you ask or which commentaries you consult. For example:

As to 1 Thess. 3:13 --

"It is difficult to know exactly what this means. The following summary of the difficulty is from Kelcy.

'The word for "holy ones" is that commonly used for all Christians in the New Testament. On the other hand, the angels of heaven are frequently associated with Christ in the Second Advent.... Of course, the angels are also called "holy." ..... 'Christ will bring "them that have fallen asleep" with him ... and his holy angels shall likewise attend the event ... and, upon the basis of these Scriptures, the view is preferable that holds "saints" in this passage as including both.'" ~Raymond C. Kelcy, "The Letters of Paul to the Thessalonians" (Austin, Texas: R. B; Sweet Company, Inc., 1968), p. 64, cited in Vincent's Word Studies at 1.

"... with all his saints--including both the holy angels and the holy elect of men ..." ~ A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, cited at 2.

  1. "With all his, Christ's, saints - Both angels and men." ~John Wesley's Notes on the Bible, cited at https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=wes&b=52&c=3
  • @user28799.....Yes, it depends who one asks. We know that very well. But, I expect contributors here to show some critical thinking and exegesis of your own, alhtough it's ok to make citations and provide a short bibliography. I do have Logos Bible Software with critical scholarly commentaries, lexicons, dictionaries and I already looked through them for 2 years before asking this question. Hence, my conversations with Hurtado in 2017/2018 and Hill in 2018 after I carefully read all my available resources. To me, it seemed obvious in 2016/2017 that it was the angels, but then I questioned... – XegesIs Feb 20 '19 at 22:38
  • My regrets if my answer disappointed you. FWIW at this point, I concur with the comments of Prof. Hurtato and Dean Hill. I'll review your question and the preceding answers later and comment again later if I have additional information. – Heterodoxus Feb 21 '19 at 18:44

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