Scripture Notes


1 Thess. 4:14-17.

It is impossible to doubt that the Old Testament saints will share in the first resurrection. The statement that "many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven," together with 1 Cor. 15:23, Rev. 4:4, etc., place this beyond question. While, however, insisting upon this, it is still true that Paul is writing only, in the above scripture, concerning Christians. It was in respect of believers in Thessalonica, who had departed to be with Christ, that a misconception had arisen, and the apostle was instructed to remove it by a special word of the Lord; and consequently Old Testament saints are not before his mind. Those which sleep in Jesus ("have fallen asleep through Jesus") in v. 14 are the same class as "the dead in Christ" in v. 16. As they will be awaked, called out of their graves, at the coming of the Lord, they are described as sleeping. He has "abolished" death and has brought life and incorruptibility to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1), and thus death for the believer is but a transient sleep. Stephen is accordingly described as falling asleep. But as far as this world is concerned, saints, equally with sinners, are dead; but the words appended - "in Christ" - mark them off as the Christian dead. All this class, the apostle teaches, will rise first, when the Lord descends from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and thereupon the living saints will (having been "changed" as said in 1 Cor. 15) be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. What a blessed hope and a joyful prospect!


Psalm 140:9-10; Romans 12:19-20.

A comparison of these two scriptures will give the key for the interpretation of heaping coals upon an enemy's head. Let it, however, be first remarked that the verse 20 in Romans 12 is a citation from Proverbs 25, with the omission of the words, "the Lord shall reward thee." This is interesting as showing one of the pre-intimations of grace which are scattered here and there in the Old Testament. When the Psalmist cries, "Let burning coals fall upon them," it is evident from the connection that he desires judgment upon his enemies; and this would be in entire accordance with the principles of righteous government, inasmuch as his enemies are the enemies of Jehovah. But under the reign of grace all is changed; and hence the apostle writes, "Dearly-beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." Not only so, but, while leaving an enemy in the Lord's hands, our own hearts, instead of calling down judgment, are to go out in tender compassion towards him (compare Matthew 5:43-44); and thus the apostle continues, "Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head." In showing him all possible kindness, in this representing the heart of God towards ourselves when we were yet enemies (see Romans 5:8), we shall cause him, with the blessing of God, to feel the effect of coals of fire on his head. Now, as we have seen in the psalm, the falling of coals of fire on the heads of enemies is a symbol of judgment - judgment, in that case, from the hands of God. In Romans, likewise, the heaping of coals of fire on the head of an enemy in the way described will retain the meaning of judgment - but of self-judgment produced in the heart, and not judgment visited upon the head, of the enemy. What we learn therefore is, that just as God's grace met us in all our enmity, melted us down, and reconciled us to Himself through the death of His Son, so the manifestation of grace and needed kindness is calculated to break down and win an enemy by begetting in him compunctions of conscience for the attitude he has assumed. But we need to be very much in the truth and power of grace to carry out this apostolic injunction.