1 Thessalonians 3:13 refers to “the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His holy ones” (literal translation). Are these holy ones angels, God’s people, or both?
Though some hold holy ones to be angels or both angels and holy people (see my website for a survey of these positions), I hold that holy onesrefers only to God’s people for multiple reasons.
First, when Paul uses the Greek word for holy ones (hagios) to refer to beings, he always refers to holy people. Of Paul’s 76 uses of this word, 40 uses refer to people (including 1 Thessalonians 3:13), typically translated saints. (See Rom 1:7; 8:27; 12:3; 15:25, 26, 31; 16:2, 15; 1 Cor 1:2; 6:1, 2; 14:33; 16:1, 15; 2 Cor 1:1; 8:4; 9:1, 12; 13:13; Eph 1:1, 15, 18; 2:19; 3:8, 18; 4:12; 5:3; 6:18; Phil 1:1; 4:21, 22; Col 1:2, 4, 12, 26; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Tim 5:10; Phm 5, 7.)
Second, when writing to the Thessalonians and referring to angels who accompany Christ for judgment, Paul unambiguously refers to them as angels (Greek, angelos) in 2 Thessalonians 1:7. He even distinguishes holy ones from angels by referring to holy ones as human believers in this same passage (2 Thessalonians 1:10, “all who have believed”; cf. 1:7–10).
Third, the identity of holy ones as people is more fitting than angels in the context of 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13. Paul prays for his readers to grow spiritually so that they will be perfected in holiness with all of the holy ones at their judgment, and this prayer prepares his readers for admonitions on holiness in the next two chapters (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 4, 7, 8; 5:23, 26). The idea is something like, “I pray that you grow so that God will perfect you in holiness with all of the holy ones in the future, a holiness that you should be living out right now.”
Fourth, if one holds that the rapture of the saints takes place before the final descent of Jesus (with the day of the Lord in between; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10; 5:2–4, 9), then this verse fittingly speaks of the glorification and positive judgment of God’s holy people before the Father and Son (cf. Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10), a judgment that takes place in heaven after the rapture. The term coming (Greek, parousia) refers to a complex event that includes the rapture of the saints, the day of the Lord, and the final descent of Jesus, in that order (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:14–17; 5:2–4; 2 Thessalonians 2:8).
Even for those who hold to a concurrent rapture and final descent, holy ones could still be understood as God’s people in keeping with Paul’s regular use of hagios. In this understanding, Paul mentions Christ coming with His people here in 1 Thessalonians 3:13, and he mentions Christ coming with His angels in 2 Thessalonians 1:7–8. If so, if Paul echoes Zechariah 14:5, he reinterprets Zechariah’s holy ones as people or people in addition to angels.
All quotes ESV. Articles by Pastor Huffstutler are at davidhuffstutler.com.