PAUL’S CONCERN FOR NEW CHURCHES
Thessaloniki, Greece in 2006. Photo by Ian Kehoe.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (public domain)
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from: The Holy Bible: New International Version®, NIV®,
Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by the International Bible Society.
Copyright © Jim Gerrish 2015
The letters to the Thessalonians give us a unique peek not only into the initial spread of the gospel into Europe, but also into the founding and functioning of Christian churches in their earliest period. We remember how Paul on his Second Missionary Journey (AD 49-52) received a vision at Troas in Asia Minor. He saw a man from Macedonia who was begging him to cross over into his country and give help (Acts 16:9-10). After receiving the vision, Paul and his companions immediately crossed over into Macedonia and initially began their ministry at the Roman colony of Philippi.
With much suffering, including beating and imprisonment, Paul and his team established the first church on the continent at Philippi. Paul and Silas were miraculously delivered from prison there. Yet, their stay was short as they were soon escorted out of the city. They then made their way to Thessalonica, which was about 100 miles (160 km) to the west. Thessalonica was a great port city in ancient times. With its natural harbor, it was a haven for shipping and for merchants of all types. The city had another blessing, being situated on the famous east-west Roman highway called the Egnatian Way. The Scottish great, William Barclay, says, “The coming of Christianity to Thessalonica was crucial in the making of it into a world religion.” He adds, “Thessalonica was a test case; and Paul was torn with anxiety to know how it would turn out.” 1
After a favorable ministry in the city for a period of weeks, opposition arose from among the Jews. A near riot ensued causing some of the new Christians to be hauled before the rulers of the city. Paul and Silas were sent from the city in the night and began another ministry at Berea, a city about 50 miles to the southwest. After once again being persecuted by the Jews, Paul left Silas and Timothy there and he journeyed on to Athens. Arthur Wallis says of Paul, “Such preaching, by making indifference impossible, sets the hearers in one of two camps. It is calculated to produce a revival or a riot.” Paul’s anxiety about the new churches is the background of the Thessalonian epistles, with Paul sending messengers and letters in order to determine the welfare of the churches.
According to the Acts account, Paul then sent for Silas and Timothy to join him at Athens (Acts 17:15) and they did so (1 Thess. 3:1-2). Later he sent the two back to Macedonia. It is probable that Silas was sent on a mission to Philippi. Paul himself then journeyed on to Corinth, where he was eventually to conduct a long and fruitful ministry. However, web commentator David Guzik says of Paul: “By the time he came to Corinth, he was in weakness, in fear and in much trembling (1 Cor. 2:3). At this point of the second missionary journey, it seemed that Paul was a very discouraged missionary.” 2 His overriding concern was the newly established churches, as to their welfare.
Over the centuries there has been little doubt that Paul was the author of this letter. It was probably written from the city of Corinth, where the apostle spent a year and a half in ministry. His arrival there was likely in the earlier part of AD 50, and thus the letter would have been written soon after that. It is probable that Timothy arrived at Corinth and made his report to Paul sometime in the spring of 50 (Ac. 18:5; 1 Thess. 3:6-7). From that report Paul wrote First Thessalonians. 3
Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. 1 Thessalonians 1:1
Paul’s letter follows the typical Greek form of secular letters in his day. He sends greetings from himself, Silas and Timothy to the Thessalonians. It almost sounds like Paul is including his helpers in the writing, but several commentators feel that Silas and Timothy didn’t really have a part in writing the letter. Paul mentions them more as a courtesy because they were well known to the new church and had helped in its founding. We all know Timothy from Acts 16:1; 1 Timothy 6:11-12 and 2 Timothy 1:3-6, . He had become Paul’s young and able assistant. Silas or Silvanus was a chief person among the Jewish brothers (Acts 15:22) as well as a prophet (Acts 15:32). He took the place of Barnabas and joined Paul at the beginning of his Second Missionary Journey.
The apostle here addresses the church of the Thessalonians. The word church (ekklesia) means “the called out” in Greek. In the Septuagint (LXX) the word was used to refer to “the assembly” of God’s people in earlier times (Deut. 4:10; 18:16). 1
The words “grace and peace” were generally part of Paul’s greetings. Several commentators have noted that Paul by using these terms together may have tried to combine the Greek and Hebrew blessing. Normally chairein meant (rejoice! or hail!) but in the epistles, the greeting became Christianized to “charis,” meaning “grace.” 2
We cannot help but notice that Paul most always worked together with a team of devoted men. He seems to have set up the churches in such a way, that a team of leaders were responsible for the conduct and operation of the church. No doubt, it would be good for the modern and postmodern churches to operate in such a fashion, rather than the popular style of the pastor being in charge and leading the church as a sort of CEO. Bethel College Professor, Michael Holmes, says of this: “Accountability to other members of a leadership team works to reduce the chances of a leader falling into sin.” 3
“We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers” (1:2). Paul had a very good habit, in that he was continually thanking God for people (3:9; Phil. 1:3; Phm. 1:4). How often do we thank God for other people? Later in 5:18, Paul will tell us to give thanks in everything. Thanksgiving and prayer work together almost as a gyro to keep our Christian lives upright and moving forward. It is not that we have to stop and kneel to pray. We can pray all day long in our minds and hearts, regardless of what else we are doing.
“We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1:3). Here we meet the famous trilogy that very nearly describes the Christian life— faith, hope and love. These are often linked together in the New Testament (cf. Rom. 5:2-5; 1 Cor. 13:13; Gal. 5:5-6; Col. 1:4-5). Paul uses some descriptive nouns with these words. There is the work (ergou), and the labor (kopou) of love. The Greek ergou simply means to work or to bring forth a deed or action. The word kopou, however, implies toil or troublesome labor. 4 When we let go and begin to really love people it will usually involve us in some heart-rending labor regarding them. Real love is never easy. Paul also mentions the endurance or steadfastness (hupomones) of hope. Baptist Professor Bob Utley thinks this hope is a reference to the Second Coming or Parousia of the Lord, which is surely a major theme of Thessalonians.5
Perhaps we need to take a closer look at these three important virtues. Faith is really the first step of the Christian life and it is a step we keep on taking. We see in Ephesians 2:8, that faith is part of the salvation package and is indirectly a gift of God because God does actually strengthen or increase our faith (Mk. 9:24; Lk.17:5). Then there is hope, the second of these abstract qualities. We live in a hopeless age since our philosophers have drained almost every drop of hope from our society. However, the Bible is full of hope. There are many aspects of hope given to Christians. There is the hope of eternal life (Tit. 1:2); the hope of a bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15:52); the blessed hope of Jesus’ appearing (Tit. 2:13); and the hope of a glorified church (1 Thess. 2:19). There are other elements of hope but these are the main ones.
Then there is love, that agape love, or God-kind of love. We not only receive this love from God but we are to pass it on to others in need of it. As we saw earlier, love requires a lot of labor. Since it is the labor of love, we can do it and continue in it. “Bernard Newman tells how once he stayed in a Bulgarian peasant’s house. All the time he was there the daughter was stitching away at a dress. He said to her, ‘Don’t you ever get tired of that eternal sewing?’ ‘O no!’ she said, ‘you see this is my wedding dress.’ Work done for love always has a glory.” 6
THE ESSENCE OF SALVATION
For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5.
In the Greek language the word used here is adelphoi and it is traditionally translated as “brothers.” However, Holmes notes that although it is often translated as “brothers” it is inclusive of the community, including men and women. 7 Of course, the NIV translates it this way here.
The NIV also refers to these believers as “chosen” of God. Here Paul touches on a great and often misunderstood doctrine of the church, the doctrine of election. We do not choose God but he, in his eternal all-knowing wisdom, chooses us to eternal life (Rom. 11:5, 7; Col. 3:12). In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul makes an exceptionally clear statement about election. He says, “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” There is a great deal of discussion in the church over this subject. We should note in this 2 Thessalonian verse that election is to salvation not to eternal damnation.
We must just stop and marvel at the way these people received the gospel. Many of them were probably total pagans, deep into idolatry. Paul and his company came through and preached two or three sermons and the lives of these folks were radically and permanently changed. Overnight a church was formed. We will learn later that it was a triumphant church, with the news of it spreading all over. How unlikely is such a thing to happen today? In my ministry career I started one church and took on another one shortly after its birth. I can attest that in our “Christianized” western world, there is no church that starts off like the Thessalonians. It usually takes many months and often many years just to help a church to stand up on its own feet. Something has changed! Either the people have changed, or worse, the gospel we preach has changed. Truly, it no longer seems to be coming with power from on high. The preaching today often no longer results in full assurance (plerophoria). See other usage of this Greek word in Hebrews 6:11 and 10:22.
Over the years we have heard many stories from the mission field where the gospel came with just such a power encounter as we see among the Thessalonians. On these occasions the power of the often-feared idols was devastated by the gospel. Witch doctors fled or were converted and mighty strongholds of idolatry came crashing down. The people then stood in awe and turned permanently to the Lord. Oh today that we could get such spiritual power back into our preaching! In Romans 1:16 we read: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” The apostles were walking examples of this power.
There were many instances in the Old Testament when such power was manifested. On one occasion, the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant and displayed it in the temple of their God Dagon. The next morning they found that Dagon had fallen on his face before the Ark. The Philistines sat Dagon back up, but the next morning, there was Dagon fallen once more before the Ark, and this time his head and hands were broken off (1 Sam. 5:1-5). The power of God is tough on idols, whether they be ancient or modern ones.
IMITATORS OF APOSTLES
You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 1:6
The Thessalonians became imitators (mimētai) of Paul. We have pointed out in other places how it is from this Greek word that we get our word “mimic.” It is clear that they first mimicked Paul and then others began to mimic them. As Dr. Leon Morris has it, “the imitators in their turn were imitated.” 8 Unlike some pretenders today, Paul never asked people to just follow himself alone. He says in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
At Thessalonica, just as was the case in Philippi and Berea, following Christ meant almost instant persecution. In Thessalonica, as at other places, the persecution originated with the Jews. When Paul preached, it was his custom to go to the Jews first (Rom. 1:16), so he always looked for a synagogue and often preached his first sermon there. His audience was usually made up of Jews, plus some God-fearing Gentiles who had attached themselves to the Jews. When the Jews rejected Paul’s preaching, he would then turn to the Gentiles. We can understand how great jealousy often erupted among the Jews as they saw Paul lead away the God-fearing Gentiles, as well as some of their own synagogue members and form them into a new church.
The suffering that resulted was often severe and even life-threatening. Morris describes the affliction (thlipsei) in this way: “The word for ‘affliction’ outside the Bible usually denotes literal pressure, and that of a severe kind. The corresponding verb, for example, was used of pressing the grapes in wine-making till they burst asunder, and so metaphorically came to mean very great trouble.” 9
In spite of the severe affliction, the new Thessalonian believers welcomed the gospel message with joy given by the Holy Spirit. “Such a complete transformation happens only when God’s elective purpose is at work in people.” 10 Their reaction reminds us of the eariest followers of Jesus. It is said of them: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). All this is amazing when we think of our human nature. The great reformer, John Calvin, remarks about it saying, “…Nothing, however, is more at variance with our natural disposition, than to rejoice in afflictions.” 11
“And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1:7). Not only did the Thessalonians mimic Paul but they became a model for others. The word for model is the Greek tupos, and it is the word from which our own word “type” is derived. It has to do with an impression made by a stamp or die. 12 Interestingly, it has to do with being formed by blows or pressures. Their bright, shining example became known all over Macedonia and Achaia. As the crusty old commentator, John Trapp says, they became “patterns of piety.” 13
THE MESSAGE OF THE LORD RINGING OUT
The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia— your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, (1:8).
Some have thought that the beloved Priscilla and Aquila might have had help in scattering the good news of the Thessalonians all the way to Corinth, where they later worked with Paul. The Christian Church commentator, James Burton Coffman exclaims: “What a triumph it was for Christianity to flourish in this ancient cradle of Western civilization!” 14
We can just imagine the elation of Paul upon hearing this good news. He had no doubt spent many anxious weeks wondering how the Thessalonians were doing, and now their success was the talk of the town and the whole countryside. The expression “rang out” is made up of the Greek word exēchētai. It means to sound forth as a trumpet or as thunder. It also means to reverberate much like an echo. It is a word used nowhere else in the New Testament. 15
Commentators, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown imagine how “…Christian merchants of Thessalonica who traveled in various directions, bearing ‘the word of the Lord’ with them, were virtually missionaries, recommending the gospel to all within reach of their influence by word and by example…” 16 English rector emeritus and commentator John Stott adds, “We might call it ‘holy gossip;’ It is the excited transmission from mouth to mouth of the impact which the good news is making on people.” 17
Paul says,“…for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, (1:9). The reception given by the Thessalonians to the gospel was truly astounding. It immediately involved their turning from idol worship to serving and worshipping the true and Living God. It was equivalent to the rising of the bright morning sun after a long night of darkness and despair. Suddenly the light came on in these people’s hearts and they could never again be the same. In fact, they wanted to shout out the good news everywhere.
The word for turning from idols is the Greek epistrephō. Stott notes how this word eventually became almost a technical term for conversion. 18 Idols certainly have a poor effect upon humanity. The scripture assures us that we become like our idols: “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (Psa. 115:8). Since idols are dumb (Psa. 115:4-7) they have a “dumbing down” effect upon humanity. Isaiah speaks of the utter foolishness of idolatry. He speaks of a man who cuts down a tree and uses half the wood to make a fire to warm himself and cook his meal. With the other half he carves out an idol, before which he bows down to worship (Isa. 44:16-17).
In the beginning God made humankind to rule over his creation (Gen. 1:26). He made them to rule over all the animals. Idolatry turns all this around and has humanity bowing down to images of birds, animals and other creatures. Yet, since Satan is involved in this process, idols take on a fearsome spiritual power. People become terrified to turn against their idols. It is only the power of the gospel that can break this fear and put joy, excitement and boldness into the hearts of the former idolaters. Stott says that people must have, “a personal encounter with Jesus Christ in which the spell of the idol is broken and the superior power of the living and true God is demonstrated.” Quoting a missionary, Stott adds, “idolatry bows and expires at Jesus’ name.” 19
The Thessalonians turned from their idols to serve the Living God, “and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead— Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1:10). The Mennonite commentator, Jacob Elias remarks here, “This may be the oldest written testimony to the resurrection of Jesus.” 20 It is for certain the first witness of the Parousia or coming of the Lord Jesus to be seen in this epistle. Stott goes on to say that the Parousia will be mentioned in every chapter of both the Thessalonian letters. 21
In this age we are at a loss to explain the sheer excitement early Christians had concerning the coming of the Lord. This was very much a part of all New Testament teaching but today, after two thousand years, this hope has grown exceedingly dim for moderns and postmoderns. Early Christians knew that the coming or appearing of the Lord meant a number of wonderful things. It meant that all enemies would suffer an immediate and permanent defeat (1 Cor. 15:25). It meant that their own bodies would be instantly changed so that they would become like Christ (Rom. 8:23-25; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Jn. 3:1-2). For dead saints it meant an instant resurrection, that they would even rise first of all (1 Thess. 4:16). Further, it assured them that they would reign with Christ on this earth and that their rule with Christ would go on uninterrupted forever and ever (Rev. 22:5). In light of their excitement Holmes asks us an important question, “Do we genuinely believe that the future will be defined by his return in glory?” 22
The other important thing for early Christians was that they would be rescued from the coming wrath of God (cf. Rom. 1:18; 2:8-10; Eph. 2:3-5). For ages, God has been storing up his wrath for the evil of this world and its godless people. Paul says in Romans 2:5: “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” Of course, for the believers Paul speaks these beautiful words: “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Rom. 5:9).
The Day of Wrath or Day of the Lord is a consistent theme in the prophets and throughout the New Testament. Unfortunately, our present age seems to no longer take this seriously or even think about it. It has certainly ceased to be a topic of sermons in the last half-century.
You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 1 Thessalonians 2:1
There was a problem, or potential problem with Paul’s ministry to the Thessalonians. Paul had experienced considerable success there, however, the Jews in their jealousy had at last stirred up a mob against him. The mob did not succeed in getting hold of Paul. Nevertheless, when darkness fell, Paul and Silas were hurriedly sent out of the city by the brothers (Acts 17:1-10).
We can just imagine the charges and gossip that must have arisen do to Paul’s quick exit from town. These charges must have been conveyed to the apostle when Timothy was at last able to meet up with Paul and give his report. Although the report was positive, Timothy must have heard rumors like these: Paul might have looked like a “fly-by-night” huckster. Paul had a police record; he was untrustworthy (2:2); he was delusional (2:3); he had impure motives (2:3); he deceived others (2:3); he was a man-pleaser (2:4); he was a mercenary, trying to get what he could get (2:5; 2:9); he only wanted glory for himself (2:6); and he was a dictator (2:7). 1 Such characters were no doubt all too common along the famous Egnatian Way.
How does one deal with such gossip and such utterly false charges? Wilson speaks of Paul’s “brilliant stroke” in defending himself. He begins by calling the newly redeemed Thessalonians as his witnesses. 2 After all, their lives had been dramatically changed by Paul’s brief ministry. How could they speak against the glowing hope that now resided in their hearts? How could they speak against the drastic change that had taken place in their own lives? Paul could say to them with great boldness, “you know.” The Thessalonians may have already perceived “…that they had been called to the faith, not so much by a mortal man, as by God himself.” 3
The apostolic ministry was not without results or done in vain. The word used here is the Greek kenē, a word meaning empty, vain, fruitless, without success, false, fallacious or without reality (cf. Eph. 5:6; Col. 2:8). 4 From what we can see in Acts, his ministry had some really astounding results, with “some of the Jews…a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women” (Acts 17:4). As we have said before the Jews must have become jealous when they saw some of their synagogue members, plus a lot of the God-fearing Gentiles who had joined with them, now following Paul and Silas.
“We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition” (2:2). When we read the Acts account we realize that Paul and Silas particularly had suffered for the gospel. The apostolic team had been blessed with good success in the Roman colony of Philippi. They had seen the beginning of a church with Lydia and her friends. However, when Paul cast the evil spirit out of a slave girl, her owners became greatly upset, for they had used her to earn a good income by her fortune-telling. Paul and company were then dragged before the authorities and magistrates and charges were brought against them (Acts 16:11-21).
The rulers of the city ordered that Paul and Silas be stripped and severely beaten. Afterward they were thrown into prison and their feet were fastened into stocks. In spite of their great humiliation and suffering the story ended well. They were miraculously delivered from prison that night, with the jailor himself being converted in the process (Acts 16:22-40).
Paul says that in spite of all their great suffering and humiliation they were nevertheless able to speak the word of God to the Thessalonians. They were actually bold (parresiazomai) in their speaking. This Greek word means “to speak freely, openly, fearlessly.” 5 They were able to do so in spite of their great conflict (agōni), stress and exertion. Hiebert suggests that Paul and Silas must have still had fresh wounds on their backs when they arrived at Thessalonica. He says of their beating at Philippi, “…Such a Roman flogging was no light matter; it was an experience not soon forgotten.” 6
The missionary team was demonstrating and later teaching a fact that has been long forgotten especially by western Christians. Paul plainly states it in 2 Timothy 3:12: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” Paul was careful to lay down this principle by teaching and by example.
“For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you” (2:3). Neil probably gives us a very accurate assessment of the situation in Thessalonica. He says:
There has probably never been such a variety of religious cults and philosophic systems as in Paul’s day…“Holy men” of all creeds and countries, popular philosophers, magicians, astrologers, crack-pots, and cranks; the sincere and the spurious, the righteous and the rogue, swindlers and saints, jostled and clamored for the attention of the believing and the skeptical. 7
The apostle answers his critics well. He makes known to all that his teaching did not spring from some error. The Greek word used here is planēs, and it means “to lead astray.” 8 It was a word taken from the movement of the heavenly bodies. Neither did Paul’s preaching and teaching lead to uncleanness (akatharsia), which in most cases had to do with sexual impurity. 9 This was a very common thing among teachers and others in the apostle’s time. No doubt most of us can recall some great preacher of the gospel in our era who was brought down by this sin. The great evangelist Billy Graham kept his ministry pure by never allowing himself to be alone in a room with any woman who was not his wife. 10 That would be a good practice for ministers in this day.
Paul next declares that he is free of trickery. The human heart is extremely deceitful (Jer. 17:9) and hucksters no doubt by Paul’s times had come up with many tricks to separate people from their money. The apostle was extremely careful to avoid any act that smelled of greed. He even worked as a tentmaker so as not to be a burden to the new saints.
MEN APPROVED AND ENTRUSTED
On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 2:4
Paul and his team were men who had been tested and approved by God. The Greek word used for testing is dokimazō, and it means to be approved by testing. Paul and his friends had surely experienced enough of that and had passed the test. God could trust them with the gospel. They were not trying to be people pleasers but God pleasers. The Wesleyan evangelist, William Godbey, says of some of the preachers in his day: “A man-pleasing gospel is Satan’s delusion. A preacher in a great metropolis said: ‘If we preach the Bible as it is, not one of us can hold our pulpit.’ The whole country is cursed with a diluted, man-pleasing gospel.” 11
“You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed— God is our witness” (2:5). The Englishman Peter Pett says, “They [the apostles] were not like professional philosophers who went around in their philosophers’ cloaks, giving men what they wanted to hear so that they would feel self-satisfied, and seeking payment for their teaching…” 12 They did not try to succeed through flattery. The word for flattery is kolakeias, and it is difficult to translate into English. It means something like cajolery or slick eloquence.13 The word for greed is pleonexia, meaning “greediness, insatiableness, avarice, covetousness.” 14 We see an interesting thing about greed in Colossians 3:5. It is labeled in this verse as a form of idolatry. Alas, we have many idol worshippers in our postmodern world!
GENTLE LOVE AND CARE
We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. 1 Thessalonians 2:6
Praise from people is often a deceptive thing that can lead us down a wrong path. Jesus says, “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets” (Lk. 6:26). Paul would have none of it, although he and his band were surely worthy of it. It is interesting that Paul speaks of apostles in the plural, as if perhaps Silas and Timothy were to be called by this title. Hodge tries to clear this matter up saying: “The word ‘apostle’ is never used in Paul’s writings except in a strict official sense.” 15 He goes on to say that if others like Timothy, Silas, Barnabas, Andronicus and Junia were to be called “apostles,” it was certainly apostleship in a secondary sense.
Paul says that he had every right to assert apostolic authority and to make demands upon the church. The Greek word here is baros and it is somewhat ambiguous. The word can have the meaning of “burden” or it can mean “importance.” 16 In other words, Paul could have flexed his apostolic muscle and acted somewhat like an army drill sergeant.
“Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (2:7-8). Instead of exerting apostolic authority, which they surely had, Paul and his helpers were gentle and loving.
Wiersbe says of him, “Chapter 1 of First Thessalonians introduced us to Paul the evangelist. This chapter introduces us to Paul the pastor.” 17 Stott adds, “In these chapters, more perhaps than anywhere else in his letters, he discloses his mind, expresses his emotions and bares his soul.” 18
The picture here is very gentle and loving. Paul seems to say he was talking “baby talk” to the new church. 19 He was giving them the tender care of a nursing mother. We see other places in Scripture where Paul spoke like this. Calvin says, “A mother in nursing her children manifests a certain rare and wonderful affection…” 20 In fact, there is a real sense in which a nursing mother allows her very life to flow into the child. Too often in today’s church we end up trying to impress people with who we are or how much we know about the Bible. Ramsay no doubt had it right by saying, “…people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” 21
Unfortunately, we are now living in an age where motherhood is declining and has become cheapened in many ways. The family itself is under severe attack in our western culture. Holmes comments, “Not a few of those who come to church today – as well as a disturbing percentage of those within the church – have lost or never experienced the genuine self-giving love characteristic of healthy family relationships.” 22
Paul and those with him were not only willing to give the gospel but were willing to impart their own souls for the new believers. In John 15:13, Jesus had said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn.15:13). Indeed, Jesus not only spoke these words but he set the example by offering up his own life on the cross for us sinners.
“Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you” (2:9). Lutheran Professor and commentator, Paul Kretzmann describes Paul’s work very well: “It was a rather strenuous life which he led, rising before dawn to work at his handicraft, taking the best hours of the day and evening to proclaim the precious gospel of God, the news of the salvation of all men which had been entrusted to him by the Lord himself.” 23 While Paul and the others had a perfect right to receive support from preaching the gospel (1 Cor. 9:9-14), he did not use that right here and in other situations as well (Acts 20:34-35; 1 Cor. 4:12; 9:18; 2 Cor. 11:8).
While the Greeks detested manual labor and felt it was only for slaves, the Jewish people respected it. In fact, in the Jewish world it was expected that every father would teach his son a trade. Paul had obviously been taught the trade of tent-making. Even Jewish rabbis in those days not only had a trade but they continued to practice their trade even while taking care of their flock. 24 The early influential bishop, Caesarius of Arles (c. 470 – 542), said of manual labor: “God does not bid us be free from all anxiety over the present life, for he instructs us through his apostle: ‘If any man will not work, neither let him eat.’… God tied the man to labor, not for the purpose of punishing or chastising but for amendment and education.” 25
Frank Viola and George Barna remind us that paid salaries for Christian workers was a thing unknown in the early church. They say, “As far as clergy salaries go, ministers were unsalaried for the first three centuries.” 26
PAUL’S CONTINUING CARE
You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 1 Thessalonians 2:10
Once again Paul calls the Thessalonian church to the witness stand. They knew beyond a doubt that the apostle and his team had lived holy and blameless lives before them. They knew that the wild charges of unbelievers had no merit. Paul even calls God as a witness to the integrity of himself and his team. It would be wonderful today if we could have an abundance of this sort of ministry in the church. The evangelist Ray Stedman sighs: “Integrity is in short supply in Christian circles today, especially in the electronic church, where some leaders’ lives are a mess, yet they are allegedly seeking to try and help others. It never can be done. But hear Paul. ‘We were holy and righteous and blameless…’” 27
“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (2:11-12). Here the apostle switches metaphors, as he is sometimes prone to do. Instead of the mother image as seen in verse 7, he now takes on the father image. Elias remarks, “Strikingly, Paul portrays himself as both mother and father to the Thessalonians…” 28
The father had a very important role in the Hebrew culture. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 charges the fathers: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
These verses were part of the Hebrew Shema (Sh’mah), and are still memorized and repeated twice daily in the Jewish home. 29
We see reflections of the father’s role many places in Scripture. For instance, we see it in Psalm 34:11, where the father says: “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” In Israel today it is amazing that the fathers take over many of the roles of mothers in our western societies. It is the father who often takes the children to synagogue or even gives birthday parties. It is the father who constantly instructs the children.
In our western society, especially since the twentieth century women’s liberation and feminist movements, the role of the father has been greatly diminished. In the US, we now have what is called a “dad deficit,” since about a third of American children live in homes without a dad. 30 This is tragic and it ends up resulting in millions of troubled and wasted lives.
Paul was determined that the new Christians of Thessalonica would have a strong father image and live worthy lives. Like Jesus had done, Paul often proclaimed the kingdom of God. This expression simply means God’s rule over the individual life as well as over the creation. The Book of Acts pictures Paul, at the virtual end of his career, boldly preaching the kingdom of God even while in house arrest at Rome (Acts 28:31).
FULLY ACCEPTING THE WORD OF GOD
And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. 1 Thessalonians 2:13
Unlike our society in the west, the Thessalonians took the word of God seriously. They heard it, loved it and believed it. An unknown writer has commented, wishing even Christians in our society would honor the word as much as their cell phones. He says:
I wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like our cell phone? We would carry it everywhere we go, flip through it throughout the day. We would go home to get it if we forgot it. We would receive messages from the text. We couldn’t live without it. Parents would give it to their kids as gifts. It would be available for all emergencies and any all conversations. One more thing, it would never be disconnected as Jesus has already paid the bill in full.
We have had a few people in modern times that loved and honored the word of God. The modern saint, Smith Wigglesworth, felt that one should read the Bible at least every fifteen minutes throughout the day. This was in fact his practice. When invited to a meal he would insist on reading something from the Bible after each course. Once when he was being driven to an engagement he shouted for the car to stop. The driver was alarmed thinking something was wrong and he stopped the car immediately. Wigglesworth simply bowed for prayer saying, “Lord, I am sorry. We have talked about everything but Thee and Thy Word, and the souls of men. Please forgive us.” 31
We have wondered how these new churches could become mature so quickly. No doubt this is part of the answer. They loved and prized the word of the Lord. They feasted upon it like their daily bread (Job. 23:12; Matt. 4:4; Heb. 5:11-14). As a result they grew up quickly to the measure and the stature of Christ (Eph. 4:13). When we consider that they did not yet have in their possession a written New Testament this is remarkable! They may not have had the New Testament, but they had the powerful apostolic doctrine that could change lives.
We see here that the word was at work in these new believers. Godbey comments: “When you believe convicting truth, God works conviction in you. When you believe converting truth, God works conversion in you. When you believe sanctifying truth, God works sanctification in you.” 32
In this verse Paul is saying that in the lives of all true believers the word is at work. Utley points out how “work” (energeo) was a favorite of the apostle and how its English cognate is the word “energy.” He feels that it probably has to do with the Old Testament understanding concerning the power of the spoken word (Gen. 1, Isa. 55:11). 33 It is this powerful and energetic word which now operates in the believer.
There is an important point made in this verse and it is aptly explained by the great F.B. Meyer. He says, “There is an essential difference between delivering a sermon or an address and delivering a message. The latter is direct, eager; you wait to be sure it is understood; you expect an answer.” 34
TROUBLE WITH THE JEWS
For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews… 1 Thessalonians 2:14
Paul had already commended the Thessalonians for being imitators (mimētai) and here he mentions this again. However, now they have become imitators in suffering, patterning themselves after the churches in Judea. In Christianity’s earliest history these churches had been persecuted by their own people, the Jews.
We cannot say for sure to what extent the Gentile churches patterned themselves after the Judean churches. Obviously, this was a rather natural thing since the Judean churches were established first and since most of the early apostolic ministry actually came from Judea. Some writers, such as Clarke and Elias feel that the Gentile churches were patterned in many ways. 35 However, we do not have enough clear information to determine this beyond a doubt. We do know for sure that they patterned themselves in suffering.
Paul continues speaking of the Jews, “who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone (2:15). Verses like this one have been greatly misunderstood by the church over the centuries. Even in early times some Christian leaders began to speak evil of the Jews and to openly persecute them. They had no doubt forgotten the promise in Genesis 12:3, where God says of the Jews, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Unfortunately, some of the earliest church fathers like Ignatius, Justin, Irenaeus and Cyprian began to make inflammatory statements about the Jews. Their statements were in clear conflict with the admonitions of Romans 11:17-18 and many other Scriptures. Cyprian was bold enough to demand that all Jews leave his diocese or die. 36 These early ill feelings resulted in a very anti-Semitic church council at Nicea (AD 325) where Jews were branded as “…polluted wretches…blinded in their minds…(a) most odious fellowship…parricides and murderers…” 37
Jewish Christian relations went downhill from there and soon Jewish people were subjected to forced attendance at sermons, forced baptisms, confiscations of property, expulsions, crusades, blood libels, wearing of distinctive garments, inquisitions and at long last the Holocaust under the Nazis, where six million Jews were murdered, many in the very lands of the great Protestant Reformation.
Through the centuries, Christians have charged the Jews with killing their Lord. It is clear from Scripture that most of the Jews, even in Israel, had nothing to do with this act but that it was pulled off by a small group of jealous leaders in conjunction with the Romans. The fact is that most Jews at the time of Christ did not live in the area that was later called Palestine. The historian Paul Johnson reports that of the eight million Jews in the world at the time, no more than two and a half million lived in the ancient land of Israel. 38
How then can we understand Paul’s words here as well as other statements scattered throughout the New Testament? Holmes sees Paul speaking as an “insider” not as an “outsider” (We Christians are definitely outsiders when we criticize the Jews). Paul was speaking as a Jew to his fellow Jews. 39 In many other places we see that Paul was proud of his Jewish heritage. It is important that we see this passage in light of Romans chapters 9-11 for instance. Paul brought impressive gifts to Israel (Acts 24:17). He prayed for Israel often and wished that he could be cursed if only Israel could be saved (Rom. 9:3).
Holmes also says, “It cannot be stressed too strongly that there is in the New Testament no basis whatsoever for anti-Semitism of any sort….his comments here apply only to a specific group of Jews of his day…Indeed, any allegedly Christian group that advocates anti-Semitism or other forms of racial discrimination forfeits, in my opinion, any right to be called ‘Christian.’” 40
Paul continues with his insider rant. He says the Jews displease God, “in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last” (2:16). Certainly, Paul had a few grievances against his Jewish brethren. Bible specialists, Kenneth Barker and John Kohlenberger list some of them:
The writer had been chased out of Damascus (Ac. 9:23-25) and Jerusalem (Ac. 9:29-30)…driven out of Pisidian Antioch by them (Ac. 13:45-46, 50). At Iconium the Jews poisoned people’s minds against Paul and Barnabas and ultimately forced them out (Ac. 14:2, 5-6)…They made a special journey to Lystra to investigate an uprising that produced Paul’s stoning and being left for dead (Ac. 14:19)…at Thessalonica, again producing Paul’s exit (Ac. 17:5, 10)…from Corinth, a united attack has been mounted against him by the city’s Jewish residents (Ac. 18:6, 12-13).” 41
The Jewish people were initially called by God to be a light to the nations (Isa. 42:6). However, not only did they fail in this calling but we can see from Paul’s experiences that the Jews positively interfered in order to keep the gospel light from going out to the Gentiles. Paul sees this as a heaping up of their sins, bringing upon themselves the wrath of God.
We cannot be sure about the wrath Paul speaks of. Stott says he could possibly be speaking of the massacre of Jews in the temple precincts at Passover in AD 49, or the Jewish expulsion from Rome decreed by Emperor Claudius in AD 49. He thinks it more likely however that the apostle is speaking of the coming destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. 42
PAUL’S LONGING FOR THE THESSALONIANS
But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 1 Thessalonians 2:17
Paul speaks of his being separated from the Thessalonians as being orphaned (aporphanisthentes) from them. Although he was separated from them in body he was not separated in heart. Coffman says, “This is one of the most precious passages in Paul’s writings.” 43 It clearly shows that all the gossip about Paul not caring for them was made up of falsehoods. The apostle’s longing for them was intense (epithumia). It is clear that he tried in many ways to get back to Thessalonica. Elias tries to put his finger on the underlying causes here as he says, “the missionaries…are still chafing about their premature exit from the city.” 44
“For we wanted to come to you— certainly I, Paul, did, again and again— but Satan blocked our way” (2:18). There has been much discussion from commentators as to what exactly stopped Paul from returning to Thessalonica. Guzik seems to think that the roadblock was a blessing in the end. 1 Thessalonians was possibly Paul’s first letter to a church. Guzik says that if this was true, then the roadblock caused Paul to start writing letters to the churches. 45
Nevertheless, there are many reasons given why Paul may have had to postpone his visit. The Greek word (enekopsen) seems to be a military term and it conveys the idea of cutting a trench between a party and the advancing foe, thus preventing progress. 46 Clearly, Paul’s foe was Satan himself. Some think this problem was due to Paul’s often infirmity or his “thorn” in the flesh. Others think that ambushes may have been laid for him by the Jews (cf. Acts 20:3).
It may be that the most likely scenario that Paul was restrained because of the legal action of the city rulers in Thessalonica. They had made Jason, a new believer, and others post bond over the incident (Acts 17:9). This was a serious legal matter and no doubt the posted bonds were related to keeping Paul and his team away. 47 Should Paul return, the bonds may have been forfeited, causing financial hardship for the new church.
“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?” (2:19). Here we get a very clear picture of how the early apostolic ministries looked at the churches. Elias comments, “In sum, the believers in Thessalonica have in a profound sense become for Paul a foretaste of eschatological hope and joy as well as glory.” 48 Paul considered this new church as a victor’s crown (stephanos) which would be given him at the appearing of the Lord Jesus. It would be a crown for his work well done.
It is important that the word for “presence” or “coming” of the Lord (Parousia) is mentioned for the first time in this verse. If indeed 1 Thessalonians is the beginning of Paul’s letters, then this is the first actual mention of Christ’s Parousia (coming, presence) in Christian literature. 49 The word soon became an accepted one for the Lord’s coming. In its various forms it is used seven times in First and Second Thessalonians.
“Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (2:20). The early British Methodist theologian Adam Clarke expounds here, “Ye are the seal of our apostleship; your conversion and steadiness are a full proof that God hath sent us. Converts to Christ are our ornaments; persevering believers, our joy in the day of judgment.” 50
So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 1 Thessalonians 3:1
It is important that we fill ourselves in here on Paul’s situation. In order to do this, we need to read Acts 17 and parts of chapter 18. We remember how Paul and Silas were sent out of Thessalonica because of the riots formed against them. They traveled west to the nearby city of Berea where they also ministered. When the Jews of Thessalonica heard of this, they came to Berea also and began to stir up the people. With this development, Paul was hurriedly taken on to Athens, and from there, he sent instructions back for Silas and Timothy to join him. The two apparently later joined him there.
We cannot miss the agony that Paul was suffering over the new Thessalonian believers, whom he had left so hurriedly. The pastor in Paul really comes out here. Paul greatly desired to return to the Thessalonians but circumstances just wouldn’t allow it. He had almost a feeling of bereavement over them. Finally, he could no longer cover up his pain. The Greek word used is stegō and it means “to cover” or “to conceal.” 1
Paul was very much alone in Athens. We can see from this chapter that Silas and Timothy must have joined him there as he requested. Paul then made a very difficult decision to send Timothy back to Thessalonica, as we see in the next verse. Apparently, he also sent Silas on a mission to Macedonia. After Paul had moved on to Corinth, we see both Silas and Timothy joining him (Acts 18:5). Several commentators have noted how Paul uses the epistolary “we,” here when he is no doubt referring to himself alone. Morris says, “It seems best to take the we as epistolary, though we need not think that Paul took the decision without consulting his helpers…” 2
No doubt, Athens was a very lonely place for Paul. Coffman says, “The significance of Paul’s being left alone derives from the fact of his enemies seeking to kill him, the threat being so serious that an escort guarded his journey to Athens.” 3 Paul was stranded there among the “wise” of this world. They were the philosophers who were always seeking some new idea. Unfortunately, in all their wisdom they could not find the True God. Their city was thus full of idols.
We know from Acts 17 that Paul ventured to preach at the Aeropagus. When he finally mentioned the resurrection of the dead, some of these “wise” men sneered at him. We do not know their names. Nevertheless, a few people like Dionysus and Damaris did believe, and their names were written down in glory (Acts 17:34). After this, Paul moved on to Corinth.
“We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them” (3:2-3). We can be sure that Paul sent Timothy reluctantly. He wanted to go himself but could not. However, it would be very difficult to remain alone in Athens without Timothy.
The Greek manuscripts are somewhat different at this point. Timothy is described in one as a “co-laborer” and in another as a “minister.” Utley thinks this verse is a sort of recommendation for young Timothy. 4 We know from other references that Timothy was highly prized by Paul. The apostle calls Timothy his son in 1 Corinthians 4:17 and in 1 Timothy 1:2. In Philippians 2:20, he says that he could find no one equal to Timothy.
Paul sent Timothy to strengthen (stērixai) and establish the Thessalonians. Stott remarks that this Greek word “was an almost technical term for the consolidation and building up of new converts.” 5 Paul knew that Timothy would care for the people in just the same manner that he himself would do if he were but present.
As we have seen, Paul originally warned the Thessalonians that they would be persecuted for their faith and that they would suffer many tribulations for the gospel. Although it is not mentioned much in our western church culture, Christians have an appointment with suffering— we are even destined for it as we see in the verse. I am thinking of a dear Christian lady who has gone through much trouble in her life, even the loss of her only son. She once remarked to us that she now had a PhD in suffering.
Guzik helps us here in our understanding as he says:
The truth is that there are two ancient Greek words used to translate the concept of suffering, and neither of them is used exclusively in regard to persecution. Thilipsis was used for such things as physical pain, emotional hardships, and suffering under temptation. Pasko was used for such things as physical sufferings unrelated to persecution, suffering under temptation, and hardships in a general sense…. The symbol of Christianity is the cross, not a feather bed. 6
We know that daily facing a hostile evil age can bring about much suffering for the believer. This can show up in discrimination, slander, and outright anger. These interpersonal relationships at work and in other places can be exceedingly hard to bear. Yet, persecution has a positive side. John Chrysostom (c. 349-407) says, “Nothing so makes friends and rivets them so firmly as affliction; nothing so fastens and joins the souls of believers.” 7
The apostle gives us a warning here about how the world can set us up by flattery. The word “unsettled” is from the Greek sainō. Here it “probably retains some of its original meaning, to wag the tail, and therefore to ‘beguile’ or ‘flatter.’” 8 John Trapp adds that some people “will but do as a dirty dog, defile you with fawning.” 9
TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS
In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. 1 Thessalonians 3:4
How interesting it is that a part of the original gospel was the message of suffering. That part of the message is no longer delivered in our western world. However, it is very much a part of the gospel in the rest of the world. In many Moslem realms, for instance, for a Moslem to accept Christ is to almost accept a death sentence. Many times that person’s own family members will murder him or her and think they have done their god a favor. While the same is not true for us westerners, Holmes remarks: “Christians in the US are in greater danger of being seduced by non-Christian cultural values than of being persecuted by them.” 10
Jesus said: “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt.10:38; cf. Mk. 8:34; Lk. 9:23). In another place the Lord said: “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also” (Jn.15:20).
“The church was born in suffering (Acts 17:6).” 11 We all need to get used to this idea. The prophetic Scriptures are clear, that as the end-days close upon us Christians, we will be greatly persecuted and there will be much suffering, even much martyrdom.
“For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain” (3:5). When Paul just couldn’t stand it any longer he sent his beloved Timothy so that he could get a report on the Thessalonians. We should note that the expression “I was afraid” seen here is really the Greek mepos and it should rather be translated as “lest” or “in such way as.” 12
When Paul speaks of “the tempter,” we should understand that he is speaking of a personal evil force (ho peirazōn). 13 In our modern and postmodern worlds we often forget that our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with mighty spiritual powers in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).
So the apostle dispatched Timothy and he apparently felt some degree of anxiety in doing so. Sometime afterward, he left Athens and ventured on to Corinth. The early American theologian Albert Barnes exclaims, “he calmly went to Corinth.” 14 Paul had literally been chased out of the other places where he had recently ministered, but here he leaves peacefully of his own free will.
TIMOTHY’S GOOD REPORT
But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. 1 Thessalonians 3:6.
Paul had the good fortune in Corinth to welcome both Timothy and Silas as they returned from their respective missions (Acts 18:5). It was as if the apostle was given “a new lease of life.” 15 His sigh of relief is almost audible. It is interesting that he calls “the good news” by the word euangelizomai. Morris points out how this is likely “the only place in the New Testament where the word is used of any other news than God’s saving work…The news was a veritable gospel for Paul.” 16
It must have been music to the apostle’s ears to hear that the Thessalonians had pleasant memories of him and that they were longing to see him. All his concerns about them were unfounded. They had continued on with their new Christian lives in the face of tribulation and even persecution. They obviously did not look upon Paul as some fly-by-night shyster.
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith” (3:7). The word for “distress” here is the Greek anagkēi. This word speaks of a “choking, pressing care.” The word for persecution is the Greek “thilipsis” and it speaks of “crushing trouble.” 17 The great preacher Spurgeon remarks about all Paul’s suffering: “…if God does not bless the word of his servants it is like death to them. To be preaching and to have no blessing makes them heavy of heart: the chariot-wheels are taken off, and they drag heavily along: they seem to have no power nor
“For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord” (3:8). Holmes cannot help but remark about “the extent to which Paul bases his own sense of well-being on the continuing faithfulness of his converts.” 19 In the end he knows that his crown and reward will depend to a large part on how his congregations have done. In 3 John 1:4, we see a similar idea expressed by the Beloved John. He says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 Jn. 1:4).
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 1 Thessalonians 3:9
With this section the apostle bursts into thanksgiving for the good news about the Thessalonians. Kretzmann says, “Paul here rises to an enthusiasm bordering on ecstasy.” 20 His thanksgiving is like that of the Psalmist who said: “Oh, give thanks to the LORD! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples! (Psa. 105:1 NKJ).
Paul is even wondering how it is possible for him to return enough thankfulness to God for all his blessing. The psalmist also asked, “What shall I return to the LORD for all his goodness to me?” (Psa. 116:12).
In the midst of his ecstasy, he recalls his many prayers for the new church. He recounts: “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith” (3:10). When we look at Paul’s life and his many successes in spreading the gospel through so much of the known world, we realize that his praying played a very important part. The apostle wanted to see these precious people in person so that he might supply anything that was still missing in their faith. The word used is katartisai, and it means “to make fully ready, to put full in order, to make complete.” 21
The apostle says that he prays most earnestly. The Greek word is huperekperissou and it means superabundantly (Strong’s Concordance) or “overflowing all bounds.” 22 Wiersbe suggests of Paul’s helper Epaphras that he must have learned something about praying from the apostle. It is said of him in Colossians 4:12, “…He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” 23 Perhaps even we could learn a thing or two from Paul’s prayers.
Holmes reminds us here of a very important rule. He says, “one of the surest ways to gain some perspective on our own situation is to serve others. There is more than a little truth in the familiar parable about the man who whined about not having shoes until he met a man with no feet….” 24
A LOOK AT PAUL’S PRAYER
Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 1 Thessalonians 3:11
First of all, the apostle prays that the Lord would clear the way so that he could return to the Thessalonians. He knew that this was something God had to do and that he could not perform it alone. Proverbs says, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps” (Prov. 16:9). God does not always work according to our time schedule either. From the Scripture it looks like Paul’s prayer was finally answered about five years later when he visited the area twice in his Third Missionary Journey (Acts 19:21; 20:1; 1 Cor. 16:5; 2 Cor. 2:13).
We should not overlook the wording in this verse. The God and Father is joined to the Lord Jesus with a singular verb (kateuthynai – meaning “clear the way” or “guide”). Utley says: “This was a way for the New Testament authors to assert the deity of Jesus of Nazareth (cf. 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 2:16). 25
Paul continues with his next petition saying, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you” (3:12). How in the world did Paul, the busy preacher and tentmaker, find the time to make such intense petitions to God? Kretzmann comments, “…The stitches put into the tent cloth were accompanied by the holy threads of prayerful intercession.” 26
Although the Thessalonians loved one another already, Paul desired that they do so more and more. The Greek words used here are pleonazō for “increase” (to abound or superabound) and perisseou for “overflow,” to have more than enough. 27
This reminds us of that wonderful verse in 2 Corinthians 9:8 which says, “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” It is clear in Scripture that when we are born again, the Holy Spirit comes into our lives. Paul says in Romans 5:5, “…God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” This was true of the Thessalonians and it is true of us who are believers today. We have God’s agape love in us and all we need to do is let it flow out. Chrysostom refers to this divine gift as “the unrestrained madness of love.” 28
O that we had such apostolic prayers on our behalf! O that we would learn to pray such prayers for other people! Barclay remarks: “We will never know from how much sin we have been saved and how much temptation we have conquered all because someone prayed for us.” 29 I still remember a saintly woman in our country church of long ago. The Lord has quickened to me several times since that this woman often prayed for me. I wonder where I would have been without her prayers.
“May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (3:13). In this verse we get a taste of the earliest Christianity. In the First Century, Christians were anxiously awaiting the coming (Parousia) of the Lord Jesus. They knew that just before his coming, the world situation would become exceedingly difficult and that the antichrist would arise to severely persecute the people of God. They knew that it was urgent that they endure to the end if they were to be saved (cf. Matt. 10:22; 24:13; Mk. 13:13). Paul prays that they would be found blameless and holy at the Lord’s appearance. Unfortunately, due to false prophecy, we have almost lost this understanding of the end days. May God help us!
While Paul prays for the Thessalonians to remain blameless and holy, that same prayer applies to us. At the presence or Parousia of the Lord we should be able to shine in holy glory. It is the consummation of the age, the summation of everything good. At such a time we would not want to slink away in our shame and disgrace. We should be able to lift up our heads because our redemption is near (Lk. 21:28).
We should stop and try to get the picture here. In Paul’s Roman world the arrival of the emperor to any particular city was referred to as a parousia. 30 We can only imagine the fanfare that would accompany such a royal event. Yet, this would pale to the grand and glorious event of the Lord Jesus at his return. We see here that the Lord is coming with all his holy ones. There has been a great deal of discussion among commentators as to what all this includes. There seems to be a consensus that in includes all his saints or his redeemed ones. Pett says here: “…In the New Testament the word ‘holy ones’ always signifies the whole people of God or a section of the whole people of God (sixty times) with the possible exception of Jude 1:14…” 31
It appears that we should include the holy angels here as well (cf. Matt.16:27; 25:31; Mk. 8:38; Lk. 9:26; 2 Thess. 1:7). Professors Charles and Everett Harrison say: “It probably includes holy angels as well as dead believers clothed in bodies ‘not made with hands’ (2 Cor. 5:1) awaiting the resurrection of their earthly bodies…with his whole heavenly entourage (cf. Matt. 24:30, 31 and Rev. 19:11-14). The Old Testament background is Zechariah 14:5. According to Revelation 19-20, this glorious coming paves the way for the Millennial Kingdom.” 32
To get a more thorough picture we would need to go to Paul’s description of this grand event in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52: “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” We would also need to jump to the next chapter of Thessalonians. We see there that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep (4:14) and that those saints who are still alive will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (4:17).
The purpose of Paul’s prayer and admonition here is that our hearts may be strengthened and established (stērixai) for this great day, and that the Thessalonians as well as we ourselves might be found holy and blameless for this critical moment in history.
As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. 1 Thessalonians 4:1
Several translations (NAS, NAB, NKJ) start off with the word “Finally” here. When we hear the word “finally” today we assume that the writer or speaker is about to end. The Greek words are lipon oun, and they can be translated “And now,” 1 or as the NIV has it here, “As for other matters.” Obviously, Paul is not yet ready to end.
Paul had instructed them how to live and please God and it looks like they were doing just that. However, in the Christian life we can never rest on our laurels. We must press on and continue in all the good things of the gospel. It is like riding a bicycle. We go on or we go off. The apostle urged these new Christians to continue; to do more and more.
The word for “live” seen here is the Greek peripateo, and it literally means to “walk.” This corresponds very well to the word halak in Hebrew. The manner in which one walks in the Jewish faith is called halakhah. We see here that there is also a Christian halakhah or walk. The New Testament speaks of this in many places. We are not to walk as other Gentiles walk (Eph. 4:17), but we are to walk in love (Eph. 5:2) and to walk as the children of light (Eph. 5:8). 2 Proverbs gives some good advice about our walk: “Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil” (Prov. 4:25-27).
Paul continues, saying: “For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus” (4:2). He gives us an interesting peek into what we might call “apostolic teaching.” In the Thessalonian epistles he refers to this several times, and has just spoken of it in the preceding verse. He often uses the expression “you know,” implying that the Thessalonian Christians had the information given to them originally (1 Thess. 2:5, 11; 3:3, 4; 4:2; 5:2; 2 Thess. 2:6; 3:7). This apostolic teaching was very important to the first church for we see how— “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). They instantly became a powerful church.
The apostle was with the new Thessalonian assembly only a short time. We know that he only ministered in the synagogue there for three Sabbaths (Acts 17:2). Yet, a vigorous church was born and made its presence known throughout Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thess. 1:7). How do we explain this? Today it seems to take months and even years for a new church to stand on its own feet in our western world. Their immediate success was partly through the power of the Holy Spirit but it also due to apostolic teaching. We have that teaching available to us today, but we so seldom seem to pay attention to it. Of course, it is found largely in the epistles of the New Testament.
Paul was like a loving father but he was in another sense like a military commander, and his authority came from the Lord himself. Sometimes Paul acted much like a drill sergeant in the army as he barked commands.
GOD’S WILL FOR OUR LIVES
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 1 Thessalonians 4:3
Often we hear Christians saying things like this: “I sure wish I knew God’s will for my life.” Hello! Here it is plain and simple. It is God’s will that we all be sanctified. Sanctification (hagiasmos) is an important word in the Bible. Elias points out that the word appears three times in eight verses here. 3 Holmes relates how sanctification can be either a state or condition of holiness as well as a process leading up to holiness. 4 When we come in faith and repentance to Jesus for our salvation we are instantly sanctified. The blood of Jesus covers all our sins (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2; Heb. 10:10, 14). However, as we continue our walk with Christ we are to be involved in a constant process of sanctification. The method God uses is by his word (Jn. 17:17), by the continuing actions of his Holy Spirit and his blood (1 Pet. 1:2; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Jn. 1:7, 9). So we have positional sanctification and progressive sanctification. Jesus doesn’t just want to declare us holy, but he wants to really make us holy in thought, word and deed.
God said to his people of old, “…Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Lev. 19:2). It is abundantly clear that this command is carried over into the New Testament (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:15-16). In Hebrews 12:14, the author warns us with these words, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
A common area where people fall flat regarding sanctification is the area of sexual impurity. This was a horrendous problem for people in the First Century. For instance, the people of Thessalonica were coming fresh out of paganism. In many pagan religions people worshipped their gods in sexual ways. Pagan shrines were littered with “holy” prostitutes and “holy” homosexuals. Stott speaks of how both Corinth and Thessalonica were famous or rather infamous for their immorality. He says of Thessalonica that it was “particularly associated with the worship of deities called the Cabiri, in whose rites gross immorality was promoted under the name of religion.” 5
The whole manner of life in the Greek world reflected a total misunderstanding of sexuality. Barclay gives us an insight into family life saying: “In Greece, immorality had always been quite blatant. Long ago Demosthenes had written: ‘We keep prostitutes for pleasure; we keep mistresses for the day-to-day needs of the body; we keep wives for the begetting of children and for the faithful guardianship of our homes.’ So long as a man supported his wife and family there was no shame whatsoever in extra-marital relationships.” 6
So the new believers in Thessalonica were brought directly out of paganism and thrust into a religion where people were called to be holy and sanctified. We have a similar problem today since we are once again beginning to live in what is called “neo-paganism.” In our day the “new morality” is intent on reviving all the old morality, with its sexual abuse and perversion. We need to be reminded of Paul’s clear words in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: “…Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
In 4:3, the word Paul uses for sexual impurity is porneia. Morris remarks about this word saying that it strictly means “fornication.” However, in New Testament times its usage was broadened out to mean any type of sexual sin. 7 Today that word forms the basis of our ever-present “pornography” or “porn.” As early as 2007 the Nielson ratings revealed that already a quarter of internet searches had to do with pornography, and that roughly one quarter of all users in the US had visited a porn site. The Atlantic magazine which reflected these figures remarked, “…the new world of porn is revealing eternal truths about men and women.” 8
Porneia in its common form of “porn” may well be one of the biggest problems faced by our modern and postmodern churches. Other studies suggest that as high as 50 percent of Christians sitting in the pews are looking at pornography, and upwards to 40 percent of the clergy have acknowledged visiting sexually explicit sites. 9 Stott sighs here saying, “One of the great weaknesses of contemporary evangelical Christianity is our comparative neglect of Christian ethics, in both our teaching and our practice.” 10 Obviously a lot of Christians have forgotten to put on their helmet of salvation (Eph. 6:17), that mind protector which Christ has given us all.
Paul continues saying, “that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God;(4:4-5). Through the centuries, this has been a problematic verse regarding its translation. Stott affirms that, “The first half of verse 4 contains the most difficult phrase in the whole letter.” 11 The problem comes with two Greek words, skeous (meaning body or wife) and ktaomai (meaning to control, or procure). Stott spotlights some of the problems in translation saying that if skeous is translated as wife it appears to speak of both the woman and marriage in a derogatory manner. He notes how other scholars prefer to see skeous as a reference to the body. However, a parallel use of skeous for body is not found. He notes that regarding the body as a container for the soul is a Greek concept and not a biblical one. He states that there are difficulties with both renderings. 12
Stott also notes regarding ktaomai that since it normally means “to procure for oneself, acquire or get,” it cannot easily be applied to our body, since we already possess that. 13 So, like many interpreters of old, we are left in a quandary. It is possible that there is good sound biblical meaning in either translation and we will have to leave it there.
The Bible demands that Christians have control over their bodies and it also demands that marriages be kept sacred and free from adultery. Bodies are to be kept in sanctification and honor as this verse tells us. We absolutely must not be led astray by the pagans around us.
Since the rebellious 1960s, the so called new morality has essentially taken over in our western societies. This new morality unfortunately has no basis in reality. People say that sex is a private matter between two consenting adults and is therefore not the business of anyone else. The raw truth is that sex usually becomes the business of others in the matters of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, disrupted families, and sometimes in legal tangles. Illicit sex often becomes everyone’s business as in the case of David and Bathsheba. It grew into a national scandal and David tried desperately to cover it up by having the defrauded husband murdered.
There are two really big problems with sexual immorality. First of all, it is an insult to the Almighty God who is the Creator of human beings. Second, sexual immorality simply does not work. By the way, this is true with all sins, be they great or small. People have been trying for ages to make adultery work. It has never worked and it never will, regardless of whatever nice names we wish to call it. It brings disaster to the families involved, disaster to the individuals, disaster to the community and especially the churches involved. It leaves its participants feeling like the cheaters they really are. It is horribly destructive to children. It leaves the participants as violators of one of the most sacred covenants on earth, and it leaves them with life-long guilt feelings that cannot be eased.
The seventh commandment builds a wall to keep out this awful sin. It says, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exo. 20:14). Proverbs 6:32-33 speaks of an adulterous man in these unflattering words: “But a man who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does so destroys himself. Blows and disgrace are his lot, and his shame will never be wiped away.” Stedman reminds us of that old hymn of the church:
Rise up, O men of God,
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of Kings. 14
Paul now concludes his very long sentence: “and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before” (4:6). We need to pause here and try to recover in our minds the biblical concept of marriage and family. Marriage was not invented by the Justice of the Peace or by civil government. God created marriage. God made it for the enjoyment and bliss of the married couple, and in order that godly children could be brought forth from their sexual union (Mal. 2:15). There are only three partners to a godly marriage and these are God, the husband and the wife. There can be no other parties. Marriage is a holy covenant that must not be broken for life (Mal. 2:14). What God has joined together must not be separated (Matt. 19:6; Mk. 10:9).
We have some interesting Greek words in this sentence. The first is the verb hperbaino, and it has to do with “crossing a boundary” into forbidden territory. It involves trespassing into sexual territory that is not one’s own. 15 The second word is pleonekteo and it has to do with coveting or desiring to possess. 16 Commentators have long noted that greed and sexual sin have a close connection (cf. Eph. 4:19; 5:3-5; Col. 3:5). The really tragic thing here is that through sexual sins we can even defraud a Christian brother or sister.
It would be good for us to understand how sexual sins defraud others. Guzik says, “When we are sexually immoral, we take advantage of and defraud others and we cheat them in greater ways than we can imagine. The adulterer defrauds his mate and children. The fornicator defrauds his future mate and children, and both defraud their illicit partner.” 17 The “golden-mouthed” ancient preacher, John Chrysostom commented about adultery saying, “…it is more cruel than any robbery; for we grieve less when robbed of our riches than when our marriage is invaded.” 18 Morris goes on to state of the fornicator, “the impure person cannot bring to the marriage that virginity that is the other’s due.” 19
Because we have only one word for love in our English language, this can sometimes become confusing. A young suitor can say “if you love me you will have sex with me.” This is speaking of the Greek eros type of love, which has to do more with sexual exploitation (sexploitation). 20 It has nothing to do with the agape kind of love which only builds the other person up and which wishes for the good of the other person. For those who trespass in the sexual area there is much sorrow, heartbreak and life-long guilt. Even if the young promiscuous couple gets married, their relationship is off to a rocky start and will likely have problems developing later.
There are a host of other evil possibilities that can arise, including abortion, in an attempt to hide an unwanted pregnancy. New statistics reveal the horribly damaging effects of this operation. It is now clear that some 90 percent of women who have an abortion suffer grave emotional and psychiatric stress, with 10 percent requiring psychiatric hospitalization or other kinds of professional treatment. Some 30,000 of these women each year have emotional trauma that is severe enough to render them unable to work. 21
We can see by these things that the highly promoted “free love” that our society so much acclaims is not free at all. It is horribly expensive. These sexual encounters before marriage, or adultery within marriage, are by no means expressions of real love. Rather, they are sexploitations which do a great deal of harm in our families, our society and our churches.
“For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit” (4:7-8). Any type of illicit sex, unholy sexual relationships, pornography and the like make us spiritually unclean. Selfish sexual habits like masturbation also render us unclean, despite what some Christian teachers say. We see in Scripture that if a male had a nocturnal emission he was required to go outside the camp of Israel (Deut. 23:10). In other words, he was rendered unclean. God wants us to be clean and pure in heart, mind and body. It is said in the Phillips translation of Scripture, “It is not for nothing that the Spirit God gives us is called the Holy Spirit.” 22
Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 1 Thessalonians 4:9
When we become Christians, the love of God is poured out into our hearts (Rom. 5:5). With this, we begin to really love our Christian brothers and sisters. Paul is speaking here of the philadelphias kind of love, known as brotherly love. This is the glue that holds the church together. Wiersbe calls love the “circulatory system of the body of Christ.” 23
It is interesting that the apostle declares that the people are God-taught to love one another. The Greek word is theodidaktoi, and it occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Holmes feels that this Greek word may have been coined by Paul himself. 24
Love for one another is a biblical theme both exemplified and taught by Christ. He taught that we should love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39; Mk. 12:30-31). In John 13:34, Jesus gave us a new commandment saying, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (cf. Jn. 15:12).
Paul goes on to laud the people saying, “And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more,” (4:10). Paul had already heard reports of how the Thessalonian church had impacted the areas of Achaia and Macedonia (1 Thess. 1:7-10). Kretzmann comments: “This passage is another masterpiece of pastoral exhortation, for it combines a ready acknowledgment of the progress already made in sanctification with a tactful reminder of the fact that the goal has not yet been reached…” 25 Clearly, we cannot love too much. We cannot even love enough.
The apostle continues: “and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you,” (4:11). Paul will speak more about it in the next section, but it appears that some folks were getting overly excited about the soon coming of the Lord. They were neglecting their normal work and upsetting others with their zeal.
The challenge to work with one’s own hands was a rather new concept in the Greek culture. Morris comments, “Greeks despised manual labor; they saw it as an occupation fit for slaves. But the Christians (like the Jews) did not hesitate to insist on the dignity of manual work (cf. Eph. 4:28).” 26 Paul had actually set the example by working with his hands as a tentmaker while he ministered in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 2:9; cf. Acts 18:3). In the Jewish/Christian tradition work was an honorable thing. Wiersbe remarks how God even gave Adam work to do in Paradise. 27 Through the centuries it was customary for Jewish fathers to teach their sons a trade so that they could earn an honest living.
Paul seems to be advising the Thessalonians to keep a low profile and to be as quiet as possible, minding their own business and doing their own work. Michael Brown quips about this, “One reason that Scripture urges us to mind our own business and to keep a good reputation with outsiders, is the gospel itself creates enough trouble of its own!”
The apostle gives good reason for his advice saying, “so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (4:12). Years ago I joined the insurance business with my father in his agency. I remember one day several people from a certain religious denomination passed by our business window. My dad said to me, “Don’t ever do business with those folks because they do not pay their bills.” What a poor testimony these religious people had in our small town! No doubt some of the excited Thessalonians were not paying their bills either. They were actually becoming a poor witness for the glorious gospel of Christ.
Early in America’s history a Baptist preacher by the name of William Miller became convinced that the Lord would come very soon. Eventually, the date of October 22, 1844 was set for the Lord’s appearance. This created quite a stir among the 50 to 100,000 of his followers. No doubt there were disruptions in their daily lives as they all awaited this date. Of course, the Lord didn’t come. It made them all the laughingstock of their neighbors. In Luke 19:13, Jesus says, “Do business till I come” (NKJ). We are to keep on working and presenting a good example while we wait for the Second Coming.
THE COMING OF THE LORD
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13
It appears that Paul’s original teaching on the coming of the Lord had caused some problems at Thessalonica, just as the teaching has done for some people since that time. Apparently a number of the members had passed away after Paul’s visit, and the ones left behind were quite troubled that these dear departed ones might miss the Lord’s coming entirely. It is even possible that some of the people understood that all believers were supposed to actually live to the Parousia or coming of the Lord.28 It is this matter that the apostle primarily addresses. He does not get into the many other aspects of the last days. Some of these will be developed more fully in the next chapter and in his second epistle.
We need to realize that the new Christian believers were far better off than the pagans who had absolutely no hope beyond the grave. Morris gives us some pitiful examples of the hopelessness of the ancient masses. Here is a letter where one tries to console the bereaved:
Irene to Taonnophris and Philo, good comfort. I was as sorry and wept over the departed one as I wept for Didymas. And all things whatsoever were fitting, I die, and all mine, Epaphroditus and Thermuthion and Philion and Apollonius and Plantas. But, nevertheless, against such things one can do nothing. Therefore comfort ye one another. 29
Aeschylus also wrote, “Once a man dies there is no resurrection.” Theocritus said, “There is hope for those who are alive, but those who have died are without hope.” Catullus noted, “When once our brief light sets, there is one perpetual night through which we must sleep.” On their tombstones were such grim epitaphs as this one. “I was not; I became: I am not: I care not.” 30
Christians, despite their questions, had an unfailing hope in life beyond the grave. They knew that to die was gain (Phil. 1:21, 23). They could even meet death with rejoicing. A certain writer, Aristides by name, said of the Christians: “And if any righteous man among them passes from the world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort the body as if he were setting out from one place to another near.” 31
We note in this verse that Paul refers to death as “sleep” (cf. vs. 13, 14, & 15). Sleep was a common euphemism for death. Even our English word for “cemetery” is derived indirectly from the Greek word for sleep. We should understand that there is no concept of “soul sleep” here. Such a concept sees that the believer must wait in some sort of unconscious limbo until the Day of Resurrection. 32 It is the body that sleeps while the spirit lives on. We know from several Scriptures that when the believer dies that person is immediately with the Lord (Phil. 1:23-24). It is interesting today that most of our funeral services use the words found from these passages to console the bereaved. 33
It will help us to remember that Paul’s focus here is on the pastoral and not on the theological. Utley says, “Doctrine is given, but only as it serves a godly lifestyle now!” 34 We see much the same thing in 1 Corinthians 15:58, where Paul says: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
Paul continues on in his pastoral role to answer the specific questions the Thessalonians had in mind. He says, “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (4:14). This bit of divine revelation certainly answered their urgent questions about the departed loved ones. Paul says that they will return with the Lord.
This brings us face to face with the subject of the Second Coming of the Lord, or the Parousia as it is called. Today there are many diverse opinions on this subject. Since the early 1800s there has been the idea of the Pretribulation Rapture. This doctrine proposes that there will actually be three comings, with one of them secret, where the Lord catches away his church. It would help us to understand that the early Christian writers knew nothing of three comings. Here are a few of their statements: Irenaeus around 180 said, “All the prophets announced his two advents…In the second one, he will come on the clouds, bringing on the day which burns as a furnace.” 35 Obviously there is nothing secret about this coming.
Hipopolytus around 200 said: “The Scriptures indicate there will be two advents of our Lord and Savior. The one is his first advent in the flesh, which took place without honor…However, his second advent is foretold as being glorious, when he will come from heaven with the host of angels.” 36
Justin Martyr around 160 said:
The prophets have announced two advents of Christ. In the first one, which has already past, he came as a dishonored and suffering man. However, in the second advent, according to prophecy, he will come from heaven with glory, accompanied by his angelic host. At that time he will raise the bodies of all men who have lived. 37
It is interesting that Justin also remarked that his Second Coming would happen when the “man of apostasy” is revealed. He was of course speaking of the antichrist. 38 Today many dear saints and pastors fervently believe in the secret Rapture of the church prior to the tribulation and we respect them for their belief. However, my wife and I grew up in the south or in what is called America’s Bible Belt. We were raised in the church in two separate areas of the south. It is interesting that neither of us had ever heard of the Rapture until we were grown, married and living in New England. It is also interesting that the older Bible commentaries, even up to the early twentieth century did not speak of the Rapture.
So, it would be good for us to stick to the simple word of God and see what it says. It is not wise for us to try to implement a system of thought upon biblical passages. We should not insist on seeing the Bible through our doctrine-colored glasses or try to force some paradigm or template of thought on the sacred pages.
It is clear from these verses that the Second Coming of the Lord will be a glorious and public event (cf. vs. 16-17). Paul promises the bereaved of Thessalonica that their dear loved ones will accompany Jesus when he returns. This great truth is verified several places in Scripture (cf. Zech. 14:5; Rom. 6:4; 8:11; 10:6; 1 Cor. 15:22; 2 Cor. 4:14; Jude 1:14).
Utley comments, “Not only will they participate, they will receive their new bodies first and will accompany Jesus on the clouds of heaven.” 39 For such reasons, John in Revelation 14:13 could say, “…Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on…..”
“According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep” (4:15). This statement has puzzled a lot of commentators over the centuries, because there is no direct word of the Lord like this in the gospels. There are several explanations of where Paul came up with this teaching. It could have been an unrecorded word (logion) of the Lord that was circulating in the first century. 40 It could have been a statement of the contemporary Lord coming down through one of his apostles or prophets. Or it could have been a direct revelation to Paul (cf. Gal. 1:17; 2 Cor.12:1-4). 41
Paul says clearly that those who remain alive until the coming of the Lord shall not in any precede those who have died in the faith. This must have been great comfort to the Thessalonian bereaved saints regarding their loved ones. In older translations, the word now translated “precede” was often translated “prevent.” Of course, this word has changed a lot in its meaning since earlier times. The older word “prevent,” as seen in the King James Version, is now often translated “anticipate.” 42
EVENTS OF THE LORD’S COMING
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 1 Thessalonians 4:16
There are some things we immediately notice from this verse. The coming of the Lord will be very public. It will be loud and unmistakable. It will not be a secret thing, and Jesus warns us about the idea of secrecy. In Matthew 24:26-27, the Lord says: “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
Let us look more specifically at Jesus’ appearing. “The Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command.” Jesus is coming in person. This event is obviously universal and will be seen and heard throughout the earth. Let us first notice the loud command of the Lord (cf. Jn. 5:28-29). The Greek word is keleusma, and it was used of a commander speaking to his soldiers; a ship master commanding his rowers; or a charioteer his horses. The word always has a ring of authority and urgency. 43
We can but imagine how this shout of the Master will petrify our world establishment. All the lies and make-believe with which our world system operates will, with this shout, suddenly dissipate. A very sinful world will then be exposed to the one whose eyes are like flames of fire. The cry and the desperation of lost people will be bitter (Rev. 6:15). Long ago John of Damascus (c. 675-749) said of this time, “Then after long seasons, Christ our God shall come to judge the world in awful glory, beyond words to tell.” 44
This loud command of Jesus is no doubt directed at the dead. It is a command for them to arise from the grave, just as Jesus once commanded the dead Lazarus, and he quickly came out of the tomb (Jn. 11:43-44). It is this command that will bring forth the first resurrection. In the Bible we know that this resurrection is both blessed and holy (Rev. 20:6). This will be a resurrection of the righteous dead. From Scripture we know that the unrighteous dead will come forth at a later resurrection, and that they will come forth to face judgment at the White Throne (Rev. 20:11-13).
We should note that there is a great difference between the Hebrew/New Testament understandings of the body and the Greek understanding. The whole idea of a resurrection of the dead body was foolishness to the Greek (Acts 17:32). Wiersbe says of the Greeks that “…being rid of the body was their great hope…” 45 Those enlightened ones in the Old Testament knew that the dead would live again (Job 19:26; Isa. 26:19; Psa. 23:6). However, it is in the New Testament that we really see the resurrection portrayed. Jesus by his life, death and resurrection brought immortality to light (2 Tim.1:10). We know now that when Jesus appears the righteous dead will arise first with their immortal bodies and those who are still living will instantly have their bodies changed into immortal ones (1 Cor. 15:51-52).
We know that the resurrected body will be somewhat like the former body. However, just as a new plant springs from a dying seed, the resurrected body also will be much different than the old one (1 Cor. 15:35-44). While there is continuity between seed and plant, there is a radical difference. The resurrection is not simply a reconstruction of the old body. 46
Let us see what other elements are involved in Christ’s coming. There will be the voice of the archangel. Actually, the Greek is not specific 47 and reads “a voice of an archangel.” In Jewish tradition there were several archangels mentioned, like Uriel and Raphiel, but the Bible gives us the name of only one archangel, Michael (cf. Jude 9). He is the national angel of Israel (cf. Dan. 12:1). 48 Calvin says of Michael, “the archangel will discharge the office of a herald to summon the living and the dead to the tribunal of Christ. …He says nothing as to the reprobate, because this did not tend to the consolation of the pious, of which he is now treating…” 49
The final element in the coming of the Lord is the loud trumpet call. The trumpet had many uses in Israel. It was used to gather the people of God, to move God’s camps, to mark sacred seasons and times of rejoicing, and to declare war on the enemies (Num. 10:2-10). Perhaps the most interesting use of trumpets was for the coronation of the kings of Israel (1 Kings 1:39). The sounding of the last trumpet seems to be a call for the coronation of the true King of all the earth, Jesus Christ the righteous one and the true ruler of all things. It is also clear that the sounding of this trumpet will expedite the raising of the dead (1 Cor. 15:52).
“In the Roman Empire, trumpets were used to announce the arrival of a great person.” 50 Clearly the last trumpet will be the greatest announcement in all of human history. With this trumpet call the angels will gather the elect from the four winds (Matt. 24:31).
With the voice of the Lord and the archangel and with the trumpet call, the dead in Christ will rise first of all (anastēsontai prōton). Thus we see that the dead in Christ will never be separated from Christ. 51 The Thessalonian believers could take great comfort from Paul’s words. Of course, these same words are a great comfort for us today.
“After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (4:17). Obviously, despite the difficulty of the last days, some Christians will still be alive for the Lord’s appearing. These will likely be the overcomers or the righteous remnant that Revelation speaks of. They will have finished the course and kept the faith despite all that the antichrist could bring against them. These will be instantly transformed to be like Christ and caught up to meet the Lord in the air. The word caught up is an interesting one. It is the Greek harpazō meaning to seize, catch up or snatch away. Stott says that this word pictures a suddenness and violence like that when the Roman centurion and his soldiers rescued Paul by force from a lynch mob. 52
Bible interpreters have long been intrigued by the force of this word. In fact, it is from this word that the whole Rapture concept has been derived. 53 It seems possible that the force here may picture the Lord’s ragged and persecuted saints being snatched from the death machine of the antichrist at their very last moment. The Book of Daniel does picture the saints as being almost overcome by the evil one (Dan. 11:33).
We see that the saints will be snatched up into the clouds for their meeting with the Lord. In a very real sense, the Lord is returning in the clouds just as he departed in the clouds of heaven so long ago (Acts 1:9; Matt. 24:30). In the Bible, clouds are often depicted as a sort of triumphal chariot of God (Psa.104:3; Dan. 7:13). 54 The fact that Jesus is meeting his church in the clouds or in the air seems significant. Pfeiffer and Harrison remark: “The absolute pre-eminence of Christ is underscored by his using the dwelling place of evil spirits (Eph. 2:2; 6:12) for this rendezvous…” 55
The Greek word to describe this meeting is apantēsis. There was a general understanding of this word in New Testament times. The word apantēsis derives from a particular political practice in the Greco-Roman world. Elias describes this background saying, “Whenever an emperor or other official came to a city for a formal visit, the local civic leaders normally headed a procession of its citizens so that they could meet an enthusiastically welcome the visiting dignitary to their city. Usually the meeting and formal greeting occurred outside the city gates. The leading city officials, followed by citizens, then escorted the distinguished visitor into the city for the celebrations or whatever business might be at hand.” 56 It is interesting that the early Christian writer and preacher Chrysostom also confirms this usage of the word. 57
We really need to pause and get the full picture here. According to the meaning of this New Testament word, Christ the King will be coming to earth with his saints and angels. The redeemed of earth will be called up to meet him at his coming. The sense of this word is that the whole company will then continue on down to the earth where Christ will continue his judgment and remaking of this planet. The kingdom of God will then be established with his triumphant saints ruling on his behalf (Rev. 5:10). The purpose of his coming is to absolutely abolish all other rule and authority and to take over all things on earth.
As we can easily see, the Greek usage seems to dispute the whole concept of a Rapture, where the saints of God somehow escape from the doomed earth. 48 The whole movement of the last days is a movement from heaven to earth. The Lord is bringing his saints and angels in a triumphant procession. Heaven is in fact coming down to earth. The New Jerusalem will also soon come down as a bride adorned for her husband. In the process, both heaven and earth will be remade and cleansed and the meek shall then inherit the earth as the Lord himself has assured us (Matt. 5:5).
Of course, in these deep spiritual matters, we see dimly as through a glass or mirror. However, on that day we will see face to face (1 Cor. 13:12). There are many things we do not understand about the Lord’s coming and actually a number of things that are not mentioned here that are spoken of in other Bible passages. Morris warns us saying, “This is the fullest description of the Parousia in the New Testament, and when we reflect on the little that is said here we are warned against undue dogmatism about what will then happen.” 59
“Therefore encourage one another with these words” (4:18). We can imagine that the grieving loved ones at Thessalonica were greatly encouraged and even excited at this message from Paul. Barnes says, “1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 contains a truth which is to be found in no pagan classic writer, and nowhere else, except in the teachings of the New Testament…There is no description anywhere which is more sublime than that in the close of this chapter.” 60 Elias says, “The good news being communicated in this passage is simpler and more profound than all the speculative scenarios which pious minds can build on the basis of their imaginative construal of a few highly symbolic texts.” 61 Holmes adds: “Resurrection and the return of Jesus, for example, are events that are beyond the range of present human experience and which strain the ability of language to describe them.” 62
Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 1 Thessalonians 5:1
The Greek word again, is adelphos, and although it technically means “a brother,” in its usage here it includes brothers and sisters. Regarding “times” and “dates” Stott says: “Usually chromos means a period of time and kairos a point of time, a crisis or opportunity. But it does not seem that Paul is making this distinction here.” 1 Once more, we see how the initial apostolic teaching had supplied the Thessalonians with a broad understanding regarding the subject of the end days.
Paul continues, “for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (5:2). No doubt this verse is a reference to Jesus’ own teaching about the subject in Matthew 24:43 ff. Jesus will come with stealth and his appearing will greatly surprise most people. He will come in a sudden and unexpected way.
Here, the apostle opens up the vast subject of the “Day of the Lord.” This was an almost constant theme of the Old Testament prophets.2 There seems to be no good reason for us to separate the concepts of “the Day of the Lord,” “the Day of Christ,” “the Day,” and “that Day” as they are later used in the New Testament. All these speak of the same event. The entire book of Revelation likewise speaks in detail of this day.
The prophets see that the Day of the Lord will bring down the proud and lofty. Isaiah says “The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day” (Isa. 2:11). It is a day of disaster and destruction upon the ungodly (Isa. 13:6). We see this also pictured in Revelation 6:17: “For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” God will shake the earth terribly (Isa. 2:19). As is said in Job 38:13, God’s plan is to shake the wicked out of the earth. Then the people will cast their idols of gold and silver to the moles and bats (Isa. 2:20). Earth’s great and mighty ones will cry for the rocks and mountains to fall on them and hide them from the face of the Lamb (Rev. 6:15). The cry of that day will be bitter (Zep. 1:14). Wicked hearts will be seized with terror (Isa. 13:7-8). The heavenly bodies will no longer give their light (Isa. 13:10-13). A blazing fire will break out on the earth as the Lord comes.
In Malachi 4:1 the prophet says: “‘Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘Not a root or a branch will be left to them.’”
It is clear from the New Testament that God’s elect will be prepared for this day and they will not be surprised, for they will be watching. It is also clear that what brings judgment and disaster for the wicked will bring great joy and blessing for the righteous. At last they will see their Master and they will suddenly be called up to meet him, while their bodies will undergo an immediate change, being made immortal.
There are many things that Paul does not cover here. He does not mention the rise of the antichrist and his demise at the Lord’s return. He does not mention that the resurrected righteous will reign on earth for the Millennium just after the Lord’s return, and that they will apparently coexist on earth with some mortals. 3 Nor does he mention the final rebellion of Satan for a very short period and the great White Throne judgment. No doubt, the apostle had shared all these things initially with the Thessalonians. Again, it is amazing how carefully Paul had taught these new Christians.
“While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (5:3). It is clear that people will be talking a lot about peace before the last days come upon them. Wiersbe says, “The unsaved world will be enjoying a time of false peace and security just before these cataclysmic events occur.” 4 It seems that people are often deceived by “peace,” since they desire it so fervently. Just before World War II, Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sought to appease the Nazis. He returned from his meetings with Hitler announcing “peace in our time,” but very soon the awful war broke out and engulfed Britain. Beginning in 1993, as we were living in Israel, and continuing for many years, the “Peace Process” with the Arabs was greatly touted by many. Most of the evangelical Christians, however, realized that it was a false peace, and sure enough it came to be just that. It cost the lives of thousands of innocent people and resulted in the loss of a considerable amount of what is known as biblical Israel.
In this verse we see that the last days will come suddenly and they will be like the birth pains of a pregnant woman. Although her pains are determined and expected, she knows not the day or the hour they will come. We realize that there will be a lot of suspense as these days approach. It reminds us of some of the old horror movies where the radio was playing softly in the background, where the mother was casually working in her kitchen and the children were happily playing. The natural scene builds suspense just before the dreadful horror happens. The Bible says people will be eating, drinking, marrying and so-forth just before the dreadful day falls upon them (Matt. 24:38-39).
SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF LIGHT
But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 1 Thessalonians 5:4
When we come to Christ in simple faith we are saved and we step out of the darkness into God’s marvelous light. We can no longer walk in darkness or in the shadows. The people walking in darkness will be greatly surprised by the Lord’s coming. Indeed, they will be terrified by this event. The righteous will not be surprised and they will have nothing to fear. It will be a wonderfully joyous occasion for them. The event will not slip up on them like a thief.
Pfeiffer and Harrison expound on the idea of darkness saying: “Darkness is more than ignorance; it is the unbeliever’s moral and spiritual separation from God…” 5 For the Christian, the darkness, ignorance and separation is over because the True Light has shined upon them as the Scripture says: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
Wesley, the great preacher, paraphrases this verse saying: “But ye members of the church, living in the light, expecting the coming of your Lord (Matt. 25:10) cannot be surprised. Your knowledge and faith lead you to be always ready.” 6
“You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (5:5). Several scholars see the expression “children of light” (huioi phōtos) as a Hebraism. Morris says, “In the Semitic idiom to be a ‘son’ of something is to be characterized by that thing (e.g. ‘a son of strength’ means ‘a strong man’). 7 So we Christians are sons or children of the light and of the day. Paul says in Ephesians 5:9, “(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth).”
“So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober” (5:6). Sleep here does not mean death. “It means moral indifference and carelessness about spiritual things.” 8 Rather than being asleep, we need to be “morning people” as Wiersbe says; “to be awake, alert, sober and ready for the dawning of that wonderful day.” 9 Paul says in Romans 13:12-13, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
At the end of this verse the words “be awake” and “sober,” are the Greek words grēgoreō and nēphō. They mean that we should be watchful and alert in regards to the coming of the Lord. The early church father Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215) says, “We should sleep half-awake.” 10
“For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (5:7-8). Obviously, the night is the time when most wickedness and lawlessness is done. It is the choice time for adulterers and drunkards to venture out. Moffatt quotes George Elliott in a beautiful passage: “There are few of us who are not rather ashamed of our sins and follies as we look on the blessed morning sunlight, which comes to us like a bright-winged angel beckoning to us to quit the old path of vanity that stretches its dreary length behind us.” 11
Rather than sleeping, getting drunk, or participating in wickedness, we should rather put on our breastplate of faith and our helmet of salvation and be ready for the last battle. Paul seems to have been fascinated by the Roman armor and he uses it as an example several times (cf. Rom. 13:12-13; 2 Cor. 10:4; Eph. 6:13-17). No doubt, he was quite familiar with it because he was chained to a Roman soldier for long periods (Phil. 1:13).
He switches up his metaphor a bit here and compares the breastplate (thōraka) to faith and love. It is true that faith shields us from the deadly attacks of doubt and despair that the devil is prone to launch upon us. There is a very real sense in which the love of Jesus keeps our souls as well. We note in Ephesians 6:14, that he uses the symbol of righteousness for the breastplate and that too is very appropriate. All in all, the armor is one of light (Rom. 13:12). Utley notes that hope is often linked to the Second Coming. This is especially true in the Thessalonian epistles. 12
ESCAPING WRATH, RECEIVING SALVATION
For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:9
In Romans 3:23, Paul makes this sweeping statement regarding humanity, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….” In Romans 1:18, he also says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness….” In Ephesians 2:3, Paul concludes, “…All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” So, humanity’s situation is dismal. Because of the sin of our forefather Adam we are doomed (1 Cor. 15:22). We are doomed by the inherited sinful nature of Adam, and we are also doomed by our own predisposition toward sinning.
Christ came into our dismal situation and by his atoning death and resurrection he made a way for us to escape the wrath of God that was poured out toward our sins. He literally took our sins upon himself in order that we could be free of God’s judgment. In Romans 5:19, Paul speaks in relation to the sins of Adam and humanity with these words: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” The simple gospel that was received by the Thessalonians and is now available to all of us, is that if we accept the work of Jesus and allow him to have control of our lives we will be delivered from wrath and the eternal death it brings about. The Scripture is plain saying: “…Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).
Unfortunately, we live in a time when the sacrifice of Jesus is taken lightly. In our so-called post-Christian age many people do not even realize that such a sacrifice has been made for them. Some scoff at the work of Jesus and treat the whole matter of God’s salvation and his wrath with scorn. Heinrich Vogel remarks about this saying, “whoever thinks he can smile at God’s wrath will never praise him eternally for his grace.” 13
Pett speaks of this salvation of God as an overall process. He says:
It commences when we first believe in Christ and have been “saved” (Eph. 2:8), that is when we experience the work of the Holy Spirit and believe, and are accounted righteous before God through the sacrifice of the cross. It goes on as the Holy Spirit continues his work within us, changing us from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18), as we continue to grow in faith and are “being saved” (1 Cor. 1:18), becoming more and more like him. And it reaches its final accomplishment when we are presented before God holy and without blemish (Col.1:22; Eph. 5:27), made like him (1 Jn. 3:1-2). 14
Paul himself sums up the gospel and its implications for us saying, “He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him” (5:10). This verse is noteworthy. Barker and Kohlenberger exclaim at this point, “Here for the first time in Paul’s writings, he states the specific means by which Jesus Christ procures our salvation…He died for us….” 15 Simply, because he died for us we live for him. So, as Christians we must be awake in every sense of the word. Like Jesus, we must be about our Father’s business (Lk. 2:49). We must continue to walk or live in the light and devote our lives to the Lord Jesus and to his people.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (5:11). No doubt some of the Thessalonians had become discouraged, due to the misunderstanding of the last days and the status of their beloved dead. Paul challenges them to encourage one another. The Greek word for encourage is paraclētos and it is a difficult word to translate. According to Barclay’s New Testament word studies, the word “always means someone called in to help and to render some service…[it] is the word for exhorting men to noble deeds and high thoughts…” 16 We remember how Barnabas, Paul’s helper was called a son of encouragement or consolation (Acts. 4:36). What a wonderful trait this is.
The other Greek word used here is oikodomeite. It is taken from the word “house” and it means to build the house or in a metaphorical sense, to build one another up. We see the word translated as “edification” in Romans, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Rom. 14:19). We learn in Ephesians 2:19-21, that we are being built into a spiritual house for God. In fact, believing Jews and Gentiles are being built into a holy spiritual temple for God. We are built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets with Jesus being the chief cornerstone to this grand building.
PAUL BEGINS TO CLOSE
Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 1 Thessalonians 5:12
In most of his epistles, Paul has an ethical section that follows his teaching and theological section. Here he gives his ethical section almost in staccato fashion. First he challenges the Thessalonian Christians to get to know and to honor those who work and care for them in the Lord. This would no doubt be a reference primarily to pastors as well as deacons and others. Many of these early leaders no doubt worked doubly hard because at this early time they probably had to maintain their secular vocations as well as their religious ones. 17
The words “to acknowledge” is the Greek oida and it has the basic meaning “to know.” It has derivative meanings “to be aware of” or “to appreciate.” 18 Often we cannot appreciate someone unless we take the time to get really acquainted with them. Although some translations (NAS, NAB, NKJ) speak of these leaders being over the sheep, the basic idea is that they are servants of the sheep. The word is proistamenous, and it literally means “to stand in front,” 19 or to lead the flock. They are servants of the church but they do exercise spiritual authority (Heb. 13:17) and the people must follow and submit to them.
From the outset, the early church had its leaders. First of all there were apostles (1 Cor. 12:28) but afterwards it became necessary for other officials to be appointed (Acts 6:2-4). It seems that the synagogue was the pattern for the early Christians. The synagogue had a council of elders and soon the early church had something similar (Acts 9:30; 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4; 15:22; 20:17). 20 Stott points out how we know that the Thessalonian church had responsible elders. Luke mentions two of these, Aristarchus and Secundus (Acts 20:4). 21
These officials were not only to lead but also to admonish the flock when necessary. The Greek word is nouthetountas. Since nous is the mind, this word has the idea of putting sense into the minds of people. The early 20th century Greek scholar, A.T. Robertson remarks how this is a necessary but thankless task. 22 Stedman notes that even the mighty apostles were still called by their first names. No one called them St. Peter or St. John. 23 The leadership of apostles and elders was informal in its nature. Leaders were recognized by their service. Morris notes that while it was “brotherly” it was still “big-brotherly.” 24
Despite the prevailing postmodern aversion to experts and leaders, they are vitally important at all levels, even in the family. Wiersbe says, “Without leadership, a family falls apart…According to Martin L. Gross in his book The Psychological Society, more than sixty thousand guidance workers and seven thousand school psychologists work in our American public education system, and many of them function as substitute parents.” 25
“Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other” (5:13). Here we are instructed to hold pastors and other workers in the highest regard. The expression “highest regard” is the Greek huperekperissos. Morris points out how this is a really forceful word meaning “beyond-exceeding-abundantly.” 26 This should be an admonishment to present-day churches that often treat their ministers shabbily. Of course, it should also be a warning to some pastors who try to lord it over the flocks and who are more interested in their own salary than in the welfare of the people. All in all, the church and its leaders should live in God’s peace.
“And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (5:14). We cannot miss the fact here that it is the whole church that is to do the work of ministry. We have mentioned how some who were in a frenzy about the coming of the Lord were idle. They had perhaps quit their normal jobs and were nervously waiting around for the Parousia. Because they were idle, they were also disruptive. These ataktos or idle ones were to be warned, admonished and exhorted. It was not necessarily the job of ministers but of the flock. Interestingly, the word ataktos originally belonged to the military. It described a soldier who could not stay in the ranks, or one who was disorderly and neglectful. 27 God’s great army cannot afford such as these.
We come back to the idea of the whole church doing the ministry. In Ephesians 4:11-12, we learn that the various offices such as, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are given to the church so that they could, “…equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Eph. 4:12). Wiersbe remarks how this is real Body life, as Christians minister to other Christians, with the older members ministering to the younger members (Tit. 2:3-5). 28
We all are to “encourage the disheartened.” Holmes notes how this Greek word, oligopsychous, can mean timid, faint hearted, fearful, inadequate, or lacking confidence.29 Next, in his rapid-fire succession Paul tells us that we are to help the weak. The idea of helping is to hold to firmly. We might ask, who are the weak? They may even be those whose conscience is weak so that they cannot eat meat, as was the case in the Roman church. These held also to the Jewish holy days in a legalistic manner. 30
We are to help the weak, the helpless and those without strength (cf. Rom. 15:1). Sometimes with help and encouragement the weak can become strong. Godbey says, “There is a maxim among swine-feeders, ‘that the runt will make the biggest hog;’ but you must give him time to grow…” 31
Last of all in the verse we are to be “patient with everyone.” The word is macrothumeo and according to Barclay it describes “the ‘steadfast spirit which will never give in.’ It is that spirit of ‘patience’ and faith which will ultimately inherit the promise.” 32
“Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else” (5:15). No doubt this teaching of non-retaliation came directly from Jesus and his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:39; 44). Instead of retaliating against our enemies we must pray for them. Holmes says of this verse 15 that it “is a categorical prohibition against repaying evil for evil…” 33 Paul says in Romans 12:19, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
Barker and Kohlenberger say, “…Nonretaliation for personal wrongs is perhaps the best evidence of personal Christian maturity.” 34 Rather than to pursue after someone, in order to retaliate for wrongs done to us, we should pursue or strive (diōkete) to do good for that person. Morris remarks: “The verb…means something like ‘pursue vigorously; and is the usual word for ‘persecute.’” It is interesting to find Paul the ‘persecutor’ (1 Tim. 1:13) using the strong term for the Christian duty of doing good…” 35
The early Christian writer, Theodoret of Cyr (c. 393 – c. 458/466), says: “Let us then bravely bear the ills that befall us. It is in war that heroes are discerned; in conflicts that athletes are crowned; in the surge of the sea that the act of the helmsman is shown; in the fire that the gold is tried.” 36
BEGINNING HIS FINAL INSTRUCTIONS
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
The Christian is to always rejoice, and this is quite in contrast to the surrounding pagan society. Dean Overman says, “The Christian position is that the chief end of man is to know and glorify God and enjoy him forever…”37 O that such could be the case with the unhappy world around us today! “In the US, 2.4 billion prescriptions are written each year. 118 million or these, or the largest group, are for anti-depressants.” 38
As Christians, we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory (Rom. 5:2); we rejoice because our names are written in heaven (Lk. 10:20); that we have received God’s atonement (Rom. 5:11); we rejoice because we have a living hope and a sure salvation (1 Pet. 1:3-6). There are many more promises of God that should cause us to rejoice. Morris says, “Few things about the New Testament are more remarkable than this continual stress on joy.” 39
Next, we are to pray continually. How do we do that? We certainly do not go around with our hands folded together as a symbol of our prayer. Rather, we go around in a spirit of prayer, often thinking prayers in our minds regarding the situations we face daily. As Romans 12:12 tells us, we should be “devoted to prayer.” Or as radio Pastor and commentator Warren Wiersbe says, we are to “keep the receiver off the hook: and be in touch with God…” 40
Paul continues, saying that we should “give thanks in all circumstances.” We notice that he says “in” all circumstances and not “for” all of them. It was popular back in the 60s and 70s for Christians to think they had to give thanks for all evil circumstances. The preacher, Spurgeon, remarks, concerning joy and prayer, “When joy and prayer are married their first born child is gratitude.” 41
Again, many Christians are wondering what God’s will is for them. Here it is once more, plain and simple. We are to start rejoicing, praying and giving thanks at all times.
THE CHRISTIAN AND THE HOLY SPIRIT
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
Several translations agree with the newer NIV versions here that we should not quench the Spirit. Quite frankly, in modern times many Christians seemed to be afraid of the Holy Spirit. I remember a story of a little boy who was afraid to go up to his bed. His dad called up to him with these reassuring words, “Son, don’t be afraid because God’s Holy Spirit is with you.” The little boy was quiet for a while and then said under his breath, “Holy Spirit, if you are here don’t you dare move. It would scare me to death.”
Up to the Twentieth Century it was popular in the church to think that all Holy Spirit movements and gifts terminated with the First Century. This was a gross misunderstanding, of course. By the Twentieth Century there began to be much Holy Spirit activity, with the resurrection of spiritual gifts and miracles of all sorts. The word “quench,” used here, means to put out the flame or douse the fire (Matt. 25:8; Mk. 9:48). Rather than quench the Spirit, the apostle instructed young Timothy with these words, “…I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” (2 Tim. 1:6).
The Bible assures us that the Holy Spirit will become more and more important to us all as we approach the last days. In Ephesians 4:30 it is written: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” How do we quench or put out the fire? Coffman laments: “The blessed fire can be put out by the cold drizzle of worldliness, by the heavy blanket of selfishness, or by the companionship of evil people. The negligent student of the Holy Scriptures can let the fire go out. The stormy winds of false doctrine can blow it out!” 42
We can also quench the flame by our tightly controlled worship services. One dear pastor I worked with some years back had the Sunday worship program timed down almost to the nanosecond. There was little room for the Holy Spirit to make an entrance.
Paul also tells us in this passage, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all.” Again, many in the modern church felt that prophecies had ended with the First Century. We essentially looked upon those who called themselves prophets as lunatics. However, in the late Twentieth Century prophecy also made a comeback. Prophetic gifts and other prophetic utterances, like gifts of knowledge, have become rather common, due to the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. Prophets and prophetic gifts can certainly edify the church.
I remember before we moved our family to Israel a person, with whom we were not acquainted but one who possessed a rather outstanding prophetic gift, called our family out from a fairly large assembly and told us that we were to minister in Israel. That prophecy came true and my wife and I did minister in Israel for sixteen years. Our oldest son and his wife are still in Israel, along with four of our grandchildren.
In this regard there was another instance of prophecy when we returned to the US at one point and were in a quandary about what direction our lives should take. Actually, we were about to make a rather dreadful decision regarding vocation. At that precise time, a very scared and nervous Christian lady gave us a prophetic warning from Isaiah 48:17-22. It was a stern rebuke to us, saying that we had not paid attention to the Lord’s direction. At that time we made an about-face and began to serve the Lord with an Israel ministry. Later, we went back to Israel with that ministry and remained there for many years.
Prophecy is a rather scary and sometimes divisive thing to deal with and no doubt for this reason it lost favor with early pastors and church leaders. Pastors often like to stay in control of services and sometimes do not welcome prophetic interruptions. Thus, it is easy to be contemptuous of such ministries. Paul says we should not treat these ministries with contempt. Rather, we should test them to see if their messages are from God. There are two easy ways to do this. Does their prophecy line up with Scripture? Also, are their lives producing the right kind of fruit (Matt. 7:15-18)? Again, I remember a prophet who seemed to have an astounding gift, but his life was a total mess. We should generally keep the attitude of Moses. When challenged about prophecy he said, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Num. 11:29).
Last of all in this passage Paul challenges us: “hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” The idea in holding on (katechete) is to keep on holding on to the noble and beautiful. 43 Trapp says, “Whatsoever is heterodox, unsound, and unsavory, shun it, as you would do a serpent in your way or poison in your meats.” 44
SANCTIFIED THROUGH AND THROUGH
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
We have already dealt with the subject of sanctification in 4:3. We said that while sanctification is an act of God’s grace, there is a continuous process of sanctification that needs to go on in our lives. The method God uses is by his word (Jn. 17:17), by the continuing actions of his Holy Spirit and his blood (1 Pet. 1:2; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Jn. 1:7, 9). So we have positional sanctification and progressive sanctification. The Lord desires to do a thorough job of this in our everyday lives. He wants to make real saints out of us all. He wants us to be saints through and through.
When Paul speaks of spirit, soul and body he sets off a firestorm of comment regarding the nature and makeup of humankind. However, several commentators warn us that the apostle is not trying to compartmentalize humans, and that the Bible emphasizes the wholeness of human beings rather than breaking them into elements. 45 I fear that many of these attempts to analyze man will come to naught. He is made in the image of God, and is thus beyond our understanding. Often, the attempts to divide humans into portions are mere attempts to gain some power over the person. Unfortunately, some of our psychological programs fall into this error.
Paul’s desire was that these early Christians be without blame and that they would be able to meet the Lord in that condition. We see this desire of Paul in other places. Paul instructed young Timothy also that he would be without spot or blame till the coming of the Lord Jesus (1 Tim. 6:14). It seemed to be the fervent desire of early Christians that they be found without blame at the coming of the Lord. It appears that we no longer preach like this today.
STANDING IN THE NEED OF PRAYER
Brothers and sisters, pray for us. Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. 1 Thessalonians 5:25-28
Paul did not hesitate to ask for prayer for himself and for his helpers (cf. Rom. 15:30-32; 2 Cor. 1:11; Col. 4:3-4). Holmes says, “It is a wonderful thing that the greatest saint of them all should feel that he was strengthened by the prayers of the humblest Christians.” 46 It is perhaps beyond explaining, but “prayer somehow releases the power of God for effective ministry.” 47 We see the author of Hebrews, whoever he was, making a similar request: “Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way” (Heb. 13:18).
The apostle then urges these early Christians to give each other a holy kiss. Paul talked about this often and we see him doing it again later in Romans 16:16. It seemed to be a very common thing in the early church. This sounds a little strange in our western culture. Yet, the kiss was common in Jesus’ day and we read of him rebuking his Pharisee host because he failed to give Jesus the expected kiss of greeting (Lk. 7:45). We also read of the kiss of greeting that Judas gave Jesus at his betrayal.
The custom of giving the holy kiss of greeting continued in sub-apostolic times. Justin Martyr (c. AD 160) remarks about it: “Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss.” 48 Apparently as time passed the holy kiss was abused by some. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195) complains: “There are those who do nothing but make the churches resound with a kiss, not having love itself within.” 49
We might wonder if this practice is still in vogue particularly among the Jewish people. In Israel, the kiss as a greeting is probably more popular than a handshake. It is very common to see Jews of both sexes giving a greeting kiss, but the kiss is quite unlike our Hollywood style of kissing. When two people meet, the greeting kiss and light embrace is given gently and simultaneously by both parties and both sides of the face are kissed. Each person is actually kissed three times, to one side and then the other and finally returning to kiss the side that one began on. There is nothing sensual about this kiss even when it is done between a man and a woman. We might hasten to add that a kiss of any kind is taboo in some cultures and should not be done. In other cultures it should be done with extreme caution. The kiss is really not acceptable in the US but a fervent handshake or a warm hug (even between sexes) is usually in order. This is more common in a fellowship where believers know each other well.
In verse 27, Paul seems to make an abrupt change. He says, “I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.” Several commentators feel that at this point Paul took the pen from his amanuenses and wrote the last lines himself, just as he did on several other occasions (cf. 2 Thess. 3:17; also Gal. 6:11; 1 Cor. 16:21). This act was a guarantee that the letter was authentic. Morris remarks: “The strength of the language here is surprising. I charge you before the Lord means ‘I put you on your oath as Christians…It is not easy to explain such a strong charge…” 50
We see in his next letter the possibility that some person may have sent a false letter to the Thessalonians in Paul’s name. It may be that Paul was suspicious and wanted to insure that such a thing would not happen. Also, it may be that the apostle felt his information on the last days was of utmost importance and for that reason he made such a charge. Perhaps he wanted the leaders to insure that all the people heard this letter. “Invoking an oath and switching to the first person singular indicate his urgency.” 51
Paul ends, wishing the customary grace of the Lord Jesus to his recipients. Stott says: “A concluding reference to grace was almost his signature, so central was it to his whole theology…grace is the heart of the gospel, indeed the heart of God.” 52
Several sources I have cited here are from the electronic media, either from websites or from electronic research libraries. Thus in some of these sources it is not possible to cite page numbers. Instead, I have cited the verse or verses in 1 Thessalonians (e.g. v. verse 1:1 or vs. verses 1:5-6) about which the commentators speak.
1 William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, Revised Edition (Louisville: The Westminster Press, 1975), p. 181.
2 David Guzik, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, David Guzik Commentaries on the Bible, 1997-2003, v. 1:1. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/guz/view.cgi?bk=51&ch=1.
3 Kenneth L. Barker & John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, V. 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), p. 844.
Jacob Elias, (see book reference below) adds: “There is a remarkable consensus among scholars that 1 Thessalonians was written in the year 50, (Elias p. 28).
1 Peter Pett, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible, 2013, v. 1:1. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/view.cgi?bk=51&ch=2.
2 John R.W. Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1991), p. 29.
3 Michael W. Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary 1 And 2 Thessalonians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), p. 43.
4 Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, & David Brown, Commentary on 1 Thesssalonians, Commentary Critical and Explanatory of the Whole Bible, 1871-78, v. 1:3. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/view.cgi?bk=51&ch=2.
5 Dr. Bob Utley, Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians, 2013, v. 1:3. http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL07/VOL07B_01.html
6 Cited in Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p. 186.
7 Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 49.
8 Quoted in Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 36.
9 Quoted in Guzik, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, David Guzik Commentaries on the Bible, v. 1:6.
10 Barker & Kohlenberger, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, V. 2, p. 849.
11 John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible,1840-57, v. 1:6. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/view.cgi?bk=51&ch=5.
12 Albert Barnes, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, 1870, v. 1:7. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/view.cgi?bk=51&ch=5.
13 John Trapp, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, John Trapp Complete Commentary, 1865-1868, v. 1:7. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/view.cgi?bk=51&ch=4.
14 James Burton Coffman, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 1983-1999), v. 1:7. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/view.cgi?bk=51&ch=3.
15 A.T. Robertson, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament, Broadman Press, 1932-33, Renewal 1960, v. 1:8. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rwp/view.cgi?bk=51&ch=2.
16 Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory of the Whole Bible, v. 1:8.
17 Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 38.
18 Ibid., p. 39.
“A tribe’s traditional idols have a tremendous hold over the people’s minds, hearts and lives…the very thought of breaking away from them fills them with alarm, as they fear the spirits’ revenge.”
19 Ibid., p. 40-41 as quoted.
Barker & Kohlenberger add: “His mention of ‘idols’ shows the Thessalonians; Gentile origin, since idol worship did not dominate the Jews after the Babylonian exile…Normally ‘God-fearers’ had already separated themselves from idolatrous paganism because of their affiliation with a Jewish synagogue.” (Barker & Kohlenberger, p.850)
20 Jacob W. Elias, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottsdale, PA & Wataerloo, ONT: The Herald Press, 1995), p. 49.
21 Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 42.
22 Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 56.
1 Guzik, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, David Guzik Commentaries on the Bible, citing Barclay, vs. 2:1-2.
2 Quoted in Leon Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press; Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984), p. 51.
3 Calvin, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible, v. 2:1.
4 Barnes, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, v. 2:1.
5 Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 47.
6 Quoted in Guzik, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, David Guzik Commentaries on the Bible, vs. 2:1-2.
7 Ibid., citing Neal, vs. 1:3-5.
8 Robertson, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament, v. 2:3.
Utley comments: “Planēs is the Greek word for ‘planet,’ which referred to heavenly lights (planets, comets, shooting stars) that did not follow the usual pattern of the constellations. Thus, they were called ‘wanderers,’ which developed metaphorically into error…” (Utley, verse 2:3).
9 Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p. 188.
10 Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 76.
11 William Godbey, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, William Godbey’s Commentary on the New Testament, vs. 2:3-4. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ges/view.cgi?bk=51&ch=5.
12 Pett, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible, vs. 2:5-6.
13 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 55.
14 BFM Fribrg-Robinson-Pierpont Greek NT Morphology (Bible Works).
15 Quoted in Coffman, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament, v. 2:6.
16 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, pp. 56-57.
17 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, NT (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2007), p. 708.
18 Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 45.
19 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 58.
“…the meaning would seem to be (with Origen and Augustine): ‘like a nurse among her children talking in baby language.’”
20 Calvin, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible, v. 2:7.
21 Quoted in Guzik, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, David Guzik Commentaries on the Bible, vs. 2:8-9.
22 Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 73.
23 Paul Kretzmann, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Kretzmann’s Popular Commentary, 1921-23, vs. 2:7-12. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kpc/view.cgi?bk=51&ch=3.
24 Utley, Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians, v. 2:9.
25 Peter Gorday, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary of Scripture, IX (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), pp. 67, 68.
26 Frank Viola and George Barna, Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices, p. 179.
27 Ray C. Stedman, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Ray Stedman Expository Studies, 2010, vs. 2:10-12. “http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rsc/view.cgi?bk=51&ch=2.
28 Elias, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Believers Church Bible Commentary, p. 73.
29 Rabi Hayim Halevy Donin, To Be A Jew, A Guide to Jewish Observance In Contemporary Life (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1972), p. 163.
30 Mike Huckaby, A Simple Government (NY: Penguin Group, 2011), p. 15.
“According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, about one in three American kids lives in a home without a dad on the premises….fatherless families affect all of us and our descendants. The so-called dad deficit added more than $300 billion to the national deficit in 2010 because of welfare payments to moms.”
31 Albert Hilbert, Smith Wigglesworth, The Secret of His Power (Tulsa OK: Harrison House, 1982), pp. 30-31.
32 Godbey, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, William Godbey’s Commentary on the New Testament, v. 2:13.
33 Utley, Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians, v. 2:13.
34 Frederick Brotherton Meyer, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, F. B. Meyer’s “Through the Bible” Commentary, 1914, vs. 2:13-20. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbm/view.cgi?bk=51&ch=2.
35 Adam Clarke, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, The Adam Clarke Commentary, 1832, vs. 2:14. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/view.cgi?bk=51&ch=2.
“It was according to them, not the Church at Rome, that the Asiatic Churches were modelled. The purest of all the apostolic Churches was that of the Thessalonians, and this was formed after the Christian Churches in Judea.”
Elias adds: “This seems to be a deliberate attempt to underline the spiritual bond which unites the messianic Jews in Judea with the largely Gentile Christian community in Thessalonica” (Elias pp. 85-86).
36 Jim Gerrish, Does God Play Favorites? God’s Unique Relationship With Israel (Minneapolis: Cornerstone Publishing, 2000, 2003), pp. 181-82.
37 Ibid., p. 183.
38 Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (NY: Harper & Roe, 1987), p. 112.
The historian Everett Ferguson adds to this: “As many as two-thirds of the Jews in the first century were living outside Palestine…Estimates of the total numbers of Jews are little more than guesses and range from three to eight million, but even minimum estimates put the number of Jews at about 7 percent of the population of the Roman Empire. Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987, 1993), p. 403.
39 Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 84.
40 Ibid., p. 189.
41 Barker & Kohlenberger, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, V. 2, p. 854.
42 Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 57.
43 Coffman, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament, v. 2:17.
44 Elias, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Believers Church Bible Commentary, p.102.
45 Guzik, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, David Guzik Commentaries on the Bible, 2:17-20)
46 Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory of the Whole Bible, v. 18.
47 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 67.
48 Elias, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Believers Church Bible Commentary, p. 107.
49 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 68.
50 Clarke, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, The Adam Clarke Commentary, v. 2:20.
1 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 69.
3 Coffman, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament, v. 3:1.
4 Utley, Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians, v. 3:2.
5 Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, pp. 64-65.
6 Guzik, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, David Guzik Commentaries on the Bible, 3:1-13.
7 Gorday, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary of Scripture, IX, p. 74.
8 Charles F. Pfeiffer & Everett F. Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), p.1352.
9 Trapp, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, John Trapp Complete Commentary, v. 3:3.
10 Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 103.
11 Pfeiffer & Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1352.
12 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 74.
13 Utley, Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians, v. 3:5.
14 Barnes, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, v. 3:5.
15 Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 66.
16 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 72.
17 Ibid., p. 73, citing Lightfoot.
18 Quoted in Guzik, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, David Guzik Commentaries on the Bible, vs. 3:7-9.
19 Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 101.
20 Kretzmann, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Kretzmann’s Popular Commentary, 3:9-13.
Morris adds: “By human standards what has happened was a tribute to the work Paul had done…they had come through with flying colors…But Paul realized that what had happened was due to the divine power in the believers…” (Morris p. 74)
21 Barnes, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, v. 3:10.
22 Robertson, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament, v. 3:10.
23 Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, NT, p. 716.
24 Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 121.
25 Utley, Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians, v. 3:11.
26 Kretzmann, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Kretzmann’s Popular Commentary, 3:1-13.
27 BFM Fribrg-Robinson-Pierpont Greek NT Morphology (Bible Works).
28 Gorday, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary of Scripture, IX, p. 77.
29 Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p. 196.
30 Elias, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Believers Church Bible Commentary, p. 128.
31 Pett, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible, vs. 3:13.
32 Pfeiffer & Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1353.
1 Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 75.
2 Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, NT, p. 717.
3 Elias, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Believers Church Bible Commentary, p. 133.
4 Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 125.
5 Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 81.
6 Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p. 199.
7 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 80.
8 Natasha Vargas-Cooper, The Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2011, pp. 97-99.
9 Michael Reagan with Jim Denney, Twice Adopted (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2004), p. 210.
Also note: 40 percent of clergy have acknowledged visiting sexually explicit websites according to a 2000 survey conducted by Christianity Today and Leadership magazines. Newsweek, Apr. 12, 2004, p. 52.
10 Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 76.
11 Ibid., p. 82.
12 Ibid., pp.82-83.
13 Ibid., p. 83.
14 Stedman, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Ray Stedman Expository Studies, vs. 4:1-8.
15 Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 85.
17 Guzik, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, David Guzik Commentaries on the Bible,4:3-.
18 Gorday, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary of Scripture, IX, p. 81.
19 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 82.
20 Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 86.
21 Star Parker, Uncle Sam’s Plantation (Nashville: WND Books, 2003), p. 108.
22 Pfeiffer & Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1354.
23 Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, NT, p. 719.
24 Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 136.
25 Kretzmann, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Kretzmann’s Popular Commentary, 4:9-12.
26 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 86.
27 Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, NT, p. 719.
28 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 87.
29 Ibid., p. 88.
30 Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p. 203.
31 Quoted in Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 88.
32 Utley, Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians, v. 4:13.
33 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 87.
34 Utley, Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians, v. 4:13.
35 Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers V1 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956), p. 506.
36 Roberts & Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers V5, p. 213.
37 Roberts & Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, V1, p. 180.
38 Ibid., p. 253.
39Utley, Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians, v. 4:14.
40 Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 150.
41 Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 99.
42 Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory of the Whole
Bible, v. 4:15.
43 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 91.
Jamieson, Fausset & Brown add: “Greek – ‘signal shout,’ ‘war shout.’ Jesus is represented as a victorious King, giving the word of command to the hosts of heaven in his train for the last onslaught, at his final triumph over sin, death, and Satan (Rev. 19:11-21)…. the trumpet blast which usually accompanies God‘s manifestation in glory” (Exo. 19:16; Psa. 47:5)….” (Jamieson, Faussett & Brown, v. 4:16).
44 Gorday, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary of Scripture, IX, p. 89.
45 Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, NT, p. 721.
47 Pfeiffer & Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1355.
48 Utley, Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians, v. 4:16.
49 Calvin, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible, v. 4:16.
50 Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, NT, p. 721.
51 Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 102.
52 Ibid., p. 103.
53 Utley, Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians, v. 4:17.
“‘Caught up’ Our theological concept of ‘rapture’ originates from this verb. ‘Rapture’ is a Latin rendering of the Greek verb here (harpazō – future passive indicative), which implies a forceful ‘snatching away’ (cf. Jn. 6:15; 10:12, 28-29). This event is also mentioned in 1 Cor. 15:51-52.” (Utley, v. 4:17).
54 Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory of the Whole Bible, v. 4:17.
55 Pfeiffer & Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1356.
56 Elias, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Believers Church Bible Commentary, p. 179.
57 Gorday, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary of Scripture, IX, p. 90.
Chrysostom: “For when a king drives into a city, those who are in honor go out to meet him; But the condemned await the judge within.”
58 Note: “[to meet] This is the Greek word apantēsis, which is used in the sense of meeting someone and then accompanying them (cf. Matt. 25:6; Acts 28:15). So believers meet the Lord and return to a recreated earth with Him!… heaven is depicted as a restored Garden of Eden (cf. Genesis 1-2 compared with Revelation 21-22).” (Utley v. 4:17).
Guzik clarifies: “The pre-tribulation rapture position believes believers are caught up before this final seven-year period…The mid-tribulation rapture position believes believers are caught up in the midst of this final seven-year period…The pre-wrath rapture position believes believers are caught up at some time in the second half of this final seven-year period. The post-tribulation rapture position believes believers are caught up at the end of this final seven-year period. (Guzik v. 4:17).
59 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 91.
60Barnes, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, v. 4:18.
61 Elias, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Believers Church Bible Commentary, p. 189.
62 Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 154.
1 Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 108.
2 Note: A short listing of the Day of the Lord Scriptures follows: Isa. 2:11-12; 13:6-13;
Ezek. 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:32; 3:18; Amos 5:18-20; Obad. 15-17; Zeph. 1:7-18; 2:2-3;
Zech. 14:1, 13; 14:20-21; Mal. 4:1, 4:5.
3 Stedman, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Ray Stedman Expository Studies, vs. 5:1-11.
4 Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, NT, p. 723.
5 Pfeiffer & Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1356.
6 Quoted in Coffman, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament, v. 5:4.
7 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 95.
8 Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, NT, p. 725.
10 Gorday, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary of Scripture, IX, p. 94.
11 Quoted in Coffman, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament, v. 5:7.
12 Utley, Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians, v. 5:8.
13 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, pp. 97-98.
14 Pett, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible, v. 5:9.
15 Barker & Kohlenberger, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, V. 2, p. 867.
16 William Barclay, More New Testament Words (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1958), p. 135.
17 Frank Viola and George Barna, Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices, p. 176, 179.
“In the third century, Cyprian of Carthage was the first Christian writer to mention the practice of financially supporting the clergy…but it did not become widespread among Christians until the eighth century.” (p. 176).
“As far as clergy salaries go, ministers were unsalaried for the first three centuries.”
18 Strong’s Concordance, number 3609a (oida).
19 Robertson, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament, v. 5:12.
20 Pett, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible, v. 5:12.
21 Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 119.
22 Robertson, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament, v. 5:12.
23 Stedman, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Ray Stedman Expository Studies, vs. 5:12-28.
24 Guzik, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, David Guzik Commentaries on the Bible, citing Morris, vs. 5:12-13.
25 Cited in Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, NT, p. 726.
26 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 101.
27 Barnes, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, 5:14.
28 Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, NT, p. 727.
29 Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 180.
30 Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, NT, p. 727.
31 Godbey, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, William Godbey’s Commentary on the New Testament, v. 5:14.
32 William Barclay, A New Testament Wordbook (London: SCM Press, 1959), p. 83.
33 Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 181.
34 Barker & Kohlenberger, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, V. 2, p. 869.
35 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 103.
36 Gorday, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary of Scripture, IX, p. 97.
37 Dean L. Overman, A Case For The Existence of God (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2009), p. 99.
38 ABC News, July 31, 2007.
39 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 104.
40 Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, NT, p. 728.
41 Quoted in Guzik, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, David Guzik Commentaries on the Bible, pp. 5:16-18.
42 Coffman, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament, v. 5:19.
43 Robertson, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament, v. 5:21.
44 Trapp, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, John Trapp Complete Commentary, v. 5:22.
45 Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 204.
Guzik adds here: “May your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless: Paul’s use of spirit, soul, and body in this passage has led many to adopt what is called a trichotimist view of man, believing that man is made up of three distinct parts: spirit, soul, and body…This view has some merit, but also has problems. One might say that Mark 12:30 divides man’s nature into four parts (heart, soul, mind, and strength), and that 1 Corinthians 7:34 divides man’s nature into two parts (body and spirit).” (Guzik, vs. 5:23-24).
46 Ibid., p. 208.
47 Utley, Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians, v. 5:25.
48 Roberts & Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1, p. 185.
49 Roberts & Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 2, p. 291.
50 Morris, 1 And 2 Thessalonians, p. 110.
51 Barker & Kohlenberger, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, V. 2, p. 872.
52 Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 135.