1 Thessalonians: A Look Back at Matthew 24, Part 1

1-thessaloniansAs we sort through the apocalyptic language of 1 & 2 Thess, inevitably, we’ll need to address the question of when the Parousia (coming) of Jesus has occurred/will occur.

Those of us raised in the Churches of Christ are generally very poorly equipped to read this sort of language, largely because we’re a denomination that has chosen to deal with the Revelation by ignoring nearly all of it and to deal with the OT prophets by ignoring them, too.

Now, as bad as that is — and it’s bad — it’s not nearly as bad as some of the extreme interpretations of the Revelation that are popular, such as the Left Behind point of view and Preterism. By “Preterism” I mean the view that the entirety of the Revelation was fulfilled when Jerusalem was defeated and the Temple destroyed by the Roman armies under their general Titus.

On the other hand, it’s a fact that some passages in the NT look ahead to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. Jesus prophesied this event and it’s obviously hugely important even though not recorded in the NT. I mean, when God had the Babylonians destroy the Temple centuries earlier, that destruction was clear evidence of God’s unhappiness with the Jews — and they understood it that way. And when God allowed the Romans to destroy the Temple yet again, the Jews saw a similar judgment — but most continued to reject Jesus as Messiah.

So it’s important to avoid either of two extremes — that everything prophesied in the NT happens thousands of years in the future (at the Second Coming) or that everything prophesied in the NT happened in the First Century (with the destruction of Jerusalem being a “coming” of Jesus in judgment). In fact, I believe the scriptures speak both to the destruction of Jerusalem (as a “coming” of Jesus in judgment, even) and of the Second Coming. Continue reading

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1 Thessalonians: 3:8-13

1-thessaloniansPaul continues to express his concerns for the church —

(1 Thess. 3:8-13 ESV)  8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.  9 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God,  10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?  11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you,  12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,  13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.  

V. 8 is a little perplexing. What does he mean by “For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord”? It has to be something like “the news of your faith is the very breath of life to us.” Continue reading

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1 Thessalonians: 3:1-7

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So we’ve made it all the way to chapter 3, and Paul hasn’t yet gotten to the “good stuff.” That is, he’s not yet doing theology or talking about the rules we must live by. Rather, he remains focused on the relational stuff — his relationship with the people of that church.

Indeed, far more so than we find in Paul’s other epistles, Paul seems to see the salvation of the Thessalonian church as very closely tied to their perceptions of him.

And in the mission field, this is hardly surprising. The believers at Thessalonica did not inherit their faith from the parents. Their culture certainly didn’t point them toward Jesus. They were persuaded out of paganism by Paul and by the power of the gospel. It was very personal indeed. Continue reading

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U2: Grace

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1 Thessalonians: 2:17-20

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The next few verses fascinate me —

(1 Thess. 2:17-18 ESV) 17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you — I, Paul, again and again– but Satan hindered us. 

Paul apologizes, in effect, for not being able to return in person to Thessaloniki to meet face to face. Cryptically, he says that “Satan hindered us.” His language is very strong: “I, Paul” — nearly an oath affirming the truth of the matter. “Again and again.” Paul repeatedly tried to return but was hindered by Satan each time.

“Hindered” is a military term used when an enemy tears up a road to prevent travel. We might translate “Satan detained us” or “Satan interdicted us” (I know, too obscure) or “Satan did to us what Sherman did to the Confederacy.” (Around here, this would be very clear. Maybe not up North.) Continue reading

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1 Thessalonians: Chapter 2:13-16

1-thessalonians2:13

(1 Thess. 2:13 ESV)  13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

Notice how Paul uses “word of God.” It obviously can’t mean “New Testament,” in that       1 Thes is either the first or second book written of the NT. Nor does it mean “Bible,” because Paul isn’t speaking of the OT; he’s speaking of the gospel.

This “word of God” has the power to work within believers. Well, believers believe the gospel and non-believers do not.

Let’s go back to —

(1 Thess. 1:4-8 ESV)  4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,  5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.  6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,  7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.  8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.

You can’t help but notice the parallels between “gospel” and “word.” These thing produce faith and believers. Continue reading

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1 Thessalonians: Chapter 2:1-12

1-thessaloniansPaul now shifts to remind his readers about the founding of their church.

(1 Thess. 2:1-2 ESV) For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.

Paul’s missionary trip to Philippi is recounted in Acts 16. It was there that he and Silas were imprisoned and ultimately converted the Philippian jailer.

Chapter 17 recounts the founding of the church in Thessalonika —

(Acts 17:1-10 ESV) Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.  2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,  3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”  4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.  

5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd.  6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also,  7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”  8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things.  9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.  10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.

The accusation that Paul and Silas taught “that there is another king, Jesus” was likely accurate enough, even though they did not teach rebellion against the Caesar.

It’s interesting that so much opposition arose from among the Jews. It’s not entirely obvious why the Jews would have been jealous of Paul (or Jesus) as neither would have urged the closure of the synagogue. The Jews had been praying for a Messiah for centuries. Why did Jesus so upset them? Continue reading

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