Before I share my thoughts on First and Second Thessalonians, I want to apologize for the extended break I took writing posts over the holidays. Now that we are going again, I’m excited to wrap up my summaries of the books of the Bible over the next few months. Here are some of my thoughts on Paul’s two letters to the church in Thessalonica.
Based on what Luke recorded about Thessalonica (see Acts 17), we know there were very few Jews in the city who wanted anything to do with Paul or his gospel. However, he was able to make some headway with “a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.” But when Paul started gaining this small following, the Jewish leadership became jealous.
The Jews stirred up a mob, broke into a Christian home, and had a few Christians arrested. Eventually, Paul had to slip out of town at night, but some of the trouble-making Jews from Thessalonica hunted Paul down in the next town to make trouble for him there as well.
It broke Paul’s heart that he was “torn away” from the small Christian community in Thessalonica before he could really help them reach a state of maturity. He was understandably terrified that the persecution they continued to suffer would cause this little band of Jesus followers to lose heart and fall away. But when Paul’s protege Timothy went back to Thessalonica to check on and continue teaching them, it was discovered they were maintaining their loyalty to Jesus in spite of the persecution.
One of the themes I noticed in both first and second Thessalonians is the theme of sanctification. Paul wrote that it was God’s will for them to be sanctified. Or, in other words, God wanted them to go through a process of being made holy.
In order to be sanctified, Paul gave instructions to “abstain from sexual immorality.” Before coming to Christ, most of these Gentile Christians had engaged in pagan worship rituals and lived lives reflecting the ethics and morals of the Greco-Roman culture. So, adopting the sexual ethic taught in the Hebrew Scriptures would have been quite a shift for many. Paul encouraged them, saying God wanted each of them to “know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”
Paul wrote that it was the presence of the Holy Spirit within them who was causing them to be sanctified. Which is why Paul prayed for God to sanctify them “completely,” so their “whole spirit and soul and body” would “be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I wonder, how often do we pray for the complete sanctifying work of the Spirit in our lives?
It is interesting, as I’ve noted before, that the Bible doesn’t really talk a lot about Christians going to heaven. Yes, of course, there are a handful of passages that (thankfully) tell us our spirits will be perfectly safe with the Lord when our bodies sleep in the grave, but that blissful disembodied state is only temporary.
The primary hope of the First-Century church, as reflected in both First and Second Thessalonians, is the second coming of King Jesus. When Jesus returns, he will raise those who are “asleep” from the grave and there will be a great reunion with all of his people, both the living and the dead. Paul pictures a scene that is perhaps reminiscent of “Palm Sunday,” when the crowds met Jesus on the road outside Jerusalem, laid down palm branches, and shouted “Hosanna in the highest!” Similarly, when King Jesus is “revealed from heaven,” all of Jesus’ followers will somehow meet him in the air to worship him and celebrate his return.
King Jesus’ return will mark the end of all evil, violence, oppression, poverty, war, and persecution. There will be no more suffering and no more dying. All of Jesus’ enemies will be forever vanquished and his people will be set free from their suffering. On that day, all of the promises of the Scriptures shall be finally and completely be fulfilled in Jesus. Because of his reign, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them…for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6, 9).
As Christians wait for the return of King Jesus, we must understand we are “destined” to “suffer affliction.” In the First Century, as well as today, the meek suffer ridicule and persecution. In these two letters alone, Christians are called to:
- Be at peace
- Repay no one evil for evil
- Always seek to do good to EVERYONE
- Abstain from every form of evil
This Jesus-like lifestyle will appeal to some; they will find the radical love of Jesus followers irresistible. But this lifestyle will also intimidate and infuriate others. As in earlier days, people will assume we are traitors or conspirators because we love our enemies and refuse to do evil even to those who do evil to us and others. People will hurl insults at us, question our allegiance, and wonder if we can be trusted.
But our loyalty and allegiance are to our King and to his kingdom. We know that any “light momentary affliction” we must endure will prepare “for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). So we seek to live a “peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2), as we wait for King Jesus to return and set all things right.
I love you and God loves you,