BRIEF RECAP: In our previous study, Paul had made it very clear to his readers what the outcome of the Lord’s return would be: the wicked will be judged and suffer the penalty of eternal destruction, the saints will be glorified. Paul did not give the Lord’s return an exact time because he didn’t know when it would happen. Only “the Father knows” when it will be (Matthew 24:36).
2 “Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, regarding the [a]coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you not be quickly shaken from your [b]composure or be disturbed either by a spirit, or a [c]message, or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 No one is to deceive you in any way! For it will not come unless the [d]apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above [e]every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.”
FOCUS ONE: It appears from how Paul begins this next part of his letter that some people were predicting the timing of the Lord’s return, and quite possibly even stating that the coming of the Lord for His saints, including those who have died up to this point, what Paul was explaining back in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, had already taken place. That caused many to be disturbed, confused and conflicted with what Paul had previously taught them with what they were presently experiencing.
In his first letter to this church, he explained how the day of the Lord would come like a “thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). With these messages and/or letters (v. 2) saying that the day of the Lord had come, and their thinking back to what Paul had previously taught them, confusion and panic arose. These false teachings stated that they were experiencing the judgments of the day of the Lord, otherwise known as the Great Tribulation judgments! “But if this were true, how could Paul’s previous instruction that they would be caught up and escape the wrath of God coming on earth be true (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)? Paul now writes what we are reading to straighten out the matter.” (1)
Paul’s exhortation for them to remain calm is affectionate (brothers) and respectful (we ask). Paul is concerned they might be easily unsettled regarding the false teaching and wants them to remain calm.
5 “Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? 6 And you know what restrains him now, so that he will be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only [f]He who now restrains will do so until [g]He is [h]removed.”
FOCUS TWO: The Thessalonians seemed to have the same problem that you and I are prone to have, i.e., short-term memory issues! In writing these following verses, he points out that he had told them these things before while he was with them (v.5). So, by way of reminder and for their encouragement, Paul brings to light the deception propagated among them (v.3).
The day of the Lord, Paul says, will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed (v. 3). What is this apostasy that is coming, and who is this man of lawlessness that will one day be exposed to the world? They are vital for us to understand because these are two significant developments leading up to the coming of the Lord.
Apostasy (Apostasia in Greek) means rebellion or the falling away. “It can mean either a political revolt or a religious rebellion, or a combination of the two. In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) the word is used for rebellion against God (cf. Joshua 22:22; Jeremiah 2:19), and that is apparently the meaning here.” (2)
Some revolt or “departing” from Christ must take place. It seems clear that this departure from the faith and its subsequent rebellion against Christ will occur in the professing church. “It will be a departure from the truth that God has revealed in His Word” (1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-5).
Connected closely to this falling away is the arrival or uprising of the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction (v. 3-4). Paul says that he will “oppose every so-called God or object of worship and even “display himself as being God (cf. Daniel 8:11-14; 11:36-37). The descriptive name “son of destruction” reveals to Paul’s readers this person’s destiny-destruction!
Paul states that something is restraining him until the proper time for him to be revealed (v. 6). That statement shows two things:
1. He cannot be revealed until God says so!
2. Apparently, they knew something about this restraining influence that we do not. Something taught by Paul when he was with them.
Suggestions propagated for the identification of the restraining power.
1. The state with its law and order- Paul respected the state (Romans 13).
2. The preaching of the gospel as a restraint to evil. That than could be Paul or other gospel preachers (grace being extended, even now)!
3. The Holy Spirit
Even though we may not be able to claim one or the other, one thing is true: God controls the future! He is in control of human history and is working all things out according to His sovereign will.
Paul had taught the Thessalonians about these things when he was with them, as I mentioned before, but they didn’t remember that these things would take place before Christ returns.
8 “Then that lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will eliminate with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His [i]coming; 9 that is, the one whose [j]coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and false [k]signs and wonders, 10 and with [l]all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not accept the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God [m]will send upon them [n]a deluding influence so that they will believe [o]what is false, 12 in order that they all may be [p]judged who did not believe the truth, but [q]took pleasure in wickedness.”
FOCUS THREE: In these last verses (8-12), Paul mentions two distinct people: the lawless one and the Lord, and one grouping of people, those who perish. Let’s begin with the lawless one. Paul says that his coming is in accord “with the activity of Satan.” Even though evil is restrained, Paul does recognize that to some degree, this lawlessness is “already” at work. Keep in mind that Paul’s already is the time of his writing (v.7)! This “mystery” of lawlessness is a satanic counterpart to the mystery of the gospel. “Implied may also be the notion that unless God opens our eyes we do not see evil for what it really is.” (1) When God’s appointed time arrives, this last restraint will be removed, and the lawless one will be seen for what he truly is.
His power will be displayed with counterfeit miracles and pseudo signs, and these things will deceive those who are perishing—this grouping of people I mentioned earlier (v. 10). Revelation 13:13 say’s that he will persuade people to worship the beast. The sad fact is that those who lack spiritual discernment will fall full-bore into his deceptive schemes and suffer the terrible fate of eternal destruction.
But, there is another personage to mention here, the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 8)! Our Lord, Himself, will destroy this evil one with the “breath of His mouth” (v. 8). This language is similar to that used in Isaiah 11:4 and Revelation 19. The Antichrist will totally and unequivocally be destroyed at the appearance of His coming!
For further thought:
1. In what other ways can we be deceived? 1 John 4:1; Colossians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Can you find more?
2. In verse five, Paul seeks to remind the Thessalonians of things he previously told them. What do these verses remind us to do? Deuteronomy 6:12; Psalm 143:5. Why do we, at least in part, partake of communion ( 1 Corinthians 11:24)?
3. What do these verses urge us to do or not do regarding the possibility of apostasy in our own lives? Hebrews 3:12; 2 Peter 3:17; 2 Timothy 3:1-9.
4. What do these verses teach us about the Second coming of Christ? Revelation 1:7; John 14:3; Matthew 24:30; Acts 1:11.
BRIEF RECAP: Inthe past few weeks, we have been meditating on Paul’s second half of this letter to this young church. In the first part, the Apostle reflected on his time with them when He was there in person. And on how the gospel came to them, their reception of it, and their spiritual growth. His purpose, at least in part, was to strengthen this young church with the encouragement of the Lord’s return.
In the second half of this letter (Chapters 4-5), Paul has been looking ahead and reminding them of their calling and conduct as they move forward. In these scriptures, he has been giving them directions for their spiritual growth in light of the coming day of the Lord!
Paul’s desire throughout this letter has been to encourage and direct these young believers who are spiritually growing to excel still more (4:2,10). Paul’s concern is for them to be “entirely” or completely sanctified, so it fits, at this point, for him to express a prayer for them regarding their sanctification as he concludes his writing (vv.23,24).
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
FOCUS ONE: These folks experienced the “peace of God” at their conversion amid some severe tribulation (1:6). They enjoyed peace with one another at the time of Paul’s writing (1:3; 1:4-10; 3:6; 4:9-10). So, Paul naturally petitions the “God of peace,” who alone can provide them with peace for their future, to accomplish His work of “entire” sanctification.
Please be aware at this point that Paul understands that experiential sanctification is a process that begins at salvation and ends, or is completed, only when “the Perfect comes” (1 Corinthians 13:10), when we see Him as He is (1 John 3:2)!
Now, to accentuate his desire of complete blamelessness before the Lord at His coming, Paul uses three different words: spirit, soul, and body, and that they “would be preserved complete.” The Apostle is emphasizing the totality of man, much like he did in chapter three (v.13), where he used the word “hearts” (the very person, the psychological core). In other words, the part of us that makes us persons!
When Christ returns, this process will be complete, but until then, believers rely on God to protect, empower, and equip them to live lives that are representative of His holy character. To live lives that would find no grounds for legitimate accusations against them from others.
“Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will do it.”
FOCUS TWO: Dear Christian reading this post today, we too, like them, can live our lives with the confidence that God is achieving this work in our hearts and will present us blameless at His coming (Philippians 1:6; 5:24b)! Why? Because He is faithful! (1 Corinthians 1:8,9). “Who also will confirm you to the end, blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This very truth should give you “peace” in your walk of faith, dear Christian. Grace and peace come from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:3). His peace is:
And will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus as we wait for His return!
Read again verse 24b: “He will bring it to pass.”
Dear Christian, let us learn from Paul and his desire for these young believers. As Christians, let us live our lives as people who are awake and not asleep, sober-minded and not carnally minded. Let us live our lives with a constant expectation of His return and therefore live our lives forsaking sin and fleeing temptations to sin.
As Christ-followers, we are to be ready for His return, not people who will be caught unaware or off guard, living in worldly pleasure with false security. Such people, the Bible says, will experience sudden destruction with no escape. BUT Christian, “God has not appointed you for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:9-10).
1. What do these verses teach us about God’s calling? (John 6:44; Romans 8:28; Ephesians 2:1-10; Romans 11:29)? Can you find others?
2. What do these verses teach us regarding how we conduct ourselves while we wait for the Lord’s return (John 14:15; 1 Peter 1:15; Romans 12:9-21)? Can you find others?
3. Are you experiencing peace in your life? What hinders you from living in God’s peace? How do these scriptures comfort and encourage us regarding God’s peace? (2 Thessalonians 3:16; Isaiah 26:3; Philippians 4:6; Psalm 4:8) Can you add a few others?
4. Are you living in such a way that others can see you are living your life in expectation of your saviors’ return (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)?
Sorry for no scripture links in Further Thoughts area. For some reason I can’t add any and need to figure it out. Thanks.
Brief Intro: Moving forward in our study of these two letters by Paul to the Thessalonians, we find topics of a prophetic nature. We noticed how Paul mentions the second coming at the end of every chapter, but now he will speak more directly about it in greater length and with much more depth.
These are topics in which many mature, godly people of faith disagree. They do not differ with Paul’s main point, The second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but they disagree about the timing of His return. Is He coming:
Before the tribulation, in the middle, or after it?
Is His coming going to be in two phases or one – Pretribulation or Post tribulation?
These are not issues that should divide us as believers. Instead, in love for one another, let us recognize that no one system of theology has all the answers to these essential questions. So, my focus in this study will be, as best I can, to hold tightly to Paul’s motives for writing these words, i.e., to comfort and encourage these believers regarding the misunderstanding they have about the resurrection of the saints.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: “13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who [a]are asleep, so that you will not grieve as indeed the rest of mankind do, who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead, so also God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep [b]through Jesus. 15 For we say this to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive [c]and remain until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a [d]shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who remain, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore, [e]comfort one another with these words.”
FOCUS ONE: “But we do not want you to uniformed.” Paul begins a new topic with these words. He received information regarding a misunderstanding these young Christians had about those who have died “in Christ” and their outcome. Did the living believers have an advantage over the dead? Would those that have died already waiting for Christ’s return miss the resurrection or not be a part of it? This young church certainly seems to have believed in an imminent (in their lifetime) return of Christ. With that understanding and Christians dying around them amid the persecution they were enduring, even their loved ones, such thoughts were grievous to their souls. So, Paul writes to give them more information on the resurrection, and along with that, provide them with some comfort.
Paul begins instructing them about what will happen to those who died in Christ and those who remain alive until His coming (v.14). (1) “Since their grief was based on ignorance, Paul comforted them by giving them knowledge.” Since their main concern was regarding those “who are asleep” (dead), he addresses that question first. Paul says that since (for) “we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so (or, then it surely follows), that God will bring with Him those who sleep in Christ” (v. 14). Paul uses the term “dead in Christ” in verse 16. Both expressions refer to the same group of people.
The power, authority, and ability given to Christ to accomplish the saints’ resurrection are anchored to the fact that the Father accepted His sacrifice, raised Him from the grave, and seated Him at His right hand (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 12:2). (2) “God will treat those who died trusting in Jesus in the same way He treated Jesus Himself, namely by resurrecting them.” At least in this passage, that link is found in the use of the phrase even so after speaking about Christ’s death and resurrection (v.14)!
Paul makes a direct statement about the “order” of this event (v.15), and then he fleshes it out more in the following two verses:
The Lord will descend from heaven with a shout.
There will be a voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God.
The dead “in Christ” rise first,
Then those who are alive will be caught up together with them, in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and then shall forever be with the Lord.
Again, it is not the purpose of this study to delve into what all of this means concerning the timing of these events. But we see in this explanation from Paul how they would be comforted by understanding that their friends and loved ones, who died in Jesus Christ, would not miss the coming of their savior! The living saints would not take precedence over dead saints or gain some advantage over them, according to Paul, who the Holy Spirit led to write these words (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Verse 18 reveals Paul’s goal in giving them further teaching on the coming of the Lord. “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” Paul’s primary purpose in writing these things is not to teach some mode or structure of eschatological theology but to provide comfort to Christians whose friends and loved ones have died waiting for what they thought would be the return of Christ in their lifetime. Waiting amid harsh opposition and persecution.
5 Now as to the periods and [a]times, brothers and sisters, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord is coming just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction [b]will come upon them like labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, so that the day would overtake you [c]like a thief; 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6 so then, let’s not sleep as [d]others do, but let’s be alert and [e]sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who are drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we are of the day, let’s be [f]sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. 11 Therefore, [g]encourage one another and build one another up, just as you also are doing.
FOCUS TWO: Paul’s focus in these verses is on the “times an epochs” or period in which His coming, at least the general sense of it, will play out. Notice that he does not predict a specific time for this event. Indeed, he is mindful of what Christ Himself had said to His disciples in Matthew 24:36 and Acts 1:7 and therefore seeks to urge these believers to live prepared lives, living daily in light of Christ’s soon return (vv.6-8). Jesus Himself taught these things (Matthew 25:1-13).
Paul is clear that “the day of the Lord” will be a time of destruction with no escape (v. 3). That the people of that day will be deceived into thinking that all is well, they will say “peace and safety” when seemingly out of nowhere judgment befalls them.
But Paul wants to encourage them, so he reminds them of a critical difference between those who trust in Christ and those who do not, and that is this: believers are NOT in darkness; they are aware such days are coming. They are “sons of light and sons of day,” so not apart of the night around them! And as such, they should not be overtaken by that day’s arrival (v. 4).
So, because of these differences, bestowed upon us through Christ, Paul encourages the Thessalonians to be sober or self-controlled. (3) “Standing on the threshold of an event that will mean sudden translation for some and sudden destruction for others, Christians should arm themselves for action with self-control.” Paul uses metaphoric language in exhorting these believers to put on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet the hope of salvation (v. 8). A Roman soldier’s breastplate covered him from his neck to his waist, protecting his vital organs. This is what faith and love do for the Christian: Faith in God protects inwardly, and love for others protects outwardly.
The “hope of salvation” guards a Christian mind against the evil one’s attacks (cr. Ephesians 6:10-18). The salvation that believers long for and look forward to is our only hope of deliverance from the wrath to come! And how sweet it is that Paul included the words they would have read in verse nine, and by God’s grace, us today. These words would have lifted their spirits and put a fresh kick in their step, so to speak, and they ought to do the same for us. Our God’s intention for those He redeems IS NOT the wrath that will come upon the earth in the day of the Lord, but IT IS complete salvation that will be theirs and ours when the Lord returns for us in the clouds. “And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (4:17).
These great truths are a source of encouragement and comfort to us as we face opposition and persecution for our faith in Christ (v. 11). These faithful and true words need to be continuously repeated. Contrary to our current culture, Christians do not always have to be looking for the next “new thing,” but we need to remind ourselves constantly about what we already know!
If you are interested in a deeper study about the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, I recommend a book written by Robert P. Lightner titled: The Last Days Handbook—a complete guide to understanding the different views of prophecy. Who believes what about prophecy and why. I included the link below.
(1) John MacArthur
(2) The New Century Bible commentary
(3) Thomas Constable Commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians
4 “Finally then, brothers and sisters, we request and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received instruction from us as to how you ought to [a]walk and please God (just as you actually do [b]walk), that you excel even more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you [c]by the authority of the Lord Jesus.”
Brief intro: Paul has come to a place in his writing where he is no longer “looking back” and expressing his personal reflections on his first missionary endeavor with them. He is now going to begin “looking forward” by giving these believers practical instructions and exhortations as to what is proper behavior in light of the commandments he gave them by the authority of the Lord Jesus (v.2). Paul gives them three aspects of Christian living that are pleasing to God. We are only going to be looking at two of them in this study: Their/our general conduct as believers (1-2) and sexual purity as a part of their/our sanctification (3-8).
FOCUS ONE: This chapter begins with the words “finally then.” Those words lead us to believe that Paul is coming to a close in his writing. That will eventually happen, but not here. Paul still has a few things that he would like to share with these believers that will instruct and equip them as they move forward in their faith. Paul uses that word here to introduce his final section of the letter, one that moves from their present condition to their future progress in developing holy character.
The word “brethren” as Paul is using it here does not mean “biological” siblings as it is used elsewhere (Matthew 1:2), but rather members of the same Christian community (John 21:23; Acts 9:30). He begins by “requesting” and “exhorting” these people to continue pursuing obedience to the word of God. Requesting something of someone is a gentle, more friendly way of asking someone to do something. Exhorting someone is by far a more authoritative manner in making a plea. Paul’s exhorting has such an authoritative tone to it because it includes the words “through the Lord Jesus” (vs. 2). So, I think we can surmise from this that his urging is a bit more than a request, but less than a command!
It is interesting that Paul is not intending to instruct them to behave differently, but to “excel still more” in doing what they are already doing (1:3,6,7,10; 2:14; 3;6; 4:1,9-10). One reason Paul probably added the words “through the Lord Jesus” to his appeal is because he knows that such an endeavor would never be successful without divine help.
3 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to [a]possess his own [b]vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in [c]lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God;”
FOCUS TWO: Have you ever wondered what God’s will is for you Christian? Paul very directly tells these believers that it is God’s will for them, and naturally for any believer, to “abstain” from any sexual sin. In our new lives as redeemed, forgiven, and justified children of God we are to refrain from sexual sin in any form whether that be heterosexual or homosexual. We are to “Cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
These Thessalonians lived in a pagan environment. Sexual frivolity was rampant. Fornication (porneia – The Greek word used) was practiced openly and people were encouraged to do so. Prostitution was considered a priestly duty and, crazy enough, extra-marital sex was viewed at times as an act of worship. No wonder Paul is concerned about this young church. Even though he rejoices in their spiritual progress so far, he knows that doesn’t mean that they didn’t sometimes fall into sin. These people grew up in a culture where God and His standards didn’t exist. But one day a man named Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, arrives and tells them about their creator and what He has done for them in the person of His son Jesus. This message went forth in power and the Holy Spirt convicted them of their sins and brought them to a repentant faith in the finished work of Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:5, 9). They are now new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), “old things have passed away, behold new things have come.”
Now, as children of God with regenerated hearts, they are to move forward seeking to work out in their lives what has has been accomplished within their hearts (Philippians 2:12-13). Paul’s exhortation here is a personal one: “you abstain from sexual immorality;” “each of you know how to possess (control) his own vessel” (vv. 3-4). Such a work requires the exercise of self-control enabled by the Holy Spirit within them. So, Paul doesn’t just place this burden on them without giving them some guidance as to how they can affectively be obedient and gain the victory in this aspect of their lives.
You and I, contrary to modern psychology, are not the victims of our circumstances. We witness in biblical history as well as secular history, time and time again, people who overcame their present circumstances to go on and make their lives better. Unlike those who do not know the Lord as their savior and are caught up in their “lustful passions,” these Thessalonian believers as well as any believers, are not the victims of their present circumstances, sexual desire can be controlled with God’s help!
Paul doesn’t specify exactly how to control oneself and that is probably because there are several ways in which a person can accomplish this goal. One or another way may be useful to one person but not so helpful to another. So, each of us has to apply the necessary means that enable us to behave in a manner that set’s us apart from this world unto the Lord who redeemed us.
6 “and that no one violate the rights and take advantage of his brother or sister in the matter, because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you previously and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for [a]impurity, but in sanctification. 8 Therefore, the one who rejects this is not rejecting man, but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”
FOCUS THREE: In these verses Paul transitions from the personal aspect of sexual purity and is now speaking of its relationship to others. A question that comes to mind is this: what does he mean by “transgress and defraud his brother in the matter?” I believe that Paul is saying that when a person does not stay within the confines of their marital relationship, they break God’s law, violate His revealed will, and therefore rob others of the sanctity of the marriage relationship. That sense of security, intimacy, and holiness of the relationship is stolen from others (Ephesians 5:22-33; Hebrews 13:4).
The act of fornication with someone else defrauds or robs that person by taking advantage of them. In “overstepping” God’s moral laws for sexual relationships, in this case with another believer, a person will rob them of the purity and sanctity of such a relationship that is set apart for the marital relationship. One commentator notes that: “this refers to all the destructive societal and spiritual implications of illegitimate sexual activity.”
So, Paul goes on to tell them, actually “solemnly warn” them not to behave in such a way because “the Lord is the avenger in all these things” (v. 6). There are many reasons stated within these scriptures that should lead them/us to obey our Lord in this area as well as any other area of our Christian walk, such as:
Overstepping God’s appointed boundaries and taking advantage of another person sexually are violations of His holiness (vv. 3,6,8).
The nature of His calling (salvation, sanctification, and glorification – v. 3;Ephesians 1:4-14).
These standards are God given and able to be obeyed because of His Holy Spirit within the believer (v.8).
To live in such a way is called “impure” or “unclean.” Such terms should never be used of a true follower of Jesus Christ. This kind of behavior is the opposite of holiness and must be abandoned. God has called us for better things (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:5; Colossians 1:12)!
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT
Beginning in chapter four Paul begins giving some practical instructions for godly living to these believers in Thessalonica. What other instructions can you find in the New Testament that God wants you to obey? For example, Romans 12:1-2 .
How would it look in your life and how might it impact others if you “excelled still more” in your spiritual growth?
“And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come” (NASB)
The believers in Thessalonica were relatively new to the faith but the joy and zeal they shared with each other was astounding. Paul had heard of their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. . .” (Vs. 3), and he was full of joy and thankfulness at the persistent and perseverant manner in which they lived for their new found savior. These young converts become imitators of Paul, the Lord, and other churches because of the suffering they endured as followers of Jesus. They became examples to other believers around them for being steadfast in the faith and for being a faithful gospel witness to the watching world around them.
What gave them so much joy? What inspired them to persevere through suffering? What gave their hearts the courage to tell others about the “living and true God? Jesus promised that He is coming back for his beloved (John 14:1-3)! The joy and expectation that is expressed in verse 10 is expected and should be anticipated in those who have, as they have, “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God.” Idols do not necessarily need to be fashioned out of gold, wood, or any other material thing for us to be in bondage to them. We are very creative in setting up idols in our own hearts (Ezekiel 14:3).
Reflecting on these scriptures should “re-awaken” our longing for the Lord’s return. They remind us that we are to live our lives in faithful anticipation of this event. What a joy it is to read: “he delivers us from the wrath to come.”
Larry G. Stump Jr.
Prayer: Our Father, we rejoice in God our savior. We admit that we have not lived each day in light of the truth that Jesus is coming back for us and will make all things right. Help us, O Father, to live our lives from this day forward in joyful anticipation of being with our savior. Amen.
17 “But we, brothers and sisters, having been orphaned from you by absence for a [w]short while—in [x]person, not in [y]spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. 18 [z]For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, [aa]more than once—and Satan hindered us. 19 For who is our hope, or joy or crown of pride, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His [ab]coming? Or is it not indeed you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.”
Brief intro: In our last study we took notice to Paul’s second note of thankfulness for these believers (1:2; 3:13). Paul was thankful for their reception of the Word of God, receiving it as such, and enduring the sufferings that they were going through as a consequence for following Christ. We also took note of Paul’s charges against his own countrymen who sought to undermine the spread of the gospel (2:15).
In this study we will again witness Paul’s love for these believers and the frustration he dealt with in not being able to see them face to face and minister to them.
FOCUS ONE: Paul, moving on from his charges against those who seek to stifle gospel growth, now begins to express his frustration at not being able to see them face to face again. These verses (17-20) reveal Paul’s heart for this young persecuted church. He loves them. He has such a yearning to be with them again physically; to minister to them, encourage them, and strengthen them in their faith. Perhaps there are rumors circulating around that Paul has no intentions of ever coming back, but Paul with these emotional words, lay’s such rumors to rest.
For Paul and his companions, being forced out of Thessalonica and having to leave these people behind, was equivalent to the feeling parents would have at losing their children. It was heart wrenching for him. His only comfort was in the hope that this separation would be short-lived and that he would soon be able to be with them again.
Take notice to Paul’s switch in the plural usage of “we” up to this point, to the singular “I.” Paul desires to set himself apart from his co-laborers here and stress how he personally made every effort to to go back to them but was “thwarted” or prevented from doing so. It is of importance to notice who Paul says prevented them from going back to Thessalonica, “Satan Thwarted us” (vs.18).
It is time for a brief *SOS study. In Acts 16:6-10 Paul’s plans are frustrated as well, but there he credits the Holy Spirit for “forbidding” them to speak the word in Asia. He saw this as God’s leading of them in their missionary efforts. Now, back to our text. Here in 3:18 Paul see’s no other explanation of the opposition facing them but Satan himself. Exactly what it was that hindered them we can only speculate, he doesn’t mention anything here, so it is probably best not to surmise what it could have been.
In verses 19 and 20 Paul seems to break out in untethered joy as he thinks upon their friendship and brotherhood under the banner of Christ! These folks are the cause of his joy and confidence as he thinks upon the Lord’s coming again. To him, these believers (1)“will be a kind of victory prize. They will be his ‘crowning glory’ on that day and the source of unspeakable joy.”
3 “Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it best to be left behind, alone at Athens, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the benefit of your faith, 3 so that no one would be [a]disturbed by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. 4 For even when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; [b]and so it happened, [c]as you know. 5 For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I also sent to [d]find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be for nothing.”
FOCUS TWO: Paul “cannot endure it any longer,” and so he sends Timothy to them. The constant thought of these beloved people just seems to be a pressing burden to his soul. Remember, Paul and his companions were forced to leave Thessalonica much sooner then they would have preferred, and as a result they were not able to teach them as much as they would have liked and felt necessary (Acts 17). So, after being forced out of Thessalonica they traveled to Berea, founded a church, and then under pressure again, Paul leaves and travels to Athens and from there he sends Timothy to them.
Timothy is a “brother” in Christ, and a “fellow worker’ in the proclamation of the gospel. He is a man that Paul loves and values and so trusts with the mission of traveling back to Thessalonica with the goal of strengthening and encouraging these young believers. He has great confidence that Timothy will complete that mission. This church was going through a time of suffering and facing various trials in their day to day walk of faith. Paul is concerned for their welfare and that they would stand firm and not “be deceived” by the afflictions they face.
Paul knew that they would go through such times (3:4). He wrote Timothy some years later: “yes, all that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). It would be very naïve to think the world would accept those who follow Christ (John 15:18). And so, this is why Paul just had to know if their faith was genuine, if it was holding up.
6 “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, 7 for this reason, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; 8 for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. 9 For what thanks can we give to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice because of you before our God, 10 as we keep praying most earnestly night and day that we may see your faces, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?”
FOCUS THREE: Timothy returns! What a joy Paul feels as his good friend and faithful co-laborer returns safely from his journey. Not only that, he brings good news with him (vss. 6-10)! Paul’s questions are finally answered, his concerns alleviated. It seems that Paul wrote this letter rather quickly as his heart was elevated with emotions of thankfulness and praise! Their faith remained steadfast. Their love toward and kind affection for Paul remained. And imagine the joy in Paul’s heart to hear that they longed to see him again just as he did them! Paul is elated, “for now we really live, if (since) you stand firm in the faith.”
Paul then expresses for a third time (vs. 9) his thankfulness for them. It sounds as if Paul, believe it or not, was temporarily at a loss for words in how to express his thankfulness to God. (1) “This is a rhetorical question expressing the thought that no act of thanksgiving can equal the joy Paul experiences as he thinks of the Thessalonians.”
But even so, Paul reflects back to his desire to be with them again and minister to their needs. He knows that they are young in the faith and he desires to “complete what is lacking in your faith” (vs, 10). By that Paul means that even though they have started out well (1:3,7; 2:13,14;3:6), there is always room to grow (2 Peter 1:5-15).
I would like to take the next several weeks and invite you to join me in a study of two amazing and very practical short epistles that we find in our New Testament, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. How can letters written over two thousand years ago be helpful to us? How can they possibly relate to what is going on today in my life, my world? That’s the cool thing about the Bible, it is timeless. Its truth’s are eternal and unchanging because it’s Author is eternal and unchanging and therefore authoritative and instructive in any generation (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Numbers 23:19; James 1:17).
Although two thousand years have passed since this church was founded and these epistles were written, Christianity and its teachings have spread across the world, just like our Lord said it would (Acts 1:8)! The world that Paul, Silvanus, Timothy, and this young church were apart of has dramatically changed over the centuries (1 Thessalonians 1:1-2), just like it will in the centuries to come, Lord willing. Even so, there is a vast array of similarities between us and them that make this writing helpful, useful, and worthy of our time and attention!
If you take a glance at any solid outline in our study bibles today you will promptly see how little has really changed since then. Maybe we are not facing the things that they were in exactly the same way, but we also need encouragement from others. We need people praying for us (chapter 1). Paul’s integrity stands out in the way in which he served these people. His example serves as a reminder to us that we also need to be people of integrity (2:1-16). The encouragement and instructions to love, keep hope, to live godly lives in our current circumstances, to be at peace with one another, and the exhortation to live a virtuous life, are all found within the pages of these small, yet profound letters, written to a group of people in a newly formed church that needed instruction in the basics of the Christian life.
Another observation that I think should draw our attention to these short letters is their emphasis on the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ! At the end of each chapter you will find a statement about this event (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-11,23). Paul wrote this letter with the return of Christ on his heart and mind. He wrote to correct some misunderstandings that the Thessalonian believers had in regards to the Lord’s return, and he wrote to comfort and encourage them by reminding them of His promise to return (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11).
No matter what day and age we live in, we all need these practical reminders and loving exhortations to persevere until our Lord returns. My prayer is that you will join me in this study, and together, by God’s grace we will grown in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)! See you next week.