Thessalonians, Thessalo'nians Epistles to the.
Paul on his second missionary journey, accompanied by Silas, visited Thessalonica. The conversion of some Jews, of a great multitude of Greeks, and of many chief women led to an assembly being gathered there. Paul soon left them, hoping to revisit them within a short time, but Satan hindered him. Fearing as to their firmness under persecution, he sent Timothy to confirm and encourage them. He was cheered by the news which Timothy brought of their faith and love, and wrote the First Epistle from Corinth, about A.D. 52, and somewhere about a year after his visit to them. Ac 17:1-11. As to date it is the first of Paul's Epistles.
THE FIRST EPISTLE. This is mainly occupied with the development and direction of living affections in the newly converted saints to whom Paul wrote. The coming of the Lord has a place of much importance in it, being mentioned in every chapter. The address is to"the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ." The apostle gives thanks in respect of their faith, love, and hope, which gave evidence of their election of God. Their faith God-ward had been noised abroad, indeed they were ensamples, or models, to all around. They had turned from idols to serve the living and true God; and they waited for His Son from heaven, even Jesus, their deliverer from coming wrath.
1 Thess. 2. The apostle reminds them that though persecuted at Philippi, he had nevertheless been bold to preach the gospel to them. He had been gentle with them as a nurse with her children, and willing to impart even his life also. He recalls how blamelessly he had walked before them, and that he had preached in such a way that they had received his testimony as the word of God, which wrought in them effectually so that they were in consequence persecuted by the heathen, as the saints in Judaea had been by the Jews, who had killed the Lord Jesus. Greatly desiring to see them, Paul could assure the Thessalonian saints that they would be his joy and crown of boasting before the Lord Jesus at His coming. This is the second allusion in the epistle to this event, and goes further than that in 1Th 1:10. Here the blessedness of the saints being gathered together is referred to.
1 Thess. 3. Paul, in his anxiety for them, had sent Timothy to confirm and encourage them, and was greatly relieved by the news which Timothy brought of their faith and love, saying "now we live if ye stand firm in the Lord." He prays for them that their love might abound, and their hearts be kept unblamable in holiness before their God and Father at the coming of the Lord Jesus with all His saints. Here the 'appearing' of the Lord is spoken of, when it will be shown who are unblamable. The affections of the saints one to another, and the holiness inseparable therefrom, are connected with the third mention of the Lord's return, where it is noted that He comes with all His saints: cf. 1Th 1:10; 2:19-20.
1 Thess. 4. Exhortations are given as to walk. Fornication (so common among the heathen) was especially to be guarded against. 1Th 4:6 refers to the same subject as touching the wife of a brother. They were also to attend to their own business and to work, walking in good repute towards those without: a needed exhortation, as we see by 2Th 3:11-12.
In 1 Thess. 4. 13-18 a difficulty is solved, into which the Thessalonians had fallen in regard to those of their number who had fallen asleep. The Lord's return to reign was so truly part of their faith, that they thought that those who had died had lost the blessings of the kingdom, being ignorant of the details which are now given them by the word of the Lord. Here we learn that at the Lord's coming, with an assembling shout, the dead in Christ shall rise first, and then, in company with those saints who are alive, they will be caught away in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, prior to coming with Him in glory. They were to encourage one another with those words.
It is this which is often called the Rapture, or catching away of the saints, and it is the proper hope of the church. Christ coming for His saints is distinct from His coming with His saints, as in 1Th 3:13 and 1Th 4:14. If 1Th 4:15-18 be read as a parenthesis, verse 14, which speaks of God bringing with Jesus those who have slept through Him, is linked with chapter 5.
1 Thess. 5. The day of the Lord here spoken of, which is connected with judgement on man, is quite distinct from the Rapture. The language changes from 'we' to 'they' and 'them.' The day of the Lord will come upon the world as a thief in the night, whereas the saints are of the day and sons of light. They are exhorted therefore to watch and be sober, and to put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. They were not called to wrath (cf. 1Th 1:10), but to obtain salvation whether alive or sleeping. Exhortations follow and greetings close the epistle.
THE SECOND EPISTLE. Silvanus, or Silas, being with Paul when this epistle was written, leads to the conclusion that it, as well as the First Epistle, was sent from Corinth during the eighteen months that Paul abode there, Ac 18:11; its date may be A.D. 52 or 53.
There is evidence in this epistle that the minds of the saints had been disturbed, apparently by a feigned letter or message from Paul, saying that the day of the Lord was present: this supposition may have been strengthened by the persecution they were passing through. Paul sets them right as to this. Christians often misinterpret this Second Epistle, and think that Paul was showing the Thessalonians that they were wrong in expecting the Lord. This mistake is made because the distinction is not seen between the Lord coming for His saints (which is the Christian's proper hope, and is intended to give them the character of a waiting people), and the day of the Lord which is connected with judgement: cf. Isa 13:6-13; Joel 2; Am 5:18-20. The Thessalonians were right in expecting the former, but were wrong in thinking that the day of the Lord was (not 'at hand,' but) 'present,' as 2Th 2:2 should read, as may be seen by the translation of the same word (????????) in Ro 8:38; 1Co 3:22.
After the introduction the apostle thanks God for the growth of their faith and love, but he does not add hope here, as in the First Epistle, for their hope had received a check. Their patience and faith in tribulation were a token that they were counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which they also suffered. God would punish those who troubled them. He will take vengeance on those who know not God, and on those who have not obeyed the gospel.
2 Thess. 2. The apostle proves that the day of Christ could not be present, because 1, the Lord had not come, and they had not been gathered to Him, as explained in the First Epistle; and 2, the Antichrist had not been revealed, the man of sin, the son of perdition: the one whom the Lord will, when He returns, consume "with the brightness of his coming."
Though the Antichrist will be only a man, he will exalt himself against all that is called God, and will sit down in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God: cf. Re 13:11-18, and Da 11:36-37. The mystery of lawlessness was already at work, but its full development was hindered, doubtless by the existing order of government and the presence of the Holy Spirit as a divine Person on the earth. When He is gone and the church with Him, the lawless one will be fully revealed as after the working of Satan, with miracles and wonders and unrighteous deceit in them that perish, who would not receive the love of the truth that they might be saved. "God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." Paul gives thanks for the Thessalonians, for God had chosen them to salvation. He prays that their hearts might be encouraged.
2 Thess. 3. The apostle asks for their prayers. He had confidence that the Lord would establish and keep them. They were to withdraw from every brother who walked disorderly, and did not obey the apostol
THESSALONIANS, Christians of Thessalonica, to whom St. Paul sent two epistles. It is recorded in the Acts, that St. Paul, in his first journey upon the continent of Europe, preached the Gospel at Thessalonica, at that time the capital of Macedonia, with considerable success; but that after a short stay he was driven thence by the malice and violence of the unbelieving Jews. From Thessalonica St. Paul went to Berea, and thence to Athens, at both which places he remained but a short time. From Athens he sent Timothy to Thessalonica, to confirm the new converts in their faith, and to inquire into their conduct. Timothy, upon his return, found St. Paul at Corinth. Thence, probably in A.D. 52, St. Paul wrote the First Epistle to the Thessalonians; and it is to be supposed that the subjects of which it treats, were suggested by the account which he received from Timothy. It is now generally believed that this was written the first of all St. Paul's epistles, but it is not known by whom it was sent to Thessalonica. The church there consisted chiefly of Gentile converts, 1Th 1:9. St. Paul, after saluting the Thessalonian Christians in the name of himself, Silas, and Timothy, assures them that he constantly returned thanks to God on their account, and mentioned them in his prayers; he acknowledges the readiness and sincerity with which they embraced the Gospel, and the great reputation which they had acquired by turning from idols to serve the living God, 1 Thessalonians i; he reminds them of the bold and disinterested manner in which he had preached among them; comforts them under the persecutions which they, like other Christians, had experienced from their unbelieving countrymen, and informs them of two ineffectual attempts which he had made to visit them again, 1 Thessalonians 2; and that, being thus disappointed, he had sent Timothy to confirm their faith, and inquire into their conduct; he tells them that Timothy's account of them had given him the greatest consolation and joy in the midst of his affliction and distress, and that he continually prayed to God for an opportunity of seeing them again, and for their perfect establishment in the Gospel, 1 Thessalonians 3; he exhorts to purity, justice, love, and quietness, and dissuades them against excessive grief for their deceased friends, 1 Thessalonians 4; hence he takes occasion to recommend preparation for the last judgment, the time of which is always uncertain; and adds a variety of practical precepts. He concludes with his usual benediction. This epistle is written in terms of high commendation, earnestness, and affection.
It is generally believed that the messenger who carried the former epistle into Macedonia, upon his return to Corinth, informed St. Paul that the Thessalonians had inferred, from some expressions in it, that the coming of Christ and the final judgment were near at hand, and would happen in the time of many who were then alive, 1Th 4:15,17; 5:6. The principal design of the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians was to correct that error, and prevent the mischief which it would naturally occasion. It was written from Corinth, probably at the end of A.D. 52. St. Paul begins with the same salutation as in the former epistle, and then expresses his devout acknowledgments to God for the increasing faith and mutual love of the Thessalonians in the midst of persecution; he represents to them the rewards which will be bestowed upon the faithful, and the punishment which will be inflicted upon the disobedient, at the coming of Christ, 2 Thessalonians 1; he earnestly entreats them not to suppose, as upon authority from him, or upon any other ground, that the last day is at hand; he assures them, that before that awful period a great apostasy will take place, and reminds them of some information which he had given them upon that subject when he was at Thessalonica; he exhorts them to steadfastness in their faith, and prays to God to comfort their hearts, and establish them in every good word and work, 2 Thessalonians 2; he desires their prayers for the success of his ministry, and expresses his confidence in their sincerity; he cautions them against associating with idle and disorderly persons, and recommends diligence and quietness. He adds a salutation in his own hand, and concludes with his usual benediction.