To the Assembly
The Thessalonians received the gospel in tribulation but remained faithful while anticipating the arrival of Jesus – 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10. In his opening paragraph, Paul anticipates the subjects he will discuss in the letter. This includes the tribulations of believers, the basis for Christian hope, the “coming” of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, and the impending “wrath” on unbelievers.
Thessalonica was a leading city in Macedonia. Due to its location, travelers and trade goods moving overland between Rome and the eastern provinces passed through it, contributing to its prosperity.
Paul and his two coworkers, Silas and Timothy, introduced the faith to the city. Silas was a Jew, a prophet, a Roman citizen, and Paul’s constant companion during his second missionary journey. Timothy joined them during that missionary endeavor - (Acts 15:32, 16:1-4, 16:20-37, 17:1-9).
- (1 Thessalonians 1:1) - “Paul and Silvanus and Timothy to the assembly of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; Grace to you and peace.”
Paul addresses the “assembly in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Greek noun ekklésia is commonly translated as “church” in English translations. The word means “assembly, congregation,” essentially, individuals assembled for a particular purpose.
Paul’s application of the term is derived from the Hebrew Bible, especially its references to the “congregation” of Israel gathered before the Tabernacle in worship - the qahal Yahweh or “assembly of Yahweh” – (Deuteronomy 23:1).
With the death and resurrection of Jesus, the saints gather for worship as the “assembly in God and the Lord Jesus.” And the image is fitting.
Believers in Thessalonica constitute a people distinct from the surrounding pagan society, converts who endure “tribulation” because of their allegiance to Jesus.
And like ancient Israel, the saints are sojourning in the “wilderness” on their way to the “promised land.”
- (1 Thessalonians 1:2-4) - “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope of our Lord Jesus Christ before our God and Father; knowing, brethren beloved of God, your election.”
The “endurance of hope” of this church is forward-looking. Believers are looking to the day when Jesus will “arrive” and gather his saints to himself. At that time, they will be Paul’s “hope and joy and crown of boasting.”
“Your election.” The Greek term eklektos or “elect” simply means “chosen.” The Thessalonians have been “chosen” by God to become his “assembly” in the city, and their receipt of the gospel despite opposition more than justifies His choice. They are “chosen” because they are “beloved by God.”
- (1 Thessalonians 1:5-7) - “How that our gospel came not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance; even as you know what manner of men we showed ourselves toward you for your sake. And you became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation, with joy of the Holy Spirit, and you became examples to all that believe in Macedonia and in Achaia.”
The Thessalonians had been impressed by Paul’s message that was accompanied by “power in the Holy Spirit.” Nevertheless, the most striking is the description of their acceptance of the gospel “in much tribulation.”
The Greek term thlipsis or “tribulation” originally meant a “pressing together,” hence the idea of “pressure.” From this developed the sense of “affliction, tribulation.” Paul and his coworkers faced opposition, especially from the leaders of the local synagogue. Tensions became so high that Paul left the city before his work was finished, hence his anxiety over the state of the church.
Paul is doing more than recalling the past. The term “tribulation” anticipates his later statements made for the benefit of the Thessalonians. For example, his declaration that God has “appointed us for tribulation” – (Acts 17:1-9, 1 Thessalonians 3:3).
- (1 Thessalonians 1:8-10) - “But in every place, your faith which is toward God has gone forth so that no need have we to be saying anything; for they themselves concerning us do tell what manner of entrance we had to you, and how you turned to God from the idols to be serving a living and true God, and awaiting his Son out of the heavens, whom he raised from among the dead, Jesus, who is rescuing us out of the coming wrath.”
The Thessalonians turned from “idols to serve the true God.” This suggests a church composed primarily of Gentile converts, and this assumption is borne out by the account in Acts – (Acts 17:4).
Paul describes how their life orientation changed. Instead of serving dead idols, they began to serve the “true and living God.” Rather than a comfortable life in Thessalonica, they chose a path that guaranteed opposition.
Paul uses two infinitive clauses to express how disciples must live. First, turn from idols “to serve a living and true God”; and second, “to await his Son from heaven.” And the Son of God will "arrive from heaven.” He is the same man that “God raised from the dead.” Thus, Paul anchors their future hope in the past resurrection of Jesus – (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
This same Jesus is the “one who is rescuing” his disciples. The verb translates a Greek present tense participle that means “rescue, deliver, save” (rhuomai), and the present tense signifies an action in progress.
While Paul has a future event in view, the present tense stresses that, even now, Jesus is in the process of rescuing his people.
And he is rescuing them from the “wrath” which also is “coming.” The two participles contrast two processes - rescue for some, and wrath for others. Both will be consummated at his "arrival.”
Disciples of Jesus must not be dismayed by tribulation and persecution. While the “arrival” of Jesus will bring wrath upon their opponents, it also will mean rescue for the righteous who wait patiently and eagerly for that day. His return will result in the vindication of some, but the condemnation of others, especially those who persecute his church.