25 January 2022

Appointed for Tribulation


Paul used his own afflictions to remind the Thessalonians that believers have been appointed for tribulation

After his expulsion, Paul traveled to Athens and proclaimed the resurrection of the dead. At that time, he sent Timothy to strengthen the Thessalonians in the faith, which was even more necessary because of “these afflictions.”

From its inception, the Thessalonians experienced opposition - they “received the word in much affliction and with joy in the Holy Spirit.” This was no surprise since the churches of Judea had suffered persecution previously.

And Paul now reminds them that when he was with them, he exhorted them not to be “moved by these tribulations, for you yourselves know that we are appointed for this… As we told you beforehand, we are to suffer tribulation, even as it came to pass.”

SUFFERING FOR THE FAITH


Happily, Timothy found things in good order and the faith of the Thessalonians was holding firm despite growing opposition from their “fellow countrymen.”

The theme of suffering for Christ is a common one in Paul’s writings. Indeed, Jesus himself warns that his disciples will be hated by all the nations,” and only those who “endure to the end” will be saved at his “arrival from heaven.”

Those saints who endure persecution will be pronounced “blessed” in his kingdom. In fact, suffering for him is a great honor and reason for rejoicing.

Likewise, Paul encourages believers to rejoice in suffering. Moreover, all those who live godly “in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” - (Matthew 5:10-12, 24:9, 24:21-22, Romans 5:3, 12:12, 2 Corinthians 1:4, 2 Timothy 3:12).

Next, Paul expresses a wish-prayer that concludes the first half of the letter. In it, he reiterates two requests stated previously. First, for the opportunity to visit the Thessalonians again. And second, that God will increase their love for him and for others. The fulfillment of these requests will make their faith complete.

By “confirming their hearts,” the Thessalonians will find themselves standing “blameless” before God when Jesus "arrives from heaven." This passage transitions the narrative to the next section of the letter by emphasizing two key subjects - Holiness and the coming of Jesus.

  • (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13) - “Now, may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus make straight our way unto you: And you may the Lord cause to abound and excel in your love, one toward another, and toward all, even as we do toward you. To the end, he may confirm your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the arrival of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Paul does not suggest the Thessalonians lack love. He previously referred to their “labor of love.” Instead, he prays for them to “exceed and abound” even more in love for one another, and for their non-Christian neighbors - (1 Thessalonians 1:3, 3:6).

BEING FOUND BLAMELESS


To be found “blameless in sanctification” before God points to the future time of evaluation and judgment.  That day will be a time of joy and vindication for all those who are found “blameless.” By implication, those who are not prepared will not be so fortunate.

In the preceding chapter, Paul has expressed his wish for the Thessalonians to be established “before God,” and the same future event is in view here. Both passages label this the parousia or “arrival” of Jesus - (1 Thessalonians 2:19).

The Greek noun parousia occurs seven times in the two letters to the Thessalonians. In six instances, it refers to the “coming” or “arrival of Jesus” at the end of the age. Once, Paul applies it to the “arrival” of the “man of lawlessness,” though his arrival mimics that of Christ - (2 Thessalonians 2:9).

At his parousia, Jesus will be accompanied by “all his saints.” Other New Testament passages associate angels with the “coming of Jesus,” and that is likely the intent here - (Matthew 13:41, 13:49, 24:31, 25:31, 8:38, 13:27, Luke 9:26, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8).

The description alludes to the passage in the book of Zechariah concerning the arrival of God - (“Then Yahweh will come and all the saints with him”). The scriptural background sheds light on Paul’s usage.

Elsewhere, he refers to believers as “saints.” However, here, he uses terminology from Zechariah that is applied to angels. The context in Zechariah is the “day of Yahweh” when He gathers all the nations so He can fight against them.  He will arrive to save his people, accompanied by the hosts of heaven – (Zechariah 14:5).

WITH ALL HIS SAINTS


Paul applies these words to the largely Gentile congregation in Thessalonica.  In Zechariah, Yahweh “gathered all the nations to Jerusalem to battle.” After that, He arrived and cleaved the Mount of Olives so His people could flee to the “valley of his mountains.” That was when He arrived “with all his saints.”

The background from Zechariah indicates that the phrase “with all his saints” in 1 Thessalonians refers to the angelic host that will accompany Jesus at his “arrival.”

The stress on becoming “blamelessness” introduces the element of judgment. Elsewhere, the New Testament teaches that Christians must stand “before the judgment seat of Christ.” The idea that judgment on the wicked will occur also at the “coming” of Jesus is found in Paul’s employment of the language from Zechariah.

The picture is of the future day when Jesus will arrive from heaven accompanied by the angels to gather his elect to stand before him, preferably, “blameless” and in “holiness.”


No comments:

Post a Comment