Rescuing us from Wrath
Already, Jesus is rescuing his people from the coming wrath that will befall the unrighteous when he arrives. Local opposition forced Paul to leave the city of Thessalonica before his work there was finished. Because of his anxieties about the congregation, he sent Timothy to investigate matters, and his first Letter to the Thessalonians is his thankful response after receiving a good report from Timothy on the health of the Assembly.
After his opening salutations, Paul reiterates how the Assembly welcomed him and turned from “idols to serve the true God.” The reference to idolatry suggests the congregation consisted primarily of Gentile converts.
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Following his opening salutations, Paul writes a paragraph that anticipates the subjects he will discuss in the remainder of the Letter, including the persecution of believers, the basis for Christian hope, the “arrival” of Jesus from Heaven, and the impending “wrath” that will overwhelm the unrighteous.
- (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10) - “And you became imitators of us, and of the Lord, giving welcome to the word in much tribulation, with joy of Holy Spirit; so that you became an ensample to all who were coming to the faith in Macedonia and in Achaia. From you, in fact, has sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only m Macedonia and in Achaia, 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.”
Paul does not provide chronological information about the return of Jesus, nor does he list any prophetic events that will mark the imminence of that event. Instead, he describes how the life orientation of believers has been altered by their faith in and commitment to the Son of God.
Rather than serve dead idols, the Thessalonians now serve the “true and living God.” Paul uses two Greek infinitive clauses to express the Assembly’s new relationship with God. First, believers must turn from idols “to serve a living and true God”; second, they are now “awaiting his Son from heaven.”
In the future, the Son of God will "arrive from heaven.” This subject is developed further in the Letter’s subsequent chapters. On that final day, Jesus will “descend from heaven with a shout” and gather his followers to himself.
Moreover, Jesus is the Son of “the living and true God,” not another dead idol or false god. He is the one whom this living “God raised from the dead.” As he normally does, Paul anchors the present salvation of believers in the past death and resurrection of Jesus – (Compare 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
RESCUING HIS SAINTS
Even now, Jesus is “rescuing” his disciples. This term translates a Greek present tense participle, meaning “rescue, deliver, save” (rhuomai - Strong’s - #G4506). The use of the present tense signifies an action in progress. While Paul has a future event in view, already, Jesus is in the process of rescuing his people.
Moreover, he is rescuing his saints from “wrath.” What this “wrath” consists of is not stated here, though it has a definite article in the Greek clause, namely, it is “the wrath.” The grammatical construction points to a specific and known event. It is not “wrath” in general or an attribute of God, but a final event that will be characterized by wrath.
The “wrath” is “coming.” Just as Jesus is “rescuing” his people, for non-believers, the “wrath” is “coming.” The two present tense participles contrast two ongoing processes. First, rescue for some. Second, wrath for others. Both processes will conclude at his "arrival” from Heaven, and his death and resurrection set both in motion.
In describing the two impending events, Paul uses language found in the Book of Isaiah that describes the “Day of the Lord”:
- (Isaiah 59:18-20) - “According to their deeds, so Yahweh will repay, wrath to his adversaries, recompense to his enemies; to the coastlands he will make recompense. So, they will fear the name of Yahweh from the west and his glory from the rising of the sun, for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of Yahweh drives. And a rescuer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob, declares Yahweh.”
Thus, the Assembly in Thessalonica must not be dismayed by present persecution. While the “Day of the Lord” will bring wrath upon the unrepentant, it will also mean deliverance for the followers of Jesus who serve God and wait patiently for that Day’s arrival.
Paul does not promise deliverance from suffering and persecution in this present life. In Thessalonica, the Assembly had received the Gospel “in much tribulation.” But in contrast to “tribulation,” which the congregation of God may expect to endure, “wrath” is reserved for rebellious men who reject the Gospel and persecute believers. It will be unleashed in its fullness when Jesus “arrives” from Heaven at the end of the age.