Awaiting His Son
The Assembly in Thessalonica received the Gospel in tribulation but remained faithful while anticipating the arrival of Jesus. In the opening paragraph of his first Letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul anticipates the subjects that he will discuss in the Letter’s body, including the tribulations of believers, the basis for Christian hope, the “arrival” of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, and the impending “wrath” on unbelievers and persecutors.
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.
|[Photo by Jamison McAndie on Unsplash]|
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 this 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.”
The Letter is addressed to the “Assembly in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Greek noun ekklésia is commonly translated as “church” in many English versions of the New Testament. 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 the “Assembly of Yahweh” – (Deuteronomy 23:1).
Since the death and resurrection of Jesus, the saints of God gather for worship as the “Assembly in God and the Lord Jesus.” The image is fitting. The Assembly of Saints in Thessalonica constituted a people distinct from the surrounding pagan society, a pilgrim people enduring “tribulation” because of their allegiance to Jesus.
- (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 Assembly is forward-looking. Believers look with hope and anticipation to the day when Jesus will “arrive” and gather his saints to himself. On that day, they will shine as Paul’s “hope and joy and crown of boasting.”
The Greek term translated as “election” or eklektos means “chosen.” The Thessalonians have been “chosen” by God to become his “Assembly” in the city of Thessalonica, and their embrace of the Gospel despite opposition more than justified His choice. They were “chosen” because they were “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, one that was accompanied by “power in the Holy Spirit.” Nevertheless, most striking is his description of their having accepted the Gospel “in much tribulation.”
The Greek term thlipsis or “tribulation” originally meant “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 was compelled to leave the city before his work was finished, hence his anxiety over the state of the Assembly.
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).
SERVING THE LIVING GOD
- (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 congregation composed primarily of Gentile converts, and this assumption is borne out by the account given in the Book of Acts – (Acts 17:4).
Paul is describing how their life orientation changed due to their new faith. Instead of serving dead idols, the Thessalonians began to serve the “true and living God.” Rather than a comfortable life in Macedonia, they chose a path that guaranteed hardship and 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.” The Son of God will "arrive from heaven.” He is the same man whom “God raised from the dead.” Thus, Paul anchors the future hope of the Assembly in the past resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth – (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
This same Jesus is the “one who is rescuing” his disciples. The verb translates a Greek present tense participle. It means “rescue, deliver, save” (rhuomai - Strong’s - #G4506), and the present tense signifies an action in progress. Even now, Jesus is in the process of rescuing his people 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. The “arrival” of Jesus will bring rescue for the righteous who wait patiently for that Day. It will result in the vindication of some, but the condemnation of others, especially those who persecute the Assembly.