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I Thessalonians 1-5 Listen
An introduction to I Thessalonians
This letter from Paul was probably written around 50-52 A.D., thus being one of Paul's earliest letters. He had founded that church back on his second missionary journey in Acts 17:1-9 (see notes & map) - his first venture into Europe. In verse 1:1 we see that Paul was accompanied at the time of this writing by Silvanus, and Timothy. We know quite a bit about Timothy, and his identity is beyond dispute. Bible scholars disagree, however, regarding the identity of Silvanus here; most are convinced that "Silvanus" is Silas Latin name as a Roman citizen, while a few believe this refers to another individual altogether. The fact is, Silas did accompany Paul and Timothy on Paul's second missionary journey which began in Acts 15:36 (see notes). The mention of Timothy almost certainly identifies Silvanus and Silas to be one in the same.
Paul commends the believers in Thessalonica (I Thessalonians 1)
1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, ¶ To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: ¶ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2 ¶ We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers,
3 remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father,
4 knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.
5 For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.
6 ¶ And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit,
7 so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe.
8 For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.
9 For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
Paul has only good things to say about these folks. After his initial standard greeting in verse 1, he expresses his prayer for them in verses 2-4. His commendation of them continues through the entire first chapter, commending them for being examples in Macedonia and in Achaia (verse 7) and beyond (verse 8). They had embraced Paul's ministry and teaching wholeheartedly (verses 5-7), which served to validate their "election" (verse 4). Notice particularly verse 10, "and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." The Greek form of the phrase "who delivers" in that verse is a present active participle indicating a continuous action, "Jesus, the one delivering us." As we'll see in the latter portions of this epistle (5:9, see below), "the wrath to come" is undoubtedly a reference to the tribulation from which we are to be delivered (spared) by Jesus Christ. When you're looking for verses that suggest a pre-tribulation rapture, count this one.
Incidentally, a reference to their previous idol worship is made in verse 9. When Paul and Silas first show up there in Acts 17:1-9 (see notes) we see in Acts 17:4 that a " great multitude" of Greeks were saved. While he did experience some success on that visit among the Jews as well, it would appear that the predominant composition of Believers there were of Gentile background.
Paul's ministry style to the Thessalonians (I Thessalonians 2:1-12)
1 For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain.
2 But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict.
3 For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit.
4 ¶ But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.
5 For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness.
6 Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.
7 But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.
8 So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.
9 For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.
10 ¶ You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe;
11 as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children,
12 that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
In verses 1-2, Paul makes reference again to events surrounding his second missionary journey - his visit to Philippi just prior to arriving in Thessalonica; there he had served some time in jail (Acts 16:11-40, see notes). The local Jewish leaders gave Paul trouble in Thessalonica as well. Nevertheless, with steadiness and consistency, Paul preached the simple truth of the Gospel to them without fanfare or ulterior motive (verses 3-7). For those who think the ministry of the Gospel is best presented in a big and loud fashion, pay close attention to these verses - especially verse 7, "But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children." Paul ministered to these Believers in a low-key, deliberate fashion to help them build their faith. He lived a life of example before them and encouraged them to do the same when he ministered to them in person. He differentiates his ministry among them from others in verse 8 where he points out that he didn't stop with the Gospel message, but loved them dearly and shared with them "our own lives." He indicates in verse 9 that he worked at a secular trade during his stay with them in order to earn his own keep. He did so that his motivation might not be misinterpreted as we see in verse 10. His relationship with them was as a father to his children as he mentored them to "walk worthy of God" (verses 11-12).
The Jews gave Paul fits! (I Thessalonians 2:13-18)
13 ¶ For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.
14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans,
15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men,
16 forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.
17 ¶ But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire.
18 Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us.
Paul continues to commend the faith of these Thessalonians in the church there by noting that the Word of God is effectively working there among them. He then compares their stance for Jesus Christ to that of the churches in Judea; just as these Christians at Thessalonica suffer for their faith at the hand of their Gentile countrymen, so do the Judeans from the Jews (verses 13-14). That leads Paul into a discussion (verse 15-18) concerning the ill treatment he had received at the hand of the Jews. As a matter of fact, Paul makes some very frank statements about these Jewish leaders here.
Let's take a look at the Jewish resume from Paul's perspective in verse 15-16:
Does Paul have any justification to suggest that the Jewish leaders have persecuted him? Let's see... Paul had been run out of Damascus (Acts 9:23-25, see notes) and Jerusalem (Acts 9:29-30, see notes) by his own people shortly after his salvation experience. His message was rejected and he had to make a hasty exit from Pisidia Antioch (Acts 13:45, 46, 50 - see notes). At Iconium the Jews stirred up the people against Paul and Barnabas and ultimately forced them out (Acts 14:2, 5, 6 - see notes). These angry Jews then went to Lystra to rile those folks up which led to Pauls stoning and being left for dead (Acts 14:19, see notes). And it didn't stop there; the Jews continued to plague the missionary band into the second journey, specifically at Thessalonica, again resulting in Pauls exit (Acts 17:5, 10 - see notes). Even now as Paul writes from Corinth, a united attack has been mounted against him by the citys Jewish residents (Acts 18:6, 12, 13 - see notes). All in all, I'd say Paul is expressing his difficulties with the Jews quite mildly. So...when Paul explains why he hasn't been back to visit more often, he concludes in verse 18, "Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us."
Paul's crown of rejoicing (I Thessalonians 2:19-20)
19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?
20 For you are our glory and joy.
Paul wants to go see these folks. In verses 19-20 he indicates that the very fact that they have salvation in Christ because of his ministry among them is the basis for a crown he expects to receive at the judgment seat of Christ - a "crown of rejoicing" for faithfulness in ministry. If you want to know more about the "Judgment seat of Christ," click here to see the notes on II Corinthians 5:10.
Those Thessalonians are okay (I Thessalonians 3)
1 Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone,
2 and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith,
3 that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.
4 For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know.
5 For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain.
6 ¶ But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you—
7 therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith.
8 For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.
9 ¶ For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God,
10 night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith?
11 ¶ Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you.
12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you,
13 so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.
In this chapter, Paul expresses concern regarding their ability to withstand persecution. Paul stayed in Athens (Acts 17:16-34, see notes) while sending Timothy to minister to the Thessalonians (verses 1-2). He did so when he "could no longer endure it." That phrase indicates that he simply "could no longer endure it" without knowledge of how the Thessalonians were holding up under persecution. And what about these persecutions? In verses 3-4 Paul explains that these persecutions are just a part of contemporary life within the social system, the same persecution that he had warned them about when he ministered among them. Notice verse 5, "For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain." After getting a positive report back from Timothy on the spiritual state of the people in the church there (verse 6), Paul commends them on their faithfulness. That faithfulness has brought him comfort (verse 7) to the point of enthusiasm where he declares in verse 8 that now he can really "live" (i.e. be comforted in life) knowing of their sound spiritual welfare.
Paul outlines the prayer that he offers for them as he now has the assurance that they are enduring under persecution (verses 9-13):
Live right before the world (I Thessalonians 4:1-12)
1 Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God;
2 for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
3 ¶ For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality;
4 that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,
5 not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God;
6 that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified.
7 For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.
8 Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.
9 ¶ But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another;
10 and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more;
11 that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you,
12 that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.
There are standards of conduct that should be obvious to Believers. Paul indicates that he had preached these to them when he was there (verses 1-2). We know from Bible references and secular history that Roman/Greek society basked in moral depravity during that period. If you're looking for a commentary on first-century practices, look at verses 3-5 here:
3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality;
4 that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,
5 not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God;
As extra-biblical history substantiates, Paul indicates that the Roman-Greek society of the first century was quite hedonistic, even by contemporary standards. Paul goes on to commend them for the love they demonstrate toward their brethren and encourages them to maintain a good testimony before the lost in their conduct and work ethic. These first 8 verses deal specifically with sexual immorality.
A distinction of context should be made here regarding the usage of the word "sanctification" in verses 3 and 4. While "sanctification" can sometimes refer to our position in Christ (set apart for Heaven), in this context Paul is referring to lifestyle. For a clear perspective on the distinction in the usage of the word, refer to the box to the right of this window, or click here to read the article entitled, "The Different Aspects of Sanctification." The Greek word for "sexual immorality" there is "pornia" and means any kind of sexual immorality. With regard to the "passion of lust" in verse 5, Greek and Roman culture each exploited sexual pleasures beyond the imagination of most people. Thessalonica was right there in the midst of a culture that practiced a level of immorality that was reprehensible to Jewish thought. After salvation, Paul mandates ("this is the will of God") that cultural practices be abandoned in lieu of honoring God with one's conduct.
While sanctified conduct does refer to being God-honoring in all aspects of one's Christian life, Paul specifically deals with the abstinence from fornication beginning with verse 3 and going down through verse 8. The term "sexual immorality" (Greek: pornia) is seen in verse 3; the term "passion of lust" (Greek: epithumia and pathos meaning passionate lust) is seen in verse 5; "uncleanness" (Greek: akatharsia) is seen in verse 7. All three of these words support the context of unacceptable sexual conduct. But what about verse 6? Well...to stay in the context of the passage, that verse specifically addresses fornication as well when he writes, "that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter." The Greek definite article is used before "matter" in that verse. Therefore, "this matter" specifically addresses defrauding one's fellow Christian in fornication i.e. stealing the virginity of another's future wife or taking unacceptable liberties with another's current wife. Verse 8 makes it clear that such a violation is against God himself.
Paul does a segue in verse 9 when he says "concerning brotherly love," a reference to its introduction in verse 6. Verses 9-12 contain general practices of being a good "brother" in Christ. He points out that this practice should extend outside the church of Thessalonica, and should include all Believers with whom they have contact ("in all Macedonia").
A rapture passage (I Thessalonians 4:13-18)
13 ¶ But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
15 ¶ For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
The rapture is NOT the second coming of Christ, and the second coming of Christ is NOT the rapture. We pre-tribulation rapturists believe that the actual return of Christ in Revelation 19:11-21 (see notes) occurs after the seven years known as the tribulation. The event to which Paul refers here is commonly referred to as the "rapture." The pre-tribulation rapture position holds that the rapture takes place prior to the seven years of tribulation. By the way, this word "rapture" comes from a Latin word, "raptus," which means "to carry away." It's a pretty good description of what happens in this passage. Notice that we meet the Lord in the air. He does not actually touch down to earth at that time. Paul outlines the rapture again to the Corinthians in I Corinthians 15:51-58 (see notes). THIS IS IMPORTANT! All of the Old Testament prophecies concerning Christ's return point to the return of Christ to the earth at the end of the tribulation - NOT THIS RAPTURE! Therefore, not a single prophecy must be fulfilled prior to the rapture of Believers; it could happen today. That's why we refer to the rapture as imminent; it could happen at any time. As a matter of fact, Paul believed that it could have happened while he was still living. We know this from the wording of verse 15, "...that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord..." He uses the plural personal pronoun ("we") again in verse 17. Obviously, Paul counted himself as possibly among the living at the rapture. In other words, get ready, and stay ready for the rapture.
I have provided the following chart for perspective in studying these passages. Read the summary on Matthew 24:1-31, Mark 13:1-37 and Luke 21:5-28 as you view the chart.
As you can see in verse 13, the primary concern is to comfort the Thessalonians with regard those who have died already, "...lest you sorrow as others who have no hope." When we know a loved one has received Christ as savior (been "born again"), we are confident that they are with Christ already. As a matter of fact, verse 14 tells us that when we accept the resurrection of Jesus, we ought to be confident that those who have passed on before us, "God will bring with Him" at the time of this "rapture" of Believers. In verse 15 he assures his readers that those alive at the rapture will not "precede" (Greek: "phtano" means "go before") those who have already passed on. We see in verse 16 that the rapture is a spectacular event that takes place "in the twinkling of an eye" according to I Corinthians 15:52 (see notes). We see a phrase in verse 16 ("the dead in Christ shall rise first") that must be reconciled with verse 14 ("God will bring with Him"). In fact, those saints who have passed away will be accompanying Jesus at the rapture. The Greek word for "rise" in verse 16 is "anistemi" which means literally "to cause to stand, to raise up." In other words, at the rapture, those who have already passed away in Christ are the first to receive their glorified (heavenly) bodies.
Two facts should be noted in verse 17. (1) We meet the Lord in the air (in the clouds). (2) From that point forward, we are with the Lord forever. Of course, verse 18, these are comforting words, especially for those who have been undergoing tribulation.
Be ready for the rapture! (I Thessalonians 5:1-11)
1 But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you.
2 For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.
3 For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.
4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.
5 You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.
6 Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.
7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night.
8 But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.
9 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
10 who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.
11 ¶ Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.
Paul has just described the rapture at the end of chapter 4. Now he is warning us to be ready for the rapture. We saw in chapter 4 that no signs necessarily precede the rapture; it will be a complete surprise. Paul's admonition here is to be continually ready for this event. He describes it as a woman going into labor (verse 3). How descriptive! With our first child, we went to bed on Tuesday night knowing that our son could be born at any time, but was surprised shortly after 5:00 a.m. the next morning when we found it necessary to head for the hospital for the big event - an event which took place that afternoon at 2:32. Had I known the night before, I would have gone to bed earlier. As Believers, we are to be constantly prepared for the rapture, not like the lost who are equated here to people in drunken stupors in verse 7. As a matter of fact, Paul uses the word "sober" (verses 6, 8) here (Greek: nepho) to describe those who are prepared. Technically, "nepho" refers to one who is free from the influences of alcohol, but it is often used figuratively to identify one whose judgment ability is clear, as is the case here. There's a contrast here between "light" and "darkness." The "sons of light" (verse 5) are anticipating the rapture while the rest are compared to those drunken or sleeping. Then we have a verse packed with doctrinal implications - verse 9, "For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." To properly understand this verse, it is important to recognize the context. The "wrath" spoken of here points to the difficulties that will be experienced by the inhabitants of the tribulation; we saw it also in 1:10 (see above). This verse implies that saved people will not need to endure these difficulties ("not appointed us to wrath") because we will have been raptured prior to these events - a pre-tribulation rapture!
The phrase "day of the Lord" in verse 2 needs some clarification. The Greek noun for "day" is "hemera." This word is used in scripture in at least three different contexts:
The "day of the Lord" in verse 2 identifies an extended period of time (obvious from context) that we know as the tribulation of Revelation chapters 6-19. It neither specifies the rapture nor the second coming of Christ, but refers to the period of time sandwiched between those two events. Let's look at the entire verse 2, "For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night." The rapture is all good. The tribulation is all bad (some portions much worse than others). Forget Robin Hood; a thief is all bad. The destructive events of the "thief" aspect of the tribulation is the reference here i.e. destruction, death and misery.
Verse 10 might be easily misunderstood. Is this "wake" and "sleep" here literal or figurative? The short answer is "figurative." Now for the explanation. We saw in this passage that "sober" in verses 6 and 8 identifies people whose minds are clear and are anticipating the rapture. On the other hand, the "night" conduct of verses 4, 5 and 7 are representative of those who will be caught by surprise at the rapture. So, first in verse 10 we see a four-word statement about the significance of the death of Jesus on the cross when Paul says, "Who died for us." As a matter of fact, with I Thessalonians perhaps being Paul's first epistle, this may be the first mention by Paul of Christ's substitutionary death on the cross. Then we have three Greek subjunctive verbs. The first two, "wake" and "sleep" are both preceded by "eite" which is the Greek word for whether. Moreover, they are both in the present tense indicating continuing action in Greek. Therefore, the exact sense of their usage is "whether we may be in an awakened condition or whether we may be in a sleeping condition." The result is to be found in the verb "live." That's also in the Greek subjunctive mode, but unlike "wake" and "sleep," the tense is aorist, meaning action taken at a point in time - not continuous action. Therefore, "live" refers to a single event here, the rapture. So, putting it all together, here's the sense of verse 10: Christ died for us. That being the case, both those Believers who are living in a state of readiness for the rapture and those Believers who are not living in a state of readiness for the rapture will be raptured when the event of I Thessalonians 4:16-17 (see above) takes place. Having trusted Jesus Christ as one's savior is the condition for salvation, not the state of preparedness when Jesus raptures Believers.
Verse 11 complements verse 10. We see the security of the Believer in the assurance that is to be found in verse 10. Christians will be raptured...period - ready or not! Use this truth to comfort one another.
Some pointers on being ready for the rapture (I Thessalonians 5:12-28)
12 ¶ And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,
13 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.
14 ¶ Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.
15 See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.
16 ¶ Rejoice always,
17 pray without ceasing,
18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
19 ¶ Do not quench the Spirit.
20 Do not despise prophecies.
21 Test all things; hold fast what is good.
22 Abstain from every form of evil.
23 ¶ Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
24 He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.
25 ¶ Brethren, pray for us.
26 ¶ Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss.
27 ¶ I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren.
28 ¶ The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
So, how are God's children expected to demonstrate that they are not like the unsaved children of the night? These verses show us the readiness of believers who are anticipating Christ's big "catching away" event; they're just plain ol' good neighbors. We see a series of rapid-fire admonitions on living a life acceptable before God. All of them make for good preachin'.
Finally, Paul concludes his letter by decreeing that it be read to all the Believers.