Bible Reading Notes—Step 6: Week 39

Introduction to Paul’s Epistles to the Thessalonians

Paul and Silas preached at Thessalonica after leaving Philippi. The details of this visit are recorded in Acts17:1-9. Few of the Jews received the truth of the Gospel message, but the Gentiles were more responsive (verses 5, 11). Both the Epistles (letters) to Thessalonica were probably written around AD 52/53 when Paul was at Corinth, where he stayed for a year and six months (Acts 18:11).

Sunday - 1 Thessalonians 1

Silvanus (v1) is thought to be the Roman (Latin) name for Silas, who together with Timothy, accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey.

The Thessalonians were good examples of putting faith, hope and love into action in their lives (v3, compare 1 Corinthians 13:13), while waiting for the return of the Lord Jesus from heaven (v10). The return of Jesus to this earth is an important theme in these two letters of Paul, being mentioned in every chapter. The Thessalonians had received the faith in much affliction (compare Acts 17:5-10), and, in coping with those difficulties and troubles, they had joyfully followed the example of Paul and his companions, and also of the Lord Jesus (v6), so setting an example for others to follow (v7).

Sufficient time had elapsed between the establishment of the church at Thessalonica and Paul writing this first letter for the news of their faith to spread far and wide (verses 7-8).

Monday - 1 Thessalonians 2

The message Paul preached was not of human origin but was indeed the inspired word of God (v13, compare 2 Timothy 3:16). This is how we should receive the teachings of Paul and the other New Testament writers, despite modern thinking which often rejects their teachings as not relevant to our day and age.

There is further reference in verses 14-16 to the turbulent happenings when the gospel was first preached in Thessalonica, as described in Acts 17. Because of this persecution orchestrated by the Jewish opposition (Acts 17:5), Paul and his companions were sent away to Berea (Acts 17:10) when they would have very much liked to remain for a while. In this chapter Paul describes them as being ‘torn away’ from the Thessalonians (v17). The coming again of Jesus is mentioned again in v19 (see notes for chapter 3).

Satan (v18) is a Hebrew word meaning ‘adversary’ and in this case would personify the hostility of wicked men, probably that of the Jewish and Gentile opposition at Thessalonica.

Tuesday - 1 Thessalonians 3

Timothy and Silas had rejoined Paul at Athens after remaining for a while at Berea (Acts 17:14-16). From Athens, Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica to encourage the newly established church and to bring back news (v1). Timothy had now rejoined Paul at Corinth with encouraging news concerning the spiritual welfare of the Thessalonian believers (verses 5-6).

The coming again of the Lord Jesus is mentioned once again at the end of this chapter (v13). The Greek word translated ‘coming’ is ‘parousia’, which in the New Testament is a word commonly used to describe the second coming of Christ. It was a word often used in the first century to describe the arrival of an important person such as a governor or emperor, and where preparations had to be made to ensure that everything was ready. The implied lesson in the use of this term is that Christians should be ready for the return of their master to this earth even though neither the day nor the hour of his coming are known (Matthew 25:13).

Wednesday - 1 Thessalonians 4

The life in Christ should be one of spiritual progress. There should be no backsliding or even standing still, but rather the developing of spiritual qualities ‘more and more’ in order ‘to please God’ (verses 1,10).

Sufficient time had passed since Paul had left Thessalonica for some of the believers to have ‘fallen asleep’(died).  Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that they have no reason to grieve as others do, since they have the sure hope of bodily resurrection when Christ returns (verses13-14). Those alive when Christ returns will have no advantage over those who are sleeping in their graves, since the dead in Christ will rise first and so meet Christ together with those already living. Compare 1 Thessalonians 5:10-11.

Bodily resurrection at the return of Christ is the true hope for those who die in Christ, in contrast to the commonly held false teaching that people have immortal souls which go to heaven at death (compare 1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

‘Caught up’ (v17) should be translated ‘caught away’ as it means to be quickly transported from one place to another without implying any particular direction. Many scriptures teach that the faithful believers will rule with Jesus on the earth (e.g. Matthew 5:5,35;  Daniel 7:27; Revelation 5:10). So ‘caught away… into the air’ does not mean being taken to heaven (see John 3:13). Either it refers to the fact that the saints are transported through the literal air to meet Christ, or the word ‘air’ is being used in a figurative sense to refer to the elevated position of Christ as world ruler.

Thursday - 1 Thessalonians 5

The Thessalonians had already been instructed concerning the day of the Lord’s coming (v1). Those in spiritual darkness, while expecting peace and safety (security), will be caught up in the sudden destruction coming upon the world like a thief in the night (verses 2-3). Children of light must keep spiritually awake and sober, not allowing themselves to become intoxicated by the pleasures and cares of this world or to be slumbering with the sleep of carelessness and indifference. The coming of Christ will be sudden and unexpected, so the lesson for Christ’s followers is for them to be wakeful and watchful (verses 6-7). Compare the teaching of Jesus on this subject (Matthew 24:36-51; Revelation 16:15) and that of Peter (2 Peter 3:1-13).

Since the spiritual darkness of the world around us can easily have a stupefying and deadening effect on believers, the protection of spiritual armour, the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation (v8), are essential defence. Here we have another mention of the three main virtues of Christianity, faith, hope and love (see note for Sunday’s reading from 1 Thess. 1:3).

Verses 12-22 cover a similar range of advice and exhortation to that given by Paul in Romans 12:3-18. Patience is an important quality when coping with the idle, the fainthearted and the weak in faith (v14). It is an important aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), being one of the facets of love (1 Corinthians 13:4) and it is a quality of God himself, who describes himself as ‘slow to anger’ (Exodus 34:6, compare Psalm 103:8).

Friday - 2 Thessalonians 1

This second letter may be written only a few months later than the first. The Thessalonians have been growing in faith and love in spite of persecution and affliction (verses 3-4). Growth is important and Christians should not be content with stagnation in their spiritual lives. There should be striving, enduring and overcoming in order to produce the fruit of the Spirit to the glory of God. ‘Faith and love are refined in the crucible of trials and hardships’. Suffering is part of God’s purpose for his people (1 Thess. 3:3), developing in the sufferer qualities of character, and teaching them valuable lessons.

However, those who afflict God’s people will not escape punishment, for when Jesus returns he will inflict fiery vengeance on the wicked, resulting in their eternal destruction (verses 5-10, compare 2 Peter 3:7; Hebrews 12:29). Note that the fate of the wicked is not one of eternal torments in the fires of Hell as taught by some, but ‘eternal destruction’, which is equivalent to being destroyed for ever, eternal death. In contrast, the saints receive eternal life (Mark 10:30).

Saturday - 2 Thessalonians 2

This chapter contains a sombre warning. Not only had the believers to be strong against the persecutions they were receiving from non-believers, both Jews and Gentiles, but Paul now warns them to beware of dangers from false teachers arising from within the church itself. This is not a new warning; it echoes the words of Jesus (e.g. Matthew 24:11,12,24; Matthew 7:15, 22-23) and is spoken of throughout the New Testament (e.g. 2 Peter 2:1, 1Tim. 4:1-3, Acts 20:29-30). It is something we need to think carefully about ourselves, and test everything we hear against what the Bible actually says.

Even in the first century, a ‘falling away’ (Gk. apostasia, v3) from true teaching was already starting to happen (e.g. v7, 1 John 2:18-19; 2 John 7-9, 2 Timothy 2:17-18). Paul explains that such a falling away is to be expected before the return of the Lord Jesus Christ (verses 2,3).

The chapter describes a number of points which identify a false religious system:

  • it developed out of 1st Century Christianity (verses 3, 7)
  • it is focused in a man (v3)
  • who opposes God’s laws and God’s people (v4)
  • who exalts himself as a god and has his seat in a place regarded as the “temple of God” (v4)
  • it is a system where wickedness (iniquity, lawlessness) flourishes (v7)
  • it deceives people with lying wonders and fake miracles (verses 9-11)
  • it doesn’t love or even believe what is the truth (verses 10,12)

Many people have seen this chapter as identifying some of the worst features and excesses of the Catholic Church and the papacy. The history of Christianity shows that the restraining power in the first three centuries AD was Paganism, headed up by the Roman empire, which tried to eradicate Christianity by oppression and persecution. However, when Constantine became emperor in AD312 he supported Christianity. The Church was able to develop its political ambitions, and gained the power to ruthlessly crush religious opposition. Eventually the Bishop of Rome assumed the preeminent position in the Catholic Church as the Pope (circa AD 500-600).

The good news of this chapter, however, is that all false teaching and false teachers will be destroyed by the Lord Jesus when he returns (v8). The message for us is to believe and stand fast to the true teaching of the Word of God (v15), to test and reject any other teachings, for if we do this we will be gathered together to the Lord Jesus Christ when he comes, to live for ever with him (v1).