The Inspiration of the Scriptures: 1 Thessalonians

1Th  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Chap. 5 Divine Design. 41. the First Epistle to the Thessalonians
This Epistle has an interest peculiar to itself, as being the first inspired writing of the apostle. It is addressed to an assembly gathered a short time before by his (with others') labors, fresh in zeal and all due spiritual affections, but necessarily immature in knowledge. This led, it would seem, to the remarkable character of the inscription, “Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, to the assembly of Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” There they are viewed in the closest and highest association, babes in the Father and the Son (1 John 2:2424Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. (1 John 2:24)). The workmen used toward them were giving thanks always for them, with mention in their prayers.
Could it be otherwise with those who remembered unceasingly, not their “work” only but its “faith,” their “labor” of love, their “endurance” of hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father? All the great springs of power wrought in their souls and ways, and this in God's sight: what a testimony, as brethren beloved by God, to their election (vers. 1-4), and to the power of the gospel, truly in the Holy Spirit and much assurance, according to the life of those who preached it (ver. 5)! Hence they became imitators of them and of the Lord, having accepted the word in much tribulation with joy of the Holy Spirit, so as to become a model to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia (ver. 7). Nay, more: the word of the Lord had sounded out from them, not only in these two Roman provinces, but in every place their faith God-ward had gone forth; “so that we have no need to say anything, for they themselves report concerning us what manner of entering in we had unto you.” What a wonder then, or at any time! “And how ye turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to await his Son from the heavens, whom he raised out from the dead, Jesus the deliverer from the wrath to come” (8-10). Yes, it is the faith, the walk of love and truth, and the hope.
In chap. 2 the apostle depicts the true workman in guileless suffering and unselfish love, as pleasing God, seeking no glory from men, but gentle as a nurse and faithful as a father, that they should walk worthily of God, “who calleth you unto His own kingdom and glory” (vers. 1-12). “And for this cause also we give thanks to God unceasingly that, having received God's word reported from us, ye accepted, not men's word but even as it is truly, God's word, which also worketh in you that believe.” This only brings into living relationship with Him, and keeps there; proved by endurance of suffering for it, as the assemblies in Judea, and the apostles, yea, in the highest degree the Lord Himself, from the envious hatred of the unbelieving Jews, on whom is come wrath to the uttermost (13-16). It is true that Satan may hinder, and grace may call us elsewhere; but he presents the Lord's coming as the unfailing joy when all the fruits of love shall, without fail, bloom in His presence Who produced them. “For ye are our glory and joy” (17-20). We all then should look thus to His coming, which more than makes up for all drawbacks.
From chap. 3 we learn that as persecution followed the apostle, so it pressed on the young saints in Thessalonica; and Timotheus was sent by him to them, that none might be moved by these afflictions, though he had forewarned of all, and that the tempter might be foiled (vers. 1-5). But Timotheus on his return filled the apostle with good tidings of their faith and love (6-8), as the apostle attests his joy before God, and prays “our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus to direct our way unto you; and the Lord make you to increase and abound in love toward one another, and toward all, even as we also toward you, unto the establishment of your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (9-13). When He comes with His saints, not before, will be manifested in perfection that holiness which flows from and is maintained by love.
In chap. 4 the apostle presses purity and love, proper to the disciples of the Lord Jesus, and called for by habits which ignored both. Not only is He the avenger of unclean wrongs, but God gave us His Holy Spirit as power in sanctification (vers. 1-8). So the saints are themselves God-taught to love one another, ambitious of being quiet and doing their own affairs, and working with their own hands, in order to a reputable walk and need of nobody. Not till then does the apostle correct the fancy that the dead saints would lose much at the Lord's coming (13-18). The Thessalonians were so absorbed by that hope as to conceive that only those who survived till then would be in its full blessing. Had they overlooked His own death and resurrection? Did they leave out of His triumph Stephen, James (John's brother), and many another fallen asleep, to say nothing of the Old Testament saints? The apostle assures that God will bring with Jesus those put to sleep through Jesus: so mistaken was it that we, the living that remain to His coming, shall anticipate those put to sleep. Then he explains as a new revelation how this is to be effected. “For the Lord himself with a shout, with archangel's voice, and with trump of God, will descend from heaven; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we, the living that remain, shall be caught up together with them in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” What cheer so great?
Chapter 5 takes up the manifestation of the Lord with His own when He judges the world; that is, His day, which was no new truth but familiar in all prophecy. His day so comes as a thief in the night, and with sudden destruction. It does not so overtake Christians who are sons of light and of day. Such then should watch and be sober, putting on suited armor; because God set us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, that, whether we wake or sleep, we may live together with Him. “Wherefore encourage one another,” etc. (vers. 1-10). Then follow short but precious exhortations: to recognize those laboring and taking the lead; to be in peace among themselves; to admonish, encourage, sustain, and be long-suffering; none to render evil for evil, but always to pursue the good mutually and toward all. “Always rejoice; unceasingly pray; in everything give thanks, for this is God's will in Christ Jesus concerning you. The Spirit quench not; prophesyings despise not; but prove all things; the good hold fast; from every form of wickedness hold aloof. Now the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly, and your spirit and soul and body be preserved as a whole blamelessly at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who will also perform” (11-25).
Then the brethren are asked to pray for the apostle and those with him; as all the brethren were greeted with holy kiss. And with remarkable solemnity he adjures them by the Lord that the Epistle be read to all the [holy] brethren, and wishes the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to be with them. None thought less of himself than the apostle; yet none had so deep a sense of the all-importance to the saints, everyone, of these special communications from the Lord as the Epistles; and the first from Paul implies this in the highest degree. Compare also 2 Thess. 3:1717The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write. (2 Thessalonians 3:17).
Here the address is in substance as in the First Epistle, but a little enlarged to meet the need. Hope was enfeebled by a Judaizing error intended to alarm (2:2). Hence after the salutation the apostle and his two fellow-laborers say, “We ought to thank God always for you, even as it is meet, because your faith groweth exceedingly, and the love of each one of you all toward one another aboundeth.” But there is nothing now to say of their endurance of hope as before, though it is added that “we ourselves boast in you in the churches of God for your endurance and faith in all your persecution and the tribulation which ye sustain.” They were still faithful, though their hope was darkened. Apprehension of the day of the Lord had displaced their longing joy in His anticipated coming.
Hence he thus early in this letter points out that those afflictions they were enduring had nothing to do with that day, but were an evident token of the righteous judgment of God, to the end of their being counted worthy of the kingdom of God for which they were suffering. That day is, on the contrary, to destroy the wicked and usher in the kingdom of God, when those that suffer now shall reign with Christ. So he appeals to its indisputable principle: “If at least it is righteous with God to requite, tribulation to those that trouble you, and to you that are troubled repose with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with angels of his power, in flaming fire rendering vengeance to those that know not God, and to those that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus [Christ].” For that day is directed against not one class but two, not only the nations ignorant of God, but the Jews who rejected the glad tidings of our Lord Jesus.
Why then fear? It was for both so described, who were such as should pay penalty in “everlasting destruction from the Lord's presence, and from the glory of his might, when he shall have come to be glorified in his saints, and to be wondered at in all that believed ... in that day.” Can anything be plainer than that here we have the retributive character of that day in correction of unfounded alarm? “To which end we also pray always for you that our God may count you worthy of the calling, and fulfill every good pleasure of goodness and work of faith in power; so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and ye in Him, according to the grace of our God and [the] Lord Jesus Christ” (vers. 1-12). It will be apparent, the more the words are examined, that he does not speak thus far of our Lord's coming to meet the saints caught up, but of His judicial revelation or His day, when He and they shall be seen together in glory, as to which they had been misled.
In chap. 2 the apostle directly refutes the false teaching; for this it was, not ignorant and mistaken inference about the Lord's coming or its issues, as in 1 Thess. 4:13-1513But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:13‑15). Here it is a spurious notion for which the highest claim was made, bringing terror on the living saints; there it was a hasty deduction of their own as to the dead saints. “Now we entreat you, brethren, by [or, for the sake of] the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him, to the end that ye be not quickly shaken in [or, from your] mind, nor yet be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of the Lord is present” (vers. 1, 2). Thus the blessed hope of His coming to gather them to Himself is the motive for asking them not to be disquieted by the groundless notion, not without fraud, that His day had arrived with its terrors.
How could it be? The saints were still here, not gathered up to Him; and the frightful evils which His day is to avenge were not yet manifested. “Let not any one deceive you in any manner; because [it will not be] unless there have come the apostasy first, and there have been revealed the man of sin, the son of perdition, he that opposeth and exalteth himself above every one called God, or object of veneration, so that he sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Remember ye not that while yet with you I told you these things” (vers. 3-5)?
Before that day there must be, first the falling away, or the abandonment of the truth, next the revelation of the lawless one, in contrast with the mystery or secret of lawlessness at work in the church even when the apostle wrote. These three must not be confounded. The man of sin is the future adversary of the Lord, the Man of righteousness, the Antichrist of the First and Second Epistles of John, the willful king of Dan. 11:36-3936And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done. 37Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all. 38But in his estate shall he honor the God of forces: and a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honor with gold, and silver, and with precious stones, and pleasant things. 39Thus shall he do in the most strong holds with a strange god, whom he shall acknowledge and increase with glory: and he shall cause them to rule over many, and shall divide the land for gain. (Daniel 11:36‑39), and the second Beast of Rev. 13, identical with the False Prophet of chap. 19, as he is the antithesis of the true Prophet of Deut. 18, if we heed the apostle Peter (Acts 3). The restraining power and person (for both are true) is the Holy Spirit in His governing action providentially, not limited to the Roman empire; for He still restrains, though the empire exist not; and when it reappears under the dragon's influence, it is exactly when the Spirit ceases to restrain. Till then the powers are ordained of God; after it, Satan will be allowed to set up the lawless man as God even in His temple, whom the Lord Jesus will slay (or, consume) with the breath of His mouth and annul by the manifestation of His coming, having already gathered His saints to Himself on high.
No solid ground appears for regarding either the apostasy or the man of sin as successional, like the mystery of lawlessness. They are both future at the consummation of the age, the former preparing the way for the latter. Nor is it well founded to view the “consuming,” if that word were read, as gradual through the word: compare Isa. 11:4; 30:334But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. (Isaiah 11:4)
33For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared; he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it. (Isaiah 30:33)
. The Lord's antagonist is unique and arrayed with portentous power and signs and wonders of falsehood, according to Satan's working retributively to deceive and destroy those who refused the love of the truth and had pleasure in unrighteousness (vers. 6-12).
In contrast with such, it drew out thanksgiving always that God chose the brethren from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and faith of the truth. This was shown when He called them “through our gospel” to obtaining our Lord Jesus Christ's glory. So they are exhorted to hold fast what they were taught, whether by word or by “our epistle;” and as in closing chap. 1, so here in chap. 2 he prays that our Lord, and our God and Father Who had so loved and blessed, might encourage their hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
Chapter 3 opens with asking their prayers that the word of the Lord might run and be glorified, even as also with them, and for deliverance from unreasonable and evil men, for faith is not of all. But the Lord is faithful; what a strength to establish the saints and keep from evil! And hence it was that the apostle trusted that what he enjoined they both were doing and would do, and prays that the Lord would direct their hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ. He was waiting above; let them wait here below. But the act of withdrawing from disorderly idlers, serious as it is, should not be confounded with purging out the wicked person in 1 Cor. 5, which last only is excommunication. They were therefore not to esteem one that shirked work as an enemy, but rather to admonish as a brother. Leaven, on the contrary, has to be peremptorily purged out as unclean. Again, he prays the Lord of peace Himself to give them peace through everything in every manner, and Himself be with them; for such things are apt to disquiet and lead to errors if not judged. As he adjured them by the Lord to read the First Epistle to all the holy brethren, so here he salutes by his hand as the mark in every epistle, and wishes the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to be with them all.