1 Thessalonians: Preliminary Remarks

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It is very appropriate that the section of “Scripture Truth” more especially devoted to the exposition of Scripture, should commence with the study of the Epistles to the Thessalonians. They are generally regarded as being the earliest written records of Christianity, as they are undoubtedly the earliest of the apostles’ writings; and they present to us the freest, simplest, and most objective form in which the fundamental truths connected with the Kingdom of God, and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ are set forth.
It is intended that the simple and direct exposition of Scripture shall form a prominent feature of this periodical; and all interested in the matter are earnestly besought to help in prayer that the Lord may vouchsafe in abundant measure the spirit of grace and wisdom to writers and readers alike; so that what is put forth may be for the glory of His name in the unfolding of the truth, and for the blessing and edification of many of His dear children. To this end the subject must be approached by both writer and reader with becoming reverence, and in the full sense of dependence on the Holy Spirit; not with the object of merely furnishing our minds with knowledge, but with the desire that our souls may be so informed by the truth, that we may be enabled thereby to walk worthy of Him “who has called us unto His kingdom and glory.”
Important at all times, it was never more so than now, that the Christian should address himself, in dependence on the Spirit, to the direct and serious study of the Scriptures. It is to be deplored that the people of God generally are far too lax on this point. The Scriptures are not systematically taught in the family at home; neither are they read in private, and studied with the seriousness that is due to them. On the importance of this much stress is laid in the Scriptures themselves, as may be seen in such passages as Deuteronomy 4:9, 10; 6:79Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons; 10Specially the day that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb, when the Lord said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children. (Deuteronomy 4:9‑10)
7And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. (Deuteronomy 6:7)
; Psalm 1:2; 17:4; 1192But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. (Psalm 1:2)
4Concerning the works of men, by the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer. (Psalm 17:4)
4Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently. (Psalm 119:4)
.; etc. Timothy had evidently been trained after this good old fashion to which the apostle so approvingly refers in 2 Timothy 3:1515And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:15). For the furtherance of this study of Scripture in a serious and systematic manner may the Lord give grace, and deign to make it profitable to both writer and reader alike.
Thessalonica was situated on the Thermaic Gulf of the Ægæan Sea. It was rebuilt and enlarged by Cassander, who named it after his wife Thessalonica, a sister of Alexander the Great. Since that time it has played an important part in history, both ancient and modern, and under the corrupted name of Salonika, it is still, next to Constantinople, the most important town of European Turkey. It has been from early times, and still is, a great resort of Jews, as may be seen by the fact that with a population of 70,000, 10,000 are professing Christians of the Greek Church, while 35,000 are Jews, possessing 36 synagogues, and carrying on the chief trade of the city. Possibly this was a factor in determining the apostle to pass on through Amphipolis and Apollonia to Thessalonica, where he could address himself to a considerable number of his own countrymen with the glad tidings of which he was the messenger; according to what he says elsewhere, “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” — Romans 1:1616For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16).
Of the character of his preaching there we are not left in doubt. In Acts 17:1-131Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: 2And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, 3Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. 4And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few. 5But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. 6And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; 7Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus. 8And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things. 9And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go. 10And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. 12Therefore many of them believed; also of honorable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few. 13But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people. (Acts 17:1‑13), we have many interesting details as to his visit to that city. During his stay there, he devoted three Sabbaths in a special way in reasoning out of the Scriptures with the Jews in their Synagogue, opening and laying down: first, that Christ must needs have suffered; and second, risen up from among the dead; and third, that Jesus, whom he preached to them, was the Christ, the true Messiah, who was to fulfill their hopes of the coming kingdom.
We are not to suppose that Paul’s stay at Thessalonica was confined to the three weeks mentioned above, nor that his preaching was to the Jews only. From 1 Thessalonians 1:99For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; (1 Thessalonians 1:9), and 2:4-11, we gather that many of his converts were Gentiles, and that he must have stayed in the place for some considerable time. But keeping in mind the three leading facts of Acts 17:33Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. (Acts 17:3) will help us better to understand the principal features of what will come before us in detail in the two Epistles to the Thessalonians. In style these epistles are simpler in language and less involved in thought than his later epistles. The great truths of the gospel, however really they may be implied here, are not argued out either from a methodical or a polemical point of view, as they are in the Epistles to the Romans or Galatians. He does not here speak of the doctrine of righteousness, or of justification by faith, or of the believers part as identified with the death of Christ, or of the cross from a judicial point of view; but on the other hand he lays stress on the sufferings of Christ, the triumph of His resurrection, and the hope of His coming again.
This was important at the start of Christianity. We must remember that the gospel had to satisfy the just hopes of the thoughtful Jew, as well as to bring the light of mercy to the Gentile in the establishment of a kingdom which would be the glory of the one, and the blessing of both. The full bearing of the cross of Christ in the settlement of divine righteousness so that grace might reign unto eternal life, as also the special heavenly hopes of the Church were to be brought out in due course in his later epistles; but they are not the subject matter here. Of course there is nothing contrary to or inconsistent with them: it could not be so, where all is under the inspiration and direction of the Spirit of God. But whether or not the apostle’s own mind was as yet fully in the light of them, as appears in his later epistles, he is not here led of the Spirit to unfold them as he does elsewhere.
“There is a time for every purpose under heaven,” the wise man tells us (Eccl. 3:11To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: (Ecclesiastes 3:1)); and it was as timely to address to the Thessalonians the epistle written to them, as it would have been untimely to address to them the Epistle to the Ephesians, or that to the Colossians. There is neither confusion nor contradiction in Scripture between the heavenly purposes of God for the ages, and the governmental principles on which order will be established in the universe. Each is a hand-maiden with the other in their respective spheres for the accomplishment of the great problem of the glory of God, and His good pleasure founded and built upon a basis that cannot be moved.
The object of the apostle at Thessalonica was to preach Christ to the Jew first and also to the Greek; to meet their difficulties in regard to the sufferings of Christ and His resurrection; and to prove to them that these things did not militate against the claims of Jesus to be their Messiah. Such being his object, the opposition to him, as was natural, arose from the Jews themselves. Later on, in Romans and Galatians, his object was to unfold the great doctrines of the cross, the nature of life in Christ, and as a consequence, “deliverance ‘ from this present evil age.” To this the opposition arose from the ranks of Judaizing Christians. In Ephesians and Colossians he unfolds the hidden counsels of God from eternity: and the “great mystery” of Christ and the Church: with the reconciliation of all things to God; and as his subject increases in greatness so does the opposition to it. It is no longer a wrestling with flesh and blood, but with all the powers imaginable that can be ranged against it, with wicked spirits in the heavenlies. (Eph. 6:1212For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:12)).
Although 1 Thessalonians is rather practical than doctrinal, and does not therefore lend itself to the analysis of an ordered treatise developed on lines of thought in a consequential way, yet we may in a general way perhaps divide it into two main parts — chapters 1-3 being of a more personal kind, in which the apostle pours out his feelings towards them in his joy at the good tidings that Timothy brought him of their state; and chapters 4.-5., being exhortations to them prompted by the love that was so fervently desirous of their furtherance in the faith, and their fullest blessing (Chapter 5:23). — In this latter section is given a special revelation as to the rapture of the Church, in order to comfort the hearts of those who feared that their departed brethren would not share in the glories of the kingdom for which they looked.
We shall now address ourselves to the consideration of the epistle in detail.
(To Be Continued).
EDITORS’ NOTE: Readers are invited to send us, in the first week of each month, brief expository comments on any or all of the separate verses contained in the portion to be considered the following month. Comments considered helpful, will be published, as far as space permits. This will constitute a kind of Bible Reading by post, which we trust may be profitable to contributors and readers alike. The portion to be considered in the February issue is Chapter 1 of the epistle.
No foe can cross the protecting circle of the Everlasting Arm.
Why should I start at the plow of my Lord that maketh deep furrows in my soul? I know that He is no idle Husbandman, He purposeth a crop.
A Christian is the world’s Bible. In many cases a revised version is much needed.
It takes more time and patience for God to fit us to receive blessing, than it does for Him to bestow it.
An unbroken career of prosperity might result in abundant leafage; but there would be little fruit, if the Divine Husbandman, with infinite wisdom and foresight did not trim and prune the branch.
God pours into those who pour out. When any soul comes to the conclusion that he or she is full, and begins to button up the garment and hold it there, it is gone.
Attachment to Christ is the only secret of detachment from the world.
THE GOSPEL. — Every child knows the meaning of the word gospel, but no saint in the sanctuary knows all its music.
A little child will simply and affectionately tell you that the word gospel mean’s God’s spell, good news, glad tidings; and the child is etymologically correct. But etymology is only a little latch which we lift, in order that we may pass through the portal into the infinite reaches of divine love.