Chapter 1

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The Epistles to the Thessalonians were the earliest written of any of Paul’s writings. They appear to have been written from Corinth after Timothy’s return from Macedonia. Cp. 1 Thess. 3:66But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you: (1 Thessalonians 3:6), and Acts 18:55And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ. (Acts 18:5). In Acts 17 we have the short account given to us of Paul’s visit to Thessalonica. He appears to have preached for three Sabbath days in the synagogue of the Jews there, reasoning out of the scriptures, proving from them that Messiah must needs have suffered and risen from the dead before setting up His kingdom, and that the Jesus whom Paul preached to them was the Messiah. The consequence was, that some believed the testimony and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks, a great multitude, and of the chief women, not a few. This stirred up the envy of the Jews that believed not, and they took certain lawless men of the city, and made an uproar; assaulted the house of Jason who had received the brethren, and sought to draw the apostles out to the people. When they could not find them, they drew Jason and certain brethren to the rulers of the city crying,
And they troubled the rulers of the city, when they had heard these things; and when they had taken security of Jason and the other, they let them go. And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas unto Berea.
This is the account we have in the Acts of the sojourn of Paul and Silas at Thessalonica. The subject preached seems to have been the Messiah of the Prophets, as dead, risen, and the coming king, that He must needs have suffered before coming to reign; and then the Messiah of the prophets was identified with Jesus of Nazareth. Thus the young converts were just barely converted and instructed in the elements of Christian truth when their fathers in Christ had to leave. After Paul had been sent on to Athens from Berea, Timothy appears after having stayed at the latter place for a while, to have come on to him, and then to have been sent back from Athens to Thessalonica to help on the young converts. He afterward rejoined the Apostle with Silas at Corinth. (See 1 Thess. 3:1-21Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone; 2And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlaborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith: (1 Thessalonians 3:1‑2); Acts 18:55And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ. (Acts 18:5).)
We have a further truth brought out in the first chapter of the 1st Epistle to the Thessalonians, besides that which Paul preached in the synagogue of Thessalonica. There, as we have seen, he identified the Messiah of the prophets with Jesus the Anointed of Nazareth. He was the Christ. He must needs have suffered, for the nation was sinful, and have been raised from the dead, and was coming back to reign. Those who repented and believed were baptized and got introduced into the kingdom. They took distinct new ground, by His death and resurrection, confessing the King that had been rejected and waiting for his return to reign. But here there is added truth which is properly Christian truth. Here we have the revelation of the Father and the Son. The assembly is addressed as being in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ. They had turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son, from heaven, to take them into His Father’s house, before the Messiah came to reign. The truth was the Anointed had been rejected by the Jewish nation and the world; that relationship, therefore, as a public known thing in the world, was put off. He had taken a new position in the heavenly glory as the Son of God, and the Father was now calling out a heavenly family in connection with His Son, who had breathed into them His own Life of resurrection (John 20:2222And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: (John 20:22)). This change was indicated in His words to Mary Magdalene after He rose from the dead,
The Jewish relationship was put off till after His ascension and return. He was about to ascend to His Father, and she was to carry the message to those whom He now owned as His brethren, saying,
Thus, though these Christians had been brought to the confession of Jesus being the Anointed, and had been baptized into His name, yet that was not the height of their Christian place. Redemption had taken them out of their Adam condition, and had put them into the new place the Son of God had taken: His life, communicated to them, had given them the position of sons before the Father. God was no longer hidden behind a veil, but fully revealed in Christ as being for them.
My reader, Do you know the Son of God? Many make no difference between His name of Jesus, i.e., Savior; the Christ, or the Anointed; and the Son of God; but there is all the difference possible, though all belonging to the same Person, and Himself the object of faith and knowledge under different names.
We get, in the 1st Epistle, a beautiful exhibition of the freshness of life exhibited in a young Assembly just planted, as well as the exhibition of the power of that ministry that had planted it. We see also the intensity of affection that existed mutually between the fathers in the faith and the young converts. The first chapter is filled with a song of praise by the Apostle as he remembered the fruits manifested by the Thessalonians of their election of God: the power with which the gospel had come unto them, which they had received with much assurance and joy. These fruits were manifested in the word of God having sounded out from them, so that their faith God-ward was spread abroad around. This commended the ministry of the Apostles, the fruit of which ministry was thus manifested in their turning away from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His returning Son from heaven. Thus they had become followers of the Apostle who, in ch. 2, reminds them of His walk amongst them, and shows them how tenderly he had treated them as a nurse, and exhorted them faithfully as a father, to walk worthy of God who had called them to His kingdom and glory. They had, by receiving the Word, not only followed Paul and those with him, but had become followers of the Assemblies of God in Judea, and had then been persecuted in consequence. He then, ver. 17, shows the earnest desire he had of seeing them, having made one or two attempts, but Satan had hindered him, and at last, chapter 3, when he could no longer forbear, he had sent Timothy to establish them and comfort them in the faith.
He then desires them to abound in love one toward another, to the end their hearts might be established unblameable in holiness in the day of the Lord Jesus, exhorting them, chapter 4, to beware of fornication, to follow after holiness, and to love one another, working with their own hands, thus walking honestly before all. From ver. 13 onwards, he comforts them in regard to their departed brethren, putting before them in a true light the coming of the Lord Jesus, as the day when they should rejoin all their departed brethren by being caught up to meet the Lord in the air; and then chapter 5 shows how, in this way, they would be entirely delivered from Christ’s judgment of the ungodly world, whilst He would come for salvation for them. Thus they were to comfort and build up one another. Also to remember those that laboured in the Lord amongst them, and to esteem them very highly for their work’s sake. Exhortations follow with a short commendation, which ends the Epistle. In the 1st chapter we have the birth of the young believers mentioned; in the 2nd chapter their nursing and care; in the 3rd their standing; in the 4th their walking, and in the 5th their watching.
The second coming of the Lord has a special place in both Epistles, and is mentioned in every chapter. In the first chapter it is put chiefly in connection with the Person coming to deliver the Thessalonians; He was the one they were to wait for. In the second chapter it is put in connection with the labourer’s reward. In the third chapter it is looked at in connection with the daily walk of the believers. In chapter 4 as the place where the saints would rejoin their departed brethren, in chapter 5 as the day of judgment for the ungodly world, from which the saints would be delivered by being caught up first to meet the Lord in the air, and so it was a day of salvation to them. Finally, he prays that their whole spirit, soul, and body, might be preserved blameless till the coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ. All this shows what a place the Lord’s coming had in the teaching of the Apostles, how it was connected with the believers’ hope and expectation, the labourer’s crown of reward, the motive for the believer’s walk, the comfort of the sorrowing, and the building them up and their establishment in the knowledge of full deliverance from judgment. Is not the general low state of believers attributable to the fact that this great truth is so much kept in the back ground, and that believers consequently are trembling at the thought of a general judgment, when their cases would be settled as well as those of the ungodly at the same tribunal? This would never be; if the true doctrine of the coming of the Lord was seen. In the first Epistle the doctrine is chiefly pressed in regard to the complete salvation of true believers in Christ, before the day of judgment. In the second Epistle it is seen chiefly in reference to the ungodly and the apostasy of Christendom. Consequently, there it is judgment.
But now let us return and look more leisurely through our Epistle. Paul, Silas, and Timothy address the Assembly. The Assembly is looked at in a different way to that of other Epistles. It is addressed in its relationship to the Father, rather than in connection with Christ the Head of His body.  It is the Assembly of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the thought of God’s family that is here; delightfully suitable to young Christians, babes in Christ, who would be rejoicing in their first knowledge of the Father (see 1 John 2:1313I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. (1 John 2:13)). The Son of God, in His place down here on the earth, said to Philip,
And then having taken His place at the right hand of God, after having accomplished redemption, He says in reference to the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost came down,
At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you (John 14:2020At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. (John 14:20)).
It was not till after the Cross that the disciples got their full place as sons, or their full knowledge of that place. Up to Christ the Gentiles were entirely outside; the Jewish nation in the place of privilege, in the place of servant of Jehovah. The believers amongst them were heirs, but in the position of servants. (See Eph. 2:11-1211Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; 12That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: (Ephesians 2:11‑12); Isa. 41:88But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. (Isaiah 41:8); Gal. 4:1-31Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; 2But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. 3Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: (Galatians 4:1‑3)). In the fullness of time Christ came, made of a woman, made under the law, and by redemption took the Jewish heirs out of the place of servants and put them in the place of sons. He was the Son of God, declared to be so by the resurrection from the dead, risen out from under the whole power of the enemy and the world, to give every believer the place of sons before the Father. Go, tell my brethren, He said, after His resurrection,
Forty days after, the Lord ascended to heaven, and the Holy Ghost, having come down from heaven, gave them the knowledge of their place according to the Word;
At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you (John 14:2020At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. (John 14:20)).
Blessed place! My reader, do you know it? The Gentile believer, also got the same place through the preaching of Peter to Cornelius; and by Paul afterwards.
Having addressed the Assembly then in their place as connected with God the Father, the Apostle lets out his heart in thankfulness to God, as he remembered their work of faith and labour of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God the Father, knowing thus their election of God. The work of faith was manifest, for they were standing fast in their place as saved ones in separation from the heathen and Jews around them, and as an Assembly in conscious relationship with the Father. Whilst the heathen around were going on serving idols and the Jews were formally serving God under the covenant title of Jehovah, here was an Assembly called out from both, confessing together God as their Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, His Son, as their Saviour, and knowing their place as children. Surely this was the work of faith of itself. But then faith is not merely a cold objective thing when real; it works by love. Spiritual life is communicated where faith is real in the Son, and this life is a life of love, which manifests itself all around by good works. The believer shows his love by labouring in Christ’s cause, and manifests His life here below. These Thessalonians too had been taught that that Jesus in whom they believed, was coming again to receive them to himself, to give them a bright home in His Father’s house. They had turned to God to wait for God’s Son from heaven, and in the mean time, whilst the delay took place, were patiently waiting for the time, enduring the persecution of their enemies without murmur. Thus faith, hope, and love were in full exercise, showing their reality in their fruits. How could the Apostle doubt their election of God?
Ver. 5. It was a cause of thankfulness then, as shown by its lasting fruits, how the Gospel had not come to them in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance, as they knew what manner of men these servants had been amongst them for their sakes. They had become followers of the Apostles and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction with joy of the Holy Ghost; so that they were ensamples to all that believed in Macedonia and Achaia; for from them had sounded out the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place their faith Godward was spread abroad, so that the Apostles needed not to speak anything; these Christians themselves showing of the Apostles what manner of entering in they had unto the Thessalonians, and how they had turned to God from idols to serve the living and the true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivered them from the wrath to come.
My reader, what blessed proofs we have here of the power of the ministry of the Apostles, and its real effects on men and women who were before, many of them, but ignorant heathen. It came to them in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance. It was received in much affliction, but with joy of the Holy Ghost. It sounded forth to others, as proving its reality. Thus here we have a picture of a people just converted from heathenism, fully assured of their salvation and relationship; knowing the Father and the Son, with whom they were connected; much persecuted, but full of joy, serving the living and true God, and waiting for His Son from heaven to come back again to take them to glory. Happy people! And what could produce this but the power of the Holy Ghost, which dwelt in them? They turned to God with a double object, to serve the living and true God, no doubt in contrast to idols, and to wait for His Son from heaven, Jesus, which had delivered them from the wrath to come.
And now, my readers, permit me to ask you whether this last verse is a picture to you of your own conversion. You will tell me, “Well, I am not a heathen.” True! But still there must be a turning to God in your case. Even a strict religionist like Nicodemus, had to be born again. The disciples themselves were told,
Paul says of every man universally,
Every man, Jew, Gentile, or Christian, baptized or unbaptized, have their faces naturally turned away from God, till the preaching of God’s testimony turns their faces towards Him. Then also if not actually worshiping images and idols, has not the heart idols? Covetousness is said to be idolatry. It is much to be feared that many of the professors of the present day have not learnt in the presence of God what idols mean. Anything that keeps a man away from God or Christ is an idol, and when converted the very action of the turning is the turning away from them to God.
God is set forth in His character, light and love. The light beams down from the face of God’s glorified Son. The heart, formerly set on idols, is turned to the reality of God; judges itself. Idols are left; God’s heart of love is understood as meeting every thing in the gift of His Son, and finds rest, perfect rest in the blood and in the person of Christ. God is now the object of the soul, not idols: His righteousness, as seen in His glorified Son, has been fully vindicated by the Cross, which has fully met His claims against the sinner, whilst it has been so positively glorified by that same work (Christ’s obedience unto death), that it has glorified the man who accomplished it. It is therefore manifested for the believing sinner in the person of God’s Son in heaven. The righteousness of God claims his complete justification, whilst the love of God gives him that Son of His, as His own present gift, setting him in present connection with Him by the communication of His own life to the soul, so that in spirit he is already beyond death and judgment. Such a God is the God to serve; a blessed service, a service of liberty instead of a service of bondage and fear.
The Thessalonians, besides this, had been taught that God’s Son had been rejected of this world, and was, in consequence, in heaven, and that before He came again to judge the world, He would come and take them away to heaven. Consequently they waited for God’s Son from heaven, Jesus the Saviour, who had already actually delivered them from the wrath to come by His death on the Cross, and would finally and eternally deliver them at His coming for them before He came to the world for judgment.
And now, my reader, you only want to apprehend in power those two titles, “God’s Son,” and “Jesus,” to send a thrill of joy through your soul. You are not told to wait for a judge coming to judge you. None of Christ’s judicial titles are here. He is the judge; but for believers He is God’s own Son set forth in His own relationship to the Father, coming to fetch them into the Father’s house. (See John 14:1-31Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:1‑3).) God’s Son, too, has been raised from the dead, after He had fully met God’s claims, raised from the dead out from under our sins, and the judgment they deserved, victor over the whole power of the enemy; the sure pledge, foundation, and assurance of our own triumph, and that His life of resurrection will be then applied to our bodies as it is now to our souls. And His name is “Jesus,” i.e., Jehovah, Saviour; telling of complete salvation. Now we are saved from the imputation of sin and its consequences. Now we are saved from sin’s power by present faith in His name; then we shall be saved from the very presence of sin; our vile bodies will be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, and fashioned just like unto His glorious body. How, then, can judgment touch the beloved saints of God? Truly we are thus delivered from coming wrath by God’s Son, the Saviour coming, before He comes to judge the world, to take every believer to glory. But chapter 4 will give us further instruction on this point.
In chapter 1 then, we have had the Apostle’s song of praise in view of the fruits manifested in this dear young Thessalonian Assembly. And we can rejoice in our far distant day in reading it, learning by it the secret of the freshness of love manifested in the early church, and longing that some such fruits may be seen in our day.