COMMENTARY ON FIRST THESSALONIANS
The report of the Thessalonian's conversion had spread abroad, and the Apostle was quick to acknowledge it. It was important that the suffering brethren in Thessalonica know their faith had been recognized among men. How much more, then, would it be acknowledged in heaven. When the saints of God are subjected to opposition and suffering, there is great value in having their conversion confirmed to their hearts. Trials have a way of eroding our comprehension of what really happened when we believed and obeyed the Gospel. When we have to grapple with the enemy of our souls, or with circumstances that are provoked by him, we experience difficulty in properly assessing the marvelous transition that took place when we came into Christ. This is largely owing to the whole-hearted effort required in standing against the wiles of the devil, and in the evil day. This limitation is the result of having God's treasure in an earthen vessel, which is a most significant handicap. The Lord Jesus intercedes for us during such times (Lk 22:32; Heb 7:25), and the Holy Spirit also helps our infirmities through His faithful intercession (Rom 8:26). There is, however, an additional ministry that the saints have to one another during these times. Our text is an example of such a ministry. It is a help that is not limited to the Apostles. Reaffirming the validity of our beginning in Christ assists in clarifying our vision when our eyes are dimmed with the tears of suffering and trial. When we are enabled to look back to the time when we were "illuminated" (Heb 10:32), we gather fresh strength for the battle. This is a benefit we can minister to one another, and is of incalculable benefit during times of spiritual stress.
THE MANNER OF ENTRY, AND HOW THEY TURNED
" 9aFor they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols . . . " "They," are the people of Macedonia, Achaia, and "in every place" where the faith of the Thessalonians had "spread abroad" (1:8). Their report was not a simplistic one, but one which brought great glory to God. We will hear how the recounting of the Thessalonians included what they turned from, as well as what they turned to. Their new life in Christ Jesus sharply contrasted with their former lives, thereby attesting to the Divine work that as done within them.
THE MANNER OF ENTRY. Other versions read, "what kind of a reception we had with you,"NASB "what kind of reception you gave us,"NIV "what kind of welcome we had among you,"NRSV "the wonderful welcome you gave us."NLT Paul had come with good news from heaven, and the Thessalonians were glad to hear it. They "gladly received" the Word, as those early believers did on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41).
Jesus takes note of HOW His disciples are received. When He first sent out the twelve, our Lord spoke of how they were to respond when they were and were NOT received. "And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. And when ye come into an house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!" (Matt 10:11-15).
While men may think it of no consequence when the truth of the Gospel is NOT received, such reactions are recorded in heaven, and are most serious. Conversely, when the messengers of God ARE received, that also is duly noted in heaven. The "manner of entry" of Paul into Thessalonica was one of happy reception. The message he preached was heartily embraced. Word of it was blazed abroad to the glory of God.
When the Gospel was first preached in Thessalonica, Paul explained and proved that the Messiah "had to suffer and rise from the dead" (Acts 17:3). At that point a "great multitude of Greeks" and "a number of leading women" believed (Acts 17:4). It was, however, amidst great hostility that these people believed. It is said of the Jews in that city, "But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar" (Acts 17:5). They even dragged those who had harbored Paul and Silas before the rulers of the city, charging they all had "acted contrary to the decrees of Caesar" (17:6-7). Yet, in spite of this display of evil aggression, the Thessalonians had believed! What a "manner of entry" Paul and Silas had there!
YOU TURNED TO GOD. The Thessalonians were idolaters. They were steeped in idolatry, for that was their culture. Those of that city who believed were NOT proselytes to Judaism, for, in such a case, they could not have maintained allegiance to idols. However, though they were devoted idols, they "turned to God from idols." They did not require a lengthy orientation course to do this, or numerous disquisitions on the logical and spiritual flaws of idolatry. They "turned to God" upon hearing the Gospel, and powerful proofs that the Messiah, or chosen Savior of the world, suffered and was raised from the dead. This confirms the Gospel is truly "the power of God unto salvation" (Rom 1:16). When believed, it moves individuals away from devotion to false gods, whether they be idols of wood and stone (Deut 4:28), "imaginations" (2 Cor 10:5), or "covetousness" (Col 3:5).
But believing does more than turn men "from idols." It turns them "to God," in full recognition of His Person and His salvation. In His commission to Paul, Jesus declared he was chosen to go to the Gentiles. His mission among them was "To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me" (acts 26:18). There can be no forgiveness, inheritance, or sanctification by faith until the heart is turned "to God." That involves commitment as well as conviction.
Part of Apostolic preaching was the requirement to turn from vanities to God. How well this is stated in Acts 14:15. This was said in Lystra, where Paul was later stoned: "telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God." How appropriate for our time, when so many "worthless" things are being served! God be thanked for those who have turned to God!
TO SERVE GOD AND TO WAIT FOR HIS SON
" 9b . . . to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven . . . " As you can see, turning from idols to God is in order to "serve the living and true God." The power required to achieve such a turn comes from above. It is the result of being drawn by God to Jesus (John 6:44,65). It is also the result of Jesus drawing men to Himself (John 12:32). The Holy Spirit works to convince men of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11). It is no small thing when men "turn from idols to serve the living and true God!"
TO SERVE GOD. The objective is not simply to turn from idols, but to become servants of God, for that is what "to serve" means. This service speaks of single-heartedness, for "no man can serve two masters" (Matt 6:24). Serving God is doing His will "with all humility of mind" (Acts 20:19), and in "newness of spirit" (Rom 7:4). It involves being "fervent in spirit" (Rom 12:11), and doing the will of God while possessing "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14:17-18). Serving God is embracing God's work as our own, and living our lives to please Him and further His cause.
Living and True God. Note how precise the Holy Spirit is on this matter. He does not say we merely serve God, but that we have "turned to God" to serve "the living and true" God. This stance is compared to a merely traditional religion, where a dead letter is embraced, and conformity to a mere creed is followed. As it is written, "But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter" (Rom 7:6). God is living and true whether we serve Him that way or not. The benefits of serving God, however, are directly proportionate to our persuasion that God is alive, and is the "true God." This persuasion is the direct result of Christ's teaching. "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life" (1 John 5:20).
WAITING FOR HIS SON. The Gospel Paul preached included the word of a returning Lord. As soon as men believed his message, they started to "wait for His Son from heaven." Serving God demands this kind of hope - that we will soon "see Him as He is" (1 John 3:1-3). When Jesus ascended into heaven in the sight of His disciples, an angel of God told them, "This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). That return was prominent in all Apostolic preaching. The return of the Lord is the pole star of our hope. Apart from this, living for God makes no sense. It is all done in view of the coming of Christ. When He returns, Jesus will "change our vile body, that it might be fashioned like unto His glorious body" (Phil 3:20-21). True believers are described as "waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 1:7). The grace of God teaches us to refuse "ungodliness and worldly lusts," and live "soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world," all the while "looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ" (Tit 2:11-13).
Much of the religion of our day is totally void of such "waiting." Some are anticipating the "rapture," while others live in dread of "the great tribulation. But those who have turned from idols to serve the living God are anticipating the return of their Lord "from heaven." They know that until that expected time, they have a warfare on their hands, and that God is to be served in the midst of it. Without the expectation of Jesus coming "from heaven,"life is too burdensome to live with any degree of consistency. This accounts for the erratic lives of many professing believers. They cannot serve God well because they are not "waiting for His Son from heaven." Many of these poor souls have heard precious little about a returning Lord. It is not a subject of preaching or informative discussion. Other things are considered more important. But those things, however, worthy of attention they may appear, cannot constrain souls to "wait" for God's "Son from heaven"-and that is something we MUST do!
While I do not desire to linger on this thought, I feel compelled to mention it. It should be obvious to you that the distinguishing traits of the Thessalonians are not common today. Turning from idols, turning to God, serving God, and waiting for His Son from heaven, however, are evidences of real believers. These characteristics confirm the powerful working of the Gospel. Where they are not found, a most serious condition exists. In such a case, there really is no evidence of affiliation with God through Jesus Christ. Faith cannot be confirmed in such a case. We cannot ignore the absence of turning, serving, and waiting. They are vital!
A RISEN AND DELIVERING JESUS
" 10b . . . whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." One of the marks of inspiration is the centrality of the Lord Jesus Christ. Scripture is not the mere writing of facts, or even the orderly declaration of them. There is a focus in Scripture that always gives precedence to the declaration of Jesus Christ. If Moses is speaking to Israel concerning the Levitical order and its responsibilities, it is in order to inject a word about the coming Messiah (Deut 18:15). If God is speaking to Abraham about a nation that is to come from his loins, He will accent a single Seed through which the world will be blessed (Gen 22:18; Gal 3:16). The holy Prophets placed the accent upon a coming Deliverer, even though they announced many other things (Isa 7:14; 9:6-7; 32:22; Jer 23:6; 33:16; Mal 4:2, etc.). The testimony of Jesus IS "the spirit of prophecy" (Rev 19:10) - its life and vitality. Jesus affirmed the primary message of the Scriptures was Himself: "They testify of ME" (John 5:39).
Thus, when the Spirit identifies the real people of God as turning from idols to God, serving Him, and waiting for His Son, He is constrained to elaborate on the One for whom they are waiting. He will not leave believers to speculate about their Savior, but will direct them in HOW to think of Him. Jesus is a personal Savior, praise the Lord, but we cannot think of Him within the framework of human experience. The most productive thoughts about Christ center in His relationship to the Father Himself.
RAISED FROM THE DEAD. The text affirms, "HE" (God) "raised" Jesus "from the dead." This is a vital point with the Holy Spirit. "Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death . . . whom God hath raised from the dead . . . whom God raised from the dead . . . The God of our fathers raised up Jesus . . . But God raised Him from the dead . . . But He, whom God raised again, saw no corruption . . . Him God raised up the third day . . . in that He hath raised Him from the dead" (Acts 2:24; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30,37; 17:31).
The world judged Jesus worthy of death, and thus consigned Him to die. Religious and political people conspired together in His death. Leaders and common people joined together in the sentence. But God raised Him from the dead, confirming that Jesus was, in fact, His Son (Rom 1:4). In raising Jesus from the dead, our justification was secured (Rom 4:25). In His resurrection, Jesus was elevated above all principality and power, and given to the church as "Head over all" (Eph 1:20-23).
God brought Jesus back from the region of the dead. He did so that He might be the "Firstborn from the dead," thereby guaranteeing the future ingathering of the saints of God (Col 1:18; 1 Cor 6:14). The apprehension of a resurrected Christ is vital to the people of God. He came back from seeming defeat, and so will they. He was elevated above His enemies, and they will be also! Death could not hold Him, and it cannot hold them either! These are realities of which we are to be put in constant remembrance.
DELIVERS FROM THE WRATH TO COME. There is wrath ahead! It is coming! There is a "day of wrath" (Job 21:30; Rom 2:5), a time when this subdued part of God's nature will erupt "against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Rev 1:18). This wrath will "come upon the children of disobedience" (Eph 5:6; Col 3:6), and will be "poured out without mixture" (Rev 14:10). This is the part of God that is called "a consuming fire" (Heb 12:29). Presently, we are in "the day of salvation" (2 Cor 6:2), when grace is being offered to the sons of men. But that grace has not, nor will it ever, remove the day of God's wrath.
Isaiah's prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. "A man will be as a hiding place from the wind, And a cover from the tempest" (Isa 32:2). Jesus is to us what the blood of the Lamb was to Israel when the angel of the Lord swept through the land, killing the firstborn in every house unmarked with that blood (Ex 12:13).
There is a twofold sense in which Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come. First, He removes the hovering cloud of Divine wrath from our heads now. Is it not written, "he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36). Thus we have been brought under the loving favor of God NOW, when He is "for us," and not "against us." Second, He will keep us from the wrath "which shall devour the adversaries" (Heb 10:27). In that awful day of recompense, the Lord Jesus will stand fast by us, and we will "not be hurt by the second death" (Rev 2:11). These things are particularly precious to those who are suffering for righteousness sake. It helps to keep them running in the race, even when they are assaulted by storms and fiery trials. How precious to hear about them!