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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
1 Thessalonians 2

 

 

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Verse 1-2

Paul appealed to his readers to remember that his preaching had yielded positive results (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9). It had borne fruit in their lives. He had come to them having been persecuted for his preaching in Philippi, and he had received the same treatment in Thessalonica. Nevertheless he continued preaching boldly (Gr. parresiazomai), even though his message was not popular and might result in public abuse. Parresia, "boldness," is the opposite of kolakeia, "flattery" ( 1 Thessalonians 2:5). This is not the reaction of someone who seeks personal recognition or money. Such a person would move on quickly to a more profitable audience.


Verses 1-12

1. How the gospel was delivered2:1-12

Paul proceeded to rehearse the events of his ministry among his readers summarizing his motivation and actions. He did so to strengthen their confidence in him in view of questions that may have arisen in their minds and accusations that his critics may have directed against him (cf. Galatians 1:11 to Galatians 2:21).


Verses 1-16

B. Reminders for the Thessalonians2:1-16

Paul next reminded his readers of how the apostles delivered the gospel to them and how they received it to encourage them not to abandon it.


Verse 3-4

Paul claimed that his message was true, his motives were pure, and his methods were straightforward. He had behaved in Thessalonica as he had elsewhere, as a faithful servant of God. He did not preach for the approval of men but God, who scrutinizes motives.

"Few temptations assail the preacher more strongly than this one to please men, even if God is not pleased, though with the dim hope that God will after all condone or overlook. Nothing but experience will convince some preachers how fickle is popular favour and how often it is at the cost of failure to please God." [Note: Robertson, 4:17.]


Verse 5-6

Paul abhorred the use of speech that would assure him a positive reception regardless of what he preached.

"Flattery was a well-known and much despised practice in the ancient world." [Note: Wanamaker, p97. Cf. Bruce, p29.]

Paul also denied any desire to get rich from his preaching. "Greed" (Gr. pleonexia) is self-seeking in all its forms. Paul"s readers could testify to the truth of the first of these convictions. Since they could not do so to the second, Paul claimed God could. Itinerant philosophers and orators were common in the Roman Empire. Paul had little in common with their motivation. He had come to Thessalonica to give, not to get. Furthermore he did not demand that the Thessalonians acquiesce to his message because of his apostolic authority.

Having explained his ministry in negative terms so far ( 1 Thessalonians 2:1-6), Paul proceeded to describe it in positive terms ( 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12).


Verses 7-9

Instead he was gentle and unselfish, more like a nursing mother than an apostle.

"A nursing child can become ill through reaction to something the mother has eaten. The Christian who is feeding others must be careful not to feed on the wrong things himself." [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Ready, p40.]

However, Paul gave himself, not just his message, to the Thessalonians out of love for them, not for personal gain. In this Paul followed the tradition of Jewish rabbis for whom receiving money for teaching the Law was considered shameful. [Note: Morris, The First ..., pp80-81.] The measure of his love was the toil and trouble he expended as he worked constantly, probably making tents and other leather articles, so he would not be a burden to them. Paul was by trade a leather-worker. [Note: R. F. Hock, The Social Context of Paul"s Ministry: Tentmaking and Apostleship, p21.] This is how he and his companions had heralded the gospel among them (cf. Philippians 4:16; 2 Corinthians 11:7-11).

"A gospel messenger who stands detached from his audience has not yet been touched by the very gospel he proclaims." [Note: Martin, p81. Cf. Malachi 2:6-8.]


Verses 10-12

Paul called on his readers to bear witness, as God could, how he had cared for them. He had done so as a father who has responsibility to prepare his children for the events that lie ahead of them. The figure of the nursing mother ( 1 Thessalonians 2:7) emphasizes tender, loving self-sacrifice and that of the father ( 1 Thessalonians 2:11) preparation for maturity. The Old Testament used both the paternal and maternal figures to describe God (cf. Psalm 103:13; Isaiah 66:13).

"In one sense God"s kingdom is already present ( Matthew 12:28; Matthew 13:1-52; Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 4:20; Colossians 1:13), but ultimate realization of the messianic kingdom with its future glory is in view here (cf. Acts 17:7). As frequently in the Thessalonian literature, those Paul is addressing are pointed to the bliss ahead as incentive to godly living now." [Note: Thomas, p255.]

"There is an idea prevalent in some modern circles that we should work to establish the kingdom of God on earth. That is a noble ideal, but it is not the Biblical idea of the kingdom. In the Scriptures it is clear that God and no other establishes the kingdom." [Note: Morris, The First . . ., p85.]

"The Christian minister is expected to give practical instruction to his fellow Christians, but not by way of dictation. Since he cannot rule by decree if he is to be true to the spirit of Christ, he must guide by example." [Note: Bruce, p39.]


Verse 13

Previously Paul thanked God for the way these believers were bearing the fruit of righteousness in their own lives ( 1 Thessalonians 1:3). Now he thanked God for the way they responded when he had preached the gospel to them the first time. They sensed that it was a divine revelation rather than a human philosophy, and they believed it. Because they received that divine message, it had done a mighty work of transformation in their lives as God"s Holy Spirit used it.


Verses 13-16

2. How the gospel was received2:13-16

Paul reminded his readers how they had welcomed the gospel message to vindicate further his own ministry and to emphasize the importance of proclaiming this message. He did this so the Thessalonians would continue to herald it abroad as they had been doing.

"This section of the letter begins with the second thanksgiving in a series of three ( 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13) that dominate the tone of the first three chapters." [Note: Martin, pp85-86. See also Wanamaker"s discussion of this digression, pp109-10.]


Verse 14

By believing the gospel the Thessalonians had followed in the train of many others who, when they believed the truth, also found that they attracted enemies. The reference to the Jews here is probably to the unbelieving Jews who opposed the Christians in Thessalonica rather than a general reference to all Jews.

"Persecution inevitably arises from the outside when a Christian patterns his life after the Lord." [Note: Thomas, p258.]


Verse 15-16

The Thessalonians" opponents seem to have been mainly Jews ( 1 Thessalonians 2:14). Paul desperately wanted unbelieving Jews to come to faith in Christ ( Romans 9:1-3; Romans 10:1). Yet they were some of his most antagonistic persecutors (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:24; 2 Corinthians 11:26). Their actions were not pleasing to God and were not in the best interests of all men who need to hear the gospel. By their opposition the enemies of the gospel added more transgressions on their own heads with the result that they hastened God"s judgment of them (cf. Genesis 15:16). God had already focused His wrath on them for their serious sin. They not only rejected the gospel themselves, but they also discouraged others from accepting it. It was only a matter of time before God would pour out His wrath in judgment. In view of the eschatological emphasis of the letter, Paul seems to be alluding primarily to the judgment coming on unbelievers during the Tribulation. We should probably understand "utmost" (Gr. telos) in a temporal sense. [Note: Ernest Best, A Commentary on the First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (1972ed.), p119; Reginald H. Fuller, The Mission and Achievement of Jesus, p26; Thomas, pp259-60. Martin, p95.]

This is the only place in his inspired writings where Paul charged "the Jews" with the death of Jesus (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:8). Elsewhere in the New Testament it is the sins of all people that were responsible. Therefore, Paul was just identifying a segment of humanity that was responsible. He was not blaming the Jews in some special sense for Jesus" death. [Note: See Michael A. Rydelnik, "Was Paul Anti-Semitic? Revisiting1Thessalonians2:14-16 ," Bibliotheca Sacra165:657 (January-March2008):58-67.] The Apostle John frequently used the term "the Jews" to describe those Jews who actively opposed the Lord and the gospel (cf. John 5:18; John 7:1; John 18:14; John 18:31; cf. John 11:45; cf. John 11:54).

Why did Paul describe this outpouring of divine wrath as past ("has come," aorist tense ephthasen) if it was future? Jesus spoke of the arrival of His kingdom in comparable terminology ( Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20). The verb connotes "arrival upon the threshold of fulfilment [sic] and accessible experience, not the entrance into that experience." [Note: Kenneth W. Clark, "Realized Eschatology," Journal of Biblical Literature59 (1940):379.] The messianic kingdom was present in Jesus" day only in that the King had arrived and could have established it then, but the Jews did not enter into it because they rejected Him. Likewise God"s wrath had come on the Jews to the utmost in Paul"s day for their rejection of Messiah, but they had not entered into it"s full manifestation yet, namely, the Tribulation.

"This indictment implies that Paul saw a continuity in the pattern of Jewish rejection of God"s agents from OT times to his own." [Note: Wanamaker, p115.]

"The Thessalonians" persecution lasted a long time, and so did their steadfastness. Some six years later Paul can still speak of the churches of Macedonia (not least, the church of Thessalonica) as enduring "a severe test of affliction" and continuing to give evidence of the reality of their faith in that "their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality" ( 2 Corinthians 8:1-2). The "extreme poverty" might well have been the result of mob violence and looting; elsewhere in the NT members of another Christian group are reminded how, in the early days of their faith, they "joyfully accepted" the plundering of their property in addition to other forms of brutal maltreatment ( Hebrews 10:32-34)." [Note: Bruce, pp50-51.]


Verse 17

1. Desire to see them again2:17-3:5

In this pericope Paul expressed his sincere desire to return to Thessalonica. He did so to help his readers appreciate how much they meant to him to encourage them to reject any suggestion that his interest in them was selfish.


Verse 17

C. Concerns for the Thessalonians2:17-3:13

Paul"s heart of love blossoms in this section in which he expressed his great desire to see the Thessalonians again and explained how news of their continuing steadfastness gladdened his heart. He said these things to encourage them further to persevere in their faith and service.


Verse 17-18

Paul and his companions had to leave Thessalonica prematurely, and for Paul the separation was an especially sorrowful one. He compared it to being bereft (lit. orphaned). He felt torn from them. However even though absent in body his readers were very present in his affections. Moreover Paul eagerly anticipated the opportunity to return to Thessalonica to see them again. He had attempted such a visit more than once, but Satan, the adversary who had interfered and had made the apostle"s ministry in person impossible for the present, had hindered him.

". . . Paul . . . found his unbounded capacity for paternal affection amply employed in his relationship with his converts." [Note: Bruce, p54.]

In Acts 16:6-7 Luke wrote that the Holy Spirit forbade Paul to preach in Asia and Bithynia. Here Paul said that Satan thwarted his efforts to return to Thessalonica. How can we tell if Satan is opposing us or if the Spirit is directing us? It seems to me that the New Testament writers viewed God"s sovereign control of all things on different levels at different times. Sometimes, as in Acts , they spoke of the One who is in ultimate charge and focused on His direction. At other times, as here, they spoke of the instruments that God uses. God permitted Satan to oppose Paul"s return to Thessalonica, but this was all part of God"s sovereign will. In Acts the emphasis is on the One responsible for the expansion of the church, but here the emphasis is on the instrument God used in this situation. Satan can only oppose us as God gives him permission to do so ( Job 1-2). [Note: See ibid, p58.]


Verses 17-20

Paul"s plan2:17-20

"First Thessalonians has been called "a classic of friendship," and here is a passage where Paul"s deep affection for his friends breathes through his words." [Note: Barclay, p224.]


Verse 19-20

Paul"s words for his converts here are especially affectionate. His love for the Thessalonians was unusually strong. Their development was what he hoped for, their glorification was what he rejoiced in, and their ultimate victory would be a crown of glory for him. That Isaiah , the Lord"s commendation for Paul"s ministry to the Thessalonians would be as a crown to him that would make him justifiably proud when the Lord returned. Paul was talking like a father again (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:11). Looking at the end of his ministry Paul said he would take the greatest pride in those believers. They would be his "crowning glory."

Believers" Crowns

Title

Reason

Reference

An Imperishable Crown

For leading a disciplined life

1 Corinthians 9:25

A Crown of Rejoicing

For evangelism and discipleship

1 Thessalonians 2:19

A Crown of Righteousness

For loving the Lord"s appearing

2 Timothy 4:8

A Crown of Life

For enduring trials

James 1:12;
Revelation 2:10

A Crown of Glory

For shepherding God"s flock faithfully

1 Peter 5:4

"The glory of any teacher lies in his scholars and students; and should the day come when they have left him far behind the glory is still greater. A man"s greatest glory lies in those whom he has set or helped on the path to Christ." [Note: Barclay, p225.]

"The future event Paul is looking toward is identical with the appearance of every Christian before the bema ("judgment seat") of Christ ( 2 Corinthians 5:10), where the works of every Christian will be evaluated. Because of his converts" evident spiritual attainments, Paul feels that this will be an occasion of joy and victory." [Note: Thomas, p262. Cf. Earl Radmacher, "Believers and the Bema," Grace Evangelical Society News10:3 (May-June1995):1 , 4; and Joe L. Wall, Going for the Gold, pp129 , 152-63.]

"Parousia ["coming"] comes from two words: "to be" and "present." It may point to the moment of arrival to initiate a visit or it may focus on the stay initiated by the arrival. In the NT the word applies to the return of Jesus Christ. The various facets of this future visit are defined by the contexts in which parousia appears. In this instance it is Jesus" examination of his servants subsequent to his coming for them ( 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17) that is in view." [Note: Thomas, p262.]

". . . the formerly pagan Thessalonians probably understood the parousia of Christ in terms of the visits of the imperial rulers of Rome. These rulers were increasingly being thought of as the manifestations of deities who required elaborate ceremonies and honors when they visited the various cities of the Empire." [Note: Wanamaker, p125.]

Paul at this time evidently expected his ministry to end with the return of Christ rather than by his own death ( 1 Thessalonians 2:19). This is one of many evidences that Paul and the other early Christians believed in the imminent return of Christ. Nothing had to occur before His return. This perspective strongly suggests that Paul believed in the pretribulational rapture of the church.

How could Christ"s return at the Rapture be imminent in view of the Lord"s statement that Peter would grow old ( John 21:18) and His promise to Paul that he would visit Rome ( Acts 23:11)? Concerning God"s promise to Peter, "when you grow old" ( John 21:18) is a very general description of what lay ahead for Peter. Peter could have undergone confinement and died at any time after Christ"s ascension and one could say he had grown old. About the promise Paul received, the assumed condition of its fulfillment was probably if the Lord did not return before then. This would have been true for what Jesus prophesied concerning Peter"s death as well. We often speak this way today. We say something will happen, but we mean and do not say unless the Lord comes first.

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/1-thessalonians-2.html. 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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