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Chapter 5 Words About The End of the Days, Exhortations to Holiness and Final Salutations.
‘But concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need that anything be written to you, for you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.’
‘Concerning the times and the seasons.’ The first denotes chronological time and simply signifies that they are already aware of how chronologically events will work out from their own day until the end. The second, something of what will result during those times. They have been well taught concerning coming happenings.
‘You yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.’ It is clear that Paul was satisfied that the Thessalonians had a good grasp of teaching about the second coming and the day of the Lord. To ‘know perfectly’ is to have a good grasp of the subject.
The first thing they knew was that no one knows the time of the end (Mark 13:32). But they did know that Jerusalem must be destroyed and its inhabitants scattered, for Jesus had firmly asserted it (Luke 21:20-24; Mark 13:14-20), and that the church must go through continual tribulation, as indeed they already were (Mark 13:9-13). They knew that at some stage troubles and judgments must come on the world, although they were already no doubt aware of such troubles and judgments, and the 1st century AD was a time of troubles and judgments. Tacitus, a first century Roman historian, after referring to the horrors and calamities, and disasters and portents, of the period, went on to say ‘never has it been better proved, by such terrible disasters to Rome, or by such clear evidence, that the gods were concerned, not with our safety but with vengeance on our sins.’
They also knew that these would come as ‘a thief in the night’, for God would act not only to deliver His people but to bring His judgments on the world. The picture of a thief in the night is of the situation with regard to unbelievers, caught unawares by one who comes to take their possessions. The Lord will not come like a thief in the night to those who are in readiness, only to those who are in darkness and not watching (1 Thessalonians 5:4; Revelation 3:3; Revelation 16:15; Luke 12:39, compare 2 Peter 3:10). To those who are waiting and ready He comes as their great God and Saviour (Titus 2:13).
‘The day of the Lord.’ This phrase refers to the day when the Lord has His day, when He acts in judgment. In a sense through the Old Testament period there were many ‘days of the Lord’, for it could be used of the day when God brought His judgment both on His faithless people and on the enemies of His people. But all looked forward to a final ‘day of the Lord’, a day of the Lord’s judgments, at the time when final restoration took place (Joel 2:31; Joel 3:14; Zechariah 14:1).
In the New Testament the phrase appears three times (Acts 2:20 quoting Joel 2:31, fulfilled, partially at least, at the resurrection and Pentecost; 2 Peter 3:10 and here. 2 Peter 3:10 is definitive, it is the time when ‘the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works in it will be discovered’ (or in some manuscripts ‘burned up’), that is will be revealed in God’s eyes and judged. It thus refers to God’s final judgments in the end days including the final Judgment itself. A similar phrase, ‘the Lord’s day’, occurs in Revelation 1:10 where it possibly refers to a symbolical depiction of Christ ‘at the door’ on the point of returning.
But in both 1 Thessalonians and 2 Peter ‘the Lord’ has primary reference to Jesus Christ. It is He Who is ‘the Lord’ all through the letter, so ‘the day of the Lord’ has special reference to Him as the one appointed to judge the world (John 5:22; John 5:27). This is confirmed in that it can also be called ‘the day of the Lord Jesus’ in 1 Corinthians 5:5 where it refers to deliverance from the judgment, and 2 Corinthians 1:14 where it refers to Christian rejoicing at that day. We can compare also ‘the day of Christ’ (Philippians 1:10; Philippians 2:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:2), where there is a slant towards the Christian’s part in that day, and the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6) and the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:8) which are similar. All references to the day include the time of judgment, whether of Christians with regard to reward, or of all.
Excursus on ‘the day of the Lord’ in the Old Testament.
The term was used in Isaiah 13:9 of God’s visitation in judgment. Firstly judgment would come on His faithless people through Babylon, and then through the Medes God would bring judgment on Babylon (Isaiah 13:17). The whole is depicted in apocalyptic language (Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 13:13) and is described as the wrath of the Lord (Isaiah 13:13). It also has a far view for it depicts the final desolation of Babylon (Isaiah 13:19-22). In the judgments of God near and far were part of one whole, especially as regards Babylon which was the symbol from the beginning of rebellion against God (Genesis 10:9-12; Genesis 11:1-9). The earlier judgment was a foretaste of the later one.
Again the day of the Lord was to come on Edom and its allies, its surrounding nations (Isaiah 34:4; Isaiah 34:8). ‘All the nations’ refers to these for other nations are called on to witness the event (Isaiah 13:1). But it is on Edom that the main judgment comes (verse 6). Again it is represented in apocalyptic language (Isaiah 13:9-10), and such judgment did finally come upon them.
Jeremiah also prophesied a day of the Lord on Egypt and Pharaoh Neco (Jeremiah 46:2, repeated in Jeremiah 46:13), this time at the hands of Babylon (Jeremiah 46:10; Jeremiah 46:26). Thus ‘the day of the Lord’ began to indicate the day of the Lord’s judgments whenever they were.
It could be called ‘the day of the Lord of hosts’ (Isaiah 2:12), ‘the day of the Lord’s vengeance’ (Isaiah 34:8 - on Edom), ‘the day of the Lord, the Lord of hosts, a day of vengeance’ (on Egypt - Jeremiah 46:10), ‘the day of the Lord’s anger’ ( on Judah - Lamentations 2:22; on Judah and surrounding nations - Zephaniah 1:18; Zephaniah 2:2-3), ‘the day of the Lord’s sacrifice’ (on Judah - Zephaniah 1:8), ‘the great day of the Lord’ (on Judah - Zephaniah 1:14), ‘the great and terrible day of the Lord’ (Malachi 4:5), which referred to the first coming of Jesus as the beginning of ‘the end days’ (Matthew 11:14 with Acts 2:17; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 1:2; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 Peter 4:7).
But the basic term was ‘the day of the Lord’ (Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 13:9 - on Babylon through the Medes; Ezekiel 13:5 - on Judah through Nebuchadnezzar; Ezekiel 30:3 - on Egypt through Nebuchadnezzar; Joel 1:15 - on Judah through Nebuchadnezzar; Joel 2:1; Joel 2:11 - on Judah through Nebuchadnezzar; Joel 2:31; Joel 3:14 - in the end days at the time of restoration; Amos 5:18; Amos 5:20 - on Israel through Assyria; Obadiah 1:15 - on Edom and their allies (for ‘all the nations’ compare Isaiah 34:1); Zephaniah 1:7 - on Judah; Zechariah 14:1 - in the end days at the time of restoration, and as the prophets began to look forward to the day when God would set all things right, establish His people and deal with their enemies, it began to be applied especially to that day (Joel 2:31; Joel 3:14; Zechariah 14:1).
In the New Testament the phrase appears three times (Acts 2:20 quoting Joel 2:31, fulfilled, partially at least, at the resurrection and Pentecost; 2 Peter 3:10 and here. 2 Peter 3:10 is definitive, it is the time when ‘the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works in it will be discovered’ (or in some manuscripts ‘burned up’), that is will be revealed in God’s eyes and judged. It thus refers to God’s final judgments in the end days including the final Judgment itself.
End of Excursus.
‘When they are saying “Peace and Safety (or ‘Certainty’)”, then sudden destruction comes on them, as birth-pains on a woman with child, and they shall in no way escape.’
This defines further the day of the Lord in terms of God’s final judgments. The world, content and self satisfied, says ‘Peace and safety’, and then suddenly and unexpectedly, as with the final moments before birth, sudden destruction comes from which they cannot escape. Whether this comprises final desolation on earth in the midst of warfare and violence, or the activity of God as judge we are not told. ‘Destruction’ (olethros) describes the sentence after judgment in 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Timothy 6:9.
‘Peace and safety.’ The idea of falsely saying ‘peace’ occurs regularly in the Old Testament, see Ezekiel 13:10; Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 8:11; Micah 3:5. The word translated safety can mean ‘certainty’ (Luke 1:4), ‘safely secured’. Possibly it is intended to be seen as an ironic declaration of false certainty over against the truth. The suddenness of the destruction is an argument against seeing this as referring to destruction over a period of time. It suggests the final judgment.
‘But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief.’
The day overtakes these people because they are in darkness. They are asleep in the wrong sense. But Christians, who are no longer under the power of darkness (Colossians 1:13), nor walking in darkness (John 8:12; 1 John 1:6) should be watching, that is living their lives in the light of His coming, and therefore will not be caught out.
‘For you are all sons of light, and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.’
In contrast to those who are in darkness, Christians are ‘sons of light’ and ‘sons of the day’. To be sons of light means that light characterises us, that we are those who believe in the Light (John 12:36), who come to the light that it may reveal what is right and wrong within (John 3:21; 1 John 1:7) and who reveal and enjoy light in our lives (Matthew 5:14-16). For ‘the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth’ (Ephesians 5:9 compare Philippians 2:16; Luke 16:8). ‘Sons of the day’ stresses a contrast with those who are in the night, and therefore asleep. The change to ‘we’ stresses that this is true of all Christians, not just of the Thessalonians.
‘So then let us not sleep as do the rest, but let us watch and be sober, for those who sleep, sleep in the night, and those who are drunken, are drunken in the night, but let us, since we are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and for a helmet the hope of salvation.’
As sons of the day we are to watch and be sober, not sleep and be drunken (see Romans 13:13). The Christian does not ‘sleep’ with regard to spiritual things (compare Mark 13:36; Ephesians 5:14), he studies them, keeps them in his heart, and lives them out in his life. He does not allow strong drink to dull his mind and hinder his witness, frittering away his life in idle pleasure. Instead of being drunk with wine he is filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-19).
He puts on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation. The switch to armour may indicate the idea of a soldier armoured and on watch, in contrast with his mates who are off duty and drunk or asleep. And the Christian does this by responsive faith and ‘putting on love’. His Spirit-produced love for his brothers and sisters, and for his neighbour, the result of worship, meditation on God’s word and praise from the heart, and the working of God within, keeps his heart protected from evil and the Evil One, and his mind is concentrated on the hope of final salvation, when he will be made like Christ, for he will see Him as He is (1 John 3:2), and this involves looking actively for the coming of Christ (Luke 12:35-40).
This ‘hope of salvation’ is described in many ways. See Romans 8:23-24; 1 Corinthians 15:42-49; 2 Corinthians 5:1; Galatians 6:8; Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 5:27; Philippians 3:21; Colossians 1:22; 1Th 3:13 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; Hebrews 12:22-23; 1 Peter 1:4; 1Pe 5:10 ; 2 Peter 3:13; Jude 1:24; Revelation 21:1 to Revelation 22:5.
In contrast the unbelievers are asleep in the night, and drunken in the night. They are not living in readiness for ‘the day’ for they do not believe in the day. They are not waiting and watching, they are spiritually asleep and drunk.
For the use of armour to depict spiritual virtues and activity see Romans 13:12; 2 Corinthians 6:7; 2 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:13-18 compare Isaiah 59:17.
‘For God appointed us not to wrath but to the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.’
Here Paul tells us that God has ‘appointed’ His own to the obtaining of salvation through Jesus Christ. This agrees with the constant revelation in Scripture that salvation is of God’s doing. See for this the detailed comments on ‘election’ on 1 Thessalonians 1:4. As Paul will tell the Thessalonians later, ‘God chose you from the beginning unto salvation, in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth’ (2 Thessalonians 2:13). This might suggest that in both cases the ‘obtaining of salvation’ has in mind final salvation when we are presented perfect before God, holy and without blemish. It may however have in mind rather the process of salvation, or indeed be all inclusive.
Salvation is an overall process. It commences when we first believe in Christ and have been ‘saved’ (Ephesians 2:8), that is when we experience the work of the Holy Spirit and believe, and are accounted righteous before God through the sacrifice of the cross. It goes on as the Holy Spirit continues His work within us, changing us from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18), as we continue to grow in faith and are ‘being saved’ (1 Corinthians 1:18), becoming more and more like Him. And it reaches its final accomplishment when we are presented before God holy and without blemish (Colossians 1:22; Ephesians 5:27), made like Him (1 John 3:1-2).
If we see this verse as referring to ultimate salvation, wrath will then indicate the final judgment. If, however, we see it as the process of salvation, wrath will refer to the continuing wrath of God against sin. If we see it as a combination of both then wrath will refer to all aspects of the wrath of God. Let us consider this further.
In this verse we thus have the comparison of two destinations, wrath or salvation. But we do not necessarily need to limit this wrath to one particular example of its manifestation, for those who do not believe are ‘children of wrath’ in general (Ephesians 2:3), that is, under wrath all the time, however manifested. The contrast with ‘obtaining salvation’, depending on how we interpret it, may be seen as suggesting that the main stress is on the wrath of the final judgment, or on God’s wrath against sin in general (Romans 1:18). But as the latter always results in the expressing of that wrath in the day of judgment (Romans 2:5; Romans 2:8), we may hold that both are in mind here. Nor need we on that account exclude sin’s consequence as seen in the outpouring of that wrath in judgment and destruction at other times, for in the end that is all part of that final judgment. But we cannot make it primary. Indeed this is confirmed by the use of ‘wrath’ by Paul, and in the New Testament generally.
For ‘the wrath of God’ in the New Testament see Matthew 3:7 and Luke 3:7 (wrath to come - ambiguous); Luke 21:23 (wrath on Israel at the destruction of the Temple and what followed); John 3:36 (where it is in contrast with ‘seeing (eternal) life’, and therefore refers to the day of judgment); Romans 1:18 (where it is general); Romans 2:5; Romans 2:8 (where it has in mind the day of judgment); Romans 4:15 (general wrath); Romans 5:9 (the final judgment); Romans 9:22 (the final judgment); Romans 13:4 (present wrath revealed through judges); Ephesians 5:6 and Colossians 3:6 (could be present wrath or the final judgment); 1 Thessalonians 1:10 (‘the wrath to come’ - ambiguous); 1 Thessalonians 2:16 (present wrath with final manifestation); Hebrews 3:11; Hebrews 4:3 (present wrath); Revelation 6:16-17; Revelation 11:18; Revelation 14:10; Revelation 14:19; Revelation 15:1; Revelation 16:1; Revelation 16:19; Revelation 19:15. It will be seen that most references refer to the wrath of God as expressed at the final judgment, with some referring to His wrath revealed in present judgments on sin, and some ambiguous in the sense that they can be turned to mean whatever expositors want them to mean. None obviously and specifically refer to a period of wrath prior to Christ’s coming.
For it should be carefully noted that it is only in Revelation that some references definitely mean the outpouring of wrath in such a period, although even in Revelation other references refer it specifically to the day of judgment. Some are ambiguous depending on interpretation of the Book. But Paul could not have had Revelation in mind, for it was not yet written. Thus the overall testimony of the New Testament is that ‘wrath’ here has mainly in mind God’s wrath revealed in the final judgment, or God’s general wrath which manifests itself in various forms.
Having said that we must recognise what we mean by ‘wrath’. By ‘wrath’ the Bible indicates an attitude of God against sin. It is not one of uncontrolled anger, but indeed the very opposite. It is a set attitude of One Who is morally righteous in all respects, to that which is contrary to moral righteousness, a horror of, and determination to deal with, sin because of what it is, defiling and destructive.
‘Who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep we should live together with him.’
Having stated the fact of salvation Paul now declares the basis. It is because our Lord Jesus Christ died for us that salvation is possible. The very fact of his mentioning the death of Christ here demonstrates that he knew of no other way by which a man could be saved. And the result of that death is that when we believe in Him we are put into a position where it does not matter whether we ‘fall asleep in Christ’ or are found still ‘awake’. In either case, at His coming, we begin to live together with Him, we begin to experience His life as the spiritual life-giver (John 5:21; John 5:25; John 5:29).
Interestingly the verbs are the same as in 1 Thessalonians 5:6 but the meaning is totally different. There sleeping and being awake were referring to a moral state. Here it refers to having died or being alive. It answers the question posed in 1 Thessalonians 4:13. It is true that the word for the sleep of Christians in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 is different from here but there is no suggestion elsewhere in Thessalonians that some Christians will be sleeping morally in relation to His coming, and 1 Thessalonians 5:5 contrasts the ‘sons of light’ with those ‘of darkness’, while 1 Thessalonians 5:6 parallels those who are ‘awake’ with those who ‘sleep’. The clear implication is that the sons of light are those who are awake, and those who sleep are sons of darkness. He is hardly likely here therefore to have been changing that picture when a simpler explanation is at hand.
While Paul no doubt knew that some Christians were not as watchful as they should be, it was not something he would mildly have accepted. The question is, can a person be a Christian and not at all watchful? The answer must be no.
‘Wherefore exhort (or strengthen by coming alongside) one another, and build each other up, even as also you do.’
The fact of the coming of Christ and the resurrection and transformation of the people of God should make them ever more eager to help each other to grow as Christians, exhorting, giving strength to each other, praying for each other and talking together about His word and teaching each other, building one another up (1 Corinthians 3:10-15 compare Ephesians 2:20-22 and see Acts 9:31).
‘But we beg you, brothers and sisters, to know those who labour among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.’
From the very beginning the early church appointed leaders over the flock. The earliest church was overseen by the Apostles themselves (Acts 2:42; Acts 4:35) but they soon saw it necessary for the church to appoint subsidiary officials (Acts 6:2-4), who were separated off and shown to be their representatives by the laying on of hands (Acts 6:6), and who then felt that they had authority to preach (Acts 6:7; Acts 6:10; Acts 8:4-6). They also had the synagogues to act as an example, whereby a council of elders was appointed and it seems extremely probable that as the church spread throughout Judea and Samaria, elders would be chosen on that pattern to oversee affairs.
There is no suggestion of an ordained ministry (apart from the Apostles) and the lack of mention of such is significant, but overseeing elders soon specifically occur (Acts 11:30; Acts 14:23; Acts 15:2; Acts 15:4; Acts 15:22; Acts 20:17 compare Titus 1:5), although subject finally to the church as a whole (Acts 15:22). There were also ‘prophets and teachers’ (Acts 13:1; Acts 15:32), and they not only preached and taught but were seen as having authority of a kind to send out Paul and Barnabas in the name of the church (Acts 13:3). They may well therefore have been the equivalent of teaching elders. The fact that they laid hands on them may suggest that the same had once happened to themselves, probably by the Apostles. Paul and Barnabas were ‘chief men among the brothers’ (Acts 15:22). But generally activity was by ‘the brothers’ (e.g. Acts 9:13; Acts 15:23; Acts 15:40; Acts 16:2; Acts 17:10; Acts 17:14), which in view of Acts 15:22-23 probably means the whole church, although as having representatives.
Thus we may surmise that the church at Thessalonika had elders, and/or prophets and teachers. It is these that Paul has in mind in these verses.
‘Know those who labour among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you.’ ‘Know’. This means acknowledge them, and recognise and appreciate them. Their work is described as ‘labour’, laborious toil. It clearly involved them in a great deal of activity. Paul certainly knew how hard a good servant of Christ had to labour (see 1 Corinthians 15:10; Galatians 4:11; Philippians 2:16; Colossians 1:29; 1 Timothy 4:10). Especially when God is mightily at work within (Colossians 1:29). Serving God truly is tiring both physically and spiritually. ‘Those who are -- presiders over you in the Lord’ may suggest elders. The word means those who ‘rule, direct, manage, are concerned about, care for’ but it is not to be by lording it over the flock (see 1 Peter 5:3). They are also called ‘overseers’ (bishops - Titus 1:5 with Titus 1:7; Acts 20:17 with Acts 20:28), those who watch over. ‘Admonish you’ may suggest prophets and teachers.
‘And to esteem them highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.’ This may suggest that there had been some dissension, with possibly tactlessness and authoritarianism on one side and unresponsiveness on the other. So Paul asks both to consider their ways, the brothers to accept lovingly their overseers because of the work they did, and all to ensure peace between themselves. ‘Esteem highly’. This is very strong in the Greek. They are to look on them as what they are, God’s representatives, and to accord them Christian love, the love that is due to all the brothers and sisters. ‘Be at peace’ addresses both sides. All are to acknowledge any fault and restore peace among themselves, possibly following Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15-17. Compare here Mark 9:50; Romans 14:19; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Colossians 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:22).
‘And we exhort you, brothers and sisters, admonish the disorderly, encourage the fainthearted, support the weak, be longsuffering towards all. See that none render to anyone evil for evil, but always follow after that which is good.’
‘Brothers and sisters’. The work of the leaders, as described here, is to be supported and entered into by all on behalf of the whole church. The ‘disorderly’ or ‘lazy’ are to be admonished. The word for disorderly originally referred to soldiers who broke ranks, and then to anything out of order. Thus any displays of lack of unity are to be sorted out, and if necessary dealt with. Some, however, see the word as referring, as it can, to the culpably lazy. Paul may well have had in mind those who had ceased work because ‘Christ was coming’ (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:11). But it also refers to those who are disorderly in doctrine (2 Thessalonians 3:6). The fainthearted must be encouraged, or comforted in order to give them more strength. The spiritually weak would include those still babes in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1-2; 1 Peter 2:2), but would also include some who by their very nature always continue to need help, who are to be supported and nurtured. Compare Romans 14:1-8; Romans 14:13-23; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. Longsuffering and patience is to be shown to all. This is the way the church should be (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
Note the threefold injunctions, ‘admonish -- encourage -- support’ which are then held together by the fourth.
‘See that none render to anyone evil for evil, but always follow after that which is good.’ For this we can compare Matthew 5:38-48. The Christian is above mere retaliation and revenge. Those can be left in the hands of God (compare Romans 12:17-21; 1 Peter 3:9-12). Rather he must seek to follow the good for the benefit of all. This is especially to be true between fellow-Christians.
‘Always follow after that which is good.’ The verb is fairly strong, ‘pursue, run after’. The Christian is to pursue what is good.
‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.’
Again we have a threefold injunction. Rejoicing, praying and giving of thanks which are to be continual and total. This is to be the spirit of the church. A satisfactory attitude of heart towards God in worship, prayer and gratitude is God’s will for us and will enable the church to go forward in strength.
‘For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.’ God’s will for His people is that they be a rejoicing people, that their hearts be filled with joy, joy that endures through pain, through the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). They are to rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:2), they are to rejoice in their tribulations because of the fruit that it produces within them (Romans 5:3), they are to rejoice in persecution and when men speak ill against them for Christ’s sake because it puts them on the side of the prophets and it will bring them great reward (Matthew 5:11-12; Luke 6:23), they are to rejoice because their names are written in Heaven (Luke 10:20), they are to rejoice in the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6), they are to rejoice in costly service (Philippians 2:17-18), they are to rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 3:1; Philippians 3:3; Philippians 4:4; 1 Peter 1:8) and in God through our Lord Jesus Christ because they have received atonement (Romans 5:11), they are to rejoice in their sufferings for the service of Christ (Colossians 1:24) because they are partakers in Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter 4:13) and in testing (James 1:2), they are to rejoice because they have been begotten again to a living hope -- unto a salvation ready to be revealed at the last time’ (1 Peter 1:3-6). Notice how often persecution and tribulation is mentioned. They are to be a cause of rejoicing.
God’s will for His people is that they be a praying people. We are to pray for those who use us badly (Matthew 5:44), we are to pray for the establishing of God’s Kingly Rule (Matthew 6:9-10), we are to pray for daily forgiveness and delivery from evil ((Matthew 6:12-13), we are to pray that the Lord will send forth labourers into the harvest (Matthew 9:38), we are to pray when times of testing approach (Matthew 26:41), we are to watch and pray in the light of the second coming (Mark 13:33), we are to pray for the work of God and His ambassadors (Romans 15:30; Colossians 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:1), we are to pray for each other (Romans 1:9; Colossians 1:9). Indeed prayer is mentioned so often as the Christian’s vital breath at all times that it is impossible to list all references. It is regularly mentioned in Acts. It is Paul’s constant theme. He constantly assures his converts and the churches to whom he writes that he is praying for them. He constantly exhorts to prayer. It is assumed that it will accompany all we do. Praying without ceasing means that we should carry God with us in everything we do. If we cannot take God with us we should not be there.
God’s will for His people is that they be a thankful people. Paul never ceased to give thanks (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16; Eph 5:20 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:3). We are told that we must give thanks for everything (Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:18), abounding at all times (Colossians 2:7; Colossians 3:15; Colossians 3:17), and that thanksgiving should accompany all our prayers (Philippians 4:6; Colossians 4:2; 1 Timothy 2:1).
‘Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesyings, prove all things, hold fast that which is good, abstain from every appearance (or ‘form’) of evil.’
The word for quench is often used of the quenching of a fire, but the word then means ‘stifle, suppress’. We quench the Spirit when we choose to sin, we quench the Spirit when we allow other things to take over our thoughts that should not, we quench the Spirit when we have a harsh attitude, we quench the Spirit when we are not willing to go along with God. But the main thought here would seem to be quenching the Spirit by being over-critical and by unwillingness to hear those who proclaim the truth, by formalism and possibly by being unwilling to discern the Spirit at work through unexpected sources.
Following on Paul’s previous threefold injunctions it may be that we should divide this as, ‘Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesyings --- prove all things, hold fast that which is good --- abstain from every appearance of evil’.
‘Prophesying’ refers to bringing a message ‘from God’. It has to be proved and tested (compare also 1 Corinthians 14:29). There is no thought of just accepting what is said, nor would it be open to just anyone. ‘Prophets’ would be acknowledged as having the ‘gift of prophecy’ (1 Corinthians 12:29; Ephesians 4:11). They were formally recognised (Acts 13:1; Ephesians 2:20; Ephesians 3:5). Their message would be tested against the Scriptures. But there would be a number of them in each church gathering (1 Corinthians 14:29-31). Their main ministry was exhortation (Acts 15:32). At least one, Agabus, had a special gift for interpreting the near future (Acts 11:28; Acts 21:10), but note that neither event was a detailed prediction, and both referred to something discernible by clear insight based on signs already present. The point was that the insight was confirmed by God. He was not a fortune teller.
It would seem that a feeling had arisen against such prophesying among some, possibly because the message being given was unwelcome. And this may have led to attempts to limit the number of prophets. Paul warns that while the prophets have to be tested, their message should not be despised, and their gifts should be recognised.
‘Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.’ The church, however, must be constantly on the guard against error. Everything must be tested, both by other prophets (1 Corinthians 14:29) and ultimately by the Scriptures. This not only refers to prophesying, but to all things pertaining to the church. Then what is good must be held fast, and the rest rejected. Christians were not to be undiscerning.
‘Abstain from every appearance (or ‘form’) of evil.’ The Christian is to avoid evil in all its forms, whether in false teaching, in false dealings or in false living. They must avoid that which even gives an appearance of evil. It is the opposite of holding fast what is good. An example of abstaining from ‘the appearance of evil’, that which may cause someone else to stumble, is found in Romans 14:15-16; Romans 14:21.
‘And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he who calls you who also will do it.’
Paul’s final prayer and exhortation is an important one. It draws the attention away from the doctrine of the coming of Christ to its purpose, that His people may be sanctified fully and be presented before Him ‘without blame’. Holiness is the objective, the second coming a spur towards it.
First we see the author of this activity. It is ‘the God of peace’, a regular description of God. He is with His people (Romans 15:33; 2 Corinthians 13:11), through Jesus Christ He has broken down the wall of partition that separated us from Him (Ephesians 2:14), He will bruise Satan under their feet shortly (Romans 16:20), He is with those who allow themselves to be perfected and made strong, who are of the same mind and live in peace (2 Corinthians 13:11), and with those whose minds are set on what is good, pure, just and lovely (Philippians 4:9), He is the One Who gives peace at all times and in all ways (2 Thessalonians 3:16), and, through Jesus Christ the risen Shepherd, He will make His people perfect in every good thing to do His will, working in them what is pleasing in His sight (Hebrews 13:20).
Thus the idea is of reconciliation, of being delivered from sin’s power into a life of positive goodness and positive thinking so that we may enjoy His presence, of being delivered from the Evil One, and of being made fit for His presence.
‘Sanctify you wholly.’ To sanctify means to set apart to God, and when used of God’s action on man speaks of the process of being transformed into God-likeness and to eventually being wholly without sin and without blemish. The verb here is in the aorist and thus seen as one complete action. This is God’s purpose for His people, their total sanctification. It is not referring to initial sanctification (contrast 1 Corinthians 1:2) which they have already experienced, but to the whole range of God’s sanctifying work. It includes acceptability to God and total deliverance from sin and evil, and in the end final transformation to Godlikeness. Thus its effect will be total, as is emphasised by the ‘wholly’. It will permeate into body, soul and spirit. And its result will be presentation before God ‘without blame’.
‘Your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire.’ This is presenting three aspects of a human being but is not to be taken as a ‘scientific’ analysis of man’s make up showing three separate parts. Indeed it is stressed that they are to be preserved ‘entire’, that is ‘complete in all its parts’. Paul sought the preservation of the whole man. Jesus spoke of a man’s ‘heart and soul and mind and strength’ (Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27) and of his ‘flesh -- and spirit’. It is clear that it is suggesting that man (or at least a man in Christ - John 3:6) is not just body and mind, that there is a spiritual and heavenly aspect to his make-up, but how these relate to each other is never explained, and probably could not be in a way that we could understand.
When man was first made ‘a living soul’ (Genesis 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:45) it no doubt included all these aspects (man was made ‘in God’s image’ - Genesis 1:27), but something of this was lost and awaited Christ’s ‘life-giving’ work (1 Corinthians 15:45). What Christ did and will give, more than makes up for what was lost (2 Peter 1:4).
John’s Gospel speaks of man as ‘flesh and spirit’, where flesh represents man as he is in relation to the world and spirit the new-born aspect of a believer (John 3:6). So Christ was made flesh and dwelt among us. There is no idea of ‘sinful flesh’ in John, flesh is what man is.
‘Without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ The sanctifying process, which includes justification, will result in our being presented ‘without blame’ at the coming of Jesus Christ. This will be the result our justification in Christ, the work of the Spirit within and of the final transformation wrought at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:52).
‘Faithful is he who calls you who also will do.’ This final result is the consequence of God’s faithfulness. It is He Who will bring it about. Seen from the point of view of eternity our salvation is His work and not ours, and depends only on His faithfulness. See the whole process as described in Romans 8:28-30 and Ephesians 1:4-11 and compare 1 Corinthians 1:8-9. The calling is continual until the last one has been called. Notice the ‘do’. He not only calls, He acts.
‘Brothers, pray for us.’
In the midst of his trials and the need of the world Paul was very much aware of how he and his companions needed prayer. Being full of the Holy Spirit and specially chosen men of God did not mean that they did not need such prayers, although not so much for themselves as for their ministry.
‘Salute all the brothers with a holy kiss.’
There is no certain instance in the Bible of a kiss being used in salutation except between family members. It was used between close family members and in order to demonstrate affection, as well as as a sign of submission to a superior. In Palestine kissing did not normally take place on the lips (but see Proverbs 24:26, which was however figurative and had in mind the kiss between lovers - Song of Solomon 1:2 compare Proverbs 7:13) and it was used usually between members of the same sex, although Jacob greeted his cousin Rachel with a kiss of greeting on their first meeting (Genesis 29:11). It would usually be on the cheek, the forehead or the beard, although for submission might be on hand or foot. Thus the idea of the kiss here is because he looked on ‘all the brothers’ as brothers, members of his family the church. It was probably passed on by word of mouth rather than actually.
‘I adjure you by the Lord that this letter be read to all the brethren.’
The change to the first person probably indicates the point at which Paul took up the pen himself to authenticate the letter. The remainder would have been written by an amanuensis (a kind of secretary). The strength of the request, putting them on oath, suggests that Paul was a little concerned lest otherwise it would not have been read to all. Perhaps he was thinking of some who were out of favour or had separated themselves because of their behaviour. But at this stage it may not have been the custom to read letters in church meetings and Paul may simply have not wanted the letter to be kept to the few.
‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.’ This again is Paul’s personal greeting. It partly repeats the greeting in 1 Thessalonians 1:1. Grace is God’s undeserved active favour given in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, which Paul prays will be active in all the members of the church at Thessalonika.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent