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- 1 Thessalonians
by Daniel Whedon
INTRODUCTION TO FIRST THESSALONIANS.
FIRST written of St. Paul’s thirteen apostolical epistles, it stands first in those editions of the Greek Testament, like Wetstein’s and Wordsworth’s, which give the epistles in chronological order. It exhibits the freshness of the apostle’s manhood in its style. It deals with the earlier foes of his preaching, the pagans and the hostile Jews, not with the later, the Judaizers and the Gnostics. It states glowingly the first principles of the blessed gospel; it teaches by vivid picture the doctrine of the resurrection, the advent, and the retribution; but enters into no full elaborations, like the epistles to the Romans, Galatians, and Corinthians. It is not only in time Paul’s earliest epistle, but it is in freshness, simplicity, and vigour, his youngest epistle.
Thessalonica was St. Paul’s second European Church. Of his first entrance there, after his shameful inflictions at Philippi; his holy life, arduous manual labour, and impressive preaching; his descriptions of Christ’s second advent, so vivid as to create its “ideal presence” in the imagination of his hearers; his exaltation of Christ on the throne of the world so lofty as to provoke the mobocrats to arraign him before the Demos on charge of treason against Cesar; and of his final discharge on bail by Jason, obliging his exile from the city, the brief history is given in Acts 17:4-9, where see our Notes.
The TIME of the writing of the epistle (as noted Acts 18:5) was but a few months after this banishment. His Thessalonian converts were inscribed upon his memory. He left Silas to sustain them, and sent Timothy to examine, and report to him, their state. He passed by sea to Athens, thence to Corinth, and there waited the coming of Timothy to learn the fate of his young Church. The joyful report brought by this “son in the gospel,” narrating persecutions indeed, yet persecutions heroically endured, inspired the apostle to take up his pen. Hence his whole letter consists, first, of an exulting retrospective history of their Christian birth, life, and triumphs, and, second, of a prospective encouragement and confirmation of their Christian future.
And this city and Church were destined to a great history in the future. It was a great metropolis under the power of Rome, in the age of St. Paul. Looking down upon the Thermaic Gulf from her central position, Thessalonica commanded a large share of the commerce of Western Asia and Eastern Europe. Her Christianity was adorned with learning, doctrine, and wide-swaying power. She was for ages the eastern bulwark of the faith. Long and bravely did she maintain the contest against the invasions of Mohammedan conquest; and Christian Europe was dismayed to the center when, in 1430, it was announced: “Thessalonica has fallen!” Under the diminished name of Saloniki she is the second city of European Turkey, containing 70,000 inhabitants. Even at this day the majority of her population is said to be Christians of the Greek Church.
Both of the Epistles to the Thessalonians are to be numbered, as Eusebius rightly affirms, and even Renan confesses, among Paul’s undoubted productions. They are found in the earliest translations, the Peshito and the Itala, and in the earliest catalogue, Muratori’s. Though not very certainly quoted by the earliest fathers, they are quoted with great clearness in the earliest golden age of Christian literature by Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria. The internal evidence, arising from the true Pauline mind and style pervading the epistles, the vivid picture they afford of this early Church, and the clear yet occult coincidences with the Acts of the Apostles, are conclusive. Their genuineness is conclusively maintained against the captious objections of one or two extreme assailants by Lunemann, Alford and Gloag.
PLAN OF THE EPISTLE.
Retrospective and Historical 1 Thessalonians 1:3 to 1 Thessalonians 3:13
1. Recollections of the Thessalonians’ Christian faithfulness 1 Thessalonians 1:3-10
2. Retrospect of the Apostle’s first incoming to Thessalonica 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
3. Thessalonica’s reception and faithful retention of St. Paul’s gospel 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16
4. St. Paul’s anxiety to revisit the Thessalonians, but failure hitherto 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20
5. St. Paul sending Timothy (from Athens?) to visit and confirm his 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5
6. Timothy’s return and report; and St. Paul’s consequent feeling and present prayer for them 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Prospective and Hortatory 1 Thessalonians 4:1 to 1 Thessalonians 5:28
1. Exhortation to sanctification 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
2. Exhortation to brotherly love and quietness 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
3. Exhortation to composure in regard to lately deceased brethren, since they will not be overlooked at Christ’s coming, now vividly described 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
4. The second advent, though not at hand, will be a sudden surprise to those upon whom it does come 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
5. Closing charges and admonitions, and farewell 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
a. Fulfilment of churchly duties 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15
b. Duty of Christian joy 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
c. Precepts touching supernaturalisms 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25