Monday, November 14, 2011

1 and 2 Thessalonians

Introduction to the Books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians

Written by George Goldman

You can read the background of these two letters in the book of Acts (Acts 17). With the possible exception of Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians are the earliest surviving letters of the Apostle Paul. They were written during Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 16:36 – 18:21) about 49 – 52 A.D. They were likely written within a few months of each other since Silas and Timothy were still with Paul (1 Thes. 1:1; 2 Thes. 1:1).

Thessalonica was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia. Its inhabitants were Roman citizens who were ruled by officials know as “politarchs” (Acts 17:6-8). This term which is used in the Greek New Testament and is translated “city authorities” was once thought to be a historically inaccurate statement. It occurred only in the Bible and not in any historical documents. Therefore many concluded that Luke, God’s writer of Acts, was mistaken. Today in modern Thessalonica, Salonica, sixteen inscriptions of this Macedonian term have been uncovered. One is now in a British museum.

The basic doctrine in these earliest letters of Paul concerns the second coming of Christ. The first letter tells of the resurrection of the righteous dead and the “changing” of those alive when Christ comes again (1 Thes. 4:13ff). Paul did not talk about the “soonness” of Christ’s return but its suddenness. Christ would come as a “thief in the night” (1 Thes. 5:2) but no one knew when (Mt. 24:36; 25:13).

The second letter was written to explain some previous oral teaching of Paul’s. “Now concerning” (2 Thes. 2:1) could refer to some correspondence between Paul and the Thessalonians as it does in Corinthians. Here Paul describes the imminent apostasy or “falling away” (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1ff). This apostasy was already under way, the restraint, inspired preaching, would soon be taken away (2 Thes. 2:7). Then the man of sin, the lawless one, would be revealed (2 Thes. 2:8-10). This activity of the “lawless one” could be the protagonists in the Jewish war against the Romans when the Temple was destroyed (66 – 70 A.D.). It perhaps could refer to the Roman emperors in general or Nero (54 – 64 A.D.) and Domitian (96 A.D.) in particular. The miraculous activity the “man of sin” proves that neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament affirms that only God’s people can work miracles.

The “day of the Lord” (2 Thes. 2:2) is an Old Testament expression first met in Amos (Amos 5:18-20). It is a day of darkness and not of light, in other words a day of calamity; a day in which Jesus is said to appear and come (2 Thes. 2:8). There have been many days of the Lord in history and one need not apply this expression only to the second coming of Christ. Thus, the great tribulation may have taken place in the destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.), rather than being an event occurring before the end of the world (cf. Mt. 24:15-35).

The “rapture” is a current religious doctrine. It comes to us from the Latin translation of the Greek word harpazo or “caught up” (1 Thes. 4:17). The rapture is neither a biblical word nor a biblical doctrine. Second Thessalonians clearly teaches that the wicked are being punished at the same time the righteous are being rewarded (2 Thes. 1:4-10). There is but one resurrection for both good and bad (Acts 24:15). There is no time lapse of seven years. The parable of the tares states the good and bad must grow together until the last day (Mt. 13:24-30). How could we preach the gospel “even to the end of the world” (Mt. 28:18-20), if all the righteous are removed seven years prior to the end of the world?

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