The Preacher Says....  
  The Thessalonians  
  Thessalonica-- this Greek city on the Aegean Sea in ancient Macedonia was in Paul’s day still considered a part of the Roman Empire. Named after Alexander the Great’s half-sister, 300 years before the birth of Christ, Thessalonica was a prosperous port, a bustling, cosmopolitan city with a diverse mix of Roman high society and pagan degenerates who mingled there. Within sight of it was Mt. Olympus, home of the Greek gods, whose influence was very much alive in the city. Here was the seat of two mystery cults Dionysius and Orpheus—fertility cults, sponsors of wild orgies--activities that could taint the new church just by its presence in the vicinity. Spurred on by unbelieving Jews, rabble rousers of the worst sort made preaching difficult. Were the Jews in Thessalonica perceived as second class citizens, or more properly, second class Christians? Superficially, they seemed to be. The pagans had horrible tortures in store for the Thessalonians—some dying, and all wondering what would become of them before Christ’s return. This explains why Paul placed so much emphasis on the one life affirming doctrine of the second advent. Mercilessly persecuted by the unbelieving Jews, the general atmosphere in Thessalonica was not supportive; through much suffering the new Christians began to doubt and speculate how all those who had already died under these afflictions would benefit from Christ’s return, giving Paul good reason to emphasize and stress the great hope that lay in store for them.

In the book of Acts (1. 1 – 10), we read of Paul and Silas going by night to the town of Berea, 45 miles down the road from Thessalonica: The Bereans were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17. 11). The Berean church prospered, but the distracted Thessalonians began to exhibit some moral laxity and excessive laziness—an indication they were not much devoted to study. Through all their suffering they did remain faithful to the truth, however, and Paul commended them for this; they had managed to turn from idols and keep themselves free from the vice that was part of city life, to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead. (1Thess 1. 9, 10). The real story here is that they persisted in their belief in the one great precept of the truth emphasized by Paul: they eagerly awaited their Messiah. Paul underscored Christ’s coming in every chapter of Thessalonians:

2. 19 – For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are you not even in the presence of our lord Jesus Christ At his coming?

3. 13 –To the end he may establish your hearts Unblameable in holiness before God, Even our Father, at the coming of Our lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.

4. 13 – 16 – I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, Concerning them which are asleep, That ye sorrow not, even as them that have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, Even so them also which sleep in Jesus Will God bring with him. For this we say unto you By the word of the lord, that we which are alive and remain Unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them Which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, With the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God; And the dead in Christ shall rise first.

5. 1 – 3 – Of the times and seasons, brethren, you have no need That I write to you. For you know perfectly That the day of the Lord cometh As a thief in the night. For when they shall say Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh Upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; And they shall not escape.

Paul preached in Thessalonica for only three weeks—three Sabbaths—learning at first was imperfect—by that I mean undeveloped, and he sent Timothy to further establish the church after he himself went on to Athens.

In his second letter, Paul had to explain to these distressed people that Christ’s coming was further away than they expected or wanted. And such is the perversity of human nature that their anticipations became an excuse for idleness. We hear, said Paul, that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. (2Thess 3. 11). It’s Paul’s unhappy task to point out the error of their ways. Such is the job of any dedicated teacher: to encourage, to lead. In this paraphrase Paul said, We thank God for you; you’ve been chosen by Him to salvation through sanctification of the spirit and belief of the truth, by the gospel calling you to the glory of the Lord. Stand fast, and hold the traditions which you’ve been taught, by the word or my letters (2Thess 2. 13 – 15) The Thessalonians had Paul’s mighty support.

There’s that word ‘truth’. Without it, there can be no faith. Truth is not a theological profundity, but rather the simple message of the gospel preached by Paul and others, the crux of which lies in Christ’s death, resurrection and return. The promise that Christ would come again is what sustained the Thessalonians in their faith. By the life and death of God’s son their imperfection was disannulled by his perfection, proved by the very fact of his resurrection from the dead. This belief sustained the Thessalonians in their faith. Paul didn’t judge or condemn them for their weaknesses. He understood their position. He well knew that to be a Christian in Thessalonica was very dangerous.

Are we persecuted, as were the Thessalonians? I think not. Our persecution, the battle we fight, is in the mind where our faith must grow or otherwise wither. The belief that made the Thessalonian church strong was its absolute confidence in the second advent. Christianity is a weak and desolate creed when there is no conviction that Christ will return from heaven. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians—almost to excess in one short letter--uphold the truth that Christ will come again to answer the plea of Thessalonians in the first century, as well as Christians through all succeeding years, that he return soon and turn their faith to sight.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus