SYNOPSIS: The Apostle Paul looks forward to when he will receive a “crown of glory” at the return of Jesus, the salvation of the faithful believers from the city of Thessalonica – 1 Thessalonians 2:19.
Events had forced Paul to leave the city of Thessalonica prematurely. Certain members of the local synagogue had stirred up opposition to his work to the point it became necessary for him to leave the city. Initially, some of the Jews from the synagogue had welcomed his preaching; however, they turned against him when large numbers of Gentiles embraced his message about Jesus Christ (Acts17:1-9).
Certain of the synagogue leaders even pursued Paul to other cities in the area when he attempted to proclaim the gospel in them after fleeing Thessalonica:
(Acts 17:10-14) – “But the brethren, straightway, during the night, sent away both Paul and Silas unto Beroea who, indeed, arriving unto the synagogue of the Jews, went off; and these were more noble than those in Thessalonica in that they welcomed the word with all readiness of mind, daily searching the Scriptures — whether these things could be so. Many, therefore, from among them believed, and of the Grecian women of the higher class and of men, not a few. But when the Jews from Thessalonica came to know that in Beroea also had the word of God been declared by Paul, they came thither, also, stirring up and troubling the multitudes.”
This local resistance is what lay behind his statement in the opening paragraph of this letter to the Thessalonian Christians. Like Paul and his coworkers, they “became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). In Chapter 2, he provides further explanation:
(1 Thessalonians 2:14-16) – “For ye became imitators, brethren, of the assemblies of God which are in Judaea in Christ Jesus, in that, the same things ye also suffered by your own fellow-countrymen, even as they also by the Jews: Who have both slain the Lord Jesus — and the prophets, and us have persecuted, and unto God are displeasing, and unto all men are contrary — HINDERING US FROM SPEAKING UNTO THE NATIONS that they might be saved, TO THE FILLING UP OF THEIR OWN SINS, continually; but ANGER HATH OVERTAKEN THEM AT LENGTH.”
The language in the preceding paragraph reflects ideas from the Hebrew Bible and from the teachings of Jesus, especially, the notion of judgment falling upon men and women after they complete a full tally of sins (e.g., Genesis 15:16, Daniel 8:20-24).
Apparently, Paul concluded that one of the worst offenses by Jewish opponents of the gospel was their resistance to its spread among the Gentile population at Thessalonica. Thus, his language in verses 14-16 may reflect one or more sayings of Jesus. Note the following:
- (Matthew 23:29-36) – “Alas for you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because ye build the sepulchres of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say — If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been their partners in the blood of the prophets: So that ye bear witness against yourselves, that ye are sons of them who murdered the prophets. And YE FILL YE UP THE MEASURE OF YOUR FATHERS! Serpents! broods of vipers! how should ye flee from the judgment of gehenna? For this cause, lo! I send unto you prophets and wise men and scribes — some from among them, ye will slay and crucify, And some from among them ye will — scourge in your synagogues and PURSUE FROM CITY TO CITY: That there may come upon you — all righteous blood poured out upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the righteous, unto the blood of Zachariah, son of Barachiah, whom ye murdered between the Temple and the altar. Verily, I say unto you — ALL THESE THINGS WILL HAVE COME UPON THIS GENERATION.”
- (Luke 21:20-24) – “But whensoever ye shall see Jerusalem encompassed by armies, then know that her desolation hath drawn near. Then they who are in Judaea, let them flee into the mountains, and they who are in her midst, let them go forth — and they who are in the fields, let them not enter into her; For days of avenging are these, FOR ALL THE THINGS WRITTEN TO BE FULFILLED. Alas! for the women with child, and for them who are giving suck in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land, and ANGER AGAINST THIS PEOPLE. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be carried away captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the nations, until the SEASONS OF THE NATIONS SHALL BE FULFILLED.”
The preceding verbal links do not mean, necessarily, that Paul was consciously citing specific passages or any oral saying of Jesus. His language may reflect no more than the scripturally based thought-world in which he operated.
“Anger” (Verse 16). “Anger” translates orgé, the same Greek noun used elsewhere in the writings of Paul for the “wrath” of God (e.g., Romans 1:18, 2:5). Whether Paul has in view a catastrophe about to befall the Jewish nation or the final “wrath” of God at the end of the age is not certain. However, the same noun is used in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 for the “wrath” from which Jesus will rescue his people when he arrives from heaven (“to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come”).
The Jews as a people had rejected Jesus. Him they “killed” and his “prophets they drove out and pleased not God.” But, above all for the Apostle to the Gentiles, what sealed their fate was the resistance to the preaching of the gospel “to the Gentiles that they may be saved”; therefore, the “wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.”
This pattern repeated itself in the city of Thessalonica. However, it was evidence also of the “righteous judgment of God; to the end that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: if so be that it is righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict you” (2 Thessalonians 2:5-6).
After reviewing the events that had forced Paul to leave the city, he launched into a word of encouragement for the church of Thessalonica based on their future hope centered in the Parousia or “arrival” of Jesus:
(1 Thessalonians 2:17-20) – “Now we, brethren, having been bereaved away from you for the season of an hour — in presence, not in heart, gave more abundant diligence your face to behold, with much longing; Wherefore, we desired to come unto you — even I, Paul, both once and again— and SATAN THWARTED US. For what shall be our hope or joy or CROWN OF BOASTING? Shall not even ye before our Lord Jesus in his Presence? Ye, in fact, are our glory and joy.” – (The EmphasizedBible).
The description of how Satan “thwarted” or “hindered” Paul is reminiscent of the vision of Zechariah in which Satan resisted “Joshua the high priest” as he stood before the presence of Yahweh:
(Zechariah 3:1-4) – “And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of Yahweh, and SATAN STANDING AT HIS RIGHT HAND TO RESIST HIM. And Yahweh said unto Satan, Yahweh rebuke thee, O Satan; yea, Yahweh that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and was standing before the angel. And he answered and spoke unto those that stood before him, saying, Take the filthy garments from off him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with rich apparel.”
The “crown of boasting.” The rendering “crown” translates the Greek noun stephanos, more correctly, “victor’s wreath.” The point is not the royal status of the Thessalonians, but their victory achieved over opposition and through hardship. “Boasting” or kauchesis means to “glory, rejoice.” This phrase reflects a passage from Isaiah originally applied to “Zion,” but note carefully how it incorporated the Gentiles or “nations”:
(Isaiah 62:1-3, 11-12) – “For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof goes forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burns. And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of Yahweh shall name. Thou shalt also be A CROWN OF GLORY in the hand of Yahweh, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God… Lo! Yahweh hath sent a message unto the end of the earth: Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Lo! THY SALVATION IS COMING — Lo! his reward is with him, And his recompense before him: So shall men call them — The holy people, The redeemed of Yahweh — And thou shalt be called — Sought out, A city not forsaken.”
“Shall not even ye before our Lord Jesus in his Presence? Ye, in fact, are our glory and joy.” Paul is confident that the church at Thessalonica will remain faithful despite any opposition; so much so, that he can even now boast of how the Thessalonian Christians will be his reward and joy when they all stand before Jesus “at his presence.” Here, “presence” translates the Greek noun Parousia or “arrival.” This is the term Paul applies more than any other to the future coming of Jesus in his two letters to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2:9).
Paul uses Parousia for the “coming” or “arrival” of Jesus more often than the other New Testament authors. Possibly, his source for this term was a saying of Jesus preserved in the Greek language, for example, Matthew 24:27 (“For as the lightning cometh forth from the east, and is seen even unto the west; so shall be the coming [parousia] of the Son of man”). However, in all probability, Jesus spoke in Aramaic.
It is just as likely that Paul borrowed the term from the Greek Septuagint rendering of the passage he has just alluded to – Isaiah 62:11-12 (“Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your salvation is coming [paraginetai], Behold, his reward is with him”). The verb paraginetai (“coming, arriving”) is synonymous with the Greek noun Parousia or “arrival.”
Most noteworthy is how Paul focuses both his and the Thessalonians’ reward on the future coming or “arrival” of Jesus from heaven. As elsewhere in his letters, the final salvation and everlasting rewards for the righteous are acquired when Jesus returns in glory at the end of the age, not following the death of the individual believer.