SYNOPSIS – Paul anticipates receiving a “crown of glory” at the return of Jesus – The salvation of believers in Thessalonica – 1 Thessalonians 2:19.
Events forced Paul to leave the city of Thessalonica prematurely – Certain members of the local synagogue were fomenting opposition to him so that it became necessary for him to leave the city. Initially, some Jews from the synagogue welcomed his preaching; however, they turned against him once large numbers of Gentiles began to embrace the gospel – (Acts 17:1-9).
Even after he left the city, some of the local synagogue leaders pursued Paul to other cities in Macedonia where he also attempted to proclaim Jesus:
(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.”
The resistance from synagogue leaders is the background behind the opening paragraph to the Thessalonians. Like Paul and his coworkers, the believers in Thessalonica “became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction” – (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
In the second chapter, Paul provides further explanation of the local situation:
(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 passage echoes thoughts from the Hebrew Bible and the teachings of Jesus, especially the notion of judgment falling on men and women after they complete a full tally of sins – (Genesis 15:16, Daniel 8:20-24).
According to Paul, one of the worst offenses by Jewish opponents was their resistance to the spread of the gospel among Gentiles; thus, his language may reflect one or more of the sayings of Jesus, for example:
(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.”
“Anger” translates the Greek noun orgé used elsewhere in Paul’s letters for the “wrath” of God. Whether he had in view a catastrophe about to befall the Jewish nation in his time or the final “wrath” of God at the end of the age is uncertain, but the same noun was used in the opening paragraph of the letter – “To await his Son from heaven…who delivers us from the wrath to come” – (Romans 1:18, 2:5, 1 Thessalonians 1:10).
Many first-century Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah of Israel – They “killed” him and “drove out his prophets.” But, for Paul, what really sealed their fate was their resistance to the preaching of the gospel “to the Gentiles that they may be saved” – Therefore, the “wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”
This same pattern was repeated in Thessalonica, but it was evidence also:
“Of the righteous judgment of God; to the end that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you 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).
Next, Paul launched into a word of encouragement for the church at Thessalonica based on their future hope in thereturn of Jesus at the end of the age:
(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.”
Satan “thwarted” Paul. The description is reminiscent of the vision of Zechariah when the Devil resisted “Joshua the high priest” as he stood before 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.”
The “crown of boasting.” “Crown” translates the Greek noun stephanos, more correctly, a “victor’s wreath.” The point is the (potential) victory achieved by the Thessalonians over opposition and hardship. “Boasting” or kauchesis means, “to glory, rejoice.” The phrase echoes a passage from the book of Isaiah originally applied to “Zion,” but now it includes the Gentiles – The “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.”
Paul was confident the church at Thessalonica would remain faithful despite any opposition; so much so, that he could even boast how they would be his reward and joy when they all stood before Jesus – “At his presence.” “Presence” translates the Greek noun Parousia, or better, “arrival.” This is the term applied by Paul more than any other to the “coming” of Jesus – (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2:9).
The verbal form of the Greek noun parousia is found in the Greek Septuagint version of the passage to which Paul just alluded (paraginetai) – “Say to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your salvation is coming [paraginetai], Behold, his reward is with him.” Likewise, Jesus will bring his “reward” for Paul and the Thessalonians when he “arrives” in glory.
Most noteworthy is how Paul places the receipt of this future reward at the “arrival” of Jesus from heaven. As elsewhere in his letters, final salvation for the righteous is acquired when Jesus returns at the end of the age, not following the death of the individual believer.