If the Thessalonians emulate the apostolic example, they will receive the “crown of glory” at Christ’s return – 1 Thessalonians 2:1-20.
Opposition from the local synagogue had compelled Paul to leave Thessalonica prematurely. Though initially, some members of that group had welcomed his message, they turned against him once large numbers of Gentiles began to embrace the gospel. And even after he left the city, some of the synagogue leaders pursued him as he preached elsewhere in Macedonia.
Paul first went to Berea. But when his opponents heard of this, “they came there also, stirring up and troubling the multitudes.” What angered them was the acceptance of Gentiles into the Kingdom. And so, the new believers in Thessalonica likewise “became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction,” but in their case, at the hands of their pagan neighbors – (Acts 17:10-14).
Previously, the Apostle had “suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi,” though he and his companions continued to preach the gospel boldly “in great conflict.” Not only so, but the apostolic team conducted themselves without “error or uncleanness or guile… For neither at any time were we found guilty of using flattery or a cloak of covetousness.” At no time did Paul use the gospel for personal gain – (1 Thessalonians 2:1-5).
Indeed, among the Thessalonians, Paul and Silas were “gentle as when a nurse cherishes her own children.” They not only preached the gospel they also laid their own lives on the line for the new congregation. Rather than solicit contributions from the church, they labored as tentmakers “night and day that we might not burden any of you” – (1 Thessalonians 2:6-13).
By any measure, Paul and Silas behaved “blamelessly” among both their new converts and the city’s population. Rather than attempt to profit from anyone, they conducted themselves “as a father with his own children, exhorting and encouraging you.” All this was so the Thessalonian believers would learn to “walk worthily of God who calls you into His kingdom and glory.”
And Paul did not insert the term “blamelessly” randomly at this point in his letter. Being found “blameless” is one of the themes of the epistle. Later, he prayed for the Thessalonians to be found “blameless in holiness” at the return of Christ, and that God would “sanctify them wholly” so, again, they would be “blameless at the arrival of Jesus.” And his stress on his proper conduct anticipates his later exhortations against members of the church who refused to work – (1 Thessalonians 3:13, 5:23).
And the subsequent afflictions of the Thessalonians followed the pattern of earlier believers who had been persecuted for the sake of the gospel:
- (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16) – “For you became imitators of the assemblies of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus, in that, the same things you 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 to God are displeasing, and to all men are contrary, HINDERING US FROM SPEAKING TO THE GENTILES that they might be saved, TO THE FILLING UP OF THEIR OWN SINS continually. But WRATH HAs OVERTAKEN THEM AT LENGTH.”
Paul’s language reflects ideas from the Hebrew Bible and Jesus, especially the notion of judgment falling on men after they complete their full tally of sins. And one of the worst offenses by Paul’s Jewish opponents was their resistance to the proclamation of the gospel among Gentiles:
- (Matthew 23:29-36) – “Alas for you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites… And FILL YOU UP THE MEASURE OF YOUR FATHERS! Serpents! Broods of vipers! How should you flee from the judgment of Gehenna? For this cause, Behold, I send you prophets and wise men and scribes; some from among them you will slay and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and PURSUE FROM CITY TO CITY: That there may come upon you all the righteous blood poured out upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the righteous to the blood of Zachariah, son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the Temple and the altar. Verily, I say unto you, ALL THESE THINGS WILL COME ON THIS GENERATION.”
In Paul’s statement, “wrath” translates the Greek noun orgé, which is used elsewhere for the “wrath” of God, including in the opening paragraph of the letter for the “wrath” from which Jesus is “rescuing us” – (Romans 1:18, 2:5, 1 Thessalonians 1:10).
Many first-century Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah. But for Paul, above all, what truly sealed their fate was their resistance to the preaching of the gospel “to the Gentiles.” Therefore, the “wrath is coming upon them to the uttermost.” And so, the same pattern experienced in Judea was repeated in Thessalonica – (2 Thessalonians 1:5-6).
Next, Paul gave a word of encouragement for believers based on the future hope of the return of Jesus:
- (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20) – “Now we, having been bereaved away from you for the season of an hour, in presence but not in heart, gave more abundant diligence your face to behold, with much longing; wherefore, we desired to come to 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 you before our Lord Jesus in his arrival? You, 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,” and very likely, the Apostle was echoing that passage: “He showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of Yahweh, and SATAN STANDING AT HIS RIGHT HAND TO RESIST HIM” – (Zechariah 3:1-4).
“Crown of boasting.” The term “crown” translates the Greek noun stephanos, which refers to a “victor’s wreath” typically awarded to the victors in athletic contests. The point is the victory that the Thessalonians achieved over opposition and hardship by emulating Paul’s blameless behavior.
“Boasting” or kauchesis means “to glory, to rejoice.” The phrase reflects the passage from the book of Isaiah that originally was applied to “Zion” but now includes the Gentiles in its outlook:
- (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 Your righteousness and all kings Your glory… You will also be the CROWN OF GLORY in the hand of Yahweh, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God… Behold, your salvation is coming. Behold, His reward is with him.”
Paul was confident the Thessalonians would remain faithful despite opposition, so much so, that he could even boast that they would be his reward and joy when they all stood before Jesus “at his arrival.”
Here, “arrival” translates the Greek noun ‘parousia,’ the term applied by Paul more frequently than any other to the future “coming” of Jesus, and especially so in his letters to the Thessalonians – (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2:9).
The verbal form of parousia is used in the Greek Septuagint version of the passage to which Paul alluded (paraginetai): “Say to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your salvation is coming [paraginetai].” Thus, at his “coming,” Jesus will bring salvation and “reward” for Paul and the Thessalonians.
Paul clearly places the receipt of the believer’s reward at the “arrival” of Jesus from heaven. As elsewhere in his letters, Christians acquire their final salvation when Christ returns at the end of the age. His “arrival” to reward his saints is the same event described in the preceding chapter when the “Son of God” will rescue his people “from the coming wrath.”