Paul used his own afflictions to remind the Thessalonians that believers have been “appointed for tribulation” – 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13.
After his expulsion from Thessalonica and Berea, Paul traveled to Athens. There, he proclaimed the resurrection of the dead before the Greek philosophical schools. At that time, he sent Timothy to strengthen the Thessalonian congregation in the faith, which was even more necessary because of “these afflictions,” especially those endured by the Apostle.
From its inception, the Thessalonian church had experienced opposition, though they “received the word in much affliction and with joy in the Holy Spirit.” This was no surprise since the churches of Judea had suffered persecution previously at the hands of hostile Jewish leaders. Frequently in the early church, hostility to the gospel was the pattern wherever it was introduced.
And Paul reminded the Thessalonians that when he was with them, he exhorted them not to be “moved by these tribulations, for you yourselves know that we are appointed for this… As we told you beforehand, we are to suffer tribulation, even as it came to pass.” Timothy was sent because of his anxiety over the situation “lest the tempter had tempted you, and our labor should be in vain.”
Happily, Timothy found things in good order and the faith of the Thessalonians had held firm despite increasing opposition from their “fellow countrymen.”
The theme of suffering for Christ is a common one in Paul’s writings. Indeed, Jesus himself warned that his disciples would be “hated by all the nations,” and only those who “endured to the end” would be saved at his “arrival from heaven.”
Those saints who endure persecution for his sake will be pronounced “blessed” in his kingdom. In fact, suffering for him is a great honor and a reason for rejoicing. Likewise, Elsewhere, Paul encouraged believers to rejoice in suffering. Moreover, all those who live godly “in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” – (Matthew 5:10-12, 24:9, 24:21-22, Romans 5:3, 12:12, 2 Corinthians 1:4, 2 Timothy 3:12).
Next, Paul expressed a wish-prayer that concludes the first half of the letter. In it, he reiterated two requests stated previously. First, for the opportunity to visit the Thessalonians again. And second, that God would increase their love for him and for others. The fulfillment of these requests would make their faith complete.
By “confirming their hearts,” the Thessalonians would find themselves standing “blameless” before God when Jesus “arrives from heaven.” The passage transitions the narrative to the next section of the letter by emphasizing two key subjects – Holiness and the coming of Jesus.
- (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13) – “Now, may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus make straight our way unto you: And you may the Lord cause to abound and excel in your love, one toward another, and toward all, even as we do toward you. To the end, he may confirm your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the arrival of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
Paul did not suggest the Thessalonians lacked love. He previously referred to their “labor of love.” Instead, he prayed for them to “exceed and abound” even more in love for one another, and for their non-Christian neighbors – (1 Thessalonians 1:3, 3:6).
To be found “blameless in sanctification” before God points to the future time of evaluation and judgment. That day will be a time of joy and vindication for all those who are found “blameless.” By implication, those who are not prepared will not be so fortunate.
In the preceding chapter, Paul expressed his wish for the Thessalonians to be established “before God,” and the same future event is in view here. And both passages label this the parousia or “arrival” of Jesus – (1 Thessalonians 2:19).
The Greek noun parousia occurs seven times in the letters to the Thessalonians. In six instances, it refers to the “coming” or “arrival of Jesus” at the end of the age. Once, Paul applies it to the “arrival” of the “man of lawlessness,” though his arrival mimics that of Christ – (2 Thessalonians 2:9).
At his parousia, Jesus will arrive accompanied by “all his saints.” Other New Testament passages associate angels with the “coming of Jesus,” and that is likely the intent here – (Matthew 13:41, 13:49, 24:31, 25:31, 8:38, 13:27, Luke 9:26, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8).
The description alludes to the passage from Zechariah about the arrival of God – (“Then Yahweh will come and all the saints with him”). The scriptural background sheds light on Paul’s usage. Elsewhere, he refers to believers as “saints.” However, here, he uses terminology from Zechariah that was applied originally to angels. The context in Zechariah was the “day of Yahweh” when He would gather all the nations to fight against them. He would arrive to save his people, accompanied by the hosts of heaven – (Zechariah 14:5).
Paul applied these words to the largely Gentile congregation in Thessalonica. In Zechariah, Yahweh “gathered all the nations to Jerusalem to battle.” After that, He arrived and cleaved the Mount of Olives so His people could flee to the “valley of his mountains.” That was then He arrived “with all his saints.” This background indicates that “with all his saints” in 1 Thessalonians refers to the angelic host that will accompany Jesus at his “arrival.”
The stress on becoming “blamelessness” introduces the element of judgment. Elsewhere, the New Testament teaches that Christians must stand “before the judgment seat of Christ.” The idea that judgment on the wicked will occur also at the “coming” of Jesus is found in Paul’s employment of language from Zechariah,a prophecy in which God defeated hostile nations on behalf of his people on the “Day of the Lord.”
The picture is of the future day when Jesus will arrive from heaven accompanied by the angels to gather his elect to stand before him, preferably, “blameless” and in “holiness.”