The Agora
Waiting For His Son - Thessalonians

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1. The Man Paul

What should be written, in a brief introduction such as this, about a man like Paul? He was, quite simply, the greatest man ever to follow the Lord Jesus Christ -- a man whose heart throbbed always with love for God and love for his brethren, despite their failures, despite even their sins against him. He was a man who truly "filled up", or completed, that which was lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24); for he surely took up the cross and followed his Saviour, even to death. With no pride or arrogance, but in simple truth, he was able to say of himself that he had been:

"... in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of water, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches" (2Co 11:23-28).
Paul was "a chosen vessel", to bear the gospel of Christ before the Gentiles (Acts 9:17). He was very well-educated in all the Law and the Prophets, having been taught by the famous Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), who was a member of the Sanhedrin. But more importantly, he was directly instructed by Christ (Gal 1:12). No man ever carried out a commission better. It goes almost without saying, therefore, that his writings are fully inspired by God (2Ti 3:16,17).

With very few exceptions, Paul's letters were written to meet immediate situations. They were not dispassionate treatises written in the peace and silence of a well-stocked study. There were some threatening situations in Corinth, Galatia, and Thessalonica, so he wrote letters to meet them. Or there were dearly beloved "sons" in the faith, like Timothy and Titus, whose hands needed strengthening in difficult positions -- and, again, Paul took time out of an unbelievably busy life to meet the need.

But we must not think that a composition is of no consequence to us because it was written to address an immediate situation which has long since ceased to exist. Indeed, it is just because the frail flesh we all bear does not change that God still speaks to us today through the letters of Paul. In these letters, a great and good and truly humble man still "lives" and pours out his heart and mind in love to us, his beloved children in the Faith.

2. The Letters Of Paul

First, as to an overview: Paul's fourteen letters seem to fall into five groups:

  1. The earliest, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (and possibly Galatians), were written on his second missionary journey when he first went to Europe (see "Date and Occasion").
  2. Romans and 1 and 2 Corinthians were written during his third journey, when he spent most of his time in Ephesus. (This was at the time of the troubles in Corinth, when Titus was sent there: 2Co 8:16,23; 12:18.)
  3. Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, Philemon, and Hebrews were written near the end of his first imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:30), when he was expecting soon to be released, as he indicated in several of them.
  4. Titus and 1 Timothy were written in the period after his release, when he was back working in the same area of Greece, Asia Minor, and Macedonia again.
  5. Finally, 2 Timothy was written, right at the end of his life, from prison again in Rome.
* * *

There are several different types amongst Paul's fourteen letters:

Nine were written to seven ecclesias (if Galatians may be reckoned as one ecclesia) -- there being two each to Corinth and Thessalonica. Just as Jesus Christ in the Apocalypse sent messages to seven communities, so did Paul. (Seven is the Scriptural number of completion and perfection, suggesting that Paul's ecclesial letters contain the complete gospel and perfect instruction for all ecclesias.) Some of the nine letters to ecclesias were written to answer special questions (as the two to Corinth); some to oppose special false doctrines (as that to the Galatians); and others to upbuild and strengthen generally.

* * *

From a different aspect, these nine letters to ecclesias may be divided into three basic groups:

4 doctrinal: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians.

3 practical: Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.

2 concerning Christ's return: 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

Besides this three-part division of the nine, each individual letter makes its own unique contribution to the total message of the group. In Romans the key word is "righteousness"; in 1 Corinthians it is "wisdom"; in 2 Corinthians it is "comfort"; in Galatians it is "liberty"; in Ephesians it is "blessed"; in Philippians it is "gain"; in Colossians it is "filled"; in 1 Thessalonians it is "coming"; in 2 Thessalonians it is "working."

Like links in a chain, the letters follow one another, until we reach a clearly defined completion with the ninth:

The Gospel and its message
1 Corinthians
The Gospel and its ministry
2 Corinthians
The Gospel and its ministers
The Gospel and its mutilators
The Gospel and its heavenly places
The Gospel and the earthlies
The Gospel and the philosophies
1 Thessalonians
The Gospel and Christ's return
2 Thessalonians
The Gospel and the apostasy

Nor can we miss seeing that each of the nine presents its own sparkling facet of the believer's union with Christ:

In Christ -- justification
1 Corinthians
In Christ -- sanctification
2 Corinthians
In Christ -- consolation
In Christ -- liberation
In Christ -- exaltation
In Christ -- exultation
In Christ -- completion
1 Thessalonians
In Christ -- preparation
2 Thessalonians
In Christ -- compensation

Paul's five other letters may be divided thus: one thoroughly personal letter (Philemon); one general letter, to Hebrew Christians with dangerous leanings toward Judaism (Hebrews); and three letters to individuals (Timothy and Titus) who were leaders of Christian communities

3. The City Of Thessalonica

Thessalonica was built on the site of the ancient town of Therma; its original name was derived from the hot springs ("thermae") which still exist in the region. It became a place of some importance when rebuilt and renamed by Cassander, a general under Alexander the Great who claimed Macedonia for his own when the Grecian Empire was broken up at Alexander's death. (The city was named by Cassander in honor of his wife, the daughter of Philip of Macedon and sister to Alexander the Great.) Beginning, then, about 300 BC, Thessalonica rapidly became one of the leading cities of the region of Macedonia (in northeastern Greece -- the area which also included Philippi, Amphipolis, Apollonia and Berea).

When, in 167 BC, the Romans took over Macedonia, Thessalonica became one of the four regional capitals, and later, after a reorganization, the capital city of the whole province. Thus it was successively a center of Greek culture and politics, and a Roman administrative center. If we add to this the inevitable Jewish contingent to be found in commercial centers and seaports, we have in Thessalonica a very volatile mix of three distinctive, and often mutually antagonistic, cultures.

In 42 BC, Thessalonica became a "free city", that is, one where the local inhabitants had their own government and rights of citizenship (compare the way Paul speaks of his hometown Tarsus -- Acts 21:39; 22:27,28). The local magistrates were called "politarchs", a title that appears in Acts 17:6,8 and is attested in inscriptions discovered at the site. Luke's every use of technical terms for various local rulers and dignitaries, and hence his reputation as a flawless historian, has by now been confirmed from secular sources.

Under the government of Rome the city continued to advance in prosperity; its prominent location, on the Via Egnatia, or Egnatian highway, was a primary cause of its commercial success. Cicero wrote of the Thessalonians as "placed in the lap of the Empire." The Via Egnatia carried traffic across from the Aegean Sea on the east to the Ionian Sea on the west, where it connected with sea crossings to Italy and Rome. This may explain, at least on geographical terms, the words of Paul:

"From you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place" (1Th 1:8).
In Thessalonica many ways met, both literally and culturally. From this center it was likely, as Paul saw it, that the word of the Lord would have "free course (ie, 'run' or 'speed on') and be glorified" (2Th 3:1).

The site of the city also was fine and commanding. It rose from the harbor like an amphitheater, covering a sloping hill from which one might look out toward the southwest, over the Thermaic Gulf and toward the Aegean Sea. On the opposite shore of the gulf, on the horizon rose fabled Olympus, home of the Greek "gods".

4. Background Of The Ecclesia At Thessalonica

Paul (Silas and Timothy being with him) was led into the region of Macedonia, and then into the city of Thessalonica, during what is commonly called "The Second Missionary Journey", by the inspired vision of a "man of Macedonia" beseeching him to "Come over into Macedonia, and help us" (Acts 16:9). The Greek text has "a certain man", a word which implies familiarity. If the man was one whom Paul recognized, it could well have been Luke, "the beloved physician" (Col 4:14), who seems from the narrative itself to have been very familiar with the region, and who (we know) spent a good many years there after this time. (The first "we" passage of Acts starts with the very next verse, as though Luke is implying: "After he -- Paul -- saw the vision of myself, then I arrived at Troas in person to meet him, and immediately we began our journey for Macedonia.")

The first preaching work in Macedonia was done at Philippi, and produced fruit in the baptisms of Lydia and her household (Acts 16:15), and the jailer and his house (vv 31-33). But the unrest that was generated there led Paul and Silas onward and westward, to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1) -- apparently Luke and Timothy remained behind in Philippi to consolidate the ecclesia that had been quickly established.

The travelers moved on from Philippi, following one of the great Roman roads through Amphipolis and Apollonia to Thessalonica, a distance of ninety miles or so. When describing how the small party "passed through" (Acts 17:1), on its way to Thessalonica, Luke uses the same word by which he describes Jesus "passing through every city and village" (Luke 8:1), and that was certainly not in the sense of "passing on." So it may be that some preaching was attempted in these other places but without response of a very noteworthy character. (Probably they had no Jewish colonies of any size, and thus no good starting point for Paul's preaching to take effect.)

Again, it can hardly be an accident that Luke uses regarding Paul's preaching here almost the identical words by which he describes Jesus at work in Galilee: "as his custom was, he went in unto them" (into the synagogue) (Luke 4:16). There for three sabbath days Paul had an open door. The parallel descriptions regarding Berea and Ephesus ("daily": Acts 17:11, 19:9) suggest full use of synagogue opportunities during the week also. So also does the word "reasoning", with its normal application of dialogue, discussion, question and answer. It is a word which from this time on is most appropriate to describe Paul's preaching method (17:17; 18:4,19; 19:8,9; 20:7,9).

There, before a congregation in which polarization rapidly took place, he continued, "opening and alleging" the message concerning Jesus. Doubtless the first of these words referred to the masterful way in which he opened up the Messianic theme of the Old Testament (cp Luke 24:32,45), while by its form the other word implies setting alongside the teaching of Scripture the facts about the death and resurrection of Jesus which were within Paul's own personal knowledge and experience.

Which Scriptures would he concentrate on in teaching his diverse audience that "it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise again from the dead?" Such prophecies as Isaiah 53 and 49, Micah 7, Psalms 22, 16, 110 and 118 probably supplied his themes; almost certainly he would make use of the eloquent types provided in Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Hezekiah and Jonah.

It is clear, from Phi 4:16, that on two separate occasions the new church at Philippi sent money to Thessalonica, where Paul was desperately trying to keep the good work going while at the same time earning his own living. Paul was anxious not to appear to be a sponger:

"Ye remember, brethren, our labor and travail: for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God" (1Th 2:9).

"... neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable unto any of you" (2Th 3:8).
The repeated cash contribution from Philippi means that on two occasions someone (Luke, or Titus, or Epaphroditus?) made the journey between the two cities in order to bring this welcome aid.

The response from the Jews at Thessalonica was only mediocre (Acts 17:4), in spite of miraculous demonstrations of Holy Spirit power (1Th 1:5). One of the converts was Aristarchus, who years later was to accompany the apostle to Rome, travelling as his servant (Acts 27:2).

However, the "devout Greeks" -- Gentiles on the fringe of Judaism -- rallied to the gospel in large numbers (Acts 17:4), and doubtless provided Paul with much encouragement. So from its earliest days the Thessalonian ecclesia must have been largely Gentile.

Probably the campaign at Thessalonica lasted a good deal longer than the three weeks mentioned (Acts 17:2, 1Th 2:9; 2Th 3:8 imply a lengthy stay). Even Paul could not have brought so many Gentiles to Christ -- "a great multitude" -- in so short a time. So it becomes necessary to understand a marked gap in the record at the end of verse 4. Evidently the pattern of preaching at Antioch in Pisidia and at Ephesus (first to Jewry, and then a sustained effort among the Gentiles: Acts 13:46-49; 19:8-10) was followed at Thessalonica also. We know that many must have had no real connection with the synagogue, since they are spoken of as having turned from idols to serve the only true God (1Th 1:9).

It was no easy life that Paul led during the few months that he lived there, bringing into existence one of the finest of all the ecclesias founded by him. There was constant opposition from Jews of course:

"We were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention (RV: in much conflict)" (1Th 2:2).
He had to work day and night, not only in the gospel but also for his own subsistence. He was resolved that from the first these Thessalonians should see in him a worthy example of Christian character:

"Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe": (2:10).
Evidently there were malicious attempts by Jewish adversaries to damage Paul's public standing, or he would surely not have sought to justify himself in the way that several passages seem to imply:

"... our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile:... so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness, God is witness: nor of men sought we glory... when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ" (2:3-6).

"He therefore that despiseth (us), despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us His holy Spirit" (4:8).
The progress of the gospel, particularly among the "proselytes of the gate", provoked an inevitable reaction amongst the Jews. Indeed it is something to marvel at that Paul and his helpers were able to consolidate the new ecclesias as much as they did before trouble arose.

By this time the preachers, after the pattern of Philippi, had been pressed to make the home of a certain Jason the center of their activities. This Jason (the same as in Rom 16:21?) was almost certainly a Jew who had taken this Greek name, as equivalent to his original "Joshua."

As at Iconium and Lystra (Acts 14:2,19), the malevolent Thessalonian Jews got the worst elements of the city on their side -- "certain lewd fellows of the baser sort" (Acts 17:5). (Unemployed loafing seems to have been especially characteristic of this city, for in his epistles Paul twice came to allude to it. Indeed, these fellows seem to have earned for themselves a special nickname: "agoraios", literally "the market boys", because that is where they loafed around.)

Goaded on by the Jews, and doubtless bribed by them, these scoundrels set going a surge of excitement and strong feeling against the apostles. Then, reinforced by others of the same sort, they attacked Jason's house and forced their way in, hopeful that they would without doubt grab Paul and Silas. But, whether by providence or a timely warning, neither was to be found there.

The house was diligently searched from top to bottom (v 6). However, since the intended victims were not there, the thugs seized Jason, and one or two others; the antagonistic mob which had now gathered outside the house would have to be satisfied with some victim or other. These innocents were dragged before the city rulers.

These rulers were called "politarchs", chief men of the city. It is a title used, in Acts, only for the magistrates of Thessalonica. (At one time this word provoked criticism against Luke's accuracy, as though he had invented an otherwise unknown title. But the term has now been found on quite a number of inscriptions.)

The charges made against the brethren were threefold (vv 6,7):

  1. At Philippi they have "turned the world upside down", and they have now come here with the same intention.
  2. They defy the decrees of Caesar. (This cry would sound very loyal!)
  3. They teach honor to a different kind of king, a certain Jesus.
There was also a special charge against Jason that he had welcomed and sheltered these disturbers of the peace.

That unusual phrase "these that have turned the world upside down" may have been used with reference to what had been heard about happenings at Philippi -- two men shut up, then a violent earthquake bringing city buildings to the ground. Or did those Jews mean that their world was being turned upside down by a message which proclaimed that Jews were no longer a nation of special religious privilege? The grace of God was now offered freely to Gentiles also. (They may have heard Paul using such Scriptures as Eze 21:27 and Isa 29:16,17 with reference to the rejection of Jewry.)

From the rulers' point of view this first charge would either be too vague or an obvious exaggeration. The second charge was just a plain lie. And to think that the Jews made such a charge: "these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar!" The irony of it! For there was no people in all the empire who flouted the laws of Rome as the Jews did.

But the third charge that they said "there is another king, one Jesus" was a clever half-truth, calculated to raise strong prejudice at once. Of course, they did proclaim a king greater than Caesar, but as long as that king was not visible among men neither Claudius nor any other Caesar could take them seriously. The rulers of the city handled this explosive issue in a clever fashion, with (from their viewpoint) just the proper degree of severity. They put the little group of accused on bail and deferred the hearing of the case -- a good way of taking the steam out of the situation. Presumably Jason was fairly wealthy, and not hard put to find the money. But if not, there would be some influential supporter (v 4) who would put up the necessary security.

It is likely that one of the conditions attached to the decision was that Paul and Silas leave the city forthwith and not show their faces there again for, perhaps, a year. Otherwise it is difficult to understand why the apostles would be so passive when the believers insisted that they leave Thessalonica that very night. It was not like Paul, having seen that the law was half on his side, to run away. But probably the brethren feared another explosion from the mob who were disappointed that the Christians had been treated so leniently, as they thought.

So next morning they were all well on their way to Berea, fifty miles away. Doubtless at least one of the believers had good contacts there, and this knowledge would make Paul the more willing to leave Thessalonica for the time being, for a new and promising venture, and especially since he was able to leave helpers behind to encourage and direct the new ecclesia in his absence.

Indications are that almost at once the Jews of Thessalonica stirred up a sharp persecution of the believers (1Th 1:6; 2:14-16; 3:3,4; 2Th 1:4-7). But the only effect of this was to consolidate their zeal for the Lord. So Paul, vexed by his forced separation, was nevertheless extremely pleased by the news which later reached him from Thessalonica.

5. Authorship

The Thessalonian letters are both from Paul, and Silvanus (or Silas), and Timotheus (Timothy). Timothy is plainly a disciple and assistant (and most likely, also the secretary) of Paul (2Co 1:1; Phi 1:1; Col 1:1; Phm 1:1; compare Sosthenes in 1Co 1:1). But Silas occupies a position more nearly equal with that of Paul: he is one of the "chief men among the brethren" (Acts 15:22) in Jerusalem. This consideration, along with the presence of more "we" passages in these two letters than Paul commonly uses elsewhere, seems to point to something of a plural authorship in this case, in a substantial and not merely a nominal sense. Paul and Silas were together the founders of the Thessalonian ecclesia and its teachers; and together now they send instructions to, and offer prayers on behalf of, their recent converts.

The authenticity of 1 Thessalonians has never seriously been questioned by any scholars disposed to believe in the inspiration of any part of the canon of Scripture. 1 Thessalonians may be added to Philippians, Galatians, Romans, and 1 and 2 Corinthians, for all practical purposes, as the absolutely undisputed epistles of Paul. (This is not to imply in the least that Paul's authorship of the other letters should be in dispute; it is merely to note the fact that in certain liberal circles they are so disputed.)

6. Date And Occasion

Paul had sent Timothy from Athens back to Thessalonica (1Th 3:5) to encourage the new community there and then to bring back news; Timothy duly returned to Paul (who had probably by now moved along to Corinth), bearing good news about the condition of the ecclesia, which must have greatly encouraged Paul. The first letter, then, was almost certainly written during Paul's 18 months in Corinth (Acts 18:11) -- a period to which we may assign the approximate date AD 52-53 -- and most likely toward the end of that period. Several points support this conclusion:

  1. The letter has numerous references to the first visit of Paul and Silas to the ecclesia, and there is nothing to suggest that there had been as yet a second visit.
  2. There had been sufficient time for several new converts in Thessalonica to have died (1Th 4:10), prompting questions as to their fate at Christ's return.
  3. Time enough had passed to allow news of their faith to spread to other regions (1:7,8).
  4. There had been time for the Thessalonians to manifest their love (by giving to the needs?) of other Christians in Macedonia (4:10).
  5. There is no evidence that Silas worked closely with Paul at any time after the "Second Missionary Journey."

7. The Themes Of Paul's Message To The Thessalonians

Clearly, it was Jesus as Messiah, or coming King, which dominated Paul's teaching at Thessalonica (Acts 17:3), for it is there in every chapter of his two epistles (of which, more in the next section). There is remarkably little about Jesus as the means of atonement:

"... salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that... we should live together with him... we believe that Jesus died and rose again" (1Th 5:9,10; 4:14).
Might not this "lack" be explained in that the believers at Thessalonica had had no trouble with understanding the sacrifice of Christ, and had embraced its teaching joyfully?

As in all his epistles, Paul was as much concerned with their daily lives as with their faith. Gentile converts especially needed to be taught that the Christian who fails to reflect the character of Christ is no Christian. Gentile life in that era was riddled with evil of every kind, for the many fascinating religions which competed for a man's devotion taught him almost nothing about moral standards.

In particular, there was serious need to pull these new-born Thessalonians completely away from sexual depravity, which permeated all ranks of Gentile society there:

"It is God's will that you should be holy; that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter (ie, stealing another man's wife) no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure but to live a holy life..." (1Th 4:3-7, NIV).
In spite of his intense affection for his children in the faith, Paul knew the need for a certain degree of severity. So for the sake of good order and seemliness in the Christian community, he urged on all a proper spirit of respect for those in authority over them (1Th 5:12,13). Where there was a lack of discipline, the leaders were counseled to take strong measures -- for the sake of the flock, and for the spiritual recovery of the dissidents:

"Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us... if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2Th 3:6,14,15).
Apart from such defects -- to be expected in an ecclesia dredged out of the wickedness of a first-century seaport -- there were certain very fine qualities almost unique to Thessalonica.

Almost from the earliest days they had to face persecution. And how well they stood up to it!

"... having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit" (1Th 1:6).

"For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews": (1Th 2:14).
All this was after Paul's own heart. He gloried in their staunchness -- "for your patience (ie, endurance), and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure": (2Th 1:4).

He comforted them with assurances that the day of judgment, "when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire", would set all things straight -- for themselves vindication, and for their enemies retribution (2Th 1:6-10). The coming, or "parousia", of Christ is the main theme of Paul's first letter, and will be discussed in a separate section.

The fine reputation of these Thessalonian believers traveled everywhere:

"... in every place your faith to God-ward is gone forth; so that we need not to speak anything (concerning you). For they themselves (Paul's correspondents) report concerning us what manner of entering in we had unto you" (1Th 1:8,9, RV).
Apparently, echoes of that campaign were coming back again to Paul, as though he himself were hearing them for the first time.

Best of all, these new converts were so fired by the faith they learned that they had become zealous preachers:

"... from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia..." (1Th 1:8).
Paul could wish for nothing better than this.

So his natural affection for them, as his converts, was later intensified by his absence from them and by the encouraging reports he received. In no other epistle are there such signs of overflowing love and joy as in these short letters written some months late.

8. The Main Theme - The "Parousia"

The Greek word "parousia" is becoming common in English as a technical term for the Second Coming of Christ. The use of the word in the secular Greek contemporary with the New Testament is extremely interesting.

In classical Greek it means quite simply the "presence" or the "arrival" of persons or things. It can be used in such phrases as the "presence" of friends or the "presence" of misfortunes. Quite often Paul uses "parousia" in that simple non-technical sense. He rejoices at the "parousia" (the "arrival") of Stephanas (1Co 16:17). He is comforted by the "parousia" of Titus (2Co 7:6). He urges the Philippians to be as obedient in his absence as they were during his "parousia" with them (Phi 2:12). The Corinthians fling the taunt at him that, however impressive his letters may be, his bodily "parousia" is weak (2Co 10:10).

It is the occasional "classical" use that has led some to assume mistakenly that the word may describe some sort of mystical, invisible "presence" or "essence" of Christ dwelling with believers.

But, characteristically, in the New Testament "parousia" is the preeminent word to describe the Second Coming of Christ (Mat 24:3,27,37,39; 1Th 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5.23; 2Th 2:1,8,9; James 5:7,8; 2Pe 1:16; 3:4,12; 1Jo 2:28). The contemporary secular use of the term (as opposed to classical uses) will show what kind of picture it would convey to the minds of the early Christians.

In common first-century Greek "parousia" is the technical word for the arrival of an emperor, a king, a governor or famous person at a town or province. For such a visit preparations have to be made. Taxes are imposed, for instance, to present the king with a golden crown. Always the coming of the king demands that all things must be ready.

Further, one of the most common things is that provinces dated a new era from the "parousia" of the emperor. A new section of time emerged with the coming of the king.

Another common practice was to strike new coins to commemorate the visitation of the king. Hadrian's travels can be followed by the coins which were struck to commemorate his visits. When Nero visited Corinth coins were struck to commemorate his "adventus" (advent, which is the Latin equivalent of the Greek "parousia"). It was as if with the coming of the king a new set of values had emerged.

"Parousia" is sometimes used of the "invasion" of a province by a general. Thus it describes the entrance on the scene of a new and conquering power.

Lastly, the "parousia" of the king or governor or emperor was often an occasion when petitions were presented and wrongs were righted. The word describes a healing and a correcting visitation.

With all this in our minds let us return to the New Testament and see how the idea of the "parousia" is used.

  1. It is used as the basis of a demand to preserve one's life blameless against the coming of the king. The preparations for the king's visit must be made (1Th 3:13; 5:23; 1Jo 2:28).
  2. It is used as a reason for patience (James 5:7,8). The day is coming when the arrival of the King will right all wrongs.
  3. It is spoken of as something to desire and to pray for (2Pe 3:4,12). He who awaits Christ has something beyond this present sad and transient world to look forward to. The Christian is one who -- humble as he might appear -- is waiting for, and working for, a coming King.

9. The Relationship Between The Two Thessalonian Letters

There are very great similarities between the two Thessalonian letters. The second letter, written only a few months or perhaps as much as a year after the first, repeats a number of the main exhortational points of the first letter, such as the necessity of work and a means of avoiding the perils of idleness. In both letters there is thanksgiving to God for the Thessalonians' faith and love, even in the midst of persecution.

One outstanding feature distinguishes the second letter from the first: the detailed section about the Man of Lawlessness (2Th 2:1-12). This was necessary as a corrective for those who so took to heart Paul's statements about the nearness of Christ's coming that they began to neglect their family and personal responsibilities. While the return of Christ could still be expected and longed for, there were other things that must happen first. Thus the second letter would, to some extent, modify the false impression left in some more excitable minds by the first.

10. The Later History Of The City

In later Roman history the city of Thessalonica was a bulwark against the invasions of the Goths. In the Middle Ages it was captured by the Saracens AD 904, by the Normans in 1185, and by the Turks in 1430. During World War I, under its modern name of Salonika, it was the base of important military operations -- its location still of great strategic value, as it had been two millennia earlier. Its population today is approximately 100,000 -- consisting of sizeable numbers of Turks, Greeks, and Jews. The city is rich in examples of Byzantine church architecture and art, and possesses a large number of mosques and (by one count) 12 churches and 25 synagogues.

11. Book Outlines

1 Thessalonians


Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians

A. Paul's thanksgiving

B. The Thessalonians' response

Paul's defense of his preaching

A. His visit

B. His behavior

C. His example

Fellowship in persecution

Paul's continuing concern

A. Paul's desire to return

B. Timothy's mission

C. Timothy's encouraging report

D. Paul's first prayer for the Thessalonians


A. The traditions

B. Sexual purity

C. Brotherly love

D. Diligence

Problems concerning Christ's return

A. Believers who fall asleep

B. The time of the Coming

C. Be ready for His Coming

Final exhortations

A. Recognition of leaders

B. Various duties


A. Paul's second prayer for the Thessalonians

B. Farewell

2 Thessalonians


Thanksgiving and Prayer for the Thessalonians

A. Paul's thanksgiving

B. Divine judgment

C. Paul's prayer for their future acceptance

The Man of Sin destroyed by Christ at His Coming

A. Warning against false claims

B. The Man of Sin revealed

C. His followers deceived

Thanksgiving and Encouragement

A. Paul's thanksgiving

B. Paul's encouragement

C. Paul's prayer for their strengthening

Prayerful Preparation for the Work

A. Paul's request for prayer

B. Paul's confidence in Christ

Warnings against Idleness

A. Paul's previous example

B. Additional instruction

C. Discipline

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