From Ancient Thessalonica to Us Today
Two thousand years have passed since Paul penned 1–2 Thessalonians. The Roman Empire, and the ancient city of Thessalonica, have been reduced to rubble. You can buy a ticket to tour the ruins. The Greco-Roman gods—once the object of so much worship, devotion, sacrifice, and hope—have been relegated to museums and the occasional Disney film. Meanwhile, Christianity has spread from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Little Has Changed
So much has changed in the world since the Thessalonians assembled to hear these letters from their beloved apostle. Yet, in many ways, little has changed. Are we really so different? We too need encouragement (1 Thess. 1:2–10). We too need integrity (1 Thess. 2:1–16). We too need love (1 Thess. 2:17–3:13). We too need challenge (1 Thess. 4:1–12). We too need hope (1 Thess. 4:13–5:11). We too need virtue (1 Thess. 5:12–28). We too need assurance (2 Thess. 1:1–12). We too need correction (2 Thess. 2:1–12). We too need prayer (2 Thess. 2:13–3:5). We too need prodding (2 Thess. 3:6–3:15). We too need peace (2 Thess. 3:16). And from beginning to end, we too need grace (1 Thess. 1:1; 5:28; 2 Thess. 1:2; 3:18).
First and Second Thessalonians are among the earliest documents we possess from the inception of the New Testament church. (Only James and Galatians were written earlier.) Yet despite a two-millennia gap, these letters ring with relevance for today. The Thessalonians faced intense opposition for their faith (2 Thess. 1:1–12); many believers worldwide have long experienced the same, and those of us in the West are increasingly catching up. The Thessalonians had grown slack in pursuing holiness (1 Thess. 4:1–7); many of us have too. The Thessalonians were unsettled because they had misunderstood their future hope (1 Thess. 4:13–5:11; 2 Thess. 2:1–17); many of us live with similar misunderstanding. Because we are so seldom heavenly-minded, we are of little earthly good.
Strength for Today, Bright Hope for Tomorrow
The world should not see its reflection when it peers into the church. Instead, it should see a kind of life available nowhere else. It should see the grace of Jesus, lavished on humble sinners, embodied in self-giving love. Our unbelieving friends and neighbors are clamoring after things that will never satisfy them. They know neither why they are here nor where they are going. What awaits them beyond the grave is terrifying, not beautiful.
First and Second Thessalonians resound with the news that salvation—deliverance from God’s wrath through the blood of his Son—is available, for free, to all who will turn to, trust in, and treasure the Lord Jesus. These letters resound with the news that the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in the hearts of Christians, empowering us to walk in a manner worthy of God. And these letters resound with the news that this world is not the way it always will be. One day, King Jesus will split the skies and return for his people, establishing justice and renewing all things.
Together, these letters form an eight-chapter refutation to the idea that eschatology is impractical. It is not. To study eschatology is to be encouraged and empowered (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11). Eschatology is also relevant to ethics: Christian virtue does not arise out of nowhere, but is driven by past mercy and is sustained by future hope. If you need “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,” 1–2 Thessalonians are a gift from God to you.
Matt Smethurst is the managing editor of the Gospel Coalition and an elder at Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.
Image courtesy: ©Thinkstock/jodie777
Publication date: September 26, 2017