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Johnson, Andy. 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 349 pp. Pb; $25. Link to Eerdmans

Andy Johnson’s new contribution in the Two Horizons series from Eerdmans on the two letters to the Thessalonians represents a theological interpretation of Scripture which is intentionally missional. As Johnson explains in his introduction, his goal in the commentary is to focus on elements of the text “most useful for facilitating the continuing formation of the church in its proper identity as a missional community” (2).

Thessalonians, Commentary, EerdmansThe second goal of this commentary is to read the Thessalonian correspondence as part of the canon of Scripture. This means placing these letters into the overall story of the whole Bible and the mission of God to undo humanity’s rebellion. Although he does not use the phrase, his overview in the introduction is the familiar “drama of redemption” which drives most writing which self-identifies as theological interpretation of Scripture.

As with most of the New Testament commentaries in this series, Johnson employs a post-biblical creed as a clarifying lens for “bringing 1 and 2 Thessalonians into focus (2). In the case of this commentary, Johnson uses the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, but he also recognizes his place in the broader Wesleyan tradition as well as his openness to being instructed by other Christian traditions. There are occasional theological readings of the text which are informed by Johnson’s Wesleyanism.

With respect to authorship and date, Johnson briefly surveys the state of the question and recognizes there is some merit to the arguments for non-Pauline authorship of 2 Thessalonians, but he remains unconvinced (7). But from a canonical perspective, it matters very little if Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians or not since the origin of the letters is of lesser importance to theological interpretations than canonical status. He provides several pages of excellent context drawn from Acts 16-18 and following the lead of Kavin Rowe’s The World Upside Down. Although this a brief overview, it is sufficient to enable Johnson to set these two letters in a proper historical and sociological context.

In the body of the commentary Johnson works through the books in larger sections, commenting on some details of the text but falling short of a detailed exegetical commentary. This is to be expected give his stated goal to write a commentary serving the mission of the church. Greek appears in the body of the commentary with transliteration and Johnson does comment occasionally on grammar, syntax and rhetorical features. This makes for a very readable commentary which will be useful for a pastor or teacher as they prepare to preach or teach Thessalonians in a church context.

Since this is a canonical commentary, Johnson pays close attention to intertextual echoes of the Hebrew Bible, although there are a few places where he hears an echo which Paul may not have explicitly intended. For example, commenting on several texts which may illuminate Paul’s understanding of the Man of Lawlessness, Johnson suggests allusions to Ezekiel 28:1-9 as the “most instructive text in this Old Testament trajectory” even if this was not an intentional allusion by Paul (289). This way of using the Old Testament to illuminate the New is not intertextuality (as it is usually defined), but more like an older hermeneutic where Scripture is the best commentary on Scripture. Although I think Johnson is certainly on the right track to draw attention to the arrogant actions of Adam in the Garden and the paradigmatic arrogant rulers in Isaiah 14 or Ezekiel 28 and the claims of these rules to be divine (as well as possible allusions to Daniel 11 and Antiochus IV Epiphanes), I would prefer to see an argument Paul had this trajectory in mind when he described the Man of Lawlessness, especially in the light of where that trajectory may lead the interpreter who is trying to draw out implications for contemporary application.

One of the primary features of a Two Horizons commentary is a lengthy section on the theological implications of the commentary. Johnson’s reflections on 1 and 2 Thessalonians begin with a section on holiness. Holiness is Spirit-enabled and derived from the triune Godhead. It is “intensely personal but necessarily corporate, public and missional” (255). In these two letters holiness is fidelity to God and “cruciform living” (following Michael Gorman, but also influence Gorman’s recent Becoming the Gospel). This section focuses on cruciform living, love of enemies and peacemaking. This section reflects Johnson’s previous articles on holiness and sanctification in the Journal of Theological Interpretation.

Since eschatology is one key area for the theology of the Thessalonian letters, Johnson devotes a long section to the unique issues raised in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 2 Thessalonians 2. He highlights three types of eschatology in the letters. First, the Parousia is described as representatives of a city going out to meet a victorious king and escorting him into their city. Related to this image is the second, the Parousia as eschatological warfare. Here Paul stands on the foundation of Isaiah. Third, the Parousia is a judgment theophany, especially in 2 Thessalonians 2. God demonstrates his “ferocious love” which restores shalom. But Johnson argues Paul stops short of describing “conscious everlasting torment in Hell” (269). Perhaps this is a theological observation driven by theological commitments, but it is a fact Paul does not describe what sort of judgment awaits the Man of Lawlessness other than his utter judgment.

Johnson devotes a few pages to Dispensational interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Although he does admit Dispensationalism is a kind of theological interpretation of Scripture as practiced in this commentary, he is equally clear the theological suppositions of Dispensationalism are wrong. Perhaps this is a problem with the idea the popular theological interpretation method, since (potentially) any “rule of faith” could be applied to a text as a theological lens. For example, Johnson is a Wesleyan and he consciously interprets the Thessalonian letters as a Wesleyan. Someone could approach Thessalonians with a Lutheran or Anglican set of assumptions and find some slightly different nuances in their interpretation.

But why should any given theological structure be discounted a priori? It seems as though any theological lens is possible even if it is not the preference of a particular scholar. Johnson dismisses Dispensationalism as a theological lens because it does not “square with Scripture,” but someone might equally dismiss his more Wesleyan views expressed in this commentary for the same reasons.

Although Johnson is fair towards Dispensationalist readings of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, his argument is blunted by his used of dated scholarship, or non-scholarship. He cites the Scofield Reference Bible and Hal Lindsey frequently and occasionally the brief commentary on 1 Thessalonians by Constable in the Bible Knowledge Commentary, a single volume New Testament commentary produced by the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary. At best this use of popular level and dated material makes his critique of Dispensationalism appear to be a straw man argument. There are many books and articles which better treat 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 from a dispensational perspective than these.

Conclusion. These criticisms aside, Johnson achieves his goal to provide a Spirit driven commentary which is dominated by the redemptive mission of God. The commentary is a fine example the state of Theological Interpretation of Scripture and will be a useful commentary for pastors and teachers as the work to apply these two early letters of Paul to contemporary mission of the Church.


NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

After a successful time in the synagogue in Thessalonica, charges are made against Paul before the local Roman authorities (Acts 17:1-9). The charges against Paul are significant: he is accused of “defying the decrees of Caesar” and “advocating another king, Jesus.”  Given the recent history of Thessalonica, these are dangerous charges indeed. 

Augustus-Caesar-StatueFirst, Paul and his companions are troublemakers. This could be standard rhetoric, although it does seem that wherever Paul goes there is trouble. But Rome did not particular care for trouble-makers. In fact, this phrase (οἱ τὴν οἰκουμένην ἀναστατώσαντες οὗτοι) literally means the ones who are turning the world upside down.” C Kavin Rowe uses this phrase as the title for his excellent book subtitled “Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age.” As he points out in his chapter on Acts 17, to “turn the world upside down” is a grave accusation in the Roman world (p. 96). Luke used the phrase later in Acts to describe the revolutionary activities of the Sicarii, actions that will result in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (Acts 21:38). It is possible to take this phrase not as “they are troublemakers” but rather as “they are rebels against the Roman Empire.”

Second, they subvert the decrees of Caesar. In 1 Thess 1:9 Paul says that the congregation has “turned form idols.” Obviously any pagan Gentiles saved during Paul’s time in the city would have turned from whatever idols they worshiped. But this “turning from idols” must have included the Roman cult.  If this is the case, then turning from the Roman cult could be understood as an act of disloyalty.  It is possible then that Gentile God-fearers still participated in some form of official cult, despite worshiping in the synagogue.

Third, they advocate another king, Jesus.  In 1 Thess 4 and 5 Paul clearly teaches that Jesus is coming back in power and he will establish his own glorious kingdom (1 Thess 2:19, for example).  This could easily be understood in terms of a change of emperors, that the empire of Rome was about to be supplanted with the empire of Jesus. It is clear, at least for Kavin Rowe, that “the figure to whom King Jesus is juxtaposed is beyond a doubt the Roman emperor” (p. 99).

Fourth, Paul’s preaching of the gospel challenges the truth of pax Romana. In 1 Thess 5:3, Paul says that when Jesus returns, it will be at a time when people are saying “peace and safety,” but they will in fact be destroyed.  Peace and security is exactly what was promised by the Empire, pax Romana meant that the empire was a safe and peaceful place to live.  Paul says there that the peace of Rome is an illusion.

All of this points to the radical nature of Paul’s gospel from a Roman perspective.  After the Jerusalem Council, we are well aware of how radical the gospel is from a Jewish perspective.  But now we see how dangerous the idea of Jesus can be from a Roman imperial perspective.  Paul is declaring that Jesus is the Real King and that his empire of peace is going to overwhelm the so-called peace of Rome.  This alternative way of viewing the world provoked violent reactions from Rome.

ZECC ThessaloniansZondervan is giving away a copy of the ZECNT volume on 1-2 Thessalonians by Gary Shogren and all you have to do is tell them who the Restrainer in 2 Thessalonians 2 is by leaving a comment on the Koinonia site.

This brings to mind a great new way to solve theological debates.  Blogs can give away a prize to whoever can solve the Synoptic Problem or explain who those people were who were raised to life in Matthew 27:52-53.  We just need to find a prize big enough to bring in the heavyweights in to leave comments.

Anyway, Zondervan is kind enough to give away a copy of this fine commentary, leave a comment and / or retweet the page for a chance to win. Fortunately I posted by thoughts on this passage a few weeks ago, so Reading Acts subscribers have an inside track.

[Audio for this study is available at, as is a PDF copy of the notes. You may right-click and “save as….” ]

Why is Paul writing the church at Thessalonica another letter? The consensus answer is that the church received a letter claiming to come from Paul has circulated to the church. This letter claimed that the “Day of the Lord” has already occurred. Paul writes to calm their fears and to assure then that the Day of the Lord has not yet arrived since the “Man of Lawlessness” has not been revealed.

But there may be more here than a false letter. It is possible that the persecution which the church has faced has caused some in the church to wonder if they are suffering because they have sinned (and are being punished) or perhaps have believed the wrong things about Jesus. Much of the Greco-Roman world was motivated by honor / shame, the suffering the church is facing appears to be a “shame” rather than an “honor.” “The Thessalonians themselves may have had a rather low conception of themselves, especially in light of the shame they endured as a persecuted people” (Green, Letter to the Thessalonians, 281).

Paul writes this second letter to clarify that Christians might suffer before the return of the Lord. First, suffering cannot be taken as an indication that the Great Tribulation has begun because God has an appointed time when the restraining power of God is removed from the world, permitting the Lawless One to be revealed.

Second, suffering ought not be taken as an indication of divine disfavor nor should the Christian think that they are dishonored because they are being persecuted. This sort of suffering is the lot of the Christian and the endurance the church has already demonstrated is a worthy testimony of the Lord’s work in their church and is a source of boasting for Paul. Paul is pleased that they are steadfast as they endure persecution (1:4).

Third, the source of the suffering which the church is experiencing is not God, but rather Satan. God is not punishing them at all. Since they are a successful, growing church, Satan is attempting to distract them from their commission as a church and limit their effectiveness As Green observes, “the persecutions were those that they suffered at the hands of their contemporaries and that were motivated by Satan (1 Thess. 1.6; 2.14; 3.3–5).”

The major theme of the letter is that  patient endurance in the face of persecution is an indication that the church is  living a life  comparable to the salvation they have already received. Christians are going to suffer naturally just like anyone, But Paul says in this letter that our response to suffering is an indication that we are “worthy of the kingdom of God.”

This teaching is diametrically opposed to the “health and wealth” gospel popular today. Many Christians sincerely believe that if they are right with the Lord they will be not only healthy, but wealthy and successful as well. This “gospel” is popular because it tells people what they want to hear, that God will fulfill all their earthly desires without requiring anything more than giving money to particular ministries. This sort of thinking confuses God with Santa Claus and seriously misinterprets and misapplies scripture.

Paul’s letter reverses this popular thinking.  It is not that God wants you to suffer illness and poverty, but rather than when you face trials your faith ought to be refined and renewed.

[Audio for this study is available at, as is a PDF copy of the notes. You may right-click and “save as….” ]

The Church at Thessalonica was perhaps a year old when Paul writes this letter and most of the members were Gentiles, former pagans who now are in Christ. Typical of Paul’s churches, there were some rich, prominent members of the community, but also many poor, perhaps slaves. There would not have been that many who were leaders outside the church, so the people now who were “church leaders” were inexperienced.

This naturally leads to some troubles in the church. Imagine a slave who was particularly gifted with the Holy Spirit as a leader is chosen as a leader of the church and offers an admonition from Scripture. How would a prominent member of the Thessalonian society handle hearing a slave preaching the word and exhorting them to godly living? Alternatively, if a rich person from a socially well-placed family exhorted the congregation, would the poor slave listen to him objectively?

Given the commands Paul gives here, it is likely that these inexperienced leaders were not being given respect due them because of the office they held as elders of the church, and because of the labor the did for the church. Paul describes the work that they do as “toilsome labor,” the very same word Paul used to describe his own work in 1 Thess 1:3. The work that these leaders are doing is had work, taxing physically and emotionally. They are doing this work on behalf of the church, they are due some respect for being the ones that carry the heaviest load.

The leaders are appointed by God, they are “over you in the Lord.” This is how church leaders are described in Romans 12:8, as well as the leader of a family in 1 Tim 5:17. The emphasis is on leading with care and diligence.

Paul says that the congregation is to hold their leaders is high esteem in love because of their work. Notice that the congregation is to hold them in high esteem because of their work, not because of their personality, or whether they do what you want them do, or because you agree with everything they say, etc.

A year before Paul wrote this letter, the leaders of the Thessalonian church were still pagans, and now they are spirit led leaders of a growing Christian congregation. They were doing the best they could, even though they were not the “experts.”

Many applications of this principle come to mind for the modern church.  Paul’s point is that the work of the church is the most important thing and that any lack of personal respect needs to take a back seat to the presentation of the Gospel. This is a very difficult section because modern church is very performance oriented. We are very critical of a pastor or elder, comparing their abilities to other pastors and elders we know. I am thinking about the American church because that is what I know, but I am confident the same is true for any church, anywhere in the world.

Many pastors are judged as successful if they have a large congregation. They may judge themselves this way, if there are a lot of people there on Sunday morning they assume they are doing a great job. But numbers are not the measure of success or respect. It is possible that the pastor is doing everything that God wants him to do, yet there are lots of empty pews on Sunday.

People in the pew judge the pastor’s sermon by the standard of others they have heard, perhaps on Christian radio or the internet.  Modern media makes it possible to hear twenty excellent sermons a week, making it hard for your local pastor to compete!  This is like judging the ability of the church softball team by the standard of the Dodgers. They are playing the same game, but the level of experience and gifted-ness is in another league. There are not many Chuck Swindoll’s, or John MacArthur’s out there, it is highly unlikely we will be able to attract either of them to our church.

[Audio for this study is available at, as is a PDF copy of the notes. You may right-click and “save as….” ]

Paul uses the concept of light and dark in 1 Thess 5:1-11 to describe the difference between the church and the world. The Church, the Body of Christ, he says, is “in the light,”we are children of light. In contrast to the world is in the dark, unable to see what is really going on.

Paul is answering another question the Thessalonian church asked Timothy. The first question concerned the fate of those who had died in Christ: would they be left out of the Rapture? 1 Thess 4:13-18 assured the church that the “dead in Christ” will rise first when Jesus returns for his church. Now Paul turns to a related subject, the timing of the Day of the Lord. This seems to be an issue for the church, since Paul has already instructed them on the return of the Lord and he must return the issue in 2 Thessalonians 2.

The church is likely asking “when will the Lord return” or perhaps (like the disciples), “what will be the signs of his coming?” That Paul alludes to the teaching of Jesus in this paragraph is a hint that the question was not unlike that asked of Jesus in Matthew 24:3.  But are these even the right questions to ask? Paul says you do not need to know the when, or the signs of the end. Rather, Paul says that you are (as a believer) in the light, living in the daytime. So, act like it!

It may be that the Thessalonian church had been suffering persecution. Since they are suffering, there may bahve been a few int eh church that though this was the Great Tribulation. “But the divine wrath will not be poured out upon the church, which will instead be saved from that event (v. 9, Green, Letters to the Thessalonians, 230).” The suffering you are facing right now, even if it is really bad, is not “The Great Tribulation.”  The reason is simple, the church is simply not appointed to wrath.

When Paul says wrath, I think he means the “Great Day of God’s Wrath.”  He cannot mean suffering, since they are clearly suffering.  All Christians should expect to suffer for their faith. In the context of their suffering and their questions about the “end times,” Paul is trying to comfort a congregation which thinks they may be enduring the wrath of God.

This is an important message for American Christians who think that the government is pushing us closer to the end times. It cannot, those are appointed times and it is not going to happen any faster if the “bad guys” are voted into office. The Anti-Christ is not running for office, even if politicians are against-Christ. As Gene Green says, “Paul demonstrates no interest in fueling an apocalyptic perspective in order to hypothesize about the end nor to foster escapism” (230).

Paul wants to use the teaching of the Day of the Lord as an encouragement to live the Christian Life as fully and completely as possible. He says that his readers are “Sons of the Light and Sons of the Day,” and since they are in the Light they need to realize that there are some responsibilities to living in the light.  If you are a “child of the light” you ought to act like it!

[Audio for this study is available at, as is a PDF copy of the notes. You may right-click and “save as….” ]

It is unfortunate that teaching on the Rapture has something of a joke in contemporary media. Too many people have made silly predictions of when it will happen. Parodies of the Left Behind series are common, so much so that most people who think about “the rapture” are not thinking in biblical categories, but the rather goofy cartoon images that are replayed in the Media. When Homer Simpson tries to predict the rapture, then something is intensely wrong.

But the “catching away” which Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (and 1 Cor 15) is nothing like pop-media or apocalyptic Christians think it is. Paul did not predict the end of the world, nor did he use the doctrine of the Rapture to scare people into salvation, or to fleece the church of a few more dollars. Paul’s point in this text is to explain what was going to happen to those who had died in Christ before the coming of the Lord.

This event is described as the coming of the Lord. You might hear the word “parousia” (παρουσία) used (usually by someone trying to be pretentious).  The word is used for the presence of a god in a cultic ceremony, or a king or dignitary coming to a city for a visit. In the Jewish world, the word was used for the coming of the Messiah, this is probably the most useful for understanding 1 Thessalonians.

When Jesus comes, he will gather his people to himself “in the air.”   Paul uses several short descriptions here, all have to do with gathering people together.  First, there will be a loud command, a military term for a shouted order. It is sometimes used for a charioteer calling to his horses, or a hunter to his hounds, or a ship master to his rowers. Second, the voice of the archangel will cry out, and third, there will be a trumpet call of God. Loud trumpets are also associated with the coming of a great king, “…when the emperor Claudius died the sound of the trumpets was so deafening that it was thought that the dead could hear them” (Green, Letters to the Thessalonians, 224).

After the Lord has descended, and the dead have been raised, the Lord will catch the living believers up into the clouds, consummating their hope in this life.

The purpose of this catching away is to “meet with Lord.” The word translated “to meet” (ἀπάντησις) is often used of a delegation sent from a city to greet a dignitary or king, usually in order to escort that important person into a city.  The phrase appears 36 times in the LXX, frequently for meeting a king or military leader; sometimes it is used for going out to meet an army. For example, in 1 Kings 13:10, the LXX uses the exact same phrase for Saul going out “to meet” Samuel and greet him after the king had defeated the Amalakites. In 2 Chron 15:2 and 19:2 it is used to describe someone going out to meet a king.

In non-biblical Greek, the phrase is used by Polybius (Hist. 28:19.7) to describe two envoys sent out from Alexandria to meet Antiochus Epiphanes, who was at that time occupying Egypt. In 5.26.8 young men are sent out to meet Apelles, who desires to have an audience with Philip, the king of Macedon. In this text the young men go out, meet Apelles, and escort him back to Corinth “with great pomp.”

Polybius Hist. 5.26.8 On his arrival at Corinth, Leontius, Ptolemy and Megaleas, being commanders of the peltasts and the other chief divisions of the army, took great pains to incite the young men to go to meet him. He entered the town, therefore, with great pomp, owing to the number of officers and soldiers who went to meet him, and proceeded straight to the royal quarters.

Paul chose this word to describe the Rapture to highlight the glory of Jesus as he returns as the Messiah.  Paul is intentionally describing the return of Jesus as the glorious return of the ultimate Sovereign Lord in a way which Greeks and Romans would understand.  When the great king comes, his followers will be gathered to him in order to be a part of his great entourage escorting him back to the world he created.

[Audio for this study is available at, as is a PDF copy of the notes. You may right-click and “save as….” ]

In the final section of 1 Thessalonians, Paul begins to deal with a few ethical issues which need improvement in the church. He also clarifying his teaching on the return of the Lord. Perhaps Timothy reported this as problems he observed, perhaps the church sent questions to Paul via Timothy.  Beginning in verse 9, Paul develops a family metaphor to describe how church members ought to behave towards one another.  Because we are used to hearing the term “brotherly love” we may miss the rhetorical punch of Paul’s use of the word in 1 Thessalonians.

What is brotherly love? The noun used in 1 Thess 4:9 (φιλαδελφία) was only used for literal family relationships before the Christian community began to use it as a metaphor for members of their community. The Greeks considered the relationship between brothers to be of primary importance, Plutarch used the term “brotherly love” to describe the proper relationship between brothers.

Plutarch, De fraterno amore 2 …where there is an unanimous accordance amongst brothers, the family thrives and flourishes, and friends and acquaintance, like a well furnished choir, in all their actions, words, and thoughts maintain a delightful harmony. “But jarring feuds advance the worst of men.”

Plutarch, De fraterno amore 15 Brothers should not be like the scales of a balance, the one rising upon the other’s sinking; but rather like numbers in arithmetic, the lesser and greater mutually helping and improving each other.

Plutarch, De fraterno amore 21 Again, it is highly commendable in him to have the highest esteem and honor for his brother’s wife, reputing and honoring her as the most sacred of all his brother’s sacred treasures, and thus to do honor to him

Based on the teaching of Jesus, the earliest believers referred to themselves as “brothers and sisters.” In Mark 3:3 Jesus indicates that his “brothers and sisters” are those who hear and obey his words. If those who followed Jesus faced rejection from their families, it is possible that Jesus intended his followers to be a new “family.” On the other hand, the family of Jesus may be an allusion to the larger theme of a New Israel among the followers of Jesus. In Acts 2:29 Peter addresses a Jewish crowd as “brothers,” meaning “fellow Jews.” So too Paul in Acts 22:1; 23:1 when he addresses large crowds of Jews.

Paul’s use of the term “brother” and “brotherly love” bears additional theological weight. By accepting Christ, we are adopted into the family of God, God is our father. This makes each person that has accepted Christ as their savior a brother or sister in Christ.

This new family in Christ is the foundation for many of Paul’s commands (cf., Rom 12:10; other Christian ethical instruction begins the same way: Heb 13:1; 1 Pet 1:22; 2 Pet 1:7; 1 Clem 48:1). He urges his readers to please God by treating each other like brothers and sisters.

If the church lives in brotherly love, then the father is pleased and honored. For the Greek world, nothing dishonors the parent more that children who do not display proper affection for one another and feud.  As Plutarch said, “jarring feuds advance the worst of men.”

[Audio for this study is available at, as is a PDF copy of the notes. You may right-click and “save as….” ]

In the final section of 1 Thessalonians, Paul begins to deal with a few ethical issues which need improvement in the church. He also clarifying his teaching on the return of the Lord. Perhaps Timothy reported this as problems he observed, perhaps the church sent questions to Paul via Timothy.

In either case, Paul want to“ask” and “urge” to live a life that pleases God. These verbs (ἐρωτάω and παρακαλέω) are commonly used to encourage a reader to a particular action. They appear in personal letters between people of the same social status rather than a “superior” giving orders to his underlings. Paul’s view that the church is a family and that he is a “brother” within that family is implied by the use of these verbs (Green, Letters to the Thessalonians, 183). Potentially Paul could have “pulled rank” and told the church what needs to change – but he offers these commands a social equal.

But Paul includes a prepositional phrase, he asks them “in the Lord Jesus.” The commands in this section are not from Paul, but rather from the true authority, Jesus. Verse 8 will make this point again, if you reject this command you are rejecting the Holy Spirit!

Living a life which “pleases” may simply mean making another person happy or proud. But the word was used for citizens who had preformed some civic duty and had “pleased” the government enough to inscribe their names on monuments. In the context of the “ask in the Lord Jesus,” Paul is saying that these moral guidelines are ways to please the Lord, who is Jesus. Any citizen of Thessalonica would like to please their government and be honored with an inscription, therefore Paul says you ought to live your life the way the ultimate authority wants you to!

The church is already living to please God, but they can improve, they can do this “all the more.” Anyone that thinks they cannot improve is in trouble, not only have they ceased to grow, but they are probably moving backwards. Paul says keep moving ahead! Keep on pleasing God all the more.

How one “pleases God” as a Christian stands in contrast with the Greco-Roman world. Paul draws a contrast with the Roman world throughout the rest of the book. In 4:3-8 the church is not to tolerate sexual immorality like the world. Nor are they to defraud their brothers. The Christian ought to live an industrious quiet life, working with their hands. The Christian does not need to mourn or grieve like the pagan world concerning the death of brothers because we have the hope of resurrection (4:13-18).

It is this contrast with the world which is the radical element in Paul’s ethic. There ought to be something “different” about the Christian – that difference is what is pleasing to the Heavenly Father.

[Audio for this study is available at, as is a PDF copy of the notes. You may right-click and “save as….” ]

In 1 Thess 3:6-10, Paul is encouraged in a time of distress. This refers to actual persecution Paul faced rather than the emotional distress he suffered as a result of being separated from the church. It is possible that Paul is continuing his metaphor, he was “orphaned” from his children and had no idea if they were safe, or if they were continuing to grow in their new faith.

Paul was physically in danger in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9), and that trouble followed him to Berea (Acts 17:10-15). While there is no evidence of suffering in Athens (Acts 17:16-34), but he is alone during that period and he seems to have come to Corinth with low spirits.

Soon after Timothy and Silas join Paul in Corinth, Acts 18:6 indicates that Jews from the synagogue opposed Paul’s message. After Paul leaves the synagogue and forms a church (next door!), the Lord comforts him in a vision, telling him not to be afraid because no one will attack or harm him (Acts 18:9-11). The very next story is an attack by the Jews in which Paul is arrested and charged with worshiping God contrary to Roman Law (Acts 18:12-17). The proconsul Gallio throws the case out of court and Paul is not harmed in any way. In 1 Cor 2:3 Paul describes himself as coming to Corinth in “fear and much trembling.” In 2 Cor 6:3-10 and 11:16-29 he lists a number of times that he has suffered already. The letter to the Thessalonians was written in the midst of this suffering, just before Paul is given a vision comforting him (Acts 18:9-10).

But in the midst of this distress, Paul says that he “really lives” as a result of the news that the church is standing firm in the Lord. This is an odd expression, that “we really live knowing that you are standing firm.” The “we” would be Paul, Silas, and Timothy; the ministry team that founded he church.

What does he mean “live” (ζάω)? It is not that Paul would die if they had rejected the faith. What he probably means is that his life work is to plant churches and see them develop, it is what makes his life satisfying and gives him the encouragement to continue in the ministry. The image is that before the good news of Timothy’s report came, he felt dead, he was depressed about the situation he left in the church. But now that he has heard the good news of the report, he can live.

Paul was encouraged because the church was “standing firm in the Lord.” The syntax here is important: the KJV and the ESV translates the end of the verse as “if you stand” but the NIV (TNIV, NIV2011) has “since you stand.” The NIV attempts to reflect the grammar: the use of ἐάν with the present indicates that Paul understands the condition (standing firm) as a certainty. Grammatically it is a condition, but the first part of the sentence is so certain that it can be translated as “since.” (Use this as an example: “If it is Thanksgiving, we are going to eat pumpkin pie.” The condition is so certain, that we can say, “since it is Thanksgiving, we are going to eat pumpkin pie.”)

To “stand firm” (στήκω) means “to be firmly committed in conviction” (BDAG). The verb is formed from a perfect form of ἵστημι and is used by Paul standing in faith (1 Cor 16:13), in the Lord (Phil 4:1), or in the Holy Spirit (Phil 1:27). In Gal 5:1 and 2 Thess 2:15 is refers to holding on to the gospel as it was taught to the church by Paul in the past. There is a past event (their belief, their acceptance of the Gospel) which has some present effect (standing in their Lord).

The church is standing firm in the Lord. Paul does not praise them for believing the right things, or for doing the right things, but for clinging tenaciously to their Lord, perhaps against the attacks from outside the church which proclaimed another Lord (Caesar) or from inside the church which questioned the power of the Lord. Romans 14:4 uses the same verb for a judgment – one can only stand before the Lord because the Lord makes him stand.

Paul is therefore “revived” by the news that the church has not failed, in fact they have exceeded his expectations. The church is far from perfect, but they understand that they have not “arrived” and Paul praises them for wanting to grow even more.

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Christian Theology

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