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20 August 2019

Rescuing us from Wrath - (1 Thessalonians 1:10)

SynopsisJesus already is “rescuing” his people from the future “wrath” that will befall all who do not turn from transgression on the Day of the Lord.

Jesus reigns over all
Opposition to the new faith had forced Paul to leave Thessalonica prematurely before his work was finished.  Segments of the local population pressured the young congregation to the point that Paul was forced to leave the region. He later attempted to return but was thwarted (1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2:14-18, Acts 17:1-8).

Because of anxieties about the church, Paul sent Timothy to investigate matters.  1 Thessalonians is Paul’s thankful response to the good news given to him by Timothy about the faithfulness of the Thessalonian Christians (1 Thessalonians 3:5-7).

The passage recorded in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 concludes the opening section of this first letter to the church at Thessalonica in which he reiterates how the assembly welcomed him and turned from idolatry to serve the true God and await his Son. The reference to idolatry points to a largely Gentile congregation.

(1 Thessalonians 1:6-10) - “And ye became imitators of us, and of the Lord, giving welcome unto the word in much tribulation, with joy of Holy Spirit; So that ye became an ensample unto all who were coming to the faith in Macedonia and in Achaia: From you, in fact, hath sounded forth the word of the Lord — not only m Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith which is toward God hath gone forth, so that no need have we to be saying anything; For they themselves concerning us do tell — what manner of entrance we had unto you, and how ye turned unto God from the idols — to be serving a living and true God, And awaiting his Son out of the heavens —whom he raised from among the dead — Jesus: Who is to rescue us out of the anger that is coming” (The Emphasized Bible).

The Thessalonians became imitators of Paul by “welcoming the word in much tribulation” and with joy in the Spirit and, thus, they became examples to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia (Verse 7). This was evident in their “turning to God from idols.” Ever since, this church began to wait for “God’s Son from heaven, the one who is rescuing us from the coming wrath.”

In this opening section, Paul anticipates the subjects he will elaborate in the body of the letter.  This includes the tribulations of the Thessalonians, the basis of Christian hope, the “coming” of Jesus, and the impending “wrath.”  “Wrath” has already come upon some disobedient Jews and will overwhelm the unprepared when Jesus arrives “as a thief in the night.”
Paul does not provide a chronology or sequence of future events that must precede the coming of Jesus. Rather, he describes how the life-orientation of the Thessalonians has been radically altered since their conversion (“You turned away from…”). Instead of serving dead idols, they began to serve the “true and living God.” 

Paul uses two infinitive clauses to express how they are to live out the implications of their conversion.  First, they have turned from idols in order “to serve a living and true God,” and, second, “to await his Son from heaven.”  The two infinitives emphasize what things have replaced their idolatrous worship.

The Son of God will arrive “from heaven.” This anticipates the idea taken up later in the letter (1 Thessalonians 4:16). One day Jesus will “descend from heaven with a shout.” The one for whom they are eagerly waiting is the son of “the living and true God,” in contrast to dead idols.

The coming one is Jesus, the one whom “God raised from the dead.” Thus, Paul grounds this future event in the past resurrection of Jesus.  Likewise, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, he bases the promise of future resurrection on the earlier resurrection of Jesus (“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep”).

Jesus is the “one who is rescuing” us. This translates a Greek present tense participle that means, “rescue, deliver, save.”  The present tense signifies an action in progress.  While Paul has a future event in view, the present tense indicates that, already, Jesus is in the process of rescuing his people.

What Jesus is rescuing his people from is “wrath” or orgê.  What this consists of is not stated.  It has a definite article in the Greek clause, that is, it is “the wrath.”  This points to a known specific event, not to wrath in general or as an attribute of God. It is an event characterized by wrath.

This wrath is in the process of “coming,” again, using a present tense participle.  Just as Jesus is now “rescuing” his people, for others, wrath is in the process of “coming.” The two present tense participles contrast the two processes that will culminate when Jesus arrives “from heaven”:  rescue and wrath.

His death and resurrection have set two things in motion:  a coming rescue for some, and impending “wrath” for others. He will arrive to rescue Christians who remain faithful through tribulation while patiently waiting for him.  Paul associates both deliverance and wrath with the same event, the coming of Jesus “from heaven.” He uses terms from four Old Testament passages to paint his picture:
  1. (Isaiah 2:17-20) - “And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the pride of men shall be brought low; and Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day. And the idols shall utterly pass away. And men shall enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from before the terror of Yahweh, and from the glory of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. In that day, men will cast forth their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship, to the moles and to the bats.”
  2. (Jeremiah 10:10) - “But Yahweh is God in truth, He is a God that lives, and a King of times everlasting; at his anger the earth shakes and the nations cannot endure his wrath.”
  3. (Isaiah 59:18-20) - “According to their deeds, so Yahweh will repay, wrath to his adversaries, recompense to his enemies; to the coastlands he will make recompense. So, they will fear the name of Yahweh from the west and his glory from the rising of the sun, for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of Yahweh drives. And a rescuer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob, declares Yahweh.”
  4. (Isaiah 25:9) - “So shall it be said in that day. Lo, our God is this! We waited for him that he might rescue us.  This is Yahweh! We waited for him, let us exult and rejoice in his salvation.”

Note carefully in each of the preceding passages the echoes from the Old Testament about the “day of the Lord” or Yahweh. Implicit in Paul’s language is the connection of the future “coming” of Jesus to the “day of Yahweh.”

Turning away” from idols in this opening paragraph alludes to Isaiah 2:17-20, a passage “concerning Judah and Jerusalem…in the after part of the days” (Isaiah 2:2).  At that time, the “mountain of the house of Yahweh will be set up and exalted” and all the nations will “stream into it”; and Yahweh “will judge between the nations.” Therefore, Israel must “come and walk in the light of Yahweh,” though the “land was filled with idols.” But on that day, the “idols will utterly pass away.”  Men will hide “before the terror of Yahweh” when “he rises to terrify the earth” and they will discard their idols.

The allusion to Jeremiah 10:10 serves a similar purpose. Israel is not to be “dismayed at the signs of the heavens…Yahweh is God in truth…at his wrath, the earth quakes and nations cannot endure it.”

The passage from Isaiah 59:20 is linked to the passage in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 by the theme of coming “rescue” (“A rescuer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob”). Yahweh will “repay wrath to his adversaries” but, also, He will deliver all who “turn away from transgression.” Finally, Isaiah 25:9 introduces the idea of God’s people “waiting” for deliverance on the Day of the Lord (“We waited for him that he might rescue us”).

This Old Testament background has influenced Paul’s wording.  The Thessalonians have turned from idols to serve a “living and true God.” Consequently, and considering the coming wrath, they are “to await his Son from heaven.” Thus, the arrival of Jesus from heaven will mean “wrath” for some and “rescue” for others. 

Paul did not promise the Thessalonians deliverance from tribulation and persecution.  They received the gospel “in much tribulation.”  “Wrath,” on the other hand, is something reserved for disobedient men and women who do not heed the Gospel. It will be actualized on the “day of the Lord” when Jesus arrives from heaven, an event that will mean vindication for some and condemnation for others.

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