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20 August 2019

Rescuing us from Wrath

His Resurrection
(1 Thessalonians 1:9-10) - “For they themselves are reporting concerning us what sort of entrance we had towards you, and how you turned towards God from the idols to be serving a living and real god, and to be awaiting his Son out of the heavens, whom he raised out from among the dead, Jesus, the one who is rescuing us from the coming wrath.”
Opposition to the new faith forced Paul to leave Thessalonica prematurely before his work there was finished.  Segments of the local population pressured the young congregation until Paul was forced to leave the region (cp. 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2:14-16, Acts 17:1-8). He later attempted to return but was thwarted (2:18).
Because of anxieties about the church, Paul subsequently sent Timothy to investigate matters.  1 Thessalonians is Paul’s thankful response to the good news brought 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 Paul’s letter in which he reiterates how the assembly welcomed him and his coworkers and turned from idolatry to serve the true God and await his Son. The reference to idolatry points to a largely Gentile congregation.
The Thessalonians became imitators of Paul by “welcoming the word in much tribulation” as well as 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 subjects he will elaborate in the body of the letter.  This includes the tribulations of the Thessalonians (2:14-16, 3:3), the basis of Christian hope (1:10, 4:13-16], the “coming” of Jesus (4:13-5:10), and the impending “wrath” (2:16, 5:9-10).  “Wrath” has already come upon some disobedient Jews and will overwhelm the unprepared when Jesus arrives “as a thief in the night” (2:16, 5:2-10).
Paul does not provide a chronology or sequence of future events that are to 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 have begun 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 turned from idols “to serve a living and true God.” Second, they turned from idols “to await his Son from heaven.”  The two infinitives emphasize what has replaced their idolatrous worship.
God's Son will arrive “from heaven.” This anticipates the idea recorded in 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.  Similarly, 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 present action in progress.  While Paul has a future event in view, the present tense indicates that Jesus already in the process of rescuing his people.
What Jesus is rescuing his people from is “wrath” (orgê).  What this “wrath” consists of is not stated here.  “Wrath” has a definite article in the Greek clause, that is, it is “the wrath.”  This points to a known and specific event; not wrath in general or wrath as an attribute of God, but an event characterized by wrath.
This wrath is in the process of “coming,” again using a present tense participle.  Just as Jesus is even now “rescuing” his people, so for others wrath is in the process of “coming.” The two present tense participles contrast the two things that will occur when Jesus arrives “from heaven”:  rescue and wrath.
The death and resurrection of Jesus have set two things in motion:  a coming rescue for some, and “wrath” for others.  The Thessalonians will be rescued in order to avoid “the wrath.
Jesus will come to rescue Christians who remain faithful through tribulation and patiently wait for his arrival.  Paul associates both deliverance and wrath with the same event, the coming of Jesus “from heaven.” 
In this section, Paul uses terms and phrases from four Old Testament passages to paint his picture:
(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.”
(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 quakes and nations cannot endure his wrath.”
(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.”
(Isaiah 25:9) - “So shall it be said in that day. Lo, our God is this! We waited for him that he might save us.  This is Yahweh! We waited for him, let us exult and rejoice in his salvation.”
“Turning away” 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.” Yahweh “will judge between the nations” and war will cease to exist.  In light of this, the prophet called for Israel to “come and walk in the light of Yahweh,” though “the land was filled with idols.” A time would come when Yahweh alone would be exalted, “on that day.” Then “the idols will utterly pass away.”  Men will hide “before the terror of Yahweh” when “he rises to terrify the earth” and “they will cast forth their idols.”
The allusion to Jeremiah 10:10 serves a similar purpose. Israel is not to be “dismayed at the signs of the heavens” as are the Gentile nations.  “Yahweh is God in truth, He is a God that lives, and a King of times everlasting; at his wrath the earth quakes and nations cannot endure his wrath.”
Isaiah 59:20 is linked to the passage in 1 Thessalonians by the theme of coming “rescue” for those who “turn from” transgression (“and a rescuer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob”). A time is coming when Yahweh will “repay wrath to his adversaries.”  But it will also be a time when a “deliverer will come” to God’s people, “Zion,” for all those in Jacob who “turn away from transgression.”
Isaiah 25:9 introduces the idea of God’s people “waiting” for deliverance “on that day” (“So shall it be said in that day. Lo, our God is this! We waited for him that he might save us.  This is Yahweh! We waited for him, let us exult and rejoice in his salvation”).
This Old Testament background has influenced Paul’s wording.  The Thessalonians have turned from idols in order to serve a “living and true God.” Consequently, and in the light of coming “wrath,” they are ardently “awaiting his Son from heaven.”  Those who do so will be rescued from this coming wrath; those who continue in idolatry will not.
Thus, the arrival of Jesus from heaven will mean “wrath” for some and “rescue” for others. No mention is made of removing Christians from the earth; hope is tied to the arrival of Jesus, not the departure of the Church.
Paul did not promise deliverance from tribulation and persecution to the Thessalonians.  The Thessalonians had 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 is not synonymous with “tribulation.”
“Wrath” is reserved for those who do not turn from transgression to await the Son from heaven. Both “rescue” and “wrath” occur when Jesus arrives. That event will mean vindication for some, condemnation for others.

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