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26 February 2020

Unblameable Before Him

SYNOPSIS - Paul prays for the Thessalonians to be found sanctified on the day when Jesus arrives in glory with his holy angels - 1 Thessalonians 3:13.

Sunlight in forest - Photo by Patrick Selin on Unsplash
Patrick Selin on Unsplash
The passage from the end of Chapter 3 is a wish-prayer that concludes the first half of the epistle. In it, Paul reiterates two previously stated requests - First, for the opportunity to visit the Thessalonians again. Second, for God to increase their love for him and others (1 Thessalonians 1:2 - 3:13).

By fulfilling his requests, the faith of the Thessalonian Christians would become complete, enabling them to stand unblameable before God on the day when Jesus "arrives from heaven." The passage also forms a transition to the next section of the letter, and thus emphasizes two key subjects - Holiness and the coming of Jesus  (1 Thessalonians 4:1 - 5:11):
  • (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13) - “Now, may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus make straight our way unto you: And you may the Lord cause to abound and excel in your love one toward another, and toward all — even as we do toward you: To the end, he may confirms your hearts faultless in holiness before our God and Father in the Presence of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” – (The EmphasizedBible).
Paul did not imply the Thessalonians were lacking in their love. He previously referred to their “labor of love” and how Timothy had brought him news of their “faith and love. Instead, Paul prayed that they would “exceed and abound” even more in love for one another, as well as for their non-Christian neighbors (1 Thessalonians 1:3, 3:6).

To pray for them to be found “blameless in sanctification” before God points to a future time of evaluation and judgment. The Thessalonians believers were not yet blameless, although Paul certainly wishes them to be so when Jesus arrives. That day will be a time of joy and vindication for all who are found blameless. By implication, those not prepared will not be so fortunate.

In the previous chapter, Paul expressed his wish for the Thessalonians to be established “before God.” The same future event is in view in both verses; both label it the parousia or “arrival” of Jesus - (1 Thessalonians 2:19, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his arrival”).

The Greek noun parousia occurs seven times in the two surviving Thessalonian letters. In six instances, it refers to the “coming” or “arrival of Jesus." Once it is applied to the “arrival” of the “man of lawlessness,” although his arrival mimics that of Christ.  Thus, Paul uses the term consistently to refer to the “arrival” of Jesus with the one exception - (2 Thessalonians 2:9).
The parousia will include deliverance from wrath, resurrection for dead believers, and judgment and destruction for God’s enemies. One’s fate on that day depends on his or her standing before God reached prior to it.
Angels with trumpets
Angels with trumpets
At his 
parousia, Jesus will arrive accompanied by “all his holy ones.”  Some interpret this as a reference to angels, others as a reference to believers who die before that day, and then accompany Jesus from heaven.

A problem with identifying them as dead believers is the expressed wish of Paul for the Thessalonians to be found “blameless in holiness” on that day, not beforehand.  Another problem is that dead believers will be resurrected when Jesus arrives and reunited with the believers who remain alive on the earth. Then, both groups meet Jesus as he descends from heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Other New Testament passages associate angels with the "coming of Jesus," not dead or disembodied saints.  Note the following:
  • (Matthew 13:41) - “The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers”.
  • (Matthew 13:49) - “So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous.”
  • (Matthew 24:31) - “And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
  • (Matthew 25:31) - “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.”
  • (Mark 8:38) - “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
  • (Mark 13:27) - “And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”
  • (Luke 9:26) - “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
  • (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8) – “God will give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
Paul’s description of Jesus accompanied by “all his holy ones” alludes to Zechariah 14:5 (“Then Yahweh my God will come and all the holy ones with him”). The scriptural background sheds light on Paul’s usage.

Jesus reigns
Jesus reigns
Elsewhere, Paul does refer to believers as “saints” or “holy ones.” However, in 
1 Thessalonians 3:13, he uses terminology from Zechariah 14:5 where the term “holy ones” is applied to angels.  The context of Zechariah 14:1-5 is a time of cataclysmic judgment - The “Day of Yahweh” when He gathers all the nations to battle to fight against them.  He will arrive to save his people from this assault accompanied by the hosts of heaven.

Paul applies the words from Zechariah’s prophecy to the largely Gentile congregation in Thessalonica.  In Zechariah 14:1-5, Yahweh “gathers all the nations unto Jerusalem to battle” at which time the city is captured, houses are plundered, women ravished, and half of the city goes into exile.  After this, He arrives to battle against the nations and cleave the Mount of Olives so His people can flee to the “valley of his mountains.” It is then that He arrives “with all his holy ones.” Thus, the Apostle has reapplied this Old Testament prophecy to a church that includes believing Jews AND Gentiles (Compare - Revelation 20:7-9).

The stress on being found “blamelessness” before God introduces an element of judgment. Likewise, elsewhere, the New Testament teaches that Christians must stand “before the judgment seat of Christ.” The idea that judgment on the wicked will occur also at the “coming” of Jesus is found in Paul’s employment of language from Zechariah 14:5, a prophecy in which God defeats hostile nations on behalf of his people on the “Day of the Lord.”

Finally, nothing is stated in the passage about the church being removed from the earth and transported to heaven.  As in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 and 2:19-20, the picture is of a future day when Jesus arrives from heaven to be united with his people. The point to the Thessalonian Christians is for them to be enabled to stand blameless before Jesus when he arrives to gather his elect, unlike their hostile neighbors.

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