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Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians, Part 1: Mercy may be by grace, but election is by race.
In the Christogenea New Testament, Thessalonians is spelled Thessalonikeans, as that is a transliteration of the way that it was spelled by the Greeks, and in our translations we endeavored to maintain the Greek forms of at least most of the names. But before speaking about Thessalonika, we will speak briefly about Thessaly, from whence the name of the city had originated. However Thessalonika was not properly in Thessaly, at least so far as the borders of the Hellenistic and Roman periods were defined. We spoke of these places in our Acts chapter 17 presentation two-and-a-half years ago, and noticed an error which we must correct.
Thessaly was the part of central mainland Greece north of ancient Attica, Boeotia and Euboea, with Epirus to the west and Makedonia to the north. The Aegean Sea was on the east. It must be noted, that in ancient times the Greek provinces never really had definite borders. They more or less described the somewhat fluid areas of habitat of the Greek tribes, which occupied greater or lesser territory as their populations or military strength either increased or diminished over time. As Makedonia increased in political power, the perceived territory of adjoining regions such as Thessaly and Thrace was diminished.
Strabo, in the ninth book of his Geography tells us that Thessaly was in early times populated by the same Phoenicians who built the Greek city of Thebes (9.2.3). There was even a river in the area named Phoenix. However the Pelasgians were imagined to have inhabited the area originally, even before the mythical flood of Deucalion, after which they were said to have been driven out. Strabo says later in that same book “Now the largest and most ancient composite part of the Greeks is that of the Thessalians, who have been described partly by Homer and partly by others.” Makedonia did not exist as a political entity in the period of which Homer had written. There are ancient connections between the inhabitants of Thessaly and Aeolia, a region on the coast of Anatolia near the Troad which included a group of islands in the adjoining sea. Certain peoples of Thessaly, namely the Magnesians and the Aenianians, are said to have been Aeolian in origin.
[We discussed the background of the Macedonians here two-and-a-half years ago, presenting Acts chapter 16, and again in our much more recent opening presentation of the epistle to the Philippians. For now it should suffice to say that the people of Makedonia shared an origin quite in common with those of Thessaly.]
Thessaly became part of the Macedonian Kingdom from the middle of the 4th century BC, and was later part of the Roman province of Macedonia. During the Hellenistic period a very much enlarged Macedonia was split into four administrative districts. Amphipolis, a notable city, was listed by Diodorus Siculus as the chief city of Thessaly, one of the four cantons of Makedonia, and Thessalonika was the chief city of another of those cantons, which was central Makedonia [as Thessalonika was not in Thessaly], the remaining two were Pella in the east and Pelagonia in the west (Library of History, 31.8.8). After its founding by Cassander, Thessalonica had shared a status as a capital city of Makedonia with Pella, but in the Roman period it became the provincial capital, and was the second largest and second most important city of Byzantine Greece after Byzantium itself, the later Constantinople.
Thessalonika, the city, was built on the site of a smaller city called Thermē, or also Therma, in ancient times, both Herodotus and Thucydides had mentioned it (Histories 7:121, 179, The Peloponnesian War, 1:61, 2:29), and as Strabo and others later described it. At one point in his account of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides remarked that an Athenian army coming “into Macedonia” found an earlier army which had already taken control of Therma. At another, Thucydides said that the Athenians, making allies of the kings of the Macedonians and Thracians, procured from the Macedonians the “restitution of Therma”, so Therma was apparently an Athenian possession prior to its possession by the Macedonians. With this perhaps we can also see the fluid concept of borders in antiquity. Herodotus remarked that Xerxes, camping at Therma with his massive army on the route to his invasion of Greece, could see the mountains of Thessaly from there. The navy of Xerxes also used Therma as a port, before the Battle of Salamis where it was destroyed by the Greeks. So we see that the city had the facilities necessary to support the growth which it later experienced as Thessalonika.
But Therma itself was in the ancient territory called Mygdonia. The original inhabitants were also imagined to have been Pelasgians, but some contend that they were Phrygians or Thracians. Strabo informs us that they were Thracians (Geography, 7.3.2), and that the people called Mygdones in his own time still dwelt around Lake Bolbe, a large lake to the east of Therma. In any event, Therma itself was a Greek colony in Mygdonia, as the archaeology also reveals, however the origin of those Greek colonists is unclear.
Apparently, Therma and the rest of what was formerly Mygdonia came into the possession of the Makedonians in the 5th century BC, the possession endured after the Peloponnesian Wars, and the city was rebuilt by Cassander of Macedon around 315 BC and renamed as Thessalonika in honor of his wife. Thessalonika was the daughter of Philip II of Makedon and the half-sister of Alexander the Great. Her name means “Thessalian victory”, and she was said to have been born on the day of the Battle of Crocus Field, where about 353 BC the Makedonians had defeated the Phocians and were assured the possession of Thessaly. So Thessalonika was named to commemorate the final Makedonian conquest of Thessaly, and the city founded on the site of Therma in nearby Mygdonia by Cassander was later named after her.
Much later, after the Battle of Philippi in the wars of the Second Triumvirate against Julius Caesar's assassins had ended with the victory of Octavian and Antony, about 42 BC Thessalonika was made a free city. The designation meant that it was a self-governed city within the empire, as Athens was also a free city, and it elected its own rulers and magistrates rather than have them appointed by Rome. The Christian assembly which Paul founded there, as it is described in Acts chapter 17, was later the recipient to at least two of Paul's epistles, now known as First and Second Thessalonians in our Bibles. It is evident that those epistles were written within a short time of each other, and that the first seems to have been written from Corinth, for which we may compare the text of 1 Thessalonians 3:6 with Acts 18:5.
In Acts chapter 17, Paul preached the Gospel in Thessalonika, where he was persecuted by the disbelieving Judaeans, who sought to abduct him. From that account, we read in part that “1 … they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the [Judaeans]: 2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, 3 Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. 4 And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few. 5 But the [Judaeans] which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar...”
So Paul and Silas went to Beroia (or Berea, a city very much near to Thessaly), and were preaching the Gospel there. Then, as we read in Acts 17: “13 But when the [Judaeans] of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people. 14 And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea: but Silas and Timotheus abode there still.” So Paul was sent away by Timothy and Silas, who remained in Makedonia, and as we shall soon see, it is evident that Timothy and Silas again contacted those in Thessalonika who had accepted the Gospel. Paul went on to Athens and then Corinth without Timothy and Silas. In Acts 18:5, Paul was in Corinth for the first time, and shortly after his arrival the record says: “And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the [Judaeans] that Jesus was Christ.” Later, where it is apparent that Paul must be writing his epistle from Corinth, Paul is reflecting on the arrival of Timothy and Silas from Macedonia, where we read in 1 Thessalonians 3:6: “But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you: 7 Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith”.
So Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians while he was in Corinth, and since all of Paul’s other epistles can be dated with relative certainty, it is evident that they all follow these two epistles to the Thessalonians. Therefore 1 Thessalonians is the earliest of Paul's surviving epistles, and 2 Thessalonians is the second earliest. Knowing that towards the end of Paul’s year-and-a-half ministry in Corinth, Gallio was proconsul of Achaia (in 51-52 AD), with confidence we can date the writing of this epistle to 50 or 51 AD. With that, we shall begin our presentation of Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians:
1 1 Paul and Silovanos and Timotheos, to the assembly of the Thessalonikeans among the number of Yahweh [or literally “in God”] the [A has “our”] Father and Prince Yahshua Christ. Favor to you and peace from Yahweh our Father and Prince Yahshua Christ.
The Codex Vaticanus (B) ends this verse at “peace”, wanting the remainder. The text of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece follows that codex in both its 27th and 28th editions. Our text follows the Codices Sinaiticus (א), Alexandrinus (A), Claromontanus (D) which wants the word “our”, Freerianus (I), and the Majority Text. Compare 2 Thessalonians 1:2, where the wording is the same but the Codices Vaticanus (B) and Claromontanus (D) want the word for “our”.
Silas is Paul’s constant companion in the events recorded by Luke in Acts chapters 15 through 18, From the time when Paul parts company with Barnabas until the time when he arrives in Corinth. But Silas is not mentioned anywhere by that name in Paul’s epistles. In the introductory segment of our presentation of Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians, where Silvanus is mentioned in the first chapter of that epistle, we wrote the following:
The name Silovanos, or Silvanus in the King James Version, is known [in Paul’s epistles] only from this mention here [in 2 Corinthians] and two others which are seen in each of the two epistles to the Thessalonians, both of which were written some time before this epistle while Paul was actually in Corinth. So Silvanus was well known to the Corinthians. He must have also been known to the Ephesians, since he is probably also the same man mentioned by Peter in his first epistle, which was addressed to the assemblies of Asia. In the Book of Acts, it is apparent that Silvanus is indeed the same man as Silas, which is a shortened form of the [Greek version of the] name, and he is mentioned frequently as a companion of Paul's in chapters 15 through 18. Silvanus was with Paul from Antioch. It is interesting that Paul calls him by the full form of his name, while Luke, who was also from Antioch, calls him by the familiar form of the name. Perhaps that indicates that Luke was a friend of Silas from an early time, while Paul only knew him later and more formally.
So in Acts chapter 18 Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia to Paul in Corinth, and here, writing this epistle to the Thessalonians from Corinth, Paul is with Silvanus and Timothy. With this our opinion that Silvanus and Silas are indeed one and the same is fully substantiated.
Presenting the last three of the epistles which Paul had written from Rome in the closing days of his ministry, we noted that of all of the other apostles who were with him, only Timothy merited mention as a co-author of Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. Before Timothy’s arrival in Rome, Paul had written Ephesians, and only mentioned himself in its opening salutation. But writing the two epistles to the Thessalonians, where both Timothy and Silvanus are present, both men are associated with Paul in his ministry. So we see that of all the apostles who worked with Paul, both Timothy and Silvanus, or Silas, were seen by Paul as peers and, potentially, as successors to his ministry. However Silvanus seems to have disappeared from Paul’s company after Paul’s ministry in Corinth, and is only mentioned again in a recollection of that ministry, in 2 Corinthians chapter 1.
But Silvanus is mentioned in 1 Peter chapter 5, where it is evident that he delivered, and may have even written, that epistle for Peter to the assemblies of Asia. For reasons that we should probably not elaborate on here, we believe that both 1 and 2 Peter were written after the last of Paul’s epistles were written, and that they were written to the very assemblies of Asia which Paul had founded, where Peter was substantiating a lot of the things which Paul had taught. We believe that this is the same Silvanus because Paul’s Silvanus was certainly familiar to the assemblies of Asia, and Peter called the Silvanus of his epistle a “faithful brother” to those same assemblies, as if they had known him intimately, and they may have known him better than Peter himself, where Peter added the words “as I suppose”. For whatever reason, Paul did not mention Silvanus in his second epistle to Timothy, where he updated him on many of the other men with whom he had worked or whom he had encountered in the past.
[So far we have discussed the things that we can know or at least safely infer. Anything more we can only conjecture, and here we will take a brief liberty to do that. Since Mark was also mentioned in the company of Peter when he wrote his first epistle, perhaps Silvanus was not mentioned in 2 Timothy because Timothy, Silvanus and Mark were all in company when 2 Timothy was written, and Paul had asked Timothy to come to him bringing Mark. Furthermore, in conjecture, imagining that 1 Peter was written after Paul was executed, Mark and Silvanus are found in the company of Peter after Paul’s death, but there is no further mention of Timothy. Continuing with Paul’s introduction:]
2 We are thankful to Yahweh always concerning all of you, making mention [C, D, and the MT interpolate “of you”; the text follows א, A, B, and I] at our prayers, incessantly 3 recalling your work of the faith, and labor of the love, and endurance of the hope of our Prince Yahshua Christ, before Yahweh, even our Father, 4 knowing, brethren beloved, your election by Yahweh.
Christians do not choose God, but rather, God chooses Christians, as Christ had said to His disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you” (John 15:16). Of course, the Scripture insists that Yahweh has only chosen the ancient children of Israel, and their seed after them.
Elsewhere Paul used this same word, ἐκλογή (Strong’s # 1589), which is also usually translated as election in the King James Version, in Romans chapters 9 and 11. Peter used the word in this same sense at 2 Peter chapter 1, and it also appears in Acts 9:15, where describing a certain vessel the noun is treated as an adjective in English and rendered as chosen. In Romans chapter 9, in relation to Jacob and Esau and, ostensibly, to the true Israelites in Judaea as opposed to the Edomites in Judaea, Paul had first spoken of the promise to Sarah, and then concerning a similar promise to Rebecca, he said that “10 And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; 11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) 12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. 13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”
Seeing that the election of God stands not by works, but by God who does the calling, then the election is not by any decision of man as to whether to believe, but rather it is defined by those whom God had called. For that reason, because only the children of Israel and their seed are the called of God, election is by birth and not by choice.
The entire context of the epistle to the Romans proves that the Romans were indeed among the descendants of Jacob as Paul mentioned “our father Isaac” in this passage from Romans just cited. Later in the same chapter Paul had quoted Hosea in this regard, where he had written “25 As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. 26 And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.” Hosea was speaking those words to the ancient children of Israel who were being punished by God, where it says they would be “not My people”, and promising them a future reconciliation where it says that “in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.” This was true of the Romans in Rome, and here it is true of the Thessalonians in Thessalonika, who were evidently a mixed population of Macedonians, Romans and others of the tribes of the Greeks that in large part had indeed descended from the ancient children of Israel.
It is through the Gospel of Christ that the children of Israel were to be called to obedience, and their obedience would demonstrate that they are the children of God. For that reason the Word of God says in Isaiah chapter 45: “4 For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me. 5 I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: 6 That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.” Likewise it says in Isaiah chapter 41: “8 But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. 9 Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.” Then it says further on, in Isaiah 44: “1 Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: 2 Thus saith the LORD that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen. 3 For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: 4 And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses.” All of these words in Isaiah were written to an Israel which was being carried off in captivity by the Assyrians as punishment for their sins.
Because the Romans to whom Paul wrote had accepted the Gospel of Christ, Paul commended them, in the closing verses of his epistle, telling them that “your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf” and then informing them that “according to the commandment of the everlasting God” the Gospel was “made known to all nations for the obedience of faith”, and he could only have been speaking to those nations which were the seed of Abraham, to whom the promises were ascertained, as he had explained at length in Romans chapter 4. In 1 Peter chapter 1, the apostle addresses those same Israelites of the ancient dispersions whom he calls the “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”, and that foreknowledge is revealed in the prophets. Mercy may be by grace, but election is by race, since only the children of Israel and their seed are ever even named as Yahweh’s elect.
The Word of Yahweh says in Genesis chapter 35: “9 And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and blessed him. 10 And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel. 11 And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; 12 And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land.” While the children of Israel for a long time occupied the land of Canaan, only in their dispersions did the children of Israel become many nations, having many kings. It is they who are Yahweh’s elect, and it is they who needed to be granted mercy and reconciled to Yahweh in Christ: the entire theme of all of Paul’s epistles. Therefore Paul’s commission, as we read Acts 9:15, is explained to Hananias thusly: “For he is a vessel chosen by Me who is to bear My Name before both the Nations and kings of the sons of Israel.” Paul knew from history and prophecy where the elect of Yahweh were, and he brought to them the Gospel of Reconciliation.
However here in the opening verses of this epistle we see Paul explain to these Thessalonians that, because he knew of their election, for that reason he prayed in remembrance of their work of the faith, their labor of the love, and their endurance of the hope of the Gospel of Christ. The election is not according to works, but rather, the works of obedience are a result of the elect having received and accepted the Gospel.
Peter spoke in this same manner concerning the election, where he wrote to the assemblies of Asia in 2 Peter chapter 1: “2 Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, 3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: 4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. 8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. [And unfruitful is the key idea in relating this passage.] 9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. 10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: 11 For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. 12 Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth.”
Reading that passage of Peter carefully, we do not see him explaining that the good works make one called and elected, but rather, the good works are a result of one’s having been called and elected, and having received the Gospel. The good works are a display of faith which makes one certain of his calling and election, but the calling and election precede the works. For that reason the apostle James said in a very similar context that faith without works is dead. As Christ had said, “by their fruits ye shall know them”, here Peter informs us that a departure from lust, and an exhibition of diligence, virtue, knowledge (ostensibly, knowledge of the Word of God), temperance, patience, piety, brotherly kindness and brotherly love causes Christians to abound so that they would not be unfruitful. This is the obedience of which Paul speaks, and it results from keeping the commandments of Christ. Keeping the commandments of Christ and loving one another because of the common calling and election which all of the children of Israel share, then not being unfruitful, one bears fruit for Christ. Here we see that this is also the substance of Paul’s preaching of the Gospel, where he continues:
5 Because our good message [or Gospel, C has “”good message of God” and א “good message of our God”] has come to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit, and with much certainty, just as you know how we had been among you for your sake. 6 And you have become imitators of us and of the Prince, accepting the Word in much tribulation with joy of the Holy Spirit.
Becoming imitators of the apostles and of Christ, the Thessalonians had returned to the obedience to the faith from which their ancient ancestors had departed: from the laws of Yahweh their God found in the Old Testament. This was the entire purpose of the calling described in Isaiah, to call Yahweh’s elect back to the sheepfold, as Christ had said “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Concerning Christ, the children of Israel are depicted as saying in the words of the prophet Isaiah that: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6). In 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, Paul again commends his readers where he tells them: “9 But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. 10 And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia...”
As we have often discussed, chapters 17 through 20 of the Book of Acts are written very concisely, since Luke was not with Paul during the 7 or 8 years that those four chapters cover. As Acts chapter 16 indicates, Paul had left Luke behind at the house of Lydia in Philippi while he and Silas departed into the interior of Makedonia, ultimately arriving in Thessalonika. While Paul may have seen Luke in the interim, there is no record of their being together again until Acts chapter 20, when they are united in the Troad, ostensibly in the Spring of 57 AD. Because Luke was not with Paul throughout this period, he must have been working from very scant records when he reconstructed Paul’s activities for the Book of Acts. So we have great detail, for instance, of Paul’s speech in Athens (around 49 AD), his appearance before Gallio in Corinth (51 or 52 AD) and the circumstances under which Paul had departed from Ephesus (evidently in 56 AD), but Luke supplies very few details of most of the rest of this period. For example, Paul’s first visit to Ephesus is discussed in only three verses, and then an entire journey from Ephesus to Caesareia by sea, and then on foot, to Jerusalem, Antioch, and back through Anatolia to Ephesus on foot, a trip which must have taken many months, is presented in another three verses, from Acts 18:19-24.
But here Paul speaks of the testimony of the Gospel being presented at Thessalonika not by word alone, but also by “power and in the Holy Spirit”, which indicates that great deeds must have been done in the name of Christ. Many miraculous deeds done by the apostles, and the extant reports by many witnesses of the miracles of Christ in Palestine, facilitated the spread of the gospel and the acceptance of Christianity in the apostolic age. However there is no description of any miracles or other such events in Acts chapter 17 where it is recorded that Paul is in Thessalonika. As we have also often discussed, the accounts of Acts are much more modest concerning such things than we may even imagine. To us, that by itself is another testimony as to the veracity of the Book of Acts, accompanied by the fact that so many martyrs went to their deaths because they would not deny the things which they had seen.
Paul continues by commending the Thessalonians for their obedience to Christ:
7 Consequently you became a model [א, A, C, and the MT “models”; the text follows B and D] to all those believing in Makedonia and in Achaia, 8 since from you the Word of the Prince has rung out not only in Makedonia and in Achaia, but in every place which your faith towards Yahweh has gone forth, so there is no need for us to have anything to say.
Excluding the several Greek provinces in Anatolia (which are all mentioned in Scripture) and the Greek states in Sicily and Italy, ancient Greece proper in Europe was divided into 3 provinces by the Romans, which are Achaea, Makedonia, and Epirus. The first two are mentioned often in Paul’s epistles and in Acts, but Epirus is not at all mentioned by name in Scripture. However, as we had discussed at length presenting the opening segment of Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians, that epistle must have been written from Nicopolis in Epirus. The reference to Christians in Makedonia here would include the assembly at Philippi, and the reference to Achaia would include the assemblies at Corinth.
However it is evident in several places in the records of Paul’s travels, that even while there are no surviving epistles specifically addressed to any others, there are indeed other Christian assemblies in Makedonia and Achaia. In chapter 4 of this epistle Paul mentions “all the brethren which are in all Macedonia”, and in 2 Corinthians chapter 1 “all the saints which are in all Achaia”, so there are ostensibly many more Christians in these provinces than those of the larger towns to which Paul had written his surviving epistles. Here he assures the Thessalonians that the reports of their own faith were known by all of these other Christians in other places, and therefore Paul and his fellows had no need to say anything to them, or perhaps, to ask anything of them, concerning their continuance in the Faith.
He then encourages them by elaborating on those reports of their acceptance and practice in the Faith which had come to them through the other Christian assemblies:
9 For they themselves around us have reported what sort of reception we have had with you, and how you have turned to Yahweh from idols, to serve a living and true God,
The Codex Vaticanus (B) has an interpolation at the beginning of verse 7, where it says “they themselves around you have reported”, and that would contradict the context, where Paul speaks in reference to assemblies in both Makedonia and Achaea. However perhaps in that instance the preposition may be written “they themselves concerning you have reported”.
The Greek word εἴσοδος (Strong’s # 1529), which appears elsewhere in the New Testament at Acts 13:24, 2 Peter 1:11, and Hebrews 10:19 is “reception” here and at 1 Thessalonians 2:1. According to Liddell & Scott the word is “a way in, entrance...place of entry, entry...entrance, a right or privilege of entrance” to which Thayer adds only “the act of entering” and so here in this context and in a passive sense we must add reception.
Saying “they themselves around us”. Paul indicates in another way that he is writing from Corinth, which was in the province of Achaia.
One of the more simple-minded challenges to the truth of Christian Identity is found in the assertion that if ancient Europeans were Israelites, then they should have been found acting like Israelites, where it is also often imagined that the practices of the Jews are actually Israelite in nature. But the Old Testament prophets rather consistently inform us that the Israelites were punished because they had forsaken Yahweh their God, and turned to pagan idolatry. Therefore, looking for dispersed Israelites in antiquity, we should be looking for pagans.
Thus is the conclusion to the prophecy of Hosea, where Yahweh says: “4 I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him. 5 I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. 6 His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon. 7 They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon. 8 Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found. 9 Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the LORD are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein.” Hearing and observing Christ, the reconciled children of Israel depart from idolatry.
Omitting a parenthetical clause concerning the nature of the idols themselves, much later in his ministry Paul had told the Corinthians, in chapter 10 of his first epistle to them: “18 Behold Israel down through the flesh: are not those who are eating the sacrifices partners of the altar? … 20 Rather, that whatever the Nations sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to Yahweh. Now I do not wish for you to be partners with demons.” Likewise, Paul had told the Corinthians themselves, in chapter 12 of that same epistle: “You know that you were once a people being taken away with yourselves, as you had been taken away to dumb idols.” Paul had already told them that their own ancestors had been with Moses in the Exodus. He told them all of those things, because the pagan nations of Europe as well as the Corinthians themselves had descended from the ancient Israelites, Israel “down through the flesh”, who were being beckoned through the Gospel to put away their idolatry and return to Yahweh their God. Where Paul refers to the Nations, he is not referring to mere “Gentiles”. Rather, as he had also explained in Romans chapter 4, Paul is referring to the nations of the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as we have already cited Genesis chapter 35 where Yahweh spoke to Jacob: “11 And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins”.
This is the basis upon which the Thessalonians had accepted the Gospel, as Paul told them here in verse 4: “knowing, brethren beloved, your election by Yahweh.” As we have already said, mercy is by grace, but election is by race. Serving that same God of Jacob, Paul then admonishes the Thessalonians:
10 and to await His Son from the heavens, whom He has raised from the dead: Yahshua, who is protecting us from the coming wrath.
Later Paul writes in chapter 5 of this epistle: “9 Because Yahweh has not ordained us for wrath, but for the acquisition of preservation through our Prince Yahshua Christ, 10 who died on behalf of us, that whether we would be alert [or perhaps, awake] or we would sleep, together with Him we would live.”
To await His Son from the heavens: Paul of Tarsus taught a literal and very physical return of Yahshua Christ, just as it is indicated in Acts chapter 1, where it describes the ascension of Christ and it says: “9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; 11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.”
In relation to this, Paul writes in chapter 4 of this epistle: “15 For this we say to you by word of the Prince: that we, the living, those left remaining until the coming of the Prince, no way would come before those who have fallen asleep; 16 because the Prince Himself with a command, by a chief messenger's voice and with a trumpet of Yahweh shall descend from heaven, and those dead among the number of the Anointed shall rise up first.”
There are many Identity Christians who deny these passages, and some of them even imagine that Yahshua Christ has already returned symbolically, either with or in the person of Titus in 70 AD to destroy Jerusalem. If that were the case, however, why would Paul warn the Thessalonians about the coming return and wrath of Christ, that they needed to be preserved? Thessalonika was not at all threatened in 70 AD. And if Paul was warning the Thessalonians, then how should we interpret all prophecy to be fulfilled by 70 AD? If the return of Christ was merely to destroy Jerusalem, why was Paul warning the Thessalonians at all?
The apostle John had also taught that Christ would literally return to His people, where he warned in his first epistle of those who would seduce Christians to believe lies, and he said to them: “27 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. 28 And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. 29 If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.”
Evidently, Paul of Tarsus know something more than all of the foolish men who presume that 70 AD was the year which marked the end of all prophecy. While Paul, evidently referring to what would transpire in 70 AD, had accurately told the Romans in 57 AD that “the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly”, he did not say anything of the coming of Christ or the resurrection of the dead in relation to that.
In his discussions of the final resurrection, it is evident that Paul is interpreting prophecies such as that found in Daniel chapter 12 and Hosea chapter 13. But in his discussion of the wrath to come Paul, warning the Thessalonians, must be indicating a wrath which was well beyond what happened at Jerusalem in 70 AD, and which is described in other prophecies, such as Daniel chapters 2 and 7, in Obadiah and in Malachi chapter 1 and Micah chapter 4 and Ezekiel chapters 37 through 39. All of those chapters contain prophecies which were by no means fulfilled by 70 AD. As he warns the Thessalonians here, Paul consistently warned the Romans of the day of the wrath of God, but never indicated that the Romans had anything to fear when God would, as he told them, “bruise Satan under your feet”.
For the Romans, the wrath of God came when Rome was destroyed by the Goths. But for the Thessalonians, it came in 1430 AD, when the city was taken by the Ottoman hordes and most of its inhabitants were either killed or enslaved. In the 14th century the mostly Greek and Christian population of Thessalonica is estimated to have been between 100 and 150 thousand. After its capture by the Ottomans, and the expulsion of Jews from Spain, Sephardic Jews were invited to Thessalonica in large numbers. So in 1500, it was just over 20,00, and in a census conducted at that time there were said to be 7,986 Greeks, 8,575 Muslims, and 3,770 Jews in the city. But by 1519 the number of Sephardic Jews was said to be 15,715, over half of the city's population. Now Satan was bruised under the feet of Rome in 70 AD. But Obadiah, Malachi, and many other prophecies concerning the mystery of iniquity and the wrath of God on His enemies have certainly not been fulfilled. In fact, as the Scripture states and as history proves, judgment must begin at the house of God, meaning with His people, and not with a stone temple in Jerusalem. The apostle Peter himself said this in his first epistle: “17 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” The house of God is still suffering that judgment, and they will until they seek the kingdom of God.
Those who think that all prophecy was fulfilled by 70 AD are actually denying the Word of God and the ability of that Word to manifest itself in our ongoing and present reality. More wrath is coming, and as Paul asserts here, we can only hope to be preserved by remaining in Christ and keeping His commandments. Election is by race, but the mercy of Yahweh is by grace, and that grace is extended only in Christ.