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§ 89. The Epistles to the Thessalonians.

Thessalonica,11341134    Strabo calls it Θεσσαλονίκαια. Its present name is Salonichi. a large and wealthy commercial city of Macedonia, the capital of "Macedonia secunda," the seat of a Roman proconsul and quaestor, and inhabited by many Jews, was visited by Paul on his second missionary tour, a.d. 52 or 53, and in a few weeks he succeeded, amid much persecution, in founding a flourishing church composed chiefly of Gentiles. From this centre Christianity spread throughout the neighborhood, and during the middle ages Thessalonica was, till its capture by the Turks (a.d. 1430), a bulwark of the Byzantine empire and Oriental Christendom, and largely instrumental in the conversion of the Slavonians and Bulgarians; hence it received the designation of "the Orthodox City." It numbered many learned archbishops, and still has more remains of ecclesiastical antiquity than any other city in Greece, although its cathedral is turned into a mosque.

To this church Paul, as its spiritual father, full of affection for his inexperienced children, wrote in familiar conversational style two letters from Corinth, during his first sojourn in that city, to comfort them in their trials and to correct certain misapprehensions of his preaching concerning the glorious return of Christ, and the preceding development of "the man of sin" or Antichrist, and "the mystery of lawlessness," then already at work, but checked by a restraining power. The hope of the near advent had degenerated into an enthusiastic adventism which demoralized the every-day life. He now taught them that the Lord will not come so soon as they expected, that it was not a matter of mathematical calculation, and that in no case should the expectation check industry and zeal, but rather stimulate them. Hence his exhortations to a sober, orderly, diligent, and prayerful life.

It is remarkable that the first Epistles of Paul should treat of the last topic in the theological system and anticipate the end at the beginning. But the hope of Christ’s speedy coming was, before the destruction of Jerusalem, the greatest source of consolation to the infant church amid trial and persecution, and the church at Thessalonica was severely tried in its infancy, and Paul driven away. It is also remarkable that to a young church in Greece rather than to that in Rome should have first been revealed the beginning of that mystery of anti-Christian lawlessness which was then still restrained, but was to break out in its full force in Rome.11351135    The difficult passage, 2 Thess. 2:1-12, must be explained in connection with the prophecies of Daniel (the fourth empire) and the Apocalypse. See the commentaries of Lünemann, Lange (Riggenbach, translated by Lillie), Ellicott, Jowett, Marcus Dods, and the Excursus of Farrar on the Man of Sin (St. Paul, II. 583-587). Many modern exegetes adopt the patristic interpretation that "the restraining power" (τὸ κατέχον) is the Roman empire, "the restrainer" (ὁ κατέχων) the then reigning emperor (Claudius), and "the man of sin" his successor, Nero. But the last is very doubtful. The whole passage must have a prophetic sweep far beyond the time of the old Roman empire. There are "many antichrists" and many restraining forces and persons in the successive ages, and the end is yet apparently afar off. "Obviously, whatever the words signify, they must mean something which has existed from Paul’s day to our own, something which, during that whole period, has had the effect of restraining wickedness." (Dods, in Schaff’s Com. on the N. T, III 535.)

The objections of Baur to the genuineness of these Epistles, especially the second, are futile in the judgment of the best critics.11361136    Grimm, Lünemann, Reuss, Lipsius, and others have refuted the arguments of Baur. The first Epistle is conceded to be genuine also by Hilgenfeld, who declares (Einleit., p 246):"In dem ganzen Brief erkennt man die Sprache des Paulus. Es ist kein Grund vorhanden, denselben dem Paulus abzusprechen. Nicht so bedeutsam, wie andere Briefe, ist derselbe eines Paulus keineswegs unwürdig, vielmehr ein liebenswürdiges Denkmal väterlicher Fürsorge des Apostels für eine junge Christengemeinde." But the second Ep. to the Thess. Hilgenfeld assigns to the age of Trajan, as a sort of Pauline Apocalypse; thus reversing the view of Baur, who regarded the First Ep. as an imitation of the second. Grotius and Ewald put the Second Ep. likewise first (especially on account of 1 Thess. 1:7, 8, which seems to imply that the congregation had already become famous throughout Greece), but they regarded both as genuine.

The Theoretical Theme:: The parousia of Christ. The Practical Theme: Christian hope in the midst of persecution.

Leading Thoughts: This is the will of God, even your sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3). Sorrow not as the rest who have no hope (4:13). The Lord will descend from heaven, and so shall we ever be with the Lord (4:16, 17). The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night (5:2). Let us watch and be sober (5:6). Put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet, the hope of salvation (5:8). Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks (5:16). Prove all things; hold fast that which is good; abstain from every form of evil (5:21, 22). The Lord will come to be glorified in his saints (2 Thess. 1:10). But the falling away must come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition (2:3, 4). The mystery of lawlessness doth already work, but is restrained for the time (2:7). Stand fast and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by epistle of ours (2:15). If any will not work, neither let him eat (3:10). Be not weary in well-doing (3:13). The God of peace sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming (ἐ–ϊν –ͅϊτῇ παρουσίᾳ) our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:23).

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