Thessalonians Learn About Christ’s Presence and Jehovah’s Day
THE mid-nineteen seventies have seen the completion of six thousand years of human history. In connection with this, many sincere servants of Jehovah had great expectations as to the nearness of the “great tribulation” mentioned at Matthew 24:21, 22, and the final phase of Jehovah’s day. In this respect they might be likened to the first-century Christians at Thessalonica, whose congregation the apostle Paul established on his second missionary tour in 49 C.E. As we shall see, the matters of Christ’s parousia or presence and Jehovah’s day loomed up very prominently in the minds of those early Christians.
How long Paul and his companion Silas stayed at Thessalonica the inspired records do not state. But it was at least long enough for him to establish a congregation there and for him to receive help on a number of occasions from the congregation at Philippi. In Thessalonica they found many hearing ears, ‘some Jews, a great multitude of Greek proselytes, some principal women,’ as well as a number who left their idols to become believers.—Acts 17:4; 1 Thess. 1:9.
Becoming jealous of Paul’s success, the local Jews created an uproar, which resulted in some of the newly converted ones being treated roughly. Because of this the local brothers thought it best to send Paul and Silas off to Beroea lest they get still worse treatment. His having to leave them suddenly caused him great anxiety for their spiritual welfare. How were his spiritual children faring? Were they standing firm or had all his efforts on their behalf been in vain? Twice Paul himself endeavored to visit them and each time ‘Satan cut across his path.’ So he did the next best thing and sent his companion Timothy. And when that one returned with the good news that they were standing firm, Paul not only greatly rejoiced but at once wrote them a most encouraging letter. The contents of this letter suggest that Timothy also brought Paul some other information about the Thessalonians. This letter and the one that shortly followed it, written about 50 and 51 C.E., most likely were, aside from Matthew’s Gospel, the first parts of the Christian Greek Scriptures to be written. At the time Paul wrote these letters he apparently was in Corinth.
PAUL’S EXAMPLE IMITATED
What a fine example Paul and his companions gave the Thessalonian believers to imitate! There was never error or uncleanness or deceit in their exhortation. Neither did they turn up with flattering speech or present a false front for the sake of selfish gain, nor seek glory for themselves. Though they were apostles, they paid their own way, working night and day not to be an expensive burden to those whom they served spiritually. At all times they proved themselves “loyal and righteous and unblamable.”—1 Thess. 2:5, 6, 10.
They preached the good news not only with speech but with power and with holy spirit and with strong conviction. More than that, Paul and his companions had a deep love for those Thessalonians, being gentle among them as a nursing mother cherishing her own children, imparting to them not only the good news but their very own souls. And just like a wise and loving father, they exhorted the Thessalonians to walk worthily as Christians.—1 Thess. 2:7, 8, 11.
The principle that “whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap” may be applied to Paul’s efforts. (Gal. 6:7) His fine example resulted in fine imitators. Paul could therefore commend them for having accepted the Word of God as being what it actually is, not of human but of divine origin, and for letting it become active in their lives. Yes, Paul could write, “you became imitators of us and of the Lord,” for they accepted the word in spite of persecution. This caused them to become examples to still others, both by their endurance and by their zeal in preaching.—1 Thess. 1:6; 2:14.
Due to their imitating the fine example that Paul set in unselfish love, he could commend them for ‘their faithful work, their loving labor and their endurance.’ Yes, “with reference to brotherly love, you do not need us to be writing you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and, in fact, you are doing it to all the brothers.” (1 Thess. 1:3; 4:9, 10) And in his second letter he similarly commends them: “We are obligated to give God thanks always for you, brothers, as it is fitting, because your faith is growing exceedingly and the love of each and all of you is increasing one toward the other.” No wonder Paul took “pride” in them because of their strong faith in spite of all the persecution they had to bear.—2 Thess. 1:3, 4.
“KEEP ON DOING IT MORE FULLY”
Fine as the Thessalonians were doing, Paul knew that there was room for improvement and so he wrote them: “We request you and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, . . . on how you ought to walk and please God, just as you are in fact walking, that you would keep on doing it more fully.” Which included what? Zealous activity in preaching and teaching; abstaining from moral uncleanness such as is practiced by those not knowing God; each one being careful not to encroach on the rights of his brother, for “God called us, not with allowance for uncleanness, but in connection with sanctification.”—1 Thess. 4:1-7.
True, they were showing love toward one another, but Paul urged them “to go on doing it in fuller measure.” Evidently some were lazy and so Paul urged them to mind their own business, to work hard with their hands so as not to be needing anything. In fact, Paul found it necessary to make this point still stronger in his second letter, writing: “If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.” Obviously, some were walking disorderly, not working at all. Pointing to his own example of working night and day, Paul exhorts these to work with their hands so as to eat the food they themselves earned.—1 Thess. 4:10-12; 2 Thess. 3:10-12.
Paul shows concern for the burdens of those taking the lead, presiding, and so admonishes the Thessalonian congregation to “give them more than extraordinary consideration in love because of their work.” And ever conscious of the need of God’s help, Paul counsels them to “pray incessantly.” In fact, even as in all the letters that followed, Paul stresses the subject of prayer. He repeatedly tells of his praying for them and also keeps asking them to pray for him.—1 Thess. 1:2; 2:13; 5:13, 17, 18, 25; 2 Thess. 1:11; 3:1.
CHRIST’S PRESENCE AND JEHOVAH’S DAY
That encouraging news that Paul preached about Christ’s return and Jehovah’s day seems to have appealed especially to the persecuted Thessalonians. This is indicated by his frequent references to these subjects in his letters. Six times he mentions Christ’s parousia, whereas in all his other letters he mentions it only once. And only in these letters does he speak of Jehovah’s day or the day of Jehovah. Paul looks forward to the presence of his Lord Jesus when he will be able to glory in those Thessalonian believers, to whom he had first spoken the “good news.” (1 Thess. 2:2, 19) And he prays for them that they might be found “unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the presence of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.”—1 Thess. 3:13.
In comforting the bereaved ones Paul gives us further insight into Christ’s presence. At that time those Christians who have fallen asleep in death are to be raised to heavenly glory and then afterward those living will be caught up to meet their Lord, receiving their heavenly reward. (1 Thess. 4:13-17) Paul closes his first letter with a prayer that they may be found blameless at Christ’s presence.—1 Thess. 5:23.
In his second letter, after commending the Thessalonian Christians for their love and steadfastness, Paul goes on to assure them that it is righteous on God’s part, at the revelation or apokalypsis of Jesus Christ, to repay tribulation to those who are making tribulation for them. That is when Christ from heaven takes vengeance on all the wicked, causing sudden “everlasting destruction” to come upon them. Such revealing of Christ coincides with Jehovah’s day.—2 Thess. 1:6-9.
Paul in his first letter had warned that Jehovah’s day would come as a thief in the night and that when men of the world would be saying “Peace and security!” sudden destruction would come upon them. Apparently because of that, some jumped to the conclusion that Jehovah’s day, as well as Christ’s presence, had already taken place. So Paul in his second letter proceeds to show that before Jehovah’s day comes there would be a great apostasy and that a composite or organizational “man of lawlessness” and “son of destruction” would be revealed. His being revealed was being held back because of “the thing that acts as a restraint,” namely, the presence of Paul and other apostles. As long as all of these were with the early Christian congregation this great apostasy could not come to full flower. This man of lawlessness would in God’s due time, at Christ’s manifestation, be brought to nothing.—2 Thess. 2:1-12.
We can be happy that Paul witnessed to the Christians in Thessalonica about Christ’s presence and Jehovah’s day. Were it not for their keen absorption with these subjects, Christians since might have been without some very valuable information about these two Christian teachings or doctrines.
Like those Christians in Thessalonica, Jehovah’s people are most interested in Christ’s parousia or presence at his second coming.* Also, they are deeply interested in the day of Jehovah or Jehovah’s day. They know that at the time when world rulers are crying out “Peace and security!” there will follow immediately the tribulation that Jesus mentioned in his great prophecy.—Matt. 24:21, 22; Rev. 7:14.
There is fine admonition for all of us, too, in Paul’s words found at 1 Thessalonians 5:13-22: “Be peaceable with one another. . . . Admonish the disorderly, speak consolingly to the depressed souls, support the weak, be long-suffering toward all. . . . Always be rejoicing. Pray incessantly. In connection with everything give thanks. . . . Make sure of all things; hold fast to what is fine.” May we always be found doing these things!
Luke, at Acts 17:11, tells that those at Beroea were “more noble-minded” than those at Thessalonica because of “carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things”—told them by Paul—“were so.” Had the Thessalonians been equally studious, it is possible that they might not have drawn wrong conclusions about Christ’s presence and Jehovah’s day.