By: Lazarus Conley
Thessalonica was founded about 316 BC by Cassander, a general under Alexander the Great, named after the former’s wife who was a half sister of Alexander. It was conquered by the Romans in 168 BC and then became the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia after 146 BC. The city supported Octavius at the battle of Philippi (42 BC) and consequently became a free city, with its own deme, boule, and politarchs (cf. Acts 17:5-6). In the 1st Ce. AD, it was a cosmopolitan city with a large Jewish colony and many pagan cults. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy arrived in Thessalonica in AD 50. Paul and Silvanus had been arrested and expelled from Philippi (Acts 16:16-40). Passing along the Via Egnatia, through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, about 97 miles west of Philippi. There they began to preach the gospel in a Jewish synagogue “amid much anxiety” (1 Thess. 2:2). [Jerome Study Bible, 227).
The coming of Christ to judge the living and the dead is an integral part of Christian faith and hope; it’s embodied in the later creeds… at that time Christians will share with the Risen Christ the glory he already enjoys (1 Thes 3:12; 2 Thes 1:10). Paul had already instructed the Thessalonians in this faith (1 Thes 1:9-10). Since Christ hadn’t revealed the time of His coming (Mt 24:36 par; Acts 1:7; 1 thes 5:2), it was natural that early Christians would’ve desired it and expected it to happen soon, even in their own lifetime. Paul writes from such a point of view in 1 Thes 4:15-17 (in other words, he speaks in imminence language as we all should and are called to do). These Christians were nonetheless anxious about those who died before the coming of Christ. Paul writes to assure them that those who are living at the time of the Parousia will have no advantage over the dead; the dead will rise first and together with the living all will go to meet Christ and be with Him forever. In 2 Thes Paul teaches that before the Parousia of Christ takes place, there will be an apostasy and the appearance of an Antichrist, an agent of Satan who will attempt to destroy the work of Christ. Satan is already at work, but the Antichrist can’t appear because someone or something is at present preventing it. When he does appear, Christ will come and destroy him. In the eschatological passages of both letters (1 Thess 4:13-18; 2 Thess 1:7-10; 2:1-12) Paul uses the “apocalyptic” form of writing, where concrete symbols are used to convey a more transcendent message and mystery. In such writing, the correspondence between figure and reality will escape us because it is a Divine Mystery [Jerome Study Bible, 228].
v.1 – Paul, Silas/Silvanus, and Timothy are the writers sending this letter to the Church of Thessaloniki.
v.2 – Gives thanks to God like he did in Romans 1:8 and 1 Cor 1:4, etc. epistles.
v.3 – “labor of love” – Their love was shown especially in the welcome they gave to the travelers (v.9). Paul commends their love again in 4.9, 4.10, where he says they are “taught by God” in their love for one another.
St. Chrysostom: What is “your work of faith”? That nothing has turned you aside from your inheritance. For this is the work of faith. If thou believes, suffer all things; but if thou suffers not, thou believes not….He therefore who believes will suffer all things. Faith then is shown through his works.” [Explanatory Notes for the 1st Epistle to the Thessalonians, Homily 1. P.G. 62:426 (col. 394)].
Blessed Theophylact: You were patient under many and lengthy temptations. You endured being strengthened in hope. [Explanation to the 1st Epistle of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, P.G. 124:504C (col. 1281).]
v.4 – “chosen you” – Divine election is a theme of both Thessalonian epistles (5.9; 2 Thess. 2.13). Paul isn’t afraid to assure this young, predominantly Gentile church that they were elected by God. Paul sees in them the fruit of God’s electing grace, manifested in their response to the preaching of the gospel and their early progress in sanctification.
v.5 – he was granted to do many things that confirm his apostleship is genuinely part of the Christian faith.
v.6 – “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). He confirms the Thessalonians did this.
v.7 – They were examples for all of the surrounding areas: Macedonia and in Achaia.
v.8 – Paul is likely writing from Achaia, having travelled from Macedonia and come through Athens to Corinth. Their faith has been made evident as many other churches Paul founded know of them and their deeds and accomplishments. They’ve become well known in the Christian community.
v.9 – “What sort of entrance we had with you”. St. Chrysostom: What does this mean? That it was full of perils, and myriads of deaths, but that none of these things troubled you. But as if nothing happened, so you took hold of us; as if you’d suffered nothing bad, but had enjoyed 10,000 good things, so you received us after these things….The expression is complicated, and contains an encomium both of them and of themselves. [Homily 2, P.G. 62:433 (col. 400).]
The Thessalonians have been representing the Christian faith very well according to Paul.
Their “turning from idols” probably means the Church of Thessaloniki are primarily former heathens (pagans) and are mostly Gentile Christians. They’re likely not mostly Jewish Christians because Paul would not normally talk about Jewish Christians in this manner based on his other letters
v.10 – Jesus is the main topic here in v. 10. His Son-ship to God is pointed out. The text embraces the topic that it is the Church waiting on Him from heaven. “Wrath to come” is mentioned which “is an expression taken from the OT prophets who used it to tell their people that God’s coming won’t necessarily mean the overpowering of nations and the glorification of the Israelite people, but that it will be ‘a day of wrath’ (Zeph 1:18) in case the people, and especially their leaders, are carrying on their evil deeds. The emphasis on the idea of ‘wrath’ derives from the fact that God is holy and that His holiness can’t bear sin but consumes it totally. Thus the day of the coming of God started to carry with it the idea of the wrath to come, in that judgment is in His hand and He will judge all beings. Due to his sin (Rom 3:9-12) man always sees God’s judgment under the image of a coming wrath. Therefore the expression, ‘wrath to come’ means God’s just judgment at the end of days… Jesus’ coming [is] in close relation to the last judgment (see 1 Thess 3:13). [The] believer has a continuous hope that Jesus will save him/her from the divine wrath, in that ‘God made Christ our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption’ (1 Cor 1:30)” (71-72. Paul Tarazi).
v.9-10: “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” – Through Christ’s intervention on the Cross and His Resurrection, believers on Judgement Day will be spared the condemnation and punishment their sins would otherwise deserve.
v.1-2 – Paul suffered in Philippi. Acts 16:22-24 supports this. If he and the apostles had been charlatans then no fruit would’ve come. Yet it had.
vv.3-6: Paul clears his name that he is honest, without error, trustworthy, and there is no wickedness in him trying to deceive his followers.
v.8 – St. Chrysostom: He says, “So much do we love you, that, if it could be yielded, we’d have given even our souls. He who loves, ought so to love, that if he were asked even for his soul, and it were possible, he wouldn’t withhold it”. [Homily 3, P.G. 62:437 (col. 403).]
v.9 – He declares he’s labored much and suffered much to get the Gospel to them.
v.12 – Called to enter this kingdom, believers know its power and enjoy its life here and now (Rom 14:7; 1 Cor 4:20; Col 1:13, 14) while they long for the day they’ll enter its fullness.
v.14 –They suffered (the Church of Thessaloniki) persecution from their countrymen as fellow members of the Church elsewhere did by Jewish persecution.
v.15 – Consoles them with the fact that they had persecuted Christ long before them. Count it worthy if you suffer like Christ did.
v.14-15: Persecution did come primarily to the Church of Thessalonica by Greeks but Paul also discusses how they have been persecuted by Jews like Christ was.
v.16 – St. Chrysostom: “But the wrath came upon them”. By saying “the wrath”, he shows that it was long ago due, and foreordained, and prophesied”. [Homily 3, P.G. 62:443 (col. 408).]
“It seems then that the sins of the Jews against God’s will were piling up til the day when they went beyond measure; that is precisely what’s meant by ‘filling up the measure of sin’. The adverb ‘always’ results from the fact that the apostles’ preaching of Christ is the last essential stage in the life of the Jews regarding their relation to God: with the gospel the last chance has gone and their sins are fulfilled. Consequently, the time unfolding after the appearance of Jesus Christ is a time for declating what the Lord Jesus has done ‘once and for all’. As for the Jews’ rejection of the apostles’ preaching after their rejection of the prophets and the Lord Jesus, it means that this sin of reection/refusal has been repeated ‘always’ – that is generation after generation until the fullness and completeness of salvation time in Jesus Christ. The result of filling up the measure is the wrath (the wrath to come) which means here damnation (or lack of salvation) as is clear from 5:9: ‘For God’s not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ’.” (113-114. Tarazi).
In other words, they’re under damnation and need to come to repentance.
v. 15-16: There was Jewish opposition to Paul and the Church of Thessalonica. “Jews who are hostile to Christ and persecute Christians are left to multiply their sins in view of divine vengeance. “wrath has already come upon them”: God’s avenging justice is already manifest in his failure to affect their conversion. The interpretation of the final phrase, eis telos is [sometimes] disputed: CCD, ‘to the utmost’; NEB, ‘for good and all’; RSV, ‘at last’; Moffat ‘to the bitter end’. Paul’s point of view is eschatological; it’s already the end time when God’s justice [here] will be manifest”. [Jerome Study Bible, 230]
v.13-16: “[For all the Jews’] boasting of knowing God, of doing His will and thus being a blessing to the world, they’ve proven themselves to be ‘contrary to all men’ – i.e. true hostile adversaries of mankind (Gr. Enantion; compare its use in Mt 14:24 for a severe and contrary wind). The final result for them is that they ‘always fill up their sins’. Here St. Paul refers to the idea of one having a certain allowed limit of sin. When one ‘filled it up’, one exceeded the patience of God and the divine ‘wrath’ descended. (Thus Abraham was told it was not then time to inherit Canaan because ‘the iniquity of the inhabiting Amorites wasn’t yet full’, Genesis 15:16; thus the Lord told the Pharisees to ‘fill up the measure of the guilt of their fathers’ so that the ‘blood-guilt of all the generations’ would come upon them, Mt 23:32-36.) In like manner, the Jews opposing St. Paul were ‘filling up their sins’ by persecuting the apostles. Thus ‘the wrath’ of God was sure to come ‘to the end’ (Gr. Eis telos), leaving no room for escape.” (p. 33. Farley).
v.17 – “St. Paul continues his defense by affirming his sincerity and love for the Thessalonians. In recalling the fervency of their conversion (v.13) and the persecution it subsequently brought (vv.14-16), he recalls as well his own concern for them. When he left them, being involuntarily ‘made orphans’ (note the passive, which witnesses to Paul’s sense of loss), and hurried out to Thessalonica to nearby Berea (Acts 17:10), Paul worried greatly about his new converts. Indeed, he misses them as ‘orphans’ miss their parents and feels quite desolate. Though he’s been away from them for a short while (literally ‘the time of an hour’) – and he hastens to assure them that he’s not away from them ‘in heart’ – yet he agonizes still over them. Will they persevere in the Faith? Will they fall prey to those who are slandering him? For this reason, he’s ‘eager’ to return to visit them. The word translated ‘to be eager (Gr. Spoudazo) combines the idea of haste with that of intense effort. This is no merely token effort, but an all-out attempt – ‘abundantly’ and ‘with great desire’ (Gr. Epithumia)… The apostle is very intent on seeing them!” (Farley. 35).
v.18 – Satan had hindered them from coming to see them as they’d desired to.
v.19 – St. Chrysostom: Are the Macedonians, tell me, thy hope, O blessed Paul? “Not these alone”, says he. Therefore he added, “Are not also ye?” …For he said not “ye”, but “also ye”, together with the others. [Homily 3, P.G. 62:444 (col. 409).]
“At the mention of the devil and his continual effort to hinder the apostolic mission, Paul’s mind is suddenly overwhelmed with the image of the Lord Jesus as judge of all at His 2nd Coming. And Paul is fully aware that the issue at stake in his case will be essentially whether he’ll have accomplished his work as an apostle or not: ‘…For I’d rather die than have any one deprive me of my ground for boasting’ For necessity is laid upon me. Woe is me if I don’t preach the gospel!’ (1 Cor 9:15-16). In this same sense the Apostle is saying his hope, joy, and crown of pride are the Thessalonians themselves, i.e., those who’ve accepted the faith at his hands. Why? Because they’ll be an indubitable proof before the Judge that Paul has done his duty, and thus his Master will say to him: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you’ve been faithful over a little; I’ll set you over much; enter into the joy of our master’ (Mt 25:21 and 23)”. (117. Tarazi)
“They are his ‘hope’ and ‘joy’ and ‘crown of boasting’, his ‘glory’ before the Lord Jesus ‘at His Coming’. It is they (the pronoun is emphatic in the Greek) who are the crown of his work and the source of his joy at the Lord’s judgement seat. How could his heart be separated from them?” (Farley. 36).
v.20 – “you are our glory and joy!”
v.10 – St. Chrysostom: “To instruct the deficiencies of your faith”; what then is this? They hadn’t enjoyed the full benefit of his teaching, nor learned as much as was proclaimed to them to learn. And this he declares toward the end. Perhaps there’d been inquiries among them concerning the resurrection, and there were many who made an uproar among them, not by temptations, nor by dangers, but by playing the part of teachers. This is what he says are the deficiencies of your faith….He hasn’t said that you should be established or set firm but that you may be put in proper order,….which is much rather a matter of teaching than of confirming. [Homily 4, P.G. 62:455 (col. 419).]
v. 13 – “Paul’s concern is that the heart, even the whole being, of the faithful be in a full state of holiness before God the Judge at the coming of the Lord Jesus. Now this the Apostle’s stand can be explained by the fact that the concept of holiness – in the NT summarizes all that which Christians should be” (131. Tarazi).
3:11-13: “The apostle prays that the Lord will work in them an ever increasing abundance of love as that which will ‘establish’ their ‘hearts faultless’ on the last day. For the Lord will commend them with his ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Lord!’ (Mt 25:21), if He finds they have ‘love for the least of their brethren’ (Mt 25:40). This is the ‘faultless holiness’ which ‘our God and Father’ looks to find in us at His judgment seat, when the Lord Jesus will have come ‘with all His saints’, the entire heavenly court of men and angels” (Farley. 38).
v.1 – Paul praises them and urges them to continue and continue to grow in their faith.
v.6 – St. Chrysostom: To each man God has assigned a wife. He has set bounds to nature-that of intercourse with one only….Herein he speaks about adultery, but above also about every fornication….You mustn’t have the wives of others at all, nor even women that have no husbands, and those for common use. [Homily 5, P.G. 62:461 (col. 424); cf. Bl. Theophylact, P.G. 124:518B (col. 1308).]
v.8 – Paul may very well claim divine authority here.
“God, Who gave His Holy Spirit to you”. KJV reads “to us”.
St. Chrysostom: “The one who refuses, refuses not man, but God”. God vindicates not the persons who are injured, but Himself….And though thou shouldn’t commit adultery, but fornication, though the harlot hasn’t a husband, yet nevertheless God makes retribution, for He avenges Himself. For thou does this act, not regarding slightly that one (that is, the husband), so much as God. And it’s manifest from this, that thou does it concealing thyself from man, but thou takes to thyself what doesn’t belong to thee, assuming that God doesn’t see thee. [Homily 5, P.G. 62:461 (col. 425); cf. Bl. Theophylact, P.G. 124:519CD (col. 1308).]
vv. 10-12: “Although Paul’s aware there’s no need for him to write to them concerning brotherly love…as apostle and spiritual father he didn’t miss the opportunity to exhort them to continue and improve on that path. But what about manual work, and why’d he mention this topic in conjunction with the brotherly love? It appears from both epistles – especially the 2nd – to the Thessalonians that some of the faithful there thought that the Lord was coming again very soon. These started to see no reason to work for livelihood; they even tried to convince others to follow their way and thus were disturbing the serenity and orderliness of the community life. Further, after some time spent in idleness these people came to be in need of being fed. Naturally all this made more difficult and even hindered the brotherly love prevailing in the community. Besides, this type of behavior started to distort the image of God’s church in the sight of non-Christians. This is precisely the reason that made Paul not only exhort them to live quietly, to each mind his own affairs and to work with their own hands for livelihood, but even made him instruct, i.e., order them to do so…This is what made the Apostle emphasize that we are unable to pinpoint the time of the Lord’s coming (1 Thess 5:1-2) as well as comment lengthily that there are signs which are to precede that coming (2 Thess 2:1-12).” (144 & footnote 12. Tarazi).
v.13 – “the dead in Christ will rise first”. Those “in Christ” also constitute a subcategory of those “in Adam” (the whole human race), and comprise of all who participate in salvation by Christ, whether they lived before or after Christ. This rising of the “dead in Christ” is a resurrection of all the righteous dead, and not merely of NT believers, at the time of Christ’s return (as in 1 Cor 15:23; John 5:28, 29). The resurrection of the unrighteous will also happen (Acts 24:15), though he also presupposes it in his warnings of a universal judgment of individuals at the time of Christ’s return (Acts 17:31; Rom 2:5-16).
“We do not wish” KJV reads as “I wouldn’t have you”. –
St. Basil: All things are directed by the goodness of the Master. Nothing which happens to us should be received as distressful, although at present it affects our weakness. In fact, even if we’re ignorant of the reasons for which each event is applied as a blessing to us from the Master, nevertheless, we ought to be convinced of this – that what happens is assuredly advantageous either for us as a reward for our patience, or for the soul which is taken up, lest, tarrying too long in this life, it should be filled with the evil which exists in this world. [Letter 101, in FC, 13:225.]
The topic is deceased Christians. “Paul’s teaching made it clear that death had no power any longer over the faithful who will be accompanying the Lord at His coming in glory. Now doubt had overtaken some of the Thessalonians, who started asking: If that’s true, then why have some of us died before the Lord’s coming? Does this mean that the deceased won’t have a part in the welcoming procession of the Lord? The Apostle starts by saying that only non-believers grieve in the face of death, and the reason for this is that they have no hope. For the Christian, the heathen is defined as the one without hope; hence the importance of hope not only in the life of the faithful, but also in the definition of his being. The believer is the one who hopes for victory over death in Christ. [Note also] that Paul uses in the verses 13, 14, 15 the verb ‘to lie down’ when speaking of death. This is what he’ll also do in 1 Cor 15 in the context of his teaching regarding our forthcoming resurrection in Christ, where he uses 4x ‘to lie down’ (vv.6, 18, 20, and 51) besides the verb ‘to die’…This use itself is a consolation since it means that the believer falls asleep in his death awaiting the dashing victory over death at the Lord’s coming. This explains why the terms ‘those who are asleep’ and ‘those who’ve fallen asleep’ to speak of our deceased have made their way into Christian tradition”. (145-146 Tarazi).
v.14 – “So also those who fell asleep through Jesus will God bring with Him”; literally “through”, or “by means of Jesus”; ambiguous in position, as even St. Chrysostom notes: How “through Jesus”? Either that they fell asleep through Jesus, or that through Jesus will He bring them, that is, the faithful….But why does he say “those who fell asleep”? So that he’s not speaking of a general resurrection, but about a partial one….But how do the faithful fall asleep through Jesus? Clearly they’ve Christ in themselves. And the verse, “He’ll bring with Him”, indicates that they’re brought from many places. [Homily 7, P.G. 62:473 (cols. 435, 436); cf. Bl. Theophylact, P.G. 124:520 BC (col. 1312).]
“Jesus died and rose again”. “Since the apostles’ teaching and the faith of the Church is that those who are asleep in Jesus will share in his lot (1 Cor 15), it’s only logical that God will bring them in the company of the Lord Jesus at His coming in glory.” (147. Tarazi).
It should be noted Paul says “we” because he is giving a teaching of the Apostles. And this teaching applies to the entire Church. Whenever the 2nd Coming does happen, the 2nd Coming will affect and happen for WE, all as believers. Paul doesn’t know the day nor the hour of His coming so naturally there’s no reason for him not to use and apply what’s called imminence language.
V. 13-18: “Their present anxiety concerns not the judgement of the living and the dead (1:10), but the participation of their dead friends in the glorious coming of Christ. V.13: ‘we’d not have you ignorant concerning those who sleep’: The Christian dead. Death is spoken of like a sleep even in pagan literature, without necessarily presupposing faith in immortality or resurrection. The image is used in the OT (Gen 47:30; Dt 31:16; 3 Kings 2:10, etc.), but in Christianity it acquires a special sense because of faith in the resurrection of Jesus (Mt 9:24; Acts 7:60; 1 Cor. 15: 18, 20, 51, etc.). lest you should grieve: Not with a natural sorrow at the loss of dear ones, but with a pagan sorrow that is without Christian hope (Col 1:27; E[j 2:12; 1 Thess 4:5). The object of this hope is specific, viz., the resurrection and a life of glory with Christ. V.14: if we believe: …the death and resurrection of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 15:3-4; Rom 14:9; Acts 17:3 at Thessalonica itself) bear a causal relationship to the resurrection of Christians (houtos kai). God will bring into his company those who have fallen asleep through Jesus: The resurrection of Christians is likewise attributed to God (1:10). Jesus isn’t the cause of death, but a bond persists between the Christian and Christ in death as in life (Rom 14:7-9; 1 Thess 5:10). Moreover, his death is full of hope because of Jesus; cf. ‘the dead in Christ’ (4:16). The goal of God’s activity is the reunion of the believer with the Risen Christ. … Not knowing the time of the Lord’s coming (5:2; Mt 24:43 par), Paul cherishes the hope of living until the day of the Parousia (cf. Dan 12:12-13; 2 Esdras 5:4; 13:24) and so includes himself and his Christians among the survivors on the last day… The living ‘shall not precede’: …shall have no advantage over” the dead when He comes. V.16-17 a partial description of the Parousia… heaven, the dwelling place of God and the Risen Christ is above the earth and so the Lord descends; in going out to meet Him, Christians must therefore ascend into the air… God Himself is the cause of this… [we see clearly this is] the reunion of Christians with Christ their King. ‘We shall always be with the Lord’ [Jerome Study Bible, 232].
4:13-18 – The Apostle next deals with some concerns the Church had with the 2nd Coming. “It seems they expect the Lord’s Coming to take place in a short time and are worried that those who recently died, before that expected Coming, would somehow be deprived of their final salvation. Given their belief that the Lord will come soon, they seem to think that one must be alive to welcome the Lord in order to participate in the age that will follow. It’s in order to correct these misunderstandings that St. Paul gives the following teaching…In correcting their erroneous notions, St. Paul once again deals with them tenderly, calling them ‘brothers’, for he’s dealing with those who are grieving the eternal loss (as they imagine) of their loved ones. He would not have them ‘sorrow as the rest’ of mankind ‘do who don’t have hope’. The pagan world around them did indeed grieve hopelessly over their dead. Though certain religions and philosophies spoke of a hope of eternal life after death, the basic pagan culture viewed death with unshakable despair. For them, the dead were forever lost to the living. There was no hope. The only consolation left for the bereaved was the iron certainty that one day they too would die and cease to exist, substituting annihilation for the pain of loss. The Gospel was 1st preached against this background of inevitable loss and despair. The Christians were those who were placed beyond the grip of death. ‘Through Jesus’ (Gr. dia tou Iesou), through the death of the humble carpenter of Nazareth, death has been transformed to become a mere sleep of the flesh, from which the Lord will take them to immortal transfigured life at the 2nd Coming. (In talking about the believers ‘sleeping’ in Jesus, we must be clear that it’s the body that reposes and sleeps, not the soul, which rejoices wakefully with the Lord in heaven after the death of the body. The image of sleep is used for the dead body because, just as those who sleep at night will wake and rise again in the morning, so the bodies of the faithful will rise again at the final resurrection). St. Paul here assures the Thessalonians that, just as the Lord ‘died and rose’ again, so will all those who have already died as believers. For our baptism is our participation in Christ’s death and Resurrection (Rom 6:3), and through our incorporation into Him, we share, even now, His resurrection life and His ascended glory (Eph 2:6). How then could we not also share His physical triumph over death? So it’s that God will ‘bring with’ Jesus at His 2nd Coming those believers who have already ‘fallen asleep’ in death. These departed Christians won’t be deprived of the age to come because they died before the 2nd Coming. On the contrary, the dead in Christ ‘will rise first!’ We who ‘live and remain’ at the time of the Coming ‘will not precede’ them in honor in the coming Kingdom. They’ll be glorified before us, and it’s we who shall ‘then’ (Gr. epeite, ‘next’) be caught up together with them in the clouds’ to welcome the Lord as He returns at the 2nd Coming”. (Farley. 43-45)
v.1-11: They’re told to prepare for the same thing that will come unexpectedly upon the ungodly – the day of the Lord (vv.2, 4). Paul assumes that Christians and non-Christians alike will be alive and present when this Day arrives. Christians watchful and ready, non-Christians surprised as a thief who comes at night. The rising of Christians spoken of in 4.17 won’t occur before the arrival of that Day that will also bring sudden and inescapable destruction to the wicked (2 Thess 2:1).
v.1 – “[They] have no need for him to remind them of the ‘times and appointed times’ (Gr. chronon kai kairon). The nuances of these Greek words defy easy English translation.
Chronos time is time such as is marked by the clock and calendar – time as easily and objectively measured, wherein year succeeds year and each year is measured the same as the last.
Kairos time is time as it’s charged and laden with critical meaning. It’s time as opportunity, time as the moment of action come at last. Chronos becomes Kairos when the time to act is at hand… [Paul says they] don’t need to be told again of how the ‘times’ and years will suddenly become the ‘appointed time’ of crisis and judgement. He told them when he was with them, so that they know this ‘exactly’ (Gr. akribos); they’ve been taught specifically how ‘the Day of the Lord’ comes as suddenly and unexpectedly as the breaking in of ‘a thief in the night’ (see Mt 24:42-44). They shouldn’t imagine that the Kingdom will be characterized and marked by gradual social changed and improvements. Men won’t be able to chart the steady progress and coming nearness of the Kingdom. One can’t bring it about (as many Jews thought) by military force or social moral reformation, nor see it gradually spread throughout the earth by the pious efforts of men. Like the lightning flash, it’ll come suddenly and independently of any earthly events or causes (Mt 24:27). The 2nd Coming, the ‘Day of the Lord’ long expected by all the prophets, wherein God’s cause and Name will be glorified over all others in the earth (Is 2:12; Joel 2:1; Amos 5:18), will finally come. Indeed, the Lord is now on His way. (The verb ‘comes’, Gr. erchetai, is here in the present tense.) The Day will come suddenly and take the world off guard”. (Farley. 46-47).
v.2 – “day of the Lord” – The association of the day of the Lord with judgment is carried on in the NT, where the last judgment and final regards and punishments are in view (Acts 17:31; Rom 2:5, 16; 2 Cor 1:14). In 2 Peter 3:10-13, the heaven, earth, and the elements will be changed and make way for a new heaven and a new earth.
[Cf. Rev 3:3, 16:15]
vv. 1-2: Paul proceeds to his next topic, “namely: the time of the Lord’s coming…[It’s] absolutely in God’s hand (Acts 1:7 and 17:26) and no one can know them except He (Acts 1:7). The Apostle starts by saying there’s no need for them to receive any further comment in this regard, since they know but too well the church’s teaching in this matter: the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. And a thief doesn’t inform anyone of the hour of his arrival (Mt 24:43/Lk. 12:39).” (155-156. Tarazi).
v.3 – “When people say, ‘There’s peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there’ll be no escape”. This Tarazi translates as a general truth (not as a specific future event). He reasons that such a translation follows the rules of Greek syntax, the subject in the main phrase is indefinite. And this verse follows the preceding one without any of the conjunctions needed “de”, “gar”, or “oun”; nor is even the coordinating word, kai, used. It thus seems to be a comment by Paul on his statement that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (157. Tarazi).
v.4 – St. Symeon the New Theologian: As many, therefore, as are children of the light also become sons of the day which is to come, and are enabled to walk decently as in the day. The day of the Lord will never come upon them, because they’re already in it forever and continually. The day of the Lord, in effect, isn’t going to be revealed suddenly to those who are ever illumined by the divine light, but for those who are in the darkness of the passions and spend their lives in the world hungering for things of the world; for them it’ll be fearful, and they’ll experience it as unbearable fire. [“The Church & the Last Things”, On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, Vol. I, 10th Discourse, 146, 147.]
v.8 – [Cf. Isa. 59:17]
v.10 – St. Chrysostom: Here, “whether we be asleep” (present, active subjunctive), signifies bodily death, that is, fear not dangers; though we should die, we shall live. [Homily 9, P.G. 62:491 (col. 451).]
v.15 – We must as Christians seek justice for others (Isa 56:1; 58:6-8).
v.19-21: He tells them not to despise legitimate prophecy; both Silas and Paul were “prophets” (Acts 13:1; 15:32). These claims must obviously be tested.
v.19, 20: St. Athanasius: He’s desirous that the grace of the Spirit not grow cold in us. It’s not because the Spirit is placed in the power of men, and is able to suffer anything from them, but because bad and unthankful men...wish to quench it, since they, like the impure, persecute the Spirit with unholy deeds. [“Letter III, for 331”, Paragraph 4, in Nicene, 2nd Sermon, IV: 514.]
v.23 – Paul gives a blessing and prays that, “as God is indeed in their midst, He will ‘sanctify’ them ‘completely’, so that their entire selves will be preserved ‘intact’ and ‘faultless at the Coming of our Lord’. Paul describes this entirety of person as consisting of ‘spirit, soul, and body’”. (Farley. 56-57)
St. Chrysostom: There were many among them who indeed prophesied truly, but some prophesied falsely….For the devil, defiled with blood, wished by means of this gift to overthrow everything pertaining to the Church. For since both the demon and the Spirit prophesied concerning the future, the one indeed uttering falsehood, and the Other Truth,….when the time came for them to be convicted, He gave also the “discerning of spirits [1 Cor. 12:10]”. Since therefore then also among the Thessalonians many were prophesying…he says, “Don’t, because there are false prophets among you, on their account hinder also these, and turn away from them. Cease quenching them; that is, cease setting at nought prophecies”. [Homily 11, P.G. 62:503 (cols. 462, 463).]
v.24 – St. Chrysostom: For if He called you to salvation, and He’s true, He’ll assuredly save you, in that He wills it. [Homily 11, P.G. 62:504 (col. 463).]
Orthodox Biblical Studies - 1 Thessalonians: A Commentary by Fr. Paul Nadim Tarazi. SVS Press. Crestwood NY. 1982.
Words of Fire – Fr. Lawrence Farley. Conciliar Press. Chesterton Indiana. 2010.
Jerome Study Bible
Orthodox Study Bible
The Orthodox New Testament. Holy Apostles Convent. Bueno Vista, CO. 2000.