Rescuing us from Wrath

Already, Jesus is rescuing his people from the coming wrath that will befall the unrighteous when he arrives. Local opposition forced Paul to leave Thessalonica before his work was finished. Because of his anxieties about the congregation, he sent Timothy to investigate matters, and his first letter is his thankful response after receiving good news from Timothy.

After his opening salutations, Paul reiterates how the assembly welcomed him and turned from “idols to serve the true God.” The reference to idolatry suggests the church consisted primarily of Gentile converts.

In the following paragraph, Paul anticipates the subjects he will discuss in the remainder of the letter, including the persecution of believers, the basis for Christian hope, the “coming” of Jesus, and the impending “wrath.”

  • (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10) - “And you became imitators of us, and of the Lord, giving welcome to the word in much tribulation, with joy of Holy Spirit; so that you became an example to all who were coming to the faith in Macedonia and in Achaia. From you, in fact, has sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only m Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith which is toward God has gone forth so that no need have we to be saying anything; for they themselves concerning us do tell what manner of the entrance we had to you, and how you turned to God from the idols to be serving a living and true God, and awaiting his Son out of the heavens, whom he raised from among the dead, Jesus, who is rescuing us out of the coming wrath.

LIVING AND TRUE GOD


Paul does not provide chronological information or a sequence of events that will mark the imminent coming of Jesus.  Instead, he describes how the life orientation of believers has been altered by their conversion.

Rather than serve dead idols, they now serve the “true and living God.” And rather than comfortable urban life, they are beginning to experience pressure from their increasingly hostile neighbors.

Paul uses two infinitive clauses to express how disciples ought to live.  First, they must turn from idols “to serve a living and true God”; second, they are now “to await his Son from heaven.”

In the future, the Son of God will "arrive from heaven.” This subject is developed further in the letter’s subsequent chapters. On the final day, Jesus will “descend from heaven with a shout” to gather his followers.

Moreover, he is the son of “the living and true God,” not another dead idol or false god. And he is the one whom this living “God raised from the dead” – (Compare 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

RESCUING HIS SAINTS


And even now, Jesus is “rescuing” his disciples. This term translates a Greek present tense participle for “rescue, deliver, save” (rhuomai - Strong’s - #G4506). The use of the present tense signifies an action in progress.  While Paul has a future event in view, already, JESUS IS IN THE PROCESS OF RESCUING HIS PEOPLE.

And he is rescuing them from “wrath.” What this “wrath” consists of is not stated, though it has a definite article in the Greek clause, that is, it is “THE wrath.” And this points to a specific known event. It is not “wrath” in general or an attribute of God, but an event that will be CHARACTERIZED BY WRATH.

Even now, the “wrath” is “coming.” Just as Jesus is “rescuing” his people, for non-believers, the “wrath” is “coming.” The two present tense participles contrast these two processes - rescue for some, and wrath for others. Both will conclude at his "arrival.” His death and resurrection set both processes in motion.

In describing these impending events, Paul uses language from the book of Isaiah associated with the “day of the Lord”:

  • (Isaiah 59:18-20) - “According to their deeds, so Yahweh will repay, WRATH TO HIS ADVERSARIES, recompense to his enemies; to the coastlands he will make recompense. So, they will fear the name of Yahweh from the west and his glory from the rising of the sun, for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of Yahweh drives. And A RESCUER WILL COME TO ZION, and to those WHO TURN FROM TRANSGRESSION in Jacob, declares Yahweh.”

Thus, the Thessalonian church must not be dismayed by present persecution. While the “day of the Lord” will bring wrath upon the unrepentant, it will also mean deliverance for disciples who wait patiently for its arrival.

Paul does not promise deliverance from suffering in this life. In Thessalonica, the church received the gospel “in much tribulation.”

In contrast to “tribulation,” this “wrath” is something reserved for rebellious men who reject the gospel and persecute believers, and it will be unleashed in its fullness when Jesus arrives at the end of the age.


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