First Thessalonians: Introduction-The Major Themes of First Thessalonians Lesson # 5
There are five major themes found in First Thessalonians.
The first is thanksgiving (cf. 1 Thess. 1:2-10; 2:13-16) while the second is persecution (cf. 1 Thess. 1:6-10).
The third is the Christian way of life or in other words, experiencing sanctification is another theme which is found in this epistle.
The fourth is the rapture or resurrection of the church (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18) and the fifth is the future day of the Lord (cf. 1 Thess. 5:1-11).
With regards to these last two, it is significant that 23 out of 89 verses make reference to the future which is 26 percent of the book.
As we noted, the first major theme which appears in First Thessalonians is thanksgiving since Paul expresses his thanks for the Christian community in Thessalonica on two different occasions in First Thessalonians, namely 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 and 2:13-16.
1 Thessalonians 1:2 We thank God always for all of you as we mention you constantly in our prayers, 1:3 because we recall in the presence of our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (NET)
Paul employs thanksgiving in all of his epistles to the churches in the Roman Empire with the exception of 2 Corinthians, Galatians and the Pastoral Epistles (Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:4; Eph. 1:16; Phil. 1:3; Col. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2; 2 Thess. 1:3; Phlm. 1:4).
One of the major themes of First Thessalonians is persecution since 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10 records Paul commending the Thessalonians for persevering in the face of persecution as well as encouraging them to continue to do so.
1 Thessalonians 1:2 We thank God always for all of you as we mention you constantly in our prayers, 1:3 because we recall in the presence of our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 1:4 We know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 1:5 in that our gospel did not come to you merely in words, but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction (surely you recall the character we displayed when we came among you to help you). 1:6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, when you received the message with joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, despite great affliction. 1:7 As a result you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 1:8 For from you the message of the Lord has echoed forth not just in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place reports of your faith in God have spread, so that we do not need to say anything. 1:9 For people everywhere report how you welcomed us and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God 1:10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath. (NET)
The apostle Paul taught Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:12 that every believer who does at any time desire to live a godly life by means of fellowship with Jesus Christ will certainly be persecuted.
Persecution can take various forms in different countries and in different ages.
Some persecution is blatantly overt and some persecution is very subtle taking the form of rejection which can include being ignored, patronized or mocked and it can take the form of condescension as well.
Both forms express the hostility of those who are enslaved to sin and Satan and his cosmic system.
The third major theme which appears in First Thessalonian is that of Christian living or in other words, the believer experiencing sanctification which speaks of experiencing fellowship with God from the perspective of experiencing being set apart to serve God exclusively.
1 Thessalonians 4:1 Finally then, brothers and sisters, we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received instruction from us about how you must live and please God (as you are in fact living) that you do so more and more. 4:2 For you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 4:3 For this is God’s will: that you become holy, that you keep away from sexual immorality, 4:4 that each of you know how to possess his own body in holiness and honor, 4:5 not in lustful passion like the Gentiles who do not know God. 4:6 In this matter no one should violate the rights of his brother or take advantage of him, because the Lord is the avenger in all these cases, as we also told you earlier and warned you solemnly. 4:7 For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. 4:8 Consequently the one who rejects this is not rejecting human authority but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (NET)
The fourth major theme which appears in First Thessalonians is the rapture of the church since he addresses this prophetic subject extensively in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
In this passage, Paul reassures the Christian community in Thessalonica that the dead in Christ would be raised immediately before they are given resurrection bodies when the Lord Jesus Christ returns for His bride, the church at the rapture or resurrection of the church (cf. 1 Thess. 4:14-18).
1 Thessalonians 4:13 Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. 4:14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians. 4:15 For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. 4:16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 4:17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. 4:18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. (NET)
The “rapture” is a technical theological term for the resurrection of the church, which is imminent, and will be invisible to the world, and will terminate the church age dispensation.
It will take place in the earth’s atmosphere when the Lord Jesus Christ will suddenly and forcefully remove the church from planet earth in order to deliver her from the Tribulation period.
Now we must remember that like the term “Trinity,” the term “rapture” is not found in the original languages of Scripture but rather is taken from the Latin term rapio, “caught up” that is used to translate the Greek verb harpazo, “caught up,” which appears in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
Like the term “Trinity” the term “rapture” is used by theologians to describe a doctrine that is taught in the Bible.
The rapture is taught in John 14:1-3, 1 Corinthians 1:7, 15:50-57, Philippians 3:20-21, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 and Titus 2:13.
The prophetic subject of the day of the Lord is the last major theme which appears in First Thessalonians since in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 the apostle Paul reassures the Christian community in Thessalonica that they would not experience the prophetic events related to the day of the Lord.
In particular, they would not experience the events predicted to take place during the seventieth week of Daniel.
He asserts that they were delivered from God’s wrath which will be exercised toward the inhabitants of planet earth during these seven years.
1 Thessalonians 5:1 Now on the topic of times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. 5:2 For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night. 5:3 Now when they are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape. 5:4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness for the day to overtake you like a thief would. 5:5 For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness. 5:6 So then we must not sleep as the rest, but must stay alert and sober. 5:7 For those who sleep, sleep at night and those who get drunk are drunk at night. 5:8 But since we are of the day, we must stay sober by putting on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet our hope for salvation. 5:9 For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 5:10 He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him. 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing. (NET)
The term “Day of the Lord” occurs in the following passages: Isa. 2:12; 13:6, 9; Ezek. 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Amos 5:18 (twice), 20; Obadiah 15; Zeph. 1:7, 14 (twice); Zech. 14:1; Mal. 4:5; Acts 2:20; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:10.
The phrases “that day” or “the day” or “the great day” also refer to the day of the Lord and appear more than 75 times in the Old Testament.
The term “Day of the Lord” and the phrases “that day” or “the day” or the “great day” are used with reference to Daniel’s Seventieth Week (Isaiah 13:5-6; Ezekiel 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 29, 31; 38:10-19; 39:11, 22; Obadiah 14-15; Zephaniah 1:14, 18; 2:2-3; Zechariah 12:3-4, 6, 8-9; Malachi 4:5), the Second Advent of Christ (Zechariah 12:11; 14:4, 6, 8), millennium (Ezekiel 45:22; 48:35; Joel 3:18; Zechariah 14:9; Zephaniah 3:11), and the creation of the new heavens and earth (2 Peter 2:10).
To summarize, some “the day of the Lord” prophecies were already fulfilled in history in several different ways: (1) Assyrian deportation of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. (Amos 5:18, 20), (2) locust plague in Joel’s day (Joel 1:15), (3) Babylonian exile of Judah between 605-587 B.C. (Zeph. 1:7; Ezek. 13:5), (4) Babylonian defeat of Egypt in 587 B.C. (Ezek. 30:3), (5) destruction of Edom (Obad. 1-14).
There are several “day of the Lord” prophecies which will be fulfilled during the last three and a half years of Daniel’s Seventieth Week (Zeph. 1:14; Joel 2:1; 2:11, 31; 3:14; Zechariah 14:1-2; Is. 13:6-16).
There are some that will be fulfilled through the Second Advent of Jesus Christ (Zech. 14:3-8) and His subsequent millennial reign (Zech. 14:9-21; Joel 3:17-21).