The last chapter continues on the previous conversation about when Jesus will return (there appears to be some anxiety on this matter as if they could have missed it. If there is I point I think the Bible is clear on, it’s that you’re not going to miss it, it just won’t be possible. But, they are growing impatient and worried that the thing is eventually going to happen (which coincides with their previous concerns about what happens to those already dead). This also isn’t a foreign concept in our day, it’s been 2,000 years since Jesus was born, that’s a long promise and our impatience and sometimes worry about whether this promise is a true one is understandable.
Paul addresses this, though, saying that it wasn’t necessary for him to write anything to them about it. However, it’s not because they already know the answer as to when it will occur, it’s that they know that the answer is that no one knows. Jesus will return like a thief in the night (basically at a time when no one expects or can plan for). What it can’t mean is like a thief because it’s quiet and no one will know, that flies in the face of this trumpet, cry command business. When Jesus uses “like a thief in the night” he’s using it to mean no one knows, too. (See Matthew 24. No one knows. Knock it off.)
The reference that Paul uses is a familiar one, the phrase “the day of the Lord”. We noted elsewhere that this is a time when God will act among his people, generally a time of justice. Amos uses it many, many times. But it has always happened on His timetable, not man’s. So Paul seems to think that the Thessalonican church knows enough to know that they won’t know when the thing is going to happen and in response they are to stay diligent. If they are always looking, they can’t be surprised (unlike a drunkard or the fellas who sleep all they time, they will be jolted awake). We stay awake, we keep doing the work of the Kingdom with trust and love and hope. And we don’t worry, because God hasn’t destined us for wrath, we’re on the good end of the deal, regardless of whether we are living or dead. (The word “asleep” is tough in this section because it is used to represent at times death, unpreparedness, and ignorance of God. Context alone drives how it should be interpreted).
By the way, so we don’t completely pass over it, when Paul says people will be saying “There is peace and security”, there are a few different ways to take that. It could be a reference to the slogan of the Roman empire “pax et securitas”, peace and security. It was a promise Rome made to its citizens that being part of Rome’s empire would guarantee them peace and security. However, that peace was maintained by the sword and not everyone in the empire was a citizen. Someone had to be at the other end of that sword and the lifestyle that sword protected wasn’t that of the lower tier social groups. However, Jeremiah 6 speaks of a time when people falsely claim that all is well but do so in ignorance and blindness (6:14 would be the most likely referent). Either way, I think the point is close to the same, it’s a false understanding of peace and security and part of our being awake and aware is to recognize promises that only God can keep that man asserts is within his control to keep.
Again, this whole section (end of 4 and into 5) is meant to remind them of the hope they have, to calm anxiety, and to encourage them (while also reminding them to encourage each other when they forget.)
The letter ends with a series of encouragements for the church. They are to respect those who are working among them (these are the pastor/elders who are responsible for their care), and hold them up for the work they are doing. Be peaceful. And encourage those around you who aren’t living up to their fullest (the weak, the lazy, those who lack courage). This is real work, fellas. We can’t leave the faint of heart, the lazy or the fainthearted to their own lives, we are called to encourage them, raise them up, get them back on the right path. There is probably some interaction here with the things Paul said earlier in the letter, making sure folks aren’t a burden on other people, that they work with their hands, mind their business and love others. I don’t like this, it takes a lot of work to edify the lazy, but Paul says we can’t leave them behind. It’s the work.
We don’t repay evil for evil (it’s basic, but very difficult.) This isn’t just action, by the way, it’s your thought life, too. It’s just as much of a prison to think evil of someone or wish it upon them (your justice sucks and you suck at divvying it out, leave it to the Lord) as it is to try and repay it physically. Let it go. Now. Seek to do good to everyone.
Rejoice always. (Can’t do that if you’re being lazy and plotting evil. Work of the hands, boys, stay busy and rejoice for the opportunity to do so). Pray without ceasing, live in constant contact with God, seek to see the world the way He sees it. Don’t quench the Spirit (likely connected to…) and don’t despise prophecies but test everything. I think all of these are tied together. A posture of service and connection with God opens you up to rejoicing always, being in contact, listening and obeying the movement of the Spirit and not ignoring God when he speaks (but know him well enough to validate the accuracy when people claim to talk on his behalf). Regardless, keep what is good and reject all that evil. (How’s that for a basic morality set?)
In all of this, we can trust that the God of Peace (interesting contrast to those on the other end of the pending Day of the Lord) will continue to separate you from the things of the world and give you the ability to align to his things (sanctification). Our whole person (spirit and soul and body) should be set apart for God’s work in our life until the coming of Jesus. And here’s the best part: HE WHO CALLS YOU IS FAITHFUL; HE WILL SURELY DO IT. We’re banking that God will keep his promises even as we sometimes struggle to be faithful in ours (that’s what makes Him a good covenant partner.) God asks all of this of us for His glory and our joy and he will help us do it. He is faithful. He has already kept his promise to provide the perfect path to reconciliation, the sacrifice of Jesus.
And finally, they are to pray for and kiss the bros (it was a nice, Eastern greeting, quit being a pansy). Also, Paul seems to lay it at the feet of the Lord to hold these folks accountable if they don’t share the message. (Are we still allowed to do that? I feel like I might have some times when that would be helpful). May grace of God always be with them.
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