Summary: Do you worry about the end of things? So did the Thessalonians. Paul the Apostle brings them and us some words of encouragement.
People wonder about the end of things. A recent article in Discover Magazine gives “7 Steps to Survive The End of the Universe.” The article uses the premise that our universe is expanding rapidly and accelerating. One day there will be nothing left but coldness and darkness – no life. But wait! They have a plan to escape this fate by escaping this universe into another one that is nearby – like super thin pieces of paper layered on top of each other – all we need to do is bridge the gap and voila! The Great Escape.
These steps include: finding a wormhole to travel to another universe, creating a black hole in each universe then use something called a Kerr Black hole to send a man through to this other universe – or if that fails, use a laser implosion machine or a Cosmic Atom Smasher.
It all sounds kind of violent to me. But the idea of wondering about the end and how we will escape this world is not new. The Greeks had their ideas about it – basically that you entered some kind of half-life on the River Styx. They believed that “the soul survived the body. It either hovered about the tomb or departed to a shadowy region where it led a melancholy existence in need of the offerings brought by relatives. The disembodied soul was also presumed to have the power of inflicting injury on the living, and proper funeral rites were held necessary to ensure the peace and goodwill of the deceased.” http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/8991/greek.html
So whether you believe in the River Styx or in an Atom Smasher – Paul the Apostle has some answers in the books of 1st and 2nd Thessalonians. It gives us comfort in these days of uncertainty – when even professing to be a Christian is seen as bad thing – much less actually sharing the gospel – where standing up for righteousness is seen as immorality.
To get some background on this church and what they were thinking – lets go to Acts.
17:1 When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ," he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.
5 But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jasons house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7 and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesars decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus." 8 When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. 9 Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.
10 As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea.
1. The Thessalonican church was founded by those who had a knowledge of the Scriptures and the Messiah – but not about Jesus.
2. Jesus topples kingdoms – and those in power who were threatened will go to any length (including associating with those they would NEVER be with otherwise)
3. Escape was the only recourse – it doesnt signal failure – as a vibrant church was born.
4. Thessalonica was a small church in numbers (much like ours) but large in its life (again, much like Living Waters).
So what happened after Pauls escape? You picture the mob surrounding the church and destroying every last member – but thats not what happened. The church not only survived but thrived. But you can tell that the persecutions and the vacuum left by Pauls departure left some lingering questions.
The Thessalonians suffered persecution and had some questions about their young faith – and thats okay – people dont always respond well to the gospel or to a Christian – we shouldnt feel like we “have it all together” – here in church, with our fellow believers and among people we trust – we can ask questions and seek strength from one another.
The future was much on these peoples minds. Without hope for the future we drift into despair or slide into apathy – neither of which are good for us. This letter brings that future into perspective – both for this young church and for us as believers today.