A recent study in 1 Thessalonians has led to discovering overlooked facts that are giving me a new perspective on life and the situations I am facing. This post is a bit long, but I hope you’ll read it to the end.
The Thessalonians had nowhere to hide
As I worked through chapter 1, and recalled the whole story of how Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy first arrived in Thessalonica, I was stunned by what happened in this city. Thessalonica was a communications and transportation hub for all of Macedonia. Sound familiar? Yup, the man who appeared in a dream to Paul (Acts 16:6-10). After reading Acts 16 and Acts 17, and I and II Thessalonians, an amazing picture emerges of the ministry of these three men in Thessalonica.
But what particularly impacted me was the response of the Thessalonians to the personal and public ministry of Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. It did not take long before people noticed that a new teaching had arrived on the scene and that people were buying into it. This teaching went against Roman law because it did not recognize Caesar as a God. Instead, there was talk of one God, who had appeared in the flesh, been crucified, and raised from the dead to bring new life and hope to people. For some crazy reason, some influential people believed this nonsense… and then the problems started.
To make a long story short, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy had all been teaching and preaching. But now, a manhut commenced for Paul, the key figure. He had to get out fast – his life was in danger. Timothy and Silvanus were able to stay behind for a time, but eventually, they too would have to leave.
But the Thessalonians who were new believers in Jesus? Where were they going to go? Their new faith was far from politically correct and carried a potential death penalty, depending on how they were prosecuted. They had to pay security, guaranteeing that Paul would not cause more problems. But paying security was not synonymous with staying faithful.
I was floored to note that despite the opposition to their faith, despite Paul having to flee, these Thessalonian believers clung to their faith. Eventually, ALL of Macedonia heard about them, the persecution they underwent, and their faith.
Why on earth would anyone cling to this new faith when everything in the world was stacked against them, and they had no place to hide?
The Thessalonians believed the bad news
As I have thought about this, I have become more convinced that at the heart of their faith was an absolute conviction that everything Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy had taught them was true. They had the example of the lives of these three men and had heard their teachings – that’s it – nothing else. The Gospels had not yet been written. For those who were God-fearers, there was a familiarity with the Jewish scripture – but I’m not sure how deep that knowledge was.
I believe that the only way the Thessalonians could fully believe the Good News of Jesus the Messiah in the face of opposition and persecution was because they had no doubt regarding the truth of the bad news.
Paul puts it this way in 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10 (emphasis my own)
9 For they themselves [believers throughout Macedonia] report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
The bad news is “the wrath to come.” At some point, Paul had explained the truly bad news: a day is coming when God will indeed pour out His wrath against humanity, and that there was only one escape, to come to terms with God – His way – through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the anointed one, Messiah, of God.
No one likes bad news
Is there anyone reading this who LIKES to hear bad news? And when we do hear it, how do we respond? When faced with Hurricane Ian, some people did not believe the storm would really be that severe and paid for it with their lives.
I’ve been struggling with a physical problem for a few years now. Now, my treatment options are limited because I have two critical muscles that are not functioning. I recently had a meeting with my physicians regarding how to proceed. Two surgeons from different disciplines discussed the best way to help me. The solution is drastic (I will share more in another post). At a certain point, I turned to the physician who has been treating me for several years and asked, “Tell me there is another way, another solution – please.”
He shrugged his shoulders, sighed, and replied, “you know I can’t. We’ve talked about this a lot. We don’t know of another answer.”
The good news? There IS surgery that can be performed that offers restoration of my quality of life. But I have to believe the bad news before I can accept the solution offered by the good news. Otherwise, I will stay in my current condition, and my physical issues will continue to deteriorate.
Jesus stated the bad news very succinctly in John 3:18,36 (emphasis my own)
18Whoever believes in him [the Son] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. … 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
The word “wrath” is such an ugly word
None of us like the word “wrath.” We picture uncontrolled violent anger that lashes out indiscriminately against all in its path. That is the meaning the world has sold to us, and sadly is given in Webster’s dictionary for children, “wrath: violent anger or rage.” But at least to date, Webster’s dictionary for adults still helps us better understand exactly what wrath is – particularly God’s wrath.
Think about these meanings for wrath:
1 Strong vengeful anger or anger aroused by something unjust, unworthy, or mean
2 retributory punishment for an offense or a crime
Yes, wrath is a strong word. Jesus made it clear: God’s wrath remains on all people who do not believe in the Son of God. Why? Because Jesus already did all that needs to be done to settle our account with God. Rescuing us from God’s wrath was at the top of Jesus’ agenda. How do I know this? Because Jesus warns us of hell 12 times in the New Testament.
Many modern “civilized” people no longer believe in hell and question God’s wrath. But the Thessalonians believed in it so deeply that they were willing to pay any price to escape. In so doing, they learned that coming to terms with God was a good thing, and they discovered Jesus.
And the good news of Jesus spread from Thessalonica to all of Macedonia and beyond. Paul may have been chased away, but the Thessalonians, who had nowhere else to go, grew in their faith and remained steadfast in their new hope – their Lord, Savior, and God revealed in Jesus the Messiah.
The bad news helped me appreciate the good news
These thoughts have been particularly relevant to me personally. In facing my upcoming surgeries (yes, there will be two, not one), I have had to come to terms with the bad news. It is real. Yes, there are many physicians and experts in the world. Some might give me different suggestions. But the facts of the situation have outweighed their overly optimistic considerations.
I have had to humble myself to accept this bad news. It means I will go through a spell of being very dependent on others – something I don’t want at all. There’s even been a bit of opposition, but undergoing medical tests removed that. And I had to say “yes” to my doctors. “Yes. I am willing to go through all this if it means I will get back my quality of life.”
In the process, I have also had to humble myself before God. I have had to accept that He is with me on this path. Yes, the God of creation has the power to heal me instantly. But is that what I really need, an instant fix? Will it prevent me from aging? Will it solve the core problem that sin has infected this world, and sooner or later, if Jesus does not return first, I – will – die. Will being healed help me discover that He is strong when I am weak? Will it enable me to be His cracked vessel through which His light can shine?
I have to be honest, I think not.
Good news to counter all bad news – now and for eternity
The Thessalonians had nowhere else to go but to Jesus. Neither do I.
In my case, fear almost kept me from agreeing to these surgeries. Can I really go through, not one, but two operations that will permanently affect my body? What if… oh, there are so many questions. But at the end of the day, what choice do I have? Still, I do have a choice. I know of people who choose to die rather than accept an effective medical treatment that could save their lives.
Or is it pride? Being faced with the humiliation of something that disfigures part of your body or causes people to reject you – or even persecute you?
Jesus is the good news of God. He really is the answer to ALL the bad news in our lives, from the bad news we face in life to the wrath of God awaiting us in death – without Him.
How do I know this? Because He has been enough for me up until now. Because I’ve looked at my options, and with Peter, I can say with my whole heart, “No Jesus, I do not want to leave you. Where can I go without You? You alone have the words of life.”
May His words of life help you, and be the Good News you need to overcome whatever bad news is haunting you this day.
I’ve shared this song before, but it seems appropriate to share it again.
Top Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash