2. PAUL’S INSTRUCTIONS TO THE THESSALONIANS
(a) Directions For Growth
Thessalonica had a very large Gentile population, as well as Jewish people. “It was also the site of many cults, reflecting the cosmopolitan mix of the population. Archeology has uncovered places for worship of the Greek Pantheon, the Emperor, and cults such as those of Isis, Serapis, Osiris or Mithra. Adherence to the belief systems and ritual practices of these cults gave people identity, meaning and value. Shifting their allegiance “to serve a living and true God” meant, according to Neil Elliott, refusing “to participate in the intricate web of local cults that gave sacred legitimization to the empire.” [(Liberating Paul, p. 196) (from: http://www.abrock.com/Greece-Turkey/Thessa.html)]. “The cult of Serapiswas the one of Ancient Egyptian religion that survived the longest into the Greek and Roman periods, even if it was in an altered religion that was heavily influenced by Greek religion….some kind of reincarnation of the fertility god Apis,…..revered all around the Mediterranean”. (From: http://www.mindserpent.com/American_History/religion/egypt/cult/serapis.html). “Osiris was the god of the dead, and ruler of the underworld…was a god of resurrection and fertility”.(From: wikipedia). “Mithra, also spelled Mithras, Sanskrit Mitra, in ancient Indo-Iranian mythology, the god of light, whose cult spread from India in the east to as far west as Spain, Great Britain, and Germany. ……is also a judicial figure, an all-seeing Protector of Truth, and the Guardian of Cattle, the Harvest and of The Waters”. (From Wikipedia).
With such a background in mind, and due to the fact that Gentile people did not have the Law of God thus exploring all kinds of ungodly behaviour, Paul now had to instruct them in the teachings of Scripture so that their demeanour would be sanctified. “Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.” . It is the duty of all believers to live a life that is pleasing to God , which will prove that our repentance is genuine. It is Paul’s great desire that they do so, not his demand, since he is acting on the authority of The Lord Jesus Christ . Since there was also a great demand on them as citizens to adhere to participation in the local cults, Paul reminds them “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality” : their sanctification (separation to God only) was required so as to avoid the requirements of the cults and the sexual immorality that was the common practice in the city . The call of God to all His disciples is the same and disobedience to this call is not a rejection of the teaching of the Church but a rejection of God Himself! “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.” Paul continues to remind them that “brotherly love”, or love for all other disciples of Christ is also a requirement, and he urges them to do this “more and more” . He also reminds them that idle lives lead to interference into the affairs of others, so he encourages them to find a way to be independent of others by occupying their time effectively: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” .
(b). Revelation Concerning the Dead in Christ
Because of a misunderstanding of some of the believers in Thessalonica Paul now explains the resurrection: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” . For the child of God, death’s horror and finality are overcome by the promise of the resurrection which is the hope of all believers in Christ. We see this horror and finality expressed in the faces of unbelievers who suffer the loss of a loved one to death, and there seems to be no end to their grief which sometimes carries on for weeks, months, and even years. The Christian, however, views death as a period of “sleep”until the time of the resurrection, and is in strong contrast to the unbeliever .
“We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” . All believers who have died, having trusted in Christ as Saviour, have the hope and expectation that because Christ died and rose again from the dead, God will raise them from the grave in what is called “the resurrection” – “God will bring with Jesus”– and the importance of the resurrection is seen elsewhere in scripture . He now continues to explain the order of the resurrection: “According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.”. Believers who have died will rise first at the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call; then those who are alive will be caught up to join them, and our Lord in the clouds; so there will be a predetermined order at the resurrection . Our Lord will personally descend from heaven with a loud command, and a command from the archangel with a trumpet call, the dead will be resurrected and be joined with the living in the clouds, and we will be with Christ forever; this is our expectation! The expression “caught up” is another phrase for “rapture” and is the only N.T. reference of a rapture – the hope of all believers in Christ . The believers in Thessalonica, as well as all believers everywhere should constantly encourage each other with this doctrine.