Acts 8

Chapter eight introduces the key antagonist of the story. Luke mentioned that Saul was a co-conspirator at Stephen’s murder, albeit not a full participant. The most zealous of his peers (Galatians 1:14), Saul used Stephen’s “blasphemy” as the perfect catalyst to begin an outright war with these Jewish traitors, who blatantly worshiped a criminal instead of God. He made it his personal mission to “DESTROY THE CHURCH” by any means necessary (Acts 8:1-3).

Like the Tower of Babel, however, God used this as the catalyst to scatter the early Christians and spread the gospel. For the first time, Samaritans were presented with the truth, and they accepted it in multitudes (Acts 8:4-8). The miracles Philip performed convinced even a local magician, Simon, that this message was truly from God (Acts 8:9-13). Peter and John arrived from Jerusalem to confirm what was happening, which they saw when the Holy Spirit came on the Samaritans (Acts 8:14-17). This impressed the magician who wanted that power as well, offering money to learn their “spell” (Acts 8:18-25). Some have questioned Simon’s salvation because of this, but Peter’s command that he should “REPENT OF THIS WICKEDNESS” and pray for forgiveness seems to indicate that his infant faith was genuine.

Luke recorded one more scenario of the gospel spreading beyond the Jewish people (Acts 8:26-40). Philip received a direct order through an angel to meet with a man on the road between Jerusalem and Gaza, whom he discovered to be an Ethiopian official. Philip caught up with him and got into his chariot, realizing that the man was reading from the prophet Isaiah without understanding it. Philip was able to start from that passage (Isaiah 53:7-8) and point him to Jesus. The Ethiopian believed, and Philip baptized him immediately. The Holy Spirit then “SNATCHED PHILIP AWAY” (the same verb used for the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:17) and dropped him in Azotus, where he continued to preach the gospel.

There is a textual note to consider regarding Acts 8:37. Only a handful of Greek manuscripts include this verse, and most of them were copied during the tenth to twelfth centuries (AD 900-1100). Because of their late date and scarcity, it is best to see this verse as a later addition to Acts.

2 Thessalonians 3

Chapter three also picks up and expands on a theme from 1 Thessalonians, namely, the Christian’s work ethic. Paul prefaced this topic with his request that the gospel would continue to “spread quickly and be honored as in fact it was among” the Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 3:1-5). He also prayed that they would be protected from those who would do them harm in this world.

Paul believed their work ethic was an important part of the gospel’s effectiveness (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15). It seems that some of the believers had quit their jobs and were living off of the generosity of the church community. In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 Paul had already gently called them out for this, but they needed something stronger. Here Paul reminded them of his own example among them, how he worked for his own food rather than relying on support from the church. He also insisted that their lifestyle was disparaging to the gospel and that someone who continued to live like that was to be shunned within the Christian community. This was such a big deal that even before Paul had to leave town he commanded them, “If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat.” This principle is still applicable today.

Paul closed his letter with a personal signature to authenticate it, another hint that there was a forged letter going around with his name on it (2 Thessalonians 3:16-18).

2 Thessalonians 2

Chapter two contains the largest section of new teaching in this short letter and has generated a great deal of debate in several areas. It seems possible that someone had sent a letter in Paul’s name to Thessalonica, stating that they had missed “the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to be with him” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). One of their fears that prompted the first letter was that the believers who had died would miss the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13), which Paul addressed. However, it seems a “letter allegedly from” Paul and possibly a “spirit or message” claimed that, in fact, they all had missed it and were now living in “the day of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 2:2). Since Paul had obviously taught them about the terrors of the great Tribulation, they were scared to be in it and wondered how they could have missed the Rapture.

In this chapter, Paul revealed three events that must happen first, before the day of the Lord could commence. The first is called, variously, “the rebellion” (NET, NLT, NIV, ESV); “the apostasy” (NASB, HCSB); and “a falling away” (KJV). There are three views of what this could be. One common view is that, toward the end of the Church Age before the Rapture, there will be an apostasy or falling away within the Church itself. This is prophesied in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, among other places. There will be people within the Church who are either not believers at all or weak, immature Christians who will fall away from the faith. This is the view promoted in Walvoord and Zuck’s Bible Knowledge Commentary. The translation “rebellion” presupposes this view. A second view is that this refers to the Rapture itself. Because the Greek word ἀποστασία (apostasia) simply means “departure,” and since it is prefixed with the definite article (“the departure”), some hold that there is only one specific departure Paul had already taught them about – the departure of the Church from this world, the Rapture. This view is held by Dr. Olander (The Greatness of the Rapture, Tyndale Seminary Press, Hurst, TX). The third view is that this will be a departure from the true faith, after the Rapture, by those who had only professed belief but were not true Christians. Constable promotes this view in his Notes on 2 Thessalonians (soniclight.com). This view seems less likely, because it seems that Paul thought his readers would see the apostasy, which they would not do if they had already been raptured, something he was also certain they would experience.

The second event that must occur before the day of the Lord is that “the man of lawlessness” must be revealed. Interestingly, although it is commonly used in Christian churches and theology books, the term “Antichrist” is never applied by the biblical writers specifically to the coming world ruler. In fact, John referred to anyone who denied the Word made flesh as an antichrist (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:1-3; 2 John 7). However, Paul used a series of phrases to describe how evil this man will be: “the man of lawlessness…the son of destruction…the lawless one” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-10). He will publicly and unashamedly oppose and place himself above all gods, to the point that he will set himself up to be worshiped in God’s Temple in Jerusalem (a fulfillment of Daniel 9:27 and Matthew 24:15). Since his arrival will come “with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders and with every kind of evil deception” and since his revealing must take place before the Day of the Lord and since that had not (and still has not) yet happened, Paul comforted his readers that they had not entered the Day of the Lord.

The third event that will precede the Day of the Lord is that “the one who holds him back will [be]…taken out of the way” before he is revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Again, there has been great debate over who or what restrains the lawless one. The two most common views are that the Church or the Holy Spirit is restraining him. Those who believe the Church to be the restrainer say that the Rapture will release Antichrist to begin his campaign, since there will be no godly influence in his way. However, the Church is not more powerful than Satan, except through the power of God, so even that view unintentionally bows to the second. Only the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to stay Satan’s work in this world. After the Rapture, when the Church is removed from Satan’s attacks and God’s coming wrath, will the Holy Spirit release his hold on “the hidden power of lawlessness [which] is already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7).

The chapter ends with Paul’s word of thanks, again, that his readers would not have to go through that time and an encouragement to hold fast to what he had already taught them on this subject, rather than being tossed around by false teachings (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17).

2 Thessalonians 1

Introduction
Second Thessalonians seems to have been written shortly after 1 Thessalonians, in response to some follow-up questions the church had for Paul based on his former letter. Given the travel time between Thessalonica and Corinth, where Paul wrote the first letter (compare Acts 17:15; 18:5 with 1 Thessalonians 3:1-6), it is likely that Timothy could have delivered 1 Thessalonians and returned to Paul with their questions in just a couple of months, so A.D 51 or 52 is the probable timeframe.

As with the first letter, Paul included Silvanus and Timothy in his greeting, as they were instrumental in getting the Macedonian churches started (Thessalonica, Berea, and others). It seems the specific reason for their letter was that the Thessalonians had received information that pretended to come from Paul, contradicting what he had previously taught them about the end times, specifically the coming Great Tribulation and satanic world ruler. Paul wrote this letter to remind them of his former teachings and to clarify a few other matters.

Chapter one begins with a similar theme as in 1 Thessalonians – Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving for the believers’ continued growth and public faith (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4). In 1 Thessalonians Paul did not find it necessary to tell others about the Thessalonian believers, because their reputation preceded him wherever he went (1 Thessalonians 1:7-10). In this letter he said that he was able to “boast” about them “in the churches of God” because of how they were persevering “in all the persecutions and afflictions” that they had to endure. Similar to other passages in his later writings, Paul noted that present suffering prepares believers for the coming kingdom, where someday we will find our “rest” (2 Thessalonians 1:5-7). 1 He also reminded them that God will “repay with affliction those who afflict” them. One wonders if Paul often thought of the many psalms in which David called to the Lord to deliver him from his enemies and encouraged his readers, “Do not fret when wicked men seem to succeed!” (Psalm 37:1)

Paul greatly looked forward to the day when Jesus would finally return as judge. Paul had already noted that those who afflict Christians “are displeasing to God and are opposed to all people…[and] constantly fill up their measure of sins” (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16). These, he wrote again, “will undergo eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Specifically, and most importantly to Paul, they would forever be “away from the presence of the Lord,” the presence he so greatly anticipated (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:17; 5:23). Paul’s greatest prayer for his Thessalonian friends was that they would be worthy of the Savior at his coming, something Paul was convinced God himself would make sure of (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

Notes:

  1. The Millennial / Messianic Kingdom described in terms of rest is a major aspect of the book of Hebrews.

1 Thessalonians 5

Chapter five concludes with two final teachings. Regarding the Day of the Lord, Paul noted that the Thessalonians did not need any more teaching (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2), because it is a frequent topic in the Hebrew Scriptures, which they studied in the synagogue (both the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles). The Day of the Lord will consist of the Tribulation wrath and judgments followed by the Messianic Kingdom. Because of this, Paul instructed the believers to live properly now, so that they would not become spiritually lethargic (“sleep” is not the same Greek word as in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) and be caught off guard by the Rapture, which will occur before the Day of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:3-8). It is important to note the distinct shift in emphasis between “we/us” in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 to “they” in this section. If “we” are living according to the apostle’s instructions in chapter four, we will not be caught off guard like “they” will in chapter five.

1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 provide the explanation that pulls this section together. Why can we stand in faith, act in love, and expectantly look forward to our future? Because believers are not destined for the coming wrath. We are destined for opposition in this world (1 Thessalonians 3:4), but we will not go through the wrath of the Day of the Lord, because Jesus is “our deliverer from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). This is an obstacle for those who believe that the Church will go through the Tribulation period.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 ends this section ends like 1 Thessalonians 4:18 did the last one. The Rapture is a wonderful truth that we should use to encourage one another. The teaching about the Day of the Lord should also encourage us, because we will not go through it, but it should also cause us to “sober up” about what is important in this life and drive us to grow in our spiritual lives, even pushing one another so we don’t become lethargic.

In the final section of his letter (1 Thessalonians 5:12-22) Paul focused on the congregational life of the church, and he gave four sets of commands. First, they were to highly respect the elders of the church (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). Some writers see the lack of specificity in the phrase “those who labor among you and preside over you” to mean that there was no formal structure to the congregations yet. However, Paul had already begun appointing local church elders during his first missionary tour (Acts 14:23), so the structure was established. It is more likely that he did not know exactly who those elders were, because he had left so quickly. Silas and Timothy probably appointed them in his absence. Additionally, the concept of “presiding over” and “admonishing” clearly indicates a leadership structure within the congregation. Second, they were to maintain a balance of unity, discipline, and mutual care for one another within the congregation (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15). Third, they were to intentionally hold attitudes of joy and gratefulness, which was important because of their ongoing afflictions (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Finally, they were to keep themselves open to prophecy from the Holy Spirit, not extinguishing his work in their meetings, yet practicing discernment in what they accepted as truth (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).

Paul concluded his letter with a benediction, praying that they would be ready for Jesus’ return (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24), his constant focus.

1 Thessalonians 4

Chapters four and five each divide into two sections. As Paul began to wrap up his letter, he shifted from reminiscing and loving to instruction and commands. He addressed four areas in these final two chapters: practical Christian living, the Rapture of the Church, the Day of the Lord, and congregational living.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, Paul focused on some very practical, in-your-face teaching about how to live a Christian life. He said he had told them that certain things were necessary to live in a way pleasing to God, urging them to follow through with what he had taught them even more than they were already doing. The first area was their sanctification 1, especially in reference to sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). He gave them both a negative and positive command to help them live properly: stay away from it and get control of their bodies. The second area was their brotherly love (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10). He had already praised them for how well they were doing it, so he simply praised them again followed by an encouragement to keep it up and do even more.

The third area had to do with their relation to the unbelieving world around them, and it had three parts to it (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). First, they were “to aspire to lead a quiet life.” Christians should not be the ones causing trouble, starting arguments, or making a public spectacle (Romans 12:18). Second, Paul told them to “attend to your own business.” The opposite of this would be a busybody. While leading a quiet life, we are to keep busy in Christian service. Third, Paul commanded them to “work with your hands.” Second Thessalonians 3:10-12 explains this further. Apparently, some had quit their jobs and were relying on personal charity and the congregation to support them, as they waited for Jesus’ soon return. Paul said, “Get a job and stop mooching!” Paul’s reason for these specific commands was that unbelievers are watching. Immoral, busybodies, moochers, and troublemakers hurt our cause. Unbelievers do not like them any more than other Christians do, and they especially do not like it when they are doing these things while talking about Jesus.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul addressed a serious concern from his friends. He had apparently taught them that Jesus would return before the day of the Lord (see 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2). However, some of the congregation had died in the intervening months, and the survivors were genuinely concerned their loved ones would miss Jesus’ coming. Since the details about the Rapture were new to them, it is conceivable that they were the first ones to ever hear this revelation (1 Thessalonians 4:15). 2

Paul told them that they had no reason to grieve as if there were no hope, because Jesus’ return is the substance of our confident hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3; cf. Titus 2:13). In fact, rather than missing out on the event, Paul insisted that “those who are asleep through Jesus” (literally) will come back with him. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, death itself has changed (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

The Rapture event actually includes five parts, only one of which is the actual “rapture.” 3 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 reveal that there will be an announcement, Jesus’ arrival into the clouds, the resurrection of dead saints, the rapture of living saints, and the eternal presence of the Savior. The last part was Paul’s emphasis. Rather than just “going to heaven,” whenever he thought of eternity, he could think of only one thing: being with Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-23). This is why he commanded his readers to “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). 4

Notes:

  1. The key word of verses 3-8 is “holy.” It appears in some form four times in these six verses. In Paul’s letters, “sanctification” means “to set apart as holy.”
  2. Paul continued to receive new revelation from God throughout the course of his ministry. Some of this was probably for specific ministry but much of it was recorded in the Scriptures for our instruction and benefit as well as the original readers’.
  3. The word “rapture” means “to catch or seize” and comes from the Latin word behind “will be caught up” in verse seventeen. (The Greek word that Paul used, ἁρπάζω, harpazo, means the same as the Latin word.)
  4. The Rapture of the Church is such an important truth that some believe it should form the foundation for all Christian counseling.

1 Thessalonians 3

Chapter three best begins with 1 Thessalonians 2:17, and is probably the most personal section in the entire letter. This is a great reminder that this is not just “a book in the Bible” but a personal letter between dear friends. For those of us reading since that time, it also reveals what genuine Christian fellowship looks like. Paul could literally say that his absence from them caused his heart to grow fonder toward them (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20). 1 Thessalonians 2:18 is a subtle, yet powerful, reminder that Satan’s forces are still active, and God has allowed them some latitude to work against his servants in this world.

1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 reveals Paul’s concern when he had not yet heard from Timothy. Even the apostle who commanded us to not worry (Philippians 4:6) could not help but be concerned for his friends. This was especially true because he knew that believers in this world are destined for opposition and affliction, just like Jesus promised (John 15:18-20; cf. 2 Timothy 3:12).

1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 shows the complete emotional shift Paul experienced once Timothy had found him and delivered his report. Interestingly, verse six contains the only time in all his letters that Paul used “good news” (εὐαγγελίζω, euangelizo) for something other than the gospel. Both their faith and love had remained strong (1 Thessalonians 1:3), and their attitude toward Paul had not been swayed by his accusers like the Galatians’ had been and the Corinthians’ would be later on. Their faith was their attitude toward God, and love was their attitude toward each other. So even in their affliction, they kept the proper attitude toward God, each other, and Paul.

Paul finished with a short but significant prayer. First, he asked that God would clear the way (remember, Satan was blocking it) so he could get back to Thessalonica. Second, he prayed that their love would “increase and abound,” both within their church and in their community. Third, he prayed that they would grow in holiness so they would be ready for Jesus return.