Rescuing Us from Wrath

Storm Clouds - Photo by Martin Vysoudil on Unsplash
Opposition to the new faith forced Paul to leave Thessalonica before his work there was finished. Segments of the local population pressured the young congregation to the point that he was forced to leave the region. He later attempted to return but was thwarted "by Satan.” Because of his anxieties about the congregation, Paul sent Timothy to investigate matters. His first letter to the Thessalonians is his thankful response after receiving good news from Timothy - [
Photo by Martin Vysoudil on Unsplash].

After his opening salutations, Paul reiterated how the assembly had welcomed him and turned from “idolatry to serve the true God.” The reference to idolatry suggests the church consisted primarily of Gentile converts:
  • (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10) - “And you became imitators of us, and of the Lord, giving welcome to the word in much tribulation, with joy of Holy Spirit; so that you became an example to all who were coming to the faith in Macedonia and in Achaia. From you, in fact, has sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only m Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith which is toward God has gone forth, so that no need have we to be saying anything; for they themselves concerning us do tell what manner of entrance we had to you, and how you turned to God from the idols to be serving a living and true God, and awaiting his Son out of the heavens, whom he raised from among the dead, Jesus, who is rescuing us out of the coming wrath.
In the opening section, Paul anticipates the subjects he will discuss in the remainder of the letter, including the tribulations of believers, the basis for Christian hope, the “coming” of Jesus, and the impending “wrath.”

Nowhere in the letter does the Apostle provide any chronology or sequence of future events that must precede the coming of Jesus.  Rather, he describes how the life-orientation of believers has been altered since their conversion (“You turned away from…”). Instead of serving dead idols, they were now serving the “true and living God.” Rather than a comfortable life in the city of Thessalonica, they had begun to experience pressure from their neighbors.

Paul uses two infinitive clauses to express how disciples must live.  First, turn from idols “to serve a living and true God”; and second, “to await his Son from heaven.”

The Son of God will "arrive from heaven.” This subject taken up and developed later in the letter. One day, Jesus will “descend from heaven with a shout” to gather his followers to himself. And the one for whom the faithful are eagerly waiting is the son of “the living and true God,” not another dead idol or false god.

The one coming “from heaven” is the same man “God raised from the dead.” Paul grounded his future hope and the return of Jesus in his past resurrection – (Compare 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

Jesus is the “one who is rescuing” his disciples. This translates the Greek present tense participle that means, “rescue, deliver, save” (rhuomai - Strong’s - #G4506).  The present tense signifies an action in progress.  While Paul has a future event in view, the present tense stresses that, already, Jesus is in the process of rescuing his people.

And he is rescuing his people from “wrath” or orgê (Strong’s - #G3709).  What this “wrath” consists of is not stated.  It has a definite article in the Greek clause, that is, it is “the wrath,” indicating something known, a specific event, and not “wrath” in general or an attribute of God. It is an event that will be characterized by wrath.

Even now, the “wrath” is in the process of “coming.” Just as Jesus is now “rescuing” his people, so for others, “wrath” is “coming.” The two present tense participles contrast the two processes - Rescue for some, wrath for others. Both will be consummated at the "arrival" of the Son of God “from heaven.”

The Death and Resurrection of Jesus set two things in motion – “rescue” and “wrath.” One day, he will arrive to “rescue” Christians who have remained faithful through “tribulation.” Both “rescue” and “wrath” are linked to the same final event.

In describing these impending events, Paul uses language from the book of Isaiah associated with the “Day of the Lord”:
  • (Isaiah 59:18-20) - “According to their deeds, so Yahweh will repay, wrath to his adversaries, recompense to his enemies; to the coastlands he will make recompense. So, they will fear the name of Yahweh from the west and his glory from the rising of the sun, for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of Yahweh drives. And a rescuer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob, declares Yahweh.”
The Thessalonians must not be dismayed by tribulations and persecutions. While the “Day of the Lord” will bring wrath upon the unrepentant, it also will mean rescue for the righteous who wait patiently for the Lord’s arrival.

The Apostle did not promise deliverance from tribulation and persecution.  The Thessalonians received the gospel “in much tribulation.”  “Wrath,” on the other hand, is something reserved for disobedient men and women who do not heed the gospel. That “wrath” will be actualized and consummated on the “day of the Lord” when Jesus arrives from heaven, an event that means vindication for some, and condemnation for others.


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