Rescuing His Assembly

In the first chapter of First Thessalonians, Paul anticipates the Letter’s main subjects, including the tribulation of believers, Christian hope, and the “arrival” of Jesus when, as God did for the three Jewish exiles in the Book of Daniel, he will rescue his people from “wrath.” Moreover, he will resurrect the righteous dead, and “meet” his assembled saints as he descends from Heaven. On that day, his disciples, both the living and the dead, will “obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul and his two coworkers, Silas and Timothy, introduced the faith to the city of Thessalonica. The former was Paul’s constant companion during his second missionary journey. Timothy joined them during that endeavor - (Acts 15:32, 16:1-4, 16:20-37, 17:1-9).

Sun Rising - Photo by David Jusko on Unsplash
[Photo by David Jusko on Unsplash]

The Letter is addressed to the “
Assembly in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Greek noun ekklésia is commonly translated as “church” in English versions of the New Testament. However, it more accurately means an “assembly” or “congregation,” a group of individuals assembled for a particular purpose - (1 Thessalonians 1:1).

Paul’s usage of the term is adapted from the Hebrew Bible, especially its references to the “congregation” of Israel that gathered before the ancient Tabernacle in worship - the Qahal Yahweh, or the “Assembly of Yahweh” – (Deuteronomy 23:1).

Since the death and resurrection of Jesus, the saints of God in each city gathered for worship as the “Assembly in God and the Lord Jesus.” The image is fitting. The believers of Thessalonica constituted a group distinct from the surrounding society, a “pilgrim” people often persecuted by the residents of the city because of their newfound allegiance to Jesus Christ.

  • (1 Thessalonians 1:2-4) - “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope of our Lord Jesus Christ before our God and Father; knowing, brethren beloved of God, your election.

The term “endurance of hope” is an apt description of the forward-looking faith of the Assembly of God. With great hope, the believers of Thessalonica anticipated the day when Jesus would “arrive” to gather them to himself. On that day, they would shine as Paul’s “hope and joy and crown of boasting.”

The Greek term translated as “election” or eklektos means “chosen.” Those who responded positively to Paul’s preaching were “chosen” by God to be his “Assembly” in the city, and their embrace of the Gospel despite opposition justified His choice.

  • (1 Thessalonians 1:5-7) - “How that our gospel came not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance; even as you know what manner of men we showed ourselves toward you for your sake. And you became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation, with joy of the Holy Spirit, and you became examples to all that believe in Macedonia and in Achaia.

The Thessalonians were impressed by Paul’s message, one that was accompanied by “power in the Holy Spirit.” However, most striking was their acceptance of the Gospel “in much tribulation.”

The Greek term thlipsis or “tribulation” originally meant “pressing together,” hence the idea of “pressure.” From this developed the sense of “affliction, tribulation.” Paul and his coworkers faced opposition in Thessalonica, especially from the leaders of the local synagogue and some local magistrates. Tensions became so high that he was compelled to leave before his work was finished, hence his anxiety over the state of the Assembly.

In the passage, Paul is doing more than recalling the past. The term “tribulation” anticipates his later statements made for the benefit of the church. For example, his declaration that God “appointed us for tribulation” – (Acts 17:1-9, 1 Thessalonians 3:3).


  • (1 Thessalonians 1:8-10) - “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.

The Thessalonians turned from “idols to serve the true God.” This suggests a congregation composed primarily of Gentile converts, and this is borne out by the account given in the Book of Acts – (Acts 17:4).

Paul is describing how their life orientation changed because of their new faith and allegiance. Instead of serving dead idols, they began to serve the “true and living God.” Rather than a comfortable life in Macedonia, his converts in Thessalonica chose a path that virtually guaranteed opposition.

Paul uses two infinitive clauses to express how disciples must live.  First, turn from idols “TO SERVE a living and true God.” Second, “TO AWAIT his Son from Heaven.” The Son of God will "arrive from Heaven,” the same man whom “God raised from the dead.”

In this way, Paul anchors the future hope of the Assembly in the past resurrection of Jesus, something he does frequently in his letters – (1 Thessalonians 4:13-15, 1 Corinthians 15:12-25).

This same Jesus is the “one who is rescuing” his disciples. The verb translates a Greek present tense participle, meaning “rescue, deliver, save” (rhuomai - Strong’s - #G4506). The present tense signifies an action in progress.

Paul’s description of Jesus rescuing his people “from wrath” is a deliberate echo of the story of the deliverance of the three Jewish exiles from the “burning fiery furnace” of Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonian monarch threatened to sentence anyone who refused to worship the “great image that I set up” to death in this horrific furnace. When he heard of the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, in his “anger and WRATH,” ordered the men brought before him, then threatened them:

  • Whensoever you hear the sound of the trumpet… If you bow down and worship the golden image which I have set up, good. But if you do not, in the same hour you will be cast into the burning fiery furnace; and who is the God that shall DELIVER YOU out of my hand?”– (Daniel 3:15-17).

The three exiles refused to participate in the idolatry of Babylonian, and instead looked to the Living God to rescue them: “Our God whom we serve is in the heavens, and He can DELIVER us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will RESCUE US from your hands, O king. However, if not, we will NOT SERVE YOUR GODS, nor worship the image which thou hast set up.” The Lord did indeed rescue them to the astonishment of the King and his entourage of princes and magistrates.

Sunset Portugal - Photo by Daniele Franchi on Unsplash
[Photo by Daniele Franchi on Unsplash]

Likewise, Jesus is in the process of rescuing his people from the “wrath,” which also is “coming.” The two participles present two processes that are at work - RESCUE for some, but WRATH for others. Both will be consummated at his “arrival.”

His disciples must not be dismayed by tribulation and persecution. The “arrival” of the Lord Jesus Christ will bring rescue and salvation for those who wait patiently for him. That day will result in the vindication of the faithful, but also the punishment of those who refuse the Gospel and continue to serve idols, especially of the persecutors of the Assembly.




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He Nullified Death