|Topical Bible Study||November 1953|
Know Your Bible—Part XI
I and II Thessalonians, I and II Timothy
THE church of Christ at Thessalonica was zealous for the proclamation of the Gospel, and early in his first epistle Paul commended the brethren for this. He wrote, “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father.”—ch. 1:2,3
Verse eight of this opening chapter reveals why Paul specially referred to their ‘work of faith, and labour of love.’ “From you,” he wrote, “sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.”
The Thessalonian brethren were evidently Gentile converts, for Paul speaks of their having “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” (ch. 1:9) In verse ten he speaks of their waiting for “his Son from heaven, whom he [God] raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” The ‘wrath’ referred to is the sentence of death which rests upon all mankind because of sin. The consummation of this sentence is reached at death, so Paul refers to it as the wrath ‘to come.’ All believers are delivered from this death, by faith being justified to life through Christ. They die, seemingly, as others, but not actually so, for they lay down their justified lives and die sacrificially as Jesus did, being “planted together in the likeness of his death.”—Rom. 6:5
Unlike many of Paul’s epistles, his letters to the brethren at Thessalonica say nothing of the issues raised in the Early Church by the infiltration of Gentile converts. Evidently the Thessalonian brethren had not been affected by this controversy. Aside from words of encouragement along various lines, the principal doctrinal theme of both these letters centers around the church’s hope of the Second Coming of Christ.
He mentions this glorious hope in I Thessalonians 1:10, 2:19, and 3:13. Vitally important truths pertaining to the return of Christ are presented in I Thessalonians 4:14-18 and 5:1-5. Paul writes, “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” (ch. 4:16) These are symbolisms of the Bible, and the reference is not to a literal ‘shout’ which rends the air, nor is the ‘voice’ of the archangel a literal voice. Paul did not mean that Jesus would be blowing a literal trumpet when he returned.
Perhaps the most obvious proof of this is found in the opening verses of the next chapter. After reminding the brethren of the hope of the ‘first’ resurrection, which is so closely related to the return of Christ, and encouraging them to “comfort one another with these words,” (ch. 4:18) he continues:
“But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.”—ch. 5:1-6
In this brief review of the epistle, we call attention to the ‘shout,’ the ‘voice,’ and the ‘trumpet,’ which Paul associates with the return of Christ. These are symbolic evidences of his coming which are discerned only by the ‘brethren’ who are watching, otherwise the ‘day’ ushered in by his coming would not come upon the world as ‘a thief in the night.’
Thieves do not blow trumpets and shout to announce their presence, but in this lesson on the return of Christ we are told of a shout, a voice, and a trumpet, which are not heard by the unbelieving world. Their messages, nevertheless, are symbolically heard by the Lord’s people, so Paul wrote, ‘Ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.’
PAUL’S second letter to the brethren at Thessalonica was written in an effort to correct a misunderstanding concerning the Second Coming of Christ which arose among them as a result of his first epistle. Immediately after his opening salutation, he mentions the subject of our Lord’s return and some of its implications. Then in the opening of the second chapter he comes right to the point:
“Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us [an evident reference to his first epistle], as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except [or until] there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.”—ch. 2:1-4
The implications of this statement are clear. In his previous epistle Paul had written that so far as the unbelieving world was concerned the day of the Lord would come as a thief in the night; that is, unknown except by those on watch—the brethren. From this, some of the brethren in the church at Thessalonica developed the idea that the day of the Lord had already come, and that they were highly favored to be among those who knew about it.
Paul did not say to these that they were wrong in their understanding of the manner of the Lord’s return; that in the day of the Lord he would be present unknown to the world. He did not say to them that they were wrong because when the Lord returned there would be great upheavals of nature, that a trumpet blast would rend the sky, and that the earth would actually be destroyed by fire.
Paul’s reply implied that they were correct as to the manner of Christ’s return and Second Presence. His only argument against the claim that he had already returned at that time was that according to the prophecies a very important intervening event must first occur. He described this as a ‘falling away,’ or apostasy from the faith, and the development of a great Antichrist system.
Later in the same chapter he indicated that this “mystery of iniquity” was already working in his day. (vs. 7) And how true that was! Looking back over church history, it is readily discernible that as soon as the apostles fell asleep in death the purity of doctrine and simplicity of practice established among believers by these inspired servants were soon lost.
A great church system developed, united with the state, and designated itself the kingdom of Christ—Christendom. But it was a counterfeit of the true kingdom, the kingdom which was to be established when Christ returned. In the continuance of his lesson, Paul explained that when Christ did return the brightness of his presence would bring about the destruction of this ‘mystery of iniquity.’
In II Thessalonians 2:8 the real import of the text is concealed by a faulty translation of the Greek word parousia. In the text it is translated “coming.” Its real meaning is ‘presence.’ Paul speaks of the “brightness” of his presence. (vs. 8) Jesus said that his presence would be as a bright shining which would extend from the east even unto the west.—Matt. 24:27
Various prophecies show that the return of Christ would be accompanied by a great increase of knowledge throughout the earth, symbolized by light. It is this increase of knowledge along all lines, and particularly as it pertains to the truth of God’s Word, which reveals to the ‘watchers’ that the Day of the Lord is here.
Going further than this, the increase of knowledge—breaking down superstitions and exposing the false claims of a counterfeit Christianity—is one of the chief contributing causes of the disintegration of the Antichrist system. As the light of Truth resulting from our Lord’s parousia continues to penetrate into the dark recesses of human thought, systems built upon foundations of error and superstition will crumble.
UNLIKE Paul’s epistles thus far reviewed, this one is not written to a congregation, but to an individual brother in Christ, affectionately referred to by the apostle as “Timothy, my own son in the faith.” (ch. 1:2) Paul wrote two letters to Timothy, and they are sometimes referred to as ‘pastoral epistles,’ because they contain so much in the way of instruction to one who is a servant in the church.
In chapter one, verses three and four, Timothy is exhorted to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith.” In chapter two, verse twelve, Paul writes, “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man.” The first thirteen verses of the third chapter present the qualification for bishops [elders], and deacons.
Chapter four, verse six, states, “If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.” In verse fourteen we read, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee,” and in the sixteenth verse, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”
“Rebuke not an elder,” Paul writes, in chapter five, verse one, and in the seventeenth verse he says, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.” Additional instructions concerning teachers in the church are found in chapter six, verse five, which reads, “Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.”
In addition to pastoral instructions, a beautiful outline of the Divine plan of redemption and restoration is given us by Paul in this epistle, as well as other important truths. Chapter two, verses three to six read:
“ For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.”
It should be noted that in this passage Paul speaks of being ‘saved’ first, and then coming to a ‘knowledge of the truth.’ Salvation, in the sense that this term is usually employed in the Bible, can be attained only through belief in Christ, and a knowledge of Christ is essential to believe on him. “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?”—Rom. 10:14
But Paul speaks of a salvation which is necessary in order to come to a knowledge of the Truth. This, obviously, refers to an awakening from the sleep of death, which, indeed, is necessary for the vast majority of mankind in order that they may learn about Christ, for they died in total ignorance of him.
Paul speaks of coming to a knowledge of the ‘truth.’ Then he outlines this Truth for us, explaining that it is the fact that the ‘man Christ Jesus’ ‘gave himself a ransom for all.’ This great Truth, he declares, will be ‘testified,’ or made known, ‘in due time.’ This due tine for the world in general to learn the great Truth of the ransom is when they will be saved—that is, awakened from death—during the thousand years of Christ’s reign.
TIMOTHY was held in high esteem by the Apostle Paul, and in this second letter, even as in the first, he addresses him as his “son.” (ch. 1:2) To this “dearly beloved son” his opening salutation is, “Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day.”—ch. 1:2,3
Much in the second letter, even as in the first, pertains to the ministry of the Truth. In verses six and seven of the first chapter Paul wrote, “I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
“Hold fast the form of sound words,” Paul admonishes. (ch. 1:13) The second verse of chapter two reads, “The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” Then, in verses fourteen to sixteen of this same chapter, the following:
“Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.”
Also in the same chapter are these wholesome instructions to teachers in the church:
“Foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.”—vss. 23-25
Paul emphasized to Timothy that the Word of God should always be the basis of instruction, that he need not go outside of the Word to find needed truth. He wrote, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”—ch. 3:16,17
In the last chapter, Paul says with respect to teaching:
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”—vss. 2-5
Paul wrote this epistle during his imprisonment in Rome, after he had been condemned to die. Much in the epistle reflects this background. His final pastoral instruction to Timothy, quoted above, may have been prompted in part, at least, by the imminence of his own death. In it he endeavors to cover every essential point: ‘Preach … be instant … reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine, … watch thou in all things, … do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.’ Immediately after these all-embracing instructions, Paul writes:
“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”—ch. 4:6-8
Realizing that he would no longer be able to serve, Paul was concerned that Timothy be fully instructed to continue in the same faithful course he had begun. Incidentally, it is well to note that Paul did not expect to go immediately to heaven when he was executed. He said, instead, ‘There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness,’ a crown which he expected to receive, not when he died, but at ‘that day’; that is, the day of ‘his appearing,’ when all the church would be rewarded.
Throughout the course of his faithful ministry Paul endured much weariness, ignominy, and suffering. Now he had reached the end of the way, and he was confident that the Lord would continue to give him strength for whatever might come. He had no regrets. He knew that the final outcome would be glorious, “It is a faithful saying,” he wrote, “If we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.”—ch. 2:11,12
Paul looked forward to the privilege of reigning with Christ during the thousand years of his kingdom. He knew that Christianity implied more than to suffer and to die. He knew that in God’s due time righteousness would triumph, and that joy and life would be made available for all mankind.Go to Part XII