Because the Spirit was moving with power when Paul first presented the gospel in Thessalonica, the people who received it received it as the word of God–not the mere words of Paul. So, Paul thanks God constantly for the Thessalonians. Any good preacher or teacher does not promote his own teachings, but exegetes and exposits God’s word as it is. Those who are in Christ, moved by the Spirit, receive those words as God’s rather than the teacher’s.
The Thessalonians became like the churches in Judea because they were persecuted by their own king like Jewish Christians have been. Paul issues an indictment against his fellow Jews, the same indictment we see against the Jews in the Old Testament and throughout the New. They killed Jesus. They killed the prophets of God. They drove the movement of God out of their city, Jerusalem. They are hostile to all men, not wanting the gentiles to know their God. Paul, here, states clearly that the Jews always fill up the measure of their sins. It is a vicious cycle for them. He also states that wrath has come upon them to the utmost—I think referring to Jesus’s prediction of Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70, which is still in the future for Paul as he writes 1 Thessalonians. Jesus taught that Jerusalem would fall, the temple would be destroyed, and the abomination of desolation would stand at the temple and demand worship within the generation of people Paul is writing to (cf. Matthew 24)—all of which happens in AD 70.
Despite persecution from Jews and gentiles alike, Paul encourages the church. He is with them in spirit even though he has been taken away for a short time. He and those with him are eager to see their faces. Paul wanted to go to them more than once, but Satan hindered them. He wanted to go to them because they are his hope, joy, and crown of exultation. The church is his glory and joy, so he desires to be with the congregation.
There are several things, here, I think we need to pay attention to. First, Satan hinders Paul from visiting Thessalonica. In Romans, Paul speaks of Satan as a bound creature. Here, Satan has the power to restrict Paul’s travels. We can then glean that even though Satan has no power against the gospel and can no longer deceive the nations concerning the gospel, he can still do something. Paul doesn’t provide any details here about how Satan is preventing him from visiting, and I don’t want to make too many speculations, but I think it likely relates to the persecution against Paul by the enemies of Christ in the First Century.
Second, Paul claims that the local church in Thessalonica is his hope, joy, glory, and crown of exultation. Yet, I thought for the Christian it was Christ alone? It is true that salvation is in Christ alone. It is true that we worship Christ alone as savior and Lord. No true Christian neglects the gathering. Here, we see why—at least one reason. Our hope is founded in Christ alone; it is the gathering. Our joy is found in Christ alone; that joy is the gathering. Our crowns are given by Christ alone; they are the gathering. They are crowns of exultation, meaning that the gathering is our primary praise atmosphere. We can praise God anywhere, but the gathering is our crown of exultation (or praise). We are coheirs with Christ and clothed in His glory alone; the gathering is that glory. Those who neglect the gathering do not, then, have the hope, joy, glory, or crown of Christ. Why? Our hope, joy, glory, and crowns of exultation are the gathering. True Christians are addicted to the gathering, addicted to their spiritual family—not music or a personality preacher or a Sunday School or games. Such is a matter of having a heart and mind transformed in Christ by the Spirit, not of legalism. This is how we feel about our brothers and sisters in the faith.
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