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9. The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians

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In our lessons so far, you have learned these truths about Christ.

  • In Romans, Christ is our righteousness. Every believer is equally right with God and has equal righteousness from God.
  • In 1 Corinthians: Christ is the wisdom of God, greater than any human wisdom or strength.
  • In 2 Corinthians: Christ is our comforter when we hurt.
  • In Galatians: Christ is our freedom from the law of works to earn God’s acceptance.
  • In Ephesians: Christ is the powerful head of the church. Christ’s power works in us to help us live God’s way and for us to protect us from anything evil.
  • In Philippians: Christ is the supplier of every need of yours so that you can help others.
  • In Colossians: Christ is Lord over everything. He is Lord over the universe, the earth, the angels, and our behavior.

In both letters to the Thessalonians, we will see Christ as our returning Lord.

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NIV)

The Key Question

Do you have siblings or other relatives who live far away? Do you want them to come and visit you? What kinds of things do you do to prepare for guests coming? How do you greet them when they walk in the door? After your guests leave, are you eager for their returning back to visit you again?

Consider babies who are born during a time of war when their fathers are soldiers deployed overseas. The babies may not get to see their dads for months or even a year or more. They may hear about their dads and even see a picture or video feed of them. But, they don’t really get to experience knowing their dads until the soldiers return back home. Then, father and child meet face-to-face in a warm embrace of love.

The key word for our lesson today is returning. The questions to ask are, “Who is returning, and how do we prepare for it?” Some of Paul’s friends needed to know the answer to those questions.

The People and Their Need

On his second missionary journey while Paul was in Troas, God showed him a vision of a man from Macedonia saying, “Come over and help us.” Paul and Silas went, stopping first at Philippi, where they preached, and a church was formed. After spending a night in prison for driving an evil spirit from a girl, Paul and Silas were forced to leave Philippi. They went down the road to Thessalonica, the capital of Macedonia and a large city of 200,000 people who were called Thessalonians. You can read about his time there in Acts 17:1-15.

Paul preached the good news about Jesus’ death and resurrection for several weeks in the synagogue in Thessalonica. Some Jews believed as well as a large number of non-Jews. The Jews who didn’t believe started a riot in the city in order to stop Paul. They rushed to the house where Paul was staying and dragged the owner of the house out of the house to the courthouse. The man was released, but the new Thessalonian believers thought it was too dangerous for Paul to stay so they helped him to escape in the middle of the night.

After he left Thessalonica, Paul went down the road to Berea then to Athens. There he sent his friend Timothy back to Thessalonica to check on the church there. Timothy brought back a good report. In fact, their faith in Christ had become known throughout all of Macedonia. Everyone knew that they had turned away from statues of gods to serve the living and true God. And, they were waiting for Jesus to return from heaven to rescue them from their present hardships. You see, the men who started the riot were making life hard for these new believers, causing much suffering for them.

So, when Paul got to Corinth he wrote a letter to them to encourage them during their hardships and to answer their questions about Jesus’ return. Later on, while he was still in Corinth, he wrote the Thessalonians another letter to answer more of their questions. We have both of those letters called First Thessalonians and Second Thessalonians. They are gifts from God to us.

In his letters, Paul confirms to them and to us that indeed Christ is our returning Lord. We can be joyful about the news that He is coming back for us. And, we can live in a way that fills our hearts with joy while waiting.

The Answer: Christ Is Our Returning Lord

1. What fears do you have about death and dying?

2. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

  • Verse 13—What does Paul call the dead Christians?
  • Verse 14-15—Will those who had died/fallen asleep miss Jesus’ return?
  • Verses 16—What does this verse say will happen when Jesus comes back again?
  • Verse 17—What does this verse say will happen when Jesus comes back again?
  • Verse 18—Why would this information be encouraging to Christians?

For Christians, death is like falling asleep on earth and waking up in heaven where Jesus is. Believers have hope that nonbelievers do not have. Grief is real; sadness is a normal human emotion. We miss those we love who have died. But if they are Christians, they are instantly with Jesus. We can rejoice about that.

No Christian who has died will miss Jesus’ return. They will be coming with Him to get those of us who are still alive. We will rise to meet Jesus in the air. In our English translations, verse 17 uses the words “caught up” to describe Jesus coming for us. About 300 years after Jesus died, Latin translators used the word “rapturo” to translate the original Greek phrase into Latin. That’s why this event has been called “The Rapture” ever since.

3. Read Philippians 3:20-21. What is the promise to believers?

The Bible tells us that when Jesus returns, He will make new bodies for all believers—those still alive and those who died—new bodies like Jesus’ resurrected body—sinless, never to die again. He’ll take us all to heaven, where we really belong, to live with Him in our new bodies until the time is right for us to come back to live on the earth with Him.

4. How do you feel knowing that Christ is our returning Lord and that He is coming back for you one day?

Second Thessalonians refers to the time after the Rapture when there is great distress on the earth (commonly called “The Tribulation”) until Christ returns to win victory over His enemies and set up His kingdom on earth.

We don’t know when Jesus will return. But, just like you prepare for guests coming to visit, you can prepare for Jesus to come back at any time. You don’t sit around doing nothing or doing bad things. And, you want them to know that you love them, are excited about knowing them, and are eager for their coming. That applies to Jesus returning, too. Christ is our returning Lord. We can do some things to prepare while waiting.

5. Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. What could each phrase look like in your life?

  • Verse 16 “always be joyful"—
  • Verse 17 “never stop praying”—
  • Verse 18 “give thanks no matter what happens”—

Even if things aren’t going our way all the time, we can still rejoice in the fact that Jesus, the Son of God, loves us individually. This rejoicing may not be easy. It does take practice, but it’s good for us to try.

And continuing to pray without ceasing really helps with the joyful part when times are tough. We can take everything to God, even the bad or sad things, and we will receive His peace (Philippians 4:6-7). Now, “peace” may not sound like “joy,” but it’s a whole lot better than “miserable,” isn’t it?

Give thanks no matter what else happens—and even if being thankful isn’t what you feel like at the time. You need to thank God regularly for what He did by sending Jesus for you. This will certainly contribute to your being joyful.

In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, Christ is our returning Lord.

When He comes, we will receive new bodies and live forever with Him. Be joyful about that and live joyfully while waiting!

Living Dependently on Christ

1) Bible verse to learn:

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NIV)

2) Response in prayer & praise:

Praise God for the hope you have that Jesus is coming again for you and that you don’t have to be afraid of death. Ask Jesus to help you be joyful, to be faithful to pray, and to be thankful while waiting for Him to return.

3) Getting to know Him more:

Spend a few minutes each day reading these wonderful letters and reflecting on how God’s marvelous grace offers you a life of freedom and joy.

  • Read 1 Thessalonians chapter 1. Reflect on what you read.
  • Read 1 Thessalonians chapter 2. Reflect on what you read.
  • Read 1 Thessalonians chapter 3. Reflect on what you read.
  • Read 1 Thessalonians chapter 4. Reflect on what you read.
  • Read 1 Thessalonians chapter 5. Reflect on what you read.
  • Optional: Read 2 Thessalonians chapters 1-3. Reflect on what you read.

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