Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.1. But of the times and the seasons] Better, concerning the times and the seasons. The Greek word for “times” denotes stretches of time, that for seasons particular times; the question as to the former was, “How long before the Lord comes? what periods will elapse before the final establishment of His kingdom?” as to the second, “What events will transpire meanwhile? how will the course of history shape itself?” These enquiries our Lord put aside. “It is not for you,” said He, “to know times or seasons, which the Father has put within His own province” (Acts 1:7); and previously Jesus had declared respecting the end of the world, “Of that day and hour knoweth no man, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son,—only the Father” (Mark 13:32). Such knowledge, it appears, is outside the province of human thought. Speculations of this nature have been repeatedly ventured on since the Apostle’s day; they have proved invariably worthless, and afford so many confirmations of the Lord’s warning. Chrysostom remarks on this passage somewhat severely: “Our nature is officious and greedy for the knowledge of things invisible and hidden from us. This comes of our conceit, and from having nothing to do. Often therefore is the mind in haste to learn and understand these things before the time.”
ye have no need that I write unto you] Lit., that aught he written to you (R. V.). The phrase is a repetition of that of ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:9, except that there the emphasis lies on you as persons not needing this instruction, here upon the writing as a thing in itself needless. On the topic of the last paragraph, viz. the position of Christians dying before the Lord’s return, it was needful that something should be written; as to the “times and seasons” nothing need be written, for the readers already knew so much as could be known (1 Thessalonians 5:2).
Section VI. (continued): 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
The first part of this Chapter stands in close connection with the last six verses of ch. 4. Together they form the most distinctive and the weightiest section of the Epistle. The two paragraphs of the section touch upon two different aspects of our Lord’s Coming, viewed first as it concerns departed Christians, and then in its relation to men living on the earth. The former passage supplies comfort respecting the dead in Christ, the latter enjoins watchfulness and preparedness upon the living. See note introductory to ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:13.
From 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 it appears likely that the Thessalonians had been enquiring from St Paul “about the times and the seasons” of Christ’s return and the Day of Judgement.
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.2. For yourselves know perfectly] “For yourselves know:” a turn of expression characteristic of these Epistles; ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:5 (see note), 1 Thessalonians 2:1 (Identical with this), 2, 5, 11; 1 Thessalonians 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:7 (identical).
“Perfectly” is a somewhat vague rendering of an adverb that with verbs of knowing signifies precisely, or accurately; in Matthew 2:8, &c., it is rendered carefully (R. V.). Possibly the Thessalonians In sending their query had used this very word: “We should like to know more precisely,” they may have said, “about the times and seasons, and when the Day of the Lord will be.” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 shows that the Church was full of eagerness about the Second Advent, and even after this caution many of its members continued to listen to those who professed to answer their Irrepressible questions. The Apostle replies, with a touch of gentle irony (comp. note on ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:11): “You already know precisely that nothing precise on the subject can be known,—that the Great Day will steal upon the world like a thief in the night!”
the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night] More exactly, as a thief in the night, so there is coming a day of the Lord; the definite article is absent in the Greek. Such a Day of the Lord as the Church expected is coming; it is on the way (comp. note on ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:10). The event is certain: when it will arrive, no man can tell. Even in the act of going away Jesus said repeatedly, “I come,” “I am coming to you” (John 14:3; John 14:18; John 14:28; &c.).
The figure of the night-thief points, as the next verse shows, to the effect of the Day upon the unprepared. The simile is taken from the lips of Jesus in His discourse of the Judgement (Matthew 24:43; also Luke 12:39-40, where It is applied In warning to Christ’s servants): it is employed by other Apostles, in 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3, &c. It signifies, beside the unexpectedness of the event, its bereaving effect: it brings “sudden destruction” (1 Thessalonians 5:3); the house of the worldling is “broken through.”
“The day of the Lord” was a standing designation in the O.T., occurring first in Joel (ch. Joel 1:15; Joel 2:1-2; Joel 2:11; Joel 2:31; Joel 3:14; comp. Amos 5:18) amongst the written prophets and handed down to Isaiah and Ezekiel, denoting the great epoch of judgement which in their age impended over Israel and the surrounding nations, and closed the prophetical horizon. In the O.T. therefore, the Day of the Lord has chiefly, if not exclusively, a judicial aspect. This meaning the expression carries over into the N.T.; and “the day of the Lord” is synonymous with “the day of Judgement” (Matthew 11:22, &c.)—often called simply “that day” (Matthew 7:22; Luke 17:31; &c.), also “the last day” (John 6:39, &c.). Moreover Christ ascribes to Himself, “the Son of Man” (Luke 17:24; Luke 17:26; Luke 17:30), what the O. T. in this connection predicts of “the Lord” (Jehovah). Hence St Paul describes the same Day of the Lord as “the day of Jesus Christ” (Php 1:6, &c.). But our Apostle loves to regard the Day on its brighter side, as the time when Christ’s glory will be revealed in His people (2 Thessalonians 1:10; Php 2:16; &c.), “when He comes to be glorified in His saints and wondered at in all that believed.” Now the world is having its day; “this is your hour,” said Jesus to those who seized Him, “and the reign of darkness” (Luke 22:53). But that will be the Lord’s day, when the Lord and His Christ will be manifested, and vindicated whether in salvation or judgement,—when “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:5). Afterwards the weekly day of Christ’s resurrection came to be called “the Lord’s Day,” as we call it now (Revelation 1:10)—this also a day of Divine vindication, and a pledge and foretaste of the final and perfect Day of the Lord: comp. the connection of the resurrection of Jesus with the Last Judgement in ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and Acts 17:31.
We have already observed a tacit reference under the words “as a thief in the night” to our Lord’s discourse on the Judgement; and we shall find others in the sequel. These allusions make one think that the Apostle in his preaching at Thessalonica had surely quoted from Christ’s words on this solemn theme. Otherwise, how would the Thessalonians “precisely know” that “the Day comes as a thief in the night”? While in regard to the state of the sainted dead a new revelation was needed (ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:15), on the question of the time of His coming His own well-remembered words were sufficiently explicit.
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.3. For when they shall say] Rather, when they are saying (R. V.). In the very act of their saying “Peace and safety”—just when men of the world pronounce everything secure and quiet—then the thief comes, who steals from them the possessions they imagined safe from all attack. A reminiscence of Ezekiel 13:10, “Saying Peace, and there was no peace!” Such times of security are pregnant with judgement to the wicked, and premonitory of some “day of the Lord.”
then sudden destruction cometh upon them] Or, in the vivid order of St Paul’s Greek, then suddenly over them stands destruction. Without a moment’s warning ruin comes,—not seen approaching, but first visible hanging over the doomed transgressors! We hear again Christ’s warning of Luke 21:34, “lest that day come upon you suddenly (a Greek word found only in these two places in the N. T.), as a snare; for so will it come on all them that dwell on the face of all the earth.” Christ compares His advent to the coming of the Flood “in the days of Noah” (Matthew 24:36-39).
The Apostle describes the calamity under another figure, frequently applied in the O. T. to Divine inflictions: as the birth-pang upon her that is with child. This image signifies, beside the suddenness of the disaster, its intense pain, and its inevitableness. Accordingly he continues: and they shall in no wise escape. See 2 Thessalonians 1:9, and note; and comp. the terrible picture of the Judgement in Revelation 6:15-17.
But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.4. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief] Properly, the day—the great Day, the “day of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 5:2); comp. the other elliptical phrase, “the wrath,” of ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 2:16. At the same time, this word, while it looks back to 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3, suggests the wider, figurative sense of day that comes out in 1 Thessalonians 5:5. Since the Thessalonians are “not in darkness,” the coming of day will be no terror or surprise to them. The Day of the Lord will not “overtake them as a thief,” stealing on them suddenly and despoiling them of their treasures unawares, but it will come to them as the welcome daybreak, full of light and joy. To the wicked and careless, by a sad contradiction, the Day of the Lord will be night! it is to them “darkness and not light,—yea, very dark, and no brightness in it” (Amos 5:20). But for “the sons of light” (1 Thessalonians 5:5) it is day indeed, and wears its true character.
The margin of the R. V. contains the interesting reading, found “in some ancient authorities,” preferred also by Westcott and Hort: overtake you as thieves! This gives a striking sense. It depicts the guilty as themselves “thieves,” surprised by daylight. But it involves an abrupt change of metaphor, not sustained by the following context; it transforms the “thief” from the cause of the surprise (1 Thessalonians 5:2) into its object.
Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.5. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day] More correctly, For you are all sons of light and sons of day. This confirms positively what was stated by way of denial in 1 Thessalonians 5:4. Those cannot be “in darkness” who are “sons of light.” Light is their native element and abode.
By a common Hebrew idiom, a man is said to be a son of any influence that determines or dominates his character. So there are “sons of Belial” (worthlessness) in the O. T.; and Christ speaks of “sons of thunder,” “sons of the Resurrection,” &c.
Light is a favourite figure with St Paul: see Romans 13:11-14; Ephesians 5:8-14; Colossians 1:12. St John employs it still more frequently; in his Gospel, Christ applies it with emphasis to His Person as well as to His doctrine: “I am the light of the world” (John 1:49; John 8:12), &c. Both conceptions meet in the words of Psalm 36:9, addressed to God: “In Thy light shall we see light.” This natural and beautiful metaphor describes the truth revealed by God to men (1) in its moral purity, as opposed to the darkness of sin (see 1 Thessalonians 5:7-8; comp. Romans 13:12-13, John 3:19, 1 John 1:5-7); but especially (2) in its saving effect, as the bringer of life, deliverance and joy (Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation;” Isaiah 40:1-3; John 8:12; 2 Corinthians 4:6; &c). These two meanings are united in St Paul’s conception. (3) The thought of mental enlightenment also accompanies the figure (see e.g. Ephesians 1:17-18).
“Day” is here not a mere synonym for “light” in general; it takes up again the “day of the Lord” of 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:4. Now receiving the light of Christ’s truth and assimilated to it, the sons of light will be ready for “that day.” Christ’s advent will be to them like sunrise after long twilight. It is their birthday, the time of their full redemption and revelation. “The day of the Lord” claims them for its own,—“sons of day,” being “sons of God” and “the resurrection” (Luke 20:34-36). See 2 Thessalonians 1:7; Romans 8:18-24; Colossians 3:4.
This the Apostle assumes of “all” his readers; for he counts upon them all maintaining the watchful hope that befits the sons of light.
we are not of the night, nor of darkness] The Apostle passes from the second person to the first (comp. ch. 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4); he associates himself with his readers in this repudiation of night and darkness.
Night, as the opposite of “day,” is the period, or the state, of ignorance and estrangement from God, which for believers in Christ has passed away. And yet in contrast with the full light which will burst forth on “the day of the Lord,” the present hour is even for them one of comparative darkness and obscuration: see Romans 13:12; Colossians 3:1-4; 1 John 3:2. Darkness is the element and empire of night; the condition in which “the rest” (1 Thessalonians 5:6) live and have their being. Such darkness involves, along with ignorance of God, moral debasement (see 1 Thessalonians 5:7, and ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:5) and insensibility (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12; Romans 1:30; Matthew 24:38-40); hence exposure to surprise and ruin (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).
Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.6. Therefore] More exactly, Accordingly then. The double conjunction here employed is an idiom peculiar to St Paul, which appears once in 2 Thess. (ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:15), eight times in Romans, and twice besides in his Epistles. It combines the logical and practical inference,—that which both reason and duty require.
let us not sleep, as do others] the rest (R. V.); as in ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:13, see note. “Sleep” is natural to those who are “of the night” (comp. Ephesians 5:11-14); it is symbolic of the insensibility and helplessness that sin produces. Comp. Romans 13:11-12 : “It is high time to awake out of sleep … Let us put off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light.” In this sense we may well pray the prayer of Psalm 13:3, “Lighten Thou mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.”
but let us watch and be sober] Lit., let us keep awake. It is our Lord’s word of warning and entreaty in the Garden, Mark 14:34; Mark 14:37-38; comp. Luke 12:36-37, “Be ye like into men looking out for their lord, when he shall return from the wedding … Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching.” It indicates the wakeful activity of a mind devoted to Christ’s service and busy with thoughts of His coming. Of such “watching” prayer is a necessary accompaniment (Mark 14:38; Colossians 4:2).
“Be sober” gives the moral, as “watch” the mental side of the attitude enjoined in view of the coming Day; comp. 1 Thessalonians 5:8; also 1 Peter 5:8. Soberness, in its narrower sense the opposite of drunkenness (1 Thessalonians 5:7), includes habits of moderation and self-control generally. It excludes, for one thing, morbid excitement and unreasoning credulity about the Parousia (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3).
For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.7. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night] The “sons of day” must be wakeful and sober, for the opposite conditions belong to night and are proper to its children. To be drunken by day was a monstrous and almost unheard-of thing (comp. Acts 2:15). Negligence and wantonness have no place in those who belong to “the day.”
These words look beyond their literal sense, as “sober” in 1 Thessalonians 5:6. Drunkenness signifies the condition of a soil besotted and enslaved by evil. We catch here another echo of our Lord’s warnings: “Lest haply your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly as a snare” (Luke 21:34; comp. 1 Thessalonians 5:3 above; also Luke 12:45-46; and Romans 13:13). Thus dawn surprises guilty revellers.
But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.8. But let us, who are of the day, be sober] Better, since we are of the day (R. V.); comp. notes on “sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6), and “day” (1 Thessalonians 5:5).
Watchfulness has been sufficiently urged already. The Apostle now reiterates the other half of the appeal made in 1 Thessalonians 5:6 : “let us be sober.”
putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation] The daylight rouses the soldier to action. If he has slept, with the dawn he is awake and alert; if he has spent the night in carousals, he is instantly sobered. The things of darkness are dismissed and forgotten. At the bugle-call he starts up, he dons his armour and is ready for the field. In Romans 13:12-13 the same figure is still more graphically applied: “Let us put off the works of darkness—revellings, drunkenness, and the like”—loose and shameful garments of the night—“and let us put on the armour of light … Let us walk in the day, becomingly.” Comp., for the military style of the passage, ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:16, and notes.
In the later passage parallel to this, Ephesians 6:13-17, the Christian armour, “the panoply of God,” is set forth in greater detail and somewhat differently. “Breastplate” and “helmet” make up this picture, “being the two chief pieces of defensive armour, that protect the two most vital parts of the body. “The breastplate of faith and love” guards the heart, the centre of life and spring of the body’s forces; and to this quarter “faith and love” are naturally assigned. What belongs to “breastplate” here, is virtually divided between “shield” and “breastplate” in Ephesians.—The “helmet” is the same in both Epistles: there consisting of “salvation,” here “the hope of salvation,” in accordance with the fact that Hope is the dominant key-note of this Epistle (see ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:3, and note). The fitness of this metaphor lies in the place of the helmet as the crown of the soldier’s armour, its brightest and most conspicuous feature, covering the head, the part of his person that most invites attack. The simile, in both Epistles, is based on Isaiah 59:17, where the Lord appears “putting on righteousness as a breastplate” and “an helmet of salvation upon His head,” as He goes forth to fight for His people.
Observe again the Apostle’s favourite combination, Faith, Love, Hope, in the same order as in ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:3 (see notes); also in 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4. As we might expect, “hope the helmet” is that on which he is here most disposed to dwell. Accordingly he continues—
For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,9. For God hath not appointed us to wrath] In the strict order of the words, appointed us not unto wrath, but (to something very different) unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Obtaining” is securing, making a thing absolutely one’s own,—as in 2 Thessalonians 2:14 (see note), “the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Hebrews 10:39 the same word is rendered “saving of the soul;” in Ephesians 1:14 it signifies, passively used, a sure possession. In all these instances it points beyond the present attainment of salvation, still subject to trial and hazard, to the full realisation thereof, which is the object of the Christian’s hope (1 Thessalonians 5:8), as it is the end of God’s designs for him.
“Salvation,” in St Paul and in the N. T. generally, includes the whole of the benefits and blessings of the Gospel, the entire new life and well-being that it brings, both to the individual man and to the world; but it is referred more specifically to two essential elements, or moments, in the great process of renewal—(1) that spoken of in Luke 1:77 as “knowledge of salvation … in remission of sins,” and (2) to man’s deliverance from the grave and entrance on the risen life of the future world,—“salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). In the word redemption this double reference is even more conspicuous: see, e.g., Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 1:14. To this ultimate “salvation” the Apostle directs his readers’ thoughts and hopes.
“Appointed” reminds us of “election” (ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:4, see note); it implies the authority with which God called the Thessalonians to salvation (comp. ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:12), as well as the fact of His gracious intention respecting them. Comp. 1 Timothy 1:12, “appointing me to service,” and ch. 1 Thessalonians 3:3 above. In 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 (see notes) this Divine appointment of grace is more fully set forth.
For the negative side of God’s purpose—not unto anger—see notes on wrath in ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9. With the thought of Christ’s second coming, so constantly present to St Paul’s mind at this time (see Introd. pp. 18–21), there were present also the issues of the Last Judgement and its solemn contrast—the glorious “salvation” then to be attained by the sons of God, and the final and awful manifestation of His “anger” against the wicked. Similarly “the day of the Lord” is seen in Romans 2:5 as a “day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God;” and in this light, wrath and future salvation are contrasted in Romans 5:9-10, just as they are here. There also, as in this passage, Christ’s death (see 1 Thessalonians 5:10) is set forth as our ground of hope in this prospect; through “His blood” we are brought from the sense and fear of God’s anger into His favour, and entitled to expect that eternal redemption will be ours.
It was the conviction that such is God’s purpose and will respecting those who believe in Christ that made St Paul’s “helmet of salvation so strong, and gave it all its splendour. Read Romans 8:31-39 as a commentary on this saying.
On the fall title “our Lord Jesus Christ” see note to ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:3.
Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.10. (through our Lord Jesus Christ,) who died for us] It has been said that the gospel which Paul preached at Thessalonica was “not the gospel of the Cross of Christ, but of the Coming of Christ.” But these two are not exclusive or conflicting doctrines; they are complementary parts of one and the same Gospel. This clause is enough to show how far the apostles were from ignoring the Cross of Christ in their ministry at Thessalonica. When St Paul writes, “Christ died for us … that we should live together with Him,” his words involve the entire doctrine of Redemption by the death and resurrection of Jesus, as it is set forth at length in the next group of Epistles—in Romans 3:21-26; Romans 4:25 to Romans 5:2; Romans 6:1-11; Romans 8:1-4; Galatians 2:10-21; Galatians 3:9-14; 2 Corinthians 5:14 to 2 Corinthians 6:2; &c. They imply the Atonement and Salvation by Faith, the receiving of Christ’s Spirit of sonship, and abiding union with Him in His risen and heavenly life. The whole theology of the Cross is in this sentence,—which indeed could only be interpreted and understood by the Thessalonians in the light of such teaching as we find in the later Epistles. The message of salvation through the death of Christ had been the staple and centre of the Apostle’s testimony all along. In writing to the Corinthians, and referring to his preaching in Corinth at the very time when he wrote the letters before us, he calls his message simply “the word of the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 2:2); comp., for an earlier period, Acts 13:38-39; Galatians 3:1, also Galatians 6:14. See Introd. pp. 16, 17.
that, whether we wake or sleep] More exactly, whether we be awake or asleep, i.e. living or dead—with allusion to the use of the same terms to denote spiritual wakefulness or slumber in 1 Thessalonians 5:6-7 (see notes).
At the same time these words carry us back, with a sudden change of metaphor, to ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. There it was shewn that believers living at the Lord’s return, and those who “fall asleep” before He comes, alike belong to Him, and will share alike in the glory of His advent. And now it appears that this deep and sure relationship of the saints to Christ, unbroken by the sleep of bodily death, is grounded upon His death for them. That death He underwent for the very purpose of giving them a deathless life: in order that … together with Him we should live (comp. Romans 14:8-9 : “Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.… Christ died and came to life, that He might be Lord of both dead and living”). The stress lies upon the last word: Christ died for us, that we might live with Him—a life consisting in spiritual union with Him, and continuing undestroyed whether the man wakes or sleeps to this world. “I came,” said Jesus, “that men might have life … I am the living bread, which came down from heaven. If any one eat of this bread, he shall live for ever. Yea, and the bread which I will give is My flesh, for the life of the world” (John 10:10; John 6:51). Risen from the grave, our Saviour “lives” evermore “to God; death no longer lords it over Him” (Romans 6:9-10). And those who are Christ’s, “joined to the Lord” as “one spirit” with Him (1 Corinthians 6:17), share His life, which flows from the heavenly Head to all the earthly members of His Body. This is the life “that is life indeed” (1 Timothy 6:19); it is superior to the accidents of time, since in its spring and essence “hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-4). Such is St Paul’s conception of the nature of the Christian’s life.
The “with Him” of ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is echoed and unfolded in the “together with Him” of this verse, as it formed the basis of the “together with them” of ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:17. All joy and strength for the present life and hope for that to come, for ourselves and for those dear to us, are centred in the words “together with Him.” So the Apostle resumes the strain of consolation, from which he had turned aside in 1 Thessalonians 5:1 to utter words of caution; and he concludes, almost in the language of ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:18—
Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.11. Wherefore comfort yourselves together] exhort (or encourage) one another—same verb as in ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:18 (see note, and on ch. 1 Thessalonians 3:2).
While “encouragement” would be drawn especially from 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, as from the closing vv. of ch. 4, the appeal to the Thessalonians to edify, i.e. build up each other, rests on the whole content of the paragraph, from the beginning of the chapter. The warnings of 1 Thessalonians 5:3-8 tend to edification, promoting as they do seriousness and solidity of Christian life.
The word “edify”—a favourite word of St Paul’s—points to the Church as a house, the “habitation of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22), each part contributing to the welfare of every other and furthering the life and strength of the whole. In this word lies the germ of the Apostle’s conception of the Church, which he unfolded at a later time, in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, and still further in the Epistle to the Ephesians.
even as also ye do] Comp. ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10, and notes. These repeated acknowledgements attest the high quality and spirit of this Church. It excelled especially in mutual kindness and helpfulness.
St Paul ascribes the functions of “edification” to the whole body of the Church, and does not regard them as confined to the official ministry, of which he has immediately to speak (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). This collective office of edification is powerfully set forth in Ephesians 4:16; “All the Body, jointed together and compacted … each single part operating in its measure, makes its growth, to the end it may build up itself in love.”
And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;12. And we beseech you, brethren] For “beseech” (or “ask”) see note to ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:1. The Apostle resumes the line of exhortation which he there commenced, and which was interrupted by the consolations and warnings he had to give on the subject of the Second Coming.
The “But” with which this entreaty begins, points back to 1 Thessalonians 5:11. The Apostle has been directing his readers generally to “encourage and edify each other:” but at the same time they must not ignore the services of their official ministry or deem their oversight and teaching needless.
to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you] A clear testimony, from this earliest writing of the N.T., to the existence in the Church at the beginning of a ministerial order—a clergy (to use the language of a later age) as distinguished from the laity—charged with specific duties and authority. But there is nothing in the grammar of the sentence, nor in the nature of the duties specified, which would warrant us in distributing these functions amongst distinct orders of Church office. “Labouring,” “presiding,” and “admonishing” form the threefold calling of the local Christian ministry. Doubtless St Paul had organized this Church before leaving it, as he and Barnabas did the Churches of Lycaonia at an earlier time, “ordaining elders in every city” (Acts 14:23). It is not likely that it had advanced beyond the incipient stage of Church government. The Epistle to the Philippians, in which “bishops and deacons” are addressed (Php 1:1), was written nearly ten years later.
“Labour”—or toil, as in ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:3 (see note)—implies difficulty in the work; the Apostle uses it of his own spiritual work in 1 Corinthians 15:10; Galatians 4:11; Php 2:16; Colossians 1:29. The chief instrument and method of this “labour” are pointed out in 1 Timothy 5:17; “who labour in word and doctrine.”
Lit., and preside over you in the Lord. The Pastoral Epistles, describing Church office in its more advanced development, represent this as the chief duty of the elders: “Let the elders who preside (rule, A.V. and R. V.) well, be counted worthy of double honour”; comp. also 1 Timothy 3:5; 1 Timothy 3:12. There, however, as here, “labouring” is honoured even more than “ruling.” The presidency of the elders in the Church assemblies naturally carried with it, as in Jewish communities, the right of exercising discipline over the moral life of the community. Hence “preside” comes to signify “rule,” as also in Romans 12:8. In Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13:17 the ministers are called “your leaders.”—To “preside in the Lord” is to preside over a Christian assembly in Christ’s name and authority.
The duty of admonition devolved chiefly on the officers of the Church; but not exclusively, as 1 Thessalonians 5:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:14 and 2 Thessalonians 3:15 show.
To “know those who labour and preside and admonish” is to understand them and the nature of their duties—to know their character and labours, to have due acquaintance with them. Ministers are often told that they must know their people: the Apostle points out the duty that exists on the other side. Such knowledge, wanting apparently in some of the Thessalonians, would result in high esteem:—
Section VII. Rules for the Sanctified Life. Ch. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24In Section v. (ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12) the saintship of his readers supplied the basis and the nerve of the Apostle’s charge. He there enforced on the Thessalonian believers the virtues which they needed to cultivate, in the light of their consecration to God. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit served as the sovereign motive for the leading of a pure life (ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8). The same thought runs through this Section. The string of sententious exhortations it contains, find their goal and their uniting principle in the prayer, “May the God of peace Himself sanctify you fully” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Hence the title we prefix to the paragraph.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-15 relate to social duties, spreading out in widening circles from “those who preside over yon in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 5:12) to “all men” (1 Thessalonians 5:15). Then we pass to religious duties, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 : to those (1) of the most general character, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; and (2) to the more specific injunctions arising from the special gifts of the Spirit then bestowed upon the Church, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22. These directions lead up to the great prayer of the Apostle for entire sanctification, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.
And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves.13. and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake] exceeding highly (R. V.)—the same Greek adverb as in ch. 1 Thessalonians 3:10, the strongest Intensive possible to the language. So deep and warm should be the affection uniting pastors and their flocks. Their appreciation is not to be a cold esteem; it has mutual “love” for its pervading element, a grace in which the Thessalonians were already “taught of God” (ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:9). Their “work,” described in 1 Thessalonians 5:12, is the reason for this devoted esteem. In work this Church excelled (ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:3); and this it knew how to appreciate.
And be at peace among yourselves] And is wanting in the Greek. But this appeal is closely connected with the last. Looking, moreover, at the exhortation to “admonish the unruly” that follows, and at the command “study to be quiet” of ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:11, and the measures prescribed against the idle and disorderly in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, we can read between the lines sufficiently to see that the tendencies adverse to peace in this community were interfering with its discipline, and set the Church authorities at variance with a certain section of its membership.
Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.14. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly] More strictly, But we exhort, &c. The Apostle is not passing to a new topic. His exhortation to “peace” needs to be qualified. “The unruly” must not for the sake of peace be left unreproved. It is a false and cowardly peace that leaves disorder to range unchecked.
Read admonish for warn—same verb as in 1 Thessalonians 5:12. The Church at large must second its presiding eiders in such admonishing. In every well-ordered community, whether church or school or nation, needful discipline claims the support of public opinion. The disorder that required this general censure was doubtless that hinted at in ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 (see note), and which had grown more pronounced when St Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians 2:6-15; it was a common injury and discredit.
The unruly: better, the disorderly (R. V.), as in 2 Thessalonians 3:11.
comfort the feebleminded, support the weak] Rather, the faint-hearted (R. V.). The former verb was used in ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:11 (see note), where the Apostle reminds his readers how he had “exhorted, and comforted (or consoled)” them, “as a father his own children.” The second of these directions also St Paul enforces by his example, in Acts 20:35 : “In all things I have shown you how that so labouring you ought to help the weak.” Comp. Ephesians 4:28, for the same sentiment.
“The weak” and “fainthearted” stand in contrast with “the disorderly.” The latter are overbold, and need to be checked: the former are despondent, and need stimulus and help. Fainthearted men think themselves weak, but perhaps are not so; and encouragement may make them bold. The mourners whom St Paul consoled in ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, would be amongst “the fainthearted” at Thessalonica.
be patient toward all men] longsuffering toward all (R. V.)—“whether weak or strong, whether they try you by their presumption or timidity, by rude aggressiveness or by feebleness and incapacity.” Longsuffering is one of the special marks of Christian grace: “Charity suffereth long” (1 Corinthians 13:4); it was a chief quality of Jesus Christ, and is an attribute of God Himself (1 Peter 3:20; 1 Timothy 1:16; &c.).
See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.15. See that none render evil for evil unto any man] The stress lies not on the personal object, as in the former clause (all, any), but on the quality of the act: better, See that none render unto any one evil in return for evil. The Thessalonian Christians were receiving much evil from the world; possibly some of its members were wronging others: there must be no retaliation. “Blows may fall on you; you must never return them.” This command is linked closely with the last; for while that bids each man restrain his own anger, this requires him to check the resentful spirit wherever it appears. It is a reproach to all, a discredit to the common faith, when a Christian gives back wrong for wrong. Comp. Romans 12:19-21, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good;” also 1 Peter 2:18-25; and especially the teaching of Christ in Matthew 5:38-48. On evil, see note to 1 Thessalonians 5:22.
but ever follow that which is good] This is to “follow” not by way of imitation, as in ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 1 Thessalonians 2:14, but by way of aim and pursuit: hence, follow after (R. V.). And “the good” is here “the beneficial.” As much as to say: “Make the good of your fellow-men your constant pursuit, and let no Injury or unworthiness on their part tarn you aside from it.”
This line of conduct is to be pursued both within and without the Church: one toward another, and toward all. Amongst Christians such seeking of the good of others is mutual, and there its best results will appear. But its exercise is to be unlimited. No follower of Christ will do wilful harm to any man. The distinction made “by them of old time. Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy,” Christ, our Lawgiver, has abolished (Matthew 5:43-48).
From social duties the Apostle’s homily now rises to matters of religion, from the claims of Christians on each other to “the will of God” concerning them. See note introductory to 1 Thessalonians 5:12.
Rejoice evermore.16. Rejoice evermore] alway (R. V.)—same as in ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:2. 1 Thessalonians 2:16, &c. This seems a strange injunction for men afflicted like the Thessalonians (see ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 1 Thessalonians 2:14, 1 Thessalonians 3:2-4; 2 Thessalonians 1:4). But the Apostle had learnt, and taught the secret, that in sorrow endured for Christ’s sake there is hidden a new spring of joy. See Romans 5:3-5, “Let us glory in our tribulations;” 2 Corinthians 12:10; and the Beatitude of Christ in Matthew 5:10-12; also 1 Peter 4:12-14.
This phrase supplied the key-note of St Paul’s subsequent letter, written from prison, to the Philippians (ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5).
Pray without ceasing.17. Pray without ceasing] Twice the Apostle has used this adverb (ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 1 Thessalonians 2:13), referring to his own constant grateful remembrance of his readers before God. Numberless other objects occupied his mind during the busy hours of each day; and the Thessalonians could not be distinctly present to his mind in every act of devotion; still he felt that they were never out of remembrance, and thankfulness on their account mingled with and coloured all his thoughts and feelings at this time. In like manner Prayer is to be the accompaniment of our whole life—a stream ever flowing, now within sight and hearing, now disappearing from view, forming lie under-current of all our thoughts and giving to them its own character and tone.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.18. In every thing give thanks] This again the Apostle taught by example as well as precept; see ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-10; and comp. Php 4:6; Colossians 4:2. “In everything,” even in persecution and shame, suffered for Christ’s sake; comp. Php 1:29, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.
Prayer and Thanksgiving are the two wings of the soul by which it rises upward to God.
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you] Rather, to you-ward (R. V.):—“You Thessalonian believers—so greatly afflicted and tempted to murmuring and despondency—are the special objects of this Divine purpose, whose attainment is made possible for you in Christ Jesus. God intends that your life should be one of constant prayer, constant joy and thanksgiving.” In ch. 1 Thessalonians 3:3 it was said that the Thessalonians were “appointed” to their extraordinary sufferings (comp. ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:3). Now the reason of this appointment is shown; it is that they may grow perfect in thankfulness, grateful for the bitter as well as for the sweet in their experiences,—for
That turns earth’s smoothness rough,
Each sting that bids nor sit nor stand, bit go.”
Such cheerfulness of soul needs strong faith, and is won through hard trial. Romans 5:3-5 supplies the reasoning by which tribulation is made matter of thanksgiving and the sorrows of the Christian are turned to songs of joy.—On Christ Jesus, see note to ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:14.
From joy, prayer and thanksgiving the Apostle passes by a natural transition to the Spirit and prophesying. For Christian joy and Christian prayer are inspired by the Holy Spirit. See ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:6, “with joy of the Holy Spirit”; also Romans 8:26, Ephesians 6:18, and Judges 20, “praying in the Holy Spirit.” “Praying” and “prophesying” are kindred, spiritual exercises (see 1 Corinthians 11:4-5).
Quench not the Spirit.19, 20. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings] The R. V. properly reduces to a semi-colon the full stop between these sentences.
What is revelation on God’s part, is prophecy in its human instrument. “Prophecy” bears to “revelation” the same relation as “teaching” to “knowledge” (1 Corinthians 12:6), the former being the utterance and outcome of the latter. Prediction, to which we limit the term in common speech, is but a part—and not an essential part—of Prophecy, in its Biblical sense. It is, etymologically, the forth-speaking of what was otherwise unknown and hidden in the mind of God.
This power of declaring by direct inspiration the mind of God was widely diffused amongst the first Christians; see 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 14:1-5, Romans 3:6, where it is spoken of as an ordinary and familiar thing. This gift manifested in the highest and most effective way the power of God’s Spirit in man; but it was liable to be abused (see 1 Corinthians 14:26-31), and to he simulated (1 John 4:1). The expression “through Spirit” in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 probably refers to some spurious prophetic manifestation. A fanatical element appears to have mingled with the prophesyings of the Thessalonian Church; and this had doubtless given offence to sober minds, and created distrust in regard to prophecy itself. Hence the double caution. Contempt for this great gift of His must of necessity grieve the Holy Spirit, and limit His action in the Church. Nothing is more chilling to religious life than a cold rationalism which suspects the supernatural beforehand, and is ready to confound the manifestations of the Spirit of God with morbid excitement or insincere pretension.
But the command, “Quench not the Spirit,” is universal. Whatever obstructs or disparages His work in the souls of men—whether in others, or in ourselves—is thus forbidden. It is a strange and awful, but very real power that we have to “resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51).
Since He may be “quenched,” He is a fire, as appeared on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:3). This emblem sets forth the sudden and vehement activities of the Holy Spirit, with His gifts of warmth for the heart and light for the mind and His power to kindle the human spirit. Prophecy exhibited His presence under this aspect, in its intensity and ardour. On the other hand, He appears in gentler form under the emblem of the dove, in whose guise the Spirit descended on Jesus at His baptism.
Despise not prophesyings.
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.21. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good] Some of the best ancient authorities read, But prove all things. In any case, this exhortation, while capable of the widest application, arises out of the subject of the last. “Instead of accepting or rejecting wholesale what is addressed to you as prophecy, use your judgement; learn to discriminate; sift the wheat from the chaff.” So needful was it to distinguish between true and false revelations, that a special endowment was bestowed on some persons for this end—the “discernment of spirits” (1 Corinthians 12:10). And St Paul gives a criterion for the purpose in 1 Corinthians 12:3. Comp. 1 John 4:1-3, “Beloved, believe not every spirit; but try the spirits, whether they are of God.”
“The good” represents a different word from that of 1 Thessalonians 5:15 (see note); it signifies what is good or fine in quality, as in 2 Thessalonians 3:13.
Abstain from all appearance of evil.22. Abstain from all appearance of evil] from every form of evil (R. V.). The Apostle does not advise the Thessalonians to avoid what looks like evil; the command thus understood encourages the studying of appearances, and tends to the “doing of our works to be seen of men” which our Lord condemns (Matthew 23:5). But in completing on the negative side the previous command, “hold fast the good (in prophesyings),” he gives to it the widest possible extension: “Keep yourselves not only from this, but from every sort of evil.” It is difficult, however, for the Greek scholar to justify the reading of evil in this sentence as a substantive, and the rendering of the governing noun by kind instead of appearance (rendered form, fashion, shape, in Luke 3:22; Luke 9:29, John 5:37). This noun St Paul uses once besides, in 2 Corinthians 5:7 : “We walk by faith, not by sight”—i.e. with no visible form, or appearance, to walk by. His meaning here may be similar: Abstain from every evil sight (or show)—from all that is evil in the outward show of things about you: ab omni specie mala (Vulgate).
There are two words for “evil” in Greek—that used here, signifying harmful, mischievous (so designating “the Evil One,” see note on 2 Thessalonians 3:3); and that employed in 1 Thessalonians 5:15, denoting bad, base, malicious.
With this emphatic word, keep yourselves, the Apostle concludes his directions to the Thessalonians, extending from 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22, as to what they must do in order to preserve and sustain the life of grace in themselves. The prayer of the next verse invokes the power of God to accomplish for them that which mere human effort can never attain. Comp. the transition of ch. 1 Thessalonians 3:11, expressed in similar language (see note), and of 2 Thessalonians 2:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:3. All that the Christian can do for his own safe-keeping, or for the service of his fellows, is merged in the greatness and completeness of that which God will do for them.
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.23. And the very God of peace] the God of peace Himself (R. V.)—so “God Himself” in ch. 1 Thessalonians 3:11, and “our Lord Jesus Christ Himself” in 2 Thessalonians 2:16, where the like contrast is implied between human wish or endeavour and Divine power. With this contrast in his mind, St Paul begins, But, not and: “I bid you keep yourselves from evil; but may God, Who only can, cleanse and preserve you.” Comp. Php 2:12-13, “Work out your own salvation; for God is He that worketh in you.”
“The God of peace” is a favourite designation with St Paul (found also in Hebrews 13:20), in wishes and blessings: see 2 Thessalonians 3:16; Romans 16:20, &c. For peace, see note on ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:1. This is God’s distinguishing gift in the Gospel, that by which He makes Himself and His grace known in the hearts of men. In like fashion He is named from other gifts, “The God of patience and consolation” (Romans 15:5), “of hope” (1 Thessalonians 5:13), “of love and peace” (2 Corinthians 13:11), “of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10). While He is “the God of peace,” true peace is “the peace of God” (see Php 4:7; Php 4:9). And His peace bears fruit in our sanctification.
sanctify you wholly] Rather, unto completeness, or full perfection. The readers are already sanctified in Christ Jesus (see ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8, “in sanctification”; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; comp. 1 Corinthians 1:2); the Apostle prays that they may be sanctified to the fullest extent,—or rather, that God may so sanctify them as to bring them to the full perfection of their nature, that as sanctified men they may realise the end of their being in all its length and breadth. See Trench’s Synonyms of the N.T., § xxii., on the relation of this expression to entire in next clause.
On sanctification, see notes to ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; also 2 Thessalonians 2:13.
and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless] “I pray God” is needlessly supplied in the A.V. More precisely, and in the Greek order: entire (or in full integrity) may your spirit and soul and body, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, be preserved. The word “entire” takes up the thread of the last sentence, to the prayer of which the Apostle seeks to give more comprehensive expression. But the completeness of blessing desired now assumes a new aspect. From the degree of holiness desired we pass to its range, from its intension (as the logicians would say) to its extension. St Paul prays that in the integrity of their human person and nature they may be preserved,—“spirit, soul, and body” alike finding their safety, with their oneness, in the holy service of God.
St Paul has already treated, in ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, of one chief branch of bodily sanctification. Now he thinks of this sanctity as penetrating the whole being of the man. It is not necessary to regard spirit and soul and body as three distinct logical divisions of man’s nature. The Apostle aims at making his wish exhaustive in its completeness. He begins with the innermost—“your spirit,” nearest to God “Who is spirit,” and with which the Holy Spirit directly unites Himself, “witnessing to our spirit” (Romans 8:16); and he ends with “body,” the vessel (ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:4) and envelope of our nature, through which it belongs to the external world and holds intercourse with it. The “soul,” poised between them, is the individual self, the living personality, in which spirit and flesh, common to each man with his fellows, meet and are actualised in him. When St Paul bids the Corinthians to “cleanse” themselves “from all defilement of flesh and spirit” (2 Corinthians 7:1 : contrast 1 Peter 1:22, “having purified your souls”—your individual selves), that phrase covers the same ground as this, but it treats the matter as one of contrast between man’s outer and inner relations; whereas the stress here lies on the integrity of the man himself, with his balanced and developed nature, and all his faculties in exercise. Hence the verb (be preserved) is singular: spirit, soul, and body forming one whole man. The “spirit” is “kept,” when no evil reaches the inner depths of the man’s nature, or disturbs his relations to God and eternity; his “soul,” when the world of self is guarded, when all his feelings and thoughts are sinless; his “body,” when his outward life and relations to the material world are innocent.
 Those who maintain a threefold analysis of human nature in Scripture are called Trichotomists; and the advocates of a twofold division, Dichotomists. Amongst the chief expositions of the former view is that given in Delitzsch’s System of Biblical Psychology, and in Heard’s Tripartite Nature of Man; on the other side, consult Beck’s Biblical Psychology, or Laidlaw’s Bible Doctrine of Man.
The connection between sanctity and safety (“be preserved”) lies in the fact that what is sanctified is given over to God. “No one is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand,” said Jesus (John 10:29). See the next verse, and comp. 2 Timothy 1:12; also Psalms 121; Isaiah 27:3. The word “preserved” stands with emphasis at the end of the sentence. In the intercession of John 17, our Lord prays first, “Holy Father, keep them” (1 Thessalonians 5:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:15), then “sanctify them” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). But He is thinking there of the situation of His disciples, in the midst of the world; the Apostle leads up to their future manifestation, at His coming.
St Paul writes blamelessly—not blameless (A.V.); and in—not unto—the coming &c. This adverbial adjunct must belong, despite its position, to the foregoing adjective (entire), not to the verb (be preserved); for God is the keeper in this context, and no blame can conceivably attach to the manner of His keeping: “In full integrity may your spirit and soul and body be preserved,—blamelessly entire in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” is the end of the Apostle’s thoughts in this letter, the goal of his readers’ hopes. It will supply the final test of the worth of character, and of the completeness of the sanctification effected in believers. Then the whole work of Christ’s servants will be brought to its issue and determination. “The Day will declare it” (1 Corinthians 3:13).
On “the coming” (parousia), and “our Lord Jesus Christ,” see notes to ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17; on “blamelessly,” 1 Thessalonians 3:13.
Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.24. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it] who will also to it (R. V.). The Apostle often appeals to the faithfulness of God, as of One pledged to carry out what He promises in the Gospel; see 1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Timothy 2:13, &c. The Thessalonians were conscious that God was calling them (ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:12, see note) to a life of consecration to Himself, a consecration that claimed every power of their nature. This call was itself a proof of the possibility of their entire sanctification, which probably appeared to some of them a thing out of the question.
will do (the object is unexpressed),—as well as call. God will carry out His own purpose. His “calling” declared His intention toward the Thessalonians, which the Apostle declares He “will execute.” In the like emphatic sense “do” is frequently used of God in the O.T.: “Hath He said, and shall He not do?” (Numbers 23:19; comp. Psalm 22:31, Isaiah 44:23; &c.). God is the great Doer in the work of man’s salvation, in deed true to His word; “no word from God shall be powerless” (Luke 1:37; comp. Php 2:13).
Brethren, pray for us.25. Brethren, pray for us] St Paul has just prayed for his readers (1 Thessalonians 5:23; comp. ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:10-13); he desires that they in tarn should pray for him. “Some ancient authorities,” very suitably, “read also” (R. V. margin): pray also for us,—i.e. as we do for you.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2 he repeats this request, in more definite form. Comp. Ephesians 6:19; Colossians 4:3-4; Php 1:19; Romans 15:30, “that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.” St Paul, in all the strength of his gifts and his office, yet felt his dependence on the prayers of the Church, and realised through this means his fellowship with brethren in Christ however distant.
1 Thessalonians 5:25-28
The conclusion of the Epistle is very brief. It contains no reference to the autograph signature, which St Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:17 and in subsequent letters is careful to notify. The urgent request “that the Epistle be read to all the brethren,” is its notable feature.
Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.26. Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss] Better, Salute (R. V.). The kiss, as the common sign of affection amongst kindred and near friends in meeting or parting, was universal in the primitive Christian assemblies, and is still a usage of the Greek and Oriental Churches, especially at Holy Communion. In the West the ceremony gradually died out during the Middle Ages. It was unsuitable to the reserved manners of the Germanic races. The custom was naturally liable to abuse and suspicion, when the simplicity of primitive Christian feeling declined; and it became the subject of numerous regulations in early Councils. The Apostle desires “a holy kiss” to be exchanged by those who heard the Epistle read, as an expression through the Church of his love to each of its members. So in Romans 16:16, after bidding the Church “salute” by name a number of his personal acquaintances, he includes all present at the reading of the letter by saying, “Salute one another with a holy kiss.” The same thing is said in 1 Corinthians 16:20, followed by the words, “My love be with you all in Christ Jesus;” also in 2 Corinthians 13:12. In 1 Peter 5:14 the salutation is called “a kiss of love.”
I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.27. I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren] Holy is probably an erroneous insertion of the copyists, due to Php 4:21, or Hebrews 3:1.
Charge should be the much stronger adjure (A.V. margin, and R. V.). It is as much as to say, “I put you on your oath before the Lord to do this:” an extraordinary expression, and one difficult to account for. There is no appearance of such jealousy or party spirit existing in this Church as could lead to the letter being intentionally withheld from any of Its members. Two circumstances, however, occur to one’s mind which might occasion in some cases neglect of the Epistle,—(1) the extreme desire that was felt for St Paul’s presence at Thessalonica (ch. 1 Thessalonians 3:6), and the disappointment caused by his failure to return, to which he addressed himself so fully in chaps. 2 and 3. This feeling might lead some to say, “O, it is only a letter from him! We do not want that. Why does he not come himself?” (2) Further, amongst the bereaved members of the Church, some in consequence of their recent and deep sorrow (ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:13) might be absent from the Church meetings, so that unless the Epistle were carried to them and read in their hearing, they would miss the consolation designed especially for them. It must be remembered, too, that this is the first Apostolic letter extant, and that the custom of reading such letters officially to the whole Church had yet to be established.
Observe the repetition of “all the brethren” in 1 Thessalonians 5:26-27. The same love which dictates the salutation to “all” without distinction, even though some had incurred censure (1 Thessalonians 5:14), prompts the anxiety that “all” should hear this letter read, which contains so much of the Apostle’s mind and heart.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.28. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you] This is St Paul’s usual form of final benediction. He expands it later Into the full Trinitarian blessing of 2 Corinthians 13:14, or shortens it into the brief “Grace be with you” of Colossians 4:18. It contains all spiritual good that one Christian can wish another. Such grace is with us, when it constantly attends us, when it forms the atmosphere we breathe, the light by which we see, the guiding and sustaining influence of our whole lives. Comp. note on ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:1; and on grace, 2 Thessalonians 1:12.
The liturgical Amen is added by the Apostle in some of his letters, and was very naturally supplied by devout copyists in others. Here it is not authentic.
¶ The first epistle unto the Thessalonians was written from Athens] This, like the other “subscriptions” to St Paul’s Epistles, is a note of the Greek editors, which may be perhaps as old as the second century. It is almost certainly erroneous in point of fact; see Introd. pp. 22, 27. In the oldest MSS the words “To the Thessalonians I” are placed at the end, repeated from the beginning of the Epistle. See note on the title, p. 45.