Full Text for Christ's coming and the Church's Mission in 1 Thessalonians (Text)

Concordia Theological Quarterly Volume 76:1-2 J anuaryj April 2012 Table of Contents What Would Bach Do Today? Paul J. Grilne ........................................................................................... 3 Standing on the Brink of the J01'dan: Eschatological Intention in Deute1'onomy Geoffrey R. Boyle .................................................................................. 19 Ch1'ist's Coming and the ChUl'ch's Mission in 1 Thessalonians Charles A. Gieschen ............................................................................. 37 Luke and the Foundations of the Chu1'ch Pete1' J. Scaer .......................................................................................... 57 The Refonnation and the Invention of History Korey D. Maas ...................................................................................... 73 The Divine Game: Faith and the Reconciliation of Opposites in Luthe1"s Lectures on Genesis S.J. Munson ............................................................................................ 89 Fides Heroica? Luthe1" s P1'aye1' fo1' Melanchthon's Recovery f1'om Illness in 1540 Albert B. Collver III ............................................................................ 117 The Quest fo1' Luthe1'an Identity in the Russian Empire Darius Petkiinas .................................................................................. 129 The Theology of Stanley Hauerwas Joel D. Lehenbauer ............................................................................. 157 Theological Observer ...................................................................................... 175 Faithful Lutheran Pastor Defrocked: Active Persecution by the Church of Sweden A Whole New Can of Worms: A Statement of the Faculty of Concordia Theological Seminary on Religious Liberty Book Reviews ................................................................................................... 182 CTQ 76 (2012): 37-55 Christ's Coming and the Church's Mission in 1 Thessalonians Charles A. Gieschen For many Clwistians in mainline denominations of the United States and a growing number of non-denominational evangelical congregations, the triumphal coming of Christ on the last day plays a relatively minor role in their understanding of the church and her mission. Lectionary readings often set forth this theme for a few Sundays at the beginning and end of the church year, but even then the end-time trumpets may not be blown too loudly in preaching. Why is eschatology not more widely understood as central to the preaching and teaching of the church, especially in light of the emphasis on eschatology in the teaching and preaching of Jesus and the apostles? A possible reason is the widespread understanding that the work of Christ stands functionally complete at his death and resurrection, or at the very latest, his ascension. Even though few of us would admit it, we may neither see nor teach the second coming as an integral part of the work of Christ. "And he will return to judge the living and the dead" becomes almost a creedal add-on that pales in significance to "was cru­cified, suffered, died, was buried, and on the third day rose from the dead." We may even fear that giving stress to eschatology might identify us with those Christians whose eschatological interests are driven by one of the abhorrent variations of pre-millennialism, or even with false proph­ets like Howard Camping whose two date-setting predictions of the return of Christ in 2011 were the object of ridicule by both the news media and late night talk shows.1 The ongoing experience of Satan, sin, and death make it all the more important that we proclaim the second coming of Christ, when everything that he accomplished in his first coming is brought to its visible consum­mation. If this is not stressed, many are left wondering what difference the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus has made in this world 1 Harold Camping is a Christian radio evangelist who made a very public prediction that the world would end on May 21, 2011. When his prediction did not come true, he then announced that it would happen on October 21, 2011. After this "prophecy" was also shown to be false by passing unfulfilled, he apologized for these two announcements. Charles A. Gieschen is Academic Dean and Professor of Exegetical 171eology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana. 38 Concordia Theological Quarterly 76 (2012) where hate, tragedy, war, bloodshed, and death remain all around us. James Moorhead, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary with expertise in pre-millennial American Christian churches, made this astute observation: Evil comes as the monstrous moral alien that cannot be incorporated into the prevailing culture; and because it cannot be assimilated, hor­ror returns, it moves in an endless loop, it fails to satisfy intellectually, because liberal humanitarianism offers no way of articulating or tran­scending major acts of human transgression. In its eschatology, main­stream Protestantism has suppressed the blood, the chaos, and the terror of the Apocalypse [i.e., the book of Revelation]; and these have leapt out like the bogey from under the bed. If the mainstream churches cannot give a satisfactory account of the end, is it surprising that many people will choose to go elsewhere where those needs can be met and addressed?2 Certainly Lutherans should proclaim biblical eschatology in its full­ness, with all its end-time deceptions and deceivers, resurrection, judg­ment, hell, and heaven. This study will demonstrate that eschatology, especially the parousia or triumphal coming of Christ, was central to Paul's apostolic missionary preaching and remains a vital foundation of the church's ongoing faith, mission, and daily living in hope. Nowhere in the Pauline corpus is evidence supporting this thesis more evident than in Paul's two letters to the church in Thessalonica.3 The term parousia [nupoucriu] alone occurs six times in these brief letters (1 Thess 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess 2:1, 8). Not only do both letters contain extensive teach­ing sections about the end-times (e.g., 1 Thess 4:13-5:11; 2 Thess 1:5-2:12), but there are also several brief eschatological summary statements in 1 Thessalonians that serve as thematic discourse markers, pointing the hear­ers of these epistles to their future hope (e.g., 1:10; 2:12, 16, 19; 3:13; and 5:23). Selby notes the prevalence of eschatology throughout the first epistle: Each major section and sub-section culminates in an eschatological pronouncement so that a strongly eschatological tone pervades the entire epistle. By using visionary language in this way Paul evokes a perspective from which the Thessalonians are invited to see them­selves and their circumstances. They are living near the end of time and awaiting the imminent return of Christ, the resurrection of the 2 James Moorhead, "Mainstream Protestants and the End of the World," InSpire (Winter 2000): 17. 3 See especially David Luckensmeyer, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians, NTOA 71 (Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2009). Unlike many critical scholars who dismiss 2 Thessalonians as pseudo-Pauline and inauthentic, I conclude that both letters are from the hand of Paul. Gieschen: Christ's Coming in 1 Thessalonians dead, the judgment before God, and the final reward and punishment which will be meted out at that judgment.4 39 This study wi1llimit its focus to 1 Thessalonians, giving attention to Paul's teaching in both the longer eschatological pericopes and the short escha­tological pronouncements. Even though only brief comments will be made on most of these texts, a substantial discussion of the theological implica­tions of this evidence will conclude this study. 1.1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 Paul's opening thanksgiving in 1 Thess 1:2-10 introduces several themes that are fleshed out in the rest of the epistle, including the trium­phal coming of Christ featured at the conclusion of the thanksgiving: 9For they themselves are reporting concerning us what manner of en­trance we had to you, namely that you turned to God from idols in order to serve the living and real God lOand also await 'lis SOil fl'0111 ti,e heavens [avall8vElV 1:0V uiov mhou EK nov ollpavrov], whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, wilD delivers liS fl'OlII the wl'I1th that is to cOllie [1:0V (moIlEVOV llllfiC; EK 1:~C; 6py~C; 1:~C; EPXOIl8VllC;]· The language of "turning to God" for conversion is also found in Acts (9:35; 11:21; 15:19; 26:18, 20), especially Paul's preaching at Lystra: "Turn from these worthless things to the living God" (Acts 14:15). Paul's description of God as "the living and real/true God" in 1:9 is probably dependent upon Jer 10:10. His use of this language reflects a well-known polemic against pagan gods not being "living or true" (e.g., Isa 44:9-20; Wisdom of Solomon 13-15; and Philo, Decal 52-81, Special Laws 1:13-31).5 In light of Paul's testimony to Jesus' resurrection in 1:10, the adjective "living" in 1:9 may also indicate the identification of the risen Jesus within the mystery of the one living God (d. Rev 1:18). The words "from idols" (uno TroV Eii5ffiAWV) in 1:9 indicates that the majority of these Christians were converted from polytheistic paganism and not from monotheistic Judaism (d. 1 Thess 2:14, 16).6 Because the social and economic life in Thessalonica was bound up with the religious and political cultic life, the splash that Paul made through the baptism of pagans into Christianity did not go unnoticed. Even though the outward form of idolatry has often become more refined over the centuries in many cultures, the need to turn to God 4 Gary S. Selby, '''Blameless at His Coming': The Discursive Construction of Eschatological Reality in 1 Thessalonians," R17etorica (1999): 398. 5 Beverly Gaventa, First and Second Thessalonians (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1998),19. 6 J.B. Lightfoot, Notes 011 the Epistles of St. Palll (London: MacMillan, 1895), 16. 40 Concordia Theological Quarterly 76 (2012) from these idols-whatever form they may take-remains in every gen­eration and locale. The preaching of the resurrection arid return of Jesus in the early mission at Thessalonica is made clear in the closing words of this thanks­giving: "And also await his Son from the heavens, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come" (1:10). The gospel that Paul originally proclaimed and continued to echo in both of these letters had a decidedly eschatological focus: after being converted, these Christians began to "await his Son from the heavens." Paul already signaled this focus at Thessalonica when he wrote of remembering their "endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess 1:3), and then blows the end-times trumpet loudly throughout the final two chapters and much of 2 Thessalonians. The pair of present infinitive verbs, "to serve continually" (OOUAEUElV) in 1:9b and "to await continually" (ava~EvElv) in 1:10a indicate the daily tension of a Christian serving in the present circumstances while simultaneously awaiting the future deliverance. Wait­ing, in contrast to serving, is often viewed as a passive activity. This con­tinuous waiting for the Son, however, is not a dull and sedentary existence as in idly waiting at an airport for the arrival of a long overdue relative whom you are not even excited about seeing; it is the dynamic activity of living in minute-to-minute expectation of the arrival of one's most es­teemed and beloved friend. These Christians appear to have expected the return of Christ imminently in their own lifetimes (1 Thess 4:15, 17; 5:4). LH. Marshall makes this adept observation: "The point is that the present existence of the Thessalonian Christians was determined by their expec­tations about the future."7 The designation "his Son," which appears only here in these two epistles, adds to what Paul proclaimed earlier in this letter about Jesus with the designations "Lord" and "Christ" as well as complements what he wrote earlier about God as "Father" (1:1, 3). Within the salutation and thanksgiving that open this letter, Jesus is confessed to be Lord, Christ, and Son of God. Paul also states here that the Son will come again "from the heavens" (tK TOW oupav&v). The reference to the resurrection that follows this phrase implies the ascension and enthronement of Jesus in heaven (Acts 1:9-11; 7:55-56), a reality Paul writes about in Ephesians: "he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named" (1:20-21). "Son," "heavens," and the context of end­time judgment in 1:10 indicates that Paul is alluding to the" one like a son 7 I. Howard Marshall, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 58. Gieschen: Christ's Coming in 1 Thessalonians 41 of man" scene in Daniel 7:9-14, an apocalyptic text that prominently influenced Jesus and early Christian eschatological expectations (e.g., Matt 25:31-46). Although Paul vacillates between using the singular and plural, the plurality of heavens here probably reflects the consistent use of the Hebrew plural form in various Old Testament texts (e.g., ::JW1;);tJ in MT Ps 19:2).8 It also possibly reflects the cosmology visible in Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic texts that speak of multiple heavens (e.g., Paul writes concerning three heavens in 2 Cor 12:2). Paul's familiarity with first­century Jewish apocalyptic expectations is an important background for understanding his brief statements about Jesus in these letters.9 This continuous waiting for the Son's return from the heavens on the last day is grounded in the certainty of the end -time events that have already taken place in the death and resurrection of the Son: "whom he raised from the dead" (1 Thess 1:10). This relative clause is set forth by Paul elsewhere as public confirmation of Jesus' sonship (e.g., Rom 1:4), but here the resurrection of Jesus functions primarily as an assurance of his return. Several interpreters note the correspondence between this statement about resurrection and judgment and the one made at the close of Paul's speech before the Areopagus: "He has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:31).10 The terse confession of Jesus' resurrection in 1:10 clearly implies not only his death, but also his incarnation, birth, earthly life, and true humanity unto eternity. The centrality of Jesus' death and resurrection in the gospel Paul proclaimed at Thessalonica is clear from confessional statements about Jesus later in this letter: "For because we believe that Jesus died and was raised again" (1 Thess 4:14) and" our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us" (1 Thess 5:9b-10a). This confession of Jesus' resurrection takes on added significance for the Thessalonians in light of their fears about those who died before Jesus' return (1 Thess 4:13-18), the wide­spread disparaging of "flesh" in Greco-Roman philosophy, and various conceptions of a fearful passage in afterlife present in Greco-Roman religion. 8 George Milligan, St. Palll's Epistles to the Thessalonians (London: Macmillan, 1908),15. 9 Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990),89. 10 For example: Lightfoot, Notes on St. Palll's Epistles, 17; Milligan, St. Paul's Epistles to the Thessalonians, 14; and F.F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1982), 19. All three note that this speech was probably delivered shortly before the writing of 1 Thessalonians. 42 Concordia Theological Quarterly 76 (2012) Paul concludes his brief description of the enduring hope among these Christians by confessing both end-time salvation and judgment: "Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath that is to come" (1 Thess 1:10c). Rigaux observes that the use of the personal name "Jesus" CIll(JODV) here without any other titles protects against exalting the Son to a docetic status without his humanity and disconnecting the historical Jesus from the Christ of faith.ll Although Paul draws his specific description of Jesus as "the one who delivers us" (TOV (moIlEVOV ~Ila<;) from Isa 59:19-20, the "deliverer" language here and elsewhere would have been reinforced by early Chris­tian usage of the Lord's Prayer: "Deliver us from the Evil One" (pD(Jat ~Ila<; uno TOU novllPou; Matt 6:13b). There are past, present, and future aspects of salvation: Jesus delivered us in his death; he delivers us daily through the forgiveness of sins; and he will deliver us when he comes again. Paul speaks of the future aspect of salvation here. First and Second Thessalonians give significant attention to the wrath (opy~) that is to come, which is understood as God's end-time judgment against unbelief (1 Thess 1:10; 2:16; ct. 2 Thess 1:5-10; 2:8-12). Although Paul focuses here on the future wrath that will come upon all unbelievers, there is also a past and present aspect to the revelation of God's wrath: it came upon Jesus for all sin in his death (Matt 26:39, 42; 27:46) and, to a certain extent, it COJ/les now upon unbelief in the world (Rom 1:18-32; 1 Thess 2:16). Paul's proclamation of "the wrath that is to come" is grounded in the preaching of the prophets about "the day of the LORD" being not only a day of grace but also a "day of wrath" (e.g., Zeph 1:15-18).12 There has been a growing tendency to downplay, dismiss, or ignore this biblical testimony about the wrath of God. C.H. Dodd downplayed it by arguing that Paul depersonalized God's wrath by understanding it as an impersonal process whereby sin causes its own retribution.13 More recently, Rob Bell, in his widely read Love Wins, has questioned biblical testimony about afterlife punishment for unbelievers.14 The dismissing or ignoring of this testimony is seen on the popular level by the periodic opinion polls wherein a strong majority affirms some type of afterlife in heaven but only a weak minority affirms the existence of hell. Proc­lamation of the wrath of God continues to be a vital way to help people see 11 Beda Rigaux, St. Paul: Les epftres aux TIlessalolliciells (Paris: Gabalda, 1956), 395. 12 Gary A. Herion, "Wrath of God (aT)," Allchor Bible Dictionary 6:989-996. 13 C.H. Dodd, TIle Epistle of Palll to the Romalls (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1932),21-23. 14 Rob Bell, Love Wills: A Book about Heavell, Hell, alld the Fate of Every Persall Who Ever Lived (New York: HarperOne, 2011). Gieschen: Christ's Coming in 1 Thessalonians 43 their need for God's grace in Christ Jesus. It must, however, always be understood as his alien work in relationship to his love: "For whereas love and holiness are part of his essential nature, wrath is contingent upon human sin: if there were no sin there would be no wrath."l5 Paul proclaims that Jesus "delivers us from the wrath to come" and later specifies how Jesus accomplished this: "who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we live through him" (1 Thess 5:10). In Christ, who suffered God's wrath for all sin, God is at peace with all sinners. "The wrath that is to come" will only be experienced by unbelievers who reject this peace. These concluding words of the thanksgiving prepare the reader for the extensive focus on eschatology throughout this letter, especially in 4:13-5:11. II. 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 1 Thessalonians 2:16 is another brief eschatological summary; the verses that precede it, however, are necessary for context: l30n account of this we also give thanks to God without ceasing, that when you received the word which you heard from us, you received it not as the word of men but-just as it truly is-the word of God, that is also at work in you who are believing. l4For you became imitators, brothers, of God's churches, the ones in Judea that are in Christ Jesus, because you suffered the same things by your own countrymen, just as they also did by the Jews, l5the ones who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, also persecuting us, not being pleasing to God, and opposing all men, 16because they are hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles in order to save them, with the result that they heap up [to capacity] their sins continually [Bie; 'to uvanATJpOOaat alnoov 'tae; ullap't{ae; 1tIlv'to'tE]. But wrath came upon them to the uttermost [l3 UvaUTI]uoV'tat np&'tov,]. 17Then we, the ones who are alive and remaining, will be snatched up at the same time with them into the clouds in order to meet the Lord in the air [snEt'tlX ~J.1Er~ ot C;&V'tE~ ot nEptAEl1C0J.1EVOt /iJ.1a aUv autol~ apnaYllu0J.1E6a BY vE<pEAat~ Ei~ unuv'11