1 Thessalonians 1:10 – SECOND COMING – SON OF GOD

1 Thessalonians 1:10: they awaited the second advent. The word wait for (anamenein, here only in the New Testament) means ‘wait expectantly’ (neb; cf. Hendriksen, ‘to look forward to with patience and confidence’). This is the one place in the Thessalonian epistles to the Thessalonians, where Christ is called Son; the title is used elsewhere in Paul, but its connection here with the second advent is ‘unique’ (Earnest Best, A Commentary on the First and Second Epistles, Black 1970, The Black New Testament Commentaries).  For Paul the parousia is very important and its neglect in many quarters today is a great loss; its rediscovery is sorely needed, for, as J. E. Fison says, ‘it is precisely that kind of conversion which the church as well as the world needs today, and which only the rediscovery of a living eschatological hope can produce’. J.E. Fison – The Christian Hope, (Longmans 1954), pg 80

 T. F. Glasson maintains that this is one of the first references to the second advent. He holds that it was not found in the teaching of Jesus and, indeed, does not appear until the Thessalonian letters. He thinks it originated in the early church’s study of the Old Testament. Then when the Emperor Caligula attempted to place an image of himself in the temple at Jerusalem, this was interpreted as showing that ‘the spirit of Antichrist was abroad’, and ‘the end of the age was near’. But this reconstruction is not in agreement with much that is said in the Gospels, with early statements like those in Acts 1:11; 3:20–21; 10:42; with the implications of the Aramaic expression maranatha  (1 Cor. 16:22; it probably means ‘Our Lord, come!’), or with the way in which eschatology is integral to the whole gospel. The final consummation is implied in the facts that the old has passed away, that in the coming of the Messiah the new age has dawned, and that the power of God is at work. ‘This Act of God must reach its climax in Judgment, in the vindication of the just, and in the supreme, and final, and visible Victory of the Lord’ – William Neil, The Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians, (Hodder and Stoughton, 1950), Moffat New Testament Commentaries.

At the same time we must query Neil’s further idea that we should see here a timeless truth: ‘The Lord is always at hand and comes to every generation, and we pass the Judgment of Doomsday upon ourselves every living moment.’

While there is a valuable truth in this, it is not what the New Testament means when it speaks of the second advent, nor in particular what Paul means in this verse. Throughout the New Testament it is clear that the advent referred to is an event that will bring this world as we know it to a decisive close. It is the consummation of the age, and it is difficult to see how we can do without the idea of this consummation. Jesus is to come from heaven, the word being plural in the Greek, from which some have seen in it the rabbinic idea of a plurality of heavens (cf. 2 Cor. 12:2). But singular and plural are interchanged so much in the New Testament that it is unwise to emphasize the use of the plural.Paul goes on to refer to Jesus’ resurrection. It is a mark of the centrality of this event that even when Paul is thinking of the second coming he refers to Christ as the One whom he raised from the dead. The New Testament writers, of course, habitually ascribe the work of the resurrection to the Father. It is the mark of his vindication and approval of the atoning work of the Son.

Paul glances at the humanity of the Saviour with the use of the human name Jesus, and says that he rescues (‘a timeless participle’, Frame) us. The verb puts emphasis on the greatness of the peril and on the power of him who delivers us. The completeness of the deliverance is underlined by the use of the prepo sition ek; we are delivered right ‘out of’ the wrath. The coming wrath is the eschatological wrath, the wrath that will come on evil at the end time. C. H. Dodd and others have made a determined attempt to eliminate the idea of ‘the wrath of God’ from the Bible by arguing that in Scripture this is no more than a name for an impersonal process; people sin, disaster follows (cf. Jerusalem Bible,1966 ‘retribution’). But it is difficult to substantiate this. It is true that there are some passages, like this one, where the wrath is not explicitly linked with God. But can it be seriously argued that Paul is thinking here of a wrath that is not God’s? In any case wrath is explicitly linked with God in a number of passages (e.g. John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 9:22; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6; Rev. 11:18; 14:10, 19; 19:15), and the idea is often present when the word ‘wrath’ is not used (e.g. 2 Thess. 1:7–9). Further, the New Testament writers always regard the universe as God’s universe. If retribution follows upon sin, then it seems impossible to hold that this takes place independently of God. If we were to maintain this, we would be building up a picture of a God who is personally indifferent to sin. The concept of the wrath of God is a healthy corrective to such stands as a striking reminder that God is totally opposed to every form of evil.


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