Thursday of Pentecost 21 – I Thessalonians 1:1-10

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

They say that to a teenager holding a hammer everything starts to look like a nail. In more academic circles, this is called confirmation bias. You and your method are looking for a certain result and you shape the data to give you the result you are expecting. I often used this passage in my New Testament classes at the university to show students how this often afflicts us in reading the Bible too. In class I had them read this passage in a small group and look for Paul’s words about the end of the world. Every chapter in Thessalonians has some reference to the world’s end. They always found it. It is at the end, in the very last verse. Then, they almost always misread it. They heard Paul speak of God’s wrath and they heard judgment in these words. But look at it carefully. Perhaps you did the same thing. The passage says that Jesus delivers us from God’s wrath. Paul is not trying to make them afraid, but to alleviate their fear.

Just as in Paul’s day, our world is very afraid of the world’s end. They imagined that God must have been very unhappy with the way things were. He would come in wrath, they imagined. Believing ourselves to be gods, our culture couches the world’s end it in terms of climate chaos, nuclear Armageddon, or perhaps some AI generated dystopian future. The outcome is the same. We are addicted to hope, however. Many of the most successful movies are superhero films in which the world is about to end but a heroic figure, a man or woman of supernatural strength or ability, saves the day, defeats the alien monster, or overcomes the evil genius. I find it interesting that we are so drawn to such stories.

Paul turns the attention of his first century readers and us to the hope engendered by Jesus himself. Jesus of Nazareth, crucified for our sins and raised for our justification,  has averted the destruction which we deserved by our sins. Placing himself in that path, he has born its wrath. Yes, the world is going to end. But I am not worried about that.

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