Acts 15-18, 1&2 Thessalonians
Paul’s Balancing Act on Circumcision and the Law of Moses
As mentioned in the previous lesson regarding Acts 15, a large dispute occurred on whether the Gentiles needed to be circumcised or obey the Law of Moses. It was determined by a council in Jerusalem, headed by Peter and James that the Gentiles would not have to live under such a yoke.
However, in Acts 16, we see that Paul takes a new convert, Timothy, under his wing as a fellow missionary in Greece. In taking the young lad with him, Paul first circumcised him. Why, do this if the Gentiles were not required to be circumcised? After all, we are told that Timothy’s father was a Greek, and therefore he was at least half-Gentile. The reason was on account of the Jews they would encounter in the cities they would come to. The Jews were commanded to not listen to the unclean Gentiles preach. This would severely limit Paul’s efforts to first preach to the Jews in those quarters. Gentiles would not be concerned as to whether the person preaching to them was circumcised, but the Jews would be. So Timothy, whose mother was Jewish, was circumcised in order to serve effectively as a missionary.
Paul goes to Macedonia
Paul and his missionary companions went to many cities and towns on their mission. In some areas, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to enter. It is possible that they were forbidden because the areas were not yet ready to hear, or would even be violently opposed and seek to kill them. Eventually, the Spirit told Paul to go to Macedonia where people were prepared to receive him.
Macedonia is a north-eastern state in Greece. Just 375 years earlier, Macedonia was an independent nation, ruled by Philip II of Macedonia. When Philip was assassinated, his son, Alexander II became king. This Alexander would continue his father’s dream of conquest and ruling the world. Alexander the Great would go on to conquer Greece, Persia, the Levant (where Israel is), Egypt and to the borders with India. With his conquest, Alexander brought with him the philosophy, education, and culture of Greece. Centuries later, even under the Roman Empire, people would still use Greek as the common language.
Having success in city after city, Paul eventually arrived in Thyatira, where a woman possessed of a “spirit of divination” cried out telling everyone that he and his companions were “servants of the Most High God” and told people to listen to them. Fearing that such a woman would harm his efforts more than help, he cast the demon from her, and she lost the gift of divination. Just as Jesus silenced demons who cried out at him, so Paul would also silence the possessed woman.
The owners of the woman, as she would have been a slave and misused to enrich her owners, were angry at the loss of income and riled the city up against the missionaries. Beaten and then imprisoned with their feet in stocks, a miracle occurred that night. An earthquake occurred, breaking down the prison doors and some walls. The jailer feared the prisoners had escaped, and readied to kill himself, as he would be tortured to death for their escape, when Paul calmed him and told him the prisoners remained in the prison. Such an example of faith amazed the guard, and he asked Paul how he too may be saved. The guard and his family were baptized that night.
In the morning, the centurion (leader of 100 Roman soldiers) ordered Paul and his friends released. But Paul insisted on an audience, refusing to be beaten in public and then released quietly. Learning that Paul was a Roman citizen, they feared retribution from Caesar, and so begged Paul’s forgiveness and that he would leave the area.
Paul had some success in Thessalonica, but false witnesses were brought forth to cause a riot. Paul had to leave town and went to Berea, where the missionaries had much success. For some reason, evil men cannot leave the gospel alone, even when it isn’t in their own town. Those Jewish Thessalonians who sought to destroy Paul came to Berea to try again. Paul fled again, this time to Athens.
Athens and Mars Hill
Athens was a cosmopolitan place, and the center of Greek philosophy, gods and culture. In the city were several schools of philosophy: from the Sophists and Cynics, to the followers of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle. There were also found the temples and altars to many of the Greek and Roman gods, as well as other gods picked up along the way from other nations.
Paul saw the whole city caught up in idolatry. He even disputed in the synagogues with the Jews because of his concerns. The Jews of Athens were obviously worshiping the Greek gods along with their worship of Jehovah.
Mars Hill, or Areopagus, was a place where philosophers and religionists met to discuss ideas and faith and to hear new things. Paul was invited by some philosophers of the Epicurean and Stoic schools to preach on Mars Hill, for he brought with him concepts they had not considered before, such as a human god named Jesus and of resurrection.
Paul was not interested in being a circus side show attraction, by introducing his teachings as completely new to the Greeks, who prided themselves in the age-old beliefs and religions they espoused.
“22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To the Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.”
Paul was going to teach them something they already should have known. The Unknown God was an ancient God of the Greeks that they simply knew nothing about. Paul was to teach them that this unknown God was the only real God, and was going to show them how they were mistaken in worshiping any others.
“ 24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;”
This unknown God has created all things. He does not need to be created by man’s hands or need to have people bring food sacrifices to him, as though he needs to eat. Temples are not needed for God to exist. He can be accessed anywhere, especially for Gentiles who did not have access to the Jerusalem temple, God could be personally reached through prayer and faith.
“26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:”
Here is an ancient Jewish concept that was lost during the Deuteronomic Reformation of the Jewish King Josiah. Ancient Jews believed that God was anthropomorphic - man like. He was not made by hand of any material, such as gold, silver, wood, stone, etc. Instead, Paul explained that the relationship is that of a literal father-child. God is the “Man in Heaven” and Jesus is the “Son of Man in Heaven” (John 3:13). Jesus and his apostles sought to restore this ancient concept of man’s true relationship with Heavenly Father, and here Paul clarifies it to the idolatrous Athenians.
God “winked at” the concept of God being something else besides our Father, but now with the coming of Christ and his apostles, this ancient belief was again restored. Sadly, the concept would again be lost for centuries among Christians. The early Christians from about 300 AD on would embrace Hellenist (Greek) beliefs that God is an unknown Spirit that is made of pure matter utterly different than the stuff we are made from. Somehow, with the exception of Jesus, God in this concept is unable to make something that is his literal offspring. For centuries the concept of the Trinity not being human-like and of a different substance than his greatest creation (mankind) has held many Christians from fully understanding our true nature and relationship with God. Yet Paul understood and taught it to the same Greeks who came up with the concept of a God that is the Unmoved Mover.
Thankfully God has chosen to restore this ancient teaching again in our day through modern prophets and apostles, such as Joseph Smith. We again know that God IS anthropomorphic, the “Man in Heaven” and we are his offspring. This will be a concept that Paul will discuss again in his epistles, emphasizing this great teaching that was long lost among the Jews.
At this point, we should look at the overall view of scholars regarding Paul’s epistles. The epistles we currently have were gathered together around 380 AD by St Jerome as he wrote the Latin Vulgate Bible. Jerome went through many books and epistles that were available in his day, and tried to determine which ones were authentic, and which were not. Occasionally, politics entered into his decision making. To have the western portion of the Church accept his list of approved books meant he had to include Hebrews and Revelation, though he personally believed they were not originally from Paul and John.
Today, scholars have determined that only about half of the epistles of Paul were actually written by the apostle. The remainder were possibly written by some of his followers or others who created forgeries - a very common practice in the first few centuries of Christianity, as different Christian sects sought to impose their views upon all Christians.
The Pauline epistles are now separated into three groups by modern scholars: authentic Pauline epistles, those which are disputed to be authentic by various scholars, and those that are very likely or definitely not written by Paul.
The epistles that are generally undisputed are: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.
Those that are disputed by scholars on authenticity: Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians - these are known as the Deutero-Pauline epistles, as a second person(s) who may have known Paul most likely wrote these.
Finally come the Pastoral-Pauline epistles, which were most likely written by someone else: 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus.
Whether they were actually written by Paul or not, they are accepted by Christians as inspired writings that can help us understand concepts and teachings of the early Christian Church.
First Thessalonians was probably written by the year 52 AD, and is believed to be the oldest written book of the New Testament. Paul wrote the epistle either in Corinth or Athens. Most of the letter was written to encourage the Christians of Thessalonica, due to the persecutions they were suffering. The last two chapters, however, are doctrinal.
Paul had taught in the area of Thessalonica on at least two occasions. This is the first known epistle of Paul to the members in that unruly and violent city.
Just a note or two on 1 Thessalonica then. In chapter 4, Paul discusses the hope of the second coming with the Thessalonians, as a hope that their tribulations will one day end.
“ 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
We see that the Second Coming will be a grand event. Jesus will “descend from heaven with a shout” and a trump or in a manner that all shall know. The dead shall resurrect. At that time, the holy saints of Christ will also be raptured and caught up to be with the Lord. Whether those who are caught up are resurrected at that time, or are changed to a semi-immortal state called “translation” is not apparent. Many LDS believe that at this moment, those caught up will be translated, and later will be resurrected.
Translation is the sudden changing of the body from its mortal state to a semi-immortal state. From this, a person shall never taste death, but shall change in the “twinkling of an eye” into a fully immortal state at resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:22).
Some Christians believe that this and a couple other verses refer to a pre-tribulation rapture, where the righteous will be caught up 3 ½ years before the Coming of Christ, and all others will be Left Behind (as in the book series). A close study of the scripture, however, notes that this translation or rapture comes AT the time of the Second Coming, and not before. We see that the dead resurrect and that Christ comes with a loud trump and voice. These are not events of a pre-tribulation, where the righteous escape the horrors of the last days, but instead are events that occur in the midst of such tribulations. Jesus comes in his Second Coming to save the day. He will rescue both physical and spiritual Israel against their enemies in the physical and spiritual world. The righteous dead will resurrect. The righteous living will be caught up to be with Christ.
To show even more conclusively that this event ties to the Coming of Christ in glory, we need only jump over to chapter five. When Paul wrote his epistle, there were no chapters, headings, etc. These have all been added in modern scripture for ease of use. But for Paul, our chapter 4 and 5 were part of the same thought.
“ 2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
3 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.
6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.”
If there is a rapture 3 ½ years before the tribulation, then why must the saints be watchful for the sudden destruction at Christ’s coming? Instead, they would prepare for the rapture and avoid the destruction altogether.
In his final words, Paul gives a laundry list of things the Thessalonians should do to be good Christians and be prepared for the Second Coming of Christ:
“15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.
16 Rejoice evermore.
17 Pray without ceasing.
18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
19 Quench not the Spirit.
20 Despise not prophesyings.
21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.”
These are important enough to think about and ponder how well we do them:
1. Do not be mean to those who are mean to you.
2. Always rejoice. How often do we grumble and complain? How can we grumble and rejoice at the same time? Obviously, if we focus on Christ and his Coming, we may rejoice through all our tribulations. Otherwise, the trials of life will seem overwhelming.
3. When you aren’t on your knees, carry a prayer in your heart. This keeps us ever remembering the important things. It is hard to sin when we are praying.
4. Give thanks in all things. When did you thank God for your last trial or hardship? Was there a hidden blessing in that trial that you missed because you forgot to be grateful?
5. Do not quench the Holy Ghost. How can we have inspiration, revelation, comfort, peace, joy and the other gifts of the Spirit, if we douse out its flame? Keep the fire of the Holy Ghost burning bright.
6. Prophesy, both ancient and modern is for us. It may make us feel uncomfortable at times. It may not always be politically correct. We may not always agree, but we must not despise it.
7. Do not take things at face value. Too many people reject the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or Christ because of some problematic concern. A true seeker of truth and light will actually prove it and all things. If a pastor tells someone to not read the Book of Mormon, how are we proving it? We remain in ignorance and cannot make a full decision regarding whether it is God’s word or not. And once proved, we must hold onto that thing.
8. Abstain from all evil. Just don’t do it. Evil comes because we give into it. No one forces it from us.
These concepts will help prepare us well for the Coming of Christ in glory.
This letter was probably written between 52-54 AD, shortly after the first epistle. It is considered a pseudo-epistle because although it has a colophon that states Paul wrote it, its style is very different than the other Pauline epistles. Still, of all the pseudepigrapha (questionable books) it has perhaps the most evidence towards it actually being authentic.
The Thessalonians had a major concern on the timing of Christ’s Second Coming. Paul’s first letter obviously confused many of the members into thinking the event was imminent. It caused a lot of contention and confusion among them and required Paul to explain the Second Coming and the timing for it.
“ 1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (2 Thess 2).
Paul clarifies that there are yet things to occur prior to the Second Coming of Christ. the Son of Perdition, or Anti-Christ, must set himself up as God in the temple. Paul states that this being is hidden for a purpose, but the day would come when he would be fully revealed (vs 8), and it is finally in that day when Christ will come, reveal the anti-Christ, and destroy him.
The term “falling away” can also be translated as “apostasy.” Some consider this the sign of a Great Apostasy away from Christ, to a worship of the Son of Perdition who sets himself up as a replacement for the Savior.
Over the centuries, many have been viewed as this anti-Christ, including the early entrant and Roman Emperor Nero (who blamed the Christians for burning Rome) and the Pope. Given that Nero never actually sat on God’s throne in the temple, and that the Pope preaches people to follow Christ and not him, it is safe to say that neither of these qualify as the actual son of Perdition.
But it will be a person with much power and influence in the world. We may never know in our lifetime who it is, as the person may not be revealed to us. But we can watch to see if anyone attempts to set him/herself up as a savior for mankind in the ways of economics, world government, and giving people hope during a period of intense trials. Many will be caught up in such a charismatic leader who offers earthly salvation from hardship and risk.
Interestingly, we live in a day unlike any day since Christianity took hold in the western world. We now have Christian nations that are no longer Christian, but are secular. People no longer look to Christ for answers, happiness, salvation and hope; rather to their governments, leaders, movie and rock stars. It would not be hard for such a Son of Perdition to set himself up in God’s temple today, offering happiness to those who are willing to follow.
There is only one Christ and one God. God Most High is the Unknown God of the Greeks. He has always been, even though we’ve often been ignorant of him. It is easy to follow after idols and gods of our own choosing. Having curiosity to learn of new things, we grow tired of old philosophies and religions, and seek to sate our thirst with odd novelties.
Such a stance as the philosophers had on Mars Hill can only lead us nowhere. There is but one God Almighty and his son, Jesus Christ. Our relationship is apparent in that we are God’s offspring. Yet many of us choose to seek after a more charismatic savior or philosophy that can save us from the doldrums of truth and earth life.
But though they may seem to offer us eternal fun and peace, their promise only holds as long as the paper bag it is in holds up. True hope, joy, peace, and power comes from turning to God through Christ and his atonement. He will help us through our trials. He will heal us. Through Christ we are resurrected and forgiven of sins. We are not bound by any philosophies of men that offer something less than the best.
Satan will offer us charismatic counterfeits of perdition. But the real hope comes from God’s true grace, Jesus Christ.
Authorship of the Pauline Epistles: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authorship_of_the_Pauline_epistles
1 Thessalonians: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Epistle_to_the_Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Epistle_to_the_Thessalonians