Quarter 3, 2012
Irish author Samuel Beckett wrote a drama, Waiting for Godot, about two homeless men waiting on the side of the road for someone named Godot who was supposed to come and save them from the meaninglessness of life.
Until he comes, life seems so miserable that they decide to hang themselves. But having no rope, one of the men takes off the cord that holds up his pants, which collapse around his ankles. Testing the cord’s strength, they pull; it breaks, and both men almost fall. They decide to find a better rope and try again later.
“We’ll hang ourselves tomorrow,” says Vladimir. “Unless Godot comes.”
“And if he comes?” asks Estragon.
“We’ll be saved.”
Godot never comes, which means they’re not saved. They weren’t, of course, supposed to be. Beckett’s whole point with the drama was to show the absurdity and hopelessness of life.
What a contrast to the view of life presented in the Bible. In particular, what a contrast to the view presented in this quarter’s lessons, which are on the apostle Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians.
Like Beckett’s two characters, the Thessalonians faced stresses, strains, struggles, even persecution. In other words, life for them, as for us, has its hard moments. How easy and understandable it would have been for them to have fallen into the pessimism Beckett expressed. Instead, the Thessalonians had a sure hope, a hope based on Jesus.
This quarter, through Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, we’ll get a glimpse into the life of an early Christian church—an urban church—really, and see some of the struggles and challenges that it faced, including the difficulties that arose from the fact that Christ had not yet returned! Fascinating, too, is that however different their circumstances from our own, so often the principles reflected in Paul’s words to the Thessalonians deal with the issues and challenges that we, too, confront as we await—not some mysterious Godot—but the Lord Jesus, whose death on the cross at the first coming guarantees His return in glory at the Second.
Jon Paulien is dean of the School of Religion at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California.
(This is the Introduction to this Quarter's lessons on 1 and 2 Thessalonians from our Index page.
Lesson 1 *June 30-July 6
Read for This Week’s Study: Acts 16:9-40; 17:1-4, 12; Jer. 23:1-6; Isa. 9:1-7; Isaiah 53:1-12; Rom. 1:16.
Memory Text: “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13, NIV).
Key Thought: Our assurance of God’s promises must be based on our confidence in His Holy Scriptures.
The young pastor sat outside with a young lady who had just been baptized. Much to his surprise, she said, “I need to be baptized again.”
When the pastor asked why, she responded, “There are things that I didn’t tell the senior pastor about my past.”
Thus began a long conversation about forgiveness in Christ, which she hungrily consumed. When the pastor finished praying with her, a huge downpour suddenly drenched them both. Eyes shining, the young woman said, “I’m being baptized again!”
A gracious God often provides living tokens, such as this unexpected rain, to assure believers that they are right with Him. But our confidence in God will be even more solidly grounded when it is based on the clear teaching of His Word. In this lesson we’ll see that the fulfillment of prophecy provided solid assurance to the new believers in Thessalonica.
*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, July 7.
Sunday July 1
Read Acts 16:9-40. According to the passage, why did the Philippians react so negatively to the gospel? What important principle can we find in their reaction that we always need to be wary of ourselves? In what other ways can this principle be made manifest, even in the lives of professed Christians?
The gospel is the good news of God’s mighty actions in Christ that lead to forgiveness, acceptance, and trans-formation (Rom. 1:16, 17). Through sin, the whole world was condemned; through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the whole world was given a new opportunity to have the eternal life that God originally wanted for all humanity. God’s mighty work was done for us while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8). This work of redemption was accomplished outside of us, by Jesus, and we can add nothing to it-nothing. Yet, the gospel becomes real in our lives only when we accept not only its condemnation of our sins but God’s forgiveness of those sins through Jesus.
Being that the gospel is such good news and is free, why would anyone resist or fight against it? The answer is simple: accepting the gospel calls us to set aside confidence in self and in worldly things such as money, power, and sexual attractiveness. Money, sex, and power are good things when submitted to the will and ways of God. But when people cling to these trivial matters that substitute for the assurance of the gospel, the gospel and those who proclaim it become a threat.
Read 1 Thessalonians 2: 1, 2. Paul and Silas entered Thessalonica in pain, their bodies bearing the cuts and bruises they had received from their heavy beating and confinement in Philippi (Acts 16:22-24). But tokens of the mighty power of God (Acts 16:26, 30, 36) had encouraged their hearts. They boldly entered the synagogue at Thessalonica, in spite of their pain, and spoke again of the Messiah, who had changed their lives and sent them on a mission to preach the good news in places where it had not been heard before.
What are the things of the world that, if we’re not careful, can draw us away from the Lord? Why, then, is it so important to keep the Cross and its meaning always in the center of our thoughts, especially when the lure of the world seems the strongest?
Monday July 2
What does Acts 17:1-3 tell us about the where, the when, and the how of Paul’s preaching strategy in Thessalonica?
Although 1 Thessalonians was among Paul’s earliest letters, both his theology and missionary strategy were well developed by the time he arrived in Thessalonica.
The first step in Paul’s missionary strategy was to attend the local synagogue on the Sabbath. This was natural because the Sabbath was a good time to reach Jews in large numbers. However, more than just a missionary strategy was at work here. Paul would have taken time for prayer and worship on the Sabbath even if no Jews or no synagogue was available (see Acts 16:13).
It was not uncommon in those days for Jews to invite synagogue visitors to speak, especially if they had lived in Jerusalem, as Paul and Silas had. The congregation would have been eager to hear news of Jewish life in other places. They also would also have been interested in any new ideas the visitors had discovered from their study of the Scriptures. So, Paul’s strategy was a natural fit with the synagogue environment.
The second step in Paul’s strategy was to preach directly from their common Scriptures, the Old Testament. He also began with a topic of great interest to the Jews of the time, the Messiah (“the Christ” is the Greek equivalent of “the Messiah” in the Hebrew; see Acts 17:3). Using texts from the Old Testament, Paul demonstrated that the Messiah would first have to suffer before He would obtain the glory with which the Jews were familiar. In other words, the popular, glorious version of the Messiah’s mission was only part of the picture. When the Messiah would first appear, He would be a suffering servant rather than a royal conqueror.
Third, having established a fresh picture of the Messiah in their minds, Paul went on to tell the story of Jesus. He explained how Jesus’ life conformed to the pattern of the Bible prophecy that he had just shared with them. No doubt he added stories about his own previous doubts and opposition and also spoke of the convincing power of his personal encounter with the exalted Christ. According to Luke (Luke 24:25-27, 44-46), Paul’s preaching strategy in Thessalonica followed the same pattern that Jesus had used with His disciples after the resurrection.
Notice that Paul sought to reach people where they were, using that with which they were familiar. Why is this strategy so important? Think about those whom you want to reach. How can you learn to start where they are and not where you are?
Tuesday July 3
Since ancient times, readers of the Old Testament have noticed a variety of perspectives in the prophecies pointing toward the Messiah. Most Jews and early Christians identified two major strands in the Messianic prophecies. On the one hand, there were texts that pointed toward a royal Messiah: a conquering king who would bring justice to the people and extend Israel’s rule to the ends of the earth. On the other hand, there were texts that suggested the Messiah would be a suffering servant, humiliated and rejected. The mistake that many made was in not understanding that all these texts were referring to the same person-to different aspects of His work at different times.
Read Jeremiah 23:1-6, Isaiah 9:1-7, 53:1-6, Zechariah 9:9. List the characteristics of the future deliverer that you find in these texts. What kind of “conflicting” images appear here?
These texts were puzzling in advance of the Messiah’s coming. On the one hand, the royal messianic texts usually contained no hint of suffering or humiliation. On the other hand, the Suffering Servant texts usually described the Messiah as having little power or worldly authority. One way that the Jews of Jesus’ day resolved this problem was to see the Suffering Servant as a symbol of the whole nation and its sufferings in the course of exile and occupation. By removing these texts from the messianic equation, many Jews expected the royal or conquering Messiah. This King, like David, would throw off the occupiers and restore Israel’s place among the nations.
Of course, a major problem with removing the Suffering Servant texts from the equation is that there are, indeed, significant Old Testament texts that blend the two major characteristics of the Messiah. They describe the same person. What is less clear at first glance is whether those characteristics occur at the same time or one after the other.
As shown in Acts 17:2, 3, Paul walked the Jews of Thessalonica through these Messianic Old Testament texts and together explored their significance.
In ancient times, the Jews were confused about the first coming of the Messiah. Today, we find much confusion about the Second Coming, as well. What should this tell us about the need for truly seeking to understand Bible truth? Why can false doctrine be so problematic?
Wednesday July 4
Jesus, like Paul, studied the Old Testament and drew the conclusion that the Messiah would “have to suffer these things and then enter his glory” (Luke 24:26, NIV). The “have to” of Luke 24:26 translates the same word as Acts 17:3 (NIV), where Paul says the Messiah “had to suffer.” For Jesus and Paul, the priority of suffering before glory was written into the prophecies long before they were to have occurred. The question is, then, on what Old Testament basis did they come to this conclusion?
They likely would have noticed that the most significant figures in the Old Testament had a prolonged period of suffering before they entered into the glory period of their lives. Joseph spent some thirteen years in prison before ascending to the role of prime minister of Egypt. Moses spent forty years chasing sheep through the desert before taking up his role as the powerful leader of the Exodus. David spent many years as a fugitive, some of that time in foreign lands, before being elevated to kingship. Daniel was a prisoner of war, and was even condemned to death, before his elevation to the position of prime minister of Babylon. In the stories of these Old Testament servants of God there are foreshadowings of the Messiah, who would also suffer and be humiliated before being elevated to His full royal role.
The capstone of this New Testament conviction is found in the most widely quoted Old Testament text in the New Testament: Isaiah 53. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah was despised, rejected, and sorrowful (Isa. 53:2-4). Like a sanctuary lamb, He was slaughtered on account of our sins (Isa. 53:5-7), according to the will of the Lord (Isa. 53:8-10). But “after the suffering of his soul” (Isa. 53:11, NIV), He would justify many and receive a powerful inheritance (Isa. 53:12).
For the writers of the New Testament, Isaiah 53 was the key to the Messiah’s role. Paul would certainly have preached this text in Thessalonica. According to Isaiah 53, the Messiah would not appear kingly or powerful at the time of His first appearance. In fact, He would be rejected by many of His own people. But that rejection would be the prelude to the glorious Messiah of Jewish expectation. With this in mind, Paul was able to show that the Jesus he had come to know was, in fact, the Messiah whom the Old Testament had foretold.
Prayerfully read through Isaiah 53, realizing that it’s talking about what the Lord, our Creator, went through just so that you, personally, can have eternal life. In light of what this amazing truth tells us about the character of God, why should Christ be first and foremost in our lives?
Thursday July 5
According to Acts 17:1-4, 12, what classes of people made up the core of the Thessalonian church plant?
A part of Paul’s missionary strategy was “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16, ESV). During Paul’s ministry, the Jews regularly received the first opportunity to hear and accept the gospel. And the fact is that, according to the Bible, many Jews in Paul’s time did accept Jesus as the Messiah. Later, as the church started to apostatize and reject the law, especially the Sabbath, it became harder and harder for Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah because, after all-what Messiah would nullify the law, especially the Sabbath?
As the texts show, some of the Jews in Thessalonica were persuaded by Paul’s exposition of messianic texts in relation to the story of Jesus. One of these, Aristarchus, was later a coworker with Paul and even, at one point, a fellow prisoner (see Col. 4:10, 11; Acts 20:4). Another, Jason, was apparently wealthy enough to house the church at his home after they were no longer welcome in the synagogue, and he also provided at least a portion of the bond needed to prevent Paul’s arrest (see Acts 17:4-9).
The “God-fearing Greeks” (Acts 17:4, NIV) are usually thought to be Gentiles who became enamored with Judaism and attended the synagogue but did not convert. This was a widespread phenomenon in Paul’s day. These Gentiles became a natural bridge for Paul to reach those Gentiles who had no knowledge at all of Judaism or the Old Testament.
The Jewish, and relatively wealthy, character of the original church plant in Thessalonica is emphasized in Acts 17 (such as in verse 12), in which “prominent” Greeks also became believers. It is clear, however, that by the time 1 Thessalonians was written, the church to which Paul was writing was largely made up of Gentiles (1 Thess. 1:9) from the laboring classes (1 Thess. 4:11).
What we can see here is the universal character of the gospel-that it is for all people, all classes, all races; rich or poor, Greek or Jew, it doesn’t matter-Christ’s death was for the whole world. That’s why our message, as Seventh-day Adventists, is for the whole world (Rev. 14:6)-no exceptions based on ethnicity, nationality, caste, or economic standing. How important it is that we keep that mandate always before us. How important it is that we not become insular, self-absorbed, and more interested in sustaining what we have than in reaching out beyond the comfortable boundaries that we, perhaps even subconsciously, have set for ourselves.
Friday July 6
Further Study: “From Paul’s day to the present time, God by His Holy Spirit has been calling after the Jew as well as the Gentile. ‘There is no respect of persons with God,’ declared Paul. The apostle regarded himself as ‘debtor both to the Greeks, and to the barbarians,’ as well as to the Jews; but he never lost sight of the decided advantages possessed by the Jews over others, ‘chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.’ ‘The gospel,’ he declared, ‘is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. . . .’ ”-Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 380.
“ In preaching to the Thessalonians, Paul appealed to the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah.. . . By the inspired testimony of Moses and the prophets he clearly proved the identity of Jesus of Nazareth with the Messiah and showed that from the days of Adam it was the voice of Christ which had been speaking through patriarchs and prophets.”- Acts of the Apostles, pp. 221, 222. (Also see the extensive collection of Old Testament texts included in this chapter on pages 222-229.)
“In the closing proclamation of the gospel, when special work is to be done for classes of people hitherto neglected, God expects His messengers to take particular interest in the Jewish people whom they find in all parts of the earth. . . . As they see the Christ of the gospel dispensation portrayed in the pages of the Old Testament Scriptures, and perceive how clearly the New Testament explains the Old, their slumbering faculties will be aroused, and they will recognize Christ as the Saviour of the world. Many will by faith receive Christ as their Redeemer.”-Acts of the Apostles, p. 381.
Inside Story ~ East-Central Africa Division: Congo
I’m Amir, a missionary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I was asked to hold evangelistic meetings in a village in the Congo, where I stayed with the pastor and his family.
Early every morning my evangelistic team and I gathered for prayer before setting out to visit people and study the Bible with them before they left to work in their fields. I noticed that Genick, the pastor’s 12-year-old son, joined us for prayer. When we left the house to visit people, Genick came with us. But when he turned off the path, I assumed that he was going to play with his friends.
So when Genick told me that he and two of his friends were giving Bible studies to several people-including a professor-I was surprised. I wondered if it could be true. Genick asked me to go with him to visit the professor’s family and answer some questions they had. I gladly followed him to the professor’s home.
The family greeted us warmly, and I watched with deep interest as Genick led them through another Bible study. He quoted one Bible verse after another to explain the Bible lesson. The professor praised Genick and his friends, who had been coming to his house every day to study the Bible. “I now understand why the Adventist Church is growing so fast-because even your children have the courage to give Bible studies!” the professor said.
We spent several hours talking about some of the Bible truths Genick and his friends had presented to the family and answering their questions. I was impressed with the courage and faithfulness of Genick and his friends. They gave me new insight into the role of young people in the mission of God’s church.
So far some 36 people have been baptized into the church in this village. And although the professor has not yet taken his stand for truth, he has promised to continue studying the Bible with his family.
As for Genick and his friends, I’m sure that God has great plans for them. Already Genick has been appointed children’s ministries leader in his church district.
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