What was the hope of the apostles, and why did they write to encourage the Church in Thessalonica and beyond? The church in Thessalonica was facing many hardships and persecution from the nation in which they worked to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. The apostles were encouraged and hopeful because news had reached them concerning the unwavering faith of the Church in Thessalonica. For although they were facing harsh persecution; even death, the churches were modelling the Lord Jesus Christ who went to the cross, and the apostles who themselves were hunted down and killed.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-4 reads, “Yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain: But even after that we had suffered before and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention. For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so, we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.
Facing persecution, the Church in Thessalonica was steadfast in the work of the kingdom. And despite the persecution they faced, they continued the work of the ministry looking always to the hope of the coming kingdom and the reward to be bestowed on the faithful in Christ. They remembered the words of Jesus who had revealed there is a place in his kingdom for his people. John 14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.” And believing in Christ, they look forward to the day of Christ when the great counsellor will have established his kingdom.
John 14:2-4 “In my Father’s house are many mansions: now, if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.” And because there are many mansions in the house of the Father, the Church in Thessalonica was firm in their faith and being aware of their role leading up to the coming kingdom, and on the day of Christ. They endured persecution that took many lives.
The Church was not looking for a rapture, they were waiting patiently for the day and coming of Christ. At no time were they ever told there will be a rapture of the Church. What they knew and understood was that Christ will one day return and when he returns, he will reward his saints for their service unto their King. Revelation 22:12-13 reads, “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning, and the end, the first and the last.
So, where did we get this idea from, we will be raptured out of the earth before the return of Jesus Christ? We seem to not understand, the members of the early churches were at the foot of the cross when Jesus laid down his life for the sins of the world. The saints who came to Christ after his death were not strangers and men unaware of what happened to Jesus, and what Jesus had done before his death.
They both saw him, their lives were affected by him, they had friends and family members who were healed by him, they even had their sons and daughters raised from the dead by the power of God through Jesus Christ. And having heard through the apostles Jesus rose from the grave after standing at the foot of the cross. It was not lost on the newly formed Church; they would likewise suffer the things Christ did for the sake of the coming kingdom.
It is with much tribulation we will enter the kingdom of God as we work to complete the mission we are called to fulfil in like manner as did the apostles before us. Acts 14:20-22 reads, “Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. And when they had preached the gospel to that city and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
So, how will we enter the kingdom of God without first carrying our cross proving we are truly disciples of Christ ready to lay down our lives for him? And how are we going to bypass the tribulation to come? Jesus in no made the promise we will not face tribulation, and the apostles did not preach concerning a catching away of the church. However, what we have heard from the lessons of the apostles, and from what they had suffered, is that it is with much tribulation we will enter the kingdom of God.
Acts 14:21-22 reads, “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” Because as it was on the sermon of the mount, and as it was with Jesus when he hanged on the cross. It is with much tribulation they entered the kingdom of God.
Let us no more look for a rapture, or a quick escape from what we are about to face but let us prepare in light of the reward that is in store for those of us willing to endure until the end. The words of Jesus, Matthew 5:10-12 “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’s sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
If we are willing, and if our hearts have not failed us, let us gird ourselves, let us put on boldness so that we might preach the gospel of Christ saving as many as will come to the Lord and find salvation. For it is with much contention we will proclaim the kingdom of God.