Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Looking in the Wrong Direction? The Coming of Our Lord Jesus With All His Saints (1 Thess. 3:13)

     The prayer of Paul and his coworkers for the mid-first-century church of the Thessalonians was for God “to strengthen your hearts, blameless in holiness before our God and Father, in [en] the coming [parousía] of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thess. 3:13).1 To be “blameless” [ámemptos] means that no legitimate reason for criticism can be cited (cf. 2:10; Phil. 2:15; 3:6; Tit. 2:8). The noun hagiōsúnē (“holiness”) – cognate with the adjectival hágioi (“saints,” also used in this sentence, discussed below) and the singular form hágios (“holy,” “set apart”) – is employed here in the sense of moral purity (cf. 2 Cor. 7:1), further developed in the next section of the letter as per another cognate, hagiasmós (“sanctification”) (4:1-8).
Two Sides of the Parousia
     The noun parousía, meaning “presence” (cf. Phil. 2:12a),2 is the opposite of apousía (“absence,” cf. Phil. 2:12b) and carries the sense of the arrival or presence of one “coming” (cf. Phil. 1:26). Its use in reference to the Lord’s return is mostly in the Thessalonian correspondence (1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1, 8), and just one other time in Paul (1 Cor. 15:23).3 Other expressions include epipháneia (“appearing,” “manifestation”) in 2 Thess. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 1:10; 4:1, 8; Tit. 2:13; and apokálupsis (“revelation”) in 2 Thess. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:7, 13; 4:13; cf. Rom. 2:5.
     The adverb “before” [émprosthen = “in front,” “before the face of”] is used four times in 1 Thessalonians, once in reference to “our Lord Jesus” (2:19) and three times in reference to “our God” (1:3; 3:9, 13) – all in view of the parousía. Appearing before [émprosthen] our Lord Jesus” (2:19) is parallel to appearing “before [émprosthen] our God and Father” on either side of the parousía. This helps to clarify what is meant by the prepositional phrase, “with all his saints.”
     If “before our Lord Jesus” is on the front end of the parousía (2:19), it stands to reason that “before our God and Father” is on the back end of the parousía (3:13). In other words, the Lord Jesus is to come for [eis] all his saints (4:16-18; cf. 2:19), then return to the Father with [metá] all his saints, who are then presented before the heavenly throne (3:13; 4:17b; cf. 2:12; John 14:3; 1 Cor. 15:23-24; 2 Cor. 4:14). Note further along in the text, “through Jesus God will bring with him those having fallen asleep …. we the living ones remaining will be carried off together with them …” (4:14, 17).

     Alternatively, pántōn tōn hagíōn autou is understood by some commentators as “all his holy [ones]” (NIV, Weymouth) in reference to the holy angels who are to accompany the Lord at his coming (cf. Matt. 13:39; Jude 14). In favor of this interpretation, Jesus foretold the coming of the Son of Man “with the holy [hagíōn] angels” (Mark 8:38); “and all the [holy] angels with him” [kaì pántes hoi hágioi ággeloi met’ aoutou] (Matt. 25:31, Byzantine Majority Text; although hágioi is absent from the NA/UBS texts). Nevertheless, in the Thessalonian correspondence these angels are described as angels of his “power” [dunámeōs], distinct from “his saints” [tois hagíois autou] in whom the Lord will be glorified (2 Thess. 1:7, 10). In fact, hágioi is one of Paul’s favorite designations for Christians,4 and in this very sentence the cognate hagiōsúnē (“holiness”) is thus applied.
     From our perspective on earth, the Lord Jesus is coming on the front end of the Parousia for his saints who will appear before him (1 Thess. 2:19; 4:17). From the heavenly perspective, the Lord Jesus is coming on the back end of the Parousia with his saints to appear before God our Father in heaven (1 Thess. 3:13).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless noted otherwise, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 Used to refer to the “presence” or “coming” of Stephanus (1 Cor. 16:17), Titus (2 Cor. 7:6, 7), Paul (2 Cor. 10:10; Phil. 1:26; 2:12), and “the lawless one” (2 Thess. 2:9).
     3 Elsewhere only in Matthew (24:3, 27, 37, 39) and in the writings of the three “pillars” (Jas. 5:7, 8; 2 Pet. 1:16; 3:4, 12; 1 John 2:28).
     4 Four Pauline letters are addressed to hágioi (Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians). The term draws attention to having been consecrated to God (BAGD 9) and is almost always used in this sense by Paul in the plural (cf. Rom. 1:7; 8:27; 12:13; 15:25, 26, 31; 16:2, 15; 1 Cor. 1:2; 6:1, 2; 14:33; 16:1, 15; 2 Cor. 1:1; 8:4; 9:1, 12; 13:12; Eph. 1:1, 15, 18; 2:19; 3:8, 18; 4:12; 5:3; 6:18; Phil. 1:1; 4:21, 22; Col. 1:2, 4, 12, 26; 1 Thess. 3:13; 2 Thess. 1:10; 1 Tim. 5:10; Philem. 5, 7). This terminology appears to have been drawn from Israel’s description as a “holy people” (e.g. Ex. 19:6; Psa. 16:3; 34:9; 74:3; Isa. 4:3; Dan. 7:18, 21-22), perhaps indicating Paul’s belief in the continuity between the “saints” of Israel in the past and the Christian “saints” (cf. J. D. G. Dunn, Theology of Paul 44 n. 90, 330, 502, 708).

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