First Lesson: Exodus 33: 12-23
Responsive Reading: Psalm 99
Second Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 1: 1-10
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 22: 15-22
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you the story this morning of a church. It’s the story of one of the first churches. The reason I want to tell you about this church is because it had a lot of members that were asking similar questions to people in our church. The church was located in a town called Thessalonica.
I suppose I should begin by telling you a bit about Thessalonica. Thessalonica was and is one of the most important cities in the country of Greece. Thessalonica was the primary port city in all of Northern Greece. Thessalonica was a vitally important city because it was the city where the great road of its day connected Rome with all the people north of the Aegean Sea. Thessalonica was the city at the crossroads of east and west, north and south.
Because of this a man named Paul wanted to start a church in Thessalonica. Paul had been traveling around planting churches left and right (Rome, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, and Thessalonica).
What Paul along with his right-hand men Silas and Timothy were going around Thessalonica claiming was that a man named Jesus had risen from the dead nearly twenty years before. Jesus would then promise salvation and eternal life to all his followers. Paul had spent about three weeks in Thessalonica converting both reaching both the previously religious and non-religious alike.
One of the interesting things that happened during Paul’s preaching is women were especially drawn to this new Christian church. Paul had looked at women’s role quite a bit differently. A woman named Dorcas was one of the earliest Christian disciples. Priscilla and Aquilla were missionaries in converting a man named Apollos. Chloe was the owner of a house in Corinth where the church met. Paul would later say “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.". Women, in fact, made up the majority of Paul’s congregations. Another interesting thing about the early Christians is that they insisted on their marriages being one wife to one husband. The early Christians were no longer going to treat women as property or possessions, but rather as complimentary parts of the family unit.
Paul had made quite a few enemies during his brief stay in Thessalonica. Members of the local synagogue were especially upset as they had been losing members to this new Christian church. Paul had felt such strong heat for his actions that he needed to sneak out of the city in the middle of the night for his safety. Paul would then journey a little over three-hundred miles to Athens to work with another church down there.
With none of the church’s first leaders in Paul, Silas, or Timothy around a leadership vacuum emerged within the Thessalonian church. A man by the name of Jason took the reins. Jason was a relatively new Christian himself, so he had to try his best to lead the Thessalonian community. While the Thessalonians were eager to embrace the faith, they had a lot of unanswered questions. Jason did not know how to answer their questions. The Thessalonians had recently experienced a rash of funerals amongst their initial members. The problem with all these funerals though is the members didn’t know how to interpret them. Many within the Thessalonian church believed that Christians would not undergo death. They believed that Jesus would return within their lifetime to establish his kingdom on earth. Many of the Thessalonians believed that the afterlife would only be available to those who lived to see Christ’s return. Jason not knowing where to turn to try to alleviate the Thessalonians fears got word back to Paul of the problems. Paul decides to write a letter to the Thessalonian church to be read by Jason in response to their questions. Paul had never written a letter like this to a church before. Within a few hundred years, thirteen of Paul’s letters to either various churches or individuals such as Timothy, Titus or Philemon would make up a good portion of the Christian’s holiest book.
Over a thousand years later, Paul’s letter would be broken up into five separate chapters. Paul begins by establishing the personal warmth and affinity that he feels for the people of Thessalonica. Towards the end of the letter, Paul begins to get into the meat of the issues. Paul’s letter said to the following.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord,[d] that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”
Paul wanted the Thessalonians to think of death as a form of sleep. Referring to death as a form of sleep was a very biblical idea. Death was referred to as sleep over fifty times in the Old Testament. A short while before this at the time of one of Jesus’ greatest miracles in the raising of Lazarus, Jesus describes Lazarus as not being dead but rather asleep. Paul didn’t say these words to give the Thessalonians any definitive answers about what their loved ones’ existence would look like between their death and their resurrection. Paul rather uses the word “sleep” to remind the Thessalonians that upon Christ’s return that the body of their loved ones would rise as casually as one awakens within the morning. Paul uses the term “sleep” to remind the Thessalonians that even as they lay their loved ones in the ground, this will not be the last that they see of them.
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Paul wanted to remind the Thessalonians how Christ’s return would exactly look. The dead will rise from the grave first. At this point, those that are living will get caught up or “raptured” to meet The Lord within the air. The key words that Paul speaks has to do with assuring the Thessalonians that they have no reason whatsoever to mourn the death of their fellow Christians.
Paul’s words about the rapture would get misinterpreted in later years. All sorts of ideas started spreading such as Christ would return secretly to whisk away the true believers before great hardship came upon the Earth for seven years. I think the key thing to know about Paul’s letter is that he wished to let the Thessalonians know nothing that wasn’t clearly told elsewhere within the scriptures. Instead, the Greek verb for rapture literally means “meet”. What rapture literally means is believers will meet Jesus in the clouds then journey with him all the way to the earth. Paul never meant to describe an event where Christians just randomly vanish off the face of the earth. Paul had heard about some words that Jesus had spoken during his ministry regarding the end of the world. Jesus would talk about the last days comparing it to the time of Noah. Jesus promises that it is at the end that all evil be swept away, whereas God’s chosen ones just like Noah’s family would be left behind to be with the Lord.
When Paul was talking about the Rapture, he was describing an event that took place on the last day rather than before the last day. When Paul mentions the Rapture, he wished to let the Thessalonians know about the promises of God’s grace. Paul wanted them to look towards the last days of not only their loved ones’ lives but time itself guided by a fear of God. Paul wished instead to give them an assurance of God’s promise given to them on the cross. Jesus Christ was indeed coming soon, and his Kingdom would have no end.
The Thessalonian church was not out of the woods yet though after receiving Paul’s letter. Within a few months, a popular rumor would emerge that Jesus had already returned in secret. The rumor was so widespread that Paul had to write another letter in response to it. Paul assured the people of Thessalonica once again that Christ’s return would not occur in secret. Paul then reminds the Thessalonians not to focus so much on the actual date of Christ’s return or the day of their loved one’s eventual resurrection. Paul believed that this day will come down the pike as unpredictably as the Thief arrives during the night. Paul knew the Thessalonians were probably going to endure some tough days coming up. Paul didn’t want them though to obsess about any specific details regarding the end. Paul instead wished for them to go forth guided by a promise that Christ promises salvation unto them even as the world around them may crumble down.
The story you heard today is the story of Paul’s First and Second Letter to the Thessalonians. Amen
 Acts 17:1-9
 Acts 9:36-43
 Acts 18:18-28
 1st Corinthians 1:11
 Galatians 3:28
 Paul’s journeys after Thessolonica to both Berea and Athens are detailed in Acts 17:10-21
 Jason is mentioned as influential in the Thessolonian church in Acts 17:1-9
 My mentor Dr. Joe Burgess recommended to me a book by Canadian scholar Lee Micheal McDonald entitled The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority published by Baker in 2007
 Chapters were added into the Bible with the Wycliffe Translation of 1382. Verses were added by the Geneva translation in 1560 then confirmed within the pages of the King James Bible.
 1 Thessolonians 4:13-15
 Intresting commentary by Dr. Richard P. Bucher at the website for Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Lexington, Kentucky (LCMS). Dr. Bucher’s article is entitled “Where Does the Soul Go After Death? (Paradise or Soul Sleep?)
 John 11:11
 1 Thessolonians 4:16-17
 Great comment on this issue by Rick Mason made on May, 31, 2011 for an article written by The Lutheran entitled “The Rapture: Does it Square with Lutheran Theology?”
 Matthew 24:36-44
 1 Thessolonians 5:2