1 Thessalonians 5:27
I charge you by the Lord that this letter be read to all the holy brothers.
This Epistle is of peculiar interest, as being the most venerable Christian document, and as being a witness to Christian truth quite independent of the Gospels. There are no such doctrinal statements in it as in the most of Paul's longer letters; it is simply an outburst of confidence and love and tenderness, and a series of practical instructions. But if it be so saturated as it is with the facts and principles of the Gospel, the stronger is the attestation which it gives to the importance of these. I have, therefore, thought it might be worth our while if we put this — the most ancient Christian writing — into the witness box, and see what it has to say about the great truths and principles which we call the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us hear its witness —
I. TO THE DIVINE CHRIST.
1. Look how the letter begins (1 Thessalonians 1:1). What is the meaning of putting these two names side by side, unless it means that Christ sits on the Father's throne, and is Divine.
2. More than twenty times in this short letter that great name is applied to Jesus, "the Lord" — the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament Jehovah.
3. Direct prayer is offered to our Lord. Thus the very loftiest apex of revealed religion had been imparted to that handful of heathens in the few weeks of the apostle's stay amongst them. And the letter takes it for granted that so deeply was that truth embedded in their new consciousness that an allusion to it was all that was needed for their understanding and their faith.
II. TO THE DYING CHRIST.
1. As to the fact. "The Jews killed the Lord Jesus." And then, beyond the fact, there is set forth the meaning and the significance of that fact — "God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us." I need but mention in this connection another verse which speaks of Jesus as "He that delivereth us from the wrath to come." It is a continuous deliverance, running all through the life of the Christian man, and not merely to be realized at the far end; because by the mighty providence of God, and by the automatic working of the consequences of every transgression and disobedience, that "wrath" is ever coming towards men and lighting on them, and a continual Deliverer, who delivers us by His death, is what the human heart needs. This witness is distinct that the death of Christ is a sacrifice, is man's deliverance from wrath, and is a present deliverance from the consequences of transgression.
2. And if you will take this letter, and only think that it was merely a few weeks' familiarity with these truths that had passed before it was written, and then mark how the early and imperfect glimpse of them had transformed the men, you will see where the power lies in the proclamation of the gospel. The men had been transformed. What transformed them? The message of a Divine and dying Christ, who had offered up Himself without spot unto God, and who was their peace and their righteousness and their power.
III. TO THE RISEN AND ASCENDED CHRIST. "Ye turned unto God...to wait for His Son from heaven whom He raised from the dead." And again, "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout." The risen Christ, then, is in the heavens.
1. Remember we have nothing to do with the four Gospels here: we are dealing here with an entirely independent witness. And then tell us what importance is to be attached to this evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Twenty years after His death here is this man speaking about that resurrection as being the recognized and notorious fact which all the churches accepted, and which underlay all their faith. Then if, twenty years after the event, this witness was borne, it necessarily carries us back a great deal nearer to the event, for there is no mark of its being new testimony, but every mark of its being the habitual and continuous witness that had been borne from the instant of the alleged resurrection to that present time. The fact is, there is not a place where you can stick a pin in, between the resurrection and the date of this letter, wide enough to admit of the rise of the faith in a resurrection of the Church to the admission that the belief in the resurrection was contemporaneous with the alleged resurrection itself.
2. And so we are shut up to the old alternative, either Jesus Christ rose from the dead, or the noblest lives that the world has ever seen, and the loftiest system of morality that ever has been proclaimed, were built upon a lie. And we are called to believe that at the bidding of a mere unsupported, bare, dogmatic assertion that miracles are impossible. I would rather believe in the supernatural than the ridiculous. And to me it is unspeakably ridiculous to suppose that anything but the fact of the resurrection accounts for the existence of the Church and for the faith of this witness that we have before us.
IV. TO THE RETURNING CHRIST. That is the characteristic doctrinal subject of the letter. The coming of the Master does not appear here with emphasis on its judicial aspect. It is rather intended to bring hope to the mourners, and the certainty that bands broken here may be reknit in holier fashion hereafter. But the judicial aspect is not, as it could not be, left out. And the apostle further tells us that "that day cometh as a thief in the night." That is a quotation of the Master's own words, which we find in the Gospels; and so again a confirmation, from an independent witness, as far as it goes, of the Gospel story. And then he goes on, in terrible language, to speak of "sudden destruction, as of travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape." These, then, are the points of this witness's testimony as to the returning Lord — a personal coming, a reunion of all believers in Him, in order to eternal felicity and mutual gladness, and the destruction that shall fall by His coming upon those who turn away from Him. What a revelation that would be to men who had known what it was to grope in the darkness of heathendom and to have no light upon the future! I remember once walking in the long galleries of the Vatican, on the one side of which there are Christian inscriptions from the catacombs, and on the other heathen inscriptions from the tombs. One side is all dreary and hopeless, one long sigh echoing along the line of white marbles — "Vale! vale! in aeternum vale!" ("Farewell, farewell, forever farewell!") — on the other side, "In Christo, In pace, In spe" ("In hope, in Christ, in peace"). That is the witness that we have to lay to our hearts. And so death becomes a passage, and we let go the dear hands, believing that we shall clasp them again.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.