Paul’s first missionary journey was to Galatia, a region in the central part of Asia Minor. On his second missionary journey he returned to Galatia where, with Paul’s encouragement and apostolic instruction, the “churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers” (Acts 16:5, CSB).
Paul was a church planter. Everywhere Paul went, he preached the Gospel, leaving behind Christian converts who were gathered together in newly formed churches.
Leaving Galatia, Paul and his companions traveled west across modern-day Turkey. The westward highway passed through the regions of Phrygia and Mysia. Though there were many cities and towns in which they might have planted churches, the Spirit urged them westward, toward the port city of Troas (Acts 16:6-7). “During the night Paul had a vision in which a Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, ‘Cross over to Macedonia and help us!’ ” (Acts 16:9, CSB). God spoke clearly to Paul, and in obedience, the missionary faithfully took the Gospel to modern-day Greece.
Across the Aegean Sea, on European soil, Paul’s first stop was Philippi. God had directed them there, but the ministry was hard, and Paul was beaten and imprisoned. At great personal cost to the missionary, a church was planted.
Travelling another hundred miles, Paul came to the thriving Roman city of Thessalonica. Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia, a port city on an important trade route. Located in the city was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went to the synagogue to explain that the promised Messiah had arrived! He preached the Gospel of Jesus and “some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, including a large number of God-fearing Greeks, as well as a number of the leading women” (Acts 17:4, CSB). And, yes, a church was planted at Thessalonica.
But much like what had happened in Galatia, there was opposition. “The Jews became jealous, and they brought together some wicked men from the marketplace, formed a mob, and started a riot in the city” (Acts 17:5, CSB). “As soon as it was night, the brothers and sisters sent Paul and Silas away to Berea” (Acts 17:10, CSB).
From there, Paul travelled south through Berea to Athens and Corinth. While in southern Greece, Paul wrote two letters back to the infant church in Thessalonica. Both letters were written to encourage the new believers and strengthen their faith, but the letters were also sent to answer questions concerning the rapture and the great tribulation.
In the first letter, Paul answered their inquiries concerning the rapture of the church. “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope ... For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still 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. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, CSB). Hallelujah! Jesus is coming to take His beloved bride home to heaven!
The second letter was sent just a few months later. The persecution was becoming increasingly violent (2 Thessalonians 1:4-5, CSB) and some believed that the great tribulation had arrived (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, CSB). Paul lovingly encourages them. “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal encouragement and good hope by grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good work and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, CSB).
Like the church at Thessalonica, we may feel busted and beat up. But we can be comforted by the promise that the seven years of terrible tribulation will follow the rapture of the church. Indeed, Jesus came to save His precious and beloved bride “from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10, ESV). “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9, CSB).
Pastor Paul prayed for the church planted at Thessalonica. “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. And may your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will do it! (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, CSB).
Indeed, the world is dark! In the last days we will face storms of persecution. But listen! God has promised to calm us, even as the storm rages on! And just before God’s wrath is poured out upon those that have rejected Him, Jesus will return! The angels will shout, and the trumpets will blast! “Then we who are still 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” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, CSB).
“Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20, CSB).
South Georgia Baptist Church
Mike Martin, Pastor