“You also became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”
Acts 17:1-9 gives the story of Paul and his team’s visit to Thessalonica. And, as it says in Acts 17 the big complaint against them was, “These men are turning the world upside down.” Why? Because he trained people to go out and reach people, and these people went out and reached people who reached people, and soon it snowballed throughout the region. This is the indigenous concept from an indigenous church. You cannot have an indigenous church with a successful missionary operation apart from the motivation from Bible doctrine. They had to be trained in basic Christology before they were ready to evangelize the world for Christ and that is what they did.
They became followers or imitators of Paul and his team. They began to share the Gospel message and it spread throughout the region as a result. And more importantly, they became imitators of Jesus Christ. They followed is His example. This was all done as a result of taking in doctrine on a consistent basis as they put into practice what they had been taught. They became “doers of the Word and not hearers only.” First of all they received the Word, and as a result of receiving the Word they became imitators. You do not become an imitator of the Lord and you do not become an imitator of a great spiritual believer like Paul apart from receiving the Word. It was receiving the Word that made wonderful, powerful, useful, productive believers out of a handful of Thessalonians.
They were persecuted, and they had all types of trials and testings. Out of that small group there are those who were shortly going to go out to various directions. Therefore, they must have some training. So while they were receiving the Word of God they were getting their training under pressure. Pressure teaches us how to use the Faith Rest Technique and other Problem Solving Devices. Under pressure they learned to claim the promises of God. There is nothing like pressure to cause a believer to get the Word of God and to use the Word of God. You don’t simply go out on the firing line and become a soldier until you have to have training.
The word joy means inner happiness. While they were taking in the Word of God in the midst of these pressures they were still experiencing inner happiness. This means that no matter how great our adversities, our afflictions, our heartaches, our trials, or our problems, the most difficult circumstances of life can be accompanied by inner happiness. This is what accurate Bible doctrine in your soul produces. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and Bible doctrine is the source of inner happiness in the life of a Christian.
As a result of spiritual growth and becoming imitators of Paul and his team and the Lord, they became a perfect blueprint for a local church. They were trained in the Word of God, they evangelized others, and they bought them to the local church so that they could be trained in doctrine. And the process continued as others in the region followed their lead.
“For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.”
The word had gotten around the region regarding the faithfulness of the believers in Thessalonica. Apparently, in some towns the Thessalonians had already been there before Paul arrived and had spread the Gospel. That was the kind of thing that made Paul very happy. How wonderful to walk into a town and find that his own students beat him there, that they had passed the word to someone, who passed the word to someone, who passed the word to someone, and when Paul arrived in town he found believers who had been evangelized by his spiritual children.
Paul and his team had done such a good job of training these believers that needed not brag on them because their actions had spoken louder than words. They got it! They understood their place in God’s plan and were eagerly and joyfully executing it. And remember that many still had questions and were confused about some things they had been taught. But they executed the plan while continuing to grow spiritually. You may not fully understand all the doctrine you have been taught to this point. But if you stay with doctrine, it will eventually all come together as a complete and cohesive system.
“For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.”
Paul was simply acknowledging the fact that these young believers had taken in doctrine and were motivated as a result to carry the Gospel to others cities in the region. When Paul arrived at some of these cities apparently some of the Thessalonica believers had already been there and reported how they came to know Christ as Savior. The kind of reception Paul and his team had with the Gentiles in Thessalonica was amazing. These were people who had been worshipping idols and were practicing paganism. Yet when they heard the clear Gospel message they believed in Christ and turned away from the idols and paganism toward God.
These believers also had enough Bible doctrine in their souls to understand something of the Rapture and the Second Coming. Paul and his team had done a very good job of teaching them Christology and Eschatology. The result was that they had a personal sense of destiny, the correct understanding of Christian service and personal love for God.
A personal sense of destiny is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The uniqueness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ sets Him apart from all the religious leaders of all time. The leaders of these religions are all dead. However, Jesus Christ is alive. Furthermore, Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship. The word “religion” comes from two Latin words, “re,” which means “back” and “ligio,” which means, “to bind.” Combined, they mean “to bind back.” This is exactly what religion teaches - that we must bind ourselves back to God. However, the Bible teaches that it is impossible to bind ourselves back to God. The exact opposite is actually true - God binds us back to Himself in Christ.
In the Person of Christ, God has manifested Himself to all mankind. This was planned in eternity past with each of us in mind. The purpose of this plan was to resolve the Angelic Conflict. You may recall it as the rebellion of Satan (and one third of the angelic host) against God. In order to resolve this conflict and show Satan and the fallen angels that God was fair in sentencing them to the Lake of Fire (Hell), God created man. If throughout the history of the world, only one person trusted Jesus Christ as Savior, it would prove that God was fair in His sentence. As we know, many have trusted Christ as Savior and Satan’s doom is sure. On the other hand, the fate of believers is also sure. God’s plan called for Jesus Christ to become a human being, live a sinless life, die on the Cross to pay the penalty for the sins of the world and be raised from the dead after three days, all in fulfillment of prophecy. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is definitive proof that He is the Son of God and that death has been conquered. For those of us who place our trust in Him, He guarantees them eternal life.
God also guarantees us a life of meaning and purpose while we are on this earth. We are not talking about a system of legalism or taboos designed to keep us from enjoying life (that’s what religion does). What we are talking about is a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe Jesus Christ. Doesn’t it make sense that if God created us that He also wants the very best for us? Of course it does! He does want the very best for us, and He has designed a plan specifically for each one of us. This plan, when properly executed, will allow us to solve every problem in life utilizing information found in God’s Word. This is why it is so important to learn, believe and apply the Word of God to our daily experiences. But just like everything else in life, it is a matter of choice. God will never force you into a course of action. God in His sovereignty has designed mankind with freewill - the right to choose. The question is whether we will choose God’s plan for our life or our own.
A life lived in light of eternity takes on new meaning. In other words, when we live our life utilizing Divine Viewpoint Thinking instead of Human Viewpoint Thinking, our failures are minimized and our successes are maximized. The reason we have a plan and the power to fulfill it is due to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The same power that raised Christ from the dead enables us to execute God’s plan for our lives. (Romans 6:4,10-13)
In John 11:25, Jesus said to Martha, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me will live even if He dies.” Because of the Resurrection, believers in Christ have hope (confident expectation) of their own resurrection at the Rapture of the Church. Just as the death of a believer is the Lord’s victory, so the resurrection of believers is the Lord’s victory. The resurrection of believers is the wise and sovereign decision of God. This means that a believer’s volition and individual merit are not factors in the Resurrection or the Rapture of the Church. The Resurrection is strictly God’s victory. So we have no control over the manner or time of our resurrection. This is completely a matter of the wisdom and sovereignty of God. Your resurrection does not depend in any way on your merit or your life. Winners and losers alike receive a resurrection body, equally. No distinction is made between winners and losers at the point of receiving resurrection bodies.
So resurrection is far greater than we can imagine. For in resurrection God makes no distinction between those who completely fail to execute the Christian Way of Life and those who succeed in executing the Christian Way of Life. The resurrection has nothing to do with our winning the tactical victory in the Angelic Conflict or failing to do so. It has everything to do with Who the Lord is! The Resurrection is one thing you must completely divorce from any principle of spiritual merit! The time, place, and manner of the Rapture (resurrection) of the Church are God’s perfect decision based on the completion of the Royal Family of God.
This victory illustrates the principle of grace because resurrection is totally the work of God provided for all believers, whether they are winners or losers. Resurrection is divorced from any form of human ability or human achievement. It is strictly a matter of grace. Just as the grace policy of God has provided everything the believer needs for time, so the grace policy of God has provided everything the believer needs for dying, death, Heaven, resurrection, and the eternal state. Therefore, the resurrection of the Church is strictly God’s grace and God’s decision. Therefore, it is God’s timing and God’s victory.
Since the resurrection of Church Age believers does not depend upon any system of works or self-righteousness or human merit, or any form of speculation as to its time, it is strictly based on God’s grace. Resurrection is God’s decision, God’s grace, and God’s victory. Since the resurrection of the Church is divorced from any form of human ability or any form of human achievement, it is compatible with the grace of God. Therefore the Resurrection of the Church is the wise and sovereign decision of God, totally apart from human merit or preparation.
The Rapture is imminent because no prophecy must be fulfilled first. Therefore, it can happen at any time. The time of the Rapture is God’s decision. It is not based on our decision or our desire. In the meantime, we are to live every day as unto the Lord. Just as we do not know when we are going to die, we do not know when the Rapture will occur. This means that a believer’s volition, works, merit, or service is not a factor in the Rapture of the Church. Therefore, the Rapture is not subject to man’s timetable or man’s speculation.
Resurrection is a total divine victory. Death has been “swallowed up” and destroyed because of Christ’s resurrection! There will be no death in the eternal state. Death is abolished with the possession of the resurrection body. The sign of Christ’s strategic victory over Satan was His resurrection, ascension, and session at the right hand of the Father. Our resurrection body is an eternal memorial to the grace of God. This is the true meaning of the resurrection of Jesus Christ for you and me!