Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #1149 MP3 Audio File Video File

Blameless at the Parousia

(1 Thess. 5:23-28)

Delivered 01/08/23

Good morning, Bereans. This morning we will be finishing the book of 1 Thessalonians. We are going to be looking at the final section that runs from 5:23-28.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Yeshua the Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV

The focus of this verse is on the complete sanctification of the believer at the coming of the Lord. The God of this salvation or peace is the one who will carry out this work.

"Now may the God of peace himself" the word "may" in the Greek is a form of verb called optative. This simply means that it expresses a wish. It is a prayer/wish for the believer's complete sanctification at the coming of the Lord.

The Greek text literally says, "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you." "Himself" is emphatic (the intensive use of autos) and suggests "Himself and no other." This sanctification is a work of God alone.

"God of peace"—this is a common phrase in the closings of Paul's letters.  Yahweh is a God of peace. It is His actions in Christ that bring us into peace with Him.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Yeshua the Christ. Romans 5:1 ESV

Paul's prayer/wish here is that God himself would, "Sanctify you completely… at the coming of our Lord Yeshua the Christ. What does he mean that he would sanctify them completely? The word "sanctify" is from the Greek hagiazō which means "to make holy, i.e. to purify or consecrate, to set apart for God."

Let's talk about sanctification. First, I want you to understand the traditional view of sanctification. It teacihes that sanctification is the activity of God that liberates the Christian from the power of sin. Sanctification imparts the righteousness of God to man. Traditionally, sanctification is categorized into three aspects:

1. Positional sanctification

This is that state of holiness imputed to the Christian at the moment of his conversion to Christ. This is positional. In other words, if you are in Christ, you are holy.

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Yeshua, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Yeshua Christ, both their Lord and ours:  1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV

Were the Corinthians holy? Yes/No. Paul said they were "saints by calling." "Saints" here is from hagios. They were set apart/made holy for God by their salvation but they were not living holy lives.  Notice what Paul says to the Thessalonians.

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV

God has set them apart for salvation. So positional sanctification is synonymous with salvation. I agree with the traditional view here.

2. Progressive sanctification                     

Traditionally, this refers to the process in our daily lives by which we are being conformed to the image of Christ. It is the process of becoming what we are in Christ. This involves the putting off of the old habits of lying, stealing, backbiting, etc., and putting on the Christ-like qualities of honesty, mercy, and love. A text that is often used to support this view is 2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV).

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV)

This is talking about progressive sanctification, but it does not refer to us. It is talking about the transition saints; those who lived between the first and second advent of Christ. They were being transformed from the Old-Covenant glory to the New-Covenant glory. The context of this chapter is the two covenants.

For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 2 Corinthians 3:9 ESV

These are the two glories, and those of Paul's day were moving from one to the other. They were growing into a living temple of God.

you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Yeshua the Christ. 1 Peter 2:5 ESV
in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:21-22 ESV

During the transition period, the Old Covenant was fading away. The book of Hebrews was written at around A.D. 64-67. At this time, the Old Covenant was still in effect, but it was ready to pass away.

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. Hebrews 8:13 ESV

During this transition, the Church was growing to maturity. It was "being built" for a dwelling place of God. During the transition period, the Church was growing into the image of Christ. This is speaking about position, not practice. This growth was completed in A.D. 70 when the Lord returned, consummating the New Covenant.

So, progressive sanctification is something that happened to the first-century saints. It is not for us. They were growing in their positional holiness. Now let me say this: I believe that we are to be growing in practical holiness. As you walk with the Lord, your life should reflect His values and attributes. But we are not growing into Christ's image positionally. We are complete in Christ.

3. Ultimate sanctification                         

Traditionally, this is said to be that state of holiness that we will not attain to in this life but will realize when we are finally in the presence of God.

Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2 ESV

"But we know that when he appears"—the word appears here is phaneroō. This is the same word used in 1 John 2:28 of the second coming. Here it also refers to the return of Yeshua in the future (from the first-century readers' perspective). We could translate this as, "But at the second coming."

So, when the second coming happened, John said, "we shall be like him"—REMEMBER who the "we" is! John is talking to first-century saints. He tells THEM that when the second coming happens, THEY will be like Christ.

So, what did John mean by his words, "we shall be like him" at the second coming? I think that he is referring to ultimate sanctification which is having Christ's righteousness. At the second coming, all believers received the righteousness of Christ. The nature of our likeness to Christ will be a likeness in respect to righteousness.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Yeshua the Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV

What Paul is saying here is that God will sanctify the Thessalonians completely at the Parousia of Christ. That is when the body of Christ is mature. It is when the New Temple is complete. Notice what Paul says to the Philippians.

and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—Philippians 3:9 ESV

Paul sees only two kinds of righteousness: (1) self-righteousness which leads to damnation and (2) God's righteousness given through faith which equals salvation. This is the righteousness that Paul wanted to have—that which comes by faith in Christ. This is speaking of justification by faith alone.

I think that we understand that when we trust Christ, we receive His righteousness. As Christians we are as righteous as Yeshua. We stand complete in Him. Knowing this, Paul's next statement can be very confusing.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Yeshua has made me his own. Philippians 3:12 ESV

What was it that Paul had not yet attained? The Greek word used here for "attained" is lambano. It means "to receive, to grasp, to seize, to acquire." Paul wrote "I don't have it yet." What is it that he doesn't have yet? The verb lambanois is transitive, but the object is not expressed. Is it the resurrection that he mentioned in verse 11 that he has not attained? Yes, the resurrection is included, but it is more than that. Verses 4-11 are a unit speaking of justification. Verse 9 is the key verse.

and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—Philippians 3:9 ESV

I think that what Paul is saying is that his justification had not yet been consummated, thus he was not yet "blameless in holiness" in his position before Christ. That might not fit your theology, but it fits the context of what Paul has been talking about. As a side note, let me add that the manuscripts P46 and D*, with Irenaeus (Latin translation) and Ambrosiaster, insert the clause "or have already been justified" (dedikaiomai) for the phrase "or am already perfected." Paul was saying "Not that I have already attained, or have already been justified."

Yeshua took our sin and bore its penalty on the cross and he gives us his righteousness. We have been declared righteous by God for all eternity. It will never be reversed or changed. Christ's righteousness has been imputed to our account. Justification involves the imputation of Christ's righteousness. But, at the time of Paul's writing, righteousness was still a hope. Now, you might ask, "Didn't Paul and the New Testament saints already have the righteousness of God? Yes and no. The futuristic perspective of God's righteousness was clearly expressed by Paul.

For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. Galatians 5:5 ESV

If righteousness was already a fulfilled or completed event, Paul made a big mistake in making "righteousness" by faith a matter of hope. You don't hope for what you have.

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:24-25 ESV

If righteousness was a present reality, why would Paul hope for it? But Paul also talks as though it was a present possession.

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, Romans 4:5 ESV

Did Paul have Christ's righteousness or was it still future to him? Yes and yes. He had it, but it was also still future to him. How can this be?

Most believers don't understand that we live in a different age than Paul did. Paul lived in what the Bible calls the "last days"—they were the last days of the Old Covenant. Those "last days" began at Pentecost and ended in A.D. 70 when the Jewish temple was destroyed. We now live in what the Bible calls "the age to come" which is the New Covenant age. This forty-year period from Pentecost to Holocaust was a time of transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. In this transition period, the New Covenant had been inaugurated but not consummated. It was a time of "already but not yet." We can also see this in Ephesians 2.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, Ephesians 2:8 ESV

Paul says that they "have been saved." This seems to be saying that their redemption is complete. Yet, later in the same chapter, Paul writes:

So, then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Yeshua himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV

"Grows into a holy temple"—the present tense verb along with the preceding participle shows that continuance of the growth process indicates a living organism that continues to increase. It's not the future tense looking forward to some eschatological temple, but it is the present tense dealing with a present temple that is not finished and continues to grow. The Greek word for "temple" here is naos. It denotes the inner sanctuary. The word is not hieros, which would be the temple with its porches and outbuilding.

"Being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit"—the ongoing process results in a building where God dwells. The verb is a present indicative with the tense again indicating the continuance of the building. The process was still occurring. But the clear blessing of the New Covenant was that God would dwell with His people.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. Revelation 21:1-3 ESV

The New Jerusalem is the New Covenant according to Galatians 4:24-26 ("For these are the two covenants … but the Jerusalem above is free"). So, Paul tells the Ephesian believers that they are "being built" for a dwelling place of God. It was a process that was taking place but was at that time still unfulfilled.

So, ultimate sanctification is the completion of salvation and the receiving of immortality. For the first-century saints, this happened at the second coming. For us it happens at salvation. Notice that Paul prays that they would be sanctified completely.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Yeshua the Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV

The emphasis here is on "completely" (the adjective holoeleis). This word occurs only here in the New Testament. Holoeleis is a compound of holos ("whole, entire," and telos, "end"). Its basic connotation is "wholly attaining the end, reaching the intended goal." It signifies complete in reference to degree or amount from the standpoint of the aim or design. This is what Paul says in Romans 8:29 (ESV)

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:29 (ESV)

This, believer, is ultimate sanctification—to be conformed to Christ's image.

Paul says that what is to be sanctified completely is, "your whole spirit and soul and body."  In the entire New Testament, the adjective "whole" appears only here and in James 1:4. It conveys the quality of being "complete" or "entire" and is similar to the word "completely" of the previous clause.

This is the classic verse for those who argue that men and women are composed of three parts: body, soul, and spirit ("trichotomy").  But this is the only place in the Pauline letters where Paul uses these three terms to describe the totality of human nature.

Although it cannot be sustained in terms of the usage of pneuma and  psuche, trichotomists have suggested that the spirit is a sort of godward consciousness whereas the soul is sort of an earthward consciousness.

Paul does not indicate that spirit and soul are two substances that can be separated. In fact, nowhere in Scripture are they separated. You cannot find a text of Scripture that separates them and shows you what the spirit is and does and what the soul is and does. You can't find anything in the Scriptures that dissects and says this is soul and this is spirit as to function.

The distinctions between soul and spirit are not precise or technical. For example, in Luke, Mary uses the terms in Hebrew synonymous poetry when she says,

"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior," Luke 1:46-47 ESV

The parallelism shows that soul and spirit are synonymous.

The more commonly held view is that people are made up of two parts—body and soul, the material and the immaterial ("dichotomy"). I would say that biblically mankind is primarily represented in the Bible as a unity.

then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Genesis 2:7 ESV

The Hebrew word translated here as "creature" is nephesh. It is often translated as soul. But it simply means "a breathing creature." Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words defines nephesh as

"The essence of life, the act of breathing, taking breath. The problem with the English term 'soul' is that no actual equivalent of the term or the idea behind it is represented in the Hebrew language. The Hebrew system of thought does not include the combination or opposition of the 'body' and 'soul' which are really Greek and Latin in origin" [1985, p. 237-238].

So, man is composed of dirt and the breath of God and not a combination of two or three separate entities (body, soul, and spirit). This helps us understand death. If you take away the body, or the breath of life, there is no longer a living creature. I think it is with Genesis 2:7 in mind that the writer of Ecclesiastes says

and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Ecclesiastes 12:7 ESV

Those who hold to dichotomy point out that the immaterial part of people contains not only soul and spirit but also heart, mind, will, conscience, and even kidney. In Mark 12, God commands us to love Him with

all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'  Mark 12:30 ESV

What is missing? there is no mention of "spirit." Shouldn't we love God with our spirit? In other texts, Paul refers to body and spirit, but doesn't mention the soul.

But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. Romans 8:10 ESV

Here he defines man as body and spirit. In 1 Corinthians chapter 2 and verse 11 he says,

For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 1 Corinthians 2:11 ESV

So, you have the spirit in the man. In chapter 5 verse 3 he says,

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 1 Corinthians 5:3 ESV

There are the two again—body and spirit. Look at verse 5.

you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 5:5 ESV

Here the flesh is destroyed, and the spirit is saved.

and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 1 Corinthians 7:34 ESV

Here he talks about "being holy both in body and spirit."

In our text, it is clear that both soul and spirit need to be sanctified. So, my understanding is that Paul is not giving us here a technical description of the nature of man but rather is emphasizing that the sanctification at the second coming will be entire. It will involve every part of our being, both material and immaterial.

So, I believe that man is body and spirit. Therefore, I'm a dichotomist, but if you hold to a trichotomy, we can still be friends.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Yeshua the Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV

Paul prays that the whole man will be "kept blameless."

The word "blameless," is amemptos, meaning "free from blame." It is an adverb and modifies the verb "kept." "Kept" is tereo, which means (1) "keep, guard, watch over" and (2) "keep, hold, preserve someone."

Blameless is only found here in the New Testament. It has been found in inscriptions at Thessalonica. It means free from blame or accusations, and therefore, it denotes being morally pure. It possibly reflects the Old Testament term "blameless" that meant free of defects and, therefore, available for sacrifice.

Paul prays that the Thessalonians will be blameless "at the coming of our Lord Yeshua the Christ"— the word "coming" here is Parousia. This has been the theological focus of the entire book. This is the sixth time in this letter that Paul mentions the "coming of the Lord." Parousia literally means "presence," and by metaphorical extension, it conveys "coming." To the disciples, the "Parousia" of the Son of Man signified the full manifestation of His Messiahship, His glorious appearing in power as Lord.

The expression "at the coming of our Lord Yeshua the Christ" should not be understood as "until His coming" as translated by the KJV. The focus is on the believer's spiritual state at the time of the second coming.

When was this Parousia to happen? Well, in chapter 1 Paul wrote that they were

to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Yeshua who delivers us from the wrath to come. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 ESV

"And to wait for his Son from heaven."  This is clearly a reference to the second coming of Christ at the end of the age. Nobody argues with or questions that. So, the Thessalonians were waiting for Yeshua to come from heaven at his second coming.

"Wait" is from the Greek word anameno. It is found only here in the New Testament, but it occurs four times in the Septuagint. Anameno is from ana ("upon) and meno ("abide or "remain"). Vines Expository Dictionary says that ana intensifies the meaning of meno. It conveys the meaning of expectant waiting—sustained, patient, trusting waiting. It pictures an eager looking forward to the coming of one whose arrival was anticipated at any time and an eager waiting for one who's coming is expected. BDAG Lexicon says it means "to wait for, expect someone or something."

The Thessalonian believers of Paul's first letter were waiting for the second coming of Christ. Should they have been? If the Lord has not yet returned, as the majority of the church believes, over 2,000 years later, why were they eagerly looking forward to His coming in the first century? Would you wait for something that you didn't expect to happen?

The church's predominant view of the Parousia is at odds with Paul's teachings. So, who got it wrong? Was it Paul or the majority of the church?  The Church at large is still waiting for the Parousia, over two thousand years since it was prophesied. But Paul said the first-century believers would see it. Who is right? Before you answer that question, let me remind you that it wasn't just Paul who taught a first-century Parousia. Paul taught it because Yeshua first taught it.

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Matthew 16:27 ESV

This is clearly a second-coming passage. Notice the next verse.

Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."  Matthew 16:28 ESV

Yeshua is telling the first-century disciples that some of them would still be alive when the second coming happened.

So, let me ask you again. Who is wrong—Yeshua and the New Testament writers or the Church? I think that anyone who is a serious student of the Bible will sooner or later come to realize that if the church is correct, there is a problem with Yeshua's predictions of His Parousia. Almost all mentions of the Parousia have a time statement with them that indicate that it would happen soon. If Yeshua didn't return in the first century as He said He would, He is a false prophet. This is a serious problem.

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 ESV

The work of salvation, planned in their election and effected in their calling and conversion, was to be brought to completion at the coming of the Lord Yeshua the Christ in their lifetime.

"He who calls you"—always refers to God the Father (cf. 2:12; 4:7). This verse refers to the believer's election plus glorification (cf. Romans 8:29-34). It focuses on the faithfulness of God who initiates and perfects.

"He will surely do it." This reminds me of what Paul said to the Philippians.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Yeshua the Christ. Philippians 1:6 ESV

In each of those verses, Paul mentions God's initiative in our salvation. He effectually calls us. Every time the divine call is mentioned in the New Testament, it refers to God's effectual call of His elect to salvation. What God began in the election and calling of the Thessalonians (1:4; 2:12; 4:7; 2 Thess. 2:13–14) he would complete at the time of the coming of Yeshua. (cf. Rom. 8:30).

Brothers, pray for us. 1 Thessalonians 5:25 ESV

Paul concludes his prayer for them by asking that they pray for Silvanus, Timothy, and him. Paul felt a need for prayer. In almost all of his epistles, Paul was asking the people to pray for him as he mentioned how he prays for them. Paul believed in prayer.

Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. 1 Thessalonians 5:26 ESV

The "who," "where," and "how" of the early church's use of this type of greeting is uncertain. Paul encourages other churches to greet one another with a holy kiss, usually in connection with exhortations about being at peace with one another (Rom 16: 16-20; 2 Cor 13: 11-12; see also 1 Pet 5: 14). The practice is still done in the churches in Greece and Rome as seen in believers kissing each other on both cheeks.

Some say that the holy kiss was discontinued because of cultural misunderstanding by the pagans. In our day in American culture, a hug or a handshake function in the same way.

I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. 1 Thessalonians 5:27 ESV

The narrative changes here from the first-person plural to the singular. Paul himself probably added this final exhortation in his own writing (cf. 2 Thess. 3:17).

In the first two requests, he used the imperative mood of command common throughout this last section, but here he switched to a formula that basically consisted of placing someone under oath. "I put you under oath" is horkizo ("to adjure, cause or call on someone to swear," "to bind by an oath"). The language is exceptionally strong. Paul wants to cause them to swear by or before the Lord that they will read this letter to all the members of the church. But why the change in intensity here? Because Paul knew the importance of the truths presented in this epistle. It is God's truth that transforms lives. Peter viewed Paul's letters as Scripture.

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 2 Peter 3:15-16 ESV

Peter said that what Paul wrote was Scripture.

The word for "read" is anaginosko, which is often used of the public reading of Scripture. Since this was Paul's first letter, there was no established custom of the public reading of his letters. He wanted to make sure the practice was established.

Presumably, the "you" refers to the leadership (5:12–13) who would be responsible to read Paul's letter to all the brethren. Reading the Scripture publicly had been done by the Jews (Neh. 8:8; Luke 4:16; Acts 13:27) and was now being done also in the church (Col 4:16; 1 Tim 4:13; Rev 1:3). Paul undoubtedly believed that it was imperative for all the Thessalonians to hear what he had written because it had come from the Lord.

The grace of our Lord Yeshua the Christ be with you. 1 Thessalonians 5:28 ESV

Nearly all of Paul's letters begin and end with the idea of grace. The word "grace" means "free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment." Human merit plays no part in man's salvation. I think you understand that, but do you understand that, as Christians, we are to live by grace?

All of the Christian life is a matter of grace. We are brought into God's eternal kingdom by grace; we are positionally and practically sanctified by grace; we are motivated to obedience by grace; we receive strength to live the Christian life by grace; and we receive both temporal and spiritual blessings by grace. The entire Christian life is lived by grace.

To live by grace is to live solely by the merit of Yeshua the Christ. To live by grace is to base our entire relationship with God, including our acceptance and standing with Him, on our union with Christ. To live by grace is to recognize that in ourselves we bring nothing of worth to our relationship with God, because even our righteous acts are like filthy rags in His sight. To live by grace means that we understand that God's love is not conditioned by our obedience or disobedience but by the perfect obedience of Yeshua the Christ.

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