A key to understanding the central role of the Holy Spirit in the early Christian communities is to realize that the earliest Christians did not think there was going to be on ongoing Christian community. I discussed that a bit in my previous post and here I can continue the thought
The apostle Paul is our earliest Christian author, and it appears that on this particular point he was in agreement with his predecessors, the very first followers of Jesus who came to believe he had been raised from the dead. They thought that the messiah’s resurrection demonstrated that the resurrection had already begun, and they expected, then, that it would be completed right away.
It is clear this this is what Paul thought. Just consider the earliest of his letters that still survives, 1 Thessalonians. Scholars usually date the letter to 49-50 CE or so, just some 20 years after Jesus’ death. Paul had earlier brought his missionary zeal to Thessalonica, and while there he converted a number of people. Based on what he says in 1 Thess. 1:9-10, it is clear they had been pagans, not Jews. He then regularly met with them and taught them his gospel message, before leaving for another missionary territory.
The reason he is writing back to the community in Thessalonica is fundamental to our interests here. There are hints for why Paul wrote the letter throughout, but the matter comes to a climax in chapter 4. Members of the Thessalonian community have died since Paul left, and those in the church are very concerned about the fate of the deceased. Paul had taught his converts that Jesus was soon to return from heaven in judgment on the earth and to bring in God’s great kingdom. Those who believed in Christ would be given a great reward and would be granted a glorious eternal life in this kingdom.
But that hasn’t happened. And now these church members have died in the meantime. It appears the Thessalonian Christians are upset, thinking that those who have already passed away have missed the boat. When Christ returns – they will not get their reward. And members of the community are grieving for their lost ones (1 Thess. 4:13).
Paul responds by
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