Turning from idols to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a message that will gain you a massive following but it is a message that is faithful to the Word of God and the Gospel. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 1:9 reports about the work of God among the Thessalonians how they turned from idols to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The change that God worked in their lives was so noteworthy that Paul wanted to report on it. Turning from idols to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is important for us today, as well since believers are those who have turned from their own idols to the living God and His Son Jesus Christ, and await His soon return.
Turning from Idols to the Gospel
Paul and his companions do not need to report in 1 Thessalonians 1:9. People are doing this for them. The missionaries hear the report, and others also hear it. The missionaries hear that others hear it. It is the great news about Paul, Silas, and Timothy (‘about us”) and what God has accomplished through them. The tidings, coming from all the regions which had been penetrated by the faith of the Thessalonians, are spreading far and wide.
Now this report, circulated from mouth to mouth, contains two main topics, the second of which is again divided into two subordinate news items.
A: “Paul, Silas, and Timothy entered in among the Thessalonians in such and such a manner.” (As a result through the operation of the Spirit).
B: “The Thessalonians turned to God from the idols” (meaning: from those idols of theirs): 1: “to serve the living and true God” and 2: “to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
“Turned” means that the Gentiles who had been worshipping idols had experienced a real, inner change which had become outwardly manifest: their whole active life was now moving in the opposite direction: away from idols, to God.
When God converts a man, He changes the entire person, not just the emotions, so that one regrets his former manner of life, but also the mind and will, with respect to which he/she experiences a complete change-over, and all of this becomes apparent in his/her outward conduct.
It was from the idols (both the images themselves and the deities whom they represent) that the Thessalonians had turned away. The apostle and his companions had observed this idol-worship, and knew all about it. These idols were merely “vain things” (Acts 14:15). They were dead; hence, totally unable to render any assistance to anyone in time of need.
Now it must have been a momentous change, this turning away from the idols. It is not easy to reject and eject gods which one has worshipped from the days of childhood, and which by one’s ancestors, from hoary antiquity, have always been considered very real, so that their names and individual peculiarities have been household-words. It amounts to nothing less than a religious revolution. The enemies were right when they said that he missionaries were men who “turned the whole world upside down.” Idol worship affected life in all its phases. And we can well imagine that especially to the Thessalonians these deities had seemed very real, for it must be borne in mind that Mt. Olympus, whose celebrated summit was considered the home of the gods, was close by, only about fifty miles to the S.W. And according to tradition, when Zeus shook his ambrosial curls, that mighty mountain trembled!
Nevertheless, as a result of the operation of God’s grace whereby his message was applied to the hearts, the eyes of the Thessalonians had been opened so that they saw that their idols were vanities. They had turned from them to a God living and real. Here the true God is not so much pointed out as described. All the emphasis is on his character, which is the very opposite of the idols. They are dead, he is living. They are unreal, he is real, genuine. They are unable to help, he is almighty and eager to help. To this God the Thessalonians have turned to serve him continually, submitted themselves to him as completely as does a slave to his master, nay far more completely and far more willingly.
Now turning to a God living and real implies turning to his only-begotten Son and salvation through him; hence there follows: 1 Thessalonians 1:10, “and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
It seems that it was especially the teaching with reference to Christ’s return upon the clouds of heaven that so captive the minds and hearts of the readers. For them true conversion is implied (at least) these two things: a) a turning away from idols, and b) turning to God and to wait for his Son from heaven.
Jesus will come from heaven for His people. This coming the people of God are waiting for. The force of the verb “to wait” must not be lost sight of. It means to look forward to with patience and confidence. This waiting means far more than merely saying, “I believe in Jesus Christ, who ascended into heaven, and from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.” It implies being ready for His return. When you wait for a visitor, you have prepared everything for his coming. You have arranged the guestroom, the program of activities, your time and your other duties, and all this in such a manner that the visitor will feel perfectly at home. So also, waiting for the very Son of God who is coming out of the heaven implies a sanctified heart and life.
This Son of God who is coming from heaven is none other than Jesus Christ, the very One whom God actually and physically raised from the dead. The thought of his coming does not spell terror for the believer. Rather, “the Lord is at hand in nothing be anxious” (Phil. 4:5-6), for it is this Jesus who rescues (is rescuing) us from the wrath to come (the coming wrath). Jesus, the Savior is ever true to his name: he saves, and rescues. He does not rescue everybody but us (Paul, Silas, Timothy, believers at Thessalonica, all the elect).
From the settled indignation which by nature rests on the sinner (Eph. 2:5), and which by his idolatry and immorality and especially (in the case of those who have heard the good news) by his rejection for by the gospel He daily increases, and which will be revealed most fully in the coming day of judgment, Jesus delivers all those who embrace Him by faith.