1 Thessalonians 2:14-16: God’s Assurance When Persecution Comes

October 5, 2016

 

We live in a sinful world. A world that hates truth and righteousness! It is incredible how blind, seemingly intelligent people can be. Everywhere in this world we find heartache, strife, sickness, poverty, injustice and a host of other ills.

 

Christianity is the world's largest religion, yet being a believer can be dangerous: A report finds that Christians are discriminated against in 130 countries - and the situation is only getting worse. According to The Pew Research Center, more than 75% of the world's population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions. According to the United States Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ.

 

“100 million Christians around the globe are currently suffering persecution for their faith.  Most often persecution takes the form of imprisonment, abuse, and hostilities. In some cases, however, Christians are asked to face more than scorn, prison, or the loss of health—they are asked to face death. These individuals are the Christian martyrs of our faith. Jesus said in Matthew 10:39 “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” During the first century, almost all of Jesus’ disciples suffered martyrdom for his sake.  Peter was crucified upside down, Mark was torn to pieces, and Paul was beheaded. As Christianity spread throughout Europe and the British Isles, countless numbers of Christians were tortured and burned at the stake. And few can forget the moving story of Jim Elliot and four others who ventured into the Ecuadorian jungle, never to return. This history reminds us of the great price that belief in God may demand and the great impact that such a sacrifice can have.” –https://www.opendoors.org.nz

 

Jesus didn’t promise comfort and ease for those who believe in Him and live their lives by His teaching. In fact, He promised the opposite. He said, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).

 

The Bible says:

 

John 15:18, “If the world hate you, you know that it hated me before it hated you.”

 

John 15:20, “Remember the word that I said to you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.”

 

John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

 

1 Corinthians 2:14, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

 

So Christians who stand for God's truth and for doing what is right, moral and decent will find themselves being at odds with the society in which they live. But faithful Christians have God's assurance of never being forsaken by God. The faithful Christian is not alone when he faces trials, difficulties, and persecution.

 

Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you”  

 

Hebrews 13:5,6 NLT, “God assured us, ‘I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,’ we can boldly quote, ‘God is there, ready to help;’ I’m fearless no matter what. Who or what can get to me?”

 

Verse 14a: “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus.”

 

In chapter 1 they had become “imitators” also, “and you became followers (imitators) of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit…” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). Apparently this imitation was not of their choosing, but it was a reflection that the Word of God had worked itself out in their lives so that they were willing to suffer for the gospel. This was striking proof of the energizing power of the gospel in their lives and it clearly demonstrated that they were not among the superficial hearers. As James says, “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear!” (James 1:22 MSG).  They obviously were acting on what they had heard!

 

By believing the Gospel and practicing the Word of God, these Thessalonians had followed in the train of many others (“became imitators of the churches”) who, when they believed the truth, also found that they attracted enemies.

 

“These new converts were exhibiting the family likeness, turning out to be very like the believers of older churches. Born many miles away from Judaea, with a sea dividing them from the first country where the gospel was preached, yet these Thessalonian Gentiles, when converted, looked wonderfully like the converts from among the Jews .” –Spurgeon

 

Verse 14b: “For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans (Jews)…”

 

The Bible clearly states that Christians will be persecuted. “Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12 NLT).  It still happens today in many different forms, from as simple as being mocked to as serious as murder. Be that as it may, you should not let persecution discourage you from being a Christian. Accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior is one of the most important things you will do on this Earth. You shouldn't avoid it just because of the persecution. Life may be hard for you at times because you’re a believer, but be strong. Christian persecution may not be avoidable, but as Christians, you can endure it. “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10 NLT).

 

When one really embraces the word of God, then they will hold on to what that message teaches, regardless of the personal cost or what the opposition might be. The Thessalonians welcomed suffering when they welcomed the Word, yet they stood steadfast. When they responded to the Gospel, they became the targets of persecution. And they were not alone, because those among the churches of God have often suffered persecution. The Thessalonian Christians became imitators of those who had suffered before them.

The reference to the “Judeans (Jews),” is probably to the unbelieving Jews who opposed the Christians in Thessalonica, rather than a general reference to all Jews.

 

“It was Jewish persecution which first broke against the infant church; and it was conspicuously against their own countrymen; here Paul compared the persecutions of the Thessalonians which they had endured at the hands of their Gentile countrymen to that of the Jewish-Christians in Judea, noting that both had bravely and courageously endured. However, as a glance at Acts 17:13, “But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds” will show, the Jews were those who had instigated and promoted the persecution in Thessalonica, even though the details of it were executed by Gentiles. The very thought of such a thing seems to have triggered in Paul's mind the startling words written next (Verse 15). Kelcy said that for denunciative bitterness, ‘This is unparalleled in any of Paul's other writings.’ However, it should not be thought that Paul was in any manner reprehensible in the denunciation that followed. He said nothing that Christ had not said; all that he said was true; and all that he said needed to be said.” –Coffman

 

Verse 15a: “…who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us…”

 

First, it must be categorically stated that Paul is not advocating anti-Semitism for there is no place in the Christian faith for this sinful attitude. Paul himself loved his fellow unbelieving Jews and sought to help them.

 

“For though Pilate condemned him to death, and the Roman soldiers executed the sentence, yet it was through the malice and envy of the Jews that he was delivered to him, who brought charges against him, and insisted upon the crucifixion of him; and who are therefore said to have taken him with wicked hands, and crucified and slain him; and to have killed the Prince of life, and to have been the betrayers and murderers of him; and therefore it is no wonder that such persons should persecute the followers of Christ, whether in Judea or elsewhere.” –John Gill

 

The “Jews” here are the chief priest and the leaders. It is not the Jewish people as a whole. The writers are not against the Jews. Paul and Silas were Jews and so were most of the first Christians. Jesus was a Jew and all his work on earth was among the Jews. So the leaders of the Jews killed Jesus, who was one of their own nation. It was not only Jesus, whom the leaders of the Jews killed. In their past history they had killed the prophets (Acts 7:52).

 

Verse 15b: “…and they do not please God and are contrary to all men…”

 

The misguided, deluded Jews thought that by such hostile acts they were pleasing to God as explained by Jesus to His disciples that the Jews “…will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service” (John 16:2).

 

Paul spoke to the basic underlying principle of why any man would not be pleasing to God writing that…“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it s not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7,8). In other words because the Jews remain in Adam and not in Christ, they lack the enabling power of the Spirit to be pleasing to God.

 

“To persist in a course of conduct that can only evoke divine displeasure is a serious thing indeed.” –Hiebert

 

“Paul also comforted the Thessalonian Christians with the awareness that they were right, that they are the ones pleasing God. This was necessary assurance because they were persecuted by religious people, and might wonder if these other religious people were in fact right before God in their persecuting.” –Guzik

 

“Contrary” in Greek is enantios, literally, against or opposite and figuratively antagonistic, contrary to, hostile toward, opposed as an adversary. This word primarily pertains to being opposite (as in face to face or confronting someone) or over against in terms of direction, as in describing the wind (enantios is used 3 times in the New Testament to describe contrary winds).

 

“To all men” God's chosen people who were set apart by God in order that through them He might bless all men, so departed from their original purpose that here Paul says they are hostile to all men! The next verse explains that the basis for this charge is the fact that they hindered Paul from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved.

 

Verse 16a: “…forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved…”   

 

“Forbidding” in Greek is, koluo, meaning to cut off,  debar, to cut short, to weaken, to hinder, to prevent, to check, to restrain or to forbid by word or act. The idea is to cause something not to happen. The word koluo here  is in the present tense indicating an active, persistent practice by the unbelieving Jews to prevent by whatever means the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles.

 

This was not new for Paul! He was opposed before when he was trying to preach the Gospel.

 

Acts 13:45, “But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.”


Acts 14:1,2, “Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren.”

 

Acts 14:19, “Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.”

 

Acts 18:12, “When Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him to the judgment seat…”

 

Acts 22:22, “And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!”

 

We are told by historians that the Jews who were to bless all nations by their very presence, were so hostile as to shun the Gentiles. If a Gentile came to the temple seeking God, Jewish leaders would send them away, saying, “You can’t find Him here!”

 

I have seen similar things in some churches, for example, on a church we visited once, the sign on the front door said. “women in slacks not allowed.” My question is “how can they find God?” The answer is the same as the Jews answer, “You can’t find Him here!” “Me, my wife, and daughter and our son Bill, us four, no more!” And these religionists pull their self-righteous robes around them, saying to the world outside, “us four, no more.”

 

Vincent quotes historical writings testifying to the Jewish hostility to all men - Tacitus (Hist. v. 5) describes the Jews as stubborn in their faith, prompt in kindly offices to each other, but bitterly hostile toward everybody else.”

 

“Paul well understood that the Jewish hostility to the Gentiles was grounded not in their natural make-up, but their rejection of the Gospel, and their determination to thwart its progress. And, it may be added, there is a permanent element in Paul's teaching here: to the unbelieving Jew, the preaching of the cross is still a “stumbling block.” 1 Corinthians 1:23, “…but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness…” –adapted from Edmond Hiebert

 

Verse 16b: “…so as always to fill up the measure of their sins…”

 

“As always” blind and stubborn, the Jews filled up the measure of their sins by their treatment of Christ and his apostles." –Vincent

 

“Fill up” in Greek is anapleroo meaning the making up of what is lacking to perfect fullness, the filling of a partial void. This description implies that there is a certain measure of wickedness that God will allow a nation, a group, or an individual to complete before His judgment falls on them.

 

Barclay paints a vivid picture writing that “Each fresh act of hostility to the Gospel was an additional drop in their cup of guilt, which had been steadily filling during the ages.”

 

Tasker remarks that “God delays the display of His wrath till offenders have reached a kind of saturation point, beyond which they may not pass…”

 

Verse 16c: “…but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.”

 

“Wrath’ in Greek is orge, an inner, deep resentment that seethes and smolders. Orge does not refer to uncontrollable anger to which men are so prone but to God's settled indignation and controlled passionate hostile feeling toward sin in all its various manifestations. God’s holiness cannot and will not coexist with sin in any form.

 

“Paul's statement here deals with the inevitable fate of the Christ-rejecting Jews who reveal their determined opposition to the gospel by their efforts to hinder its preaching to the Gentiles. But it must be remembered that this passage does not give Paul's complete teaching concerning the future of Israel… the masses of the Jews in every period of their history have been unbelieving and therefore under the judgment of God, but always there has been an elect remnant to whom God has manifested His saving grace. Since the masses of the Jews, by their persistent opposition to his work, reveal that it is their settled policy to reject the gospel of Christ, Paul knows that inevitable judgment awaits them. Because of their unbelief, a hardening has befallen the nation that will last "until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” –Hiebert

 

NO SCAR?

 

Hast thou no scar?

No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?

I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,

I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star,

Hast thou no scar? Hast thou no wound?

Yet I was wounded by the archers, spend,

Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent

By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned:

Hast thou no wound? No wound, no scar?

Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,

And, pierced are the feet that follow Me;

But thine are whole: can he have followed far

Who has no wounds nor scar?

–Amy Carmichael–

 

**Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English  bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB).**

 

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