The Agora
Waiting For His Son - Thessalonians

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IV. Fellowship In Persecution (2:13-16)

v. 13
"For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
v. 14
"For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews:
v. 15
"who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men:
v. 16
"forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost."


v. 13 "For this cause also": What is "this cause?" In other words, is Paul looking backward or forward? It is possible he is thanking God for the successful preaching of the gospel despite all difficulties, as described in vv 1-12. But it seems more likely that he is looking forward, and thanking God -- more to the point -- for the Thessalonians' reception of that preaching as the word of God (vv 13,14). The "also" presents a bit of a problem too. If this is to be understood as a second reason for Paul's giving thanks to God, it is scarcely distinguishable from the first reason (1Th 1:2-4). Perhaps Paul means "we also give thanks as we know you give thanks..."

"Without ceasing": "Adialeiptos" ("continually": NIV) is unique to Paul in the New Testament, and is always used in connection with prayer and thanksgiving. Paul uses this word to describe the incessant sorrow, or pain of heart, he feels for his unbelieving countrymen (Rom 9:2). (This characteristic attitude of Paul towards his Jewish enemies must be remembered especially when reading such a passage as 1Th 2:13-16, where the apostle seems almost vindictive toward these same Jews. The same man can righteously pray continually for the salvation of his fellow countrymen and rejoice in God's coming judgments against them if they remain unrepentant.) Paul also uses "adialeiptos" in Rom 1:9; 2Ti 1:3; and 1Th 5:17, directly of prayer; and in 1Th 1:3 of his remembrance (in thanksgiving) of the faith and love of these same Thessalonians.

"Ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth the word of God": "You didn't just take our word for it; you took it as God's word!" Paul was accustomed (as many preachers of the Word have been since) to having his message dismissed as man-made, merely something devised by himself:

"But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal 1:11,12).
But to the Thessalonians Paul's words came with power and conviction (1Th 1:5,6), and they knew and believed that God was the source.

"Which effectively worketh also in you that believe": In this case it is precisely the "word" that works, not God. Or, more accurately, God works through His word. This idea of a word or a message having an active power (an "energizing" influence) of its own, is common in both the Old Testament and the New Testament:

"And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword..." (Isa 49:2).

"For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall My word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it" (Isa 55:10,11).

"Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?" (Jeremiah 23:29).

"The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph 6:17).

"For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb 4:12).
This personification of the word of God progressed to the final stage in the advent of Jesus, the word of God made flesh (John 1:14). In the New Testament the two ideas, of God's energizing word in us and of "Christ in us" (Rom 8:10; Eph 3.17; Col 1:27), become practically interchangeable. It is brought about by the spoken and written word of God, believed and acted upon.

The verb "energeo" is used mostly in the New Testament of the direct or indirect influence of God or His Spirit (1Co 12:6,11; Gal 2:8; 3:5; Eph 1:11,20; 3:20; Phi 2;13; Col 1:29), and also of the word of God (here) and the faith it produces (Gal 5:6). The word describes not so much the labor itself as the energizing power by which the labor is done. The believer does not go on "automatic pilot" when God comes into his life; he must still labor himself. But now he finds a new energy, a new strength, from God and His word to enable him to do things he would previously have considered impossible. Thus Paul can write without contradiction:

"... work out your own salvation... for it is God which worketh in you" (Phi 2:12,13).
The labor ("katergazomoi"), the intensive effort is ours (v 12). But the energizing influence ("energeo"), the motivation and the power, comes from God (v 13). God and man have become "laborers together" (1Co 3:9; cp Eph 2:10).

v. 14 "Followers": "Imitators" (NIV), as in 1Th 1:6. In their endurance of persecution the Thessalonians had become imitators of the Judean ecclesias now being scattered abroad by their enemies (Acts 9:31). This implies more than a passive acceptance of suffering; the believers went forward to meet their sufferings with steadfast faith and courage, and rejoiced in this unique fellowship with their brethren in Israel.

It may be noted, incidentally, how favorably Paul speaks of the ecclesias in and around Jerusalem. This Paul is not the anti-Jewish schismatic that some modern scholars and critics would imply.

"For ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews": "Countrymen" (Greek "symphyletes") means those of the same ethnic group, not the same geographical location. This would imply (as discussed elsewhere) that the Thessalonian church was predominantly Gentile (cp 1Th 1:9,10), and furthermore (despite the evidence of Acts 17:5-9) that their persecutors were likewise predominantly Gentile. It would have been thoroughly in character for Jewish enemies of the Truth to take the initiative in opposition, but then to shrewdly stand aside while certain base Gentile elements carried on what they had begun.

v. 15 "Who both killed the Lord Jesus": Thus Paul reserves his most severe denunciations for the Jews, who were the instigators of the death of Jesus also (John 19:16) although Gentile hands were not altogether clean in the matter (Acts 4:25-28). By "Jews" (v 14) Paul would seem to have in mind (as did John generally in his gospel) the chief priests and rulers and other leaders of Israel. But the other men of Israel, wherever they lived, could scarcely escape all responsibility, as Peter makes plain on the day of Pentecost:

"Ye men of Israel, ('out of every nation under heaven' -- v 5!)... ye have taken (Jesus), and by wicked hands have crucified and slain (him)" (Acts 2:22,23; cp v 36 also).
Noting the unmistakable bitterness of this passage, we must remind ourselves again that Paul was renowned for his sacrificial desire to see the salvation of his countrymen (Rom 9:1-3; 10:1), regardless of how much he had suffered personally at their hands (2Co 11:24,26).

Perhaps we may appreciate why, at this point especially in his work, Paul could speak so grimly of the Jews. He had been chased out of Damascus (Acts 9:23-25) and Jerusalem (Acts 9:29,30), by his own people not very long after his conversion. His message had been rejected and he had been driven out of Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:45,46,50). At Iconium the Jews had poisoned people's minds against Paul and Barnabas and ultimately forced them out (Acts 14:2,5,6). They had journeyed to Lystra especially to instigate a riot that produced Paul's stoning and left him as good as dead (Acts 14:19). Jewish opposition had continued to hound him even into Europe, forcing him to leave these very believers in Thessalonica against his will (Acts 17:5,10). Even as Paul writes these words from Corinth, a united attack has been mounted against him by the Jews of the city (Acts 18:6,12,13). Considering the present plight of the Thessalonian believers (1Th 3:3), ultimately traceable to Jewish enemies, it is no wonder that Paul is at this time moved to an uncharacteristic mention of Jewish stubbornness and rebellion, and of their coming punishment.

"And their own prophets": The killing of Jesus was but the logical conclusion to the killing of those earlier prophets, who by their words and lives had foretold his coming. (So Stephen argued just before his own death -- Acts 7:52.) Such a thought was certainly behind the words of Jesus, who mourned over the city:

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee" (Mat 23:37).

"... for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem" (Luke 13:33).
And he addressed the Jews again:

"Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers..." (Luke 11:47,48).
So intent were the religious Jews upon preserving the traditions of their fathers that they fought tooth and nail against anything and anyone in any way different and challenging. This was also what their fathers had done when challenged by the prophets. Such inflexibility of mind renders men incapable of hearing the message of God, of examining themselves, and of repenting. Thus they cling to traditions that have the outward appearance of religion, but never come to grips with the "weightier matters." The same frame of mind that would slavishly revere dead prophets would just as easily kill contemporary prophets.

"And have persecuted us": Literally, "and also drove us out" (NIV), perhaps with special reference to the recent expulsion of Paul and his friends from Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-10) and then from Berea (vv 13,14).

"They please not God, and are contrary to all men": An exclamation: "How much they displease God! How contrary they are to all men!" The word "contrary" ("enantios") is commonly applied to the winds (Acts 27:4; Mark 6:48; Matt 14:24). It is used of the Jews as though their hatred of Jesus and his followers was an unreasoning force of nature.

v. 16 "Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved... In their effort to keep us from speaking..." (NIV).

Some translations add this to v 15, thus explaining how the Jews showed themselves contrary or hostile to all men. This opposition was very much in the spirit of the Pharisees, of whom Jesus said "ye shut up the Kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in" (Mat 23:13).

"To fill up their sins alway": Their cup of guilt was already well on the way to being filled, and their present conduct was continually raising the level toward the brim. This vivid figure of speech is found throughout Scripture. In the days of Abraham the promised inheritance of the land was held back for 400 years because "the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full" (Gen 15:16; cp Dan 8:23). But now, worse by far than those brutal, sensual Canaanites, these Jewish adversaries of their own God and their Lord Jesus are determined to fill up the measures of their iniquity in a tenth of the time:

"Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers... that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth... Verily I say unto you. All these things shall come upon this generation" (Mat 23:32,35,36).
In Biblical symbolism, the cup of sin when at last full (with the blood of God's people? -- Rev 6:11; 17:6) becomes a cup of punishment, from which the sinner must drink (Isa 51:17; Jer 25:15-28: 51:7; Eze 23: 31-34; Rev 14:10; 16:19; 17:4; 18:6).

"For the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost": The "wrath" is another allusion to Matthew's Gospel (of which 1Th has many), ie, the words of John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees:

"O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (Mat 3:7).
If the wrath is yet future when Paul writes (cp 1Th 1:10), why does he speak of it as happening in the past: "the wrath has come upon" (NIV)? There are two other Biblical instances of this same form of this verb ("phano epi" -- has come upon); in both of these (Mat 12.28; Luke 11:20) Jesus speaks of the coming of the Kingdom of God. In one sense, as Jesus expressed it, the "Kingdom" had come: he had brought it near in his person. In another sense, the Kingdom has not come even yet. And so it is equally true of the wrath of God: it is near and certain for those who do not repent, but it has not yet come upon them in actual fact.

Is this whole phrase a quotation of 2Ch 36:16?:

"... but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy."
"To the uttermost": "Eis telos": either "at last" (NIV) or "fully" (NIV margin).


Verses 14 and 15 are perhaps one of the most severe condemnations uttered by Paul in all his letters, and it has been suggested by some that it might be an interpolation. Although these verses may seem harsh, it cannot be doubted that Paul had ample justification for speaking as he did. No one suffered more at the hands of the Jews in the preaching of the gospel but no one showed greater determination to take the gospel far and wide whatever the opposition might be.

He warns the Thessalonians of the great lengths to which the Jews will go to stop the spread of the new faith (v 16). But nothing could prevent the message going forth to the Gentiles, as Paul and Barnabas had told the Jews at Antioch:

"For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, That thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth" (Acts 13:47).
That the apostles were true to this commandment from Christ is borne out in the simple statement of Luke:

"And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region" (v 49).
Nevertheless their persecutors continued on their wicked way:

"But the Jews stirred up the devout and honorable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts" (v 50).

* * *

Verse 13 is a marvelous verse. All that a man needs to do is to accept the Bible, truly, as the word of God, and it will assuredly get to work in him and on him, effectively!

The attitude which a man chooses to adopt toward the word of God therefore determines his eternal destiny. Man is a free agent either to obey or to ignore the word of God. But God is not mocked, and the treatment that a man accords to His word is the basis of His treatment of him:

"But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, Or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? Seeing thou hatest instruction, and easiest my words behind thee" (Psa 50:16,17).

"He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48).
God works effectively through His word; that word, believed and acted upon, can change lives and save men, all to His glory. The word of God is the word of "faith" (Rom 10:8), "grace" (Acts 20:32), "truth" (2Ti 2:15; James 1:18), "life" (Phi 2:16), "righteousness" (Heb 5:13), "reconciliation" (2Co 5:19), "promise" (Rom 9:9), "power" (Heb 1:3), and "salvation" (Acts 13:26).

The word of God can provide all that is essential to salvation. It enlightens (Psa 119:130), converts (Psa 19:7), convinces (2Ti 3:16), and teaches (Psa 119:99; 2Ti 3:16). It makes alive (Psa 119:99; John 15:3), washes (Eph 5:26), sanctifies (John 17:17), and dwells (Col 3:16). It prospers (Isa 55:11), bears fruit (Mat 13:23), exhorts (Heb 13:22), and builds up (Acts 20:32). It guides (Psa 119:105), strengthens against sin (Psa 119:11), and endures (1Pe 1:23). It corrects (2Ti 3:16) and judges (John 12:48). Truly then it "works effectually "in those who believe (1Th 2:13). All things considered, is there then any necessity for believers to experience wonder-working Holy Spirit power in order to be saved?

* * *

We have noticed already some contacts between this section of 1 Thessalonians and the words of Jesus against the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. We now bring all these together:

1Th 2:14-16
Mat 23
Ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets...
Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which kill the prophets (v 31)
and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men...
...some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in the synagogues, and persecute them from city to city (v 34)
forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved...
...Ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in (v 13)
to fill up their sins always...
Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers (v 32)
for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.
...upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth.. All these things shall come upon this generation (v 35,36)

It seems plain that Paul had this very discourse of Jesus in mind as he wrote. It is at least possible that Saul the young "Pharisee of the Pharisees" had been present in Jerusalem more than once to hear the words and see the deeds of Jesus of Nazareth, and to hear such words of condemnation directed against himself as well as others. So here, perhaps, we have Paul's vivid memory of that unforgettable experience which set him on the road toward repentance and true faith in Christ, which he reached at last several years later on the road to Damascus.

* * *

The Thessalonians' sufferings under persecution lasted a long time, and so did their steadfastness. Some six years later Paul could still speak of the Macedonian believers (which would certainly have included Thessalonica) as enduring "a great trial of affliction" and yet continuing to prove the reality of their faith by "the riches of their liberality" (2Co 8:1,2). The "deep poverty" of which he spoke could well have been the result of mob violence and looting, or systematic boycott by the believers' enemies. Elsewhere in the New Testament another group of believers is reminded how, in earlier days, they "took joyfully the spoiling of (their) goods" as well as numerous other "reproaches and afflictions" (Heb 10:32-34). Nevertheless the words of Paul would be wonderfully appropriate to their circumstances:

"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us afar more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2Co 4:17).
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