1 Thessalonians Chapter 2: The Example of Paul laying down his life for the Brethren

Nov 20th, 2009 | By | Category: 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

1 Thessalonians Chapter 2: The Example of Paul laying down his life for the Brethren

1 Thess. 2:1 For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain:

The word “entrance” is translated “visit” in the Revised Standard Version. In other words, “You know our visit to you was not in vain because many of you have come into the truth.”

Not only did the Thessalonians consecrate, but they zealously and joyously went out and tried to spread the truth to others regardless of the cost.

Paul had been with the Thessalonians for only a short visit. Although his missionary efforts were not extensive, he was pleased to have received such a favorable reception. The Thessalonians received the Word with much affliction—and kept it!

1 Thess. 2:2 But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.

The Thessalonians had heard about the incident of Paul and Silvanus in prison in Philippi. After suffering much persecution, they were “bold in our God to speak … the gospel of God with much contention.”

Let us stop and consider Paul’s experience in going to Thessalonica. He had just come from Philippi to his next stop, a place he had never visited before. He was introducing the gospel of Jesus to the Thessalonians. In bringing thoughts and teachings that were completely new and completely contrary, this little man received a lot of opposition, but God helped Paul speak a word against the opposers, that is, to speak “with much contention.” Not only was he to rightly divide the word of truth and be “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed,” but he was to give a reason for the hope that is in the Christian (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Pet. 3:15).

In the contention, God gave Paul the right words to rebut the opposition that was occurring.

Meanwhile, others watched Paul’s behavior in the face of such opposition. They observed how he reacted and responded to various criticisms, and they saw the boldness and courage he manifested in touching on very sensitive subjects that would logically bring persecution and separation. Of the group he spoke to, some stayed behind and wanted more information.

Liking what they heard, they invited him to come again. Everywhere Paul went, there was separation. As Jesus said, “I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). The sword cut each audience, and Jesus sought the ones who inquired afterwards. As he said to the apostles because they asked questions, “It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given” (Matt. 13:11).

Comment: Jesus thanked his Father for hiding “these things from the wise and prudent” and revealing them “unto babes” (Matt. 11:25).

Reply: They were babes not only in understanding but also in attitude—they were supple, they listened, and they weighed matters.

The boldness of Paul, Timothy, and Silas was contagious so that the Thessalonians also spoke boldly in witnessing. Moreover, the boldness of the Thessalonians was transferred to brethren in other places. As a result, Paul was delighted, even though he had but an “entrance” at Thessalonica.

Imagine ourselves living back there. If word came that the proponent of a new religion had been punished severely in the next town, many would hesitate to accept that religion. But the Thessalonians were to be commended, for Paul’s previous imprisonment did not adversely affect them. By being courageous, he overcame their fears. If Paul had preached timidly, they would not have accepted Christ, but instead they caught his boldness and reacted well with little knowledge. In spite of knowing of Paul’s mistreatment, they were not frightened but zealously and gladly accepted him and his message. The psychological advantage was that Paul did exactly what he should have done—he spoke boldly! And this was while he was still suffering from wounds received at Philippi.

1 Thess. 2:3 For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile:

The Diaglott reads, “For our exhortation was not from error, nor from impurity, nor in deceit.” Let us consider these one at a time. The exhortation of Paul, Silas, and Timothy “was not from error”; that is, it was in truth. Their exhortation was not a fabrication, or falsehood; it was not a mythological doctrine.

“For our exhortation was not … from impurity”; that is, it was not associated with immoral practices. Many false religions, especially the Oriental ones, included immoral practices, which enabled the people to fulfill their desires according to the flesh and outside of marriage.

Religion was mixed in with immorality, and one had to pay for gratification of the flesh. For example, Rome had vestal virgins, who were harlots in the temple, and money used for this purpose went into the temple coffers. Almost all of the ancient heathen religions incorporated such practices.

This philosophy is coming to the United States and gradually seeping in, so that it does not matter if one is a practicing homosexual or lesbian. Some of the most dreadful lectures are given in churches and in church conventions. Explicit sex is explained from the platform to a supposedly religious congregation, and this type of uninhibited behavior is exulted in as part of a God-given grant. The reasoning is, “The Lord does not want you to suffer but to do that which is pleasurable.” One who wants to gratify the desires of the flesh would rush into that type of religion, for conversion is not required. With the teaching “God is love,” one does not have to worry about conscience.

In the various cultures are some serious-thinking people who are greatly distressed by these practices and teachings, but they remain because they have no place to go. There are people in the world with noble desires who do not have the truth. Of course they are imperfect, but they do have this feeling for goodness, and they can see the depravity. The unfortunate thing is that they do not know where to go. We feel more empathy for those countries that never really had the gospel preached to them. Not until after the French Revolution was the Bible sent out in the various languages. Noble-minded unconsecrated individuals will make progress in the Kingdom Age because they have tried to do what is good without being called. We have been very blessed in that the Lord has enlightened each of us with His truth. Those who do not accept the truth and yet are familiar with it and believe it certainly will not be rewarded, for they rejected the opportunity. Also, those who “consecrate to righteousness” (supposedly) and thus do not accept the truth by making a full consecration will not be specially favored in the Kingdom. They have turned down the wonderful truth that God has given them ears to hear.

True, there is some compensation such as not fearing death (hellfire), but there is no special reward. The ones who have not had these blessings previously and then respond heartily in the Kingdom will be more worthy.

Comment: Some have erroneously expressed the thought that those who hear the truth now but do not consecrate will be further along in the Kingdom than the rest of the world.

Q: How would we harmonize the Scripture that those of the unconsecrated who give a cup of cold water to the consecrated will be blessed?

A: That text refers more to a passing-through experience such as a neighbor who has not really heard the gospel and present truth. It takes a little time to get a feel of even what the truth is.

Many unconsecrated family members accept the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, that there is a God, that the doctrines of the Trinity and hellfire are erroneous, that the Kingdom is coming, etc., yet they do not consecrate. Such individuals will get an opportunity for life in the next age but, because of what they turned down, not a better opportunity.

Comment: There will be gradations, however, because some unconsecrated spouses are very supportive, whereas others create opposition.

Reply: Yes, that is true. For instance, those who feel they do not have the faith to consecrate are more creditable. The Apostle Paul said that not all men have faith (2 Thess. 3:2). But to turn down such a wonderful opportunity now will not bring a special reward in the Kingdom.

“For our exhortation was not … in guile.” Paul, Silas, and Timothy did not have ulterior motives to fleece the Thessalonians. The gospel was not a message that subtly built up Paul or that misused the Thessalonians or degraded them.

Comment: Paul did not accept wages from the Corinthians and other ecclesias but worked with his hands to support himself.

Comment: Paul was not trying to promote himself but kept pointing to Christ and the Heavenly Father. Guile can be used in a good sense to the advantage of the hearer, but in the wrong sense, it is used to promote self.

Reply: Yes, some suggestions or examples are being offered for each of these categories, but there are additional examples, subdivisions, and facets of error, impurity, and deceit, or guile.

Self-aggrandizement would be one form of guile. To the contrary, Paul deprived himself of many proper benefactions so that he might benefit the others more and more in godly and good things.

With the pagan religions consisting of long-standing myths about false gods handed down from generation to generation, anyone who wanted to search out truth from that source would only go back into a hazy, vague past. In contrast, the beautiful thing about the Bible is that the further back one goes, the more mathematical it is—exactly the opposite of the false religions. The Bible contains names, dates, geography, cities, and ages. Where else is there a religion like that? In order to know if a matter is true, we can turn to the original instructions of Jesus and the original words of the apostles and the prophets. What we find is precise and definite. As Bro. Krebs used to say, “It is a miracle to see the truth.” The truth is logical, but understanding it is miraculous because Satan has deceived the whole world and kept them in ignorance. Even very intellectual, intelligent people do not understand because God has not revealed truth to them.

From an opposite standpoint, guile can be good, that is, in the sense of meaning no hypocrisy or underhandedness. Also, it would mean using tact or discretion in order to benefit someone else. In the bad sense, guile is using craftiness or having ulterior motives in order to benefit self and to take advantage of the hearers.

Verse 3 is a throwback to verses 1 and 2. Because the message was true, pure, and sincere, the three (Paul, Silas, and Timothy) had the courage to preach boldly despite great opposition.

1 Thess. 2:4 But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.

There is a responsibility attached to knowing the gospel—a “trust.” Therefore, the apostles felt compelled to speak so as to please God and not just to say what men would want to hear or to say what would build themselves up personally. They were “allowed” of God to preach the gospel; i.e., Paul considered it a privilege to be permitted to suffer for God, Jesus, and the truth. Because their exhortation was true, they would speak it regardless of persecution.

1 Thess. 2:5 For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness:

A “cloak of covetousness” is more or less a form of self-aggrandizement (guile) in one form or another: popularity, power, influence, benefits. Another translation has, “We did not come with flattering talk, nor did we use words to cover our greed.” If Paul had wanted to please and influence men, he would have used flattery (“honey,” spiritually speaking). Flattery is unbecoming in connection with speaking the gospel.

Paul, Silas, and Timothy were not covetous (greedy) for money either. God was their witness that they had no ulterior motive or desire for personal gain in preaching the gospel. They did not color the Word to teach what they wanted (as some do to suit their own needs and desires) but taught the gospel in its purity. They did not handle the Word deceitfully; that is, they did not use the Word to teach what it does not teach. As an apostle, Paul could have sought financial remuneration to a certain extent, but he did not.

1 Thess. 2:6 Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.

They did not seek personal honor or glory. Nor were they burdensome as apostles, for they did not expect or demand provision for their temporal needs—room, board, financial support, or special favors. An example of a special favor would be to expect to be conveyed on a journey. Some have a nice way of suggesting a favor and getting it done at someone else’s expense. Under certain circumstances that might be proper, but under other circumstances it would be thoroughly improper and embarrassing. Paul made a suggestion about contributions for the needy brethren at Jerusalem, which was proper, but a lot of improper suggestions are made.

Comment: The Diaglott has, “Nor did we seek honor from men, neither from you nor from others, (though, as Apostles of Christ, we are empowered to have influence).”

Reply: The fact they were apostles, the fact they had that very office, means their words were to be given more credit than those of other Christians. And there were dispensational messengers who were not apostles: Arius, Waldo, Wycliffe, Luther, and Russell. God used these individuals in a special way because He saw that they were well suited for the work then due, that their service would cover a large region, and that they would have a timely message to give. But the basic message is different from dispensational messages in that basic truths have been the same all down the Gospel Age. For example, a Christian has obligations. These seemingly simple truths are very searching because they test whether or not we are a Christian. They help us to know what we can and cannot do.

In times past—for instance, in the Dark Ages—Christians often had only fragments of the New Testament epistles, but they might have had one of the Gospels. Any one of the Gospels (especially Matthew, Mark, or Luke) tells the duties of a Christian. The Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ various instructions are basic truths that all Christians will receive because they have to know how to live—they need food. This simple message is not dispensational. A dispensational servant speaks for the particular time slot in which he is living and brings forth the type of truths that pertain to that point on the stream of time and what the responsibilities of that time slot are. Dispensational truths are needed in addition to the basic truths.

It is difficult to see how one can make his calling and election sure in this Laodicean period and not be familiar with the teachings of the Pastor. One can be a Christian and be Spiritbegotten without present truth, but to make the high calling is another matter. Even baby Christians, if faithful, will get a resurrection, but they will not attain the Little Flock. One must have the basic truth, the milk, to survive as a babe. To grow and develop into teenagers requires some meat. Then, to reach the highest reward, one must mature as a Christian and be enlightened with dispensational truth. Therefore, those who were living in the days of the apostles had as much truth quantum-wise as we have. For example, when Paul preached to the Thessalonians, he said a great deal—far more than the information recorded for us in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Much light was furnished to the early Church, an exception being the dispensational light as to when Jesus would return. Early Christians thought his return was near at hand. Various pictures show that more light would be available to the first and last periods of the Church, but how that light would be used is another matter.

With the instruction given to the various churches, Paul did not keep repeating, “I am an apostle. Listen to me. What I am saying is true.” His method was to use reason; he used Scriptural logic as well as, sometimes, rational or natural logic in order to help others understand Christ more and more. He could have been cold, precise, mathematical, and demanding, but instead he tried to reason like a father with children. He told them their good points, but he also touched on their tender points. No message to an ecclesia was flattering all the way through. The nearest epistle to a wholly commendatory message is Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians.

1 Thess. 2:7 But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:

1 Thess. 2:8 So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.

Paul’s concern for and care of them was like that of a nursing mother taking care of her children. How very tender this picture is! Not only did Paul feel responsible for giving the Thessalonians the truth (sustenance) even at the cost of persecution to himself, but also his feelings entered in. He was emotionally involved (it was not just duty love) and enjoyed the privilege of bringing the truth to them. His own sympathetic nature entered into the situation—this was true love to a high degree. Similarly, Martin Luther, the sixth messenger, spoke like thunder but was also gentle and very much interested in teaching children.

Comment: We are reminded of Jesus’ statement “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37).

Reply: A mother hen not only covers her chicks but keeps them warm.

The breast, related to breast feeding, shows tenderness and is like a person’s own soul in that respect. Just as a nursing mother gives her own “soul” and her innermost affections to her baby, so Paul gave these to the Thessalonians.

1 Thess. 2:9 For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.

Paul pursued this same policy with the Corinthians. Sometimes he had to work at night, making tents to support himself so that he would not sponge on others. Moreover, he supported not only himself but those with him. Acts 20:34 reads, “Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.” Hence he must have been very adept at tent making. And while he worked at night, he preached the gospel wholeheartedly during the day, performing both functions faithfully. Normally one activity would suffer at the expense of the other. If we devote too much time to employment, we suffer spiritually, and conversely, as we use more and more time in spiritual pursuits, we usually earn less money and have less influence and popularity with the world.

Comment: Jesus told Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep, and the natural responsibilities of a shepherd were similar in the Old Testament. For example, if a wolf seized one of the sheep, the shepherd was expected to try to rescue it. If he could not save the life of the sheep, at least he had to bring back a piece of the animal (such as an ear) to prove he had made the effort. Here Paul was telling the Thessalonians that he dearly loved them.

Reply: In other words, a literal shepherd was not to be indifferent about losing one of the flock. Therefore, he had to give some evidence, or proof, of his efforts to rescue the sheep or at least to have a believable explanation.

Comment: These comments fit in with verse 4, where Paul felt the responsibility of being entrusted with the gospel. Since his privilege came from God, he felt the necessity of successfully discharging his responsibility.

In addition to tent making, Paul had some money, evidently as the result of the death of a family member. Tents were used in many ways back there: for travel, by laborers in the fields, etc. Tent-making utensils—needles, for example—were large so that they could penetrate canvas. Therefore, even with his poor eyesight, Paul could see sufficiently to do the work.

Incidentally, it was a common practice in his day for all of the wealthy, such as Paul’s family, to have an alternate trade or skill. Then, if ill fortune were met or an emergency occurred, they could earn a living.

Paul labored night and day. Being busy attending to the spiritual needs of the Thessalonians, he did not have enough employment during the remainder of the day to supply his necessities, so he often labored at night too. As was characteristic of Paul, he labored manually so that he would not be chargeable to any of the brethren (2 Thess. 3:8). In studying his epistles verse by verse, we get an insight into his thinking, which helps us to know how to act under certain situations that may arise in our daily Christian living. (We need to study doctrinally too, so both types of study are needed.)

What was Paul’s motivation in giving such advice to the Thessalonians? (With the Corinthians, it was a chastisement but not here.) The Thessalonians had been living in ignorance and superstition under a heathen religion when along came Paul from another country preaching a new religion. Upon hearing him, they enthusiastically accepted his message. But what would happen when Paul left? Some might accuse them of following a man and of being easily swayed. Through this method—by suggesting they had reacted inordinately—the Adversary might be able to undermine Paul’s good advice. Similarly, some in the Truth movement are accused of being Russellites, which may or may not be true. The responsibility lies with the individual to make sure he is responding to God’s call and not to the personal magnetism or capability of the one who first presented the truth to him.

Paul was laying the groundwork so that in the future when various brethren and teachers would come to Thessalonica, they would not be able to take advantage of the Thessalonian brethren. False teachers might talk very smoothly and have great oratory, but their lives might not be consistent with their teaching. Paul was telling the Thessalonians in so many words to examine any teachers who would come to them. Thus he was giving helpful advice to these babes in Christ regarding future teachers. So that they would recognize the effects of his ministry as well as the Word, he pointed out his own holiness, the boldness with which he taught, his working to support himself, the persecutions that he endured, and his justness and fairness.

Since Paul was at Thessalonica for only two to three months (or six to seven months at the most), he was not criticizing the brethren for not aiding him along temporal lines. However, later on, the Thessalonians did send money to Paul, and in addition, they were bold in sounding forth the truth to Achaia and Macedonia. At this time the Philippians were sending Paul contributions.

1 Thess. 2:10 Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:

Generally speaking, visiting is different today than it was in the apostles’ day. When a pilgrim or a minister goes on a tour from town to town, the stay in each place is usually very brief. And that is true of the Bible Student movement as well. When brethren visit various ecclesias, how long do they usually stay? They arrive the night before, receive a night’s lodging, give a sermon the following day, enjoy a little fellowship, and then depart either for home or for the next town. Modern modes of transportation—cars and planes—hasten both travel and visiting, whereas travel in the days of the early Church was usually on foot. Therefore, when Paul visited a certain locale, he customarily remained there for a considerable length of time. Later we will see that Paul did many things during his stay in Thessalonica.

Paul was so anxious that his ministry not be deterred or marred in any way that he supported both himself and those with him by working “night and day.” He worked into the evening hours making tents so that he would not be chargeable to any of the brethren. No one could accuse him of being a sponger. In fact, in the early Church, he warned against encouraging spongers, for unfortunately, some took advantage of the hospitality of the brethren (2 Thess. 3:6–15). Identifying themselves as Christians, pretenders went on extensive tours, visiting various cities and living with brethren for long periods of time, receiving free food and lodging, until the host put them out.

In regard to spongers, many brethren felt their conscience was involved. They reasoned, “He is a minister of God. Therefore, I must keep quiet and not tell others that his staying here is a burden, even though it is consuming my time.” Such brethren suffered the situation until it became unbearable. In the Reprints the Pastor advised that when the members of a class issue an invitation to a speaker, they should make clear what they will provide and also furnish a timetable. That way the length of the stay will be known in advance, and the party will not remain interminably and be a burden.

With Lydia of Thyatira, Paul would have continued on his journey if she had not urged him to stay. Such an invitation assures the visiting brother that he is not a burden. When Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee in the fierce storm and the apostles were in the boat, he was ostensibly walking right by them until they called out. That is the ideal situation.

Comment: Since Paul had multiple visions of conditions down through the Gospel Age and into the Kingdom arrangement, he knew that a clerical element would arise usurping authority and expecting special privileges and financial support. This foreknowledge, which he could not utter, nevertheless made him especially alert to certain conditions, and it influenced not only the advice he gave to the various ecclesias but also his own conduct. Therefore, he was particularly careful to support himself financially, working night and day when necessary, so that he “would not be chargeable” (verse 9).

Reply: Paul’s moral conduct was holy, just, and unblamable.

Comment: There were two witnesses to Paul’s unblamable moral conduct: God Himself and the Thessalonian brethren. In Acts 24:16 he said, “Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.”

Reply: Yes, Paul strove to have such a conscience, and if anyone could accomplish this in the flesh, it would be the Apostle Paul. However, he was still striving. It is a lifetime job for us to strive to have a conscience void of offense, for we do slip here and there and must ask for forgiveness and the Lord’s mercy.

1 Thess. 2:11 As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children,

1 Thess. 2:12 That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.

Paul exhorted and comforted the Thessalonians as a father would his children. These “children” were adults, but Paul’s concern for them was as deep and genuine as if they were his own family. To the Jews the culture of the Gentiles was pagan, and for a thousand years or so, this was the case. God told Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). After a while some began to feel that the nation would always be highly favored, but God gave special favor during the instructional period prior to the Gospel Age.

What is the “call” unto God’s Kingdom and glory? It is to become future kings and priests in heaven. The reward will be given only to those whose hearts, wills, and determination are to serve and obey Him and who do so to the best of their ability. Imperfect as we are, God reads the heart and knows when we really love and are trying to serve Him and be faithful, even though we need the covering of Christ’s robe of righteousness for forgiveness. Yes, our desire is to have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward men, that is, to obey man’s law except where it contradicts the divine law.

Comment: A supporting Scripture for the Christian goal of being kings and priests is Revelation 20:6, “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” The kingly aspect is in the “reign.”

Paul “exhorted and comforted and charged every one” of the Thessalonians “as a father doth his children … [to] walk worthy of God.” Paul personally and individually dealt with each of the Thessalonians alone or else in their family unit. He acted like a “father” to them. More Greeks than Jews responded to the gospel in Thessalonica.

Paul compared his attitude toward the Thessalonians to a “mother” (verse 7) and a “father” (verse 11). A natural mother provides affection, and a natural father gives instruction. Paul was both mother and father to them.

1 Thess. 2:13 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.

Paul thanked God “without ceasing” because the Thessalonians “received the word of God … not as the word of men.” They could see that he believed in the things he declared to them and that he felt responsible to both God and Jesus. They could see his conviction and his mode of life, and they did not receive “the word” just because they liked Paul’s personality. Many are swayed by such factors as charisma, fellowship, and entertainment, but the Thessalonians accepted Paul’s message as being from God. That is a world of difference from accepting someone’s message just because of liking to hear him talk. The Thessalonians received the word not as being of men but as it was—TRUTH!

When the Thessalonians got the truth, it was theirs. Even in Paul’s absence, they lived with the truth, and that is the way it should be. If everyone forsook us, whom would we have left? Just God and Jesus. “When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay” are the words of a hymn. Sometimes the Lord puts us in positions where we have to lean very heavily on Him because of lack of fellowship with others of like precious faith.

The “word of God … effectually worketh” in those who believe. In physics the term “chain reaction” is used. When Paul’s message was received, it produced a chain reaction in the Thessalonians. From them it went to another and another and another, and they were willing to suffer for the truth in their joy of telling others of the marvelous plan of God. At the present time, God is choosing a people for His name. He is not trying to convert the world but is looking for “children,” for disciples, for those who are responsive and spontaneous and do not have to be coerced to love Him.

1 Thess. 2:14 For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews:

“For ye, brethren, became followers [imitators] of the churches of God … in Judaea … : for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen.” In other words, Christian Jews in Israel, who believed in Jesus as the Messiah, suffered severe persecution from their own countrymen. Among other things, employment was adversely affected. The time setting of this epistle was about AD 51.

Similarly, in the Dark Ages those who were not Roman Catholic were regarded as heretics and were severely persecuted. For example, non-Catholics could not be buried in a cemetery or have their children baptized. Paul was saying to the Thessalonians, “Even though you are not in Israel, you are suffering just like the Christian Jews there. Your experiences are the same.”

Thessalonica, which was on the main route for the Roman army, was a populous city at that time with many Jews. Any Jews who accepted Christ suffered drastically for their belief and were, to all effects, excommunicated. And it was Jews from the outside who stirred up the Jews there in Thessalonica and wanted to take Paul to the authorities. The brethren hid Paul and ended up being taken themselves to the magistrates.

In preaching to the Thessalonian brethren as an apostle, Paul was thinking about what they could hang onto when he had to leave them forever. This motivation will be seen as we continue through the two epistles.

1 Thess. 2:15 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:

Usually we do not hear Jews admit that they “killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets.” Instead they feel they are being persecuted unjustly through anti-Semitism. For hundreds of years, they received retribution for rejecting Jesus and for opposing and persecuting Christians. Subsequently, during the Diaspora, the Jews were persecuted mightily. As a result, the only jobs they could get were selling on street corners, for they could not even rent space for a business. The Jews do not recognize the retribution aspect but feel they have been unjustly treated.

The Greeks, who were very intelligent, were known for their oratory and logic, but they became slaves to the Romans. Very refined and educated Greeks had to serve the cold, cruel Roman military. Thus the oppression of one race by another has been practiced down through history and is not peculiar to our day. But in the Christian family, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, … bond nor free, … male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:13). There is no discrimination with regard to ethnic or racial background because we are all one in Christ Jesus. Outside of the Christian family, however, problems exist in society.

When we are in the Christian relationship, extraneous problems such as racial discrimination do not occupy our minds all the time. Otherwise, our thinking would get poisoned with feelings of “anti” this and “anti” that. Many in the world are obsessed with thoughts of hate. To be a follower of Jesus, we must study what he taught and what he did and try to do likewise.

We are not to be concerned with how the press or other leaders try to influence the people to believe and think.

Based on training, the Jews were “contrary to all men.” Remember, Paul came to Thessalonica from Philippi with his back still cut and raw from the stripes he had received. He did not take time to convalesce but began to preach right away, driving himself to feed the flock there in spite of his wounds. Now he was comforting the Thessalonian brethren by reminding them that they were not suffering alone, for the Judean brethren were likewise suffering. Moreover, the prophets and Jesus suffered too, as well as the apostles. In other words, the Thessalonians were to think the persecution not strange, for the calling of the Church is to have persecution (1 Pet. 4:12). However, the unusual thing about the persecution of the Thessalonians was how soon it occurred after they had received the gospel. The first storm began only three weeks after Paul’s arrival. The seed of truth fell into good soil there, for persecution did not make them forsake the truth.

Paul did not get back to Thessalonica for several years, although he wanted to, for the Lord had other work for him to do, especially at Corinth. Also, Satan “hindered” Paul by getting Jason to agree with the authorities to expel him from Thessalonica (verse 18).

1 Thess. 2:16 Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.

The Jews in Thessalonica opposed Paul by forbidding him “to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved.” More specifically, it was the Judean Jews who forbid Paul to speak to the Gentiles. They made trouble in the synagogue there and also in almost every other place he visited. In some places, such as Corinth, they even wanted to harm him physically.

Even some of the believing Jews had trouble accepting Gentiles as equals. For that very reason, Paul had to rebuke Peter openly, for in trying to be considerate of the feelings of one individual, Peter was doing untold damage to others (Gal. 2:11–21). He had an impetuous disposition, but he meekly received the correction and instruction from Paul.

As time went on, some of the Christian Jews began to teach that Gentiles had to obey the Law. Jewish converts who returned to the Law and then considered Paul to be an enemy agent were false brethren. Only nominally Christian, they undercut Paul because he taught justification by faith.

“For the wrath is come upon them [the Judean Jews] to the uttermost.” They “fill up their sins always.” The Jewish persecutors were of two kinds. The great majority were just Jews who did not believe in Christ, and they regarded anyone of their own nationality as a traitor for accepting Christ. Because they persecuted in ignorance, as Saul did prior to his conversion, they would not be liable to Second Death. In fact, many of the persecutors actually thought they were doing God a service (John 16:2). Nevertheless, there will be a penalty for willful actions.

However, for Jewish converts who later became false brethren by persecuting true Christians and opposing Paul in many places, Second Death is a possibility. Some sealed their doom by first accepting the truth and then becoming enemies of it. They persecuted Paul and claimed to be apostles. Although they had ample opportunity for change and repentance, they did not use it, and they left the truth permanently.

“To the uttermost” means “to an end” (Greek telos). In other words, to all practical benefits, the Jewish Age ended in AD 69–70. Very few Jews accepted Christ after that date because the people were dispersed and millions died. Jews who were not killed by the Romans were separated from their families and taken into captivity as slaves. As a result, they lost their cohesion.

Comment: Matthew 23:31,32,35 reads, “Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers…. That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.”

Reply: Many of the Jews who crucified Jesus were themselves crucified in the trouble of AD 69 under Vespasian and later Titus. (When the emperor died, Vespasian returned to Rome to become Caesar.) Those Israelites who tried to flee when the Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem were captured and crucified on the outer city wall. The city of Jerusalem had two walls: an outer wall and an inner wall. Relatively early the Romans captured the outer wall, and on that wall they crucified Jews all the way around so that the crucifixions could be seen by the inhabitants inside the city. In the Matthew citation, Jesus was indicating that this retribution would come.

Time was required for Vespasian to do the bidding of the Caesar to level Jerusalem. As early as AD 66, preparations were made to give the Jews the lesson. In other words, preparations began about the time of Paul’s death. The first epistle was written to the Thessalonians just a little while after he was there, and the second letter followed shortly thereafter. These epistles were written relatively late in Paul’s ministry. (His death occurred in AD 66 at the latest.) Thus he was aware of the preparations being made to visit upon the Jews the wrath predicted by both Jesus and John the Baptist. With Thessalonica and Philippi being on the land route of  he Roman army, certain preparations could be seen.

1 Thess. 2:17 But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire.

The statement “But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart” shows that this first epistle was written shortly after Paul left Thessalonica, perhaps just three to six months later. Paul “endeavoured the more abundantly” to see the Thessalonian brethren again “with great desire.”

1 Thess. 2:18 Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us.

More than once—repeatedly—Paul wanted to return to the Thessalonians, but the Adversary hindered him from so doing.

1 Thess. 2:19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?

1 Thess. 2:20 For ye are our glory and joy.

“For ye are our glory and joy.” Paul knew that he was faithful in speaking the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Now he was thrilled to see that the Thessalonian brethren had gotten the message from God and that fear was not the motivating factor, as with those who preach hellfire, for instance. Love and appreciation for God and His plan should motivate us, not fear.

Paul felt it was “mission accomplished,” for the Thessalonian brethren had gotten the truth, and it was theirs.

“Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming [presence, Greek parousia]?” Paul was hopeful that with their understanding of truth and the suffering they had endured, many of the Thessalonian brethren would make their calling and election sure. He was convinced that several in this church would be with Jesus during his Second Presence and reign with him in his Kingdom.

Over the years, as we observe certain brothers and sisters in the truth, we can see exceptional zeal in laying down their all for God and Jesus. For such we are very hopeful that they will be more than overcomers, but of course one must first be faithful unto death before receiving the crown of life. Paul was overjoyed not only because the Thessalonians were good hearers and listeners but also because they had come solidly into the truth and had withstood persecution.

Paul admitted he was apprehensive lest he had gotten them interested and then would lose them when he had to leave so soon. Conditions were so bad that the Thessalonians had constrained Paul to leave because they did not want him to be put to death. After Paul left, he had second thoughts, reasoning, “Perhaps I should have stayed.” However, when Timothy came back later, Paul was convinced that the Thessalonians were solid in the truth and in their consecrations. Paul’s feelings of anxiety, as a father for his children, were laid to rest. He had feared lest something would happen in his absence to divert them out of the truth.

The hope, joy, and crown of the Christian is to develop to become part of the Little Flock. Paul used the picture of a mother and a father and entreated each of the Thessalonians personally because he wanted them to grow to maturity, that is, to make their calling and election sure. To Paul the “crown” would be not merely his own reward but to see as many of them as possible also get a crown at Jesus’ Second Presence. Stated another way, their getting a crown would be like added jewels in Paul’s crown. He had introduced the truth to them, and now he wanted to see them develop and mature. Therefore, he nourished and instructed the Thessalonian Christians (Jews, Greeks, and women) as a father and a mother and hoped they would fully mature and get the prize.

Toward the end of Paul’s life, he knew he would get a crown, but he hoped they would too.

Paul had mixed experiences—times of discouragement and then joyful confidence again. He said in effect, “I run that I may obtain. I press down for the mark with the expectation I will get it! I do not shadow box and beat the air. There is substance to my punching” (1 Cor. 9:24,26; Phil. 3:14). Our usual attitude should be the same, although we will have periods of discouragement, for even Jesus had them at Gethsemane and on the Cross. Philippians 4:1 is a good parallel text: “Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.”

(1998 and 1981 studies)

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