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Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last![a]

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Having concluded my study of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, I am proceeding to his two letters to the Thessalonians.

Matthew Henry’s commentary — the Revd Daniel Mayo, a contemporary, finished Henry’s work on 1 and 2 Thessalonians — states that after Paul founded the church in Thessalonica, he had to flee to Berea, then to Athens, leaving Timothy and Silas (Silvanus) behind (emphases mine):

Paul, being left at Athens alone ( 1 Thess 3 1), departed thence to Corinth, where he continued a year and a half, in which time Silas and Timotheus returned to him from Macedonia (Acts 18 5), and then he wrote this epistle to the church of Christ at Thessalonica, which, though it is placed after the other epistles of this apostle, is supposed to be first in time of all Paul’s epistles, and to be written about A.D. 51. The main scope of it is to express the thankfulness of this apostle for the good success his preaching had among them, to establish them in the faith, and persuade them to a holy conversation.

John MacArthur describes the church as fragrant in faith and blessing, like his own congregation of Grace Community Church in California:

I was drawn to Thessalonians because I really believe in my heart that this was a noble, wonderful, blessed church that brought great joy to the heart of the apostle Paul and that the letter, for the most part, is so very, very encouraging that I thought it might be fitting for us because I believe Grace Community Church to be an especially blessed and especially wonderful church and certainly one which has brought great joy to my own heart.  And in the study of this epistle I have already found many parallels between our own church and the church at Thessalonica.  And as this letter must have come to them as a great encouragement, as they were an encouragement to Paul’s heart, so I trust its truths will come to you as a great encouragement as you are an encouragement to my heart.

The European theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once wrote cynically, “The church is like Noah’s ark. If it weren’t for the storm outside, we couldn’t stand the stink inside.”  One thing for sure, he didn’t go to church in Thessalonica.  There was no stink there.  In fact, there was just a sweet fragrance This rich letter exudes the sweetness of these precious people

This was the true church.  They were all redeemed in Christ.  They were all members of the body.  They were all true believers.  They were all real saints.  They were all the brethren of God’s children.  They were the beloved of God, sovereignly loved by Him and chosen for salvation.  And only that kind of church could emit such a sweet fragrance and elicit such an encouraging response

So the Thessalonians were the elect They were the real Christians, chosen by God from eternity past for salvation and eternal glory

BiblePlaces.com has a page on Thessalonica, recapping Paul’s rather short stay in the city, described in Acts 17:

He preached in the city’s synagogue, the chief synagogue of the region, for at least three weeks. His ministry was strong, and he established a Jewish-Gentile church, although it was more heavily Gentile (1 Thess 1:9). When Paul faced great persecution at the hands of the mob, he fled to Berea, but Thessalonians eventually forced him to leave there also (Acts 17:13-14).

I wrote about the violent attacks on Paul and Silas as well as a convert there, Jason. It was no better in Berea, which was equally blessed with new, faithful believers, however, the Jews from Thessalonica travelled over and persecuted Paul there, too.

The letters to the Thessalonians - Bible Study by Mark Day - Flatwoods ...Thessalonica was a strategic trade and military city, as you can see from the map, courtesy of Flatwoods Church of Christ.

BiblePlaces.com gives us its history to the present day:

Thessalonica was located at the intersection of two major Roman roads, one leading from Italy eastward (Ignatia Way) and the other from the Danube to the Aegean. Thessalonica’s location and use as a port made it a prominent city. In 168 BC it became the capital of the second district of Macedonia and later it was made the capital and major port of the whole Roman province of Macedonia (146 BC). In 42 BC, after the battle at Philippi, Thessalonica was made a free city. Today the modern city of Thessaloniki is the second most important city of Greece and home to a million inhabitants.

We do not know much about Thessalonica because the Greeks built Thessaloniki on top of its ruins. The following refers to a photo on the page:

Very little has been uncovered at ancient Thessalonica because Thessaloniki sits atop the remains. The area pictured above and at right was formerly a bus station; when it was moved in 1962, this 1st or 2nd century AD forum was revealed. Excavators found a bathhouse and mint dating to the 1st century AD below pavement surrounding an odeum. An inscription (30 BC to AD 143) from the Vardar gate bears the word politarches, the word Luke used in reference to the officials of the city before whom Jason was brought by the mob (Acts 17:6). The word does not appear in any other Greek literature but does match the archaeology of the site.

St Demetrios was a local 4th century martyr and is the city’s patron saint, showing that the Church is alive and well there. A basilica in the city is named after him.

Wikipedia tells us more about the city’s founding:

The city was founded around 315 BC by the King Cassander of Macedon, on or near the site of the ancient town of Therma and 26 other local villages.[33][34] He named it after his wife Thessalonike,[35] a half-sister of Alexander the Great and princess of Macedonia as daughter of Philip II. Under the kingdom of Macedonia the city retained its own autonomy and parliament[36] and evolved to become the most important city in Macedonia.[35]

Twenty years after the fall of the Kingdom of Macedonia in 168 BC, in 148 BC, Thessalonica was made the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia.[37] Thessalonica became a free city of the Roman Republic under Mark Antony in 41 BC.[35][38] It grew to be an important trade hub located on the Via Egnatia,[39] the road connecting Dyrrhachium with Byzantium,[40] which facilitated trade between Thessaloniki and great centers of commerce such as Rome and Byzantium.[41] Thessaloniki also lays at the southern end of the main north–south route through the Balkans along the valleys of the Morava and Axios river valleys, thereby linking the Balkans with the rest of Greece.[42] The city became the capital of one of the four Roman districts of Macedonia;.[39]

At the time of the Roman Empire, about 50 AD, Thessaloniki was also one of the early centers of Christianity; while on his second missionary journey, Paul the Apostle visited this city’s chief synagogue on three Sabbaths and sowed the seeds for Thessaloniki’s first Christian church.

MacArthur tells us more about the history of the city and life in Thessalonica in Paul’s time:

The city was founded in 315 B.C. by a general, a Greek general under Alexander the Great whose name was Cassander He chose the place because of its thermal springs. He also chose it because it was the crucial northernmost point on the Aegean Sea He also chose it because it was right where the highway from the Orient to the West came He chose it because the Axios River flowed into that harbor area It was a tremendously strategic place

Thessalonica was one of three key cities in Macedonia, the other two being Philippi and Berea.  Paul visited all three.  In Achaia, the southern part, there were two key cities which Paul visited, Corinth and Athens.  When the Romans conquered the Greeks and they came in, they supplanted Greek rule in the year 168 B.C.  They took that northern part, Macedonia, and they divided it into four quarters They made Thessalonica the capital of one of those quarters and twenty years later they blurred out the division and had one Macedonia and made Thessalonica the capital.  In fact, from 146 B.C. on, Thessalonica was designated the capital of the whole province of Macedonia and had the nickname, “The Mother of Macedonia.”  It was a very strategic city

The only way to get to the east, of course, if you didn’t go on the Mediterranean Sea by water and you wanted to go on foot was just to walk along the northern coast area there and that was called the Ignatian Highway from the west to the east, to the east to the west.  It became a military road for the transportation of all the troops.  It became a trade route for from east to west.  And it went right across the top of the Aegean Sea and right through the city of Thessalonica.

.. It was a totally sheltered harbor, had a great river, as I said, the Axios River, and so it became a very thriving seaport.  The town was filled with soldiers.  The town was filled with businessmen, travelers, traders.  The town was filled with sailors.  It was a booming place.  It became famous for vice, famous for sexual perversion, prostitution was rampant and well organized.  History tells us that people built their homes in Thessalonica with no windows because crime was so rampant and out of control.  They would literally build a house with only a door.

Also, one of the characteristics of Thessalonica was that they would pain obscene paintings on the walls of their houses.  It was a very lascivious city.  Divorce was very frequent.  Babies were continually abandoned.  That was the old form of abortion. You just had your baby and let it die.  Murder was common.  And it was in that sewage pipe that the church lived in Thessalonica and I think that’s part of the reason in chapter 4 why the apostle Paul tells them in verse 3 to abstain from sexual immorality because they were in the middle of it.

Now because it was a thriving trade area, the Jews came there in great force, always enterprising.  They showed up in mass in Thessalonica.  In fact, there was so many of them that they had a very large synagogue in that city And that became the starting point for Paul’s evangelism.  That is, by the way, unlike Philippi.  You remember when Paul went to Philippi there weren’t even enough Jewish men to constitute a synagogue?  Well, there were in Thessalonica because that was the hot spot for trade, for business, for commerce.

.. You might also want to know that the Jews remained there throughout all the centuries until World War II when Hitler went to Saloniki, took 60,000 Jews out of that city and executed all of them So the city has had a fascinating and long, long history.

The emperor of Rome at the time that Paul arrived, which would have been 350 years after the city was founded, the emperor was a man named Claudius Claudius didn’t deserve to be the emperor. He didn’t deserve to be a leader of anything.  He only became leader because his uncle, Gaius, was murdered. They say, about Claudius, all kinds of things. We can’t be certain exactly what was true.  Some writers say he was epileptic.  Some say he had fits and seizures. Some say he was crazy.  All agree he was a stuttering, slobbering man who had total incompetency.  But he was in charge of the Roman government.

MacArthur says that Paul’s letter to the congregation indicates he was there for longer than three sabbaths:

… I think that he was in the synagogue three Sabbaths, but I believe there’s ample reason to assume he was in Thessalonica some weeks longer than that And you say, “Why is that so?”  Well, because it’s evident that he involved himself in work Chapter 2 of 1 Thessalonians verse 9, “You recall our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.”  He must have opened up his tent-making or his leather-working business to some degree and actually functioned in some work capacity, which he would not have done if he was only there two weeks with a Sabbath on each end and one in the middle.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:8 he says that, “We were working night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you.”  Well they wouldn’t have been a burden if they were only there for two weeks.  So he must have spent three consecutive Sabbaths in the synagogue. And then from there moved out of the synagogue and continued his labor of evangelism.

It’s amazing that Paul’s stay, as short as it was, produced such a marvellous group of believers in such a decadent city:

Think about that church. They’re coming out of lifelong Judaism.  They’ve got all that Judaistic baggage.  Or they’re coming out of paganism.  And it’s a brand new baby church and he’s only there at most a few weeks and they’re living in a city that is just drowning in vice.  And how are they going to be matured?  And Paul and Silas and Timothy are gone. And Silas and Timothy are down in Berea where it’s a little easier to stay and even there Paul couldn’t stay and he left and went to Athens And from Athens he went on to Corinth and stayed there for 18 to 22 months and established the church there and strengthened the church there and ministered there for a prolonged period of time.

But who is taking care of the Thessalonians?  I mean, a tiny little church with no leadership and no help, so young in the Lord, weeks old and in a sea of paganism and trying to come out of the massive encumbrances of Judaism. We could well understand that Paul would be deeply concerned.  When he left Thessalonica and traveled about 50 miles, or two and a half days walk to Berea, and had a good reception there, he probably thought in his heart, “I’d like to go back to Thessalonica, we need to go back when it cools down.”  But it didn’t cool down.  The heat from Thessalonica came to Berea and forced him out of there, forced him to Athens and God wasn’t working in Athens and he went from Athens to Corinth and there the Lord worked and he ministered.

Before he had left Athens, Timothy had come to join him.  And now by the time we get him into Corinth, he’s kind of settling down a little bit and it’s probably the spring of A.D. 50, just a few months since the church at Thessalonica was founded.  And he has been so concerned to find out about them, he sends Timothy back.  And Timothy goes back and Timothy comes with a report and the report is what caused the letter because Timothy comes back and says they’re doing super. They’re elect. They’re elect.  You’ve got an elect church. It’s going to be okay.  They’re redeemed.  They’re pure.  And that’s why Paul in chapter 3 is so exhilarated.  He says in verse 6, “Now that Timothy has come to us from you and brought us good news of your faith and love…” and then in verse 7 he says, “That’s why we’re comforted.  Ah, this was an elect church, a church that could contribute all of its success to the power of God, the grace of God.  For God’s own purposes, He had kept this church wonderfully pure in the midst of the morass of pagan filth, in the midst of theological confusion, in the midst of traditions, this little group was true and pure.  And so to them he writes these words, verse 1, “Paul and Silvanus.” That is the Roman equivalent of Silas, his Jewish name, “And Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

MacArthur points out that Paul did not refer to himself as an Apostle because they had already recognised he was a holy, sincere man dedicated to Christ:

Apparently in Macedonia his apostleship was never in question.  He wrote two letters to the Thessalonian church which is in Macedonia, he wrote one letter to the Philippian church which is in Macedonia and in none of those three letters did he identify himself as an apostle.  Apparently that was not an issue, the church never questioned his authority and they had not been besieged by someone who had and thus become confused about it So he simply says, and I love the simplicity, “Paul.”  There’s something humble about that.  And then he links with himself as if they’re all equals, “Silas,” who was a Jewish coworker with Paul, a faithful servant of the Lord, a wonderful instrument.  And then he mentions Timothy, a young man that he had met in Lystra. Acts 16 tells about it.  He had helped him in Philippi and later come to Thessalonica.  He was Paul’s son in the faith.  He was the one to whom he would give the mantle as at the end of his life he wrote 1 and 2 Timothy to him.

So, it’s the three of them and they all know about the Thessalonians.  Timothy has gone and gotten a report.  Paul was there when it started and Silas is with Paul and so the Thessalonians are precious to all of them And so Paul sort of collects them into this wonderful introduction and says, “This letter comes from us to the church of the Thessalonians.”

MacArthur explains the Greek word for church:

One little thought about the word “church,” ekklsia.  It’s a word related to the Greek word kale, which means “to elect,” ek kale, to elect.  This is the elect.  The word “church” means the called out ones, the elect ones.  And so again the emphasis is there.  “Paul and Silas and Timothy to the elect ones of Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s a very unusual expression for Paul, but a very wonderful one.

Here is 1 Thessalonians 1, which is in the Lectionary:

Greeting

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

The Thessalonians’ Faith and Example

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly[a] mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers[b] loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

One could not expect a higher accolade from Paul than that.

Here is the first half of 1 Thessalonians 2:

Paul’s Ministry to the Thessalonians

For you yourselves know, brothers,[a] that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery,[b] as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle[c] among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

For you remember, brothers, our labour and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct towards you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

13 And we also thank God constantly[d] for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

That brings us to today’s verses.

Paul credits them for being imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus in Judea, because the Thessalonians suffered the same things from their own countrymen as the Judeans did from the Jews (verse 14).

Henry says:

The word wrought effectually in them, not only to be examples unto others in faith and good works (which he had mentioned before), but also in constancy and patience under sufferings and trials for the sake of the gospel: You became followers of the churches of God, and have suffered like things as they have done (v. 14), and with like courage and constancy, with like patience and hope. Note, The cross is the Christian’s mark: if we are called to suffer we are called only to be followers of the churches of God; so persecuted they the prophets that were before you, Matt 5 12. It is a good effect of the gospel when we are enabled to suffer for its sake. The apostle mentions the sufferings of the churches of God, which in Judea were in Christ Jesus. Those in Judea first heard the gospel, and they first suffered for it: for the Jews were the most bitter enemies Christianity had, and were especially enraged against their countrymen who embraced Christianity. Note, Bitter zeal and fiery persecution will set countrymen at variance, and break through all the bonds of nature, as well as contradict all the rules of religion. In every city where the apostles went to preach the gospel the Jews stirred up the inhabitants against them. They were the ringleaders of persecution in all places; so in particular it was at Thessalonica: Acts 17 5, The Jews that believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city in an uproar.

MacArthur says that Paul must have told the Thessalonians about the churches in Judea:

… they had become imitators of other believers, namely those in the churches of God and Christ Jesus in Judea.  We cannot assume that they had any occasion to meet those saints in Judea.  We can assume that Paul must have given them some input as to the kind of life those saints in Judea lived.

I can imagine if I were in Paul’s situation going to a pagan, Gentile city, going to a Jewish synagogue to evangelize Jews and then going out into the streets to evangelize Gentiles, that I would want to give them some kind of a model of what a church was, that I would want to…to instruct them on some of the life patterns of noble saints that they could learn from so I can make the assumption that Paul probably told them about other Christians, probably told them about the founding of the church in Jerusalem, probably told them that with the martyrdom of Stephen the Jerusalem church was scattered and that it was scattered, it re-identified itself in other places all around Judea then gave birth to daughter churches And by the time the Thessalonian church was founded there was a sprinkling of little churches throughout Judea and maybe not so little after that.  And that those believers in Judea would have been longer in the faith than the brand-new Thessalonians and more mature by virtue of years of walking in the Spirit and therefore were models for them to follow There may have been some specific things that Paul told them about those Christians in Judea that they could pattern their own lives after.

But they were a…a wonderful group of Christians because they imitated Paul, Timothy and Silas, they imitated the Lord, and here he says they even imitated the saints in Judea.  And the highest form of honor is imitation, isn’t it?  You really honor someone when you pattern your life after them.  And so that’s the second thing that sort of marks the nobility of this little church is that they honored the saints. They honored the saints by patterning their lives after them.  “For you, brethren,” and the word “for” is an indicator that there’s an added confirmation of their positive reception of the Word.  They received the Word and the confirmation of that is what it did in their life to make them imitators of other mature believers.  They were mimicking the believers in Judea as they had mimicked Paul, Timothy, and Silas and attempted even to mimic the Lord.  They paid the highest honor by imitation.  The greatest respect… They had respect for Christ, they wanted to imitate Him.  They had respect for the preachers, they wanted to imitate them.  They had respect for the rest. They were willing to imitate them.

MacArthur analyses Paul’s ‘churches of God in Christ Jesus’:

Now would you just note “the churches of God in Christ Jesus” is a very interesting little phrase Just to point out to you, plural “churches”; there is one church in the sense that we are all one in Christ, but the Scripture is very clear too that there are local assemblies identified as individual churches.  And there were then churches scattered around Judea, notice he calls them “churches of God.”  Assemblies, gathering togethers of which God was the source; God’s gospel, God’s church, God’s churches, they belong to Him.  He’s their sovereign, electing, saving, sanctifying source and you can study the New Testament and you will find the term “church” used in general for the church and you will find it used in specific for local assemblies, such as 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; etc.  But in all cases — please notice — it is the churches of God in Christ Jesus All true believers are in Christ.  Back to chapter 1 verse 1: “In God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Galatians 1:22, the churches of Judea which were in Christ, in union with the living Christ.  And these churches to whom he refers were in Judea.

Continuing on the Jews who were guilty of this persecution, Paul says that they killed Jesus and, historically, the prophets, driving Paul and sometimes his companions out of where they were preaching; as such, they displease God and oppose all mankind (verse 16).

Henry explains the verse:

Upon this occasion, the apostle gives a character of the unbelieving Jews (v. 15), enough to justify their final rejection and the ruin of their place, and church, and nation, which was now approaching. (1.) They killed the Lord Jesus, and impudently and presumptuously wished that his blood might be on them and their children. (2.) They killed their own prophets: so they had done all along; their fathers had done so: they had been a persecuting generation. (3.) They hated the apostles, and did them all the mischief they could. They persecuted them, and drove and chased them from place to place: and no marvel, if they killed the Lord Jesus, that they persecuted his followers. (4.) They pleased not God. They had quite lost all sense of religion, and due care to do their duty to God. It was a most fatal mistake to think that they did God service by killing God’s servants. Murder and persecution are most hateful to God and cannot be justified on any pretence; they are so contrary to natural religion that no zeal for any true or only pretended institution of religion can ever excuse them. (5.) They were contrary to all men. Their persecuting spirit was a perverse spirit; contrary to the light of nature, and contrary to humanity, contrary to the welfare of all men, and contrary to the sentiments of all men not under the power of bigotry.

MacArthur says that those Jews who rejected the word of God, having heard it, will be judged severely. That said, God wants His chosen people to come to believe in Christ:

He still calls Jews in this age to salvation in Jesus Christ and I praise Him for those in our church family from Israel who believe in their Messiah. And someday He will call that nation to Himself.

For the Jews at the time of Paul and Jesus, and even today, for the most part, are a people to be sad for because they had the greatest spiritual privilege and opportunity and they are lost without their Messiah and damned to hell. The Jews had started the fires of persecution with the killing of Jesus. They had then continued the fires of persecution everywhere Paul went, rejecting Christ, rejecting the churches, spreading the fact that Christianity was not true. And Paul sees them in contrast to this church in Thessalonica.

Look at the three contrasting characteristics. Number one, their rejection of the Word. The Thessalonians received the Word, the Jews rejected the Word. Notice verse 15, “Who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out.”

You say, “What does that have to do with the Word of God?” It had everything to do with the Word of God because all of those are simply the folks who were proclaiming it. The Lord Jesus came to speak the truth. The prophets had preached the Word of God. The apostles were proclaiming the gospel. They killed Jesus, killed the prophets, drove the apostles out not because they didn’t like their personalities, but because they rejected their message. They would not receive the Word no matter who brought it. The noblest of men had brought it through their history, namely the prophets, the men of spiritual virtue, the men of God. They killed them. Then came Jesus Christ Himself, perfect, flawless, without sin, who literally banished disease from Palestine in the time of His life, blessed everyone who came near. They killed Him, too. And now they were pursuing all the…all the rest of those who preached the gospel, to kill them as well. No matter who brought it, they rejected it. They rejected it at such an extreme level that they had to assassinate those who preached it.

Paul also said that the Jews hindered their ministry to save the Gentiles, ‘so as always to fill up the measure of their sins’, but God’s wrath has come upon them completely (verse 16).

Paul wrote the Thessalonians around 20 years before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, but the Apostle could see, if not that specifically, a judgement that would befall those who rejected God’s Son.

Henry says:

(6.) They had an implacable enmity to the Gentiles, and envied them the offers of the gospel: Forbidding the apostles to speak to the Gentiles, that they might be saved. The means of salvation had long been confined to the Jews. Salvation is of the Jews, says our Saviour. And they were envious against the Gentiles, and angry that they should be admitted to share in the means of salvation. Nothing provoked them more than our Saviour’s speaking to them at any time concerning this matter; this enraged the Jews at Jerusalem, when, in his defence, Paul told them, he was sent unto the Gentiles, Acts 22 21. They heard him patiently till he uttered these words, but then could endure no longer, but lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth, for it is not fit that he should live. Thus did the Jews fill up their sins; and nothing tends more to any person or people’s filling up the measure of their sins than opposing the gospel, obstructing the progress of it, and hindering the salvation of precious souls. For the sake of these things wrath has come upon them to the uttermost; that is, wrath was determined against them, and would soon overtake them. It was not many years after this that Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Jewish nation cut off by the Romans. Note, When the measure of any man’s iniquity is full, and he has sinned to the uttermost, then comes wrath, and that to the uttermost.

MacArthur explains the Greek used in that verse:

Verse 16, “With the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins, but wrath has come upon them to the utmost.”  That’s a frightening text.

This construction shows result and-or purpose. The result of their hostility, the purpose of their hostility is that they are filling up the measure of their sins.  Literally it says they always heap up their sins to the limit.  This point says, as it did in Matthew 23:32, to a very well defined point at which you’ve reached your limit.  You remember back in the antediluvian culture when God said, “My Spirit will not always (what?) strive with men.”  There comes a point at which you’ve filled it up.  Your fathers always fill it up, Jesus said Matthew 23:32, and here Paul says, “And you always fill it up.”  You always run your sin to the absolute limit, and once the cup begins to overflow, judgment is inevitable.  So he says, “Wrath has come upon them to the utmost.”  They had reached the apex.

The apostasy of Israel had gone all the way to killing Christ and killing the messengers of Christ.  That’s it.  That language, by the way, comes from Genesis 15:16 where it says, “The iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full.”  That’s the first time we hear that kind of phrase.  It means that God doesn’t act in judgment until iniquity has reached a certain point, and then He acts.  He says here the Jews were ahead of the pagan Amorites. They always fill it up.  And when the cup is full, judgment is inevitable.

Notice the verb there, “wrath has come.”  Has come, already arrived, has come; this use of the aorist tense, I believe, affirms something that is so inevitable and so certain that it can be spoken of as if it has already come to passFirst of all, he could be referring to the tremendous sweeping devastation and massacre of 70 A.D.  But more than that, he’s talking about a final eschatological wrath when they face the God whom they have rejected as individuals.  The kind of sin they’re committing here is the kind of sin that is not just associated with a military defeat. It’s associated with an eternal damnation.  It’s reminiscent of John 3:36.  Do you remember this verse where Jesus says, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life, but he who doesn’t obey the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God (what?) abides on him.”  It’s already there waiting until the moment of release.

So, what is Paul saying?  All the prerequisites for future, eternal damnation have been met. The cup is full.  You have come to the limit of your sin, murdering the Messiah, murdering His preachers.  There will come a temporal judgment in the destruction of JerusalemThere will come an eternal judgment to you as individuals in the destruction, the unending destruction of hell.

That phrase at the end of verse 16, “wrath has come upon them to the utmost,” eis telos, is used in John 13:1 where it says of Jesus, he looked at His disciples, having loved them which were in the world he loved them eis telos. It means He loved them to the limit.  He loved them to the extreme limit, to the very end, to the perfect expression of love.  Same phrase.  He will damn them to the limit, to the fullest expression of judgment.  And he’s saying the judgment is now irreversible, the cup is full, the judgment cannot be avoided.

Also:

They had a hostility in them, but it most directly and primarily was directed at hindering the apostles from preaching the gospel to the Gentiles so they could be saved. It wasn’t that they were racially prejudiced. That’s not Paul’s point. They were religiously prejudiced. They didn’t want the gospel which they resented being preached to anyone. Hostile to God’s purposes, hostile to everybody, says Paul. And it shows up because they tried to keep everybody in their sins by not letting the gospel be preached to them, though they didn’t realize that was the implication. They’re hostile to all men, not that they hate all men, but that they prevent us from giving them the gospel. They’re interfering with gospel preaching. Boy! That is a dangerous thing, a dangerous thing.

The end of Jesus’ speech to the disciples in Matthew 10, He says, “If you receive a prophet, you will receive a prophet’s reward. If you receive a righteous man, you will receive a righteous man’s reward.” You better be careful how you treat the spokesmen for God. But these were interfering with gospel preaching.

MacArthur concludes:

The application today is we need to be thankful for those who believe and receive the Word and honor the saints by imitating their lives and those who persevere in trials, showing their hope and faith that perseveres to eternal glory, but we need to be sad for those who reject the Word, those who hinder the preaching of the gospel, those whose only ultimate suffering will be that of hell. We have to have a heart of compassion. One writer says this. “Paul is writing here about particular Jews, those who have shown hostility to God’s messengers and not about the Jews in general. Further, what Paul says about them is valid only so long as they persist in their hostility to God and the gospel. If this view is correct, Paul is not guilty of anti-Semitism. What he says here about the nearness of God’s wrath is true for those Jews who persist in ungodliness, but does not contradict the hope that he holds out in Romans that the present time of Jewish opposition to the gospel will be followed by a turning of the people to God.”

Beloved, we should be zealous to show the love of Christ to Jews and lead them to the knowledge of their Messiah. We should desire to do the same thing for Gentiles. The choice is the same. Will you be a person who receives the Word? That’s salvation. Who imitates the saints? That’s sanctification. Who perseveres to the end? That’s glorification. Or will you be a person who rejects the Word? Who hinders the saints and the work they set out to do? And who will endure only punishment? That’s condemnation. The choice has always been the same; blessing, cursing, never different. 

It must not have been easy for the Thessalonians. Many others would have fallen away from the faith, but they remained true to it:

We can assume in the weeks that passed before he wrote this letter back from Corinth to them that during that time that hostility had escalated. During that time it had probably accumulated more Gentile animosity and, of course, we know that they were accusing Paul of being nothing but a fake and a phony and a charlatan and a fraud, a false teacher, one who wanted sexual favors, money, possessions, power, prestige. That’s why he writes chapter 2 verses 1 to 12 to answer that.

But this little church had endured all of that.  They had endured the persecution.  And Paul saw it as an evidence of their real Christianity.  They had counted the cost.  They willingly entered the narrow gate to walk the narrow way.  They paid the price. They took up the cross. They followed Christ.

How can you tell a true church?  By the way they received the Word, by the way they honor the saints and imitate them and by the way they endure the difficulties.  This is a people to be glad for, a people to be glad for. 

What an amazing example of faith in action, against all odds.

Next time — 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20

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