The Persecution of the Thessalonians
“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” (v. 14).- 1 Thessalonians 2:14–16
We have seen that the Thessalonians seemed to have doubted the authenticity of their conversions to Christ. That explains why Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 1:2–10, reminds them of their spiritual fruit, which evidenced the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives (see Gal. 5:22–24). It also explains why Paul says in today’s passage that the Thessalonians’ suffering under persecution demonstrated the work of the Word of God in them (1 Thess. 2:14).
The connection between the suffering of the Thessalonians and the work of God’s Word is made clear by the explanatory conjunction “for,” which is used twice in 1 Thessalonians 2:14. The Word of God was at work in the Thessalonian Christians as evidenced by their enduring persecution by their fellow citizens just as Paul, the prophets, and even the Lord Jesus Christ were persecuted by the Jews (vv. 14–15). History shows that there will always be opposition to the Word of God from those outside the covenant. For example, when Moses charged Pharaoh to free the Israelites from slavery, Pharaoh made life even harder for God’s people (Ex. 5). More tragically, however, people who belonged to the covenant community of Israel also opposed the Word of God. Jeremiah was put in stocks for preaching the word of the Lord (Jer. 20:1–2). Zechariah, through whom the Holy Spirit spoke, was killed by King Joash of Judah for prophesying against him (2 Chron. 24:20–22). Worst of all, Jesus Himself was put to death by those Jews who rejected Him and who handed Him over to the Romans for execution (John 18:1–19:37). Having saving faith in the Lord makes oneself a target of the devil’s ire, and the Thessalonians’ persecution by fellow gentiles for their faith demonstrated the truth of their commitment to Christ.
Paul’s likening the persecution of the Thessalonians by gentiles to the persecution of Christ and others by ethnic Jews who rejected Jesus as the Savior provokes him to utter the harshest words against his countrymen that we find in his epistles. Of course, he is not referring to every Jew but only those who reject Christ persistently and impenitently. Such individuals oppose God and all mankind when they persecute believers, for their persecution impedes Christians’ efforts to reach the gentiles with the gospel that saves all who believe it (1 Thess. 2:15–16). God has not overlooked this but is pouring out His wrath (v. 16)—likely a reference to His hardening of the hearts of those Jews who refuse to heed the Word of God.
When those who profess to be God’s people reject His Word, they can expect His wrath, particularly His hardening of their hearts against His gospel. We dare not claim to be Christians and then reject God’s Word, for the judgment is worse for those who know the Master’s will and refuse to do it (Luke 12:47–48).
Passages for Further Study
1 Samuel 19