1 Thessalonians: Chapter 2 (Part 2)
January 31, 2023
by Peter Amsterdam
1 Thessalonians: Chapter 2 (Part 2)
In the first part of chapter 2 of 1 Thessalonians, Paul had reminded the Thessalonian Christians that he and his companions did not seek glory and they didn’t make any demands of these new Christians. Rather, they worked day and night so that they wouldn’t be a financial burden to them.
You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, 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.1
As he had done earlier (v. 5), Paul calls on two witnesses, the Thessalonians and God Himself, to vouch for their character. Both of these witnesses knew that Paul and his partners had acted in a holy and godly manner. They declared that there was clear evidence that their actions conformed with both God’s law and human law and that they had acted blamelessly. This serves to emphasize the irreproachable character of Paul’s conduct “toward you believers.”
Paul went on to remind them of his and his partners’ conduct while with them. They were like a father with his children. He focused on the nurturing and instructional role he played in the lives of the Thessalonian believers. One author explains: Paul compares himself to a nurse or mother when he wants to highlight the love and affection he has for his readers, but he likens himself to a father when he wants to focus on his role in teaching and training converts.2 In ancient Greco-Roman and Jewish writings, fathers were often depicted as authoritative figures who were the rulers of the household. However, this image is balanced by other writings which portray a father’s love and devotion. It is this latter view of fathers which is highlighted in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.
Paul and his companions’ role as a father with his children is expressed by three actions they took: they exhorted, encouraged, and charged the Thessalonians to walk in a manner worthy of God. Paul makes use of the imagery of being a father with his children a few times in his letters to the churches.
I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.3
Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.4
My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!5
Paul also used the father image in regard to his relationship with Timothy.
You know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.6
To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.7
Like a father, Paul exhorted, encouraged, and charged the Thessalonians to walk in a manner worthy of God. Throughout Paul’s letters he uses the word walk to refer to how people conduct themselves (walk) before God.
I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.8
Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.9
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.10
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.11
Paul concludes this verse (v. 12) by describing God as the one who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. Later in this epistle, Paul also refers to God calling believers. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.12
We also thank God constantly 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.13
The founders of the Thessalonian church—Paul, Silas, and Timothy—continually gave thanks to God for these who had responded so well to the word of God they had preached. The Thessalonians recognized that what they heard was a sacred message and not some dry philosophy or word of man. They received and accepted it as from God. This word was now at work in the lives of those in the church. Even though the founders of the church were no longer physically with them, God’s word continued to work in them.
That Paul’s preaching was the word of God was confirmed by how it is at work in you believers. The Thessalonians embraced Paul’s teaching as God’s word and knew that it brought about divine work in their lives. Paul didn’t state exactly what the divine work was, but it was probably the conversion of the Thessalonians from idolatry (1:9–10) and the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. They knew that God’s word had transformed their lives.
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, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved.14
Paul likened the persecution the Thessalonian church was experiencing with that of the churches throughout Judea. Paul knew well what the Christians in Judea had suffered, since he was previously involved in their persecution. Saul (later called Paul) was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.15
The Christians in Judea had suffered at the hands of their own countrymen, and the Thessalonian Christians were undergoing similar difficulties. While the trouble in Thessalonica was originally provoked by the Jewish community, it quickly attracted the local population of Thessalonians, as well as the civic leaders, officials, and the Politarchs, who were the elected governors of the city.
The Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea.16
The Thessalonian Gentiles were the ones persecuting the believers, though the initial persecution came from the local synagogue. We’re not given the specifics concerning what type of persecution took place, but it likely included social rejection, verbal abuse, accusations, and perhaps physical attacks which may have resulted in the martyrdom of some. Having made the comparison between the persecution the Thessalonians suffered from their countrymen and the way the Jews persecuted the Judean churches, Paul moved on to speak rather negatively of the Jewish people.
Paul lays out six points in his accusations against the Jewish opposition. The first and second were that they were the ones who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets. While Jesus was put to death by Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, both the Gospels and the book of Acts show the responsibility of the Jewish community in Jerusalem, including both the religious authorities and the populace in general, for His execution.17 (It must be emphasized that while some of the Jewish community in Jerusalem were responsible for Jesus’ death, Judaism in general is not responsible. Therefore, any form of antisemitism is unchristian and wrong.) The prophets who had been killed that Paul was speaking of were likely Isaiah, Micah, and Amos, who were all martyred.
The third point was that in Paul’s time, the Jews opposed God’s plan, as seen by their persecution of the apostles—they also drove us out. Paul and those who preached the gospel were often expelled from cities and were threatened by their inhabitants.18 In this case, they had been expelled from Thessalonica.
The fourth accusation was that they displease God. Pleasing God was an important concept in both the Old and New Testaments. Paul mentioned it twice in 1 Thessalonians.19 In this case, he points to the opposition of the Jewish leaders who were opposing God’s messengers (v. 15–16), and their sin (v. 16). He also added that they turn against those who are not of their race when he wrote that they oppose all mankind. In Acts we read that the Jewish community in many cities tried to keep Paul and his associates from speaking to the Gentiles, and on some occasions managed to silence them.20
The fifth accusation was that they oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved.21 Paul stated that their “hostility to all men” is seen in their trying to keep him and his team from sharing the message of salvation with Gentiles. In Thessalonica, their efforts shortened Paul’s ministry. He goes on to say that their hindering of his witness to the Gentiles is the culmination of a long history of their sin, that their opposition to his ministry is just one more example of resisting God. Therefore, they are suffering God’s wrath.
Paul ends with a shocking statement, But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!22 Paul was not speaking about future judgment; he was referencing some manifestation of God’s wrath in the present time that the readers of his letter would perceive.
Having written about the reception of the gospel by the Thessalonian believers and the Jewish opposition to Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, Paul returned to his relationship with the Thessalonians and his sadness about his separation from them.
But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us.23
Even though Paul and his companions were separated from the Thessalonian believers, his intentions were to return. He had been apart from them for a short time. In their absence they did all that they could to assure the Thessalonians of their love for them. They also did their best to explain to them that their not returning wasn’t because they lacked concern for them. Although they were separated from the church, they still carried the Thessalonians in their hearts.
Paul’s desire was to return and his team put a lot of effort into trying to do so, but the opposition was strong. Satan hindered us. In spite of the hindrance, they were able to send Timothy back to the church. When we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith.24 Some time much later, Paul was able to return to Macedonia and Thessalonica.25
For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.26
Paul and his companions explained that one of the reasons they wanted to see the Thessalonians was that the church was the source of their joy. They recognized that in the final judgment, both they and the Thessalonians would have to stand in the presence of God. They anticipated that they would have joy and receive a crown when they present the Thessalonians before the Lord.
The Thessalonian believers were Paul’s and his team’s glory and joy, their source of honor. As one author commented: In the midst of all their afflictions and distress, this church filled them with overabundant joy.27
(To be continued.)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 1 Thessalonians 2:10–12.
2 Jeffrey A. D. Weima, 1–2 Thessalonians: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), 154.
3 1 Corinthians 4:14.
4 2 Corinthians 12:14.
5 Galatians 4:19.
6 Philippians 2:22.
7 1 Timothy 1:2. See also 1 Timothy 1:18, 2 Timothy 2:1–2.
8 Galatians 5:16.
9 Romans 13:13.
10 Ephesians 4:1.
11 Colossians 2:6.
12 1 Thessalonians 5:24.
13 1 Thessalonians 2:13.
14 1 Thessalonians 2:14–16.
15 Acts 8:3. See also 1 Timothy 1:13–14.
16 Acts 17:5–10.
17 Mark 3:6; 14:1; 15:14–15; John 5:18; 7:1; 8:59; 11:45–53; Acts 2:23, 36; 3:13–15; 4:10; 5:30; 7:52.
18 Acts 9:23–25; 13:50; 14:4–6, 19–20.
19 1 Thessalonians 2:4, 4:1.
20 Acts 13:48–52; 14:2,19.
21 1 Thessalonians 2:15–16.
22 1 Thessalonians 2:16.
23 1 Thessalonians 2:17–18.
24 1 Thessalonians 3:1–2.
25 Acts 20:1–3.
26 1 Thessalonians 2:19–20.
27 Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 156.