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Responding to An Objection| Persecution in Thessalonians

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Persecution and Eschatology in Thessalonians

Persecution is the key note problem in both of the epistles to the Thessalonian church. From the outset of their conversion to Christ, they had suffered persecution. Yet, Paul promised them relief from that persecution– and that relief would come at the parousia of Christ in judgment of their persecutors, the Jews.

In a previous post, we responded to a question regarding the identity of the persecutors of the saints in Thessalonians.  The claim was made that the persecutors of the Thessalonians were not the Jews but the “countrymen” of the Thessalonians. Be sure to read our comments in regard to this, in that previous article. In addition, as I noted in that article, in my book, In Flaming Fire, I have an extensive discussion of 2 Thessalonians 1 and Paul’s promise that the Thessalonians were to receive relief from that persecution at Christ’s coming. Be sure to get a copy of my book, In Flaming Fire.

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Our Objector has posted again with the following:

“I hope to obtain your suggested Flaming Fire. But if your book only addresses “timing”, I will yet have to look for a discussion of the significance of that timing. For me, the issue of “timing” is of little usefulness without a proper application of the timing. For example, does your timing affect the application of the proclamation at I Thess 5:9 (first clause)? Or do we concede that “audience relevance” limits that proclamation only to Paul’s localized “us”. How does your timing affect that proclamation?

Maybe your book will address this…”
 Let me offer a few thoughts in response.

Persecution, Parousia and Timing in Thessalonians

Our poster seems to believe that we can ignore, or perhaps negate the time statements of scripture if we do not know specifically about the “application of the timing.” I woudl respectfully disagree. This suggests that our concept of the nature of an event controls the time statement. Thus, if our concept of the nature of things does not occur, then the timing must have been off.

This is somewhat akin to saying that my son believed he was getting a certain present for Christmas. When he got presents, but, did not get that one anticipated present, then Christmas did not arrive.

On a more theological note: The Jews desired a kingdom. Jesus came offering the kingdom (Matthew 4:17). Yet, Jesus rejected their offer of the kingdom (John 6:15) and after Jesus rejected their offer of the kingdom, they then rejected his kingship! The time had been set, but, due to the Jewish concept of the kingdom– which Jesus rejected– they rejected the kingdom. Their rejection did not alter God’s plan or offer– and not the timing, however. In fact, that rejection was always part of the plan! See my book, Seal Up Vision and Prophecy for an in-depth discussion of whether the Jewish rejection of the kingdom offer could alter or postpone God’s kingdom offer.  While each rejected the other, the message was, nonetheless: The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.”

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The point is that the language of the first century presence of persecution in Thessalonians and the promise of imminent vindication and relief from that then on-going persecution must be taken seriously. If our concept of the nature of the coming of the Lord prevents this, then I would suggest that we bring our concepts of the nature of the Day of the Lord into harmony with the time statements. And, in line with the Biblical definition of the Day of the Lord.

Persecution and the Nature of the Parousia in Thessalonians

The poster asks: “Do we concede that “audience relevance” limits that proclamation only to Paul’s localized “us”. How does your timing affect that proclamation?”

My response to this is that audience relevance always trumps preconceived ideas. We must above all keep in mind that Thessalonians was written to a very specific church, in a very specific historical context, as well as in a very specific prophetic context. In other words, as my late friend Gene Fadeley used to say: “We must keep in mind that we are reading someone else’s mail.” We therefore have no right to make their mail say something today that it did not say to the original recipients– The Thessalonians.

It is significant that the persecution that was taking place in Thessalonica was likewise taking place throughout the Roman empire, and is found in virtually all of the epistles. And invariably, just as in Thessalonians, the writers promised that Christ was coming very soon in vindication of their suffering and judgment of their persecutors. See Hebrews 10:32-37; James 5:6-10; Revelation for just a few examples. It is improper to ignore this dominant “audience relevance” theme. Persecution— Jewish persecution exudes from the pages of virtually every epistle.

Second, the nature of the parousia as foretold in Thessalonians is determined by the fact that Paul was anticipating the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies of the Day of the Lord for vindication of the martyrs. He directly cites Isaiah 2:9-11, 19-21 which foretold the Day of the Lord, in the last days, when YHVH would purge the blood guilt of Jerusalem by the spirit of fire and judgment (Isaiah 4:4). See my full discussion of Isaiah in my Like Father Like Son, On Clouds of Glory book.

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The key to defining the nature of that Day of the Lord is that it would be a time when men could flee to the mountains and hide in the caves. This can hardly be a “time ending” earth burning, kosmos destroying event.

In chapter 3 we are told specifically that it would be a time of judgment on Israel and Jerusalem, when the men of Israel would fall by the edge of the sword (3:18f– cf. Luke 21:24). When coupled with Jesus’ application of Isaiah to the impending judgment of Jerusalem (Luke 23:28-31) this becomes prima facie proof that Paul was anticipating that same judgment– and it was not to be a literal, visible, bodily appearing of Christ out of heaven. It would be his sovereign utilization of the Romans in judgment of the Jews for persecuting the church– and that is precisely what AD 70 was. See Matthew 23:29-39 in this context, and compare it to Thessalonians. What Paul was promising was what was foretold by Jesus in Matthew 23.

So, the Day of the Lord in Thessalonians would be in fulfillment of Isaiah 2-4- in vindication of the martyrs and judgment on Jerusalem.

The Day of the Lord in Isaiah was to be a “historical” Day of the Lord when men could flee to the hills– (it would not be a literal, bodily coming of the Lord).

According to Jesus, the Day of the Lord of Isaiah 2-4 would be in the judgment of Jerusalem in his generation (Luke 23:28-31 / Matthew 23).

Paul, in Thessalonians, anticipated the fulfillment of Isaiah 2-4 in the vindication of the Thessalonian martyrs, and judgment of their persecutors, the Jews.

Therefore, Paul was anticipating the AD 70 Day of the Lord, when Christ– through his sovereign power– utilized the Romans to judge the Jews for shedding all the innocent blood shed on the earth (Matthew 23).

So, in response to the final question: “How does your timing affect that proclamation?”

My answer is that it fits it perfectly, for it agrees with the OT prophecies of the Day of the Lord in vindication of the martyrs.

It agrees with  the nature of the Day of the Lord as defined and demanded by those OT prophecies.

It agrees perfectly with the “audience relevance” of not only the persecution but of the imminence of that promised vindication as found in all other epistles.

I would suggest that any and all modern, futuristic applications of the persecution or the parousia in Thessalonians violates all of these tenets, and is therefore untenable.

1 thought on “Responding to An Objection| Persecution in Thessalonians

  1. DKP concludes: “I would suggest that any and all modern, futuristic applications of the persecution or the parousia in Thessalonians violates all of these tenets, and is therefore untenable.”

    I agree.

    But the “application of the timing” is still a viable issue. In other words, after the dust has settled what are the equities of the survivors? How does a first century parousia change the scenery for others?

    Before running too quickly with any idea of a “final wrath of God” in the Thessalonian context, my present lack of learning suggests one additional question. Is there any other “wrath of God” besides the “wrath” mentioned by Paul in 1 Thess 5:9?

    For example, in John 3:36 we read “he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him”. Does this 3:36 wrath of God survive the parousia? Or do these words of John also fall within the hermeneutic of audience relevance, and therefore must be understood to apply only to a first century generation? Thence, 3:36 has no application to anyone today?

    But if some say that this 3:36 wrath of God does not survive the parousia (hence, is no longer applicable), then that would provide an easy path for them to conclude that no one would ever hear the ultimate words of denial after the parousia. But I am considering that the 3:36 wrath of God is still abundantly alive and well and is a great blessing for the benefit and eternal security of the saints. Is there anything exegetically inconsistent with saying that the events of 70AD revealed the certainty of the 3:36 wrath of God against the enemies of Messiah’s family, not the end of it?

    Again, I concur with your well stated case of timing. But what does that timing mean to someone living in the year 2014? That is the question.

    Maybe your larger theme of “covenant eschatology” will shed some light on this.

    I will bring my questions to your materials, which I think will be very helpful.

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