Persecution in Thessalonica– Jewish or Pagan?
A visitor to our site has posted an objection to some comments that I made in regard to 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 and Jewish persecution. We do appreciate the visit and the comments. Here are the comments, and I will offer a response below.
The text says that the source of Thessalonian persecution was not “from the leaders in Jerusalem” (as you say), but rather from “their own countrymen” (v. 14).
So to terminate the Jerusalem persecution is one thing (at a certain time), and to terminate the “countrymen persecution” is another thing (at a certain time).
The text here, standing alone, does not insist that both timelines are identical.
And when Paul says “the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost”, Paul’s usage of “them” refers only to the persecutors in Judea. Paul does not (here) expressly say anything about a “wrath to come” upon the “countrymen persecutors”. EoQ
Persecution in Thessalonians – A Response
By way of response, let me offer the following:
First: To delineate between “your countrymen” and the Jews is a false distinction. Acts 17 makes it abundantly clear that it was the Thessalonican Jews that instigated the persecution of the church. Thus, it is very much true that their Jewish countrymen, did in fact persecute them.
Second, it is a fact that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem were at the root of much persecution of the church throughout the Roman Empire. Remember that it was Paul– formerly Saul– who had received “letters of authority” from the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem to pursue and persecute Christians all the way to Damascus! This was at a very early stage.
Third, it is clear from the rest of the NT testimony that the Jews were in fact the “movers and shakers” of persecution against the church. Scholars have recognized that with few exceptions– if any– it was the Jews responsible for Christian persecution in Acts. N. T. Wright says: “Persecution of Christians did not in fact, initially come from pagans.” He continues, “In fact, the earliest and best evidence we possess for serious and open hostility between Jews–especially Pharisees–and the nascent Christian movement is found in the earliest period for which we have evidence, namely in the letters of Paul. He, by his own admission, had persecuted the very early church with violence and zeal.” (Jesus and the Victory of God, (Minneapolis, Fortress, 1996)374).
Fourth, to interpret 1 Thessalonians as a text “standing alone” is misguided. That is not the way to interpret the Scriptures. Any proper hermeneutic seeks to include and consider all relevant data on a given subject. And in light of the fact that persecution runs from the first of 1 Thessalonians all the way through 2 Thessalonians, it is patently wrong to isolate these verses from the rest of that testimony.
Fifth, in regards to the claim: “Paul does not (here) expressly say anything about a “wrath to come” upon the “countrymen persecutors.” Consider 2 Thessalonians 1, which speaks of a wrath that was about to come on the persecutors of the Thessalonian church. Take note of the following indisputable facts:
A.) The Thessalonians were being persecuted (From the Greek word thlipsis, meaning pressure). Paul’s repeated use of the present active indicative proves this.
B.) Paul said Christ would bring tribulation (thlipsis) on the persecutors of the Thessalonians.
C.) Paul told the Thessalonians that they would receive “relief” from that then on-going persecution. (The word translated as “rest” in 2 Thes. 1:7 is from the Greek word anesis, which means relief from pressure).
D.) Paul said the tribulation on their persecutors and their relief from that persecution would be “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.”
Thus, in one very real sense, it does not matter who the persecutors of the Thessalonians were. Paul said that those who were– when he wrote Thessalonians— persecuting those saints would be cast out of the presence of the Lord, and receive tribulation when the Lord came. Notice the specific language: “It is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation… those who are troubling you… and to give to you who are being troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.”
Now, it is indisputably true that Christ could not give the Thessalonians relief from that then on-going persecution if the Thessalonians were not being persecuted at the time of Christ’s coming! You can’t give someone relief from something at the time of your coming, if, when you come, they are not experiencing what you are coming to give them relief from!
Thus, Christ was going to “turn the tables” on the persecutors of the Thessalonian church– regardless of who we identify as those persecutors. And, he was going to give the Thessalonians relief from that then on-going persecution: “when the Lord Jesus is revealed.”
No matter who you identify as the persecutors, it is they who were, when Paul wrote, persecuting the Thessalonians, that would receive tribulation at the parousia. And, to repeat, it was the first century, living Thessalonians, that would receive relief from that then on-going persecution “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.”
There is no textual, or contextual way to divorce 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 from 2 Thessalonians 1. Both speak to and about the same people, and the same problem. Both texts make the same promise– imminent judgment of the persecutors, and imminent relief from that persecution: “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.”
The language here could really not be any clearer. Paul promised those first century Christians relief from their persecution, and that relief was coming at the Day of the Lord. That relief and that parousia of necessity had to occur in their lifetime, or, there was no relief for them!
Be sure to get a copy of my book: In Flaming Fire, for an in-depth exegesis of 2 Thessalonians 1. This book is an exercise in proper hermeneutic and proves definitively that Christ had to come in the lifetime of those Thessalonian saints. It is a powerful book, and one that you need in your library![add_to_cart_btn_style_2 link=http://eschatology.org/index.php?option=com_virtuemart&view=productdetails&virtuemart_product_id=7&virtuemart_category_id=13 + target=”_self”] [/add_to_cart_btn_style_2]
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