1 Thessalonians 2:13-20 - Paul's Encouraging word to the Thessalonians
Read 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20
In this section the Apostle continues his defence but he also does more. His defence is never for its own sake. He has the welfare of the church in mind and even his defence of his own ministry is for the benefit of the church. Any question concerning his motives would be injurious to the church. The attacks leveled against his person or his work might cause the members of the church to begin to question the content of the message he brought. Consequently, he defends himself against the attacks which have been made so that the gospel be not hindered.
He first of all gives thanks that the word which he has brought has proved to be effective among the Thessalonians. This is the purpose he has in mind in all his labors. The gospel of Jesus Christ must be proclaimed. He has given up everything in order that that purpose may be attained. Then, when he sees that the gospel is believed, he is profoundly grateful.
The Word, not Man's but God's
The Apostles, as any messengers, were only able to bring the gospel to the physical ear of the listeners. This they had done. They had not come with any other kind of "wisdom," but had only brought the word. Now Paul is so extremely grateful that the people in Thessalonica have listened to and have received the word which was brought to them. But, the most important reason he has for thanksgiving is the fact that they did not receive the word brought to them as the word of man, but, as it indeed is, the word of God! These people were persuaded that Paul and his associates were not bringing men's words of wisdom, but that they were bringing the word of God with men's lips. It is always amazing when this happens. What a conviction of the Spirit is necessary for men to receive words spoken by human lips as the true word of God! Unbelievers hear only the human speech and conclude that the words spoken are the product of a man's mind and heart. Only the Spirit of God can cause one to recognize it as the word of God.
Notice that the Apostle is also fully convinced that he indeed brought the word of God. Not only is he a channel through whom the word comes to those who listen, no, he actually spoke the word of God to them. He was, of course, used by the Spirit of God as an instrument of revelation. However, that fact is not in the foreground here, but, rather, that the preaching of the word is the word of God! This fact is often lost from sight today and as a result the faith of the individual, the respect for office and the view of the church has been seriously damaged.
God's Word Works
He knows that they have accepted the message which was brought to them as indeed the word of God and he does not have to base that only on their confession, but is able to see that word at work within them. The word of God is powerful and it is alive. It cannot be hid within those who receive it. God works through His word. That, in fact, is His common mode of operation. Paul has brought the message to the ear and he now sees the work of God in those who believe! This is proof of the power of the word, of the Spirit's presence, and of their faith. When he sees all this, is it any wonder that he rejoices?
Common Persecution by the Enemies
In the previous chapter he had spoken of the fact that the Thessalonians had become imitators of the Apostles and of Christ. He now brings to their attention that they had also become imitators of the churches in Judea. As the churches among the Jews had suffered persecution, so have also these people in Thessalonica. In Judea the Christians suffered the most at the hand of their fellow countrymen — the Jews. In Thessalonica the people are suffering the most at the hands of their own countrymen — the gentiles, even though there was also a persecution of them by the Jews living in their city. It doesn't really make any difference where you live or who your countrymen are, persecution will come! The power of evil knows no geographical or national boundaries. Now you have become just like the churches which were organized first, those in the holy land. He here again uses the name for "church" which meant "assembly" in the Greek, but shows them clearly that he means the assembly of the people of God who have been redeemed by Christ.
The reason why he mentions these things is not merely to state a fact. It is rather to encourage them in the midst of persecution. They, as new converts, might well wonder why they were now despised and treated shamefully. They must understand that this is a part of bearing the reproach for the sake of Christ. "Let a man take up his cross and follow me." However, the word which they have received is at work within them and will safeguard them.
Enemies of Salvation
He has more to say concerning the Jews who are persecuting the churches in Judea. They have not recently begun their work of persecution, no, their history shows a pattern of similar deeds. He openly states that the Jews have killed the Lord. There is no possibility that they will be able to lay the blame on others, e.g., the Romans — the Jews did it! Is this anti-semitism? Of course not — it is the simple statement of a fact! Not only are they responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, they also killed the prophets of the Old Testament times. Stephen had accused them of the same crimes (Acts 7:52). When the prophets spoke to them to turn them back to God and also spoke of the coming Messiah, they sought to silence the voice of these prophets. Jesus also referred to this. This is the pattern of behavior which goes on to the present day, says Paul. They drove us out too. This had happened in Thessalonica and the readers of this letter were witnesses to it. It had also occurred in various other places. These people (the Jews) do not do the things which are pleasing to God! No, they do the opposite! They are contrary to all men! A word is used here which is nowhere else used concerning men but is used, for example, of winds, etc. Taken by itself these last words of this verse would give the impression that the Jew is the enemy of all other men. However, the meaning is given in the next verse.
How are they contrary to all men? In the fact that they are forbidding the preaching of the gospel to the gentiles so that they may come to salvation. They thereby show themselves contrary to all men in that they try to rob all men of the greatest gift which could be given them! This is no small matter. These people had resisted the Spirit of God throughout their history (Acts 7:51). With the persecution of the church of Christ the measure of their sins had been filled. This sin will not be overlooked. "The wrath (of God) is come upon them to the uttermost" says the Apostle. The Jews (as everyone else) had fallen into sin countless times throughout their history. Then they would repent — and God would forgive them. Now, however, this wrath is come to the uttermost — they will be rejected! This doesn't mean that none of them will be saved, far from it, but the nation has been rejected! Paul has more to say about their future in Romans 9, and his strong language here must be compared with his teachings there.
Deep Personal Attachments
There is one more subject with which he deals in this chapter and it is one which is very important to him and of which he writes with deep feeling. As was stated in the first lesson in this series, Paul and Silas and Timothy had worked in Thessalonica for a very brief time — three Sabbaths are mentioned in Acts 17. They then had to flee the city because of the persecutions on the part of the opponents of the gospel. These could now charge that the Apostles had taken the easy way out. That they were not so fearless! That they considered their own welfare more important than the welfare of the church. Their flight gave the impression that these charges might be true. Paul will, therefore, defend himself. They were not allowed to become needless martyrs! The gospel had to be preached in many more places. He had come to Thessalonica on his second missionary journey. Part of the second and the entire third missionary journey was still on God's program for him. It was neither fear nor lack of concern for the church at Thessalonica which had caused his sudden departure. His God controls his life and he will be obedient.
He writes that he and his helpers have been "bereaved" or "orphaned" of them for a short time. These people were dear to his heart and he had been "torn away from them." In other words, he wanted to stay! This, however, was not possible. But, if they are now separated, he and this church, it will be for but a short time. And it is only a physical separation! With his heart he is still with them, i.e., he has not forgotten them. He speaks of the intense longing he has to see them again. How dare anyone accuse him of leaving his post? Here is a man who bears the concern for all the churches upon his heart. These are his brethren! They are together members of the household of God! He becomes very emotional in his language when he speaks of these things.
He now informs them that he has wished to come back to Thessalonica more than once since they had to flee this city. Although he has spoken in the plural almost all of the time, he now speaks of himself. Don't let anyone think that he is comfortable with his present state of being absent from this church. He wanted to go back there to see his people again. But, even though that was his desire not once but several times, his purpose had been thwarted. "Satan hindered us," he writes. He does not believe that natural circumstances can be cited as the reason for his inability to return to this church. He is fully aware of Satan's wiles and speaks of them frequently. He does not speak of Satan's hindering as a handy address for all the things which go wrong and for which there is no logical explanation. We must remember that the gospel is making giant strides in the days of the Apostles to cover the whole inhabited world. Then Satan goes on a rampage. In the days when the Son of God appeared in the flesh, Satan entered into many human beings — seeking to imitate the incarnation. Now he will do everything possible to hinder the spread of the gospel. But, Satan can only go as far as God allows him to go. Paul is no "match" for Satan, but neither will he follow Satan's plans. He will continue to hope for an opportunity to return to Thessalonica! Satan may have "broken up the road" to make it impassable for the present — but God will repair it!
The Lord's Return
"For who (rather than what) is our hope, or joy, or crown of glorying"? Are they the larger churches he has founded? Are they the important people in such places as Corinth, Ephesus or Philippi? You are as well as all the others found in the other churches! Naturally he has high hopes for them. It is a joy for him to see fruit upon his labors. However, they are also his crown! They are the victor's crown before the Lord at His coming. For the first time he uses the word "parousia" which means the return of Jesus Christ when He shall bless them with His presence. It is a term which is used in a technical sense. All kinds of "comings" might be termed "parousia," but from now on it will designate THE SECOND COMING of Jesus Christ. Then He will take His people to Himself. Then all shall receive according to what they have done — and Paul will have that victor's wreath which is made up of all those who have believed his preaching ... including the Thessalonians!
The second coming of Jesus Christ is considered the day of the greatest glory for His people by this Apostle. Judgment day, yes, but it will be a judgment of acquittal for His people. Their salvation will then enter its complete state.
Let not the Thessalonian Christians listen to those who say that the Apostle is only seeking self and that he has forgotten about them. He has made it very clear that he is ready to sacrifice all things for them and that they are the joy of his life. In his relation to the church he has indeed become an imitator of the Christ Whom he serves. The criticisms which some have uttered would not be so bad, but they may be injurious to the faith of the weak.
Questions for Discussion:
Is the criticism of the church and its ministry ever an "innocent pastime" or is it extremely dangerous?
Does a minister today bring the word of God, i.e., is the sermon actually the word of God? Which problems are involved here?
Does persecution always follow the preaching of the word? Is there persecution in our lands today? Is there something wrong when we are not persecuted?
Is the guilt of the Jews greater than that of other people? How has the wrath of God come upon them?
When things don't succeed may we say that it is Satan's fault? If Satan had not "hindered" him, would it have been possible for Paul to return to Thessalonica and perhaps have suffered a martyr's death?
What do you understand by the "parousia"?