Monday, November 09, 2009

1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

V13-16 – 13And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. 14For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, 15who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men 16in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last [or fully].

Paul again gives reason for thanking God, that His word is efficacious (“at work in you”); see Isaiah 55:11, Jeremiah 23:29, and Hebrews 4:12. God’s word accomplishes exactly what God wants it to do every time it is preached. Paul thanks God, because the Thessalonians received and accepted the gospel. In other words, God opened their deaf ears and blind eyes and gave them faith; that’s why Paul is thankful. And God did this by His word; in fact, “God” and “Scripture” are often used interchangeably in the New Testament. Calvin says, “The relative pronoun may be taken as referring either to God or to His word, but whichever way you choose, the meaning will come all to one, for as the Thessalonians felt in themselves a Divine energy, which proceeded from faith, they might rest assured that what they had heard was not a mere sound of the human voice vanishing into air, but the living and efficacious doctrine of God.”

But notice that those who do not receive the word of God, those who do not accept it as divinely inspired, infallible and inerrant, are neglecting what “it actually is, the word of God.” We might also conclude from that implication that the word of God is not at work in the same way for unbelievers as it is for believers. We might argue that the word of God is always at work, even if only to bring condemnation. Vincent Cheung says, “To regard the word of God as the word of mere men is not faith, not even weak faith, but non-faith, unbelief, and blasphemy. The difference is not a matter of ‘more or less,’ but one of ‘either-or,’ not a matter of degree, but of truth and reality. Thus to regard the doctrine of the apostles as the word of men is to deny that it is the word of God – it is to reject the gospel, the only message that saves.” Elaborating further on v13, Cheung says:

“Unbelievers cannot perceive the word of God for what it is because it is spiritually perceived. They lack the disposition and competence to perceive it for what it is with their minds. They think that men wrote the Bible, and therefore it must be the word of men. They make this judgment without regard to the heavenliness of the content. Yet some claim that they would believe if the same message were delivered to them in conjunction with some spectacular display of divine presence. But this just shows that they are sensual and irrational, and not intellectual. This is part of the reason Jesus could say, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’ (Luke 16:31). If they are irrational and non-intellectual, then what would a shock to the senses do? They would still lack the intellectual disposition and competence to recognize the true nature and source of an intellectual message. But if they possess the intellectual disposition and competence to recognize intellectual truth, then they would not need a shock to the senses. This intellectual enlightenment is what is granted to the elect in conversion. Reprobates remain in darkness and a mentally disabled condition.”
Moving on, Paul says in v14 that the Thessalonians “became imitators of” the Jewish Christians in suffering for the faith. Calvin says they “had in good earnest embraced the gospel, as being presented to them by God, inasmuch as they courageously endured the assaults which Satan made upon them, and did not refuse to suffer anything rather than leave off obedience to it. And, unquestionably, this is no slight test of faith when Satan, by all his machinations, has no success in moving us away from the fear of God.” Furthermore, the Thessalonians may have wondered why, if the truth of Jesus extends from the Jews, the Jews would persecute Christians. But Paul elaborates on that in the coming verses.

In v15-16, Paul speaks of the Jews being responsible for killing Jesus. Quite bluntly, the Jews, who self-righteously and arrogantly yet piously and truthfully claimed to be ambassadors to the world with theological truth, murdered Jesus, and even though God foreordained that and by whom it should happen, the Jewish people, led by their selfish, pharisaical shepherds, were morally culpable for their actions. Paul goes on and says that “they displease God” by prohibiting Paul and others from preaching the gospel, especially to the Gentiles. Cheung says of Paul, “He describes the ongoing effort of the Jews to frustrate the works of God on the earth. They killed the prophets and the Lord Jesus (v15a), and now they pursue the Christians. Some they drive out. Others they imprison. And the rest they kill. They do not only refuse the gospel, preferring the fires of hell to the glories of heaven, but they also attempt to prevent the gospel from reaching the Gentiles, often by any means necessary, including murder. Whereas there is much talk about anti-Semitism today, Paul writes that they are the ones who are ‘hostile to all men,’ and this is seen in their efforts to impede the progress of the Christian faith, which is the only hope of salvation for mankind. Determined to destroy the Christian faith, in effect they have assigned themselves the task of mass damnation, the instigators of spiritual holocaust.” And in that way, they, as Jesus said (Matthew 23:32), fill up the measure of their sins.

For additional commentary on this concept, we might need to look at Romans 9-11 (compare Romans 1:18-32 for an image of God’s wrath poured out on the Gentiles) and consider Jewish envy. But in the meantime, we can say that the wrath on the Jews may be seen as partial, though severe. It may have included and continue to include famine (Acts 11:28), massacre in the Temple (as recorded by Josephus), or the Holocaust, and expulsion from Jerusalem at the hands of Claudius (Acts 18:2). It likely also prophesies, as Jesus did throughout the gospels, the fall of the Temple in 70 AD.

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