1 Thessalonians 2:13-16
For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when you received the word of God which you heard of us…
I. THEIR ACCEPTANCE OF THE WORD. "And for this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that when ye received from us the word of the message, even the Word of God, ye accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the Word of God, which also worketh in you that believe." With this commences the second of the divisions indicated at the close of the first chapter. Our attention is turned away from the preachers to the hearers. It is confusing to join "also" to "we," and to suppose the meaning to be, with Lunemann, "We as well as every true Christian who hears of your conduct," or, with Ellicott, "We as well as you who have so much to be thankful for." It makes an easier transition to join "also" to "thank," making the subject of thanksgiving something additional to the earnestness of the preachers. We may translate freely, "Having this as an antecedent, we have this in addition as a consequent for which to thank God." Here, then, is a falling back into the thankful strain with which the Epistle commenced. The very word translated "without ceasing" is caught up. Having given out their strength in preaching, they had unceasing cause of thanksgiving to God in the result. In setting forth the result, the word is described from the point of view of the Thessalonians in relation to the preachers. The nearest translation is "the from-us-heard-word." This they received in the outward ordinance of preaching. Having thus received it, they next accepted it or received it into their inmost being. They gave this inner reception to it, as being, in their estimation, not the word of man. It was indeed delivered by men, It was a word of human salvation. In its very humanness it was fitted to reach men. But their estimation of the word rose above it as a mere human word to what it really was (as attested here), the Word of God. It was a Word given under Divine direction. It was a Word that came from the heart of God. It was a Word of the overflowing of Divine love. It was a Word, moreover, that was accompanied with the Divine efficacy. In harmony with its being the Divine Word, it is described as working in them that believe. Faith is the organ for our reception of the Word. We may receive the Divine Word in the outward ordinance of preaching, but if there is not this organ of inner reception it must remain inoperative. On the other hand, if there is faith, and in proportion as there is faith, does the mighty power of the word pass into us, even up to the full extent of our capacity and need. It is, therefore, our duty to see that we present no obstacle of unbelief to the efficacy of the Word in us. "That the Word may become effectual to salvation we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives."
II. THE ACCEPTED WORD WROUGHT IN THEM TO GIVE THEM CHRISTIAN HEROISM. "For ye, brethren, became imitators of the Churches of God which are in Judaea in Christ Jesus: for ye also suffered the same things of your own countrymen, even as they did of the Jews." There were, to appearance, other Churches of God in Judaea. It was, therefore, necessary to distinguish Christian Churches in Judaea. It is not to be understood that the Thessalonian Christians were designedly imitators of the Judaean Churches. In result they were imitators. In similar circumstances they exhibited a similar spirit. Judaea was notably the quarter where Christian heroism was most required. The Jews there were filled with deepest rancor against Christ. By their numbers they were more to be considered by the Roman power, and were able to go to greater lengths against the Christians. It could be said of the Thessalonian Christians that they were not behind the Judaean Churches in Christian heroism. They suffered the same things of their own countrymen. We are, therefore, to understand that they were subjected to severe persecution in Thessalonica. We know that the Jews had to do with the persecution as instigators, but, as they had little in their power without the action of the Gentile authorities, their own countrymen are referred to as those at whose hands the Thessalonians suffered. A position was held for Christ at Thessalonica as in Judaea. And, in recording this to the praise of the Thessalonians, they warm toward them and address them as brethren.
III. FOR THEIR ENCOURAGEMENT IN HEROISM THE JEWS ARE PRESENTED IN THEIR TRUE CHARACTER.
1. Their past conduct.
(1) Worst manifestation. "Who both killed the Lord Jesus." In the Greek the mind is first made to rest on the word "Lord." Then there is brought into neighborhood and sharp contrast with it the word "killed." The "Lord" of the Old Testament Scriptures to whom Divine attributes are ascribed - whom David owned as his Lord - they did not own or submit to; but, going in the opposite direction as far as they could go, him they murdered. They did this not only to him who was the Impersonation of authority, but was also the Jesus is third Accomplisher of the loving, saving purpose of God. "For" added as a word. This the Jews did as a nation. They said in effect, through their constituted authorities, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him." In thus charging guilt home upon the Jews, Paul was charging it home upon himself. For wherever he was at the time of the crucifixion, in his then state of mind he was in full sympathy with the action of the rulers. And it is right that we should see here not only the blackness of the Jewish heart, but the blackness of the human heart. This was what we did to our Lord when he came on an errand of mercy to our earth. We laid hands on him and put him to death. For this let us be deeply humbled before God. Let us say with Job, in nearer contact with God, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
(2) Manifestations leading up to the worst. "And the prophets." What the Jews did to their Messiah was net an isolated act. It was only of a piece with what their previous conduct had been. "Which of the prophets," said Stephen, "did not your fathers persecute? and they killed them which showed before of the coming of the Righteous One; of whom ye have now become betrayers and murderers." The treatment they gave to God's messengers, whose work it was to prepare the way for the Messiah by rebuke and prediction, led up to the treatment they gave their Messiah. In his pro-Christian state Paul was well entitled to be called "son of them that slew the prophets;" and so are all who abuse and thwart, or stand aloof from, those who are seeking to advance the cause of God in the world.
(3) Manifestation subsequent to the worst. "And drave out us." The reference seems to be to the driving of the apostles out of Judaea. This was overruled by God for the proclamation of the gospel beyond Judea; but none the less was it culpable. It showed that the spirit of penitence had not passed over them for the heinous crime of which they had been guilty. They were still holding to the words, "His blood be upon us, and upon our children."
2. Condemnation of their conduct.
(1) It was against God. "And please not God." The Jews thought they were pleasing God in what they did to Christ and also to the prophets and apostles. This is denied of them. They were really, in their anti-Christian position, setting themselves against the Divine ends. They were setting themselves against the whole meaning of their existence as a nation, against the teaching of their oracles, against the design of their rites. They were setting themselves against the evidence of miracles, and against the stronger evidence of a goodness which should have carried conviction to every honest heart. If they could be so far mistaken, have not we reason to be on our guard? We may think that we are pleasing God when we have never learned the alphabet of the Divine teaching, have never subjected ourselves to the Divine control.
(2) It was against man. "And are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved." Their condemnation manward is as strong as their condemnation Godward. They were contrary to all men, is the language used; and the proof which is given is conclusive. The gospel is the offer of salvation to all men. But the universality, which is its glory, was to them its defect. They had the idea of keeping salvation to themselves. They had the idea that they were blessed the more, the fewer they were that were blessed. And when the apostles spoke to the Gentiles, and thus preached the larger salvation, as if the blessing were being taken away from them, they forbade them in such manner as they could, by contradiction, calumnies, laying snares for their life. If this was their fall, let us beware lest it should be ours. The first saved (for as Christians we stand where the Jews stood) must understand it to be their duty, not to draw the line at themselves, but to reach forth in blessing to all the unsaved.
3. Final result of their conduct.
(1) In guilt. "To fill up their sins always." There is here a reflection f our Lord's words, "Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers." The Jews were on their trial as a nation. In this trial they should have filled up the measure of their good actions, of service to the world. That would have been their vindication before God. Instead of that, they filled up the measure of their sins. There is significant language used in Genesis 15:10, "But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." It is a sad thing that it could be said of the Jews with Divine helps, as of the Amorites without Divine helps, that they were filling up their sins. They were filling up their sins always. It was a course which they did not alter by a genuine deep conformed repentance as a nation. The general tendency of their conduct, both before Christ, at the time of Christ, and after Christ, was to fill up their sins. They obstinately put away God from them, disregarded the Divine calls and warnings. And the ultimate result of such conduct, in the working out of the eternal purpose, could only be as here set down, the bringing of the measure of their sins up to the full.
(2) In punishment. "But the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost." This is in contrast with the filling up of their sins, in their opposition to God and man. The wrath of God, which is here mentioned for the second time in the Epistle, is to be thought of as the predestined or the merited wrath. It is a wrath which descends upon nations as well as upon individuals. As the measure of their sins is thought of as being brought up to the full, so the wrath is thought of as reaching its utmost limit, when it must discharge itself - when, instead of probationary dealing, there must be inflictive judgment. The inspired writers here had words of our Lord on which to proceed. "That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of Abel the righteous unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachiah, whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation." The apostolic words were written within fifteen years of the destruction of Jerusalem, when the Jews were finally rejected as a nation. There is hope of their conversion at some future period; but it cannot be said that to this day the wrath of God, for their long course of disobedience, has been removed. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
WEB: For this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when you received from us the word of the message of God, you accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God, which also works in you who believe.