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Thessalonians Series: Persevering through Religious Persecution (1 Thess 2:13-16)

Updated: Dec 2, 2023



Persevering through Religious Persecution


And so we too constantly thank God that when you received God’s message that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human message, but as it truly is, God’s message, which is at work among you who believe. For you became imitators, brothers and sisters, of God’s churches in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, because you too suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they in fact did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and persecuted us severely. They are displeasing to God and are opposed to all people because they hinder us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they constantly fill up their measure of sins, but wrath has come upon them completely.

1 Thessalonians 2:13–16 (NET)



How can we faithful persevere when experiencing religious persecution?


In talking to his disciples, Christ said, “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first,” and “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18, 20). In addition, he taught his disciples that before his return, believers would be hated by all nations for his name’s sake (Matt 24:9). Certainly, we saw this begin with the early church. The book of Acts, which is the first book on church history, shows how the early church began in Jerusalem, but because of persecution, began to spread throughout the ancient world. Christians were put in jail for preaching the gospel; they were flogged, and some were killed. Because of their persecution, Christianity spread from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and then the rest of the known world.


With Thessalonica, the same was true. Paul preached the word of God for three sabbaths in their synagogue and developed a small following of Jewish and Gentile believers. However, the other Jews in that community became jealous and started a riot to get rid of Paul. Immediately after, Paul left Thessalonica for Berea. However, when the Jews heard he was there, they went to stir up trouble for him there, so he left for Athens and eventually to Corinth (Acts 17-18). Though Paul was gone from Thessalonica, the persecution of the Thessalonians continued. Because Paul was worried about this infant congregation, he sent Timothy back to check on them to see how they were doing in the faith and encourage them (1 Thess 3:2). After finding out about their continued faith, Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians in response. Here in 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16, Paul gave thanks for them, their reception of God’s Word, and faithfulness amidst persecution.


With that said, persecution of Christians has continued to grow since the early church. It’s been said that in the last century, more Christians died for the faith than all the previous centuries combined and that the numbers continue to increase. With many nations taking unbiblical views on abortion, sexuality, marriage, and gender, Christians who hold to biblical convictions are increasingly being targeted and hated. It’s very easy to see how if these trends continue, surely like Christ said, Christians will be hated by all nations for his name’s sake. The question then becomes; “Will we be able to stand as persecution increases?” Certainly, many Christians are already second-class citizens in their nations. They don’t have the opportunities others have, and they can be openly persecuted for their beliefs. But many Christians, especially in nations with a large Christian population, have never experienced overt persecution and therefore may not be prepared for it. As we study 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16, we learn principles about faithfully persevering through religious persecution.


Big Question: In 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16, what principles can be discerned about persevering through religious persecution?


To Persevere through Persecution, Christians Must Be Convinced that Scripture Is God’s Word


And so we too constantly thank God that when you received God’s message that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human message, but as it truly is, God’s message…

1 Thessalonians 2:13


As mentioned, the Thessalonians were a stellar congregation. Throughout the letter, Paul heaps praise on them for their faith, love, and endurance (1:3). Their testimony of receiving God’s Word and standing in the midst of persecution was sounding forth throughout the ancient world. In 1 Thessalonians 1:6-9, Paul said this about them:


And you became imitators of us and of the Lord when you received the message with joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, despite great affliction. As a result you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For from you the message of the Lord has echoed forth not just in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place reports of your faith in God have spread, so that we do not need to say anything. For people everywhere report how you welcomed us and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God


What made them able to stand while enduring severe affliction? Again, 1 Thessalonians 2:13 says that when they received God’s message from Paul and his companions, they didn’t accept it as a human message but God’s. The word “received” refers to their hearing of Paul’s teaching; however, the word “accepted” refers to a hearty welcome. They wholeheartedly welcomed and embraced God’s Word, which helped them persevere when persecution came. This must be true of us as well. If we are going to stand in the midst of persecution, we must be convinced that what we are being persecuted for believing and following is truly God’s Word. If we are not confident of Scripture’s origin and truthfulness, we will not be able to stand. In Genesis 3, essentially the first temptation of Satan to Eve was, “Did God really say?” He wanted her to doubt God’s Word. If she doubted it, she would be vulnerable to his temptations. Certainly, that is what is happening throughout the world today. Does the Bible really teach that sex before marriage is sin and that homosexual desires are wrong? (Why can’t people love whoever they want and express it in the way they want?) Does the Bible really teach that abortion is murder? (What about a woman’s right to control her body?) Does the Bible really teach that Christ is the only way to heaven? (What about all the good people in the world and the other religions?) Satan whispers into the ears of many Christians to make them lose their convictions, lead them into sin and compromise, as he did with Adam and Eve, or even away from the faith altogether.


Therefore, our vitality and effectiveness in an antagonistic world are directly affected by our confidence in Scripture. Is it truly God’s Word or simply human words, which we can doubt, question, and disobey with no consequences?


Interpretation Question: How can we have confidence that Scripture is God’s Word?


There are many ways, both subjective and objective, to gain confidence in the Divine nature of Scripture.


1. To know Scripture is God’s Word, we must read it and allow the Holy Spirit to convince us of its Divine nature.


This is the subjective aspect of our confidence in God’s Word, but it is the most important. Most Christians did not come to believe in Scripture because of its apologetic evidences, though they are numerous and valid; they simply read Scripture, and the Holy Spirit convinced them of its Divine nature and truthfulness. This happens for all Christians though the Holy Spirit may use objective evidences as well. Consider these verses:


The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

1 Corinthians 2:14


because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Romans 8:7-8


Scripture teaches something called human inability. Sin has affected us so much that none of us can truly accept Scripture apart from God’s Spirit, nor obey it. Its teaching on creation, sexual immorality, marriage, parenting, and salvation, is foolishness to us and contrary to our nature before we’re born again. We must therefore have God’s grace and Spirit to understand and obey it, which is a supernatural work of God. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.” Philippians 1:29 says, “For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him.” Because of our antagonistic nature towards God and his Word, even our faith must be given to us as a gracious gift of God. In 1 Corinthians 2:12, Paul said this: “Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God.” It’s by God’s Spirit that God gives us an understanding of Scripture and confidence in it.


Therefore, what must a person do to be convinced that Scripture is God’s Word? What must we do to help convince others of the gospel so they can be saved? The first and primary thing we must do is read Scripture and ask others to read it as well, so the Holy Spirit can bring faith. Romans 10:17 says, “Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ.” Often the best thing we can do to help unbelievers come to faith is to ask them to humbly read the Bible and pray for God to prove its truthfulness. For unbelievers, there may be no better book to ask them to read than the Gospel of John. John’s focus in writing the book was evangelism. John 20:31 says, “But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Often in Muslim countries where proselytizing is illegal, believers will just pass out the Gospel of John and ask people to read it, and many come to faith simply by reading that evangelistic book. As they read, the Holy Spirit convinces them of its truthfulness. It is a work only God can do.


Certainly, this is true for us as believers as well. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. As we continually read God’s Word and study it, it allows the Holy Spirit to give us understanding and convince us of its truthfulness. Again, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:12, “Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God.” The Spirit of God is the author of Scripture and its interpreter. As we prayerfully read and listen to God’s Word, he convinces us of its truthfulness, convicts us of breaking its laws, and teaches us how to be righteous by following it.


Therefore, the first and most powerful way we learn that Scripture is God’s Word is subjective. As we read or listen to Scripture, the Holy Spirit convicts and convinces us of its truthfulness and our need to respond to it. Certainly, that’s what happened with the Thessalonians. In 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5, Paul said this:


We know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, in that our gospel did not come to you merely in words, but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction (surely you recall the character we displayed when we came among you to help you).


When Paul said the Word came to the Thessalonians in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction, he spoke of his and his companions’ ability to teach God’s Word powerfully but also the Thessalonians’ reception of it. The Holy Spirit gave the Thessalonians deep conviction of the gospels’ Divine nature and that was proof to Paul that they were truly saved—that they were God’s elect.


Has the Holy Spirit convinced us of Scripture’s truthfulness? If not, often the best thing we can do is saturate ourselves with it and ask God to convict and convince us, so we can stand in an antagonistic world with antagonistic worldviews without wavering. However, with that said, God does not just enable of us to believe Scripture through a subjective work of the Spirit as we read it, the Spirit will also at times use many objective evidences to convince us of Scripture’s truthfulness and Divine nature. What are those?


2. To know Scripture is God’s Word, we must recognize its claim to be inspired by God.


We see this throughout Scripture. It’s not that Scripture denies the fact that it was written by human authors; it does not. However, it teaches that God inspired these human authors as they wrote, including protecting them from error. Consider these verses: Second Timothy 3:16-17 says,


Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.


“Inspired by God” can also be translated “God-breathed” (NIV). In the same way that God spoke and the earth was created, God’s breath is upon every Word of Scripture. Second Peter 1:20-21says this about the authorship of Scripture:


Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.


What does it mean to be “carried along by the Holy Spirit”? In Acts 27:15, its writer, Luke, uses the same phrase to describe a ship being carried by the wind in a storm. He said: “When the ship was caught in it and could not head into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along.” In the same way the sailors gave way to the power of the storm and were “driven” by it, so the authors of the Bible were “carried” by the Holy Spirit in the writing of Scripture. The Holy Spirit drove them along both in the writing of the content and in keeping them from error. The writers were present, they were thinking and writing, but they were being moved by the Spirit.


3. To know Scripture is God’s Word, we must recognize its claim to be true and kept from error.


In Matthew 4:4, Christ said this, as he quoted Deuteronomy 8:3: “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Jesus said that man lives on “every word” that comes from the mouth of God, not SOME words or SOME ideas. This is important because some liberal schools teach that the Bible includes errors in history, science, and even in its moral teachings like on marriage or sexuality. However, Scripture teaches that, in its original manuscripts, it is all true. Again, 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” In agreement, the Psalms say:


The law of the Lord is perfect and preserves one’s life.

Psalm 19:7


All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.

Psalm 119:160 (NIV)


The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.

Psalm 12:6 (ESV)


In addition, since God is the ultimate author of Scripture, its truthfulness rests on God’s character—that he cannot tell a lie. Titus 1:1-2 says: “to further the faith of God’s chosen ones and the knowledge of the truth that is in keeping with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the ages began.” Paul encouraged Titus with the fact that eternal life is promised by God, who cannot lie. That is why we can trust all of Scripture. Scripture is God’s Word, and God cannot tell a lie. Christ, himself, is called, “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).


Again, Scripture teaches that every part of it is true, not just some parts or the main ideas of Scripture. This keeps us from picking and choosing what parts of the Bible we want to believe or reject, as happens in many liberal churches and denominations today.


4. To know Scripture is God’s Word, we must recognize its miraculous preservation.


In Matthew 5:18, Christ said, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.” History bears this out since Scripture is the most accurately preserved ancient book. Historians use the bibliographical test to evaluate the manuscript reliability of an ancient copy of literature in comparison to the missing original. The test uses two standards:


• the time interval between the original and the earliest copy

• the number of copies available


For instance, of all ancient books (other than the Bible), the most historically reliable according to textual criticism is the Iliad. It was written around 750 BC yet the earliest copies (over 1,900 exist) date from 415 B.C. This makes a time gap of approximately 335 years. Consider some other ancient books:


Herodotus—Histories, written around 425 BC, earliest copies from 150-50 BC, 275-375-year time gap, with 106 existing copies

Caesar—Gallic Wars, written around 50 BC, earliest copies from 900 AD, 950-year time gap, with around 261 existing copies

Pliny—Natural History, written around 77 AD, earliest copies from 500 AD, 423-year time gap, with around 200 existing copies

Tacitus—Annals, written around 100 AD, earliest copies from 850 AD, 750-year time gap, with 36 existing copies.


However, with considering the New Testament alone, there are books with a time gap of 50–150 years. Within a time-frame of 225 years, there are over 5,600 Greek manuscripts. Within 400 years, there are over 19,000 manuscripts in Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic. There are over 24,000 manuscripts of the NT—all within 95-99% accuracy of each other. The OT has over 42,000 manuscripts. The Bible, as a whole, has more manuscript evidence than any ten pieces of ancient literature combined. Moreover, even if we did not have any ancient New Testament manuscripts, it was so often quoted by ancient writers that by simply combining those excerpts, the entire NT can be pieced together.


The Bible is so accurate in comparison to ancient literature that if one doubts the manuscript reliability of Scripture, they must also doubt that of the classics and therefore almost all we know about ancient history. The quotes of these two authors are helpful in considering this reality: Bible scholar Daniel Wallace said, “If we have doubts about what the autographic NT said, those doubts would have to be multiplied a hundredfold for the average classical author.” Likewise, Glenny Edwards said, “No one questions the authenticity of the historical books of antiquity because we do not possess the original copies. Yet we have far fewer manuscripts of these works than we possess of the NT.”


Surely, Christ’s promise is true, that not one word or part of a word of Scripture would ever pass away. God has preserved it, and in a far greater way than any ancient book.


5. To know Scripture is God’s Word, we must recognize its historical accuracy.


Not all the historical details in Scripture can be verified, but its history is verifiable where it can be checked, including when Scripture discusses miracles. For example, ancient Babylonian records describe a world-wide flood in accordance with Genesis 6-8. In fact, almost all ancient civilizations have world-wide flood stories, which include a family and animals being saved by a large boat and then repopulating the earth. There are hundreds of these flood stories which verify Scripture’s teaching on that. In addition, Babylonian records teach a confusion of languages, which fits the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11. Furthermore, many linguists today believe that all languages came from one language, which also fits what Scripture teaches. In addition, archaeological findings from the site where Sodom and Gomorrah are believed to have been located display evidence of a fiery and violent destruction in accordance with Genesis 19. “Samples from the site show that an extremely hot, explosive event leveled” the cities. Many archaeologists believe it was hit by a meteor. In the New Testament, cities, political officials, and events have been repeatedly affirmed by historical findings. Luke, the author of Luke and Acts, “has been described as a first-rate historian for his attention to detail and accurate reporting.” Sir William Ramsay, one of the greatest archaeologists to ever live, said this about Luke and the book of Acts:


Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy… this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians… Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.


Also, when considering the miracles of Christ, they have strong attestation outside the Bible as well, even by those who didn’t believe he was the Jewish messiah. In the Babylonian Talmud (AD 500), it says that Christ “practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.” Josephus (AD 30-100), an ancient Jewish historian, said Christ did “startling deeds” and gained a following. Altogether, historical findings continue to increasingly prove the reliability of Scripture.


The Bible’s historical reliability simply confirms what Scripture teaches about itself—that it is true (Ps 119:160), perfect (Ps 19:7), imperishable and enduring (1 Pet 1:23), and that it is God’s Word (2 Tim 3:16).


6. To know Scripture is God’s Word, we must recognize the accuracy of its prophecies.


The Bible is unique in that one-quarter of it is prophetic; it contains about 1000 prophecies, 500 of which have not yet been fulfilled. In fact, God used prophecy to prove his deity and disprove the deity of other “gods.” Isaiah 41:21-24 says:


Present your argument,” says the Lord. “Produce your evidence,” says Jacob’s king. “Let them produce evidence! Let them tell us what will happen! Tell us about your earlier predictive oracles, so we may examine them and see how they were fulfilled. Or decree for us some future events! Predict how future events will turn out, so we might know you are gods. Yes, do something good or bad, so we might be frightened and in awe. Look, you are nothing, and your accomplishments are nonexistent; the one who chooses to worship you is disgusting.


God challenged other so-called “gods” to share their past prophecies or to share new ones to prove their deity. He then declared that those who worship these false gods were disgusting. In Isaiah 42:8-9 and 48:3, God said this about himself:


I am the Lord! That is my name! I will not share my glory with anyone else, or the praise due me with idols. Look, my earlier predictive oracles have come to pass; now I announce new events. Before they begin to occur, I reveal them to you.


I announced events beforehand, I issued the decrees and made the predictions; suddenly I acted and they came to pass.


God presented prophecy as proof that he is the true God—he foretold events and they happened. Since prophecy is given as an evidence of God’s deity, these prophecies must be diligently studied to strengthen the faith of believers and used apologetically with nonbelievers. What are some of these prophetic evidences? As mentioned, there are many but for brevities sake, we will only look at one astounding one.


King Cyrus


At times in Scripture, God gave the names of prominent people and the works they would accomplish even before they were born. In fact, after challenging the false gods to prove themselves by giving and fulfilling prophecies, God predicted that he would send Israel back from captivity through a future leader, named Cyrus. Consider Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1-4:


who commissions Cyrus, the one I appointed as shepherd to carry out all my wishes and to decree concerning Jerusalem, ‘She will be rebuilt,’ and concerning the temple, ‘It will be reconstructed.’”


This is what the Lord says to his chosen one, to Cyrus, whose right hand I hold in order to subdue nations before him, and disarm kings, to open doors before him, so gates remain unclosed: “I will go before you and level mountains. Bronze doors I will shatter and iron bars I will hack through. I will give you hidden treasures, riches stashed away in secret places, so you may recognize that I am the Lord, the one who calls you by name, the God of Israel. For the sake of my servant Jacob, Israel, my chosen one, I call you by name and give you a title of respect, even though you do not recognize me.


What makes this prophecy even more interesting is the fact Israel had not yet been exiled to Babylon. To the Israelites, Isaiah must have appeared crazy. The book of Isaiah was written between 739—681 BC, during Isaiah’s prophetic ministry to Judah. In Isaiah 39, Isaiah actually prophesied to Hezekiah that in a later generation, Babylon would take Judah into exile. Then he prophesied that Cyrus, the king of Persia, would send Israel back to their land to rebuild it, which happened in 538 BC. Isaiah gave this prophecy approximately 100 years before Cyrus was born and almost 150 years before his rule.


Because of the difficulties of this prophecy, liberal scholars teach that Isaiah must not have written the book. They declare there must have been two or three authors (Deutero-Isaiah or Trito-Isaiah) writing the book at different times. Since liberal scholars don’t accept the miraculous nature of prophecy and it would be impossible for Isaiah to have lived before Israel’s exile, throughout their exile, and after their eventual return, the only conclusion for them is that the book had multiple authors. They speculate that one author would have written before the exile, another during the exile, and the final author after the exile. However, this does not correspond with the internal and external evidence of the book. In Isaiah 1:1, the author claims to have lived during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah—the kings of Judah. In addition, New Testament authors affirm Isaiah as the book’s author by their citations (cf. Matt 12:17, 15:7, etc.).


Though the miracle of prophecy may be hard to accept for some, God predicting the future and proving himself to be God is the exact point of the context. God essentially said, “False gods, perform a miracle! Predict the future to prove yourself!” and then God predicted the future to prove his deity to all. Again, Isaiah 41:21-23 says:


Present your argument,” says the Lord. “Produce your evidence,” says Jacob’s king. “Let them produce evidence! Let them tell us what will happen! Tell us about your earlier predictive oracles, so we may examine them and see how they were fulfilled. Or decree for us some future events! Predict how future events will turn out, so we might know you are gods…


The fulfillment of the Cyrus prophecy happens in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 (and Ezra 1:1-11), when Cyrus issued an edict to rebuild Israel and sent a delegation to accomplish it. Second Chronicles 36:22-23 says:


In the first year of the reign of King Cyrus of Persia, in fulfillment of the promise he delivered through Jeremiah, the Lord moved King Cyrus of Persia to issue a written decree throughout his kingdom. It read: “This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: ‘The Lord God of the heavens has given to me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build for him a temple in Jerusalem in Judah. May the Lord your God energize you who belong to his people, so you may be able to go back there!”


Josephus, the Jewish historian, said that Cyrus actually read the book of Isaiah during his reign and felt compelled to obey God who had called him by name. Josephus said, “When Cyrus, therefore, had read them, and had admired their divine character, an impulse and emulation seized him to do what was written.” God used his own prophecy given almost 150 years before Cyrus’ reign to get Cyrus to build his temple. This is just one event out of the 500 fulfilled prophecies that helps us have confidence in the Divine nature of Scripture. (For more amazing Biblical prophecies, check out the article, The Bible Is Unique in Its Prophetic Nature.)


If we are going to be able to stand while being persecuted by an antagonistic world, we must be absolutely convinced of Scripture’s truthfulness—that it is God’s Word. Any deviation from God’s Word personally, locally, or nationally can be destructive. Are we convinced? God gives us both subjective and objective evidences—(1) the convincing work of the Holy Spirit as we read and study Scripture, (2) Scripture’s claim of being God’s Word, (3) Scripture’s claim of being true and without error, (4) Scripture’s miraculous preservation as the best historically preserved ancient book—more historically preserved than any ten pieces of ancient literature combined, (5) the historical verification of internal testimony, (6) and the accuracy of its prophecies. Surely, Scripture is God’s Word, and we need not be ashamed of its testimonies and truth. As we become more convinced of Scripture’s Divine nature, the more ready we’ll be to suffer for it. Do we trust it?


Application Questions: Why is being convinced that Scripture is God’s Word so important for standing against persecution and pressure from an antagonistic world? Which evidence of Scripture’s Divine nature stood out most and why? How did you come to a confidence in Scripture as you accepted the gospel for salvation and life? How has that confidence continued to grow? How have you at times struggled with doubting Scripture? How is God calling you to help convince others of the Divine nature and accuracy of Scripture?


To Persevere through Persecution, Christians Must Allow God’s Word to Empower Them by Abiding in It


And so we too constantly thank God that when you received God’s message that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human message, but as it truly is, God’s message, which is at work among you who believe.

1 Thessalonians 2:13


We’ve talked about the necessity of believing that Scripture is God’s Word to persevere through religious persecution; however, Paul also emphasizes the need to allow it to work powerfully in our lives. At the end of verse 13, he says this about the message the Thessalonians received and welcomed, “God’s message, which is at work among you who believe.” The word “work” means “to work effectively, efficiently, and productively on a supernatural (divine) level.” “Believe” is in the present tense, meaning they were still believing the gospel and God’s promises. The gospel message had saved them, but God was also using Scripture to transform them into God’s image and give them perseverance in their trials, as they abided in it.


We get a good picture of this sanctifying work of the Word in the Parable of the Sower. Matthew 13:23 says: “But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” The person who truly received the gospel was bearing a hundredfold fruit in their lives. This fruit represents many things. It represents leading others to Christ (1 Cor 16:15, KJV), thanksgiving to God (Hebrews 13:5), and giving (Rom 15:28), but primarily it represents an inward character change. Galatians 5:22-23 says: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” One of those fruits is “patience” or it can be translated “perseverance.” The Thessalonians could persevere during religious persecution because they not only believed Scripture but were living in it, which produced the fruit of perseverance in their lives. This is how the Word of God was working in those who believed (1 Thess 2:13).


As we consider their faithfulness in persecution, it’s good to remember that these were not mature, seasoned saints. They were first-generation Christians who were spiritual infants. They had just been saved by hearing the gospel only months prior. However, they accepted the apostle’s preaching as God’s Word and continued in it. In fact, part of the reason Paul writes 1 and 2 Thessalonians is to answer their biblical questions about the end times. They were excited about Scripture and seeking to understand it, and through their abiding relationship with it, it was working powerfully in their lives. First Peter 2:2 says, “And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation.” Grow is actually passive in the Greek, which means that as we are in God’s Word, it makes us grow. It works powerfully in our lives. Consequently, those who have a shallow relationship with God’s Word will lack spiritual power and not grow or grow little. They will lack power to conquer sin in their lives, to grow spiritually, and to persevere in trials or persecution.


Certainly, we get a good picture of this in the Parable of the Soils in Matthew 13. There was seed sown on four different soils. The four soils represent different hearts, and the seed represents God’s Word. The second ground was a layer of dirt with rocks underneath, therefore, the seed sprouted and started to grow, but it quickly died because of the sun and the lack of soil depth. Christ compares the shallow ground to a professing believer who initially accepts God’s Word with great enthusiasm but because of persecution over the Word, he or she quickly falls away. Matthew 13:20-21 says,


The seed sown on rocky ground is the person who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. But he has no root in himself and does not endure; when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away.


Maybe, the person struggled with Scripture’s teachings about a God who created the earth in seven days, as it conflicted with the evolutionary theory he learned in school. Maybe, he struggled with Scripture’s teaching that God created opposite sexes (males and females) to marry one another and not the same gender. Since he had friends who were homosexuals, good people, and loved one another, he really struggled with it. When persecution and pressure from the world came against the clear teachings of Scripture, he soon fell away. He had a shallow relationship with Scripture (and the God of Scripture). He initially believed and read it zealously but soon fell away from God. The reason from the illustration is their shallow relationship with God’s Word. Because of the rocks (possibly representing sin and therefore struggles with Scripture), the seed was never able to go deep in the soil. He might have accepted what Scripture says about how to be saved but struggled with many other teachings that were counter-cultural and caused antagonism in his mind towards God’s Word, and therefore God and his church. Therefore, the person didn’t last when trials or persecution came.


I believe the best way to understand this parable is that this person was never truly born again. Only the fourth soil which produces fruit represents a person who is born again (Matt 13:23). Christ taught that we would know a tree by its fruit (Matt 7:16-23) and a branch on the vine that does not bear good fruit will be thrown into the fire (John 15). This person was not truly born again; therefore, his faith did not last. It was a shallow faith. Likewise, when trials or persecution come, our relationship with Scripture and the God of Scripture will be revealed. Trials or persecution will either draw us closer to God and his Word or ultimately turn us away from him, proving a lack of true faith.


If we are going to stand in the midst of trials and persecution, we must not only believe Scripture is God’s Word, but we also must allow it to powerfully work in us by abiding in it. In John 8:31-32, Jesus said this to those who believed in him: “If you continue to follow [or abide] my teaching, you are really my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” To follow or abide means to believe Scripture, consistently read it, study it, and obey it. If we do that, it will work powerfully in our lives, including setting us free from sins and giving us perseverance and other godly fruits in the midst of trials and persecution.


God’s Word is powerful! It is like a sword, a fire, a hammer, and a seed. It sanctifies, encourages, strengthens, and empowers. In Psalm 1:2-3, God promised that those who delight in and meditate on his Word, he makes like trees who produce fruit in season, their leaf does not perish, and everything they do prospers. The tree perseveres through the storms of life. Likewise, in Matthew 7:24-27, Christ said the person who listens to and obeys God’s Word is a like a person building on a rock and when the storm comes, the building stands. However, the person who only listens, and therefore has a shallow relationship with God’s Word, is like one building on sand and when the storm comes, the building will not last. Are we only listeners or do we listen and obey? Are we abiding in Scripture, or do we have a shallow relationship with it? A shallow relationship won’t stand the tests of trials and religious persecution well. They will push us into sin or away from God altogether, or we’ll compromise by twisting Scripture to make a God in our own image or the image of the world.


Certainly, God is calling many of us to a greater devotion to Scripture, so it can help us persevere in the various trials or temptations the enemy brings. The Thessalonians stood through persecution because they believed Scripture’s teachings were God’s Word, and they allowed it to work powerfully in them by abiding in it. Are we allowing God’s Word to work powerfully in us? Isaiah 40:31 says this about those who wait on the Lord, no doubt referring to those who abide in God’s Word and hold onto its promises: “But those who wait for the Lord’s help find renewed strength; they rise up as if they had eagles’ wings, they run without growing weary, they walk without getting tired.” As we trust in the Lord by abiding and hoping in Scripture, we’re given grace to fly, run, or not faint. They are all graces of God. Lord, let this be true of us.


Application Question: How would you describe your relationship with God’s Word on a scale of 1-10 and why? How could you improve it? In what ways have you experienced God’s Word working in and through you when abiding in it? What are some things that keep you out of God’s Word or not as devoted to it?


To Persevere through Persecution, Christians Must Remember Other Persecuted Believers and Model Their Faithfulness


For you became imitators, brothers and sisters, of God’s churches in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, because you too suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they in fact did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and persecuted us severely. They are displeasing to God and are opposed to all people because they hinder us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they constantly fill up their measure of sins, but wrath has come upon them completely.

1 Thessalonians 2:14–16


When the Thessalonians believers were being persecuted by their countrymen, Paul said they had become imitators of the Judean churches who had experienced similar persecution. Paul was keenly aware of this since he previously persecuted the churches in that area. In Acts 8:1, after the first martyr, Stephen, was stoned to death by the Jews, it says that Paul approved of his murder or gave consent to it. Later, in Acts 9:1, he threatened to murder the disciples of Christ and traveled to Damascus to imprison them. In fact, as mentioned, the persecution from the Jews, including Paul, was so strong that the early church spread from Jerusalem, to Judea, Samaria, and the rest of the known world. When Paul eventually converted, the Jews immediately started to attack him. In Acts 9, after his conversion, he preached the gospel at a synagogue in Damascus. This caused the Jews to plot to kill him, causing him to flee to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, Paul again debated the Jews in the synagogue, and they sought to kill him as well. Consequently, he moved to Tarsus. Throughout Paul’s missionary journeys, the Jews attacked him, flogged him, imprisoned him, and tried to kill him. While in Thessalonica, they attacked him as well, causing him to move to Berea, then Athens and Corinth. Because the Thessalonians had accepted the gospel and now were sharing it with others, their own Gentile countrymen were persecuting them as well.


When Paul says the Thessalonians became imitators of the Judean churches, he probably doesn’t mean they were consciously trying to imitate them. He meant that the Thessalonians suffered in the same way. The Judean churches were being persecuted by the Jews, who considered them a cult. Likewise, with the Thessalonians believers, though persecution started with the Jews, their fellows Gentile countrymen continued the persecution. Not only were the Thessalonians circumstantially imitating the Judean churches but also Paul and Christ who also were persecuted. In 1 Thessalonians 1:6, Paul said this about the Thessalonians: “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord when you received the message with joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, despite great affliction.”


Paul reminded the Thessalonians about his own suffering for the faith, that of Christ, and the Judean churches to encourage the Thessalonians in their own sufferings. One of the common attacks of the devil is to make us feel like we’re the only one’s going through something difficult and that nobody else will understand. When we adopt this demonic lie, we’re tempted to not share with others out of embarrassment, or we get depressed and hopeless because we feel alone. Certainly, our struggles, whether that be religious persecution, falling into certain sins, or experiencing health or family issues, are not unique. They are common to the human experience and other believers specifically. First Corinthians 10:13 says,


No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.


We must remember others have and will experience what we’re going through, even if it’s in different ways. And this understanding will commonly encourage us to be faithful in our own struggles. In 1 Peter 5:8-10, Peter said this to Christians in the Roman Empire who were being persecuted and scattered from their home countries for their faith.


Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour. Resist him, strong in your faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are enduring the same kinds of suffering. And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.


They should resist the devil and be strong in the faith, “because” they knew their brothers and sisters throughout the world were enduring the same kinds of suffering (1 Pet 5:9). Remembering that others in the past suffered for the faith and that many are currently suffering encourages us to be faithful when God allows us to experience the same. According to Open Doors, an average of sixteen Christians were killed every day in 2021 for the faith. In North Korea, there are currently 50,000 to 70,000 Christians imprisoned or in labor camps. In Nigeria, though nearly half of the population is Christian, around eighty percent of all martyrs came from that country in 2021 (4,650), as they were killed by Islamic extremists. China was home to 3 out of 5 of all church attacks or closures last year. Though terrible, we must take comfort in the fact that if we suffer for the faith, we are not alone. Many brothers and sisters around the world are suffering the same, if not worst. In addition, remembering Scriptural examples of people who suffered for their faith will also help us endure our trials. Hebrews 12:1-3 says this:


Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up.


The Jewish Christians who were being persecuted and tempted to go back to Judaism were called to remember the many faithful believers described in Hebrews 11 (the Heroes of the Faith Chapter) who did great feats through their faith or suffered greatly for their faith. As the Jewish Christians focused on the witness of those faithful believers and Christ himself, who also suffered, they would be able to “run with endurance” (v. 1) their own races and not “grow weary… and give up” (v. 3). Certainly, if we are going to faithfully persevere through religious persecution as it spreads around us and attacks us, we must remember others.


Though Paul seems to focus on the Thessalonians’ unconscious modeling of the Judean churches and how they suffered, he certainly meant for their example to be consciously modeled. We must consciously model other believers who suffered well, so we can do the same. As Daniel and his three Hebrew friends chose to not compromise their beliefs while working in pagan Babylon, we must also choose to not compromise our values. That may lead to getting picked on, stepped over for promotion, or even fired, but our goal in life must be being faithful to God and being his witnesses whether that leads to poverty and suffering or even promotion. With the four Hebrews who chose not to compromise their faith in Babylon, it’s good to remember that God chose to prosper them for their faithfulness. In Daniel 1, when they chose to not eat the king’s meat which would have defiled them according to Jewish law, God gave them favor with the eunuch overseeing them, made them healthier than all the other young men, and made them ten times wiser than all the wise men of Babylon. For some, God allows them to be put in the fiery furnace, only to be miraculously delivered and promoted for the glory of God. For others, God allows them to be lied about, beaten unjustly, and die for their faith. For some, God allows them to be imprisoned and shortly after miraculously set free by an angel; and with others, he allows them to be unjustly stoned to glorify God as a martyr. The consequences of our faithfulness are up to God; our job is only to be faithful and trust God with the consequences and rewards of our faithfulness.


To be faithful while experiencing religious persecution, we must remember others have suffered well and are suffering well for the faith, and we must model their faithfulness.


Application Question: In what ways is the persecution of Christians and Christian beliefs growing in our culture and around the world? Why is it important to remember the suffering of believers before us and around us to be faithful? What example of a believer who faithfully suffered, in Scripture or outside of it, most encourages you and why?


To Persevere through Persecution, Christians Must Remember that God Will Ultimately Bring Justice


For you became imitators, brothers and sisters, of God’s churches in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, because you too suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they in fact did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and persecuted us severely. They are displeasing to God and are opposed to all people because they hinder us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they constantly fill up their measure of sins, but wrath has come upon them completely.

1 Thessalonians 2:14–16


In order to comfort the Thessalonians who were suffering religious persecution, Paul also taught them that God would judge those who oppose the gospel and persecute his people. Specifically, Paul focused on the Jews’ history of persecuting God’s prophets and God’s judgment on them. Throughout the Old Testament, the Jews persecuted, imprisoned, and at times killed the prophets God sent them. With Elijah, Ahab and Jezebel sought to kill him simply because he opposed the teaching of Baal, prayed that it would not rain as a judgment, and God listened. With Jeremiah, he was imprisoned for teaching that Babylon would conquer Jerusalem, which they did. With Zechariah, 2 Chronicles 24:21 says the Jews “stoned him to death in the courtyard of the Lord’s temple.” With Isaiah, according to Jewish tradition, they sawed in half. The writer of Hebrews probably partially referred to this in Hebrews 11:37 when he said this about those who lived by faith, “They were stoned, sawed apart.” With Christ, the Jews put him to death, and they persecuted, jailed, and killed many of his apostles. With Paul and his companions, as mentioned, they stirred up a riot in Thessalonica against Paul and his companions, forcing them to leave. They later falsely accused Paul while he was in Jerusalem and had him imprisoned. His imprisonment lasted four years altogether, two in Caesarea and two in Rome.


Interpretation Question: Why did the Jews persecute Paul, the other apostles, and the early Christians in general?


The Jews persecuted the early believers because they taught that Jesus was the messiah, and also because Christians taught that Gentiles could be saved apart from becoming Jews. The Jews essentially considered Christians a cult and therefore sought to stop their message. As Paul said, “They are displeasing to God and opposed to all people because they hinder us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved” (1 Thess 2:15-16). Because all people need to gospel, to hinder its proclamation is to be opposed to all people and their eternal well-being and to displease God. This was not just a problem for the early Jews; this is a problem for the secular world in general. The secular world often tries to stomp out any witness of Christianity. In America, they got rid of prayer in schools and the reading and teaching of the Bible. To say that marriage between two people of the same sex is wrong is hate speech and the same with saying that God only created two sexes. In other more secular countries, one can go to jail for saying such things. The secular world is at all times trying to stop the teaching of the gospel and the Bible in general. This is normal. Romans 8:7-8 says, “…the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Also, 1 Corinthians 2:14, says, “The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Our natural, sinful nature, apart from God’s grace, is antagonistic to God and his Word. It’s foolishness to us. Therefore, unredeemed men and women will hate what Scripture teaches about creation, marriage, parenting, gender, sex, justice, and everything else. Consequently, their enmity with God and his Word will show up often by attacking God’s people and their viewpoints.


When this happens, as with the early Jews, “They are displeasing to God and are opposed to all people” (1 Thess 2:15). And like verse 16 says, “Thus they constantly fill up their measure of sins, but wrath has come upon them completely.” When Paul says they “constantly fill up their measure of sin,” it is a picture of how each person, community, or nation is meeting a certain threshold of sin before God brings his wrath. The same language was used of the Canaanites in Genesis 15:16 when God spoke to Abraham about his descendants eventually taking their land. It says, “In the fourth generation your descendants will return here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit.” Before the Israelites were called to wipe out the Canaanites, they would be allowed to fill up a certain measure of sin for hundreds of years before judgment came. The extended time without a full experience of God’s judgment was God giving them time to repent. Also, Christ said this about the spiritual leaders of Israel who were persecuting him in Matthew 23:31-33,


By saying this you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up then the measure of your ancestors! You snakes, you offspring of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?


In verse 16, when Paul says, “but wrath has come upon them completely,” he spoke about wrath having come in the past tense. Some think this refers to past or current trials/judgments the Jews had experienced, such as the Babylonian exile which began in 597 BC, the great famine which happened in Judea around 45-47 AD, the massacre of the Jews in the temple in AD 49, or even the Jews’ expulsion from Rome by the emperor Claudius in the same year. Since 1 Thessalonians was written around AD 51, these would have been fresh in the minds of the Thessalonian believers. However, Paul is most likely describing a future judgment and its certainty by using the past tense. In Romans 8:30, he uses the same literary device in describing our salvation. He says this about God, “And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.” Since nothing can separate us from the love of God and the fact that those whom God elected will be ultimately saved, every aspect of our salvation is spoken about in the past tense, as an accomplished fact, including our glorification when we have resurrected bodies. This is why many believe those who are truly saved can never lose their salvation. Their salvation was decided even before time, and to God, it’s as sure as accomplished work of history. That’s why everything is spoken of in the past tense, including our resurrection.


With that said if Paul was referring to God’s future judgment of Israel, then it would include many future trials/judgments they would experience before accepting Christ as their messiah in the end times (Rom 11:26-27). These would include the destruction of the Jewish temple and their exile by the Romans in 70 AD. It would include the last 2000 years of history where the Jews have experienced a partial hardening of the heart towards God until the fullness of the Gentiles is saved. In Romans 11:25, Paul said this: “For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” It would include many of the unique atrocities the Jews have experienced throughout history as they rejected their God. It will include the Antichrist’s murder of two-thirds of the Jews right before Christ comes. Zechariah 13:8 says, “It will happen in all the land’, says the Lord, ‘that two-thirds of the people in it will be cut off and die, but one-third will be left in it.” Revelation 12:13-14 says this about Satan at the end of the tribulation period, how he will unleash persecution on the woman who gave birth to the messiah, referring to Israel, and yet God would protect them, probably referring to the one-third who will be saved from the nation:


Now when the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of a giant eagle so that she could fly out into the wilderness, to the place God prepared for her, where she is taken care of—away from the presence of the serpent—for a time, times, and half a time…


Paul’s prediction of God’s wrath on the Jews for their persecution of believers was meant to remind the Thessalonians that God was just and that he was their defender. If they didn’t understand that, then they might take justice into their hands, return evil for evil, get angry at God for his delayed justice, or turn away from God altogether. Romans 12:18-21 says this:


If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


It’s noteworthy that Paul says this right before saying that believers should submit to the governing authorities since they are ordained by God (Rom 13:1-7). Paul wrote this while Nero was on the throne in Rome; he eventually led a widespread persecution of Christians. In addition, it was the Jewish leaders and the Roman authorities who put Christ to death, and they, along with much of the Gentile world, were persecuting Christians for their beliefs.


If we are going to suffer well when individuals, communities, governments, and nations are against us because of our beliefs, then we must entrust vengeance to God. We don’t return evil for evil; instead, we pray for our enemies to repent and know Christ. We serve them—seeking their temporary and eternal good. This does not remove our right to appeal to the authorities for justice; that’s why God has put government officials in power to punish wrongdoers and reward the just (Rom 13:1-7). Even Paul appealed to Caesar when the evil authorities in Caesarea were going to send him to Jerusalem to be tried unjustly before the Jews, who planned to ambush and kill him while traveling there (Acts 25). Appealing to Caesar saved his life; even though, it led to two years of prison in Rome after already being in prison for two previous years.


If we are going to persevere in the midst of religious persecution, we must recognize that God will bring justice and vengeance, either in this life or the next. When people treat us in an evil way, we must seek to overcome evil by doing good. And if we feel the need, we can appeal to God’s authorities in the government to bring justice. However, at times, they will be the ones persecuting us. Even then, God is the ultimate authority, and we must trust him in the midst of our suffering. It was God’s will to allow his Son to die at the hands of evil people and authorities for a greater purpose. And at other times, he will save and deliver us. Either way, he will bring justice in this life or the next, and we must trust him to do so. In 2 Thessalonians 1:5-9, Paul said this to these persecuted believers:


This is evidence of God’s righteous judgment, to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which in fact you are suffering. For it is right for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to you who are being afflicted to give rest together with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels. With flaming fire he will mete out punishment on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will undergo the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength,


Antisemitism


With all that said, many have struggled with Paul’s words about the Jews, as he blamed them for persecuting the prophets, Jesus, the apostles, and the early church and how God would judge them. Some have even said that Paul was antisemitic. However, we know that was not true, since Paul was a Jew himself, and in each town he went to, he first preached the gospel to the Jews and then to the Gentiles (Rom 1:16, Acts 13:46). Also, he declared in Romans 9:1-4 how he had “unceasing anguish” in his heart for the Jews, his fellow countrymen, and desired that he would be “accursed—cut-off from Christ," if only they could be saved. In addition, if Paul was antisemitic, so was Christ because he also pronounced judgment on the Jewish leaders and the people for rejecting him. Matthew 21:43-46 says,


For this reason I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and the one on whom it falls will be crushed.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds because the crowds regarded him as a prophet.


Also, Matthew 23:37-39 says,


“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it! Look, your house is left to you desolate! For I tell you, you will not see me from now until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”


With that said, the Bible warns believers against antisemitism, and unfortunately, this has repeatedly happened throughout history. In Romans 11:17-21, Paul warned believing Gentiles against boasting against the Jews who were broken off the tree so they could be grafted in. It says,


Now if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among them and participated in the richness of the olive root, do not boast over the branches. But if you boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. Then you will say, “The branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted! They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but fear! For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you.


Because of pride in their faith, leading to a sense of superiority, throughout history many professing believers in the name of Christianity have done great harm to the Jews. For example, around 386-88 AD, the church Father, Chrysostom preached eight sermons in Antioch against the Jews. He accused them of gluttony, drunkenness, immorality, infanticide, and even cannibalism, as if other people groups didn’t commit the same sins. During the crusades (1095-1291), there was great antisemitism. The Crusades were a series of holy wars started by the Roman Catholic church in order to gain access to Jerusalem and its holy sites, which Muslims possessed. However, as the armies went out, they also persecuted the Jews for killing Christ. There were nine crusades over almost 200 years and at least 12,000 Jews were killed in the first crusade alone. Finally, one of the most embarrassing was Martin Luther’s book, On the Jews and Their Lies, written in 1543. In it, he attacked the Jews and called for people to destroy their homes, set fire to their synagogues, confiscate their Talmudic books, and silence their Rabbis. It’s true that Martin Luther was old, declining in health, and would die only a few years later in 1546, but that doesn’t dissolve him from guilt. Many people believe his negative influence helped prepare the way for the holocaust in Germany where around six million European Jews died between 1933-1945. And certainly, there has been great evil committed against the Jews on a lesser level throughout history from others who profess Christ, in the sense of mistreating them as neighbors, classmates, co-workers, etc. Though Paul’s words about the Jews may seem antisemitic, as mentioned, in Romans 11:17-21, he actually warned Gentile Christians against a pride that would cause them to see themselves as superior to the Jews. His words were not unwarranted, and unfortunately, many professing believers have held antisemitic views and acted on them.


To combat these ungodly views, we must remember, as Christ said in John 4:22, “salvation is from the Jews.” God chose them as a nation to be a blessing to the world. With the exception of Luke and Acts, they wrote all the books of the Bible, which we love so dearly. They were stewards of the tabernacle and later the temple. The messiah came from their lineage to die for the world. The early believers were Jews, and many are still coming to faith in Christ now. With that said, because of hardened hearts, as a nation, they have rejected the messiah. But one day, they will be grafted back into the tree of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), which will lead to blessings for the entire world. In Romans 11:11-12 and 15, Paul said this:


I ask then, they did not stumble into an irrevocable fall, did they? Absolutely not! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make Israel jealous. Now if their transgression means riches for the world and their defeat means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full restoration bring? … For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?


God is not done with Israel. As Paul said in Romans 11:28-29, “in regard to election they are dearly loved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” Because of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—Israel’s ancestors—God will fulfill his plans with them. We should mourn their rejection of Christ, pray for their salvation and reconciliation with the Lord, share the gospel with them, and rejoice at the fact that one day they will return to the Lord—leading to blessing for the world (Rom 11:15). There is no room for antisemitism in Christianity.


Application Question: Why is it important for believers to remember that God will ultimately bring justice in order for them to persevere during religious persecution? In Christianity, there are a variety of views on the Jews. Some overly exalt them as a nation; some see them as no different from any other nation; some believe that God has replaced them with the church in God’s plan; some view them negatively. What is a proper view of the Jews from a biblical standpoint? In what ways have you seen (or experienced) antisemitism both in the world and in the church?


Conclusion


How can believers faithfully persevere as religious persecution grows around the world? From the Thessalonians’ example of faithfulness during persecution (even though they were a new church plant with young believers), we learn principles to help us faithfully persevere.


1. To Persevere through Persecution, Christians Must Be Convinced that Scripture Is God’s Word

2. To Persevere through Persecution, Christians Must Allow God’s Word to Empower Them by Abiding in It

3. To Persevere through Persecution, Christians Must Remember Other Persecuted Believers and Model Their Faithfulness

4. To Persevere through Persecution, Christians Must Remember that God Will Ultimately Bring Justice


Application Question: What stood out most in the text/sermon and why?



Prayer Prompts


• Pray for God to draw us to his Word, to read it, study it, and memorize it.

• Pray for God to open our eyes to understand wonderful things from his law.

• Pray for God to increase our confidence in his Word through the Holy Spirit and our ability to defend it against attacks (cf. 1 Thess 2:13, 1 Pet 3:15).

• Pray for God to empower us to boldly share his Word with others.

• Pray for God to greatly empower us with many fruits of the Spirit, including love, joy, and perseverance in trials, through disciplined study of God’s Word both individually and corporately (cf. 1 Thess 2:13, Ps 1:2-3, Gal 5:16, 22-23).

• Pray for God to deliver believers, especially persecuted ones, from attacks of the devil and unconverted people (cf. Matt 6:13), that he would convert their enemies (cf. Acts 9) and change laws so they can worship and share the gospel freely (cf. Dan 3:28-29, 1 Tim 2:1-2).














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