This blog post is the second in a two-part post of studies in 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16. Last post, we learned about Bibliology from Paul’s comments about the Thessalonian response to his message. Today, we will look at what Paul said regarding the Jews in this passage, and thus learn some lessons about Israeology, the study of Israel. This may be a new word for you, and it is uncommon to be included in lists of doctrines. However, I believe it is a valid category for doctrinal discussion because so much of God’s plan for the ages does include past, present, and future Israel.
In vv15-16, Paul takes a slight diversion to discuss Jewish action in the present. He gets here by drawing an analogy in v14 between the persecution experienced by the churches of Judea and the church at Thessalonica at the hands of their own countrymen. Verses 15-16 may be summarized by seeing four historical facts that Paul states about the Jews and two concluding with two main points about the present state of the Jews before God.
As far as historical facts, four things are outlined by Paul. First, he says that they “were killing the Lord Jesus and the prophets.” (translation mine, unless otherwise noted) The Jews have a history of persecuting God’s servants, both past and present. Second, they were driving Paul and his group out of Thessalonica. This should be understood as an allusion to the events we see in Acts 17 where the Jews especially are involved in the persecution of Paul. Third, the Jews’ state is summarized as one in which they are “not pleasing to God”. Finally, there is an intensification to their state by pointing out that they prevent Paul from sharing the gospel to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In a summary, the Jews are clearly hostile to Paul and therefore to Jesus Christ and to His Father.
After describing the Jews’ actions in the present time, Paul concludes with two points. The first is explicitly said to be the result of these things, namely that they are “completing the filling up of their sins always.” (v16b) It is telling that he mentions that this is happening “always”. For sure, many Jews had been saved, and Paul was one of them. But, he is speaking here generally of them as a people, and for sure it is true that this is accurate. The idea that they are “completing” this fill-up of sin does fit with the idea that this is a process, and thus one can combine this with what follows in the next phrase that their sins are preparing them for God’s wrath.
The second point is in v16c, and there is an interpretive challenge in identifying what is meant here. The statement made is this: “But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.” (NASB) The basic connection one can make is that wrath on the Jews is the result of their sins that Paul has just explained. There are several ways that the text can be taken though, pertaining to this wrath.
- “Wrath has come upon them to the utmost”, focusing on the degree to which they have been put under God’s wrath.
- “Wrath will come upon them at the end”, a reference to the wrath they will experience in the Tribulation.
- “Wrath will come upon them at the end of this period”, a reference to the wrath they will experience in 70 A.D. when Jerusalem is destroyed by the Romans.
- “Wrath has come upon them until the end,” emphasizing the length of this wrath, namely until the end of the age.
These options reflection several issues in the Greek that I have found challenging to understand precisely what Paul is saying here. The aorist tense of the main verb, “has come,” can support either a past or future meaning (for a discussion of aorist tense, you can consult Rodney J. Decker’s Reading Koine Greek). The context must be used to support the decision on meaning. I believe that the second option is the most likely intended meaning. To identify it as this, there are two keys I will offer. First, the most natural meaning of “end” in this verse would seem to refer to the end times “end” of the age. Second, the wrath of God coming in the Tribulation on the world is referenced in 1 Thessalonians (esp. 5:8, but also 1:10 probably as well). Third, the concept that the Jews are “completing the filling up of their sins” gives an impression that they are filling themselves up but that the consequence of those sins has not come yet. The last point is probably one of the more convincing. It is not an easy thing to pin down though in this passage.
In conclusion, what can we say this passage teaches about Israelology? In a nutshell, we see that the nation of Israel as a whole, though albeit not all (Rom. 11:1-5), was an enemy of those who know the gospel of Christ and it seems implied that they will continue to be until the end times. As a result, they are constantly adding to their sins and these are preparing them in a sense for the wrath of God, specifically the wrath they will experience in the end times. More study is needed into precisely how this fits together with the purpose of the Tribulation, but this is my conclusion at this time. Regardless of the current sinful condition, make no mistake: God is not finished with Israel. I will conclude with this marvelous passage from Romans 11:25-27 (NASB, emphasis mine) regarding the future salvation for Israel as a nation:
For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery–so that you will not be wise in your own estimation–that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,”THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION,HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.” “THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM,WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.“