II Thess. 1:4. “So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure.”
A continuation of verse 3, this verse confirms that the Thessalonian believers were growing in faith and love in all their troubles. They were not caving in, giving up, despairing and hopeless. They were increasing abundantly in faith in God and love for each other in “all your persecutions and tribulations.”
Persecutions designates the hostile actions of the enemies of the gospel; tribulations (afflictions) relates to the different pressures and painful experiences they have endured because of their faith.
So, I’ve been wondering just how bad it was. A little historical research has served to make me want to know more. I have not spent days and days searching for information; however, I have spent significant time, and I am surprised to find so little specific information as to what the persecutions actually were. I will continue to search, and if and when I find more information I will share it with you.
I have also been, sadly, not surprised at all at the amount of dissension there is out there concerning the validity of the Acts accounts of persecution; of Paul’s honesty; of whether or not there actually was any persecution. The premise for all of these arguments, of course, is based on an distrust of the validity of God’s Word. Since I do not share that distrust, and since I believe in the complete inspiration of the Bible, I know there was persecution. What I’m not sure of is the degree and duration, although from Paul’s comments it would seem that both were severe.
There are three things to consider, based on the reading I’ve done so far. First, the importance of idolatry in Thessalonica cannot be understated. When people turned to Christianity, it disturbed the rituals of the pagan places of worship; it decreased the numbers of people who were subsidizing that worship and its priests and other employees. Almost without doubt, the pagan leaders of the city were inflamed at the degree of popularity of this new religious following.
Second, Judaism was also deeply affected by Christianity. Again, the finances of the synagogues would be affected; also, the sphere of influence of Judaism was infringed upon by Christianity.
Third, both the above issues would influence family and other kinship relationships in the city, causing rifts and a lot of anger and hatred when members of the family turned to Christianity instead of whatever their previous religious beliefs had been.
We know from I Thessalonians that Paul and Silas had to run from the city to protect their lives. The persecution wasn’t just a matter of harsh words, threats, or financial hardship. What we have to remember is that Satan’s hatred for God, and for His Son, has never abated all through the centuries. Satan has always found a way to persecute God’s people; often, he does this while quite successfully casting the blame for persecution onto those who claim Christianity. An example of that kind of confusion would be the Spanish Inquisition, during which believers and nonbelievers alike were persecuted by Catholicism, which claimed to be doing God’s work. Another example would be the treatment of Catholics by Cromwell’s followers in England, which of course followed the persecution of Puritans in England by Catholicism.
We’re in a mess, aren’t we? Aren’t you glad that God is still in control, even when every indicator of man would seem to say He isn’t?
I’ve included a link to an article I downloaded and found interesting. There are always statements and beliefs you need to be careful of accepting when you read from the internet, and that is true of this article as well. However, it does cast some light on what may have been happening in Thessalonica in the first century.