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The context of the passage, ~vss.14-16, concerns the suffering of the churches, including the Thessalonians, and particularly the Jewish persecutors/persecution of Christ's people.

The end of vs.16, translation-dependent, reads:

. . . and wrath has overtaken them at last [HCSB].
. . . ἔφθασεν δὲ ἐπ’ αὐτοὺς ἡ ὀργὴ εἰς τέλος. [SBL GNT]

This feel of 'termination' language is unusual in Pauline texts, despite his many complaints about the conduct of his fellow Jews.

Doesn't this imply some sort of 'event' that gained Paul's attention enough for such to leak through to this letter?

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An interesting question

“but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.” [NKJV] is the most difficult statement in this passage to understand and is open to several interpretations.

In Paul's writings God’s wrath is predominantly an eschatological event. Evil done by Jews or Gentiles earns God’s wrath, which will be executed on the day of wrath, (Rom 2:5). Often he presents that fate is only avoidable by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 5:9, 1 Thess 1:10; 5:9)

However Paul also speaks of the wrath of God being manifested before that final day, even through pagan agency (Rom 1:18; 13:4–5). So, Paul's use of the wrath of God does not provide conclusive evidence.

So what was the wrath “that has come upon” the Jews?

The aorist verb "ἔφθασεν" would appear to refer to an actual event Paul was interpreting as a manifestation of divine wrath. However he could have been referring to several events:

1) He could have had reference to the fall of Jerusalem,67 the expulsion of Jews from Rome by Claudius (Acts 18:2),

2) the famine of A.D. 46 (Acts 11:28),

3) or other events.

The Greek behind “at last” or "uttermost" (εἰς τέλος) is also problematic. If the sentence is translated assuming a terrible event had befallen the Jews, then “at last” is appropriate. This temporal use of εἰς τέλος is also implied by the parallel structures of v. 16b and v. 16c; that is, a temporal “always” calls for a temporal “at last.”

The alternative translation “uttermost” or “forever”/ "fully" is lexically possible and would indicate the translators assumption that the wrath Paul is speaking about here is an eschatological event not a temporal one. The resultant meaning being that wrath had accrued to the Jews in anticipation of the end, when God’s judgement will fall on all who persist in disobedience. Such a reading allows for a temporal meaning of τέλος and avoids presuming that Paul was referring to some unnamed tragedy.

So the answer I would give is 'Yes it is possible, but we are not given enough information by Paul to be definite'

I would just add that if Paul was referring to some tragedy that had befallen the Jewish opponents of the gospel, it would appear that he would have considered that disaster as a foretaste of the judgement awaiting them at the ultimate day of wrath.

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  • I agree with your conclusion and say that the "wrath" is already upon those that reject the Gospel-period. This was prophesied by John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul in numerous instances. To make it a condition of 'already fulfilled' when it is to be understood in a continuous active sense diminishes it's true meaning. – Tau Feb 19 '15 at 5:13
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This does refer to a major catastrophe that befell the Jews, with the only known event that fits the bill being the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. It was one of the reasons that contributed to F. C. Baur's rejection of 1 Thessalonians as a genuine Pauline letter. Although First Thessalonians is now accepted as almost certainly a genuine letter by the apostle Paul, therefore written long before the destruction, if it were proven that this is a reference to the events of 70 CE, then this could reopen the question of authorship.

There are several known interpolations in in Paul's epistles, as well as some suspected interpolations and alterations, so the first consideration should be whether this verse, or the passage containing the verse, is a late interpolation. Raymond E. Brown explains, in An Introduction to the New Testament, page 463, arguments against Pauline authorship of 1 Thessalonians 2 :13-16, but also those for his authorship.

If 1 Thessalonians 2:16 does indeed refer to the destruction of 70 CE, this need only mean that one verse, or perhaps a few verses, date from this period, not necessarily the epistle as a whole.

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