Paul does not tell us of the afflictions that the church at Thessalonica suffered, other than to compare them closely to the afflictions suffered by Jewish Christians in Judea. I could provide an informed opinion on this, based on the parallels, but should first of all take into account that most biblical scholars believe 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 to be an interpolation that actually reflects events of a later period. The scholarly reasons are for the most part based on the apparently spurious reference to the Jews, but if scholars are correct then the entire passage is an interpolation and the afflictions will be events that may have occurred after Paul's death, rather than at the time Paul wrote his letter to the Thessalonians.
In discussing this passage, I will give a summary of views held by a sample of New Testament commentators, beginning with those who favour authenticity:
Professor of Religion, James F. McGrath, following the process he does in discussing the passage in his lectures, mostly finds in favour of authenticity, saying (An Interpolation in 1 Thessalonians?):
It is worth noting that there is no manuscript evidence that this passage is an addition. It is also worth noting that its interruption of the train of thought is not in and of itself grounds for deeming it an interpolation: Paul’s penchant for interrupting himself and returning to his earlier train of thought is well known, and it is scarcely a trait unique to Paul for that matter. It is also worth noting that some have had clear motives for wanting the text to be post-Pauline – either in order to clear Paul of charges of anti-Semitism, or in order to fit their view that Paul never mentions Jesus’ historicity. The last standpoint clearly involves a circular approach, since Paul mentions a number of things that indicate Jesus’ historicity, and excising such things as supposed exceptions is nothing more than the disposing of inconvenient counter-evidence.
One of the arguments for authenticity of the passage is that it appears to refer to persecution of churches in Judaea, to which McGrath says we should "ask whether Paul could complain about the persecution of churches in Judaea, without any mention of the fact that he had previously been involved in the persecution."
Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd (The Jesus Legend) argue for the authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 by denying this would have originally referred to the destruction of Jerusalem. In a series of blog posts, 'Taking Eddy & Boyd Seriously', Neil Godfrey critically reviews their arguments. Godfrey's criticisms of Eddy & Boyd and of their arguments do not concern us here, except that Godfrey points out their arguments are internally inconsistent. Robert M. Price (book review) refers to Eddy and Boyd simply as apologists and concludes: "Nice try." It is hard to include Eddy and Boyd as among scholars who accept the authenticity of the passage, unless their peers accept Eddy and Boyd as legitimate scholars.
The historian, Richard Carrier (Pauline Interpolations) summarises some of the key reasons for regarding this passage as an interpolation:
In this passage Paul is made to say:
...in Judea...the Jews killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove out us, and pleased not God, and are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved; to fill up their sins always: but the wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.
Most scholars have concluded this was never written by Paul. The arguments are many, and accumulate to a conclusive case:
Paul never blames the Jews for the death of Jesus elsewhere.
Paul never talks about God's wrath as having come, but as coming only at the future judgment (see: Romans 2:5, 3:5-6, 4:15).
Paul teaches the Jews will be saved, not destroyed (see: Romans 11:25-28).
Paul was dead by the time the "wrath had come upon them to the uttermost" (the destruction of the Jewish nation and temple in 70 A.D.).
Birger A. Pearson (1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: A Deutero-Pauline Interpolation) and Daryl Schmidt (1 Thess 2:13-16: Linguistic Evidence for an Interpolation) provide some of the detailed evidence and arguments for the passage being an interpolation.
1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 belongs in the period after 70 CE, when the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed. Therefore, the purported sufferings of the Thessalonians are parallels to the trials and sufferings of the Jewish Christians in Judea in the latter part of the first century. The redactor is saying that the Thessalonian Christians suffered discrimination and persecution from the pagan Thessalonians just as the Jewish Christians were to suffer in Judea.
Acts of the Apostles
With no concrete evidence of the afflictions elsewhere in Paul's two epistles to the Thessalonians, I now turn to Acts of the Apostles for an insight into these things. Acts 17:1-9 talks of a riot among the Jews of Thessalonica, resulting from Paul's visit to the local synagogue. Paul was taken into protective custody and allowed to leave for Berea, where the Thessalonian Jews pursued him and once again he had to escape.
Dennis E. Smith and Joseph B. Tyson find this unconvincing. In Acts and Christian Beginnings, page 205, they ask how Paul could have overlooked saying something about these events in his letter to the Thessalonians. Smith and Tyson are convinced that the riot never really happened, saying (ibid, p206) "there is nothing in this Acts segment that qualifies as historical data to supplement what we know from Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians." We are left with nothing concrete to explain the "afflictions" of )1 Thessalonians 1:6 and 2 Thessalonians 1:4.