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For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God’s wrath has overtaken them at last.

1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

What is the wrath being spoken of here? What happened to the Jews?

I have heard some claim that this refers to the destruction of the Temple, but this cannot be so, because Paul died before it was destroyed. So it must be referring to some other catastrophe.

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  • @TerjiijKassal So right! Dating makes a big difference! This epistle was written around A.D. 51, and that placed it right in the midst of the persecution of the Jews by Emperor Claudius (41-54 reign). And the Roman historians said this persecution was to quell the disturbances over an argument in the Jewish ghettos about someone call "Chrestos". (Christsus!?) This was why Aquilla and Priscilla had to get out of Rome (Acts 18:2) The timing of this letter fits the mention of "wrath" Paul wrote abut.
    – ray grant
    Jun 5, 2023 at 22:12

5 Answers 5

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Paul is probably talking about the rejection of both Jesus Christ ant His gospel by most of the Jews. God's "wrath" was usually seen as being completely given over to one's sinful ways and bearing the consequences thereof. Like the hardening of pharaoh's own heart in the story of Exodus. Or the train of thought in Romans 1:18-28. The wrath here is the ultimate rebellion of the Jews against their God. In the past, He sent them His prophets to correct their ways. God's messengers were rejected, though. So He gave them over to that rebellious spirit. As a result, they killed their own messiah, by the hands of the pagans, and rejected His good news of salvation.

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    The wording sounds like a singular event, though. Feb 2, 2023 at 2:35
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The simplest answer is what Paul says in 2 Thess 2:6-9

God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might

That is, the wrath of God is dispensed when He returns to reward or punish all people

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  • So he is not referring to a particular event? Feb 1, 2023 at 22:04
  • @TerjijKassal - that is my understanding
    – Dottard
    Feb 2, 2023 at 1:28
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In 1 Th 2:14–16 Paul is referring to the eschatological wrath of God that came upon the unbelieving Jewish and Gentile inhabitants of the Roman Empire/world from ca. AD 67–70.1

The two excerpts below are taken from Josephus’ Wars of the Jews and provide details about some of the calamities that came upon the Jewish people during that period as a result of the First Jewish-Roman War:2

1. (409) Now, when Titus was come into this [upper] city, he admired not only some other places of strength in it, but particularly those strong towers which the tyrants, in their mad conduct, had relinquished; (410) for when he saw their solid altitude, and the largeness of their several stones, and the exactness of their joints, as also how great was their breadth, and how extensive their length, he expressed himself after the manner following:—(411) “We have certainly had God for our assistant in this war, and it was no other than God who ejected the Jews out of these fortifications; for what could the hands of men, or any machines, do towards overthrowing these towers!” (412) At which time he had many such discourses to his friends; he also let such go free as had been bound by the tyrants, and were left in the prisons. (413) To conclude, when he entirely demolished the rest of the city, and overthrew its walls, he left these towers as a monument of his good fortune, which had proved his auxiliaries, and enabled him to take what could not otherwise have been taken by him.
2. (414) And now, since his soldiers were already quite tired with killing men, and yet there appeared to be a vast multitude still remaining alive, Caesar gave orders that they should kill none but those that were in arms, and opposed them, but should take the rest alive. (415) But, together with those whom they had orders to slay, they slew the aged and the infirm; but for those that were in their flourishing age, and who might be useful to them, they drove them together into the temple, and shut them up within the walls of the court of the women; (416) over which Caesar set one of his freed men, as also Fronto, one of his own friends; which last was to determine everyone’s fate, according to his merits. (417) So this Fronto slew all those that had been seditious and robbers, who were impeached one by another; but of the young men he chose out the tallest and most beautiful, and reserved them for the triumph; (418) and as for the rest of the multitude that were above seventeen years old, he put them into bonds, and sent them to the Egyptian mines. Titus also sent a great number into the provinces, as a present to them, that they might be destroyed upon their theaters, by the sword and by the wild beasts; but those that were under seventeen years of age were sold for slaves. (419) Now during the days wherein Fronto was distinguishing these men, there perished, for want of food, eleven thousand; some of whom did not taste any food, through the hatred their guards bore to them; and others would not take in any when it was given them. The multitude also was so very great, that they were in want even of corn for their sustenance.
3. (420) Now the number of those that were carried captive during this whole war was collected to be ninety-seven thousand; as was the number of those that perished during the whole siege eleven hundred thousand, (421) the greater part of whom were indeed of the same nation [with the citizens of Jerusalem], but not belonging to the city itself; for they were come up from all the country to the feast of unleavened bread, and were on a sudden shut up by an army, which, at the very first, occasioned so great a straightness among them that there came a pestilential destruction upon them, and soon afterward such a famine, as destroyed them more suddenly. (Josephus, J.W. 6.409–421)

1. (1) Now, as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be objects of their fury (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other such work to be done) Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminency; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne, and so much of the wall as enclosed the city on the west side. (2) This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison; as were the towers also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; (3) but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited. (4) This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind. (Josephus, J.W. 7.1–4)

In addition to the calamites that came upon the Jews, the Roman historian Tacitus records the following about the state of the Roman Empire in the years following Nero's death in AD 68:3

2. I am entering on the history of a period rich in disasters, frightful in its wars, torn by civil strife, and even in peace full of horrors. Four emperors perished by the sword. There were three civil wars; there were more with foreign enemies; there were often wars that had both characters at once. There was success in the East, and disaster in the West. There were disturbances in Illyricum; Gaul wavered in its allegiance; Britain was thoroughly subdued and immediately abandoned; the tribes of the Suevi and the Sarmatæ rose in concert against us; the Dacians had the glory of inflicting as well as suffering defeat; the armies of Parthia were all but set in motion by the cheat of a counterfeit Nero. Now too Italy was prostrated by disasters either entirely novel, or that recurred only after a long succession of ages; cities in Campania’s richest plains were swallowed up and overwhelmed; Rome was wasted by conflagrations, its oldest temples consumed, and the Capitol itself fired by the hands of citizens. Sacred rites were profaned; there was profligacy in the highest ranks; the sea was crowded with exiles, and its rocks polluted with bloody deeds. In the capital there were yet worse horrors. Nobility, wealth, the refusal or the acceptance of office, were grounds for accusation, and virtue ensured destruction. The rewards of the informers were no less odious than their crimes; for while some seized on consulships and priestly offices, as their share of the spoil, others on procuratorships, and posts of more confidential authority, they robbed and ruined in every direction amid universal hatred and terror. Slaves were bribed to turn against their masters, and freedmen to betray their patrons; and those who had not an enemy were destroyed by friends.
3. Yet the age was not so barren in noble qualities, as not also to exhibit examples of virtue. Mothers accompanied the flight of their sons; wives followed their husbands into exile; there were brave kinsmen and faithful sons in law; there were slaves whose fidelity defied even torture; there were illustrious men driven to the last necessity, and enduring it with fortitude; there were closing scenes that equalled the famous deaths of antiquity. Besides the manifold vicissitudes of human affairs, there were prodigies in heaven and earth, the warning voices of the thunder, and other intimations of the future, auspicious or gloomy, doubtful or not to be mistaken. Never surely did more terrible calamities of the Roman People, or evidence more conclusive, prove that the Gods take no thought for our happiness, but only for our punishment. (Tacitus, Histories 1.2–3)

Notes:

1 It is important to note that Paul wasn’t referring to an instance of God’s wrath that had already occurred prior to the time he wrote First Thessalonians. This is made clear when you compare 1 Th 2:16 with 1 Th 1:10 and 1 Th 5:9 where Paul indicates that God’s wrath was still impending and that they would be delivered from it at Christ’s Parousia (“second coming”).

2 See also Josephus, J.W. 2.455, 649–50; 6.201–213, 288–300.

3 For an extensive list of calamities that came upon the Roman Empire from AD 67–70 see Kurt Simmons, Urgent Corrections Preterism Must Make - No. 1

Sources:

Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987.

Simmons, K. (n.d.). Preteristcentral.com. Urgent Corrections Preterism Must Make No. 1. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from Urgent Corrections Preterism Must Make - No. 1

Tacitus. The Annals and The Histories. Edited by Mortimer J. Adler. Second Edition. Vol. 14. Great Books of the Western World. Chicago; Auckland; Geneva; London; Madrid; Manila; Paris; Rome; Seoul; Sydney; Tokyo; Toronto: Robert P. Gwinn; Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1990.

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  • You seem to be well-read. The interpretation you advocate is common to Partial Preterists, and Preterists. Perhaps you should identify it as such. Josephus adds a lot of weight to this interpretation. But your addition of Tacitus distracts, and is not germane to the question posted. It doesn't deal specifically with the "Jews" Paul spoke of. Keep studying, peace.
    – ray grant
    May 27, 2023 at 22:30
  • @raygrant That's fair. Thanks for your feedback.
    – AMRhone
    May 27, 2023 at 23:59
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Roman Emperor Claudius The emperor of the Roman Empire was Claudius who reigned A.D. 41-54. He proved to be a good general and administrator. He had some interest in the ancient religions of Rome; but his attitude to the Jews was enigmatic.

At the beginning of his reign he lifted many oppressive restrictions which they had incurred by refusing too worship the emperor. He restored freedom of worship to the Jews of Alexandria and guaranteed identical privileges throughout the empire.

Contrary to these generous policies, Dio Cassius says that Claudius forbade the right of assembly to Jews in Rome, and Seutonius wrote that he expelled them from the city because of a disturbance created by one Chrestus. (M.C. Tenney, New Testament Times)

Most historians believe the reference to Chrestus was in regard to the issue of the Messiahship argued between Jews and Christians. It was so explosive and disruptive Claudius decided to just expel them all! This event is mentioned in Acts 18:2.

Paul came to Corinth, and found a certain Jew named Aquila...lately come from Italy...because Claudius commanded all Jews to depart from Rome...

We also have record of a decree of Claudius sent to the village of Nazareth concerning "the removal of corpses from a tomb under threat of capital punishment," written during the time of Claudius. (Nazareth Decree found 1930) This no doubt was another reference to the arguing between Jews and Christians, and was his attempt to quell the disturbances.

Writing of 1 Thessalonians Most scholars think the writing of 1 Thess. was around A.D. 51. So it is most likely that when Paul wrote about the mean opposition of the Jews in trying to stop the preaching of the Gospel, he was referring to this time period, when "the Jews were forbidding us to speak (even) to the Gentiles that they might be saved..." (2:16a)

Paul is considering the "crack down" on the Jews at Rome--and around the empire--as wrath come upon them to the uttermost. {This expelling of Jews from nations has been an on-going curse throughout modern history: Spain, England, Germany, etc.} No doubt Aquila and Priscilla filled Paul in on the details and the hardships involved.

Of course, Paul couldn't have even imagined in his wildest dreams the horror that awaited the Jews in the fulfilment of the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 23-24). (Notice as an aside, the use of the phrase, fill up their sins in Thess. which Jesus also used in Matthew 23:32. This was a colloquialism to describe the need for a judgment because their sins had gone too far for remedy.)

Reference I suggest for your consideration that Paul is referring, in Thessalonians, to the judgment of Claudius on the Jews which was happening contemporarily, and throughout the empire. This was a judgment on them for trying to hinder the preaching of the Gospel. But this may also be even a subtle prophetic foresight given to Paul about the final destruction of Judea (Jerusalem) in 67-70. This persecution by Claudius was a taste of what was to come under Vespasian to the uttermost end!

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Disclaimer: I don't speak for any sect.

I'll address each line separately:

[1Th 2:16 CSB]:

  1. by keeping us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved.

Paul is referring to the Judean Jews, who (allegedly) interfered with Paul's ministry to the gentiles.

  1. As a result, they are constantly filling up their sins to the limit,

The LORD has a scruple, such that he does not serve the wine of his wrath until the cup of his wrath is filled with worthy crimes, such as mistreating the apostles and killing their Messiah. For this reason, he had been storing up Judean sins for thousands of years, and why he hardened the Judeans so that they, unlike the chosen Regenerates of the Northern Kingdom, would look but not see, etc. Paul goes into this a lot in Romans 9-11.

  • and wrath has overtaken them at last.

Wrath had been promised on the Judeans/Jerusalemites as early as Deuteronomy 32:

[Deu 32:32-36 CSB] [32] For their vine is from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah. Their grapes are poisonous; their clusters are bitter. [33] Their wine is serpents' venom, the deadly poison of cobras. [34] "Is it not stored up with me, sealed up in my vaults? [35] "Vengeance and retribution belong to me. In time their foot will slip, for their day of disaster is near, and their doom is coming quickly."** [36] The LORD will indeed vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants when he sees that their strength is gone and no one is left ​-- ​slave or free.

Don't be confused by this pseudonym, but he is referring here to wrath upon Jerusalem:

[Deu 32:15 NASB20] [15] "But Jeshurun became fat and kicked-- You have become fat, thick, [and] obstinate-- Then he abandoned God who made him, And rejected the Rock of his salvation.

In other words,

  • prior to this time, they had been accumulating wrath (God kept it with his treasures)

  • now, they have finally reached the high watermark of the cup of his wrath [Note: "eretz" is mistranslated as earth, as if "earth" was the name of a planet. It is the word for "land," and in this case, the land of Judea)]:

Jesus said that the wrath of God upon Jerusalem that had been stored up for thousands of years was, by the hardening of the Judeans' hearts, was going to finally to be unleashed on Jerusalem in his own time/generation:

[Mat 23:29-39 NASB20] [29] "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs for the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, [30] and you say, 'If we had been [living] in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in [shedding] the blood of the prophets.' [31] "So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. [32] "Fill up, then, the measure [of the guilt] of your fathers. [33] "You snakes, you offspring of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell? [34] "Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will flog in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, [35] so that upon you will fall [the guilt of] all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. [36] "Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. [37] "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who have been sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. [38] "Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! [39] "For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, 'BLESSED IS THE ONE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!'"

It all went down in the first century. There is no future "wrath to come." Judgment Day came and left 2000 years ago.

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