Meditations in 1 Thessalonians
Part 2 : 13 : Spiritual Blindness
1 Thess 2:14-16 You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.
There is a sense whereby we should be grateful to the Jews of the Bible for making so obviously clear to us the effects of sin, the sin that contaminates all of mankind. The only reason to pick on the Jews is that they are the people God chose in the period of Old Testament history. Throughout the Old Testament the message from God was that they were intended to be a light to the Gentiles, a light to the rest of the world, revealing God. His intent was that they would reveal His love and goodness although He must have known that, in the event, with some notable exceptions – say David, Solomon, Josiah etc. – so often they would reveal the awful realities of Sin – rebellion, stupidity, self-centred godlessness.
Read the Old Testament and see God’s side of it. Again and again He purposes blessing, He purposes doing good for Israel, but time and time again they turned away and fell into disarray and defeat before their enemies. The presence of the miraculous in their midst and the awareness of amazing testimonies of God’s power and love, there on their behalf, seen so clearly through such times as the Exodus, failed to keep them on track, failed to stop them drifting away, failed to stop them relying on legalistic or mechanistic religion instead of a wonderful relationship with the living God.
Stephen, the first Christian martyr, declared of them just before they stoned him to death, “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute?” (Acts 7:51,52) Jesus himself declared, “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, `I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.” (Lk 11:47-51) Was the fulfilment of Jesus’ words the destruction of Jerusalem and the casting the Jews out into the rest of the world until the mid 20th century? But that was the truth: they had rejected all those God sent.
Wherever you look in the New Testament there is this condemnation of the unbelieving Jews, e.g. “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:22,23) What a condemnation that was in the midst of Peter’s first sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Jesus had done such amazing things but the unbelieving Jews of Jerusalem, the very hierarchy of Judaism, the chief priests and keepers of the temple, rejected all of that, ignored it and distorted the truth and killed Jesus. In that respect they are like the modern crusading atheists of today who find fault with the extreme edges of the Christian world and ignore the wonder of transformed lives in the middle of it, and all the good they have done through the centuries. And they do this all to maintain their own godless prejudices.
This is the truth and it was true of those Jews throughout the Bible. Although there was always a believing remnant (and those became the foundation of the Christian church – all the apostles were Jews, as were all the early believers) the majority preferred to rule their own lives and do their own thing, ignoring God and ignoring His Law that He had provided for them. So they killed prophets when they came and they killed Jesus when he came. Jesus told a parable that could not be more pointed: “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. `They will respect my son,’ he said. “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, `This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ” `The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes’? “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” (Mt 21:33-43)
Wherever Paul and his team went they received opposition from the Jews in the town. This is the tragedy of history, that those who should have been the first to see, failed to see and instead became those who opposed the Gospel, opposed Jesus and opposed God. Even in Israel today, orthodoxy exists, a few believe in Jesus but the majority are not known for their spirituality. The best we can say is that in this, they reflect the rest of the world. If we look at them and see their failure beware complacency. Their day may yet come. Paul warns of these things in Rom 10 & 11.
In Israel we see revealed so clearly a spiritual blindness and it comes as a warning to all the rest of the world – is this how you are too? Beware.