“For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.”
The churches in Judea were the first ones to receive the wave of persecution. The Thessalonian believers were suffering in the same manner that believers had earlier suffered in Judea. However, in Judea the churches were primarily Jewish. These were religious Jews who rejected Christ as their Messiah and continually persecuted any Jew who became a Christian. In Thessalonica, the church was being persecuted by the Gentiles for rejecting paganism and believing in Christ. And Paul added that these same religious Jewish types were the ones responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, for killing their own prophets and for driving Paul and his teams out of certain cities.
Religion is Satan’s counterfeit for truth. Religion also epitomizes Satan’s policy of good and evil. Christianity is not a religion. Christianity is relationship with God through faith in Christ; religion has no relationship with God. In religion man by man’s efforts seeks to gain the approbation of God through his works, power, talent, abilities, etc. Religion always includes some system of legalism. In Christianity, God seeks and finds man through the work of Christ, and from that time on it is strictly a matter of grace.
Christianity is a relationship with God through regeneration while religion is a relationship with Satan through human effort.
Religion has its own gospel — II Corinthians 11:3,4. It is a gospel system that converts to evil, the policy of Satan. Religion has its own doctrine — I Timothy 4:1, “doctrines of demons.” Satan has a systematic concept of teaching by which his servants are inculcated with Satanic policies and inspired to perform Satanic activities. Religion has a system of ministry — it has its own ministers. The ministers of religion are found in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15. The system of religion has its own communion table — I Corinthians 10:20-21, the system of idolatry. There is a system of self-righteousness which is a part of religion — Matthew 19:16-28. Religion has its own system of spirituality [pseudo spirituality] — Galatians 3:2,3. Religion also has a pseudo spiritual maturity system — Matthew 23:1-35. This pseudo system has its pseudo rewards directly from Satan. The system of religion also has a very strong concept of human dynamics — always the better life, more or greater impact on humanity, etc. — II Thessalonians 2:7-10. Religion also has a variation of gods which are simply representations of the same person, the creature Satan — II Thessalonians 2:3,4.
Hindering us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved is typical of religion. Religion rejects the truth of God and substitutes it with human effort. And they attempt to stop others from speaking the truth. They always fill up the measure of their sins means to fill up a cup, and they fill their cups to full measure with their own sins. They are “drunk” with their own sins, persecution and destruction. Religion controls and destroys the lives of people by means of guilt and fear. And, of course, they do in all in the name of God. But there is something certain for these false teachers – judgment from God. They cannot escape God’s wrath because God “hates” religion.
“But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while – in person, not in spirit – were all the more eager with great desire to come to you – I, Paul, more than once – and yet Satan hindered us. For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.”
But we, brethren, having been taken away from you, tells us that Paul hated to leave Thessalonica. They responded so beautifully to the Word of God. They took in doctrine in such a wonderful manner. They started sending out missionaries and getting the Gospel out throughout Thessalonica, throughout Macedonia, and to the uttermost parts of the earth, and Paul just wanted to be there. It is a wonderful place to be when people receive the Word of God. First of all he was sad when he left them, and then he endeavored the more abundantly to come back to them. All the time he is away he keeps thinking how wonderful it would be to be with them again. Satan, of course, didn’t want Paul to have any encouragement from fellow Christians; he wanted Paul to fall apart from lack of Christian fellowship. In Greek the word for fellowship is “koinonia” and means to have things in common with. Remember I John 1:5-7 where he is continuing to defend the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union while teaching believers how to have a relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ. John used the contrast of light and darkness to introduce the doctrine of fellowship with God.
The Gnostics who denied the humanity or the deity of Christ were walking in perpetual spiritual darkness just like an “out of fellowship” believer. The unbelieving Gnostic certainly had nothing in common with God. A believer who is out of fellowship also has nothing in common with God, experientially. A believer always has the choice to either “walk in the light” or to “walk in darkness.” You cannot walk in darkness and be in fellowship with God at the same time.
If the believer says he is pursuing a course according to God’s power system, and yet he is operating according to Satan’s cosmic system he is lying and out of fellowship with God. The Apostle John said he was “not doing the truth,” which means a believer is not doing what the truth teaches him to do. The Greek word for truth is “aletheia” meaning any body of truth that is believed. Bible doctrine (truth) teaches a believer how to think divine viewpoint and how “to do” divine production. This is possible only when the believer is in fellowship with God. (I John 1:8-10)
Contrary to popular belief, true Christian fellowship is not a social function. True Christian fellowship is centered in learning God’s Word together under your right pastor-teacher. What we have in common is salvation and a positive mental attitude toward accurate Bible doctrine. This is what Paul longed for with regard to these new believers in Thessalonica. But it was Satan who hindered Paul and his team from returning to Thessalonica by means of persecution and imprisonment.
From eternity past Satan and his followers (fallen angels) have been attempting to confuse, distract and destroy God and His followers. We must never forget that Satan is a much more powerful being than mankind and we therefore must be aware of his cunning devices. We must also remember the tactics Satan uses to get us off track. Satan is not omnipresent, omniscient or omnipotent, but he is a genius and has been observing mankind from the beginning. He uses direct attacks, demon influence and the world system to influence our sin nature to do both human good and evil. As the ruler of this world system Satan has the power to persecute Christians even to the point of imprisonment as he did with Paul and his team.
Paul described these believers in Thessalonica as his rewards for eternity. There are three kinds of reward spoken of by Paul.
The first reward is hope. Hope has to do with the eternal future. The people that you lead to the Lord today are people you will see in all eternity. You do not know when you “sow” the Gospel how many people you are going to meet in eternity who received Christ as a result. So there is the anticipation of meeting people in eternity that you have had the pleasure of leading to the Lord. Our hope for Paul and his team was not simply the Rapture of the Church, the resurrection body, the eternal inheritance, the home in Heaven face to face with the Lord, but also the people they would meet that they had led to the Lord.
The second reward is joy. You can have happiness (joy) for all eternity over people whom you have had the privilege of giving the Gospel. And, furthermore, you can have joy, inner happiness in life as a result of seeing people come to know Christ as Savior. The great source of happiness emphasized here is one of the greatest joys in life. It is the joy and the privilege of seeing members of the human race who are lost, who are spiritually dead, respond to the Gospel so that they will live forever in the presence of Jesus Christ where is no more sorrow, no more tears, no more pain, and no more death.
The third reward is crown of exultation. This crown is same as the Crown of Glory from I Peter 5:4. This is the crown given to pastor-teachers for fulfilling their responsibility to study and teach accurate Bible doctrine. The man with the gift of pastor-teacher is given the ability to study, learn and teach Bible doctrine accurately in a systematic way because of his love for God and his interest in his congregation understanding truth and growing spiritually. He also shepherds the local church, which means he protects them against apostasy and heresy through accurate interpretation and teaching. (Ephesians 4:11)
Eternal rewards for believers are in many ways similar to the blessings of this life, but there are some differences. Our working definition for reward is “something given in return for something done.” Eternal rewards are represented in the Bible by crowns (actually wreaths, “stephanos,” in Greek). The addition to this is the reward of rulership over cities in eternity. Let me list them for you: