What killed the Thessalonian believers?
- From 1 Thess 4:13-18 it is clear that some members of the Thessalonian church had died. What killed them?
The commentators rightly reject the idea that these believers died violent deaths at the hands of their enemies. However, I find it very surprising that the commentators then leap to the conclusion that the deaths were unrelated to persecutions.
We know that the Thessalonian church was persecuted and one can imagine that the persecutions would include things like:
1. Attacks on Christian benefactors (consider Jason and Sosthenes).
2. Christians losing their jobs.
3. Attacks on the property of Christians, along the lines of Heb. 10:34.
4. Patrons withdrawing their support for clients who had converted.
Now, such persecutions would create economic distress in the church. I can think of two indications that this is exactly what happened:
1. In 2 Cor 8:2 Paul mentions the poverty of the Macedonian believers in the same breath as their persecutions.
2. 1 Thess. 2:14 tells us that the Thessalonians suffered the same things as the Judean churches. These churches also suffered poverty, so it is possible that the persecutions were economic in both cases.
Economic distress would reduce the quality of the believers' diet and therefore make them more susceptible to disease and death. Persecutions would threaten the lives of those who were already living barely above subsistence level, one would think, and
1 Thess. 4:14 can be read as indicating that those who had died had lost their lives because of their loyalty to Jesus (DIA TOU IHSOU).
Why then, does everyone seem to assume that violent deaths are the only forms of martyrdoms? Is it because commentators live in countries where incomes far exceed what is necessary for survival? Have I missed something?
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- I don't think that it is relevant how they died. The point here is that
somehow the Thessalonians had a false notion about the dead in relation
to the second coming. And Paul is correcting it.
Possibly just natural passing away.
Or am I missing something?
Wieland Willker, Bremen, Germany