The pagan response to the powerlessness many Thessalonians felt was a spiritual movement scholars call the Cabirus cult. The cult was grounded in a man named Cabirus who spoke up for the disenfranchised and was eventually murdered by his two brothers. He was buried along with symbols of royalty, and the cult came to treat him as a martyred hero.
The lower classes believed that Cabirus had exhibited miraculous powers while alive. They also believed that from time to time Cabirus quietly returned to life in order to help individuals, and that he would return to bring justice to the lower classes and restore the city to its past independence and greatness. The Cabirus cult provided hope for the oppressed in terms reminiscent of the biblical hope.
Things get even more interesting when we discover that the worship of Cabirus included blood sacrifices to commemorate his martyrdom. Reminiscent of Paul, the Thessalonians spoke of “participation in his blood.” By this means they obtained relief from guilt; class distinctions were also abolished. In the Cabirus cult all classes of society were treated equally.
But there was one further dynamic. When the emperor cult arose in the time of Augustus, the Romans proclaimed that Cabirus had already come in the person of Caesar. In other words, the occupying authority co-opted the hope of the oppressed. As a result, the spiritual life of Thessalonica no longer provided relief for the working classes. The common people were left without a meaningful religion. The existence of the emperor cult also meant that if anyone resembling the real Cabirus were to arrive in the city, he would be an immediate threat to the establishment.
The Roman response to the Cabirus cult left a spiritual vacuum in the hearts of the people-a vacuum that the gospel alone could fill. Christ was the true fulfillment of the hopes and dreams that the Thessalonians had placed on Cabirus. The gospel provided both inner peace in the present and, at the Second Coming, the ultimate reversal of current economic and political realities.
Read 1 John 2:15-17 (see also Eccles. 2:1-11). What crucial truths are being expressed here? How have you experienced the reality of these words, in regard to how fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying the things of this world are?