July 22, 2018
General Remarks on Second Thessalonians
Like 1 Thessalonians, Second Thessalonians was written by the Apostle Paul from Corinth in or around the year 52 A.D. Timothy had been sent by Paul to Thessalonica and had probably spent several months there completing the task of organising the church and instructing the clergy and congregations in the doctrines of the faith (1 Thess. 3:2). Because Paul was anxious to hear Timothy’s report about the safety and progress of the Thessalonians, Timothy went to Corinth, where Paul was teaching at that time, and gave the Apostle the good news that the Thessalonians were persevering well in the faith (3:6). He was sent back to Thessalonica almost immediately, bearing a letter from Paul, which we know as the book of 1 Thessalonians. One of the purposes of the letter was to inform the Church that Christians who die before Christ returns to bring the Day of the Lord to complete fulness, will not miss out. They will have a prominent role in the events of Christ's Return, and are now with Him in Heaven (1 Thess. 4:13-17, see also 2. Cor. 5:8). Timothy, returning to Thessalonica with this letter, probably spent several more months in the city, teaching the Church to know and follow the Saviour, Christ. At length he returned to Corinth to work with Paul and report back on the situation in Thessalonica. Continuing questions and issues in Thessalonica caused Paul to send Timothy back to it, this time carrying another letter from Paul, which we know as 2 Thessalonians.
2 Thessalonians 1
Persecution in Thessalonica continues after Paul leaves the city, for 2 Thessalonians opens by addressing it. The Christians are commended for their patience and faith in their persecutions and tribulations (4), and, especially that their faith and love "groweth exceedingly" in spite of their sufferings, (3).
Verses 5-11 refer specifically to the fate of the persecutors, and the result of enduring persecution in the lives of the Thessalonians. For the Christians it is a sign of God's favour, for they have been counted worthy of the Kingdom of God, and worthy to suffer for it. Had they been unworthy, had their faith been simply an emotional response to the manipulations of the many false teachers of the era, they would not have withstood persecution. Standing firm shows the reality and depth of their faith. Theirs is a worthy faith.
It is always easy to go over to the other side; to abandon the true faith for the easy believism offered by those who preach a different gospel and a different Christ. Today many call themselves Christians, whose faith is really about emotional experiences, self-esteem, or getting worldly goods and miracles from God. These people leave their faith as soon as the church "services" fail keep them entertained, which is why so many churches feel the need to constantly be on the cutting edge of music and cultural trends. Or, finding that the promised health and wealth miracles do not come, many leave their faith behind. In short, when their faith requires anything from them, they find they have nothing to give because they have received nothing. The Thessalonians have received the Gospel of Christ. They have received life through His atoning sacrifice. They have received the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the means of grace. They do not expect God to make life easy for them. Their church was born in persecution, and they expect following Christ to be costly. Thus they are willing to persevere.
Yet they do not expect their persecutors to get away with their evil, and Paul makes it clear that their tormentors will suffer terrible consequences for their actions. Paul remembers that persecuting Christ's Church is persecuting Him (Acts 9:4), as every sin against the Church is a sin against God. He shows that God will repay the persecutors with tribulation (6), just as He will repay the faithful with "rest" (7). When Christ comes with His angels to bring in the fullness of His Day, the tormentors will be cast into the fire, punished with everlasting destruction, and banned forever from the presence and glory of God (8-10). This fate awaits all "that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (8). Notice again that it is "that day," the Day of the Lord to which Paul refers. It is the Second Coming of our Lord, in glory and power to put all things right (10).
Paul ends the first chapter with a prayer. He does not ask for deliverance from suffering. He does not even ask for the persecution to end. Instead he prays that the Thessalonians will continue to prove themselves worthy of their calling in Christ as they persevere through their suffering (11). This prayer is a terrible blow to those who teach or believe that having enough faith guarantees that God will deliver them from circumstances and situations they don't like, or will give them health and wealth and miracles anytime they ask for them. Paul prays for God to fulfill the pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power. He is praying that, as the Thessalonians show themselves worthy through their endurance and faithfulness in all situations in this life, God will continue to work faith and Godliness (the pleasure of His goodness) in them. This faith will continue to show itself in the increasing and continuing "work of faith with power." In other words, faithfulness under trial leads to increased faith, and increased faith leads to more faithfulness.
The result is that the name of our Lord is glorified (12). This verse is yet another reminder that the center and meaning of all things is God, not us. We err greatly when we think God created all things, suffered on the cross, and endures the constant sin and frustrations of humanity just for us. It is for His own glory and pleasure that we were created (Rev. 4:11). He has a purpose for His creation, and He is working every day to bring it toward His goal, which is to establish a Kingdom and people for Himself. The goal of God is to bring all things together in one in Christ (Eph. 1:10). It is Christ, not us, who is the central figure. It is for His glory that we are saved, and live, and die, and live with Him forever.
2 Thessalonians 2
Not surprisingly, the Thessalonians still have questions about the Return of Christ, which Paul answers in this passage. Again, let us remember that the subject here is Christ's Second Coming to inaugurate the Day of the Lord (1 Thess. 5:2), or, as Paul calls it here, the day of Christ (2). It is His Coming to establish the Kingdom of God on earth in all its full glory and completeness. The Greek word used here is parousia, which carries the meaning of a royal visit, or coming in royal glory to rule the kingdom. Thus, in 1 Thessalonians we see Christ returning as the King of Glory, heralded by the trumpet of the Archangel, and issuing royal commands to the creation (1 Thess. 4:16). Theologians have spent much time trying to decide whether verse 2 means to say that the Thessalonians fear the Day of Christ has arrived in fulness, or that they merely believe it is near, "at hand." Actually, both are correct, and Paul is arguing against both concepts. He uses a Greek word that means to be present with, as well as to be impending or near. So he is saying that the idea that the Day of the Lord has already come, and the idea that the Day of the Lord is so immanently near it makes planning for the future and working for a living unnecessary, are wrong. Those who say it has already happened are quite obviously wrong, for the world goes on much as it did before Christ came to earth and worked His wonderful gift of salvation by the blood of His cross. Evil is still strong, and people live in open and unrepentant sin. When Christ Returns, all of this will end. The Day of the Lord will bring His Kingdom of Righteousness to fulness forever.
Likewise, His return is not so near that we can put the rest of life on hold to wait for it. Many in Thessalonica hold this view, and it is one of their most prevalent problems. Some in Thessalonica, have stopped working and supplying the needs of themselves and their families because they believe Jesus will return within the next few days or the next few minutes. Instead of earning their own livings, they spend their time spreading their views in such obnoxious ways as to make them nothing more than "busybodies" (3:11), who, because they have not worked to provide for themselves, expect others in the church to feed and clothe them and their families. Countering this belief, Paul tells the church not to fall for schemes that say the Day of Christ is "at hand," meaning immanent at any second. The short answer to this problem is that "if any would not work, neither should he eat" (3:10).
Paul then tells them that the Lord will not return until a great "falling away" from the truth occurs within the Church, and the man of sin is revealed (3). This man, also known as the Anti-Christ, opposes all that Christ stands for, and does so in such a way that his ways appear good and godly. While there are many anti-Christs, there is but one Anti-Christ, and he will ultimately deceive people into believing in him as God (4). This Anti-Christ appears prior to the Return of Christ, and our Lord will destroy him at His coming (7-9). All who were deceived by him (10-11) will be destroyed with him at the Lord's return (12). So this event will occur prior to the Lord's Return.
Each generation has read this passage and thought it was in the time of the falling away and the man of sin. In a sense they were right, for the spirit of anti-Christ is always strong in the world because the general nature of fallen humanity is inclined towards it. People have noted the moral decline of culture, and have noted many wicked people, whom they thought might be the Anti-Christ. But Paul seems to indicate that there will be no doubt in the Church as to the Anti-Christ's identity. We will know him when he appears. Until then, we are to devote ourselves to Godliness and faith, not idle speculation.
Doom and destruction await the man of sin and all who reject the Gospel of salvation in Christ alone (10-12). What a contrast this is to the state of those who believe in Christ unto salvation. We may tremble for those who do not believe, but we, like Paul give thanks for those chosen for salvation (13-14). We give thanks that we are sanctified by the Spirit and enabled to believe the truth. We know we were called into this grace by the proclamation of the Gospel. Note that Paul calls it "our Gospel" (14). He does not mean it belongs to him, or that he made it up. He means it is the Gospel Christ gave to the Church through the Apostles, and which Paul and the other Apostles preach and teach. It is what we often call the "Apostolic Faith,” or “Biblical Faith” today.
Paul's desired outcome of enduring hardship and persecution to preach the Apostolic Faith is that those who receive it will continue in it until the Lord returns. Thus, he encourages the Thessalonians to "stand fast," a military term meaning to stand your ground in the face of enemy attack (15). They are to "hold" or embrace the "tradition which ye have been taught." This is not the tradition of men, which the Pharisees produced and followed in preference to the Scriptures. It is the Gospel and the Church given by Christ through the Apostles.
More of the joy of the Christian, as opposed to the doom of the unbeliever, is expressed through a benediction found in verses 16 and 17. It is basically a prayer that all the good things Christ died and rose again to procure for His people, will be given in abundance. to the Thessalonians. These are the things that will comfort their hearts; things like faith, hope, assurance that they are in Christ and that His promise of forgiveness and Heaven will not fail. Having this comfort, Paul prays that they will be established in every good word and work.
2 Thessalonians 3
Paul asks the people to pray for him (1, 2). Specifically, they are to pray that the word of the Lord, the Gospel, will have "free course, and be glorified." "Free course" means to run free, to be unhampered so it may go where it will. Paul is asking that it will not be hampered by him, either by his own human frailties, or by the persecution he faces for it. He is asking that persecution and trials will not stop him from proclaiming the Gospel. That the Gospel would be "glorified" means that people will receive it in faith and become followers of Christ: that they will recognise it as the word of God, as the truth, and will honour it in their lives and in their hearts, regardless of opposition, persecution, or cost.
His confidence is not in people, but in the Lord (4). The Lord is faithful and will establish them in the faith, keep them from evil and enable them to do what Paul commands them as their Apostle and pastor in the Lord.
The last phrase of verse 5 is important in the context of the earlier discussion of the Return of Christ. Paul prays for them to be directed "into the patient waiting for Christ." He asks them not to become distracted from daily Christian living and their regular duties in this world, by a constant preoccupation with the time of the Lord's Return. They are to look for His Return. They are to live in anticipation of it. They are even to pray for it, "Thy kingdom come." And they are to be patient, tending to the business of being God's Church on earth until that Day arrives.
There is a God-ordained order, or, pattern for life. It revolves around God and consists of faith, worship, love, and work. We could express it as; love God, love your neighbor (especially those of your own household), go to Church, and find a job to provide for your needs and honour God.
A small group of people in the Thessalonian Church are not living by this pattern. They are, "walking disorderly" (6). They are not carousing or fornicating, but neither are they living by the pattern of life God intended. Their primary departure from the pattern is that they have stopped working for a living and now expect the others in the church to feed and clothe them and their families. Why? They believe the Return of the Lord to bring in the fulness of the Day of the Lord, is so immanent it makes all preparations for future life on earth meaningless. These people believe the Second Coming will occur within the next few weeks, or even within the next few minutes (2 Thess. 2:1-2). Therefore, they have stopped working and caring for themselves and their families, expecting others in the church to clothe and feed them. Thus, Paul exhorts and commands them, "that with quietness they work and eat their own bread."
Paul and the evangelists exemplified this when they were in Thessalonica, working night and day to both preach the Gospel and provide for their own expenses (7-9). Though they had the right, as do all ministers of Christ's Church, to receive a wage for their work, just like any other person in any other honourable occupation, Paul and his companions did not want to burden the new Christians, so they earned their meager livings by working another job in addition to their labours in the Gospel. The implication is that, if Paul can provide for himself, so can the Thessalonians. And Paul offers himself and his conduct as an example to the disorderly in Thessalonica (3:9). The word used in the original Greek is the word from which we get our English word, "mimic." So Paul is exhorting these people to mimic him and his companions by returning to work and providing for themselves.
Those who refuse to live by this teaching (tradition) are to be avoided (6). This is not formal church discipline, and it is certainly not excommunication, for the people are to be treated as brothers rather than unbelievers (15). It does mean those who work are not to enable idleness in others by feeding and caring for them. They are to stop subsidising the sin of idleness and let every one live by the rule "that if any would not work, neither should he eat" (10).
Paul closes his exhortations with a prayer that the Lord of peace Himself will give His peace to the Thessalonians (16). The disorderliness of some is causing disruption in the peace of the Church and the lives of its members. Their disorder is in stark contrast to the Lord of peace. His ways are the ways of peace. His order for quiet Godliness brings peace. So this is a prayer that the Thessalonians will return to His ways and restore His peace in the church. "By all means" refers to the means by which God works peace in His people. These are usually the ordinary means, rather than miraculous gifts. Peace comes through trusting God with this life and the next, and by accepting what He gives. It comes through living peacefully with others and by conducting ourselves humbly and lovingly, with words and actions that promote peace rather than instigate hostility. It comes from hearts and minds that are being transformed and renewed by constant immersion in the Scriptures, the Church, and all the means of grace. These things work peace in us individually and corporately.
Verse 17 tells us that Paul wrote it with his own hand as proof that the letter is from him. The rest of the epistle was probably written by Timothy as Paul dictated it. Verse 18 closes the epistle with a benediction very characteristic of Paul, and full of his love and hopes for the Thessalonians. Like all Scripture, it is not just for those first recipients, but for all of God's people in all times and all places; "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."