Studies in 2 Thessalonians
Tom Bentley, Ballymena, N. Ireland
Most matters of introduction are common to the first and second epistles to the Thessalonians, however in the current study we will adopt the usual approach in the use of our A, B, and C.
Paul the apostle is accepted without a shadow of doubt. If anything, the external evidence for the Second Epistle is somewhat better than that for the First. Polycarp of Smyrna (A.D. 69–115, approx.) apparently makes reference in his letter to the Philippians to 2 Thessalonians 1. 4, when speaking of the apostle he writes, ‘for concerning you he boasts in all the churches’.
Paul, it would seem, was still in Corinth, when a further report came from Thessalonica. Obviously there was marked progress with regard to what the apostle had written. Though the persecution had not abated, their endurance had continued, faith had matured, and love has extended its boundaries, while hope had healed the wound the loss of their loved ones had incurred, and generally there was much that gave the apostle joy. False teachers had penetrated the bounds of the assembly, claiming apostolic authority, advancing that the Day of the Lord was at hand, resulting in feverish unrest which was manifest in idleness and disorder amongst certain of the assembly. That he might answer both or more of these phases of the report, he wrote again and expressed his appreciation of their progress and offered further instruction and exhortation. The instruction would settle their hearts as regards the advent and add to their peace and calmness in waiting for the return of the Lord, in fulfilment of His word. Nor did Paul overlook the necessity to give definite and authoritative injunctions with respect to the treatment of disorderly and disobedient assembly members.
Salutation, 1. 1–2;
Historical and Doctrinal, 1. 3–2. 17;
Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians, 1. 3–11;
Prayer, 1. 12–13;
Teaching concerning the Parousia, 2. 1–12;
Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians, 2. 13–15;
Prayer, 2. 16–17;
Consolatory and Hortatory, 3. 1–16;
Prayer, 3. 1–2;
Teaching, Personal Confidence, 3. 3–5;
Practical Charges, 3. 6–15;
Prayer, 3. 16;
Salutation, 3. 17–18.
Chapter 1 The Consolation of the Coming
– Comforting the Afflicted
Chapter 2 The Consummation of the Coming
– Consuming the Antagonists
Chapter 3 The Contemplation of the Coming
– Controlling the Anxious
Note the seven references Paul makes to ‘brethren’ in the epistle.
1. 1-12 Brethren Commended Their Development
2. 1-12 Brethren Comforted Their Difficulties
2. 13-14 Brethren ChosenTheir Destiny
2. 15-16 Brethren CompelledTheir Determination
3. 1-5 Brethren Commissioned Their Devotion
3. 6-12 Brethren Commanded Their Discipline
3. 13-18 Brethren CounselledTheir Doings
EXPOSITION OF THE TEXT
SALUTATION 1. 1–2
Verses 1, 2. Actually the opening verse is in every way a clearer presentation of Paul’s salutation than that of the First Epistle. Paul, though ever aware of his dignified calling, never has reason to assert his apostleship in his Macedonian letters. Here, as in the First Epistle, his name stands apart from any distinguishing title. Obviously his relations with the Thessalonian believers were of a particularly cordial nature, for did he not cherish them as a nursing mother would her offspring, 1 Thess. 2. 7? Silvanus, or Silas, is described as a ‘prophet’ in Acts 15. 32. He was appointed with Paul and Barnabas to convey to Antioch the decree of the council of Jerusalem, Acts 15. 22. Several times he is linked as being with Paul at Corinth, 1 Thess. 1. 1; 2 Thess. 1. 1; 2 Cor. 1. 19. A further and final reference identifies him as the bearer of the First Epistle of Peter to Asia Minor, 1 Pet. 5. 12. Timothy can be considered as being the most constant and beloved of all of Paul’s companions. It was on the second missionary journey that he was added to the company of Paul and Silas, and journeyed with them through Phrygia and Galatia to Macedonia. A recipient of two epistles from Paul who in his last letter earnestly solicited Timothy’s presence to be with him shortly before his death, 2 Tim. 4. 21. Though both these men of great influence and impact are linked with Paul in the salutation, neither of them was the recipient of the divine communication from heaven. They would of course, aver their endorsement to all that Paul would write.
‘Unto the church’ in its very construction conveys a warm personal touch to the readers, for Paul having a shepherd’s heart had more than a passing personal interest in their spiritual well-being.
‘Of the Thessalonians’ formulates a case of description, referring to those called out, forming the local testimony of God in Thessalonica. The phrase denotes the composition of the company in the city of Thessalonica.
‘In God’ is a prepositional construction in what is termed the locative case, denoting most assuredly and decisively that the local company in Thessalonica had its actual position and spiritual sustenance in God. He being the orbit of their life, sustained every exercise, strengthened every activity and supported every function, for it was environed in Him.
‘Our Father’ is a slight change from the First Epistle where Paul uses the term ‘the Father’. Doubtless, the form Paul uses here was latent in his mind in the First Epistle, but now out it comes and is ever so suitable indeed. For us ‘the Father’ is ‘our Father’, as we know experiential intimacy with Him through our Lord Jesus Christ.
‘And the Lord Jesus Christ’ comes without an added ‘in’ for it never requires it. Even the early converts of that heathen city knew, recognized and carried no doubt, but that the Lord Jesus shares unquestioned eternality, equality and essential glory with God the Father. One preposition is enough and it is a pity some translators failed to recognize this. Never allow the mind to be infected by the insinuations of pseudo-theological scholars who call into question the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Thessalonian saints must surely have rejoiced on knowing that the assembly of which they formed a part was totally wrapped around by God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
‘Grace’ is charis, the unmerited favour of God in salvation of the sinner. It is not only saving grace, it is also sustaining grace and it of this that Paul is assuring the saints. It is divine in its source and constant in its flow. ‘Unto you’ stresses the bounteous supply that is the portion of all that know God as Father. None is exempted from this exhaustless provision. As is the grace so is the ‘peace’, the binding power that no one or nothing can sever. The word is derived from a verb, which means ‘to join’, emphasizing that through the saving grace of God and the work of the Lord Jesus, we are joined to the Lord for ever. Likely through their acknowledgement of the Lordship of Christ the Thessalonians were deprived of the daily greetings that normally flowed from Greek to Greek and from Jew to Jew. The one would use ‘grace’, as the salutation, while the other would employ ‘peace’. Paul’s salutation would assure them that neither their God nor their Lord has changed in either their love or their care.
In the final phrase the names of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are governed by the one preposition apo ‘from’, indicating they are indivisible in their oneness of power, purpose and provision toward all who are theirs by faith.
APPRECIATION 1. 3–10
Verse. 3. The spiritual development and devotion of the Thessalonians in the midst of extenuating circumstances call forth the volume of thanksgiving that ascends from the apostle Paul and his fellow workers. Seldom in his epistles does Paul use the singular, see 1 Thess. 2. 18; generally he associates his companions with himself, hence the ‘we’, i.e., Paul, Silas and Timothy. ‘We are bound to give thanks’, an ethical duty as well as a spiritual delight. Paul’s usual practice in his writings is to commence the actual letter with thanksgiving to God for the worth of spiritual life and testimony he recognizes in each assembly to which he writes, Galatians being an exception. It must be observed how unusually fervent the thanksgiving is in this passage. He looks upon it as an obvious duty, which the word ‘bound’ denotes. This word is derived from the verb ‘to owe’, see Luke 7. 41, ‘material’; John 13. 14, ‘spiritual’; 19. 7, ‘legal’; 1 Cor. 11. 10, ‘practical’; Eph. 5. 28, ‘marital’; Heb. 2. 17, ‘Christological’; 5. 3, ‘sacrificial’ which conveys the message of personal obligation. The exercise was ever present in Paul’s mind, as he uses the simple yet decisive word ‘always.’ Our thanksgiving should be constant, rather than spasmodic. Its emphatic position in the text and its tense, the word eucharistein, ‘to thank’, stresses the perpetual nature of the exercise, which in marking Paul should characterize us also. Then the apostle adds ‘as it is meet’, a word signifying what is ‘worthy’, ‘weighty’, ‘befitting’, ‘congruous’, and infers the human side of the exercise, while the word ‘bound’ points to the divine aspect. Paul has every reason to be thankful in having the assurance that the faith of the Thessalonians about which he was so concerned in the First Epistle ‘groweth exceedingly’, which translates a word denoting exuberant growth. It was the state of their faith that caused the anxiety when Paul sent Timothy to ‘comfort you concerning your faith’, 1 Thess. 3. 2, 3. Now he rejoices that, rather than their faith having been weakened, it is waxing strong, in spite of persecution and unabated affliction. Faith and love in the understanding of the apostle are inseparable. Each realizes its counterpart in the other. Faith operates by love; love strengthens faith by opening to it a vista of operation for healthy exercise. Their mutual love is described as that which ‘aboundeth,’ which would be used to denote a flood that irrigates the land. The Lord alone can promote that love which is diffusive. However, does love redress the balance where the precepts of God are lightly esteemed?
Verse. 4. The news of their energetic evangelistic endeavour has been widespread. Now it is their exemplary exercise of faith, love and patience that has extended beyond the perimeter of their boundaries, ably and thoughtfully expanded by the honourable mention of the apostle and his associates. There is every ground for this distribution of credit and commendation, which appears again surely in Paul’s praise of the Macedonian churches on the question of sacrificial giving, 2 Cor. 8. 1. ‘Glory’ is enkauchasthai, ‘to glory in’, and is only used here in the New Testament, see Ps. 52. 1; 97. 7; 106. 47. These devoted servants were so constrained by the work of God in the lives of the Thessalonian saints that their praise of them was as continuous as it was convincing. ‘Churches of God’ is a term used in the New Testament expressively denoting the origin and ownership of the churches that are essentially apart from any human organisation or order to assure or to influence their existence, exactness or extension. Paul, regularly in his epistles, gives patience as the right and natural associate of hope, 1 Thess. 1. 3; in Romans 15. 4 hope is born of patience; in 2 Timothy 3. 10 patience takes the place of hope. ‘Patience’ is a compound word composed of hupo, ‘under’, and meno, ‘to abide or remain’, signifying a steadfastness, endurance, and a constancy under pressure, James 1. 12. The associate here is faith, since faith begets and sustains hope, and hope inspires patience. ‘In all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure’, tells us that these trials were not something which took place in the past and were over. They were obtaining at the time of Paul’s writing, for the saints were undergoing a period of severe test and trial that must surely have affected both body and soul. ‘Persecutions’ translates diogmois and its first use in the New Testament unfolds its meaning; they arise ‘because of the word’, Matt. 13. 21. Had they never professed Christ as Saviour, such experiences would never have befallen them. How often we have witnessed such experiences in our sphere of service for God in Malaysia. ‘Tribulations’ the more general term is fully explained by Paul later in Romans 5. 3. Amidst it all the beloved saints of the assembly at Thessalonica ‘held themselves erect and firm’, which is the simple meaning of the word ‘endure’. May all that are thus affected share the strength, which the Lord only can supply, that maintains the dignity of Christian resource and resilience when under pressure from the enemy.
Verse. 5. ‘Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God’ demands careful consideration. The words ‘which is’ are not in the original text, but are necessary to complete the sentence and to offer the proper link with the foregoing expression ‘patience and faith’. Some, however, suggest the connection is with ‘persecutions and afflictions’, but I do not judge this to be the proper antecedent. The believer, being fully persuaded that God has never done anything wrong, willingly endures the conditions which testimony for God imposes, and that without any sense of vengeance. He leaves his vindication with God. The word that Paul uses here is unique in the New Testament, endeigma, ‘manifest token’, and is taken from the word which means ‘to point out’, ‘a result reached’. In Philippians 1. 28, where Paul has the same theme for yet another Macedonian assembly, he uses a closely related word which conveys the concept of giving proof to others, see also Rom. 3. 25, 26; 2 Cor. 8. 24. The word krisis, ‘judgement’, is seldom in Paul’s writings but note the use the Saviour makes of it in John 5. 30 and 8. 16, an essential contributory to the proper understanding of this passage. The sure token was an evidence, therefore a confirming proof to the Thessalonians of God’s unfailing rectitude without ever outbalancing the statement made by the prophet that judgement is God’s ‘strange work’, Isa. 28. 21. ‘That ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God’ denotes the end in view of the experience through which the saints are passing. Care is to be exercised in interpreting the phrase ‘counted worthy’ because the word does not mean ‘to make worthy’ but ‘to count as worthy’, Luke 20. 35; 21. 36; Acts 5. 41. This establishes that the behaviour of the Thessalonians under extreme pressure is a conduct worthy of all that the kingdom of God stands for. Their manner of life under test is in every aspect in keeping with the principles of the kingdom. Doubtless, Paul has in mind their manifested place in that kingdom which will be accorded by their righteous Lord. ‘For which ye also suffer’ is a very important comment, as it is clearly advanced by the writer. It is not ‘to obtain which’ but ‘for which’, ‘on behalf of which’. Again, with the use of the present tense in the verb ‘suffer’, the apostle is implying that the sufferings through which they pass are constantly going on, as literally it is ‘you are suffering’.
Verse. 6. Under grace the saint of God does not invoke the judgement of God upon his adversaries. He neither asks for vindication nor appeals for vengeance. The unchanging principle of Paul’s statement in Galatians 6. 5 obtains, ‘Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap’. There is no doubt implied as Paul continues, indeed the word ‘seeing’ comes from eiper, a conditional particle denoting ‘if really, as is the case’, or ‘since indeed’; the condition is true in fact. The justifiable judgement of God is inevitable, Acts 17. 31. In substance, Paul advances that not only is our God right, v. 5, but also His judgement. The word ‘recompense’ means ‘to repay’ or ‘to requite’ occurring seven times in the New Testament and is used in a good sense in 1 Thessalonians 3. 9; but here, in what we may plainly call a bad sense. God’s forgiveness of sin through the Saviour’s work on the cross is no less righteous than is His judgement on sinners, cf. Rom. 2. 5; 2 Tim. 4. 8. As above, both Judge and judgement are righteous. Remember that repayment in the sense of retribution is the prerogative of God, Rom. 12. 19; Heb. 10. 30; cf. Deut. 32. 35. God will recompense ‘tribulation’ says Paul, to them that trouble you; a word seldom used by Paul in this connection. Tribulation is thlipsis, ‘oppression’, ‘affliction’, and is here applied to the ungodly as in Romans 2. 9. By use of the present tense of the verb ‘to trouble’, ‘to distress’, Paul denotes the ongoing experience of the saints at Thessalonica. The enemy knows persistency, when it comes to attacking the testimony of God in any area, where work for God is progressing.
Verse 7. The believers in Thessalonica were being constantly distressed, as the word ‘troubled’ is a participle form of the word thlibousin used in verse 6. Paul invites lovingly a ‘loosening’ or a ‘relaxing’ as indeed the word ‘rest’, anesis, conveys. In the present context the word means ‘to let loose’ and therefore speaks of relief and rest from anxiety; see 2 Cor. 2. 13; 7. 5. What Paul exhorts conforms to what he and his fellow workers are experiencing. They are exposed to the same suffering through the wilful attacks of the enemy. ‘When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed’ poses the question, ‘When shall these things be?’ The ‘revelation’ or ‘unveiling’, apokalupsis, is the dominant subject of this Second Epistle. It will take place at the close of the tribulation and will usher in His Day of manifested glory consummating the purpose of God for the One who was rejected and dishonoured at Calvary. Angels here will be the manifestation of the Saviour’s power, while the saints will be that of His glory. The saints will be the expression of His grace while the angels will be the exponents of His power.
Verse 8. There are four indications that settle clearly the timing of the event Paul is elucidating. First, verses 5 and 6 indicate the occasion is characterized by ‘judgment’ and ‘it is a righteous thing with God to recompense’. Second; the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven ‘with his mighty angels’, see Zech. 14. 5; Matt. 13. 39-42, 49-50; 25. 31; Mark 8. 38; Rev. 20. 1. This is the only use of the word ‘mighty’ dunamis, in respect of angels, see Rev. 5. 2; 10. 1; 18. 21 for the word ‘strong’, ischouros. Third; ‘in flaming fire’, which is associated with angels, Ps. 104. 4; Heb. 1. 5, and also with divine judgement, Matt. 3. 10–11; 13. 40, 42, 50. Fourth; the Lord will be ‘taking vengeance’, Luke 18. 7–8. An impartial assessment of these informative terms places the timing of this event to be at the close of Daniel’s seventieth week. God’s holiness in judgement against sin often takes the form of literal fire, see Gen. 3. 24; 19, 24; Lev. 10. 1, 2; Rev. 19. 20; 20. 14. What a solemn anticipation it must be to be engulfed in God’s fiery judgement. Let all that reject the gospel take warning from these solemn enunciations of coming judgement. With absolute regard for the character of God’s righteousness, it is essential that we note God is not ‘taking revenge upon’ those who have withstood His overtures of grace; rather He is ‘awarding retribution’ to them. There is not the slightest element of vindictiveness in God’s judgements; they are as He is, right and holy. Paul categorically affirms that it is the Lord Jesus that is taking vengeance, yet in Deuteronomy 32. 25 it is clearly the prerogative of Jehovah. By this we gladly recognize the absolute and essential deity of the Lord Jesus. Some expositors advance that with the repetition of the definite article two distinct classes of people are involved, namely Gentiles in the one and Jews and Gentiles in the other. At this crucial stage in Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, it surely is expected that those who received these letters would readily recognize that Paul is referring to the one and the same class. Those who do not know God are in such a state of moral and spiritual ignorance, simply because they have not believed the gospel. Therefore the two statements can be taken as complementary. Earlier, in our studies on the First Epistle the prevelance of the word ‘know’ has been pointed out. All men everywhere are commanded to repent and to be reconciled to God, Acts 17. 30; 2 Cor. 5. 20. The gospel of Christ fulfils a double purpose: (i) it tells of Christ, and exacts faith; (ii) it reveals man’s responsibility, and compels obedience.
Verse 9. The relative pronoun ‘who’ refers clearly to those of the previous verse. Paul is emphasizing solemnly, in the word ‘who’, the fitness of those who are to be punished, ‘they who are of this nature’, or ‘those who are of such a kind’. ‘Shall be punished’ comes from ‘shall pay the penalty’. The observant reader will know that this comes from the same root as the word ‘righteous’ which endorses what we have already observed, the infliction of this severe punishment is neither unreasonable nor vindictive. Let us accept it without reservation; it is being meritoriously earned. It is solemn beyond words. In the Pauline corpus this is the only time he speaks of ‘everlasting destruction’. The RV terms it ‘eternal destruction’. There are some who regularly dispute this and circulate by letter and lip that the judgement of God is not for ever. If the judgement be not eternal, then neither is the life. It is as simple and yet as vital as that. We cannot have one and then try to dispose of the other. They also affirm that the ‘destruction’ here mentioned, which is olethron, is simply annihilation. If it were annihilation then it would be mercy not judgement. If God took from the eternally judged all sense of being, it would be better than enduring consciously and eternally the ensuing destruction. Does not Romans 8. 1 cheer the heart of the reader as we peruse these solemn issues? It consists of banishment from the presence of the Lord for ever. Was it not with inexpressible joy we learned from 1 Thessalonians 4. 17 that we ‘shall ever be with the Lord’? What a contrast emerges in these words that the unbelieving sinner is shut out from the presence of the Lord. What anguish of remorse will eternally arise from the heart of the judged for having willfully rejected the Christ from whom they are banished for ever. Younger saints are advised to equate the relevance of scripture as being beyond the question of distrust or doubt. But before we leave this solemn issue let us attend to the words of the Saviour (a) the punishment is everlasting, Mark 9. 48; ‘their worm dieth not’, Matt. 25. 46 RV; ‘these shall go their way into eternal punishment. (b) it consists of banishment from God, Matt. 25. 41; ‘Depart from me, ye cursed’, Matt. 22. 13; ‘Cast him into outer darkness’. If that were not enough, Paul adds, ‘and from the glory of his power’. We will witness the might of His strength, which the lost will never behold. Trace the use of the word ‘power’ here, which is used in its two forms thirty-eight times in the New Testament, see Eph. 1. 19; 6. 10. With such solemn issues emerging in these verses, let we who are the Lord’s be constant in our urging of the unconverted to trust the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, before it is for ever too late.
Verse 10. The warranted judgement of God will fall upon all those who in the day of grace, obeyed not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Cultists deceivingly aver a second chance. No such thing is advanced or even considered by Paul in these solemn sections of truth. ‘When he shall come’ makes clear to all the exact time in which the previously mentioned ‘shall be punished’ shall take place and be fully accomplished, namely, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus in manifested glory. It is vital for the reader to reach and to retain this important facet of truth, as Paul relates the ensuing judgement of the Lord in manifested glory upon all those who did not believe the gospel. In Matthew 25. 34-46, the Saviour identifies those who will be engulfed in eternal punishment as those who did not attend to His own in days of tribulation. Two different categories, but both engulfed in the one and the same eternal judgement. ‘To be glorified in his saints’ indicates both the object and the result of His coming. The verb ‘glorified’ is in the aorist passive infinitive of endoxazo, ‘to glorify’, ‘to adorn with glory’, emphasizing clearly that it is God’s design and purpose that this glory may be seen in all His saints, in those redeemed by precious blood. In that day, the saints will reflect as a mirror the radiance of the Saviour’s glory. Even now we who are His are expected to display His glory, cp. John 17. 10; 2 Cor. 8. 23. ‘To be admired’ comes from the word thaumazo, the form of which used here is unique, and denotes ‘to wonder at’, ‘to marvel’. In Revelation the word thaumazo occurs four times, one of which is found in 13. 3, ‘and in all the earth there was wonder after the wild beast’ Newberry Bible. This astonishment leads to adoration of the beast and of the power behind him, the dragon, see 17. 8. Just when the Lord Jesus is being marvelled at in all them that believe, the glory of the beast will have disappeared and dissolved for ever. Note carefully, for some do not, Paul advances that it is ‘in them that believe’ not as some expound ‘by’ them. All that He through abounding grace has accomplished in His own will be a marvel to a wondering world. Paul often ascribes our position to the sovereign hand of God in the accomplishment of His will, but here he relates our place of glory to our simple faith in Him. The Thessalonians had recognized that the gospel they received was a trustworthy message, the reception of which had resulted in a personal and an eternal salvation. ‘In that day’ indicates the day as being the revelation of the Lord Jesus when He shall be glorified in all His saints. When will this take place, may we ask? Once again it has to be stated without question, it will take place after the great tribulation when the Lord shall judge His enemies, Rev. 19. 11–21, set up His kingdom, Zech. 12-14, and His dominion shall be . . . from the river to the ends of the earth, Zech. 9. 10, RV.