Studies in 2 Thessalonians
Tom Bentley, Ballymena, N. Ireland
Chapters 2. 13 to 3. 4
Outline of the section
The Appreciation. vv 13-15. Paul’s pastoral exercise.
v.13 Determination, ‘chosen’, God’s choice that the church would not be in the tribulation;
v.14 Destination, ‘obtaining of the glory’;
v.15 Discretion, ‘stand fast’, ‘hold the traditions’.
The Appeal, vv. 16-17. Paul’s practical encouragement.
v. 16 Designation, the last time he appeals to the Father and the Son.
v.17 Direction, ‘comfort’; ‘stablish’ in every good word and work. Paul’s first appeal was directed to the saints, now this is directed to the Father and the Son.
Verse 13. What Paul preached he practised; what he exhorted others to do, he himself did. So once again he is engaging in thanksgiving. This is something he exhorted the readers of the First Epistle to the Thessalonians to maintain, 1 Thess. 5. 18. The apostle treats it as an obligation when he says, ‘we are bound’, which is the word opheiphomen, the present tense of the verb opheilo, ‘to owe’, meaning, not out of mere necessity, but by a continual obligation. This would be urged on by his ongoing personal interest in the saints. One great inducement toward his constant thanksgiving was due to the fact that they are ‘beloved of the Lord’. In our introduction we stressed that the emphasis of this epistle is on ‘the Lord’. In the First Epistle Paul says they are ‘beloved of God’, 1. 4 RV. Paul adds ‘because God hath from the beginning chosen you unto salvation’. Salvation is generally taken here as referring to personal and eternal salvation of which the scriptures indeed have much to say, and in which we rejoice. But the context must of necessity make the salvation eschatological, that is to do with the future, as it does in 1 Thess. 5. 9. The writer advances without apology that the word ‘wrath’ used three times in the First Epistle refers to the Tribulation, therefore the salvation of 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 verse 9 is decisively eschatological. It assures the first readers and us, that the saints of this dispensation will never be touched by it. So, here it is a corporate truth for all to receive and in which to rejoice. The purpose of God is fixed on this issue. How Paul goes on to describe this salvation must be placed alongside all that he has stated in the foregoing paragraph. This enables the early as well as the present readers to rejoice in that we will never experience the pain of the great tribulation. Note that the verb ‘hath chosen,’ heilato, is in the middle voice, assuring us it is in God’s interests that we are the objects of His intention. By this the apostle emphasizes the contrast between those of whom he has previously spoken and the Thessalonians who, with us, have believed. Note the parallels:
The Followers of The Lawless One
(a) ‘believed the lie’, v. 11
(b) ‘had pleasure in unrighteousness’, v. 12
(c) God sent them ‘strong delusion’, v. 11
(d) ‘doomed to perish’, v. 10
The Followers of The Chosen of God
(a) ‘in belief of the truth’, v. 13
(b) ‘in sanctification of the Spirit’, v. 13
(c) ‘called by our Gospel’, v. 14
(d) ‘chosen you to salvation’, v. 13
How wonderful to note with reverential joy that each one of the Godhead is engaged in this decisive act. Initially, there is the sovereign and selective choice of God, which is realized by the sanctification of the Spirit, and surely by the expression ‘belief of the truth’. The basis of it all is our trust in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and personal faith in Him.
Verse 14. Paul now advances two issues, one the mercy, that is the calling, which denotes a definite point in time; and then the message, ‘our gospel’, the instrument by which the calling was made effectual. Already we have noted the full administrative title of the Saviour and here again it is used, ‘the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’. This is the goal of God’s dealing and nothing will hinder the realization of His purpose. Again we reflect on the dismay of those who will witness the eternal banishment of all that the Man of Sin professes and portrays, vv. 1–12. Together, we rejoice in the full assurance of what our salvation brings, in that we are exempted from judicial, tribulational and eternal judgement.
Verse 15. Now we have two commands that are issued by the apostle. Rather than being swayed by emotions from within or by notions from without, he urges the saints to ‘stand fast’ and to ‘tenaciously grasp’, without delay or doubt, the ‘traditions’. ‘Stand fast’ is stekete, the present imperative of steko, ‘to stand firm’, and the command means ‘to perpetually stand firm’. Paul uses this word in its present form four other times, 1 Cor. 16. 13; Gal. 5. 1; Phil.1. 17; 4. 1. The apostle presses home the need to hold strongly onto ‘the traditions’. The word for ‘hold’ is krateite, the present imperative of kreto, ‘to hold in the hand’, demanding a constant holding of the traditions. Paul is not including anything of their own composition in these traditions, Mark 7. 9, nor things of human manufacture, Col. 2. 8, but what has been transmitted by the apostle from God either orally or written. Outside of the Holy Scriptures there is no authority today. If men speak, and they do, they must speak according to the revealed mind and will of God as authorized by the ‘word of truth’. Paul’s exhortation is a much needed one today when multitudes give ear to spurious doctrine, evil surmising and corrupt teaching.
Let us remind ourselves of the breakdown of the second chapter as we touch on its final appeal. We have:
vv. 1-12, Reassuring Teaching Paul’s Prophetical Answer
vv. 13-15, Renewed Thanksgiving Paul’s Personal Appreciation
vv. 16-17, Realistic Tenderness Paul’s Prayerful Appeal
Paul’s Practical Encouragement and Prayerful Appeal, vv. 16-17
Verse 16. In the Greek text of the New Testament the first word in this verse is ‘himself’, autos, placing the emphasis clearly upon the One who is so dear to Paul and to us, even our Lord Jesus Christ. Already we have drawn attention to the use Paul makes of the full administrative title of our Lord Jesus in this epistle. It is important to notice that the Lord as such is mentioned twenty-one times in this short letter. Earlier we have indicated the reason for this emphasis, it is because He is the One who is being, and will be, opposed by Satan, and this opposition will reach its terminating height in the total and eternal overthrow of the Man of Sin and ultimately the devil himself. The prayer exercise of Paul in this and his earlier letter to the Thessalonians is peculiarly instructive. Most of us, we are sure, require all the spiritual enlightenment and encouragement possible to make sure our prayer life is insistent, consistent and persistent. Here the Lord Jesus is addressed in prayer. Our requests can be directed to Him, and this serves to assure us of His equality with God and the grace of God to us, that He will share with the Father the pleading and prayerful exercise of His Own. Three great blessings flow from the heart and hand of the Lord, and our God. One is love, another is consolation and the final one is hope. The divine attitude is one of love, unceasing, unoriginated, and unequalled, John 3. 16; Gal. 2. 20; 1 John 4. 10. In the thought of consolation there is divine assurance. Here the word is paraklesis, denoting ‘comfort’, or ‘solace’, and is experienced at all times, despite circumstances and conditions. There is welcome confirmation of our interpretation of salvation in the foregoing verses, with the appearance of hope. This assures us of divine anticipation. This is the joyful anticipation that is ours as we live in the confident expectation of the imminent return of the Lord Jesus. There would not be much joy in any heart, though touched by grace, if our anticipation was coloured by having to face the great Tribulation.
Verse 17. This verse can be seen in the following way:
‘Comfort your hearts’, Within - Invigorated by the Word - Its Infusion.
‘Establish you’, Without – Fortified by the Word - Its Instruction.
‘Comfort’ is used ten times in the two epistles and is derived from the easily understood word ‘parakalesai’; compare ‘Comforter’ in John 14. 16, 26; 15. 26; 16. 7; 1 John 2. 1. The total engagement of the Godhead is involved in our constant comfort and encouragement. ‘Stablish’ appears four times in the two epistles we have been considering. The word is taken from sterixai, which means ‘to stabilize’, or ‘to strengthen’; see Rom. 1. 11; 16. 25. Were we to take the Revised Version reading it centres the activity on the hearts of the saints, ‘comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word’. It certainly identifies the area of our constant need. ‘Heart’ in scripture denotes ‘the fountain and seat of thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes and endeavours’; therefore it stands for the whole personality. In days of dark unrest, how encouraging it is to be settled in heart and in mind assured of His unfailing promise and power, Acts 9. 31. The use of the word ‘good’ is profuse in the New Testament. Here it is agathos, which speaks of what is useful, beneficial and expedient. ‘Work’, in the Revised Version text, precedes ‘word’. It serves to establish a principle of ‘action before advice, practice before precept, doing before directing’. The change in the order, however, is to be noted in Colossians 3. 17. In making a request of the Lord, Paul uses the optative mood of the words ‘comfort’ and ‘establish’, indicating that he is asking for a provision of these rich and needed experiences for the future of the lives of the saints. Those desires remain true and needful for us too, so that from now right up until the coming of the Lord Jesus each of us may know this work of empowering grace in our hearts.
Chapter 3. Consolatory and Hortatory
Prayer 3. 1-2
Teaching Personal Confidence 3. 3-5
Practical Charges 3. 6-15
Prayer 3. 16
Salutation 3. 17-18
Verses 1-2. Prayer.
One instructive feature of Paul’s subsequent epistles is the prominence he gives to prayer, Galatians apart, though 4. 19 might be rightly deemed a prayer exercise. Likewise the other writers of the New Testament epistles make useful references to this vital and most needful exercise, e.g., Jas. 5. 13-18; 1 Peter 3. 7; 4. 7; 1 John 3. 22; 5. 14-17; Jude 20. In the First Epistle, 5. 25, Paul has sought the intercessory exercise of the saints for those who serve with him, something which he reiterates in the first verse of this chapter and later in other epistles, Rom. 15. 30-32; 1 Cor. 1. 11; Eph. 6. 19-20; Phil. 1. 19; Col. 4. 3; Philem. 22. Paul’s request is twofold. In verse 1 it is for the Promotion of the word of the Lord, in verse 2 it is for the Preservation of those proclaiming the word. This is indeed a healthy exercise for all saints at all times as both these require earnest diligence before the throne of grace. ‘Pray’ is the present imperative of proseuchomai, ‘to pray’, carrying as it does the insistence to ‘keep on praying’. Nothing encourages the servant of the Lord more than knowing that he is being supported at the throne by continuous prayer on the part of those who maintain a prevailing interest of the needs he faces in the pursuit of the work of the Lord.
It is of peculiar significance that there is an entire absence of Old Testament quotations in the two Epistles to the Thessalonians. That of course lies within the sovereignty of the Spirit of God, indicating that there was no actual need for such to be made. There are passages that relate to the Old Testament, complying with the language, and using its figures, without an actual quotation. A summary of these from the Second Epistle is submitted, trusting they prove helpful and enlightening.
Old Testament (RV) New Testament (RV)
Dan. 7. 25, 11. 36, 2. 4, Who opposeth
He shall speak great words. and exalteth himself
He shall exalt himself.
Ps. 29. 7, The Flames of fire 1.8, In flaming fire
Ps. 79. 6, ‘that know 1.8, Them that know
thee not’ not God
Isa. 1. 19, ‘from the terror 1.9, From the face
of the Lord’ of the Lord
Isa. 11. 4, ‘with the breath 2.8, With the breath
of his lips’ of His mouth
Ps. 147. 15, His word 3.1, That the word of
runneth very swiftlythe Lord may run
It is possible that Paul has the words of Psalm 147 verse 15 before him when he uses by the guidance of the Spirit of God the word ‘trechei’ which translates as ‘may have free course’. The word is used to describe a person in haste, Mark 5. 6; John 20. 2, 4, and is perceptibly the language of the stadium, Rom. 9. 16; 1 Cor. 9. 24, 26; Gal. 2. 2, 7; Phil. 2. 16. Paul is desirous of fervent prayer on the part of the saints that the gospel might spread rapidly and continually. Then he uses another interesting term, ‘be glorified’, meaning that the word proclaimed in the gospel may be received with honour, Acts 13. 48. This is best served by its acknowledgement and acceptance without any reservation, for it is the word of the Lord, essentially and intrinsically. The Revised Version is following the text by adding ‘as also’, kai’, ‘it is with you’. How true this is of the church at Thessalonica where even the most recalcitrant forms of persecution prevailed, yet the testimony was established, maintained and increased.
Verse 2. The word ‘delivered’, which is from hrusthomen, is used by the apostle when speaking of the deliverance the saints know through the Lord Jesus, 1 Thess. 1. 10. Several times later he employs the same word in connection with the subject and the solicitation that is now before him, Rom. 15. 31; 2 Cor. 1. 10; 2 Tim. 3. 11; 4. 17-18. Two strong words are employed to describe the men from whom Paul is anxious to be delivered, namely ‘unreasonable’, meaning perverse and monstrous, and ‘wicked’, destructive and ruinous, Prov. 4. 14. The next expression is rather difficult for some may ask whether Paul is referring to those whom he has described so aptly, or is he extending his term to embrace a wider circle of humanity. Literally the phrase is, ‘for all men have not the faith’. Apart from expositional aspects, the term does suggest that many do not have a full grasp of ‘the faith’. Many saints of God have experienced frightful and unending opposition and persecution from those who would claim to be believers, simply because their offspring or friends obey the word of ‘the faith’, live separated lives for God. These may have believed but they have not grasped the full and precious implications of ‘the faith’. We rejoice to know that as Paul wrote these words and appealed to the saints for their supplications, the Lord answered and assured him that his presence and service in Corinth would be unhindered and blessed, Acts 18. 9.
Verses 3-5. Teaching Personal Confidence
Verse 3. In the First Epistle Paul ascribes this factual characteristic of faithfulness to God, 5. 24, and now he writes, ‘the Lord is faithful’; note Rev. 1. 5; 3. 14; 19. 11. How rich is this honourable testimony to our blessed Lord Jesus, for in all that is manifest in Him it is this feature that emerges and draws forth our adoration and worship. However unfaithful and unreliable men prove to be, we have this strong assuring testimony. The saints of God accept it without reservation as a monumental testimony to our blessed Lord. Later, Paul himself demonstrates something of this characteristic, when he confesses, ‘I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful’, 1 Cor. 7. 8. In his prayerful exercise for the saints Paul has asked that they may be ‘stablished’, 2. 17, which comes from the word sterizo, ‘to make stable’, ‘to strengthen’. There it is his wish for them, here he has the assurance of its prevailing presence in their hearts and lives; cp. 1 Pet. 5. 10. The work of the Lord is extended to yet another preventative exercise, as the apostle affirms, ‘and keep you’, or as the Revised Version, ‘and guard you’. Readily we recall the assuring words of the Lord Jesus to the Father, when He uses the same word in John 17 verse 12, ‘I have kept’. It is vital to the understanding of the implications of the preserving power of the Saviour that we grasp the next expression, ‘from the evil one’. Doubtless, it is from all the connivances of the devil to destroy, defile and disrupt both by deceptive operations and operators that we will be safely and divinely preserved and protected.
Verse 4. Paul is fully assured that the Lord will work out His purpose for the Thessalonian saints, in view of the fact that already there is an evident conformity to His will. They are already affording Him pleasure in their adherence to the truth that they have been taught. Hence the apostle adds, ‘we have confidence in the Lord touching you’; see 2 Cor. 2. 3; Gal. 5. 6. Paul’s confidence is derived from two vital standpoints with regard to the Thessalonians, firstly that they are doing, and secondly, will do the things he commands. The first element of composure relates possibly to his charge as seen in the First Epistle chapter 4 verses 2 and 11. What is to follow in the succeeding verses 6 to 15, is anticipated with a continuing confidence that the saints will comply with divine principles and conform to the divine pattern of assembly discipline. He is assured of their loyalty and fidelity. The word ‘command’ is a translation of the Greek word paraggellomen, which means literally ‘we charge’. It is a distinct note of apostolic authority, not merely of advice or suggestion. Some saints treat the authoritative word of God as of a mere suggestion or a supposition to be either considered or else consigned to the realm of neglect. Before we pass from this verse, let our wills be subject to the supreme word of God and let us earn the compliment that Paul expresses regarding the saints in Thessalonica that they will comply with and conform to the expressed will of God for them.
Verse 5. Twice in the First Epistle the apostle prays for the Thessalonians, 3. 11–13; 5. 23, and when this verse is reached Paul has now prayed three times for these saints whom he loves and among whom he has had such fervent labour. Addressing the Lord Jesus, Paul asks that He may direct their hearts into the love of God. The word ‘direct’ means ‘to make straight’, ‘to guide’, and with the prefixed preposition ‘kata,’ it means ‘to guide completely’, of which the Lord is divinely capable. The sphere is interesting; it is ‘your hearts’; see 2. 17. The love of God is at first objective, that love wherewith He has loved us, then it is termed the subjective, referring doubtless to our love which is reciprocated because of His love to us. There follows the direction of love and it is ‘into the patient waiting for Christ’, which the Revised Version has rendered ‘into the patience of Christ’. Certainly, the concept of waiting for Christ is complimentary to these advent epistles, though it is likely this aspect is touched by the apostle in the First Epistle, 1. 3. Here with the objective genitive, however, Paul is referring to the patience exhibited by Christ, both in the days of His flesh and now in heaven, 1 Tim. 6. 13, 16. Neither love nor patience is a natural attribute; hence the aptness of Paul’s prayer for these saints and for us. May we allow Him to do the directing, consciously, constantly and completely. As a sermonic summing up, we have seen:
Verses 1–2, Prayer Requested Its Request, its Result
and its Reason.
Verses 3–4, Preservation A Reliable Lord,
Reassured a Real Guard and a
Verse 5, Patience Realized The Sovereignty of the
Guide, the Sphere of
the Guidance and the
Splendour of the Goal.