2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

Encouragement to Press On Despite Persecution — Paul makes it his first priority in this letter to provide encouragement to the believers in Thessalonica. He does this in two ways:

  1. By expressing to them how pleased he is with the growth he sees in their love and faith.
  2. By assuring them that those who are afflicting them will receive affliction from God in the end, and they will be with Christ in his glory.

See the note here on the construction of ancient letters.

1-2 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Paul’s opening here is very similar to 1Th 1:1 (For information on Silvanus and Timothy, see notes there).
    • 1Th 1:1. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
  • The fact that all three missionaries are still together is evidence that 2 Thessalonians was written shortly after 1 Thessalonians.
  • In God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. As in 1Th 1:1 this phrase teaches the deity of Christ. Combining God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ under one preposition—in—demonstrates Jesus’ equality with the Father.

3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.

  • Ought … as is right. Though Paul starts by giving thanks in every letter he writes except Galatians, this is the only letter Paul uses these terms of obligation.
  • Paul is giving thanks for the Thessalonians’ increasing faith and love.
  • This is a repeated praise (see 1Th 3:6), but in light of the increased persecution, it’s even more right
    • 1Th 3:6. Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you.
  • Faith … and love comprehend the total Christian walk.
  • There is a common Pauline triad; Paul frequently uses faith, love, and hope together, though this three-fold balance probably arose before Paul used it.
    • 1Th 5:8. Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
    • Ro 5:1-5. Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
    • 1Co 13:13. Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
    • Gal 5:5-6. Through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
    • Eph 4:1-6. I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
  • Here Paul mentions the Thessalonians’ faith and love, but there’s no mention of hope. Is this significant? Maybe, but probably not.
    • It seems that faith and love are adequate to describe wholesome Christian development, even by Paul.
      • 1Co 16:13-14. Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.
      • Gal 5:6. In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
      • Eph 1:15-16. Because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you.
      • Eph 3:17-18. …so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love may have strength…
      • Eph 6:23. Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
      • 1Th 3:6. Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you.
    • I don’t think it’s significant that Paul does not use the word “hope” here. Paul rather uses two qualities instead of three to designate Christian virtue and progress.

4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

  • The Thessalonians are so highly thought of that Paul and his coworkers boast about them to other churches of God concerning their steadfastness and faith in the context of unrelenting and severe persecutions and afflictions.
  • Steadfastness is the attitude that accepts difficult circumstances without allowing them to hinder spiritual progress.
  • Faith might be better translated “faithfulness” or “fidelity.” The tenacious loyalty of these believers to Christ despite adversity is what Paul finds so remarkable.
  • Persecutions are sufferings incurred because of faith in Christ (in this case), while afflictions are troubles of any kind.

5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—

  • The Thessalonians’ endurance and faith under persecution constitute evidence of the righteous judgment of God. Since God is granting them the grace to endure, he is clearly on their side and is working to make them worthy for entrance into the kingdom of God.
  • Php 1:28, where the Philippian Christians’ perseverance in persecution is a proof that they will be saved and their enemies destroyed when Jesus returns.
    • Php 1:28. This is a clear sign to [your opponents] of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.

6-7a since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us,

  • No one can doubt the fairness of God’s judgment when he dispenses justice according to the principle of an eye for an eye: those who afflict (Grk thlibō) the Thessalonian Christians will be repaid with affliction (Grk thlipsis, a noun from the same root), and the afflicted believers will get relief at the second coming of Christ.
  • As well as to us. The Thessalonians are not alone with respect to their suffering for Christ or their destiny when Jesus returns.

7b-8 when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

  • The just judgment of God comes in fullness at the second coming, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.
    • Cf 1Th 4:16-17. The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
  • Jesus is called Lord, which identifies him as Yahweh who executes final judgment (see Isa 64-66).
  • Mighty angels. Grk “angels of power”
  • In flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God. This is possibly an allusion to Jer 10:25, Ps 79:6, and Isa 66:15.
    • Jer 10:25. Pour out your wrath on the nations that know you not, and on the peoples that call not on your name, for they have devoured Jacob; they have devoured him and consumed him, and have laid waste his habitation.
    • Ps 79:6-7. Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name! For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.
    • Isa 66:15-16. Behold, the LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire will the LORD enter into judgment, and by his sword, with all flesh; and those slain by the LORD shall be many.
  • In flaming fire, inflicting vengeance. There are also places in the New Testament we’ve seen the same reference to fire and judgment.
    • Mt 25:41. Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
    • 1Co 3:12-13. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.
    • Heb 10:26-27. If we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
    • Heb 12:29. Our God is a consuming fire.
    • 2Pt 3:7. By the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
    • Also Cf Mal 4:1. Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.
  • Inflicting vengeance. The root for the Greek word for vengeance (dikē) is the same as that for “right” in v5 and “just” in v6 (dikaios).
    • This word has no overtones of selfish vindictiveness or revenge but refers to an act that proceeds from God’s justice to accomplish appropriate judgment for criminal offenses.
  • Those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Some will say that this refers to two separate groups of people, Gentiles and Jews, respectively. Others will say that Paul is making no such distinction here, but is rather providing two descriptions that essentially make up all unbelievers. I don’t think it matters much.
  • Jesus the judge will be awesome and devastating, and he will instill fear in the hearts of unbelievers.

9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

  • When Jesus comes again, unbelievers will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, a ruinous and unending judgment of separation from Jesus.
  • There are some who believe in the false doctrine of annihilationism, where unbelievers will simply be annihilated (which cannot be eternal), and that there is no eternal punishment. Against the idea of the final annihilation of unbelievers, see Mt 25:46; Rev 14:9–11.
    • Mt 25:46. And these [the goats Jesus has gathered on his left (see context)] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
    • Rev 14:9-11. And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
  • Away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. This seems to be an allusion to Isa 2:10, 19, 21.
    • Isa 2:10. Enter into the rock and hide in the dust from before the terror of the LORD, and from the splendor of his majesty.
    • Isa 2:19-21. And people shall enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from before the terror of the LORD, and from the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. In that day mankind will cast away their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship, to the moles and to the bats, to enter the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs, from before the terror of the LORD, and from the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth.
  • Away from the presence of the Lord. Words cannot express the misery of this condition. Being cast away from the presence of the Lord is what Jesus taught many times about the punishment for unbelievers. Here are a few.
    • Mt 7:21-23. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
    • Mt 8:11-12. “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom [Jews] will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
    • Mt 22:11-14. “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
    • Mt 25:30 [Parable of the Talents]. “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
    • Lk 13:23-28. Someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.”
    • Lk 16:22-26 [The Rich Man and Lazarus]. “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’”

10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

  • When he comes on that day. The punishment of unbelievers and the reward of believers both occur when Jesus comes back to settle all accounts. That was future for Paul and the Thessalonian church at the time of the writing of this letter; it’s future for us today.
  • Saints. Lit., “holy ones”. Believers will be fully and finally transformed so that they are holy and blameless at the second coming.
    • 1Th 3:12-13. May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
    • 1Th 5:23-24. May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
  • Jesus will be marveled at among all who have believed. Paul assumes that the Thessalonian Christians are included in this group, so he writes because our testimony to you was believed.
    • To proclaim the gospel is to bear “testimony” to the saving act of God in Christ.
  • Our testimony to you was believed. I’m undecided on how to interpret this phrase. I see two possibilities. I think either is a possibility, though the first option seems more likely.
    • Paul wants to make what he just said personal for the church in Thessalonica, so he is careful to include this phrase so they know that they are included in the all who have believed.
    • Paul is saying that since the Thessalonians believed, many others have believed through their evangelistic efforts.

Note on v5-10.

This is encouraging for believers and terrifying for unbelievers (or should be). When Jesus returns, there will be righteous judgment for all.

  • For those in Christ, judgment will be determined based on Jesus’ substitutionary payment. Believers will enter into the glorious presence of God forever.
  • For those who do not believe, they will need to pay the penalty for their sin. They will suffer the wrath of the Father eternally.

This should fill all believers with a sense of joy, but also of urgency. We must take Christ’s mandate to us seriously to take the Good News to the world. People need the Lord, and God uses us as the primary means of bringing others to trust in Christ.

11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power,

  • Our God. Paul unites himself with the Thessalonians with respect to God.
  • Make you worthy. Having declared that the Thessalonian Christians will be considered worthy (Gk. kataxioō) of the kingdom when Jesus the judge comes (v5), Paul’s prayer for them is that they may even now be made worthy (Gk. axioō) of this calling (see 1Th 2:12).
  • His calling. Robert L. Thomas says this about the term translated calling
    • “Verse 11 does not contain a personal pronoun with ‘calling’ to specify whose calling it is. … It is best rendered “his calling,” referring to God. God’s calling is usually regarded by Paul as a past decree. To construe it like that here could imply the possibility of falling away from it. Yet such cannot happen to those already assured of a future worthiness (v5) based solely on God’s grace (v12). It is reassuring to know that God’s call is effective apart from human merit. Instead of limiting the call to what happened before the foundation of the world, the present emphasis on Christ’s return (v10) and the eschatological kingdom of God (v5) argues for extending the scope of ‘calling’ to include its future outworking at God’s righteous judgment (v5).”
  • Please notice the things that our God will do in them (and us) by his power.
    • Make you worthy of his calling
    • Fulfill every resolve for good
    • Fulfill every work of faith
  • We always pray for you. Are we “always” praying for those whom we disciple and for those in our circles of influence? This is an example of Paul’s that we should be imitating.

A note on prayer for things that are already certain:

The coming glorification is an absolute certainty (v10), yet Paul still prays for it (v11).

Human minds wrestle with the problem of praying for something already fixed in the unalterable purpose of God.

  • Paul has done that very thing here and in his first letter to the Thessalonian church. The prayer implies no uncertainty of ultimate acceptance.
    • 1Th 3:12-13. May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
    • 1Th 5:23. May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • God desires for saints to cooperate—in practice and in prayer—with his ongoing program.
    • Php 2:12-13. My beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
  • John gives us another example as he closes out the entire cannon.
    • Rev 22:20. He who testifies to these things [Jesus] says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Though the worthiness of the Thessalonian believers has been confirmed (v5), certainty in the security of God’s purpose does not diminish the need to keep praying.

  • Ultimate salvation rests on the sure foundation of God’s faithfulness, but until its actual accomplishment, Paul keeps on praying for it.
    • 1Th 5:24. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • So that. This refers to the previous verse. Verse 12 gives us the result of what God will do in v11.
  • This is the ultimate end of all things: the glory of the name of Christ!
    • Name refers to the dignity, majesty, and power of the Lord’s revealed character.
  • And you in him. We will be glorified also, in him and in his glory.
  • In you, and you in him. This is a technical expression initiated by Jesus, and Paul takes up this usage and develops it more completely. The thought is that of reciprocal nature of the union of the Lord and his people. They are to share the future moment of glorification together as a unit.
    • Jn 15:4. Abide in me, and I in you.
    • Jn 17:20-21 [Jesus praying to the Father]. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.
    • Ro 6:11. You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
    • Ro 6:23. The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    • 1Co 1:4-5. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge.
    • 2Co 13:4. He was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.
  • According to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, this is the work of God by the grace of God.
  • Paul adamantly excludes merit from the salvation process. Also, here grace is the source of everything. Grace is from both the Father and the Son, as in the greeting.
    • Ro 4:13-16. The promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring.
    • Ro 11:5-6. At the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
    • Eph 2:5. By grace you have been saved.
    • Eph 2:8-9. By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works.

Grammatical note on our God and the Lord Jesus Christ in v12:

Though there is overwhelming amounts of Scriptural material to show the equality of the Father with the Son, this phrase is not one of them. Here Paul names the Father and the Son. This is not a case in which to apply the grammatical principle of one article governing two nouns connected by “and” (kai) to demonstrate the deity of Christ, as is Tit 2:13 or 2Pt 1:1.

  • Tit 2:11-14. For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
  • 2Pt 1:1. Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

Final note:

As is mentioned in the Introduction, it seems that the persecution in Thessalonica and the surrounding regions had continued and had most likely grown worse. Paul wanted to assure the Thessalonian believers that God was still working despite their afflictions. Also, all non-believers, including those enemies of the Thessalonian church, will suffer the wrath of the Father. God will afflict those who were afflicting them. In addition to that, Paul encourages them with a look at their future. In the end, they will be with the Lord and share in his glory.

 

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2 thoughts on “2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

  1. Pingback: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17 | Jono's Bible Study Notes

  2. Pingback: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12 | Solid Food Ministries

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