Bible Study - 2 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians 1  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 12
Edward Cross
2 Thessalonians 1
1. Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
2. Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;
4. So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:
5. Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:
6. Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;
7. And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels,
8. In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
9. Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power;
10. When He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.
11. Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power:
12. That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified to you, and ye in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
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The epistle may be divided into three sections:
1. Encouragement in the affliction through which the saints at Thessalonica were passing, in view of the righteous retribution of God in the day of the manifestation of His power (ch. 1.).
2. Correction of erroneous views which they had received regarding the day of the Lord, as though it had already come (ch. 2:1-14).
3. Exhortation to stand fast in the instruction they had received, and to avoid the company of the idle and the disorderly (ch. 2:15 ad finem).
One expression in 2 Thessalonians 2:22That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. (2 Thessalonians 2:2) is the key to the whole epistle, “as though the day of the Lord is present” — had already come; not as in the A.V. “is at hand.” So misunderstood, the whole point of the epistle is lost. This will be more fully explained when we come to the consideration of that chapter, but it is referred to at once, as showing the occasion of the apostle’s writing to them this letter, to correct their misapprehensions regarding that day.
The date of the epistle cannot definitely be fixed; but it was probably not long after the writing of the first epistle. The form of the salutation is very similar in both.
The apostle recognizes at once his obligation — his and that of his fellow laborers with him — to give thanks to God, “as it is right” he says, always on their account, because their faith was growing, above measure, and their love, the love of every one of them was abounding, each towards the other, in the truest altruistic spirit, so that the apostle himself, as well as the others who knew of it, could boast of them in the assemblies of God for their patience and faith in all the persecutions and tribulations they were enduring at the hands of those who were their adversaries.
And all this was to him a proof of the righteous judgment of God, both in regard to the saints and to the world — to those who were suffering affliction, and to those who were causing these afflictions — to the former in view of their being counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for the sake of which they were suffering; to the latter “if so be” (i.e. assuredly) it is a righteous thing with God — the great judge of all — “to recompense trouble to those who trouble you, and to you who are troubled, rest along with us,” who are also sufferers now as well as you (cf. Psa. 18:22-2722For all his judgments were before me, and I did not put away his statutes from me. 23I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity. 24Therefore hath the Lord recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight. 25With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt show thyself upright; 26With the pure thou wilt show thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt show thyself froward. 27For thou wilt save the afflicted people; but wilt bring down high looks. (Psalm 18:22‑27)).
These things will be all put right at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven, when He comes with angelic ministers of His power. He now sits at the right hand of God, waiting in patience till that time comes (Psa. 110:11<<A Psalm of David.>> The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. (Psalm 110:1); Matt. 22:4444The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? (Matthew 22:44)) and it is into that same patience the apostle would now direct their hearts (ch. 3:5, R.V.).
It is noticeable that in 2 Thessalonians 1:33We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; (2 Thessalonians 1:3) the “hope,” which is the sustaining spring of this patience, is omitted from the enumeration of the trinity of virtues which are so markedly characteristic of the first epistle (compare 1 Thess. 1:33Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; (1 Thessalonians 1:3)). Patience there might be up to a certain point amongst them-patience there was certainly to a large extent; but without at all saying that this “hope” was absent from them, the way that he does not speak of it (ch. 1:3) and the way he does speak of it (ch. 3:5) seems to imply in this delicate manner, and avoiding all semblance of discouragement, that he writes at least to enforce the need of its cultivation.
On the whole there was considerable ground for thankfulness in regard to their general state; but also there is plainly revealed the internal weakness that belongs to every institution committed to the hands of men; a weakness which shows itself only too quickly, and which here ends in failure, both doctrinal, (ch. 2.) and moral (ch. 3.).
But evil at the longest is short lived and always under control, and good is the conquering power (Psa. 76:1010Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain. (Psalm 76:10)). This was always so, and was brought to light by the resurrection and exaltation of Christ; and however much we may have to do with evil, it is nevertheless a passing thing, and its limitations are strictly defined. The home, the habitation of our souls is, by the Spirit, in the contemplation and the power of good (cf. Phil. 4:88Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8)).
We cannot think the apostle was deceived as to the fruit of his labors. Acts 20:17-3817And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. 18And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, 19Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: 20And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, 21Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. 22And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: 23Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. 24But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. 25And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. 26Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. 27For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. 28Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. 29For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. 31Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. 32And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. 33I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. 34Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. 35I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. 36And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. 37And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him, 38Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship. (Acts 20:17‑38); 2 Tim. 3., and such like scriptures plainly show us that he was fully alive to the future of the Church as a responsible witness for God; and 2 Thessalonians 2 makes plain in the most distinct manner that there was to be looked for, not only a failure in the testimony, but a complete apostasy from all truth — from the very recognition of God and of Christ in any and in every form.
Moreover to regard this forecast, the signs of the verification of which seem to multiply vividly around us every day, as the result of the shrewdest and most far-seeing wisdom on the part of the man himself, would leave his writings on the level of what is merely human, thereby ignoring their divine inspiration: while also no mere human foresight would be sufficient to picture with such photographic precision as the writings of the apostles do the history of succeeding times. They, as other holy men of old, “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” But while that is so, they spake also as men, — men of like feelings to ourselves, fully alive to the actual circumstances in which they moved, and acted upon by the scenes through which they passed, as we ourselves today in similar scenes, to be reproduced until the climax of their period comes.
It is a matter of the deepest interest to see how these men spake by the Spirit of God, for so it is we are assured that it is God who speaks through them. Their mind is the mind of the Spirit, i.e., the mind of God; hence we reverence their writings with the reverence which is their due: while their feelings are the feelings of men, acted on by that Spirit: and hence they speak to us in language native to our own hearts.
It was in this way the apostle was able to enter sympathetically into the sufferings through which these Thessalonian saints were passing: whilst also prophetically to picture to them circumstances of increasing difficulty right on to the end; and yet to dwell himself, and to encourage their hearts to dwell, in the serenity of present peace and the assurance of final triumph; for the whole question of power was to be solved by the introduction of the power of Christ at His coming.
He is to come, to be revealed from Heaven with the messengers of His power, in flame of fire — symbols and accompaniments in the Old Testament of the glorious majesty of Jehovah, here attributed to the Lord Jesus Christ (compare Ex. 3:2; 19:182And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. (Exodus 3:2)
18And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. (Exodus 19:18)
; Dan. 7:9-109I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. 10A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. (Daniel 7:9‑10); Mal. 4:11For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. (Malachi 4:1); Matt. 3:1212Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:12)) — taking vengeance on those who know not God, that is, the Gentile nations in the darkness of their pagan state, blind worshippers of false gods, and on the unbelieving Jews, who were ever characterized by disobedience, and are here specially so, in respect of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These all shall pay the penalty of everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His might, when He shall have come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that have believed, in that day.
This plainly shows that that day has not yet come. The persecution they were suffering was a proof of it. When the day of the Lord should come everything for them would be entirely changed. Peace and rest would be their portion, tribulation and vengeance the portion of their adversaries. Such was the contrast that he pictures between their actual circumstances and the day of the Lord. It was a sort of a priori argument to prove that that day could not possibly have come; and in this way to disprove and nullify all the assertions whereby the enemy sought to disturb their souls: that is, he argues from the circumstances of today, that to-morrow had not come; when the circumstances of to-morrow come, it will be an a posteriori proof, if such were needed, that the day is there (ch. 2:3-12).
When the Lord comes, He will be glorified in His saints; and as “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” is the fullest measure possible of punishment to be meted out to those who suffer it, so by contrast we have here the height of privilege and blessing that will be the portion of the saints at the manifestation of His glory in that day. He will come to be glorified in them — not through them, nor among them, but as the sun is reflected in a mirror (Alford) so will His glory be reflected in the saints, — and He will be wondered at in all them that believe (compare Isa. 8:1818Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion. (Isaiah 8:18); Heb. 2:1313And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. (Hebrews 2:13); and for “wonder” of a different kind, Rev. 13:33And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast. (Revelation 13:3)).
But as these things were not so then, it was proof enough that “that day” had not come. “I would it had come,” says the apostle elsewhere to some who were regarding it in a different light from the Thessalonians. “I would to God ye did reign that we also might reign with you” (1 Cor. 4:88Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you. (1 Corinthians 4:8)). The Corinthians were betrayed into an opposite error from that of the Thessalonians. They were ante-dating the glory of that day: the Thessalonians were overwhelmed with its terrors. What poor creatures we are! How easily deceived and led from one error to another! How feeble, too, our sense of the helplessness that characterizes us, and how little in the Spirit of Him, the attitude of whose soul is exposed to us in the words, “Preserve me O God, for in Thee do I put my trust” (Psa. 16:11<<Michtam of David.>> Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust. (Psalm 16:1)).
With the end as thus set forth in view, his prayer was constantly on their behalf for two things, namely: 1st, in respect of their present life, that God would count them worthy of the calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power, so that the name of the Lord Jesus might be glorified in them here, and 2nd, that they might be glorified in Him in the day of His manifested glory according to the grace of our God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.