1: Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
- Here is Paul’s direct assertion of authorship which we do not contest, although it is in fairly widespread suspicion of NOT being authored by Paul. The technical term for this is pseudopigraphy, from the Greek, pseudo, false; and pigraphos, authorship or penmanship. Actually several books of the New Testament come under this kind of fire from more liberal theologians and people that want to detract from the sufficiency of Scripture. Among those, 2 Peter is one, just as an example.
- Of all the books of the New Testament, 2 Thessalonians actually has the most evidence for its actual Pauline authorship. It was actually quoted by Polycarp, who we know was a disciple of the Apostle John, who would have known Paul and his writings, along with other church fathers like Irenaus, Ignatius, and Justin. It was also included in Marcion’s Canon (a list of letters produced between A.D. 130 and A.D. 140) and in what is called the Muratorian fragment, a 7th century list of books in the New Testament.
- Also, in 3:17, Paul writes a verse in his own handwriting. Apparently, there was at least one false teacher that was pretending to have Paul’s authority for his strange doctrines, but more on that in a minute, as it is actually part of the text.
2: Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Paul’s typical gracious blessing to believers in every place. In fact, an almost identical greeting graces every public letter that Paul wrote to any gathering of believers, from Romans to this second letter to the Thessalonians. And we can glean some things from the greeting itself about the nature of God.
- The first thing we see is that God gives grace [charis, kindness] and peace [eirene, undisturbed, unflappable peace; the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew shalom. This is a kind of good health and welfare wish, that God would give the hearer or reader His own peace.]
- The second thing here is that we read, “God the Father AND the Lord Jesus Christ.” He is mentioned in the same phrase, in the same breath, at the same time, given the same importance as God the Father. Why is this? Well, in John 10:30, Jesus tells us that, “I and the Father are one.” More than that, we can see that relationship in reality in John 17 in His high-priestly prayer. And if you read this to the end, you will also see that He even prayed for all of US to be one He and the Father, and as we read through the New Testament, we see this unfolded through the Holy Spirit, starting in Acts 2 and continuing from that point.
3: We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;
- From this point, Paul begins to give thanks for the believers in Thessalonica, telling us that their faith [pistis, firm persuasion or opinion held] is greatly enlarged [hyperauxano, to increase beyond an ordinary degree. Paul loves these hyper words, by the way, and uses them usually to describe how the Lord grows us in His understanding and blessing.]
- Paul also explains that their love [agape, that divine, self-giving, self-sacrificing love] for one another grows ever greater [pleonazo, superabounding; more of Paul’s superlative].
4: therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure.
- This hypergrowing faith and superabounding love cause a little bit of glorying about the Thessalonians to the other churches of the day.
- This verse also tells us that something else was growing with the church there – persecution and affliction. Doubtless this was a part of the cause of the report Paul heard that occasioned this letter. And it seems that the Thessalonian believers were enduring it, like we are supposed to.
- Persecution and affliction for the church should be normal. I know that sounds frightening, and I certainly can appreciate the amount and level of freedom we now have to preach Christ in Canada in the past, but that seems at least here, to be evaporating quickly. Yeah, Ger, ya picked a great time to go into the ministry…but it should be normal. Why? Persecution absolutely gets rid of the nominal pretention we see in most denominations, including Baptists in Canada. At a certain point, only those with the Divine help of the Holy Spirit alongside us will be able to endure the suffering that society will bring, and they will feel that they are offering a service to God. The church today has a problem called false converts, and these false converts are created by a modern gospel that gives no attention, time, or even thinking to sin.
- Jay-sus luuvs yeh’all and has a wunnerful plan fer yer life…
- Okay, that’s true – but what happens when your livelihood or your very life is at stake for the faith? His plan is no less wonderful for the Christian about to be killed by lions in the Roman Coliseum than it is for the Christian that just got a huge raise for his or her hard work for an employer and all the public recognition that went with it. God is sovereign, friends. He is THE one in control of EVERYTHING. Actually, we will see that in Chapter 2 a little when we talk about the man of lawlessness. Moving on…
5: This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering.
- Why do we undergo persecution and affliction at the hands of others? Quite frankly, you could look at it as quality control. As we suffer for Christ, it actually begins to build Godly character in us in an accelerated fashion.
- Paul says that this is a “plain indication” of God’s righteous judgement. It actually makes us worthy of his kingdom! Remember the kingdom of God? That little thing that Jesus inaugurated when He was here? We are supposed to be living for that kingdom now, by the rules of that future kingdom. The theological term for the concept is “inaugurated eschatology.”
- Going back to that modern Gospel for just a minute, recall that I said that it was a gospel that had little or no reference to man’s sinful condition. It presents a love-bombing Jesus that loves you so much that He wants to forgive everything you have ever done that is wrong, so you don’t suffer any consequences or guilt for those bad things you did. Simply preaching that gospel will not incur persecution. I know, because it is the gospel I formerly preached. Every sinner loved me when I told them about how Jesus was about forgiving and loving.
- The first time I ever mentioned that there might be a responsibility to turn from our wrongdoings, however…well, let’s just say I’m glad there were others there to help, and thank God for law enforcement officials. And it gets worse when you try to name specific sins these days. In fact, if I were to name a specific sin, I could be charged under the Canadian Criminal Code with a charge of hate speech – when nothing is further from the truth.
- Why? Because in these “in-between” times, we need to be made worthy of God’s kingdom. And that means suffering for the sake of doing what is right.
6: For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you,
- See? There it is – righteous judgement – if suffering is making us worthy for the kingdom, what is it doing for those causing the suffering? Well, justice demands that they be repaid. Because they are causing affliction, they will be repaid with affliction and suffering. This is one of the reasons, I believe, that God says we are never to repay evil with evil. God says vengeance, the repayment for those wrongs done to you, is His province alone. And if you HAVE repaid evil with evil, repent while there is still time. This may even involve making amends. Just don’t be caught on the wrong side of this very powerful equation.
7: and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,
- There is the balance to that equation. If you have been afflicted, God is also promising relief – when the Lord Jesus returns. Our mission until them is to present the Truth of Jesus in Love until His return.
- When Jesus returns, Paul tells us here that he will be revealed from Heaven. Acts 1:9-11 says, “And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”” Jesus ascended to Heaven physically, from the Mount of Olives. He will come again in the same way – physically to the Mount of Olives. Just try to stop Him!
- His mighty Angels. You know, the last time Jesus was here, we saw the humble and suffering servant that was crucified by the political and religious authorities of the day. Did you know that after that, only loving eyes beheld Him and only loving hands touched Him? Only loving ears heard what He said directly. With his second coming, sometimes theologically called the “parousia,” He will be revealed to the entire world. And how will He be revealed? With His Messengers – here it uses the word aggelos, used for almost exclusively for angels, but the word can also mean messengers. Read if you will, Revelation 19, beginning with verse 11: “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.” Who is this army? I’m not entirely sure, but an analysis of the passage may indicate that it will be His Church, coming back with Him.
- Paul tells us in flaming fire, which in Scriptures almost always speaks of judgement. Well, that bit in Revelation 19 tells us that He is coming to make war on the nations, to “strike down” and rule with a rod of iron, and that He is the One that treads the winepress of the “fierce wrath of God,” the Almighty. He is coming to make things right, and his army is with Him. Flaming fire indeed.
8: dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
- So – that’s why He’s coming. That’s why we need to be patient people. After all, do we really want anyone to face this? I personally do not. What will they receive? Retribution [ekdikesis, vengeance]. Um…that’s big. World-ending big as it turns out. Why do they face this cosmic payback? Well, there are two groups of people.
- Those who do not know God. This is not the group that can legitimately say, “I’ve never heard of Him.” This is the group that by their life choices make it very plain that even if they had heard of Him, they would want nothing to do with Him.
- Those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the group that hears the truth and rejects it. You know, you can only do that for so long before the Lord will harden your heart irreversibly. We’ll see more of that in Chapter 2, so I’ll leave that for now.
9: These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,
- And just what is that retribution? Separation. From. God. It is here explained by Paul as eternal [aonios, age-long; eternal] destruction [olethros, destruction; ruin]. Even if you believe that this “age” will come to an end, it’s still a really long time. And this destruction speaks, instead of a nihilist perspective where all is reduced to nothing and there is no feeling, no emotion, no suffering, of a ruinous condition where it is felt physically, and through heightened emotion, where suffering is at its most intense – and there is no end in sight.
- And wherever this is, if you want to dispute that this is not a location called hell, it is literally away from the presence of the Lord. It cannot see any hint of His glory or His splendour, because it has nothing to do with it. And no power will deliver them.
- What a sad end. I have no wish for any to end up in that place. It seems to be worth a little suffering to spread the good news of how you do not have to end up in that place. You go there because you did not or would not respond to His invitation to join Him. Again, we will see more about this in Chapter 2.
10: when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.
- Here is the other side of that balanced equation. Those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ will suffer, but those who DO know God and DO obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ will glorify Him on that day. You see, He comes to be glorified IN HIS SAINTS! Who is that? Well, that’s US! And a sense of marvel at what we have then become in Him will begin to take hold of us. Why? Well, because we believed the testimony given to US about Jesus, and how He paid our price of redemption.
11: To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power,
- Paul tells us that this was His prayer for the Thessalonians – that God would regard them WORTHY of the calling whereby He called them. You know, as we have studied through the Pauline letters from Galatians to this point, I have mentally noted several themes. One of the main things I have paid attention to is this need to be worthy of this calling. Paul has spent a great deal of time and effort to explain to the believers in every place that we don’t just “invite Jesus into our heart” like fire insurance according to the modern gospel and then just get to live any old way we want.
- No, instead, we must “walk in a worthy manner.” That means that when we invite Jesus in, we need to actually surrender to Him. We need, first of all, to repent of our sins. We need to think differently about our wrongdoings. I’m not saying that we don’t have struggles. I’ve had a lot of years to learn how to do things the wrong way. But we need to acknowledge sin for what it is – it is contrary to God’s will and law – and we need to forsake it, with Him helping us to do so (because it is impossible to do without Him). Then we need to believe, remember the Greek word pisteo, we need to be persuaded or be of the opinion that Jesus CAN do these things – and then let Him do it in us. This moves us from mere justification by faith, as great as that is, into the sanctification of our souls – our personality, our emotions – everything that we are – needs to be made holy for the day when we finally meet Him. Because we will meet Him, whether we like it or not.
- Paul even talks about the worthy behaviour in general terms here – every desire for that which is good, and the working of faith (remember, that firm persuasion in Jesus, and our opinion held about what He does for us) with power [dunamis, that explosive power of God; we get our word dynamite from here]. To be fair to Paul, he does not spend a lot of time on this – why? Because the Thessalonians knew all this and were doing it. That’s what we can take away from that.
12: so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
- And why should God count them worthy? So that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in them. What is the result of good witnesses to Christ? Jesus gets all the glory for that. And what is the result of Jesus getting the glory for that? Well, apparently, WE are glorified in HIM! You don’t believe that? Read John 17 and then tell me you still don’t believe it. “I in You, and You in me, and them in us – so that You may be glorified.”
- All this is according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
And that’s the chapter! So next week, we’re going to see the reason for the occasion of this letter. We will also see some eschatology, and we will discuss it in more detail then! I’m excited about that!