In 51 AD Paul the Apostle established a congregation of the church in the city of Thessalonica. This young assembly had to survive in a port city that was rich, influential and pagan. Soon after, Paul was driven out of town by Jewish religious leaders and eventually made his way to Corinth in southern Greece.
After a while he received a report from Timothy, a young evangelist that worked with him, concerning the progress of the young church at Thessalonica. Paul responds to this news by writing two letters. In the first letter he does four things:
- He expresses joy at their faithfulness in persevering in trials and adversity.
- He defends his conduct against charges that he was a fake and opportunist.
- He encourages them not to lose faith and continue serving God.
- He teaches them about the second coming of Christ and how they should conduct themselves in the meantime.
In our study of I Thessalonians we have seen that Paul, among other things, described the true church and what that church looked and acted like. Basically, Paul said that the true church:
- Began with a true conversion - the true gospel was being preached.
- True ministers ministered to it - ministers who conducted themselves in a holy way.
- Had true spiritual growth - the true church acted like the church.
- Was pure in all things.
- Grew in knowledge continually.
- Was ready for the return of Christ.
In the second letter, which we begin to examine in this chapter, Paul continues in his praise of the Thessalonians and provides more information concerning the second coming as well as an admonition to the church to deal with disorderly members.
Note that like his other epistles this one is neatly organized and broken into three clear areas of material.
- Encouragement – 1:1-12
- Education – 2:1-12
- Exhortation – 3:1-15
Encouragement – II Thessalonians 1:1-12
Paul and 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 the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
- II Thessalonians 1:1-2
This is where we find "internal" evidence for Paul as the author of these letters. External evidences are things like references about Paul's authorship in other documents written at the same period of time. Note that Jesus' name is put in the same divine position as God: the one who gives grace and peace. The point is that the only combination that can produce grace and peace is the relationship between God and His church in Christ.
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; 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.
- II Thessalonians 1:3-4
Paul thanks God not for what they have given to him but for who and what they are becoming in Christ. They are growing in strength, faith and love despite their persecutions.
Paul expresses the joy of every father or farmer or inventor or artist or teacher who sees the product of his work and training being admired and approved by others. This is the true reward of mature Christians: seeing younger Christians whom they have mentored and led grow in Christ. It's also the most painful and frustrating. Of course you cannot know the joy or the pain if you've never invested yourself in the growth and development of another person. The surest way to grow in joy and Christian love is to invest in the development of another.
The Righteous Judgment of God – vs. 5-10
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.
- II Thessalonians 1:5
Paul now addresses the sufferings that the Thessalonians are experiencing and God's righteous judgment concerning it. Some of their trials stemmed from:
- The pagan society they lived in was hostile.
- The Jewish leaders who harassed them.
- The false teachers that had crept in among them.
- The constant temptation by Satan to quit and to go back into the world.
Note that their trials and challenges to their faith are not much different than what we experience today in our time and in our culture. Paul talks about "righteous judgment."
- Judgment = separation and decision
- Righteous = a decision without any prejudice or malice
Paul comforts them in their suffering by telling them that:
- Their suffering and their perseverance through it serves the greater good of helping to establish the church. There is a cost attached to establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. It began with Christ's suffering and continues in each generation with the sufferings of the church to remain faithful and pure. We need to remember this when we suffer in some way in order to serve the church.
- He tells them that God not only permits them to suffer on behalf of the church, He also helps the church endure. Remember that God's answer to Paul when he cried out to be relieved of his thorn in the flesh; God answered by giving him the ability to endure it, He didn't take it away.
- He tells them that God will punish later those who are making trouble now. These and the wicked will suffer later and the believers will find relief and rest later.
Paul also gives details concerning the punishment of the wicked in this epistle. In I Thessalonians he talks about what happens to the living and "sleeping" saints when Jesus returns. In II Thessalonians he talks about what will happen to the unfaithful and wicked when Jesus returns.
For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you,
- II Thessalonians 1:6
He will repay those who afflicted Christians and made them suffer. See Romans 12:19 "Revenge is mine…"
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,
- II Thessalonians 1:7
Christ will come from heaven with angels and fire. Angels to announce His coming and glory, fire to fulfill His judgment against the wicked.
Dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.
- II Thessalonians 1:8-9
Those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel are the same. These will suffer eternal destruction or punishment away from God. This is by God's decree and is a just punishment. People who say God is unfair are mistaken. To be deprived of the sight of the Lord will be the substance of the punishment and it will be eternal.
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.
- II Thessalonians 1:10
All of this will happen when Jesus comes. The believers will reflect His glory (glorified, resurrected bodies). Believers will rejoice and marvel at His presence because they were faithful in their belief. The rest (unbelievers, wicked) will be banished from His presence. All of this happens at once, in the "twinkling of an eye."
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, 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.
- II Thessalonians 1:11-12
Paul continues with his constant prayer for them. His prayer request, however, is very specific.
- That God completes the work that He began in them.
- That He finish the thing that He originally called them for through the gospel.
- God calls us, through the gospel, to separate ourselves from this world and begin to follow and become like His Son Jesus Christ.
We begin on this road of change and transformation when we respond to the gospel with faith and we express that faith in repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). This initial event changes us from lost to saved; condemned to justified; outcast to son/daughter; prisoner of sin to free from sin and death.
Another thing begins to happen to us at this moment as well: we receive the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. Through the influence of the Holy Spirit, God's word and the church we also begin a process of growth, development and maturity called sanctification. Paul refers to this phenomenon when he prays that the "work," the work of sanctification, will be completed when Jesus returns.
When Jesus returns we will shed our mortal bodies and be filled with a body that is able to exist in the spiritual world. Some people have questions about cremation because of the resurrection. At the resurrection we won't be taking back our old flesh, no matter what condition or place that it's in (the ground, the sea or an urn).
Paul prays that in the meantime, until Jesus returns, this mutual honor continue. Christians honor God with their faith and good works until Jesus returns. God blessed man by helping to mature and grow in Christ until the day comes when they will be perfectly like Him with their resurrection and glorification. This reciprocal blessing should continue until Christ returns and the process of sanctification will be complete. And the process will be complete when sinners will be judged once for all and saints will be brought to heaven once and for all time.
Paul begins his second letter to this young church by encouraging them to persevere in faithfulness to the word, loving kindness to one another and a firm hope of their reward. He does this by reminding them of one major idea: one day God will bring His judgment on all men. Those who remain faithful will be rewarded and those who don't or reject the truth will be punished. And the reward will be a wonderful reward, a reward worth waiting for. And the punishment will be a frightening thing, a punishment worth avoiding.
If you look around, you do see injustice and wickedness in this world. You don't have to look far to see lazy people and hypocrites in the church. These may be good excuses to get angry or discouraged and walk away from God and His church, but these types of excuses only work if you are looking at and taking the short view. In the long view (which is God's view) all wrongs will be righted, all liars revealed, all the lazy and hypocrites exposed and all the faithful ones rewarded. Our work as Christians is not to judge, punish or decide; these are God's prerogatives. Our job is to make sure that we are faithful in our lives and witness so that we can share in the glorious witness of Christ when He comes. Let's never forget that there will be both reward and punishment.