1 - 3 Blessing and Giving Thanks
1 Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 2 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 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;
V1. Regarding the salutation, verse 1 is almost the same as the salutation of the first letter. Verse 2 is written only in the salutation of this second letter. Although Paul, Silvanus and Timothy are mentioned as senders, Paul is still the main author. That clearly appears from his greeting at the end of the letter (2Thes 3:17). He does not present himself as an apostle. That is for the same reason as in his first letter: the emphasis lies more on the encouragement and trust with love than on the admonition.
The letter is not addressed to the church in Thessalonica, but “to the church of the Thessalonians”. In that way the emphasis falls on the believers who form together the church in that particular place. For these young believers it is a great encouragement. That encouragement is being underlined by the addition that they are seen “in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. In the original we have a small difference with the first letter: the word ‘in’ is found here both before ‘God our Father’ and ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’. In that way attention is paid to both Persons of the Godhead in their full meaning.
Regarding ‘in God our Father’ you may think as a young believer, of the special sphere and relation into which you have been introduced as a Christian. Due to your regeneration you have become a child of God. At that same moment of your regeneration the Father has adopted you as a son. That is the great result of your conversion when it comes down to your relation to God the Father, while the word “in” indicates the most intimate relationship.
You are also ‘in the Lord Jesus Christ’. Hereby you may think as a young believer of Him Whom has become the Lord of your life, but Who also has control over all things. He is also Jesus, the Man Who has lived on earth and therefore knows from experience what you are going through. He is also Christ, which is God’s Anointed One. In Him you have been blessed with all spiritual blessing. Isn’t that great for you to realize that?
V2. Then the apostle does not wish the believers honor, riches, happiness and such things, but “grace” and “peace”. And totally in line with the previously said, he relates his wish again with both Divine Persons. The Thessalonians may know to be safe and secure in both these Persons. They may also know that both Persons are the source of the grace and peace for the life on earth.
First grace and then peace. When you consider that God’s grace has provided with everything and will provide with everything, you will be able to go your way with the peace of God in your heart. That is wished to you together with those with whom you form the local church. Also in order for a church to be able to be like God has intended it to be, grace and peace are needed more than ever.
V3. After his blessing Paul lets them know that he is giving thanks for them. He knows why. The reasons are their “faith” and their “love”. These aspects were found with them that strongly and abundantly, that he couldn’t help but give thanks to God for that. This says something about the faith life of the Thessalonians, but also a lot about the heart of the apostle. You yourself have to be living closely to the Lord in order to notice faith and love with others. When you notice that, it cannot be otherwise that your heart will turn to God and give thanks to Him for that.
You are in fact obliged to, for what you observe is the work of God in the life of believers. God is revealing Himself in them and it is a great encouragement for you that God wants to show that, to make you partake of that. You are enjoying something that God enjoys. That’s what we call fellowship with God. We may ask the Lord for us to see better what He works in believers.
Their faith “is greatly enlarged”, which means they were growing in trusting God. The enemy wants to work by tribulation that the believer gives up his faith in God. He did not succeed in that with the Thessalonians. The tribulation only drove them out to God even more. Neither did the enemy succeed in drifting the believers apart. Through the tribulation he tries to make everyone to be busy with one’s own need and have no time left for helping others. When the trust in God enlarges, also “the love of each one … toward one another grows [ever] greater”. This is how it works in the kingdom of God.
You see that the apostle noticed their spiritual growth. In his first letter he expressed the wish that they may increase in love for one another (1Thes 3:12). He also exhorted them to abound in pleasing God in loving one another (1Thes 4:1,10). Here he comes back to that and mentions that he gives thanks to God for answering his prayer and the result of his admonition.
In the words “each one of you toward one another” it is strongly expressed that each individual is addressed personally, while they also form a whole together. This whole can only function well if each member makes an effort for the other. This reciprocity is of great importance. We need one another in a local church. The one cannot do without the other. When the love of each of the whole flows to the other, the whole will become a strong formation by which the Lord Jesus becomes visible. Besides, love is not ‘being kind’. True love will proceed to admonition when things that attack God’s work happen or threaten to happen.
When you compare verse 3 to this third verse of 1 Thessalonians 1 (1Thes 1:3) it is striking that the hope which is called there together with faith and love, is not mentioned here. Would that mean that the longing for the coming of the Lord Jesus was beginning to fade? That is very possible, for they had become insecure with regard to their expectation of the future. They were not sure anymore about everything. Therefore this letter is so important. It becomes clear again what you should beware of when it is about the coming of the Lord.
But remember in everything that knowing the truths and having insight in the order of the events will only have a good result when to you it is all about Christ.
Now read 2 Thessalonians 1:1-3 again.
Reflection: What makes this letter important for you?
4 - 7 The Afflicted and Those Who Afflict
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. 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. 6 For after all it is [only] just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 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,
V4. It must have done the Thessalonians good that Paul spoke proudly of them in other churches of God. They themselves were not displaying their great efforts for the Lord. That would of course be very inappropriate (Pro 27:2). They must have known their own weakness. You maybe know such people who always talk about their great life with the Lord. They tell impressive stories about their spiritual mind and the special things that the Lord shows them. That is pure arrogance.
Paul wants to exhort the believers and not to flatter them (1Thes 2:5). It is a good thing to encourage believers who are suffering, which was the case with the Thessalonians. The Thessalonians were persecuted and afflicted. With “persecutions” you should consider that those who were persecuted were being chased, that they were not given any place of rest. “Afflictions” is the physical and spiritual suffering which they experienced from their persecutors. At the moment that Paul is writing this they were facing this suffering. You can derive it from the word “endure”. That is written in the present tense.
When I try to say something about this, I feel insignificant and therefore quite incapable. What do I, who live in a continent where this is not to be found (yet?) know of persecution and affliction? Paul on the contrary knew what he was talking about (1Cor 4:12). He could stand next to them as a “brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation” (Rev 1:9). We will surely experience tribulation when we really want to live for the Lord (2Tim 2:12).
He can talk about their “perseverance and faith”. These two belong together. On the one hand ‘perseverance’ is the result of the testing of the faith (Jam 1:3). On the other hand ‘faith’ is needed to persevere. You also come across this combination in Revelation 13 (Rev 13:10). There also it is dealt with a time wherein the faith is severely being tested, due to persecutions.
Through this letter the proudly speaking about their perseverance and faith is also addressed to the churches of God of today. Therefore the perseverance and the faith of the Thessalonians are still an encouragement for you and me and for the local church where we are. You see that it is possible to keep on going, even if you are young in the faith.
Although we are not dealing with the kind of violent persecution to which the Thessalonians were exposed, it is good and important to know why God allows it that His children are being persecuted. There could probably be wrong conclusions that cause severe damage to the faith life. You may have heard for instance (even possibly thought) that when something terrible happens to a person, it must be God’s punishment for a certain sin.
In such cases there is very likely a wrong picture of the way God deals with His children. That is the idea that the friends of Job had when they saw his suffering. They thought that the suffering of Job was the consequence of sins that he must have done. At the end of the book of Job you can read how God judges their ideas (Job 42:7-8). In this way I am not trying to say that suffering could never be a consequence of a sin that has been done. I only want to say that it is not up to us to explain the suffering that happens to a person.
V5. The suffering that the Thessalonians were enduring was the contrary of God’s dissatisfaction. It was absolutely a proof of God’s pleasure in them. He considered them “worthy of” His kingdom. The kingdom is as it were the reward for them who faithfully serve God in a time that nothing was to be seen yet of His kingdom in public glory.
The suffering was God’s tribute to them. The tribulations are the proof that God was standing on their side. Otherwise satan would surely not have considered them to be worthy of persecuting them. Persecution absolutely goes together with entering the kingdom (Acts 14:22). It is always: first suffering and then glory (Lk 24:26; 1Pet 1:11).
V6. Now that Paul has explained the real meaning of tribulation to them, he points out the great difference between the afflicted and those who are afflicting now and in the future, at the coming of the Lord Jesus. God judges righteously. That refers to the fact that with Him there is no respect of persons as well as to the fact that God discerns in a perfectly righteous way between the afflicted and those who are afflicting. He perfectly knows everyone’s circumstances and responsibility.
It looks like the ones who are afflicting can go ahead uninterrupted. But do not think that God doesn’t notice this. When He deals with the case, He will revenge those who have afflicted His children. That means that the day of the Lord cannot possibly have come yet. Do you think that there can still be mention of people who do evil to His children when God executes His rights? Where ungodly men are in control, there cannot possibly be mention of the day of the Lord.
V7. When the Lord Jesus will be revealed, when He appears, with in His company “His mighty angels”, the roles will be reversed. Those who have afflicted will get the punishment according to their deeds and the afflicted will get rest. That rest begins when the Lord Jesus has defeated all opponents. ‘His mighty angels’ enlarge the majesty of His performance. It is the angels through whom He exercises His power (Psa 103:20).
Each of those who have afflicted will fade by that view. Each afflicted believer will breathe a sigh of relief. Then persecutions and afflictions will be over, without any chance of repeat. For the persecuted and afflicted believer a rest will begin which will never be interrupted. That’s because that rest is anchored in and is assured by the Lord Jesus.
Paul was looking forward to enjoy that rest together with his afflicted loved ones in Thessalonica. He and they and all believers who have fallen asleep have entered into the rest. That will also be the case with us when the Lord comes for the church. Paul has written to them about that in his first letter (1Thes 4:15-17).
In a kind of parenthesis Paul has pointed the Thessalonians to the rest, which lies ahead for them. Then he continues with what the coming of the Lord Jesus would mean for those who have afflicted. That is the main subject, for the Thessalonians were wondering how they were supposed to consider the afflictions that they had to go through. Due to the wrong doctrines that were circulating among them, the idea that the day of the Lord has come, has gained ground. For that day would be accompanied by tribulation and oppressiveness, would it not? Is that not what they are going through?
Well, Paul says, when the Lord Jesus comes, it will certainly be accompanied by tribulation and oppressiveness, but not for you! The revelation of the Lord Jesus will be a terror for those who are persecuting you now. The “flaming fire” that will accompany Him, is not meant for you, but for those who persecute and afflict you.
The fire is the instrument of His judgment (Lev 10:2; Psa 97:3). His consuming fire will strike them as His revenge. He has promised that He would do that when He told you not to take revenge yourself (Rom 12:19). Let that also be an exhortation for you not to revenge the evil that is being done to you.
You read in the Old Testament that “the LORD will come in fire” (Isa 66:15). Here you read that again of the Lord Jesus. One more proof that the Lord Jesus is the same like the LORD (Jahweh) in the Old Testament. It also shows that God, Who is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29), is executing His judgment by His Son (Acts 17:31; Jn 5:27).
Now read 2 Thessalonians 1:4-8 again.
Reflection: How do you experience ‘the righteous judgment of God’?
8 - 12 Eternal Destruction and Glory
8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 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. 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, 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.
V8. When the Lord Jesus appeared on earth the first time, He did that as a helpless Babe. He was also not accompanied by an impressive army. Yes, there was surely a crowd of angels present, but they were not standing there with a sword ready to protect the Child. They did something else: they praised God (Lk 2:13-14). When the Lord Jesus will appear on earth for the second time, there will be no weakness and vulnerability to be seen. On the contrary: the manger will then be changed into a flaming fire; the praising crowd of angels will be changed into an army, in order to deal out retribution.
The Lord Jesus will then not come to look for and save the lost. He did that when He came the first time (Lk 19:10). And this is how He is still to be presented to sinners around you. But when He comes the second time, it will be to deal out retribution. And that’s the way He is supposed to be presented too.
The objects of His retribution are falling apart into two groups. The repeated words “to those” indicates that it is about two categories. Of the one group is said that they “do not know God”. Of the other group is said that they “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus”. The indication of each of both groups includes at the same time the reason why the dealing out of retribution will come over them. The first reason is general and applies to each sinner. The second reason regards a special category of sinners and particularly those to whom the gospel came, but who rejected it. The retribution will be dealt out to the unbelievers and those who are disobedient.
Not knowing God is a guilty unfamiliarity with God. Even if no one has told them about God, they still could have seen in the nature around them that there is a Creator (Rom 1:18-20). But they refuse to. They do not want to know Him. They do not want to have anything to do with God. The main reason of the punishment they will have to face, is their denial of God. That’s the reason why they go beyond all kinds of violence, lies and destruction, and they persecute and afflict the believers.
By speaking out this judgment, Paul relates to the call of the God-fearing ones from the Old Testament (Psa 79:6; Jer 10:25). It is not that Paul himself is asking for it, but this dealing out of retribution by the Lord Jesus will meet the desire of the God-fearing afflicted ones who will live after the rapture of the church.
The second group of people has an even greater responsibility. God has offered them the gospel with the urgent request to accept it, but they refused to listen to it. Believing the gospel is an order (Rom 10:16; 1Pet 4:17). Therefore there is mention of “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; 16:26). Not believing is disobedience, which is a fatal disobedience. For actually in the gospel the Son of God has been presented to them. To be disobedient to Him means sharing the wrath of God (Jn 3:36).
You hear of the great love of the apostle for the Lord Jesus when he writes about “our Lord Jesus”. It hurts him that He is being rejected like that. Although he could see much fruit of his work, he also had often experienced that the Lord has been rejected with arrogance and despising. He has experienced himself the hatred against that Name. He has suffered a lot for that Name’s sake (Acts 9:16). He knows that everything that was done to him, was against the Lord Jesus. But the haters and despisers will surely not escape their retribution.
V9. Although the two groups are different in their denial of God, they will suffer the same terrible fate. The punishment for both is the eternal destruction. This is the only fitting, completely righteous penalty which is in full accordance with the guilt that they have. “Eternal” stands against temporary and it means without end, continuous. “Destruction” does not mean elimination in the sense of ceasing to exist, but the end of the purpose of the existence. When something is destructed it cannot be used anymore and it is thrown away.
The destruction implies that a person has been removed from the Lord. Everyone who has been thrown away, will end up into “the outer darkness” (Mt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). The Lord is the source of all light, life and blessing. To be eternally outside of that source will be an unprecedented torture in the darkness, death and curse. Man has been created to be in relationship with God. Once all connection has been broken, man will be completely lost. What a contrast with seeing the face of God, which is the highest joy of the believer (Psa 17:15; Rev 22:4).
To the unbelievers that glory means terror (Isa 2:10,19,21). When the Lord will come in that majesty, they will be removed by it. They also will not see anything of the outer and visible display of the glory of His strength which will be noticeable all over the earth when he will be reigning. You get an impression of that already in the glorification on the mountain (Mt 17:2; 2Pet 1:16-18).
V10. The terrible day for the unconverted is the great day for the believers. They are “his saints”, the ones who have been set apart for Him. “In” (not: by) them He will “be glorified”, which means in the glorified body which they have and in which they will be like Him.
He will also ”be marveled at among those who have believed”. That reminds us of the time when they were on earth and went their way in the confidence of faith in Him. That delivered them misunderstanding and mockery back then, even persecution and martyr’s death. Then it will become clear in Whom they have trusted, right through everything and Whom they have held on to.
What they have then displayed of the power of faith will openly be seen in their relation to Him. Then there will be admiration for Him Who had so much power of attraction for the ones who were despised then, that they were willing to suffer anything for Him.
The testimony that the apostle bore in Thessalonica was believed by them, while many of their fellow citizens had rejected it. Because they had believed it, they will partake of that great day of the Lord, while such a terrible judgment will come over their fellow citizens. Do you see what part you have obtained due to the faith and what you will escape? Isn’t that such a great grace?
V11. But there is still a way to go. You are still not there yet. That time has not come yet. That’s the reason for the prayer of the apostle. His prayer is that they – in order to contribute to the glorification of the Lord in that day – will be “worthy of” their “calling”. In order to do that, they will have to be faithfully going their way until the end, with full commitment.
Note that it is not about you to be made worthy. They are already worthy. But therefore it can be expected of you that you respond to that dignity. You do that by persevering until the end. Don’t you think that it is worth all the trouble when you consider that end?
You may possibly be overwhelmed now by a feeling of weakness, maybe even powerlessness. Then Paul is telling you also about the other side, which is God’s side, about what He is doing. You do not need to achieve the end by your own power. He works in you the desire to do the good. He also empowers your faith, so that you may do the works of faith. He will make sure that you will continue to trust in Him up to the end (cf. Lk 22:32).
V12. His work in you is related to the honor of His Son. If you live like that, the Name of the Lord Jesus will be glorified in you now already and you will be glorified in Him. You will be radiating a glory which is not yours, but His (cf. Jn 17:22-23).
You absolutely do not owe it to yourself. Nothing other than “the grace of our God and [the] Lord Jesus” can cause something like that to happen.
Now read 2 Thessalonians 1:8b-12 again.
Reflection: Pray that God may count you and others (mention them by name) worthy of the calling. Allow Him to do His work in you and in those others. Consider that it is all about the glory of the Name of the Lord Jesus in your life and theirs.