2 THESSALONIANS CHAPTER 1.
V.1. Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ: v.2. Grace unto you and peace, from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This opening greeting agrees almost exactly with that of the first letter. Paul again names Silvanus and Timothy, not as coauthors, but as companions and fellow-laborers, with whose persons and work the Thessalonians were familiar from their labor in their own city. To the church, or congregation, of the Thessalonians in God he addresses himself, calling Him our Father and placing Jesus Christ the Lord on a level with Him. All believers are united by faith in Christ through the mercy of God; in Christ they are all children of the heavenly Father. But they incidentally recognize Christ as their Lord, under whom they have enlisted, under whose banners they are fighting. The apostle’s salutation names the greatest gifts, the highest spiritual benefits which may ever fall to the lot of sinful men: grace, the free and unrestricted kindness and mercy of God which was earned for all men through the vicarious work of Christ; peace from God the Father, since the payment of all our guilt through the blood of Jesus has removed the cause of God’s displeasure toward us and given us a perfect reconciliation. Again, Jesus Christ the Lord is placed on the same level with the Father: He is true God from eternity with the Father, in every way the Father’s equal in majesty and power.
Paul’s Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession. 2 Thess. 1, 3-12.
A prayer of thanksgiving for steadfastness in the midst of afflictions:
V.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 everyone of you all toward each other aboundeth, v.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; v.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; v.6. seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you, v.7. and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, v.8. in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; v.9. who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power, v.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.
Luther summarizes the thoughts of this passage as follows: “In the first place, Paul here praises his church at Thessalonica, which was one of the finest and best on account of its faith and love, which had remained steadfast under the cross and persecutions and had increased through patience, in order to stimulate them to continue, that he might present also to others an example and picture of the fruits which preaching and the knowledge of the Gospel should work; he shows also wherein edification and growth of the true Church of Christ consists. He furthermore comforts them with regard to their suffering and patience by a reference to the glorious coming of the Lord Christ for their deliverance and for rewarding them for their tribulations with quietness and joys and for eternal vengeance upon their persecutors.” 2)
The apostle’s language throughout is full of cheerfulness and exaltation: We feel obliged always to give thanks to God in your behalf, brethren, as it is worthy of the matter, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of each and every one of you all toward one another abounds. Paul rejoices that the unpleasant and dangerous situation of the Thessalonians serves only to bring out all the more prominently and brilliantly their excellent bearing under the circumstances. He feels it his duty, therefore, to express his gratitude to God, not only in an occasional prayer of thanksgiving, but in a continual hymn of praise, the only way in which he can hope to approach the proper discharge of his duties in this respect. The conduct of the Thessalonian Christians, in the face of all the difficulties with which they were obliged to contend, was so obviously the work of God alone that the state of the case required such behavior on the part of Paul. Their faith was growing exceedingly, beyond expectation, the storms of affliction which were striking the young congregation were causing their faith to strike roots ever more deeply into the heart of their Savior. At the same time, their love, not only that of one or two or a number of them, but that of each and every one of them all, was increasing, as its manifestations toward one another evidenced. The tribulation, by the gracious guidance of God, was teaching them unselfish consideration for others, their suffering was drawing the Thessalonian Christians more closely together and binding them more firmly to the Lord.
This praiseworthy conduct of the Christians of Thessalonica had its effect also upon the apostle: So that we ourselves boast in you in the churches of God on account of your patience and faith in all the persecutions and tribulations which you endure. Both from the Jews and from their own countrymen the believers of Thessalonica had suffered persecution, 1 Thess 2:14, but being thoroughly grounded in the truth of the Gospel, they had remained firm. Their faith being founded upon Jesus Christ, outside of whom there is no salvation, and thus receiving strength for patient endurance, they had quit themselves as Christians should under such circumstances. But this fact had now also given Paul a reason for boasting about them in other congregations: he could point to the patience of the Thessalonians in the midst of all persecutions and tribulations, and thus stimulate and encourage others to do likewise. Note: It is altogether in accord with the will of God if the Christians in one country or section or city are provoked to greater zeal, to untiring patience, and, above all, to unwavering faith by the report of the steadfastness of others.
Of this patient endurance of the Thessalonian Christians the apostle now says: (Which is) a token of the just judgment of God, that you might be judged worthy of the kingdom of God, on whose account you also suffer. The brevity and compactness of the expressions used by the apostle somewhat obscure the meaning, but he seems to have two thoughts in mind. In the first place, the fact that the believers were so calmly patient in persecutions and afflictions was an evidence of the righteousness of God. Their firmness was, in a manner of speaking, a reward of God’s mercy; He thereby declared them to be, of His free mercy, worthy of entering into, and being members of, the kingdom of God. But the equity of God’s judgment will also eventually right the present apparent inequalities of the situation in life. Cp. Ps 73. The sufferings of the just and the apparent triumph of the wicked in this life are a sure proof that there will be a future judgment, in which the wicked will receive their punishment and the righteous will be rewarded. It is a comforting assurance to the believers, therefore, that they are suffering in behalf of the Kingdom; for they thereby both serve the Kingdom and participate in its blessings.
The thought of future retribution upon the unbelievers is brought out still more emphatically: Since it is just with God to return tribulation to those that trouble you. The righteous and just God will not permit wickedness to triumph forever; of that the believers should rest assured. In many cases the children of the world are apparently having the better of the argument in this life; they manage in many ways to harm the believers by various forms of persecutions. But the time is coming, and sometimes comes already in this life, when they will receive their recompense, their reward, their return. It may be a negative comfort, but just the same the fact that there is a beneficent purpose connected even with the suffering of the Christians gives them moral support.
This comfort is brought out still more strongly in the next verse: And to you that are in tribulation, relief with us in the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of His power. This is what the believers may expect as the reward of mercy from the God of grace. It is true indeed that they are now suffering tribulations, misery, affliction; that is a part of their calling at the present time, Rom. 8, 18. But the time of relaxation, rest, refreshment with God is coming, for there remaineth a rest to the people of God, Heb. 4, 8. Weeping may endure for the brief night of this life, but joy cometh in the morning, Ps. 30, 5. The deliverance will come to all believers at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven, when He will return visibly as He ascended, Acts 1, 11, when He will be accompanied by the angels of His power, His servants, that execute His will on earth.
Of the events of the last day Paul writes: In flaming fire, rendering vengeance to those who do not know God and that do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. In flaming fire, in a fire of flame, the Lord, who Himself is a consuming fire, Heb 10:27, will be revealed, in the full glory of His divine majesty, before which all opposition must fall and be destroyed. Then will the judgment be held, with disastrous results for the unbelievers. For He will execute vengeance, He will inflict a just punishment upon those men that do not know God, whom the apostle further describes as those that do not obey the Gospel. It is criminal blindness of which the unbelievers are guilty; they will not seek God by virtue of the last remnant of natural knowledge, Acts 17:27; they repress the truth in unrighteousness, Ro 1:18, in angry defiance; though the Gospel is being preached throughout the world, they refuse to hear with an attentive, obedient mind. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the wonderful tidings of their full and complete salvation through the merits of the Savior, is proclaimed also for them; but they will not accept its comforting assurance, its appealing cry. So their ignorance and disobedience is the cause of their punishment.
Wherein this punishment consists, St. Paul also states: Who shall suffer punishment, everlasting destruction, from the face of the Lord and from the presence of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints and to be marveled at in all believers on that day; for our testimony to you was believed. That is the fate of the unbelievers, of those that are disobedient to the Gospel of Christ: a punishment which consists in everlasting destruction. That is the penalty which they must pay, not annihilation, nor merely a temporary inconvenience, but an act of destruction on the part of God which shalt last forever, with never a hope of relief or reprieve. The damned will be fully conscious of their punishment, they will feel its excruciating pain, Luke 16, 24. 28. But there will be neither rest nor surcease throughout eternity. Their worm will not die, neither will their fire be quenched, Mark 9, 44. The essence of damnation will consist in this, that the damned will be banished from the face, from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might. As it is the highest bliss to be in the presence of God, to behold His face in righteousness, Ps 17:15, so it is the acme of punishment and torture to be denied His presence throughout eternity, not to be able to see His marvelous glory and majesty. How striking the contrast offered in the fate of the believers! For when Christ returns in His glory, these people that believed in Him will receive the inestimable privilege of having Christ glorified in them, to become partakers of the glory which He has earned for them before His Father. In His saints Christ will be glorified, in those who accepted the perfect redemption merited through His blood, that are consecrated to Him ever since He wrought faith in their hearts. So great will this glory be that it will be a matter of marveling, of astonishment and admiration, in all those that believe. The very same men that now scoff at the faith of the believers will then stand in unwilling adoration, compelled to acknowledge the power of Christ in His believers, as it will be manifested before all creation on the Day of Judgment. And all this glory will be revealed in the believers, because the testimony of the apostle to them, upon them, concerning them, was believed. The everlasting bliss of heaven is not a reward of merit, given to such as have earned salvation by good works or any disposition toward good on their part; it is a free gift of God’s grace to those that have accepted the testimony of God’s grace in the Word through faith wrought by God. The great motto: All by grace, again stands out most prominently here.
Paul’s prayer of intercession:
V.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; v.12. that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The apostle never loses sight of the fact that his readers are still in the world, in the midst of the enmity and persecution of the world. He therefore adds his sincere intercession to his grateful prayer: To which end also tend our prayers concerning you always, that our God may consider you worthy of the calling, and fulfill every good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power. That is the end and object of the apostle’s cordial prayer for the Thessalonians, of which he here again states that he makes it without ceasing, that it has become a habit with him. He supplicates the Lord in behalf of his readers that God would deem them worthy of the calling which He has done in their case by bringing them to the knowledge of their salvation, of their vocation as Christians. After the Holy Ghost has called men by the Gospel, enlightened them with His gifts, and sanctified them by the transmission of the redemption won by the blood of Christ, it is He who must also keep them in the faith to the end. So Paul prays that God would do this very thing by fulfilling every good pleasure of goodness, that He would bring about so much in the heart of every Christian, every one without exception now taking pleasure in, being fully inclined to, all goodness. God must be not only the teacher, but also the power, supplying the strength to men who by nature are prone to evil only. He must perform the work of faith in power. Every work of every believer that springs from faith and is in accordance with faith is due to the power of the living God. Hence the believer puts all self-confidence far from him and confidently relies upon the power of God, which works in him with power.
If the sanctification of the Christians will but proceed along the lines as here laid down by the apostle, then the end will be: 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 Lord Jesus Christ. In the entire life of every Christian the name of the blessed Redeemer should be hallowed, praised, and glorified; His essence, His attributes, His holy will should receive honor and glory in consequence of our entire life. Where pure doctrine and holy life go hand in hand, there the lives of the Christians will be testimonies for the perfectness of Gospel-preaching, and men will, voluntarily or involuntarily, give credit to the Lord. And we, in turn, living in the Lord, are made partakers of His glory. All this, moreover, does not happen to us by our own work and merit, but by the grace, by the merciful favor of our God and Lord Jesus Christ, who are, as One, the Source of all the spiritual blessings which come to men through the Gospel. Human pride and self-righteousness are entirely excluded by the plain words of the apostle. Thus the Christians, adorned with the graces of the Spirit of God and of Christ, grow in grace and sanctification day by day, until, finally, at the great revelation of the glory of God, the name and honor of Christ will be praised and magnified, world without end.