David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
2 Thessalonians 1
The Godly Character of a Persecuted Church
A. Encouragement for persecuted Christians.
1. (1-2) A greeting from Paul and his associates.
Paul, 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 our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
a. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy: Paul traveled with these men and together they contributed to this letter. Though the name Paul is listed first, both Silvanus and Timothy were his trusted companions.
i. Silvanus (also known as Silas) was a long and experienced companion of Paul. He traveled with Paul on his second missionary journey and was imprisoned and set free with Paul in the Philippian jail (Acts 16:19-27). When Paul first came to Thessalonica, Silas came with him (Acts 17:1-9), so the Thessalonians knew Silvanus well. He also collaborated with Paul on the first letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:1).
ii. Timothy was a resident of Lystra, a city in the province of Galatia (Acts 16:1-3). He was the son of a Greek father (Acts 16:1), and a Jewish mother named Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5). From his youth, he had been taught in the Scriptures by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15). Timothy was a trusted companion and associate of Paul, and he accompanied Paul on many of his missionary journeys. Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians on a previous occasion (1 Thessalonians 3:2). With Silvanus, Timothy was also a collaborator on Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:1).
b. To the church of the Thessalonians: Paul himself founded the church in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey (Acts 17:1-9). He was only in the city a short time because he was forced out by enemies of the Gospel. But the church of the Thessalonians left behind was alive and active. Paul's deep concern for this young church, which he had to suddenly leave, prompted this letter - following after the letter of 1 Thessalonians.
c. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Paul brought his customary greeting to the Thessalonian Christians, hailing them in the grace and peace of God the Father.
i. Morris cites Bicknell: "The Greek makes it plain that the Father and Christ are one source. It is remarkable that even at this early date the Son is placed side by side with the Father as the fount of divine grace, without any need of comment."
2. (3-4) Paul's thanks and boasting about the Thessalonians.
We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure,
a. We are bound to thank God always for you: For Paul, the giving of thanks for God's great work was an obligation - he was bound to do so, and it was fitting, because of the work God did in the Thessalonian Christians.
i. Paul's wording here is strong. "Paul has already written a very warm letter, containing some passages of high praise for the Thessalonian church. It is probable that in the subsequent communications that they had had with him (whether by letter, or by word of mouth) that had said that they were not worthy of such praise. Paul strongly maintains that his words had not been too strong." (Morris)
ii. "It is your duty to praise him. You are bound by the bonds of his love as long as you live to bless his name. It is meet and comely that you should do so. It is not only a pleasurable exercise, but it is the absolute duty of the Christian life to praise God." (Spurgeon)
b. Because your faith grows exceedingly: Paul thanked God because the Thessalonians had:
Exceedingly growing faith.
Patience and faith in all . . . persecutions and tribulations.
i. This faith and love, thriving in the midst of persecutions and tribulations, made Paul boast of the Thessalonians to other churches.
ii. "His verb for 'groweth exceedingly' is an unusual one (here only in the Greek Bible), and gives the thought of a very vigorous growth." (Morris)
iii. Spurgeon explained how to get a strong and growing faith: "By that means you are to grow. This is so with faith. Do all you can, and then do a little more; and when you can do that, then do a little more than you can. Always have something in hand that is greater then your present capacity. Grow up to it, and when you have grown up to it, grow more."
c. So that we ourselves: This "is a very emphatic expression, much more emphatic than we would have expected in such a connection. It implies a strong contrast." (Morris) The idea is that though it was unusual for someone who planted a church to glory in its success and health, Paul was so impressed by what God was doing among the Thessalonians even Paul took the liberty to glory in that work.
i. "By these words Paul shows us that we are under an obligation to give thanks to God not only when He does us a kindness, but also when we consider the kindness which He has shown towards our brethren." (Calvin)
B. The persecuted Thessalonians and their persecutors.
1. (5-7) The persecution and tribulation of the Thessalonians set the righteousness of God on display.
Which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels,
a. Which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God: God's righteous judgment was at work among the Thessalonians, beginning at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17), and purifying them as followers of Jesus. The good result - showing them worthy of the kingdom of God - was manifest evidence that God was good in allowing them to suffer the persecutions and tribulations described in 2 Thessalonians 1:4.
i. We usually think that God is absent when we suffer, and that our suffering calls God's righteous judgment into question. Paul took the exact opposite position and insisted that the Thessalonians' suffering was evidence of the righteous judgment of God. Where suffering is coupled with righteous endurance, God's work is done. The fires of persecution and tribulation were like the purifying fires of a refiner, burning away the dross from the gold, bringing forth a pure, precious metal.
ii. The idea behind counted worthy is not "seen as worthy" but "reckoned as worthy" as in a judicial decree. Paul's prayer was that the worthiness of Jesus may be accounted to the Thessalonian Christians.
b. Since it is a righteous thing with God: Many people question the righteousness of God's judgment. They believe that God's love and His judgment contradict each other. But God's judgment is based on the great spiritual principle that it is a righteous thing with God to repay those who do evil. Since God is righteous, He will repay all evil, and it will all be judged and accounted for either at the cross or in hell.
i. The judgment of God means that there is nothing unimportant in my life. Everything is under the eye of the God I must answer to.
ii. "A world in which justice was not done at last would not be God's world at all." (Hiebert)
c. To repay with tribulation those who trouble you: God was also shown as righteous when those who persecuted the Thessalonians were repaid with tribulation according to their evil works. They probably believed they did God a favor when they persecuted the Christians, but the righteous God would repay them and not reward them.
i. "Often retribution is pictured as overtaking men in the world to come, but there are not wanting passages which indicated that it may operate in the here and now (e.g., Rom. 1:24, 26, 28)." (Morris)
ii. We can see a statement like 2 Thessalonians 1:6 in much the same context as those passages in the Psalms where the writer happily wishes ill upon his enemies - they are a prayer of entrusting the judgment of these enemies to God, instead of personally taking the initiative.
iii. The tribulation upon these persecutors of God's people is not like a purifying fire. It is like the fire of a pure and holy judgment.
d. And to give you who are troubled rest: The Thessalonian Christians were persecuted and had tribulation; and God used it for His glory. But the time of persecution would not last. A day of rest is promised for every believer.
2. (8-10) The coming day of judgment for both the persecuted and their persecutors.
In flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.
a. In flaming fire taking vengeance: This is what the day of judgment will be like for those who persecuted the Thessalonians. For the persecutors, those who do not know God, and those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus, that will be a day of vengeance and everlasting destruction.
i. In flaming fire: It isn't the fire that makes hell what it is. In the fiery furnace, the three Jewish young men were completely comfortable, as long as the Lord was with them in the fire (Daniel 3). What truly characterizes hell is that there, people are from the presence of the Lord, in the sense of being apart from anything good or blessed in God's presence. From the presence of the Lord sums up the Bible's understanding of hell. Nothing must be said more about its horrors, other than hell will be completely devoid of God and every aspect of His character, except one: His unrelenting holy justice.
ii. It is not wrong for God to take vengeance; we understand this when we understand what the word means in the ancient Greek language. "The word rendered 'vengeance' has no associations of vindictiveness. It is a compound based on the same root as the word rendered 'righteous' in vv. 5, 6, and it has the idea of a firm administration of unwavering justice." (Morris) The idea is the application of full justice on the offender; nothing more and nothing less.
iii. Everlasting destruction: We must not be moved from the idea that the punishment of the wicked is everlasting. As the blessings of heaven are eternal, the penalty of hell is also eternal. "The perpetual duration of this death is proved from the fact that its opposite is the glory of Christ. This is eternal and has no end." (Calvin)
b. To be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe: For the persecuted saints, those who believe, they will have God glorified in them on that Day, and they will see and admire Jesus more than ever.
i. "To raise up such a number of poor, sinful, despicable worms out of the dust into such a sublime state of glory and dignity, will be admirable." (Poole)
ii. We will admire what God has done in others and in us. "Those who look upon the saints will feel a sudden wonderment of sacred delight; they will be startled with the surprising glory of the Lord's work in them; 'We thought He would do great things, but this! This surpasseth conception!' Every saint will be a wonder to himself. 'I thought my bliss would be great, but not like this!' All his brethren will be a wonder to the perfected believer. He will say, 'I thought the saints would be perfect, but I never imagined such a transfiguration of excessive glory would be put upon each of them. I could not have imagined my Lord to be so good and gracious.' " (Spurgeon)
c. Because our testimony among you was believed: This shows the difference between one destined for judgment and one destined for glory. The difference is belief in the message Paul preached (our testimony), the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ.
i. Paul knew what it was like to be transformed from a persecutor to the persecuted. He believed the testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it changed his life.
3. (11-12) Paul's prayer for the Thessalonians.
Therefore we also 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, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
a. Therefore we also pray always: Since the Thessalonian Christians were in the midst of persecution and tribulation, they needed prayer. Here, Paul assured them that he and his associates pray always for them.
b. That our God would count you worthy of this calling: God gives Christians a high calling, mentioned in the previous sentence. The calling is to see Him glorified in us at His coming. Paul rightly prays that the Thessalonians may be counted worthy of this calling, and he shows ways to fulfill this calling.
i. We live worthy of His call when we fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness, living lives touched by His goodness, and displaying His goodness.
ii. We live worthy of His call when we fulfill . . . the work of faith with power, believing on Jesus and seeing His work done all around us by faith.
iii. We live worthy of His call when the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is glorified in us. We understand that this means more than the name of our Lord Jesus as a word, but also as a representation of His character.
iv. We live worthy of His call when we are glorified in Him, when He alone is our source of glory and exaltation, and who we are in Jesus is more important than who we are in anything else.
c. According to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ: This great work of living worthy of His calling can only happen according to the grace of God. It happens by His power, favor, and acceptance in work in us, moving along our will and cooperation.
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