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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
2 Thessalonians 1

 

 

Verse 1

PAUL'S SECOND LETTER TO THE THESSALONIANS

2 THESS. 1

This chapter has Paul's salutation: (1) and thanksgiving for the Thessalonians because of the manner of their acceptance of the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:2-11).

Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; (2 Thessalonians 1:1)

Paul and Silvanus and Timothy ... As the Thessalonian church was constituted largely of Gentiles, there had been no contradiction of his apostolic authority; and whatever slanders had been leveled against him had "risen over Paul's character."[1] Paul's true character was of such noble quality that it formed the natural fountain of his moral and religious authority without any appeal to the apostolic office which was rightfully his. Besides that, "Paul was on such intimate terms with the readers that it was natural to omit it."[2] The title was also omitted in other letters, as from Philippians and Philemon, where the same love and friendship for Paul prevailed.

Silvanus ... is "the Latin form of Silas."[3] This was the man chosen by Paul following the dispute with Barnabas over taking John Mark on the second missionary tour (Acts 15:40), the reasons for such a choice probably lying in the good reputation Silas had (Acts 15:41), and the additional fact of his being a Roman citizen (Acts 16:48). Paul's mention of him here, ahead of Timothy, was appropriate because of the share Silas had in the conversion of the Thessalonians; also, Silas had been chosen somewhat before Timothy was enlisted at Lystra.

Timothy ... Neither Timothy nor Silas may be understood in any sense as co-authors of this letter. See under 2 Thessalonians 1:3. The mention of these two faithful workers was simply a matter of friendship and courtesy on the part of the apostle.

In God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ ... The theological thrust of this expression is boundless. The oneness of the Father and the Son, the deity of Christ, as well as the whole doctrine of the incarnation are securely anchored in a text like this. As Cousins said, "Here, incidentally, is a powerful witness to the faith of the primitive church in the full deity of the Son."[4]

In God ... Just as human beings live in the atmosphere, and at the same time the atmosphere is in them, just so the spiritual life of Christians is "in God" and "in Christ," both God and Christ also being likewise in them.

[1] James Moffatt, The Expositor's Greek New Testament, Vol. IV (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 23.

[2] Ronald A. Ward, Commentary on 1,2Thessalonians (Waco, Texas: Word Book Publishers, 1973), p. 21.

[3] Peter E. Cousins, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 492.

[4] Ibid.


Verse 2

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This double greeting patterned after the usual Greek and Hebrew salutations, nevertheless goes far beyond both of them in the rich spiritual connotations of it. As Hubbard expressed it, "God's act of unmerited favor in Christ (grace) brings in its wake complete spiritual welfare (peace)."[5]

Lord Jesus Christ ... "This is the full title."[6] "Lord" means sovereign, ruler, authority, head and chief, fully entitled to adoration, honor and worship of all creation. "Jesus" is the name bestowed by the archangel before Christ was born; it is the historical name by which the citizens of Nazareth and Jerusalem recognized him, "the sweetest name on mortal tongue." "Christ" is the Greek form of "anointed," meaning Messiah, Son of David, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, etc.

[5] David A. Hubbard, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 806.

[6] Ronald A. Ward, op. cit., p. 23.


Verse 3

We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, even as it is meet, for that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the love of each one of you all toward one another aboundeth;

Thanksgiving was most remarkably an overwhelming characteristic of the great apostle's love and appreciation of the churches which God had enabled him to establish; and, regardless of whatever sins or mistakes had marred the conduct of his beloved converts, he always had room for outpouring his gratitude to God upon their behalf. This is even more noteworthy in view of the seriousness of some of their sins and mistakes as well as in the sight of the epic struggles and sufferings of the apostle himself.

We are bound to give thanks ... The background of this clause would seem to lie in some communication that the Thessalonians had sent to Paul subsequently from receiving the elaborate praise in the first epistle. Barclay thought their communication was to the effect that "they were timorously afraid their faith was not going to stand the test";[7] and Morris was of the opinion that "they had modestly disclaimed to be worthy of such praise."[8] In this clause, Paul was saying, "In all fairness, I could not fail to praise you." Of course, it may not be denied that some at Thessalonica were not living right; but, as Hendriksen said, "In the jubilant passage we are now discussing, the disorderly persons are kept in the background for the moment."[9]

Your faith groweth exceedingly ... Ward pointed out that Paul loved to coin words with super-superlative meanings; "groweth exceedingly" is another instance of it. "We are super-conquerors (Romans 8:37); God super-exalted his Son (Philippians 2:9)";[10] and, of course, there is the case of the super-apostles in Corinthians!

[7] William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), p. 209.

[8] Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 1,2Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956), p. 113.

[9] William Hendriksen, A New Testament Commentary, 2Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1955), p. 154.


Verse 4

so that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which ye endure;

Paul here cited the reason why the Thessalonians were entitled to praise. "To be a true Christian in the time of peace is a great matter; but to be a true Christian in the season of persecution is greater."[11] Moreover, as Lipscomb pointed out, "It is at all times right and profitable that the vigor and prosperity of a church should be known to all."[12]

[10] Ronald A. Ward, op. cit., p. 137.

[11] P. J Gloag, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 21 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 2.

[12] David Lipscomb, Commentary on 2Thessalonians (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1976), p. 87.


Verse 5

which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God; to the end that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:

Token of the righteous judgment of God ... All of the sufferings of God's people inflicted upon them by unbelievers and enemies of righteousness will be vindicated in the righteous judgment of Almighty God against such offenders; and so certain is that judgment (about which Paul will momentarily speak) that the very persecutions themselves are actually a token of the judgment to come.

Counted worthy ... It is worth noting that the RSV "is mistaken in translating this made worthy."[13] "Paul did not mean that they would be refined by suffering in a kind of earthly purgatory and therefore be able to stand in their own purity at the judgment."[14]

Kingdom of God ... This cannot possibly mean that the Thessalonians were not in the kingdom of God. Paul had specifically stated to them that they were "in Christ" (1 Thessalonians 1:1), and no man was ever in Christ without being in the kingdom of God and of Christ. Paul simply meant by this that their fidelity through sufferings would make and prove their worthiness of being in the kingdom.

[13] Peter E. Cousins, op. cit., p. 499.

[14] Ronald A. Ward, op. cit., p. 140.


Verse 6

if so be that it is a righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict you, and to you that are afflicted rest with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire,

If so be ... Paul here stated the basis of his affirmation a moment before that the tribulation of the Thessalonians was a token of God's judgment upon the adversaries. It is a righteous thing with God so to judge the enemies of his work; and the "if so be" in this verse is not to be construed in any sense as conditional. It is a Hebrew idiomatic way of arguing from a certainty.

Rest ... is not a verb but a noun, being the thing that God will recompense to the just, just as affliction will be meted out to the persecutors. The thought of 2 Thessalonians 1:5-7 was summed up thus by Adam Clarke:

The sufferings of the just and the triumphs of the wicked in this life are a sure proof that there will be a future judgment in which the wicked shall be punished and the righteous rewarded[15]

At the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven ... This identifies the time of receiving the rewards and punishments just mentioned.

The revelation ... The Scriptures do not always refer to the coming of Christ (Parousia) in the same terminology; here the word is "revelation" or "manifestation." At other times, reference is made to his "appearing" (2 Timothy 4:1); but it is strongly believed that these variations do not imply different events, but one event only, namely, the coming of the Son of God for judgment in the final day. The exception to this is that the "coming" of Jesus Christ in the destruction of Jerusalem is an event in the past, but even that is typical of the final judgment. Premillennialists make a distinction, which it seems to this writer is absolutely unwarranted, in identifying the beginning of the millennium with the [@parousia] (coming) and the revelation here mentioned as having reference to the final judgment which will follow the rebellion at the end of the millennium.[16] The conviction that there is but one "coming of Christ," and that it will be for the purpose of the final judgment, stems from the oft-repeated mention of "that day," always in the singular and never in the plural. For detailed discussion on this, see my Commentary on Corinthians, pp. 365-367.

Rest ... The rest in view here is the final rest that remains for the redeemed and which will be theirs only when the Lord has come to reward his saints. A further study of the Christian's "rest" is outlined in my Commentary on Hebrews, p. 88.

Affliction ... you that are afflicted ... This reference to the sufferings of the Thessalonians focuses upon the problem of human suffering; and this writer, having just listened to two great sermons (by Dan Anders and Lloyd Bridges) regarding this master-problem of human existence, will attempt a discussion of it.

SUFFERING

Alas, suffering is ever with us. There is no house it has not invaded, no home that is exempt from it and no life that is untouched by it. "The whole creation groaneth in travail" (Romans 8:22), and this is true not merely in the teeming wards of great hospitals. "Man is born to trouble as sparks fly upward." Suffering is everywhere; and that person who is fortunate enough to have little of it in his own personal life is yet scarred and seared by it in the ravishing of loved ones.

I. Suffering is of many kinds:

A. There is retributive suffering in which one's sins return, in a sense, upon his own head. Lost health and suffering due to godless living is an example, and the savage vengeance of evil men against real or fancied wrongs perpetrated upon them is another. Adoni-Bezek cut off the thumbs and great toes of seventy kings who groveled for food beneath his table, and then it happened to him. He said, "As I have done, so God hath requited me" (Judges 1:6). Many a sufferer can say the same thing.

B. There is educative suffering, called chastening (Hebrews 12:5,6), which is allowed of God, or even on occasion sent by God, having as its purpose: (1) the correction of faults, (2) the strengthening of faith and (3) the promotion of the soul's eternal welfare. The reaction to this type of suffering (and in a sense to all suffering) is prescribed as follows: (1) the child of God must not despise it; (2) he should submit to it; (3) he must not faint; and (4) he should attempt in every way to reap the benefit God intended by it. For a full discussion of "Chastening," see my Commentary on Hebrews, p. 318.

C. There is redemptive, or vicarious, suffering. Of this kind were the sorrows of the Master and his agony upon Calvary. There is in this type of suffering the willing and voluntary bearing of suffering for the sake of others, and such sufferings were the glory of our Lord. But people sometimes suffer similarly, though not in the degree that Jesus suffered, for the benefit of others. Many parents have endured drudgery and poverty to give their children an education. Any mother with a sick child has suffered a long and sleepless night of patient waiting and suffering for the child's benefit.

D. There is suffering that appears to have no rational basis whatever. The innocent, the pure and the godly also suffer; and the pattern of it seems to follow no rationale whatever. Many a devout soul has shared some of the bitterest sufferings of life, agonies from which there was no appeal possible; and such souls have, with the Saviour on the cross, cried out in agony, "My God, my God, why?" Feeble and imperfect must be any person's wrestling with so deep a question, but we are driven to seek some kind of answer.

II. What are the reasons for suffering?

A. Our own naive simplicity is one cause of it. When rules of health, physical laws, the nature of human beings and all of the dictates of common sense are violated with impunity, suffering may, and frequently does, follow as a result. In short, much human sorrow and suffering are caused from ordinary stupidity. The woman who marries "the son of Ahab" is a prime example of this. She did not have to do it, but in spite of father's advice and mother's tears she married the town's profligate!

B. The activity of Satan is another cause. People would do well to look here for the true cause of all human suffering, not merely in the sense of his having introduced and instigated sin into the human race, but also in the sense of being an ever-active agent at the present time in promoting sin and rebellion against the laws of God. This brings suffering upon all. The innocent suffer as the result of actions of the guilty, as when a drunken driver plunges over a cliff with five young people in his car. The world we live in makes no sense at all unless there is Satan in it, organizing its evil, discouraging its saints, opposing the truth and making every conceivable effort to accomplish the total ruin of humanity. May every man take the measure of his foe!

C. The sins of others cause suffering in the innocent. The physician under the influence of drugs, the magistrate who takes a bribe, the careless driver, the libertine, the scoffer, the thoughtless and irreligious - all of these and countless others commit sins that result in the sufferings of others.

D. Then there are accidental occurrences, which however cautiously guarded against may yet happen, such as an airplane accident for which no cause can be assigned; and then, suffering. Natural laws are violated inadvertently, or because they are not known and recognized, resulting in suffering which to all outward appearances is totally capricious.

III. What to do about suffering.

A. We should not blame God with it, nor lose our faith, nor complain as if some unusual thing had happened. It is the grand hallmark of all life on earth. At the same time, we should not take a stoical attitude of bravado, as in Henley's "I am the captain of my soul." After all, man does pretty well if he rates being a "cabin boy" on the ship of life and certainly is utterly incapable of being either the captain of his soul or the master of his fate.

B. On the positive side, one should strive earnestly to accept suffering as Paul was admonished to accept the thorn in the flesh. That there are rich spiritual rewards to be reaped from suffering is a fact well known to all; and when called to suffering, people should be aware of this and turn all the energies of life toward their appropriation. Some of the great literature, some of life's most beautiful songs, and some of its most noble achievements have come as a result of suffering that closed some gates and shut the achiever up to a more restricted course, or opened the eyes of the sufferer's understanding to beauties which he might otherwise never have seen.

C. Most of all, it should be accepted in faith. There may not be an answer on this earth or in this lifetime. John the Baptist heard only the grating of the prison door as the soldiers of Herod came to lead him to the block, and Herod heard only the music and dancing; but the answer to such an injustice did not come in this life. But surely the heart of faith can well believe that for him, of whom the Master said, "None is greater," there is reserved some compensatory reward on the eternal shore. May all men, even in tears, accept whatever of life's sorrows they must, assured that there is a city "where there are no tears or pain."

D. Finally, let people, when they suffer, remember the sufferings of the Lord. He suffered for us; and, for him, there were no sedatives, no medicines, no relief. Contemplating the epic sorrows of the Christ is sufficient to cause nearly any sufferer to see that his sufferings are as nothing compared with the sufferings of Jesus. And while we are about it, may we be also grateful for the ministration of physicians, nurses, hospitals and friends who can, and do, do so much to relieve the agony and the pain, and to brace the faithful heart against the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune.

With the angels of his power ... Here is another reason for seeing this as a glimpse of the final judgment. A vast number of angels are usually associated with Christ in New Testament references to the judgment. This is true even in the parables (Matthew 13:39,49). For fuller study of angels, see my Commentary on Hebrews, p. 35.

In flaming fire ... It is positively amazing what diverse views people have taken of this. Moffatt called it `hot air of Jewish apocalypse.'[17] Kelcy construed it as "the glory and majesty of the coming event."[18] Clarke thought it meant "in thunder and lightning." [19] Lipscomb discerned the following:

God's coming for judgment in the Old Testament is described as his coming in fire (Exodus 3:2; Daniel 7:9,10). What there is said of God is here ascribed to Christ. "The day (judgment) shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire" (1 Corinthians 3:13).[20]

There is no need to speculate concerning the nature of the "flaming fire" that shall herald the Second Coming, for the Lord has not made it known. Fire there will be. At least one possibility is suggested in the prior comments under 2 Thessalonians 4:15.

[15] Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. VI (London: Carlton and Porter, 1829), p. 562.

[16] Peter E. Cousins, op. cit., p. 499.

[17] James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 45.

[18] Raymond C. Kelcy, The Letters of Paul to the Thessalonians (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Company, Inc., 1968), p. 144.

[19] Adam Clarke, op. cit., p. 563.

[20] David Lipscomb, op. cit., p. 89.


Verse 8

rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus:

Vengeance ... Everywhere in Scripture this is the prerogative of Almighty God himself, not that of any man; and its being ascribed here as a purpose and action of the Lord Jesus Christ is another attestation of his deity. See Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30 and Deuteronomy 32:25. But vengeance there will be. God has a score to settle with sin and with the incorrigibly wicked, and the judgment of the final day is the occasion divinely appointed to that end.

As Moffatt declared, "The repetition of the article here"[21] indicates two classes of people: (1) those who do not know God, and (2) those who obey not the gospel. These are usually explained as "the pagans" and "the unbelieving Jews." Implicit, however, in the adverse judgment to be pronounced against them that "know not God," is the fact of their "refusing to know God" (Romans 1:20-28) and of their being in no sense innocent, but "without excuse." In the second class, it is ridiculous to limit this to "unbelieving Jews." It refers with equal power to "unbelievers" of all races and nations, even professing Christians, who refuse to "obey the gospel." And what does that mean? It means those who refuse to be baptized into Christ and to assume the duties and obligations incumbent upon all true Christians. The most concise and the shortest definition of the "gospel" in the New Testament is in Mark 16:15,16, where Christ equated being baptized with the "gospel." Here is the prime reason why people have labored early and late to get that verse out of the New Testament. Some of the commentators reflect the usual unwillingness to allow this obvious truth, a sample of which is (comment on who obey not the gospel):

Namely, the unbelieving Jews.[22]

Those who do not obey it as a rule of life.[23]

The second expression is merely taking up and filling out the thought of the first.[24]

Jews.[25]

These are the same people described differently (2).[26]

There is no justification for thus toning down the clear warning of this passage. Failure to obey the gospel of Christ is failure to accept eternal life; and may all people heed it.

[21] James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 46.

[22] P. J. Gloag, op. cit., p. 3.

[23] Adam Clarke, op. cit., p. 563.

[24] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 119.

[25] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 989.

[26] Ronald A. Ward, op. cit., p. 146.


Verse 9

who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

The reference of this verse is to "hell," the final destiny of the wicked; and, for somewhat extended remarks on this subject, see my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 411-413. It is only with thoughts of the greatest melancholy and sorrow that a subject such as this may be considered. Does there have to be such a place? Deep questionings of the soul are not fully answered in the sacred text, but the faithful Christian accepts as fact that which he finds no logical way of rejecting. There are two facts, universally accepted even in philosophy, to the effect that: (1) there is some kind of existence after death for every soul, and (2) that God will never finally accommodate to evil, that some judgment of it is certain; and these two propositions point logically to a place of overthrow and eternal suppression of evil. Christ and the apostles spoke dogmatically of hell, and the believer in Christ has no alternative to the acceptance of what they said. Hendriksen's comment on this is:

The very fact that "destruction" is "everlasting" shows that it does not amount to annihilation or going out of existence. On the contrary, it denotes an existence "away from the face of the Lord and the glory of his might."[27]

Denney, as quoted by Morris, commented thus:

If there is any truth in Scripture at all, then this is true - that those who stubbornly refuse to submit to the gospel of Christ, and to love and obey Jesus Christ, incur at the Last Advent an infinite and irreparable loss. They pass into a night upon which no morning dawns.[28]

[27] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 160.

[28] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 120.


Verse 10

when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all them that believed (because our testimony unto you was believed) in that day.

When he shall come ... The Greek word here, according to Kelcy, "is the aorist subjunctive, a construction indicating the certainty of the event and yet the uncertainty of the time of it," [29] the same being another bit of evidence that neither Christ nor any of his apostles expected the coming as a certainty in their day. Kelcy is also supported in this by all the other Greek scholars consulted in this work.

There are two purposes of the coming here cited, but these need not be considered as a total list. Paul's use of "come" in this verse shows that the "revelation of Christ," spoken of a moment earlier, is the same as his "coming"; and, therefore, the various references to his revelation, his appearance and his coming all apply to the same event.

The last sentence in this verse is considered difficult by scholars; and Morris thought that Lightfoot's paraphrase of it gives the true meaning thus:

The meaning then being ... "in all them that believed, and therefore in you, for our testimony was believed by you," the testimony borne among the Thessalonians had borne the desired fruit[30]

"The past tense is used because it looks back from the Judgment Day, to the time when the gospel was first believed at the time of its first being preached to the Thessalonians."[31]

To be marveled at ... The full glory of Christ at the time of the Second Advent cannot even be imagined. As Adam Clarke expressed it:

Much as true believers may marvel at, and much as they admire the perfections of the Redeemer of mankind, and much as they wonder at his amazing condescension in becoming a man, and dying for the sins of the world; all their present amazement and wonder will be as nothing when compared with what they shall feel when they come to see him with all his glory, the glory that he had with the Father before the world was.[32]

[29] Raymond C. Kelcy, op. cit., p. 146.

[30] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 121.

[31] A. J. Mason, op. cit., p. 153.

[32] Adam Clarke, op. cit., p. 564.


Verse 11

To which end we also pray always for you, that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire of goodness and every work of faith, with power;

Every work of faith ... See under 2 Thessalonians 1:3, above, for discussion of "the work of faith"; the new thought here is that even when Christians do the works required by faith it is actually God who supplies the spiritual energy for them to do it, thus referring all the glory unto God.


Verse 12

that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according, to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In you and ye in him ... For discussion of this expression and six other similar concepts in the New Testament, see my comments on Galatians 5:23.

The reference to the "work of faith," above, and the emphasis here upon the indwelling Christ, show that, although the Second Coming is not out of mind in these verses, nevertheless, "The primary emphasis here would seem to be on the quality of life produced in the Thessalonians by the indwelling Christ."[33]

ENDNOTE:

[33] Ibid.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 1:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/2-thessalonians-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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