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Bible Commentaries
2 Thessalonians 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 1-2


The Apostle Paul opened this epistle by identifying himself and his companions to the recipients. He also wished God’s grace and peace for them to introduce himself and to express his continuing good will toward his children in the faith.

2 Thessalonians 1:1-2 are almost identical to 1 Thessalonians 1:1. One change is that Paul called God "our" Father here rather than "the" Father.

The benediction (2 Thessalonians 1:2) is fuller than the one in 1 Thessalonians 1:1. Paul mentioned both grace (God’s unmerited favor and divine enablement) and peace (the cessation of hostility and the fullness of divine blessing) again, but he identified their source here. Both blessings come from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. He again asserted the deity of Christ, and he balanced the fatherhood of God with Christ’s lordship over the church and the believer.

Verse 3

In his earlier epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul prayed for them to grow in faith (1 Thessalonians 4:10) and to increase in love (1 Thessalonians 3:12). He now rejoiced that they were doing both of these things (2 Thessalonians 1:3). This is one clue that Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians after 1 Thessalonians. God had answered his prayer. Paul began each of his epistles, except Galatians, with thanksgiving for the spiritual progress of his readers. The word translated "greatly enlarged," which Paul used to describe their faith, occurs only here in the New Testament and means "grown exceedingly," not just normally. The Thessalonians’ growth had been unusual. They were a model congregation in this respect. In the Greek text 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10 are one sentence.

"We ought to give thanks" means "We must give thanks" (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:13). Paul was not saying he knew he should give thanks but did not, but he felt obligated to give thanks and did so.

"Clearly in this entire passage . . . the writers reveal themselves as men who are elated . . . rather than reluctant, exuberant rather than hesitant." [Note: William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of I and II Thessalonians, p. 154.]

"Paul was well aware of the shortcomings of the Thessalonian believers, but he did not allow their faults to blind him to their strong points. . . . Instead of criticizing, he is eager to commend." [Note: D. Edmond Hiebert, The Thessalonian Epistles, p. 280.]

Verses 3-4

A. Thanksgiving for growth 1:3-4

Verses 3-12


Paul thanked God for the spiritual growth of his readers, encouraged them to persevere in their trials, and assured them of his prayers for them. He did so to motivate them to continue to endure hardship and thereby develop in their faith (cf. James 1:2-4).

Verse 4

No wonder Paul said he recommended the Thessalonians to other churches as an example to follow. This growth had come in the midst of persecution, and this made it even more commendable. "Faith" (Gr. pistis) usually refers to faith in someone or something, but often it means "faithfulness" (e.g., Romans 3:3; Galatians 5:22; Titus 2:10). It probably has the latter meaning here. His readers were enduring hostile actions ("persecutions") as well as other painful experiences ("afflictions") at the hands of both Jews and Gentiles because of their Christian faith (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; Acts 17:5-9).

Verse 5

Paul explained that suffering for Christ demonstrates the believer’s worthiness to participate in God’s kingdom. A hot fire under gold ore separates the gold from the dross and shows the gold to be what it really is. Likewise the fire of trials can separate the Christian from the unsaved and show him to be what he really is. He is what he is by God’s grace. It is God’s grace that qualifies a person for heaven, not suffering. Suffering, if properly responded to, only exposes the quality of the person whom God’s grace is transforming.

Paul taught elsewhere that God will reward Christians who endure temptations to abandon their commitment to Jesus Christ with the privilege of reigning with Christ in His millennial kingdom (2 Timothy 2:12). Whereas all Christians will return to earth with Christ at His second coming and enter His kingdom, only those who follow Him faithfully in this life will reign with Him. [Note: See Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse, pp. 69-77.]

"Jesus encouraged his disciples to rejoice when they were persecuted for his sake because, he said, ’your reward is great in heaven’ (Matthew 5:11-12 par. Luke 6:22-23). This note recurs again and again throughout the NT." [Note: F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, p. 154.]

Verses 5-10

B. Encouragement to persevere 1:5-10

These verses explain what God’s future righteous judgment is.

Verses 6-8

In the future God in His justice would punish the Thessalonians’ persecutors and give rest to his readers as well as to all Christians who suffer affliction for the gospel. This will take place when Jesus Christ returns to the earth in judgment. This is not a reference to the Rapture. The judgments described in the following verses (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10) will not take place then. It is a reference to Christ’s (second) coming at the end of the Tribulation (cf. Psalms 2:1-9; Matthew 25:31). Then Christ will punish those who do not know God (cf. Romans 1:18-32; Jeremiah 10:25; Psalms 79:6; Isaiah 66:15) and those who do not obey the gospel (cf. John 3:36). The former group may be Gentiles and the latter Jews. [Note: Thomas, p. 313; James E. Frame, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, p. 233; I. Howard Marshall, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, pp. 177-78.] However this is probably a case of synonymous parallelism in which both descriptions refer to both Jews and Gentiles. [Note: Wanamaker, p. 227.] He will put them to death and will not allow them to enter the Millennium (cf. Psalms 2; Ezekiel 20:33-38; Joel 3:1-2; Joel 3:12; Zephaniah 3:8; Zechariah 14:1-19; Matthew 25:31-46). [Note: For further information concerning the judgments on Israel and the Gentiles at the Second Coming, see John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, pp. 276-95.] Note the contrasts between the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4 and the Second Coming in 2 Thessalonians 1. [Note: Adapted from Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Ready, p. 131.]

1 Thessalonians 42 Thessalonians 1
Christ returns in the air.Christ returns to the earth.
He comes secretly for the church.He comes openly with the church.
Believers escape the Tribulation.Unbelievers experience tribulation and judgment.
The Rapture occurs at an undisclosed time.The Second Coming occurs at the end of the Tribulation in the day of the Lord.

Verse 9

These non-Christians will suffer "eternal destruction" (lit. they will pay a penalty). Their fate is eternal separation from the person of Christ and the manifestation of His glory (i.e., eternal death; cf. Isaiah 2:10; Isaiah 2:19; Isaiah 2:21). This is Paul’s most explicit reference to the eternal duration of unbelievers’ judgment in all his writings. It is ironic and talionic that those who reject Christ experience God’s rejection.

"Olethros (’destruction’) does not refer to annihilation, which cannot be ’everlasting’ (Hendriksen, p. 160). The word in LXX and NT usages never has this meaning but rather turns on the thought of separation from God and loss of everything worthwhile in life . . ." [Note: Thomas, p. 313. Cf. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "olethros," by J. Schneider, 5 (1967):169; Leon Morris The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, p. 205; D. Michael Martin, 1, 2 Thessalonians, p. 213; Wanamaker, p. 229; and Robert A. Peterson, "Does the Bible Teach Annihilationism?" Bibliotheca Sacra 156:621 (January-March 1999):13-27.]

"Heaven is primarily the presence of God. Hell is the loss of that presence." [Note: E. J. Bicknell, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, p. 70.]

Verse 10

When Christ returns to earth His "saints" will accompany Him. Paul referred specifically to Christians (i.e., believers of the church age who previously experienced the Rapture), not all believers. Old Testament saints will not experience resurrection until the Second Coming (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2). However, one writer argued that the "saints" are Old Testament believers and "all who have believed" are church age believers. [Note: Bruce A. Baker, "The Two Peoples of God in 2 Thessalonians 1:10," Journal of Dispensational Theology 13 (April 2009):5-40.] Jesus Christ’s second coming will be a day of great glory and vindication for Him.

"The idea is that the glory of that day will far surpass anything of which we can have any idea before we behold it, and when we do behold it we shall be lost in amazement." [Note: Leon Morris, The Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians, p. 120.]

Paul’s readers would participate in this day because they had believed Paul’s testimony when he had preached the gospel among them. They would reflect Christ’s glory as will all other believers who will accompany Him at His second coming (i.e., all Christians).

"Just as Paul is elusive about the nature of the vengeance to be inflicted by the Lord Jesus, he is also elusive about the nature of the reward to be bestowed." [Note: Wanamaker, p. 230.]

"That day" is a clear reference to the day of the Lord (cf. Isaiah 2:11; Isaiah 2:17). It will include Jesus Christ’s return to the earth at His second coming (cf. Mark 13:32; Mark 14:25; Luke 21:34; 2 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 4:8). [Note: Thomas, p. 314. Cf. George Milligan, St. Paul’s Epistles to the Thessalonians, p. 92.] Then He will be glorified "in the presence of" His saints (the locative use of the Greek preposition en). [Note: Wanamaker, pp. 230-31.] By using the Greek preposition en, Paul could have meant that Christ will be glorified both "among" them and "in" them.

At first reading it may appear that 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 offer hope that God would judge the Thessalonians’ persecutors very soon and that the Thessalonian Christians would find "relief" (2 Thessalonians 1:7) in the Rapture. However the return of Christ in "fire" (2 Thessalonians 1:7) dealing out punishment (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9) when He comes "with His saints" (2 Thessalonians 1:10) must refer to the Second Coming. Thus it appears that the Second Coming follows the Rapture immediately. This is what posttribulationists believe. It is also what amillennialists and postmillennialists believe. [Note: See Vern S. Poythress, "2 Thessalonians 1 Supports Amillennialism," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37:4 (December 1994):529-38.] However the Tribulation will precede the Second Coming, as posttribulationists agree. Paul proceeded to explain that the Thessalonians were not in the Tribulation (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). Only if they were then in the Tribulation could the hope of relief by a posttribulational Rapture have been a comfort to them. Consequently it seems that in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 Paul was seeking to comfort his readers by assuring them that ultimately they would experience relief by entering rest in the Millennium following Christ’s second coming. Ultimately God would punish their persecutors at the great white throne judgment at the end of the Millennium (Revelation 20:11-15).

Thomas, a pretribulationist, understood the revelation of Jesus Christ spoken of in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 to be a general one that embraces the Rapture and the Second Coming.

"Many have chosen to limit apokalypsei (’revelation,’ ’appearance’) to a single event, identifying it with Christ’s return to earth at the close of the tribulation. The role of ’his powerful angels’ in the revelation favors this understanding in the light of Matthew 24:30-31; Matthew 25:31. It is more persuasive, however, to explain apokalypsei as a complex of events, including various phases of end-time happenings. The present context associates the word with Christ’s coming for his own as well as his coming to deal with opponents. Since the primary thrust of 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 is to encourage suffering Christians, the meaning of apokalypsei for them should receive the emphasis. God’s dealings with the rest of the world are included only to enhance the ’relief’ experienced by believers at the righteous judgment of God." [Note: Thomas, p. 312.]

It seems to me, as I have tried to explain above, that the references to what will happen at this appearing describe the Second Coming exclusively. Thomas admitted that enjoyment of the future glory of Christ’s coming-and only His second coming will be in glory-is the leading idea of this chapter. [Note: Ibid., p. 315. Cf. J. B. Lightfoot, Notes on the Epistles of Paul, p. 105.]

Verses 11-12

C. Prayer for success 1:11-12

Paul and his companions "always" prayed that the Thessalonians would continue to experience purification through their trials rather than experience apostasy. [Note: See my comments on 2:3-4] They also prayed that God would note and approve their worth.

"God counts men worthy as they consent to and endeavor to do that which He works in them." [Note: Hiebert, p. 296.]

The apostle also asked that God would by His power bring to full expression every good purpose of his readers to glorify God and every act motivated by their faith in Him. The ultimate goal was the glory of the Lord Jesus manifested through the Thessalonian believers.

"The ’name’ in Biblical times stood for the whole personality and was an expression of the personality." [Note: Morris, The Epistles . . ., p. 122.]

This is the first of five prayers for the Thessalonians contained in this short letter (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17; 2 Thessalonians 3:5; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:18).

". . . Christlike behavior is more important than words of praise in the glorifying of the Lord. For praise from a life transformed by the power of the Spirit rings true and sweet, but godless living makes a mockery of praise." [Note: Martin, p. 219.]

"Here strict syntax requires, since there is only one article with theou [God] and kuriou [lord] that one person be meant, Jesus Christ, as is certainly true in Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1 . . . This otherwise conclusive syntactical argument . . . is weakened a bit by the fact that Kurios is often employed as a proper name without the article, a thing not true of soter [savior] in Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1. So in Ephesians 5:5 en tei basileiai tou Christou kai theou the natural meaning is in the Kingdom of Christ and God regarded as one, but here again theos, like Kurios, often occurs as a proper name without the article. So it has to be admitted that here Paul may mean ’according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ,’ though he may also mean ’according to the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.’" [Note: A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 4:46.]

This section of verses (2 Thessalonians 1:3-12) gives us great insight into God’s reasons for allowing His saints to undergo affliction for their faith (cf. James 1). Persecution can be a great blessing from God and can bring great glory to our Lord Jesus Christ both now and in the future.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/2-thessalonians-1.html. 2012.
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