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Friday, July 19th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
2 Thessalonians 1

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1

(1) Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus.—The company which despatched the First Epistle is not yet broken up. This proves that the Second Epistle was written before the end of the second missionary journey, for after that time we do not read of Silvanus being in the company of St. Paul. The salutation is precisely the same as in the First Epistle, save for the last clause of 2 Thessalonians 1:2, which is wrongly added in that place, but stands rightly here.

Verse 3

(3) We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren.—The thanksgiving is regarded as a positive debt incurred, which it would be a dishonesty not to pay.

Because.—This assigns the reason for saying that it was “meet,” and does not merely follow after “thank God:” in which case, the words “as it is meet” would have been rather weak, as containing no more than is involved in “we are bound.” The best paraphrase would be: “We feel the obligation to give thanks for you; and, in point of fact, it is but meet that we should, because,” &c.

Groweth exceedingly.—An enthusiastic word in the original: “is out-growing all bounds.” It is a metaphor from vegetable or animal growth. This was one of the very points about which St. Paul was anxious the last time that he had written: then there were deficiencies in their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:10).

Charity.—Here, too, St. Paul remembers what he had said to them in the last Epistle, in which he had devoted a whole section to the love of the brethren “toward each other.” “Of every one of you all” is a very noticeable expression, as showing the individual solicitude of the Apostles for their converts. Just as the apostolic instructions were given to each Christian privately (1 Thessalonians 2:11), so news has been brought how each several Christian is progressing. The differences which had called forth such passages as 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:6-10; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14, had apparently all ceased, and mutual love was multiplying.

Verse 4

(4) So that we ourselves.—Why was it less likely that St. Paul and his companions should thus glory in them than other friends did, or perhaps than the Thessalonians themselves? Possibly, because it seemed almost like self-praise to praise their own converts; but much more probably, because the writers had before felt and expressed misgivings on the point: this suits the thought of 2 Thessalonians 1:3 better.

Glory in you in the churches of God.—Not only in thanksgiving to God (though, perhaps, outbursts of praise in the public services of “the churches” may be included), but also in talking to other men, at Corinth and elsewhere: so, in return, St. Paul “boasted” to the Thessalonians about the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 9:2).

Your patience and faith.—It was well proved that St. Paul had no more cause for misgiving, and that the tempter’s tempting by persecution had not made the apostolic labours to be in vain. (See 1 Thessalonians 3:5.) “Patience,” in the New Testament, does not mean a meek submissiveness, but a heroic endurance. The “faith” here becomes almost equivalent to “hope,” except that it introduces the ground of such hope: viz., confidence in the living God; it also includes the notion of faithfulness.

Persecutions and tribulations.—The difference-between the two words is, that while “tribulation” is quite general, and implies no personal enmities, “persecution” means that a certain set of persons were organising active measures for the annoyance of the Church. Such persecution they were still “enduring” when the Letter was written.

Verse 5

(5) Which is . . .—In the fervid eloquence of the original these connecting words are omitted, and the clause added in a kind of apposition to the words “in all your persecutions;” the effect is the same as when we in English put a dash: “which ye endure—a manifest token,” &c. The indication of God’s righteous judgment consisted not so much in the vitality and growth of the Thessalonians’ faith and love as in the very fact of their being persecuted; such persecution was an actual indication how the fair judgment of God would go in the last day. No undue stress is to be laid upon the epithet “righteous,” as if it were “a token of the righteousness of God’s judgment;” the point is only to indicate already what a fair judge was likely to decide.

That ye may be counted worthy.—This expresses the result, not of the future judgment of God, but of the patient sufferings which reveal what that judgment will be. The “counting worthy” (or rather, perhaps, the “declaring worthy”) is, in fact, the “judgment” or sentence itself. “You suffer in such a manner that we can forecast the fair verdict of God: viz., so as to be then declared (the Greek tense points to a distinct moment of forming the estimate) fit to receive God’s kingdom.” The word “counted worthy” has in this place nothing to do with the theological question of merit.

The kingdom of God.—Which had formed a prominent feature of the first preaching at Thessalonica. (See Introduction to the First Epistle to the Thessalonians.) Are the Thessalonian Christians, then, not yet in the kingdom of God? Yes; but only as its subjects: hereafter they are to be counted worthy not of admission into it, but of it itself—i.e., to inherit it, to become kings of it. (Comp. the parallel argument in 2 Timothy 2:12.)

For which ye also suffer.—St. Paul is very fond of this “also” in relative clauses; it tightens the coupling between the relative and antecedent clauses, and so brings out more clearly the vital connection between suffering and reigning. They suffer “for the kingdom,” not merely for the sake of winning it, but on its behalf, in defence of it, in consequence of being its citizens, to extend its dominion.

Verse 6

(6) Seeing it is.—Literally, if so be it is fair: a form very common in St. Paul, when he wishes to argue from some fact which he knows his readers will recognise (e.g., Romans 8:9). “Your persecution is a clear indication what God’s fair verdict will be—that He will pronounce you fit—unless indeed you deny (as you will not) that it is fair to recompense the persecutors with tribulation and the persecuted with rest.” The context shows that St. Paul does not mean that all suffering deserves a requital with bliss, but he does put it as a matter of common fairness that when men have suffered for the kingdom’s sake God should so reward them hereafter.

With God.—Such a system of requital commends itself as fair to men: is it likely to seem less fair in the eyes of God? Holy Scripture always sets forth the power of the human conscience to recognise God’s principles of action: whatever is righteous for men is so for God, and vice versâ.

Verse 7

(7) Rest with us.—Why “with us”? It shows sympathy in their present trials, for it implies that the writers themselves had earned or were earning (see Acts 18:12) that rest by the like trials. The word “rest” (or relaxation) is the opposite of the “strain” at which the persecution kept them. Such “rest” is not to be expected in its fulness till the judgment day.

From heaven.—St. Paul seems to delight in calling attention to the quarter from which “the Lord Jesus” (the human name, to show His sympathy with trouble) will appear. (See 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:16.)

With his mighty angels.—Literally, with the angels of His poweri.e., the angels to whom His power is intrusted and by whom it is administered. The angels do not attend merely for pomp, but to execute God’s purposes. (See Matthew 13:41; Matthew 13:49; Matthew 24:31.)

Verse 8

(8) In flaming fire.—Most critics agree to change the punctuation here, by omitting the comma after “angels” and inserting it after “fire.” The flaming fire here is not the instrument of the vengeance—i.e., hell-fire—but the common pictorial attribute of the Divine Presence (Exodus 3:2; Exodus 19:18; Daniel 7:9).

Taking vengeance.—The expression in the original is one which is said to be found nowhere else in Greek literature, save in Ezekiel 25:14 (though in Hebrew there is an almost exact equivalent in Numbers 31:3), so that it is difficult to assign the correct meaning. It certainly does not mean “taking vengeance” in the sense of “taking His revenge,” as though our Lord had conceived a personal grudge and were wreaking it. What it does mean would seem to be “assigning retribution:” appointing, that is, to each man what satisfaction of justice he must make. The very word for “vengeance” can only mean vengeance exacted on some one else’s behalf. (Comp. 1 Thessalonians 4:6, and Psalms 79:10.)

On them that know not God.—According to the Greek, the word “them” should be repeated also in the next clause. The effect will then be to mark off the culprits into two classes: “them that know not,” and “them that obey not.” A comparison of Ephesians 4:17-18, 1 Thessalonians 4:5, shows that by the first class are meant Gentiles; a comparison of Romans 10:16; Romans 10:21 (and many other passages) will show disobedience to be the characteristic of the Jews. The Greek negative particle here is one which shows that the ignorance of the one set and the disobedience of the other were just the points for which they were to be punished: therefore, of course, only those Gentiles whose ignorance was voluntary, who chose (Romans 1:28) to be Gentiles when they might have been joined to the true God, are objects of wrath. Here, as the context shows, St. Paul is thinking chiefly of those Gentiles and Jews who actually persecuted the truth.

Obey not the gospel.—A noteworthy phrase; see the reference. The gospel, the “glad tidings,” contains not only a statement of facts, but also a call to obey a law which is the outcome of the facts. Even the acceptance of evangelical promises requires a submission. (Comp. Luke 24:47; Acts 11:18; Revelation 22:3.) It is here called specially the gospel “of our Lord Jesus Christ,” because the sin of the Jews (who constitute this class of sinners) consisted precisely in the wilful rejection of Jesus as the Christ.

Verse 9

(9) Punished with everlasting destruction specifies the “vengeance” to be taken. But the word “destruction” does not stand absolutely and alone as a synonym for “annihilation.” This passage, in itself, gives us no reason to suppose that the lost will be “destroyed” in the ordinary sense of the word. They are to be destroyed from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power”—i.e., cut off from it for ever. The “presence”—or, more literally here, ”the face—of the Lord,” as well as “the glory of His power,” is a metaphor from the courts of Oriental kings, where only honoured courtiers are admitted to spend their time in the immediate and familiar presence of the sovereign. Familiar contact with Christ hereafter, which will be accorded to all the saved, was God’s ideal intention for the lost as well, therefore it is a positive “destruction” to be banished from it. But to the Jews, who looked for a Messiah who should keep regal state, the punishment was peculiarly appropriate. The word is used besides in 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:3; 1 Timothy 6:9. As for the word rendered “everlasting” (or eternal, for it is the same which is used, e.g., Hebrews 6:2), it would certainly convey to St. Paul’s readers the notion of incessant duration in time; it is, of course, only an adaptation to human language to speak of time at all in such a case, as we cannot tell what may take the place of time in the next dispensation; however, so far as the actual words go, there is nothing in these passages (Matthew 18:8; Matthew 25:41; Matthew 25:46; Mark 3:29; Hebrews 6:2; Jude 1:7) to suggest any future alteration in the state of the lost. In this, as in some other doctrines, there seem to be two distinct sets of passages, the logical reconciliation of which in our present state seems almost impossible.

Verse 10

(10) When he shall come.—Not simply a repetition of the temporal date which was mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 1:7—“when the Lord,” &c—but an introduction of the contrast which will be presented “in that day” by the spectacle of the glory of the saints. Thus the penalty of 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is made to appear greater, while at the same time the readers’ minds are turned back to a more wholesome subject for meditation.

To be glorified in his saints.—This is not exactly the purpose, but the effect of His coming. A comparison of John 13:31-32; John 14:13; John 17:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:12; shows that the saints are the objects on which and by which the glorious perfection of Christ is exhibited: to see what the saints will be exalted to “in that day” will make all observers acknowledge, not the holiness or greatness of the men, but the divine power of Him who was able so to exalt them. As the persecutors were divided into two classes to be punished, so the saved are described under two aspects: in contrast with “them that know not God” they are “saints,” i.e., fully consecrated to God; in contrast with “them that obey not the gospel” they are “they that believed” (for the past tense is the better reading), i.e., accepted the gospel. As the profane Gentiles, looking on the saints, recognise the “glory” of the God whom they knew not, so the disobedient Jews, seeing the faithful, are aptly filled with “wonder” (Acts 13:41), before they perish, at the glory to be attained by obedience to the law of suffering.

Because our testimony.—Introduced to show why the writers had said specially “in all them that believed” (the past tense is employed because it looks back from the Judgment Day to the moment when the gospel was offered and the divergence between believers and unbelievers began); the reason was, because among “all them that believed” the Thessalonians would be found included.

In that day.—Added at the end to make the readers look once more (as it were) upon the wonderful sight on which the writer’s prophetic eyes were raptly fixed.

Verse 11

(11) Wherefore.—Literally, whereuntoi.e., to their being found among the blessed. The “also” serves to emphasise the “pray”: we do not content ourselves with merely hoping, but we direct actual prayer to that end. The word “whereunto” seems grammatically to depend upon the word “calling”—“of the calling whereunto, we pray also for you always, that our God would count you worthy.”

Count you worthy of this calling.—The word “this” would, perhaps, have been, better left out; the “calling” of which St. Paul is thinking is the calling “in that day,” such as is expressed in Matthew 25:34, and the act is the same as that of 2 Thessalonians 1:5. But had they not been called to glory already? Yes (1 Thessalonians 4:7), and had obeyed the call; and God was still calling them hourly (see Notes on 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:24); but that was no security that they would remain worthy of that last decisive call. “Many are called, but few chosen.” In the original there is some, emphasis laid on the pronoun: “count you”

Fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness.—Rather, fulfil every purpose of goodness; or, “everything which beneficence deems good.” Most modern commentators take the “goodness” to be the goodness of the Thessalonians themselves, thus making the clause logically antecedent to the foregoing:” May count you worthy of His calling, and (for that purpose) fulfil every good moral aspiration you may entertain.” But this seems unnecessary. The “beneficence” is used absolutely, in almost a personified sense; it is, of course, in reality, God’s beneficence, but is spoken of as beneficence in the abstract. Thus the clause preserves its natural place as an explanation of the preceding:” May finally call you. and there accomplish upon your persons all that beneficence can devise.”

And the work of faith with power.—This work, too, is God’s work, not the work of the Thessalonians. It is used in the same sense as a like phrase in Cowper’s well-known hymn—

“Thou shalt see My glory soon,
When the work of grace is done.”

It means, not “perfect your faithful activity,” as in 1 Thessalonians 1:3, but “bring to its mighty consummation the work that faith was able to effect in you.” Faith, therefore, is here opposed as much to sight as to unbelief. The “beneficence” and the “power” thus exerted upon (rather than through) the Thessalonians. produces upon all spectators of the judgment, both angels and men, the effect described in the next verse.

Verse 12

(12) That the name . . .—This verse gathers up what has been said in 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10. Seeing the favours bestowed upon the Christians in the last day, all, the lost as well as the saved, will be forced to acknowledge the glory (i.e., the divine perfection) of the Jesus whose Christship had been rejected, and the glory (i.e., the true dignity) of the Christians who had been despised for their allegiance to Him. It stands to reason that Christians must share Christ’s “glory” (i.e., full recognition; comp. Note on 1 Thessalonians 2:6) in that day, for when the lost recognise what He is, it is ipso facto a recognition that they were right and wise to follow Him. The words “according to the grace” belong only to “and ye in Him:” it is the gracious will (for “grace” here has hardly its strict theological sense) of God, in which Christ concurs, that we should be thus “glorified in Him.”

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/2-thessalonians-1.html. 1905.
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