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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

2 Thessalonians 1

Verses 1-12

Salutation Thanksgiving for the Faith of the Thessalonian Church under Persecution, Assurance of Compensation, and Prayer for the perfecting of their Faith.

Paul informs the Thessalonians of the emotions of gratitude and righteous pride which the increase of their faith and love had stirred in him. He promises, and shows that their faithful sufferings themselves promise, a glorious recompense at Christ’s coming; and prays that their faith and character generally may be perfected and made fit for this glorious destiny.

2 Thessalonians 1:1-53.1.2, see notes on the First Epistle.

Verse 3

2 Thessalonians 1:3. Paul mentioned in his First Epistle (1 Thessalonians 3:9-52.3.13) that he ceaselessly prayed for the Thessalonians; he now acknowledges that his prayers were answered. We are as much bound to thank God for answering our prayers, as we are to make known to Him our requests. Here we have an instance of the value and efficacy of intercessory prayer; of the aid we may render our friends when we are by circumstances, or by their condition, precluded from rendering any more direct assistance.

That your faith groweth exceedingly. This was cause of thankfulness in the case of the Thessalonians, because their circumstances were such as severely to try their faith, and it might have been expected to show symptoms of giving way. It is in every case subject of thankfulness, because as faith grows or decays, so grows or decays the whole spiritual life. It is to the inner life what the digestive organs are to the body. And it has laws of growth to which if we attend, it infallibly increases. If it be not increasing, it is decaying. For where there is immature life there must be growth. But ‘every being in nature, even every man and every people, reaches on the natural side a highest point, and then declines and goes towards death, whereas by Christ and His Holy Spirit is implanted in the individual and in humanity a germ of imperishable life, that does not decay.’

Toward each other. Their love was not an unpractical sentiment, a vague desire for the welfare of persons they had never seen, but it was a genuine and generous affection, a hearty and kindly and helpful goodwill towards the people of their own church, society, and households. The church to which an apostle can bear such testimony is to be congratulated.

Verse 4

2 Thessalonians 1:4. So that we ourselves. The growth of the Thessalonians was not a benefit which terminated with themselves; but the apostle also shared in the advantage which accrued from it. Their growth was a commendation of his work. In them, he himself could and did boast.

In the churches of God. It is at all times right and profitable that the vigour and prosperity of one church should be known in all, both for their rebuke and for their encouragement; but it was eminently so in primitive times, when churches situated amidst a heathen population must have felt isolated and forlorn.

Your patience end faith. ‘The Thessalonians evinced faith, in its proper and usual sense, in bearing up in their tribulations and believing on Him while bearing His cross’ (Ellicott).

Verse 5

2 Thessalonians 1:5. A token of the righteous Judgment of God. The just judgment of God here referred to is that future and final allotment of rewards and punishments which is to take place at the second coming of Christ, as described in the following verses. And the present sufferings of the Thessalonians were a proof of this judgment to come: because they made it obvious that in this world men do not receive their deserts, and therefore demanded a future judgment which should harmonize condition and character. The success of falsehood and fraud, the prosperity of the wrong-doer, the sufferings of good men; in a word, the disorder of this present state has always most powerfully brought home to men’s convictions the idea of a judgment to come. ‘If we hold this principle of faith, that God is the just judge of the world, and that it is His office to reward every one according to his work, this other principle must beyond dispute follow, that the present disorder is proof that there will be a judgment which does not yet appear’ (Calvin).

That ye may be counted worthy. The sufferings of the Thessalonians served another purpose; they were not only suggestive of the judgment to come, they were also disciplinary. They tended to make those who endured them meet for the inheritance of the saints. ‘Their sufferings were a token that they were worthy or meet to be accounted Christians indeed, seeing they could suffer for Christianity. And the truth is, religion, if it is worth anything, is worth everything; and those have no religion or none worth having, or know not how to value it, who cannot find in their hearts to suffer for it. We cannot by all our sufferings, any more than by our services, merit heaven as a debt; but by our patience under sufferings, we are prepared for the joy promised to patient sufferers in the cause of God.’

For which ye also suffer. Not as if they expected to obtain the kingdom by their suffering, but they suffered for its sake, as a man willingly suffers for a cause he believes in and advocates.

Verse 6

2 Thessalonians 1:6. If indeed it is a righteous thing with God. The confirmation of what has been said is put hypothetically to suggest the impossibility of the contrary supposition, and so present the truth of the reason in the most convincing form. The reference is specially to the words ‘righteous judgment’ of 2 Thessalonians 1:5.

To recompense tribulation to them that trouble you. This is the jus talionis, the law of retaliation, of meting to a man according to his own measure. ‘With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again;’ this is the inviolable Divine order. And just as many instances of the punishment of sin in life startle us by the exactness of the retribution, so here Paul by the words he chooses designs to indicate pointedly that this exactness will characterize the final judgment. It is the doctrine also of James (2 Thessalonians 2:13), ‘He shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy.’

Verse 7

2 Thessalonians 1:7. Best. To those suffering persecution no promise could present greater attraction. ‘Their rest is not the rest of a stone, cold and lifeless, but of wearied humanity. They rest from their labours; they have no more persecution, nor stoning, nor scourging, nor crucifying; no more martyrdoms by fire, or the wheel, or barbed shafts; they have no more false witness, nor cutting tongues; no more bitterness of heart, nor iron entering into the soul; no more burdens of wrong, nor amazement, nor perplexity. Never again shall they weep for unkindness, and disappointment, and withered hopes, and desolation of heart. All is over now. . . Their last sickness is over. They shall never again bear the tokens of coming dissolution, no more the hollow eye, and the sharp lines of distress, and the hues of fading loveliness. Now is their weariness changed into refreshment, their weakness into excellence of strength, their wasting into a spirit ever new, their broken words into the perfection of praise, their weeping into a chant of bliss’ (Manning).

With us. The persons who urge you to endure, and who have ourselves been afflicted and persecuted. Possibly there is also intended a contrast between the company the Thessalonians would then enjoy, and that to which at present they were subjected.

When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed. Paul does not present death to them as their release, but the second coming of Christ; which indicates that he considered it possible, if not even probable, that this would occur during their lifetime. See note on 1 Thessalonians 4:15.

From heaven, as the centre of authority and power.

With the angels of his power, i.e. the angels who are the manifestation and instruments of His power.

Verse 8

2 Thessalonians 1:8. In flaming fire. This accompaniment of the revelation of Jesus Christ is the same which under the Old Testament symbolized the majesty and holiness of God. See the references. The fire is not viewed primarily as the instrument of vengeance, but as the natural symbol of perfect purity and unapproachable majesty.

Them that know not God. The first class who will be the objects of this vengeance spoken of: those who ‘did not like to retain God in their knowledge,’ and who were therefore given over to a reprobate mind. To this first class belong the Gentiles, whose conduct and doom is described by Paul in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.

Them that obey not the gospel. This second class includes the Jews, who had rejected Christ, and to whom the persecutions of the Christians were mainly due. To obey the Gospel is to yield oneself to its influence; to accept its light, to think of God as He is revealed in it, and to give ourselves to the life to which it prompts.

Verse 9

2 Thessalonians 1:9. Eternal destruction. This is the penalty to be paid by those who reject the Gospel and will not know God a destruction which is to be rendered permanent by the severance of those who suffer it from the source of all good desire and endeavour. ‘A testimony, this, to the eternity of future punishment that is not easy to be explained away’ (Ellicott).

From the presence of the Lord. The preposition ‘from’ is here not only either causal or local, but both. The destruction is caused by the presence of the Lord; that very thing which is the hope and stay of all blessedness, becoming now the source of destruction. How are men to be reclaimed if the very presence on which all holy desire and life depend, becomes destruction to them? This meaning is determined by the passages in Isaiah, from which the phraseology is derived. See Isaiah 2:10; Isaiah 2:19; Isaiah 2:21. But the destruction also consists in banishment from the Lord. The doom of the cursed is, ‘Depart from me’ (Matthew 25:41). As to be ‘ever with the Lord’ was used in the First Epistle as the sum and security of all blessedness, so here to be driven from the Lord is complete destruction.

From the glory of his power. Those to whom His power is unfriendly, and who have no expectation that it will be exerted in their behalf, will flee from its glory. Those glorious appearances which shall somehow convey to men the idea that the power of Christ is almighty, will terrify and destroy those who have hated or rejected Him.

Verse 10

2 Thessalonians 1:10. To be glorified in his saints. The saints are ‘the risen and glorified company of believers,’ in whose glorified bodies and perfected spirits the influence of Christ becomes visible. Christ will be glorified in His saints when His power and goodness become apparent through them. As a teacher is glorified in his successful pupils, a commanding officer in his well-disciplined and serviceable troops, so Christ is glorified in those who are renewed by His Spirit and redeemed by His grace. In the last day there will be an assemblage and exhibition of the fruits of Christ’s work which may be very difficult to conceive beforehand, but which will be to all a true revelation of Him. It will show irresistibly to all what He truly is, and will manifest all that has been silently and secretly working from the seed sown in His first coining.

To be admired in all them that believe. If this clause be a strict parallelism in thought as it is in expression to the preceding, then it declares that Christ will be admired or wondered at, because of those who have believed in Him. Their numbers may be so great, their attainments so considerable, their fidelity so well-tried and constant, their belief itself so unlikely, as to reflect admiration cm the object of their faith. The person who has been able to evoke from characters so various a faith which no worldly force has been able to subdue, cannot but be an object of amazement to all who witness this faith. The men who might seem most competent, men of masculine character, of lofty intellect, of rare natural purity, men of genius and of extensive influence, have all needed to lean upon this one Person; and it needs only to be recognised that He is supporting the faith of the greatest as of the least of men, and admiration and amazement possess us.

Because our testimony to you was believed. This clause is inserted that the Thessalonians may more distinctly connect themselves with the company of believers, and feel the personal reference of the preceding prediction.

Verse 11

2 Thessalonians 1:11. To which end. An expression equivalent to, and with a view to this glorious consummation.

We also pray. We not only give you these assurances regarding this great future event, but in our prayers it is present to our thoughts, showing us more distinctly what you need to make you partakers of its glory.

That our God would count you worthy of this calling. This is the matter of his prayer, but blended, as Ellicott remarks, with the purpose of making it. The calling to which Paul refers is that destiny of the saints which he has just been describing. ‘Calling’ is here used, as it so commonly is in our familiar use of the word, for that to which a person is called, precisely as ‘hope’ is used not only of the sentiment within us, but also of the object which excites it. Of course no man is, strictly speaking, worthy of such a destiny. Had it been a mare matter of justice, such a prayer as this of Paul’s would have been inappropriate if not impertinent. But while it is by God’s grace any one is counted worthy, there is a corresponding conduct looked for and required in those who are visited by this grace. There is a ‘walking worthy of this vocation.’ Our Lord warns us (Luke 21:36) that watching and praying are needed if we are to be counted worthy; and we know that by a law of His kingdom, increased grace is given only to those who have rightly used what has already been bestowed. All this work, however, in and by the Christian is, as Paul here reminds us, ‘according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.’

Fulfil all the good pleasure of goodness and the work of faith. As the second member of this double petition certainly refers to the faith of the Thessalonians, it is probable that the first member of it likewise refers to the goodness of the Thessalonians. And this is confirmed by the circumstance that the word here translated ‘goodness’ is never used of the goodness of God, but always of that of men. The word rendered good pleasure’ is that which Paul uses when he says, ‘My heart’s desire for Israel is, that they may be saved,’ and is commonly used for desire, especially (though not always) when the desire is a benevolent one. The prayer of Paul therefore is, that God would powerfully bring to complete and satisfactory result every desire or purpose which their goodness of heart engendered, or more probably would so increase their goodness as to make these desires themselves perfect, irrespective of their results, and would enable them to maintain and perfect that activity and endurance to which faith had prompted them. His mind still dwells on the two grand graces which the Thessalonians had displayed, their ‘work of faith and labour of love’ (1 Thessalonians 1:3), and for these two graces he now begs completion.

With power, i.e. powerfully.

Verse 12

2 Thessalonians 1:12. That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you. This declares the purpose to be served by the fulfilment of his prayer for them. The meaning of the words has been explained above. New Christ may be glorified in us by obedience and patience, then by the results of these, perfected righteousness, ‘glory, honour, and immortality.’ He is glorified now in all who manifest how firmly they believe His word, how highly they esteem the holiness He exemplified, how profoundly they love Him. And they do so when they suffer without repining, and obey with alacrity and self-sacrifice.

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Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 1". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.