|2 Thessalonians 1
2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
1. This second letter to the Thessalonians must have been written shortly after the first. We know Timothy brought such good news from the Thessalonian church that Paul penned 1 Thessalonians. However, when Timothy returned to Thessalonica with the first letter some disturbing things had arisen within the church. Apparently the persecution intensified (chapter one), forged letters about the second coming of Christ supposedly from Paul were circulating (chapter two), and some believers had become idle in the expectation of the second coming of Christ (chapter three).
2. Paul writes this second letter in quick response to these developments. We do not know how long passed between the two letters, but it was probably a matter of months. It reflects the intense feelings and pastoral concern Paul has for the church in Thessalonica.
3. The first chapter may be divided into three sections. (a) Opening of the Letter in verses 1-4, which contains the salutation (v.1), greeting (v.2) and thanksgiving (vv.3-4). (b) God’s Judgment on the Persecutors in verses 5-10. (c) Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians in the midst of this persecution (verses 11-12).
4. The Opening (verses 1-4). The salutation (v.1) contains the senders (Paul, Silas and Timothy) and the recipients of the letter (“church of the Thessalonians”). The greeting is standard: “grace and peace” from the Father and Jesus.
5. The thanksgiving is what is unusual for a Pauline letter. Almost all Pauline letters contain thanksgivings, but the uniqueness of this one is the context of persecution. Paul give thanks for their faith and increasing love in verse 3 and explains that this faith is a tremendous witness because it is a faith sustained in the context of a hostile environment. In particular Paul boasts about their “endurance” (steadfastness; ability to stand up under the hostile pressure) and “faith”. I think it is appropriate to surmise that the persecution has intensified in some way and this may have also occasioned the rise in speculation and expectation for the second coming that is apparent in the next two chapters. Despite the persecution, the faith of the Thessalonians endured.
6. Paul has an interesting interpretation of this persecution (verse 5). He says it is the “righteous judgment of God” which makes them “worthy” of the kingdom of God. The persecution is something over which God is sovereign so that this persecution demonstrates that God’s ultimate judgment of the wicked is a righteous one and which he uses to refine the faith of his people (to make them worthy of the everlasting kingdom). Nevertheless, it is also righteous for God to repay those who afflict God’s people (v.6). The saints should not think about “repaying” others; God will repay. Vengeance belongs to him.
7. Indeed, the second coming of Christ will accomplish two ends: (a) it will afflict those who afflict the people of God, and (b) it will give respite to the afflicted people of God. Christ will exact retribution (vengeance) from the wicked (those who do not have a relationship with God [the meaning of “know”] and those who refuse to obey the gospel), and he will offer rest to his people. The form of retribution is “eternal destruction” which is interpreted to mean exclusion from the presence of God. Isn’t that the essence of “hell”—to be excluded from God’s presence, or God’s absence?
8. The second coming will also be the glorification of Jesus Christ. It is a further revelation of his glory and the saints will gather around him to “marvel” at him as their faith is vindicated and the message of Paul’s gospel is demonstrably proven true.
9. Paul’s response to this prospect is to offer a prayer for the saints in Thessalonica. He reveals the content of his prayer for them.
10. Paul’s prayer has two requests: (a) God will make us worthy; and (b) God will fulfill by his power their work. In the light of verse 5, the prayer for God to refine a character and build a faith through affliction is interesting and foreboding. Paul prays that in the light of the persecution that God will use the persecution to make them worthy of his kingdom—to refine their faith and demonstrate the integrity and endurance of their faith. The prayer that God will fulfill their good purposes and works of faith is important because it is by God’s power that this work will be done, and God himself will fulfill it. God works through his faithful people and faithful people work by the power of God.
11. The purpose of this prayer, that is, the purpose or desired result of the two requests is found in verse 12. It is community glorification: the name of Jesus will be glorified in us and us in him as the grace of God has determined. God intends glory for his people; he intends that they share his glory and that there be a mutual experience of glory at the second coming of Jesus Christ. This is the goal of God.
1. About what does Paul boast among the churches of God concerning the Thessalonians? For what is he thankful?
2. If someone where to write an introductory thanskgiving about the Cordova church, what would they say? What would you want them to give thanks for?
3. What is the evidence that the Thessalonians are worthy of the kingdom of God? What does “worthy” mean here? What does it mean to be “worthy” of the kingdom? What makes us “worthy”? Paul mentions it twice (verses 5 & 11).
4. Who is on trial in this text? Who is on the witness stand? Who is in the judge’s chambers?
5. Why does God wait to execute judgment? Who benefits from this delayed vengeance? May we pray for its coming? May we pray for God to execute judgment now? Did the early church pray for the coming of Jesus?
6. How does the text reflect the joyous character of the second coming of Christ?
7. What quality do you think Paul admires most in these Thessalonians? How might this quality be manifested in our own lives today?
8. Do we really want to pray that God will “make us worthy”? Does that invite trials into our lives? What sorts of things might God do to “make us worthy”?
9. Upon what do we depend to “do good works” in God’s service? By whose power do we accomplish good? What does that mean? What do we mean by the “power of God” in our lives?
10. Spend some time praying this prayer for your congregation. What good do we want to accomplish? We need to pray for God’s power. How do we want God to make us worthy? What will God use? Pray that God will use everything in our lives toward that end, even our sufferings and afflictions.
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