Author: The Apostle Paul
Date of Writing: AD 51 (Paul's earliest epistle)
Target Audience: Jewish and Greek believers who gather as a “church” in Thessalonica.
Theme: Continuing to live in view of the coming of Christ
INTO THE WORD (STUDY):
- What has happened since Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians (v. 4)? How has persecution affected this church?
- What is the evidence that they are "worthy" of God's Kingdom (v. 5)?
- Who is on trial here? Who is on the witness stand? In the judge's chambers?
- Why is God waiting until the Second Coming to punish these persecutors? Who benefits from this delayed justice?
- What quality do you think Paul admires most in these Christians?
- What do you see as the net effect of Paul's thanksgiving and prayer?
Think Q.U.E.S.T.: Do you still have a lingering QUESTION? What is particularly UNEASY for you or catches your attention? Is there an EXHORTATION or command in this passage? What is the SETTING (historical/cultural/linguistic context)? Is there a TRUTH to grasp?
INTO MY LIFE (APPLICATION):
1. How will you exercise faith and love this week in a specific way or relationship?
2. Which of your current struggles are a result of being a Christian?
3. How do you feel about the punishment mentioned in verses 8-9? How might you if you were being severely oppressed?
As a result of my conversational study in 2 Thessalonians 1, I choose to pursue the following transformative life action:
- To be thankful for how God is working in my life and the lives of others
- To persevere in faith and endure the hardships and trials in my life
- To fulfill every good purpose God has for my life and to serve in humility and grace
HISTORICAL, CULTURAL AND BIBLICAL COMMENTARY
THANKSGIVING (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4)
We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.
We learn rather quickly, in this second epistle to the Thessalonian church, that Paul's first letter created some doubt and confusion. We also discover the persecution of this young congregation has only intensified. There are likely individuals who've dropped out of the fellowship and chose to reject the faith they once embraced. There is fear in the camp too. The Thessalonians are worried about what's to come. They wonder if they'll survive. And they're afraid of what it all means.
Paul's answer to the Thessalonians is pregnant with assurance, compassion and concern. He lifts them up. He boasts about them. He informs them how impressed he is with who they are and what they're doing. These assurances buoy their faith and lift their spirits. Paul is hundreds of miles away in Corinth and yet this letter drips with his attention and affection for these Thessalonian believers. Paul cares about them.
In general, Paul notes three qualities that impress him: 1) They have a strong faith. 2) They have increasing love. And 3) They have constant endurance. Essentially they believe, they love, they endure. Paul cherry picks these qualities and highlights them. He wants these young believers to know that he sees progress (even from afar) and encourages them to continue in that positive direction.
GOD'S JUDGMENT (2 Thessalonians 5:5-10)
All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.
Let's be honest. Nobody likes to be punished. It's painful, hurtful and personal. On the other hand, nobody likes to suffer without justice either. We want vengeance upon those who trouble us. We want justice for those who wound us. We want our sufferings to serve a purpose and have a consequence.
Paul is informing the Thessalonians that their persecution and suffering is not in vain. God not only knows their trials but intends to set the scales right in the end. He intends to "pay back" (punish) those who persecute his people. When will this avenging act happen? Paul says when Jesus "is revealed from heaven" (v. 7). At his coming, Christ Jesus will settle some old scores. He'll set the record straight. He'll pay in spades those who seek to harm His people.
What will be this punishment? Paul mentions a "blazing fire" and "everlasting destruction" and being "shut out of the Lord's presence." In a word, Paul is describing Hell. Hell is described in multiple places in the New Testament. Jesus used a visual metaphor: gehenna (a garbage dump that burned 24/7 outside of Jerusalem's gates). It's a place of fire and "burning sulphur" (Matthew 5:22; James 3:6; Revelation 20:10; 20:14-15), It's a place of condemnation (Matthew 23:33). It's a place of punishment (Matthew 5:29-31; Revelation 20:14-15). It is a place of destruction (Matthew 10:28). It's a place of separation (Matthew 7:23; 25:31-46). Hell is where Satan and his demons will spend eternity in a state of perpetual torment (Revelation 20:10).
So how do we view this place called "Hell" in the Bible? Essentially, there are three positions:
ETERNAL TORMENT: The most dominant and popular view says that those who do not accept Jesus the Christ will be judged and burned eternally in a state of painful, conscious torment. Once in hell, there is no escape. Some variations of this view argue there are levels of punishment in hell. The "worse" a person was, the deeper into hell they go. The Catholic view includes a place called purgatory where venial (non-mortal, unconfessed) sins are "purged" from a person prior to their entrance to Heaven. Purgatory is not "hell" but it does carry a punitive nature.
ANNIHILATION: This view states that mortality is conditional. In other words, we choose to be "made alive" by Jesus and saved for eternal life with God. Because of Adam's sin, the soul is born dead and requires regeneration to live forever. Consequently, at death and judgment these "dead souls" are thrown into the lake of fire to experience a "second death" (Revelation 20:14-15). At this point the soul is annihilated. It ceases to exist. In fact, it's as if it never existed. Some variants of this view argue for a temporary place of torment prior to the final judgment and annihilation. A very minor view is that people will be given a second chance after death to avoid annihilation.
RESTORATION: This view argues that God is a God of Love and not punishment. Furthermore, Christ brought salvation for ALL people and not just a select group. Consequently, if there is a hell it is certainly not eternal. Rather its a temporary punitive place. Essentially, a form of prison sentence (with hard labor) to work off the sins. However, once the sinner has paid his dues and done the time, he is released to enjoy Heaven eternally. This view is known as universalism because it claims all people will be saved in the end. It's also knowns as restorationalism because Hell is merely a "purgatory" for the most vile sinner. In the end, even sinners are restored.
All three views can be defended biblically, although the universal-restorative view contradicts many New Testament teachings, including Jesus' own words (Matthew 5:21-22; 7:22-23). In John's apocalypse he describes judgment as being both final and eternal (Revelation 20:11-15):
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
This "lake of fire" is the exact same destination of Satan in Revelation 20:10:
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
There is no mention anywhere in the New Testament for a "second chance." There is no mention of a "purgatory" experience, either to purge sins for the believer prior to his heavenly entrance or to burn off the vile dross of the unrepentant sinner to restore him to a place to be eternally saved. Hell is a final estate. It is a place of eternal torment. Now that doesn't mean it's eternal for humans, as the traditional (Catholic and mostly Protestant) view preaches. The "second death" can mean extermination of the soul too. Satan and his demons are spiritual entities and special angelic creations. Hell was a unique place created just for their kind. There is no strong biblical evidence to suggest humans are "tormented" day and night forever, although that view can certainly be taken. The annihilationist view would argue that the human soul (already dead due to Adam's sin) was never designed for eternal torment and any "everlasting" or "eternality" for Hell is its nature. A fire that burns 24/7 is eternal, but toss a piece of paper into its flames and the paper is "annihilated" (it ceases to exist as a piece of paper),
Ultimately, we can safely say that there will be a final judgment for all human beings. Hebrews 9:27 states: "Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment." Note that we also only die ONCE. There is no reincarnation episode. We don't trans-migrate to another life or a different life form. Once we die, we are ready to face judgment and receive either our reward (heaven) or our punishment (hell). Paul reassures the Thessalonians that God will not only judge their persecutors but avenge their crimes too.
A PRAYER (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ
In the final two verses of 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul mentions how he and the other leaders "constantly pray for" the Thessalonians. This shows the prayer life of Paul as well as the early church. Prayer was not a "tag" to another activity. Prayer was a lifestyle. It was a constant activity. It was a habit and culture. This was also a mark of early Christian churches. As Acts 2:42 reveals, the early believers gathered (churched) to learn (the apostles' doctrine), fellowship with one another, participate in the Lord's Supper/Eucharist/Communion and, finally, to pray. It's clear from other passages, particularly in Acts, that early Christians all prayed TOGETHER. They invested in prayer. They communicated through prayer. They lived to pray and prayed to live.
So what did these leaders (including Paul) pray?
- CALLING: that individual Christians might discover their purpose and skills in order to fulfill God's specific will for their lives
- POWER: that individual Christians might bear fruit through their desires (for goodness) and deeds (prompted by faith).
- GLORIFICATION: that in all things and by every way, Jesus would be glorified in and through the lives of His people.
Notice what Paul and his leadership didn't pray for. They didn't pray for the Thessalonians to be delivered from their trials or be rescued from their troubles. They didn't pray for the sick to be healed. They didn't pray for physical need. They didn't pray, as we often do, for God to bless what we've already decided or planned to do. They simply prayed that God would help them to find their "calling" and then to empower and glorify that "calling" to His benefit and good purposes.
This was the "constant" prayer of Paul for this Thessalonian church (and likely the new churches in Philippi, Berea and Corinth too). It remains a great prayer and solid template for our petitions yet today.
Discipleship. Fellowship. Prayer. WORSHIP.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer...
"A biblical community for the spiritually curious."
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.