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II Thessalonians 1-3 Listen
A word about II Thessalonians
This epistle from Paul follows the first letter he wrote to them by a very short time - probably around 52 A.D. or so. It was written to clear up any misconceptions these people might have had regarding the tribulation and coming of Christ, rapture, etc. as a result of reading his first letter. Just as in I Thessalonians (see notes), we see here in verse 1:1 that Paul was accompanied at the time of this writing by Silvanus, and Timotheus. We know quite a bit about Timothy, and his identity is beyond dispute. Bible scholars disagree, however, regarding the identity of Silvanus here; most are convinced that "Silvanus" is Silas' Latin name as a Roman citizen, while a few believe this refers to another individual altogether. The fact is, Silas did accompany Paul and Timothy on Paul's second missionary journey which began in Acts 15:36 (see notes). The mention of Timothy almost certainly identifies Silvanus and Silas to be one in the same.
Greeting (II Thessalonians 1:1-4)
1 Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
2 Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;
4 So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:
Paul is thankful for their faithfulness, especially in the midst of the tribulation they endure. This praise is appropriate ("it is meet"), so much so that Paul is complimentary of them in the presence of Believers in other churches. Their faithfulness has translated into an abounding love toward one another.
There's coming a day (II Thessalonians 1:5-12)
5 Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:
6 Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;
7 And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
10 When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.
11 Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power:
12 That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul introduces the concept of judgment on the wicked in these verses. Wicked people trouble the righteous; that troubling serves as a "manifest token" ("evidence") that they are in Christ. The thought here is compatible with John 15:18-19 (see notes) when Jesus said, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." Notice verse 6, "Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;" Paul specifically tells the Thessalonians that, just as they are being caused tribulation now, there is a time in the future when God himself will bring tribulation on the wicked. As a matter of fact, Paul obviously was anticipating this tribulation to begin within the normal span of his lifetime as he particularly references "them that trouble you" in this verse. That's compatible with his statement in I Thessalonians 4:17 (see notes) when Paul wrote, "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." Yup, Paul definitely anticipated that the rapture would take place in his lifetime, and that the persecutors of his lifetime would experience the wrath of the tribulation period. However, notice that his phrase in verse 6 "them that trouble you" would seem to exempt from the tribulation those who have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior. Two observations on verse 6 are worth making here: (1) The rapture is imminent i.e. nothing must be prophetically fulfilled before this catching away of Believers. (2) The Tribulation is only for the lost, not Believers.
Before one can properly place the events of chapter 2, verses 7-10 of chapter 1 must be thoroughly understood in light of the event of John's Revelation. What is Paul specifically referencing in these verses?
Without question, verses 7-10 describe the events of the tribulation period concluding with the Battle of Armageddon found in Revelation 19:11-21 (see notes). Verses 7-10 do not describe the rapture where the sum total of the event only involves the disappearance of saved (born again) people, according to I Thessalonians 4:13-18 (see notes). In verses 11-12, Paul encourages them to make certain they are part of the "Believers" of verse 10 and not the "unsaved" of verses 8-9.
In chapter 2, we'll see a great deal of specificity regarding this seven-year period that is characterized by the "vengeance" of verses 8-10. That vengeance culminates with the Battle of Armageddon. The whole period is figuratively referred to as "that day" in verse 10, a common phrase used to describe a period of time characterized by an event (both past and future) by the Old Testament prophets (see below for more details regarding the usage of the word "day").
Are we in the tribulation? (II Thessalonians 2:1-12)
IMPORTANT NOTE: You cannot understand the scenario of chapter 2 without thoroughly understanding the setup to the passage in II Thessalonians 1:7-10 (see above).
1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?
6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.
7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.
8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:
9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,
10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:
12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
One more understanding is vital here. There is a difference between "tribulation" and "THE tribulation" in scripture. The Greek word for "tribulation" is "thlipsis" which is translated "trouble" or "tribulation." It's the word for general trouble in one's life. However, the prophecy regarding Daniel's seventieth week in Daniel 9:27 (see notes) describes a seven-year period which is commonly called "THE tribulation." That is the period described by Paul in this chapter.
Whatever misconceptions the Thessalonians may have had regarding where they were in relation to the tribulation, Paul seeks to clear it up right here in chapter 2. You will recall that Paul assured them that they were not "appointed to wrath" in I Thessalonians 5:9 (see notes), but from the answers supplied in this epistle, they still seem to be kinda worried about that. Verse 1 frames the concern: What about the "coming" (Greek: "parousia" - also often rendered "presence") of Jesus Christ AND "our gathering together unto him?" Here's the issue: If they were not "appointed to wrath" what's all of this "tribulation" that they're experiencing about?
Verse 2 helps us understand how this concern escalated; let's look at it closely:
That false teaching to which these people had been exposed stated that the trouble they were experiencing meant that they were in the midst of THE tribulation. Paul's mission is to prove to them that they are NOT in THE tribulation.
So, Paul lays some heavy-duty prophecy on them regarding the tribulation period and the "beast" of Revelation 13 (see notes) who is commonly referred to today by people as the "antichrist." Biblical correctness would require us to refer to this puppet-leader of Satan as the "beast," but popular reference leads us to refer to him as "the antichrist." In actuality, the only references to "antichrist" in the New Testament are found in I John 2:18,22; 4:3; II John 1:7 (see notes). These may be references to the tribulation personality of Revelation 13 called the "beast," but it is not certain.
Many have misunderstood the usage of the word "day" in this and similar passages. They only understand the usage of this word in the context of describing a 24-hour period of time. Therefore, it seems to them that the word must describe the "day" the rapture takes place or the "day" Jesus returns to earth, etc. Actually, the word "day" of verse 3 is used figuratively like we use that word ourselves (i.e. "back in my day..." or "there's coming a day..."). You may find it helpful to read the notes on Philippians 1 (see notes) regarding the usage of the word "day." There is a consistency in scripture (Old and New Testaments) regarding the usage of this term, "day of the Lord." Whether it is talking about the attack of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Beast (aka Antichrist) or the tribulation itself, it usually refers to an event or series of events accompanied by severe judgment(s) upon people. In keeping with the essence of this scriptural usage, Paul is referring to a time (longer than 24 hours) with distinct unpleasant characteristics, specifically, the events of the tribulation.
So, here's what he says about that "day" (the tribulation period) of verse 3:
Don't be confused (II Thessalonians 2:13-17)
13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:
14 Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.
16 Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,
17 Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.
Paul encourages them (and us) to rest in the facts of the first 12 verses to recognize that we are to be delivered from these events through the pre-tribulation rapture of Believers. In verse 13 he acknowledges their salvation (as a community of Believers) by referring to them as "chosen," inasmuch as God had directed Paul to take the Gospel to them on his Second Missionary Journey (see map) in Acts 17 (see notes). As a result of the "sanctification [Greek: "hagiasmos" means "set apart"] of the spirit" and "belief of the truth," they were saved. Subsequently, verse 14 tells them that they were called to "glory" - that which is experienced by Jesus Christ himself in Heaven. That being the case, they are encouraged to "hold the traditions which ye have been taught" in verse 15. Those traditions include, not only his personal teaching to them ("by word"), but also "by letter," undoubtedly a reference to the guarantee that they were to be delivered from the "wrath" of I Thessalonians 5:9 (see notes). These comforting words are to be their "consolation" in verses 16-17.
I have provided the following chart for perspective in studying these passages.
Read the summary on Jesus' tribulation presentation (Matthew 24:1-31; Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:5-28) for a fuller understanding.
Y'all pray for us (II Thessalonians 3:1-5)
1 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you:
2 And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith.
3 But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil.
4 And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you.
5 And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.
He asks that they pray for his ministry on two counts:
He expresses confidence in them and the Lord in keeping them from evil along with an exhortation to remain patient in the midst of the tribulation they are experiencing. The "patient waiting for Christ" is a reference to the rapture (I Thessalonians 4:13-18, see notes).
Warning against busybody deadbeats (II Thessalonians 3:6-15)
6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
7 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;
8 Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:
9 Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.
10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.
12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
13 But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.
14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
15 Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
You've heard the verse, "Idleness is the devil's workshop." I hate to break this to you, but that's not a scripture. However, that does seem to be the essence of this passage on keeping busy. Everyone is encouraged to work. He points out that when one has idle time on his hands, he has a tendency to use that time negatively.
It seems likely that these verses are intended to put a stop to the bad teaching Paul has been dealing with in chapters 1-2. Consider this scenario: They had heard teaching that the persecution and trouble they were experiencing meant that they were in THE tribulation. People with idle time on their hands were spreading the word - the incorrect, false word. Assuming that to be the case, Paul tells them to avoid those who do not embrace the solid teachings of Paul (verse 6). He refers to them as "busybodies" and "disorderly" in verse 11. They don't work; they meddle. Paul offers himself as an example inasmuch as he worked his trade while he was among them and offers this rule of thumb designed to put a screeching halt to this idle spreading of bad tales and doctrine, "...if any would not work, neither should he eat." Incidentally, in verse 9 he remarks that it was not for lack of "power" (Greek: "exousia" means "authority") that he chose to work rather than receive their support while there. Because of these that were "disorderly," he did so as an example. In verse 13 he encourages them to not become discouraged as they strive for excellence in the midst of their difficult times.
How are Paul's letters to be viewed? People have often asked me, "Did Paul know he was writing scripture when he wrote his letters?" Verses 14-15 demonstrate that he did, "And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." You can see that Paul was adamant that fellowship with Believers should only be maintained with those who embraced the teachings in Paul's own letters.
Goodbye! (II Thessalonians 3:16-18)
16 Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all.
17 The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.
18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
We saw in chapter 2 (see above) that letters apparently were circulating in Paul's name that were forgeries. Paul points out that, while he may have dictated this letter to a secretary, he wrote this salutation without help from a transcriber ("with mine own hand"). This "token" (Greek: semeion - sign) was to validate this letter as authentic.