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II THESSALONIANS

A MESSAGE TO NEW BELIEVERS

by LARRY CORY

 

A SUMMARY OF THE MESSAGE OF
II THESSALONIANS

 

Salutation (1:1-2)

A wider focus on persecution (1:3-12)

A wider focus on the Day of the Lord (2:1-12)

A wider focus on walking with God (2:13-3:15)

Final greetings (3:16-18)

 

INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF II THESSALONIANS

1. The city of Thessalonica: Barclay's comments introduce us to the important city to which Paul was writing this letter:  "Its original name was Thermai which means The Hot Springs, and it gave its name to the Thermaic Gulf on which it stood.  Six hundred years ago Herodotus had described it as a great city.  It has always been a famous harbor.  It was there that Xerxes the Persian had his naval base when he invaded Europe; and even in Roman times it was one of the world's great dockyards.  In 315 B.C. Cassander had rebuilt the city and renamed it Thessalonica, the name of his wife, who was a daughter of Philip of Macedon, and a half-sister of Alexander the Great.  It was a free city; that is to say that it never suffered the indignity of having Roman troops quartered within it.  Its population rose to 200,000 and for a time it was a question whether it or Constantinople would be recognized as capitol of the world.  Even today, under the name Salonika, it has 70,000 inhabitants."  "Taken from The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians by William Barclay.  Copyright 1975 by Westminster Press."

2. The church in Thessalonica:  We can read how the church began in Thessalonica in Acts 17:1-9.  Paul and his companions Timothy and Silas went from Philippi in Macedonia to Thessalonica which was also in Macedonia (part of modern-day Greece) (a 100 mile trip).  There, in Thessalonica, he went into the Synagogue and for three Sabbath days argued that Jesus was the Messiah and that He "had suffered and rose from the dead." (Acts 17:3)  Some Jews and God-fearing Greeks became Christians through Paul's words.  But, the Jews who did not believe stirred up such opposition to Paul and the Gospel, that he was forced to leave Thessalonica and go to Berea, another city in Macedonia (Acts 17:5-10).

3. The second letter:  We cannot tell from reading the two letters to the Thessalonian Christians exactly how long it was between the time Paul wrote
I Thessalonians and the time he wrote II Thessalonians.  "This has variously been given as being only a few days to a whole year.  Either suggestion seems extreme.  It is genuinely accepted that some two or three months elapsed between the writing of the two letters."  "Taken from The Thessalonians Epistles by E. Edmund Hiebert.  Copyright 1971 by Moody Press."

It appears that Paul learned that there were some misunderstandings about his first letter.  The cause of some of the confusion was a counterfeit message circulating that was supposed to have come from him.  It said that the Day of the Lord had already begun.  This second letter focuses on clearing up the misunderstandings and exposing the misinformation.

Paul also gives them more instructions about the subjects that he had already addressed in I Thessalonians.  He instructs them about how they should respond to those who are unruly and unwilling to work.  In I Thessalonians 4:11-12, he instructed them to work with their hands.  Apparently, some were not working.  So, Paul gives instructions in II Thessalonians 3:6-15 on how they should respond to those who are unruly and unwilling to work.  Some other topics that are found in both I and II Thessalonians are as follows: persecution (I Thess-alonians 1:6, 2:14, 3:3 and II Thessalonians 1:3-12), the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 and II Thessalonians 1:5-2:8), and living the Christian life (I Thessalonians 4:1-12 and II Thessalonians 2:13-3:5).

 

THE MESSAGE OF II THESSALONIANS

This second letter to the Thessalonians was written to a church made up entirely of new Christians.  They had been won to the Lord only a short time before Paul wrote his two letters to them.  When we first become Christians we tend to think that now that we are more favored by God, our life will immediately start getting better for us.  When our circumstances do not improve, or even get worse than before we were Christians, we can become discouraged and disillusioned.  From Paul's letter to the New Christians at Thessalonica, it appears that they were getting discouraged.  This letter to them is filled with Paul's encouragements to them.

It is very human for us to have a narrow, self-oriented view of life.  The new Christians at Thessalonica were being persecuted because of their Christian commitments.  It is hard when we are being persecuted to not wonder, "Why is this happening to me?"

Paul gives the Thessalonian Christians God's perspective on what was happening to them.  He widens their focus beyond themselves so they can include God and His purposes in their perspective on their lives.  Does the book of II Thessalonians have any relevance to us who are twenty-first century Christians?  Does it have any application to us who have been Christians for many years?  The trials of life can also close in on us.  They can grow in our minds until they appear overwhelming.  We can also become discouraged.  We can also feel like those who are opposing us are progressing while we are going nowhere.  Allow Paul to give you God's perspective on your life as you read how he widened the focus of these early Thessalonian believers.

In II Thessalonians, Paul gave the Thessalonian Christians, and he gives us God's infinitely wider focus on life.  God's wider focus gives us a clear picture about why we go through trials, and about how we are to live as Christians while we are in the middle of difficult times. We can also have times when we have a self-centered, small picture of our lives.  At these times nothing appears to make sense to us.  The Thessalonian Christians were certainly encouraged by this second letter to them, and we can be encouraged by his words also.  May we also be encouraged as we look at Paul's bigger picture on the Christian life.

Paul's widened focus includes not just our short lives on this earth, but it widens and includes an event that is to take place over 1950 years after the Thessalonian Christians died.  God's wider focus includes the most dramatic event that will take place on this earth, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ!

SALUTATION (1:1-2)
"Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

This salutation is almost identical to his salutation in I Thessalonians.  In verse one of his first letter, Paul said, "God the Father."  In verse one of the second letter, he says "God our Father."  Then, in verse two of his first letter Paul said "Grace and peace to you."  In this second letter he says "Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."  So, in verse one he emphasizes that God the Father is our Father, and in verse two he states that the source of grace and peace is God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Immediately in these two first verses of II Thessalonians, Paul begins to give them a wider focus.  He gives them more information about the source of their grace and peace: God is our Father, and the Father and the Son are the source of the grace that brings us peace.  Paul, of course, could greet us today in the very same way he greeted the Thessalonian Christians.

A WIDER FOCUS ON PERSECUTION (1:3-12)
When we are being mistreated by someone, it is hard for us to see anything except that we are going through a tough time.  It is at times like these that we need to have our focus widened so that we can see that there is much more to what is happening to us than that we are going through a tough time.  In the book of James, James gave the Jewish Christians he was writing to a bigger picture of the trials they were going through to help them to endure their trials with joy.  See James 5  Here, in II Thessalonians, Paul give the Thessalonian Christians a bigger picture to help them to better handle the persecution they were experiencing.

1. Persecution is producing growth in you (1:3-4)

"We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.  Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring."

Thought Question:  Why do you think that Paul starts out his letter with these words?

 

 

These early Christians were like a runner in a long race who is near to giving up when his coach on the sidelines yells that he is ahead of the fastest time he has ever run in this distance.  So, the runner with a new burst of adrenalin is encouraged to persevere heartily to the end of the race.  In these two verses Paul's first words are words of encouragement.  He does not immediately confront them on what they are doing wrong, but he immediately encourages them so that they will receive a new burst of faith so that they can continue heartily in the race before them.

a. You are growing continually in your faith (1:3a)

Paul says, "we ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more."  The Thessalonian Christians undoubtedly did not see that their faith was growing.  The growth in their faith was so obvious to Paul and the others who traveled with Paul that he was obligated out of his debt to God to tell them how their faith was growing "more and more."

It was "right" for Paul to tell them about their faith growing because it could be objectively shown to be growing.  The word translated "growing more and more" is one word which could be translated "hyper-growth," for it includes "huper" or "hyper."  Paul was delighted how far they had come since they first became Christians.  Their faith was an answer to Paul's prayers.  See I Thessalonians 3:10

How could Paul tell that their faith was growing, and how can we tell if our faith is growing?  The following questions are helpful in evaluating whether or not our faith is growing:  Do we go longer periods of time without getting discouraged?  Is God's love more real to us today than it was in the past?  Do we have more confidence today than in the past that God is lovingly in charge of everything that happens to us?  Can we handle more opposition to our Christian commitments without getting angry or wanting to give up?  If we answer these questions with a definite "yes," then our faith is "growing more and more."

b. You are growing in love (1:3b)

In I Thessalonians 3:12, Paul says, "May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other."  See also 4:1,10  Paul had prayed that their love would increase and it did.

How can we tell if our love is increasing?  Are we growing more concerned for others and less concerned about ourselves?  Are we more patient with the short-comings of others?  Do we have more joy in helping others and meeting their needs?  It we can answer "yes" to these questions and others, then, our love is also increasing.

c. you are growing in perseverance (1:4)

"Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecution and trials you are enduring."  The trials and persecutions they were experiencing were not too much for them.  They were not caving in under the pressure.  Paul was so pleased at their endurance in faith under the very difficult opposition and pressure that he boasted about them to the other churches.  Their perseverance was undoubtedly used by Paul to encourage Christians in other churches.

Are we growing in perseverance?  Are we able to hold up in our faith longer than in the past, and are we now able to endure more frustration and opposition than we once were able to handle?  Again, if the answer is "yes," we, like the Thessalonian Christians, are growing in perseverance.  Our spiritual fathers or mothers are also delighting in our endurance in faith!

2. Persecution exposes the need for punishment of the wicked and the

worth of the godly (1:5)
"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."

Thought Question:  How does their persecution show "that God's judgment is right"?

 

 

When we are being persecuted, it is hard for us to see anything beyond that we are being treated unfairly.  One thing that persecution accomplishes, though, is that it divides the wicked and the good.  When one person does what is right and another person does something bad to the person because he or she is doing what is right, then it immediately becomes clear who is right and who is wrong.  The Thessalonian Christians were doing what was right---they were growing in faith and love in the midst of being persecuted.  The persecution of these early Christians exposes how clearly wrong their enemies were and how clearly right they were.

Heroes are often not seen as heroes until after their deaths.  Abraham Lincoln is now seen as a hero, but during his life he led our country into a civil war to free the slaves.  It was not as clear cut during his lifetime (as it is now) that it was the right decision for him to take our country into a horrible civil war to free the slaves.  Many in the North and the South hated him for the stand he took.

As we look back on history from our present vantage point, we see that there have been many Christians who have been persecuted for doing what was right.  The opposition that they received now makes it even clearer how right they were in the stands they took.  Paul is saying here that the Thessalonian Christians should persevere in doing right.  If there are those who persecute them for doing right, it makes it even clearer that they are right; and that those who oppose them are wicked.  The blackness of those who opposed them makes the purity of their cause even more obvious.

a. It is exposing the wickedness of God's enemies (1:5a)

"All this is evidence that God's judgment is right,"  When the enemies of the Thessalonian Christians returned their right with wrong, it became evident and obvious that their enemies deserved to be punished.  So, the Christians' perseverance in persecution was making it clear that their enemies will deserve the punishment that they will receive when Jesus returns.

b. It is exposing the worth of God's people (1:5b)

"and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering."  Their willingness to suffer for the kingdom of God is showing that they are worthy of being a part of God's kingdom.  It is not that they will be worthy of His kingdom, but rather that their willingness to suffer for God's kingdom shows that they are already a valuable part of God's plans.

Jesus was saying the very same thing when He said:  "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven."  When we are willing to do what is right when others are doing what is wrong to us, we are showing our worth in God's kingdom.  One day we will be rewarded for our faithfulness to God.  So, persecution expresses that some will be punished and others will be rewarded.

3. God's final judgment of His enemies will be just (1:6-10)

"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 majesty of his power 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."

Thought Question #1:  Why is it important to you that God is just?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  If the gospel is a gift from God, why does Paul say that those who reject the gospel "do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus"?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  What can we learn from these verses about the judgment that those who reject God will receive?

 

 

Thought Question #4:  What can we learn from these verses about what heaven will be like for us who have obeyed the gospel of the Lord Jesus?

 

 

 a. They will get what they deserve to get and we will get relief (1:6-7a)

"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."  Paul focuses here on the character of God; in particular, he focuses on His justice.  Because God is just, we can be absolutely sure that God will righteously respond in two ways when Christians, His people, are persecuted:

(1) He will give trouble to those who trouble Christians.

A non-believing university professor once said that the one reason he would consider believing that there is a God is because there is a need for there to be justice somewhere.  Paul says here that there will be justice.  For, one day God will justly repay all who have done evil to others.

(2) He will give relief to those who are being unjustly afflicted.

We Christians will never find this world to be a comfortable, restful place for us.  In it we will find temptations, misunderstandings, antagonism against our beliefs, and persecution.  We will not find rest here.  But, one day, because God is just, we will have perfect rest.

b. Their judgment will be horrible (1:7b-9)

The judgment of the wicked will make our present suffering seem like nothing.

(1) The Lord will be unveiled and men will see His glory (1:7b)

"This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels."  Today, men do not see God, and men do not see Jesus and His angels in all their glory.  So, men boldly sin and defy God, and fearlessly oppose God's people and His ways.  One day, though, the veil will be suddenly removed and men will see the One they have been opposing.  They will immediately know that they have not gotten by with anything.  See also Romans 2:5

They will see Jesus Christ "in blazing fire with his powerful angels."  Jesus told His disciples a number of times about the angels' role in the judgment of God.  See Matthew 13:41-42, 16:27, 25:31  See also Jude 14,15 and Revelation 14:19

There are many examples of God's appearances to man being accompanied by fire: Exodus 3:2, 19:18, 24:17; Psalm 97:1-3, 50:3, Isaiah 29:6, 30:27-30; and Daniel 7:9-10

Isaiah 66:15-16 sounds very similar to Paul's words in this verse:  "See the Lord is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire and with his sword for the Lord will execute judgment upon all men and many will be slain by the Lord."

What does all this revelation of Jesus and His angels in terrifying glory mean?  It certainly means that when the Day of the Lord comes, the time to repent from sin will be over.  For, then, those who have not turned to God for His mercy and grace through Jesus Christ will face the terrifying Judge with all His powerful angels.

(2) The Lord will cast the wicked into eternal judgment (1:8-9)

"He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus."  We are told in verse eight who will be punished.  Paul divides those in the world who will be punished into two groups:  (1) "those who do not know God" and (2) those who "do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus."  In I Thessalonians 4:5, Paul instructs these Thessalonian Christians that they are not be in "passionate lust like the heathen who do not know God."  Christians are those who know God and those who are not Christians are those who do not know God.  In Galatians 4:8, Paul tells the Christians: "Formerly, when you did not know God."

Those "who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" are those who have heard the gospel, but have shut their ears to it.  The first group rejects God's revelation of Himself in nature and in our consciences (See Romans 1:18-32 and 2:14-15),and the second group rejects the gospel.  Both groups have voluntarily chosen to reject God and His love, and are deserving of His punishment.

Why does Paul say that they do not "obey" the gospel of the "Lord Jesus"?  It is clear from Paul's words that he is referring to those who are choosing to disobey what they should obey.  They are those who disobey the "Lord."  Rejection of the gospel is a choice to stubbornly defy God and all He is and all He has done for us!  "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened." (Romans 1:21)

We are also told in verse eight who will be man's judge.  It is the One who is "revealed in blazing fire."  Jesus Christ, the Son, will be the judge of the wicked.  In John 5:22, Jesus Himself said, "the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son."  The One who died on the cross for our sins will judge all those who reject Him and His grace.

Then, in verse nine, we are told about the judgment that men who reject God will face:  "They will be punished with everlasting destruction."  Some would say that "everlasting destruction" simply means that those who reject God will be annihilated; meaning that they will completely cease to exist forever. What is meant by "everlasting destruction"?  Because the Bible is clear that each person is created in God's image and is also an eternal being, eternal destruction means that there will be the total destruction of all that has been life, beauty, joy, peace, and fulfillment.  But, the person who is eternal will remain.  If our house burns down, we experience the destruction of much that is important to us-our memories, our important papers, and our home; but, we remain. Those who reject God will also experience the everlasting destruction of all that has been given to them by God.  They have rejected God and one day they will receive what they desire, the complete absence of God and everything He has given to them!  They will experience a destruction which will be infinitely and profoundly more destructive than losing their home in a fire-it will mean that everything in this world that has been provided for them through God and His love will be suddenly and forever taken from them.  That is "everlasting destruction"!

(3) "shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of

his power."
This is an eternal banishment from the presence of God.  Some have rightly said that the greatest joy of Heaven is that we will meet God and be with Him forever.  The greatest dread then of Hell is that those who go there will be totally separate from God forever.  In this world, even those who reject God are enjoying His beautiful creation and are benefiting from the presence of Christians in this world.  When Jesus comes, they will immediately be completely banished from His presence.  There will no longer be beauty, love, life, joy, peace, or any of God's attributes.  They will be gone forever, and He will be gone forever from them.

They will be separated from the "majesty of his power."  They will be   separated from the majesty of what His power has accomplished in this world; from the majesty of His creation and away from His powerful and beautiful work in Christians.  They will continually be in darkness outside of God's presence.  See Matthew 8:12, 22:13; Jude 13

c. Our reward will be great (1:10)

"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."  Now, Paul contrasts the fate of the lost with the fate of us who are His children.  When He comes, He will be glorified in His saints.  This reminds us of Colossians 1:27:  "Christ in you, the hope of glory."  Also, we read in I John 3:2: "We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."  When He comes we shall immediately experience the completion of the transformation process described in II Corinthians 3:18:  "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." 

On that wonderful day when we see Jesus for the first time face to face and Jesus is suddenly fully expressed through each of our lives, something astounding will happen.  We who have always fallen short of His glory (way short!) will suddenly be reflecting His glory.  Paul says that we will "be marveled at among all those who have believed."  In other words, we will be immediately astounded at how infinitely we have all changed.  At that time there will be no small number of Christians, and it will be all Christians of all ages who will experience this amazing transformation and who will then be expressing the very glory of Jesus Christ.  What a spectacular sight it will be!  Who will marvel?  The angels, the saints of all ages, and even God will enjoy the final product of His eternal glory now present in those who believed in Him.  It will be a glorious day!  See also Philippians 3:20-21

Paul finishes this verse with a word of encouragement for the Thessalonian Christians:  "This includes you because you have believed in our testimony to you."  It also includes you and me who have also believed the Bible's testimony about Jesus Christ!

What a day is ahead for our world: day of horrible judgment for those who oppose God and his people and a day of wonderful blessing for those who have believed the Gospel.  The wider picture is starting to come into focus!

4. We continue to pray for your improvement in your ability to bring God

glory (1:11-12)
"With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your 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."

Thought Question:  We have seen in the previous verse what we hope for when Jesus returns; according to these verses, what can we hope for during the time before Jesus returns?

 

 

These two verses do not catch our interest as much as the verses in II Thessalonians that are about the future.  But, in these two verses there is a depth that is not usually realized.

What about the time before He comes?  What about right now?  In I John 3:3, John said, "Everyone who has this hope in him, purifies himself, just as he is pure."  We who know Jesus Christ have the hope that Paul was talking about in II Thessalonians and the hope that John was talking about in I John 3.  Paul prayed for the Thessalonian Christians that they would be "worthy of his calling."  He prays that by God's power every good purpose that God desires to accomplish through them would be fulfilled.  Paul prays that what God desires to do through them and has given them the power to do, will be lived out by them

And what is the purpose that Paul hopes will be accomplished through them?  His desire is that by the grace of God, Jesus would now be glorified through them.  We will one day fully express the glory of Jesus Christ; what should we be doing right now?  We are like a bud on an apple tree that will one day be an apple.  In between that future time when it will become an apple and the time when it is just a bud, there is a process that slowly produces the apple.   So, are we are to move toward the goal to which we have been called.  We should move toward being more like Jesus Christ.  We can become more like Him because God is in us to accomplish His own goal.

Notice that Paul reveals at the end of verse eleven that God both gives us the desire to do His will and enables or empowers us to do His will: "and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith."  He both motivates us so that we will want to do His will, and then He empowers us so that we can actually do His will.  Here we have the mystery of God: God is doing His work in us, yet we are doing it at the same time.  This reminds us of Philippians 2:12-13 where we are told:  "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."  We are to live out the Christian life, but when we actually do live out Jesus' type of life, it can have been only God who lived it in us and did it through us.

Notice also that faith prompts us to act.  In James 2:20, James says that faith without works or acts is worthless.  True faith will always result in acts that are appropriate to that faith.  Paul had been praying for them that their faith would prompt them to do actions that were appropriate to their faith.

An example will help us to see the kind of prayer requests that Paul was making about them.  He was praying that their life might be based on faith in God's reward for those who serve Him, rather than them living their lives for the world's rewards.  When we choose to give up a lucrative job in another city because we believe God is leading us to stay involved in the community where we are now living, we are acting out our faith.  Jesus said, "Seek first his kingdom and righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:33).

The goal, as stated in verse twelve, is that Jesus will be glorified through us.  We are reminded again of Colossians 1:27:  "Christ in you, the hope of glory."  We have Christ in us, so we have all we need for Christ to be glorified through us.  Not only is Jesus to be glorified in us, but we are to be glorified "in Him."  He is in us and we are in Him. In John 17:20-23, Jesus prayed the following for you and me: "My prayer is not for them alone [not just for His Apostles].  I pray also for those who will believe through their message, [every Christian of all time has believed through the message of the Apostles] that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:  I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."  When we become Christians, God has so united us with Him and His goals that it is no longer your life and my life, but now it His life and our lives united!   Paul prayed for these Thessalonian Christians, that because Jesus was in them and they were in Christ, that both Jesus and Jesus in them would be glorified.  The ultimate purpose for all of us in this life is that through us men will see that which alone deserves to be glorified: the glorious character and majesty of God.  See also John 15:4

As was predicted, there is much that is very significant in these two little forgotten verses.  May we pray for each other that what is prayed for in these two verses may be fulfilled in our lives and in the lives of our Christian brothers and sisters.

A WIDER FOCUS ON THE DAY OF THE LORD (2:1-12)
Paul returns to a theme that was found in his first letter to these Thessalonian Christians: the return of Jesus Christ and the Day of the Lord.  From this second letter, we learn still more about the Day of the Lord.

1. First, will come "The Apostasy" and then the Day of the Lord (2:1-4)

"Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.  Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.  He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God."

Thought Question:  According to these verses, what is the day of the Lord and when will it occur?

 

 

a. Do not be alarmed, the Day of the Lord has not come (2:1-2)

"Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come."

This chapter contains some of the most amazing prophecies in the entire Bible.  Some people even think that the words in these verses are too amazing to be part of the Bible.  I returned at the age of 29, a little over a year after I became a Christian, to the church I attended as a child.  The morning that I attended my old church, I sat in on a Sunday School class that the pastor's wife was teaching.  She had progressed in her class in the book of II Thessalonians and was, on that Sunday, covering the very same verses that we are covering at this point in our study.  She started the class by saying that this second chapter of II Thessalonians is a part of the Bible that is not inspired.  In spite of what she said from her very liberal viewpoint of the Bible, what is described in II Thessalonians two is wholly God's inspired words.  Furthermore, what is described in these verses will at some future time actually take place on this earth; just as God says here that it will take place.  What takes place at that time will from that time on, totally change life as we now know it.  Paul describes, in these verses, "the day of the Lord"!

The Thessalonian Christians had received some type of message that said that the "day of the Lord" had already come.  To put it in words that are familiar to us, Paul is seeking here to encourage them so that they can "calm down."  For none of the messages that they had heard---saying that the "day of Lord" had already come---had come from him.

Notice that in 3:17, Paul says that the handwriting with which he writes this letter is "the distinguishing mark in all my letters."  The next time they get a letter that they are told is from Paul, they can compare the handwriting in that letter with Paul's handwriting given to them in this letter.  The messages that they had gotten were not written in his handwriting and did not come from him.  He will explain in verses three and four why the content of these false messages could not be true.

These verses contain some of the key teachings in the entire Bible about what will happen in the end times.  Let us look now at the meaning of the words that Paul uses in these verses.  What does Paul mean by (1) "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him" (verse one) and (2) "the day of the Lord"? (verse two)  First of all, Hiebert points out that "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him" are one event described as Jesus coming and what He will do when He comes-gather us to be with Him.  The reason they are one event is because there is only one "the" in front of them.  The "the" includes both the coming and the gathering under one event.

If Jesus' coming and our being gathered to Him is one event, how does this "coming of Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him" in verse one relate to "the day of the Lord" described in verse two?  Could they also be the same event?  Could Paul be referring to the same event, but be using "the day of the Lord" to summarize the "coming of Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him"?  The answer to this question is a key to understanding prophecy.

Those who hold the pre-tribulation position, the most popular position in the modern-day church, believe that the Day of the Lord is the whole seven-year period described in Daniel 9:27 that they call the "tribulation" period.  They believe that the day of the Lord is this seven-year period, which includes 3 ½ years of peace followed by 3 ½ years where the Antichrist will rule the earth.  This seven-year period begins with a peace covenant that is made with the "many" (at the beginning of the seven years); it includes the abomination of desolation when the Antichrist or the "man of lawlessness" declares himself God (in the middle of the seven years); and it finishes with the battle of Armageddon when Jesus returns on a white horse to restore the rule of earth back to God (at the end of the seven years).  They believe that the church will be taken up into heaven---the Rapture---just before the signing of the peace treaty that starts this seven-year "Tribulation" period.

If those who hold the pre-tribulation viewpoint are correct, then what would Paul be saying in these verses?  We can answer this by considering what it would be like if someone today who holds pre-trib position heard that the Day of the Lord had already come.  What would that mean to him?  It would mean that the peace treaty between the Antichrist and Israel and the Rapture of the church had already happened, and that he had been left behind.  It would mean that he was now in the seven-year tribulation time.  But, then, Paul's answer would not make any sense.  For, he says that the man of lawlessness must be revealed before the Day of the Lord comes.  "Don't let anyone deceive you in any way for that day (clearly referring to the Day of the Lord, see verse two) will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed." (2:3)

From the pre-tribulation point of view the "man of lawlessness" cannot be revealed before the rapture of the church.  So, the "day of the Lord" that Paul is talking about in these verses cannot be the seven-year tribulation period described in Daniel 9:27.

What is the viewpoint that harmonizes with what Paul is saying here?  It appears that Paul, in especially the first four verses of II Thessalonians two is using "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him" and "the day of the Lord" interchangeably.  In other words, they are the same event. The day of the Lord is the day when Jesus will gather us to be with Him and it is also the day when He will appear to judge the world.

Look for yourselves at these four verses.  Does not Paul appear to be talking about the same subject when he goes from saying "Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him," and then he tells them that they should not be concerned that the (this) "Day of the Lord" has already come.  Then, he will say in verses three and four that this Day of the Lord will not occur until after the Antichrist, the "lawless one is revealed."  In other words, Paul is comforting the Thessalonian Christians by saying that the Day of the Lord could not have occurred yet because the Antichrist had not yet been revealed and the abomination of desolation had not yet occurred. What were the Thessalonian Christian concerned about?  They were concerned that they had missed the Rapture, and that God's judgment was already taking place. 

In the context of this book, there is little doubt that the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Day of the Lord are the same event.  For Paul, in chapter one, had just described "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."  This will happen when the Lord Jesus Christ will be revealed from Heaven with His powerful angels.  It will be when "He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus." (1:8)  They will be punished with "everlasting destruction."   Now, this clearly describes the day of the Lord; for the day of the Lord is the day when Jesus will punish the ungodly.  Man will have had his day, then as described in these verses, man will be totally humbled and Jesus will have His day!  But, notice what is described next:  "On the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people."  Does it sound like Paul is talking about the same day?  Then in our verses, Paul says, "Concerning the coming of our Lord."  Could this, then, be a summary of His coming in judgment that he just described in chapter one which will include "our being gathered to him"?

It seems clear that Paul is referring once more to what he has just said in chapter one.  In chapter one he first described Jesus' coming in judgment and then He described our being glorified.  If Paul is summarizing what He said in chapter one, which seems logical, and the coming and the gathering of His saints are one event, then Jesus will return in one event to judge the world and to gather the church in the Rapture.  Next, we will see in verses three and four that the revealing of the Antichrist must occur before Jesus comes to judge the world and gather the church to Himself.

b. The Apostasy or rebellion will come before the Day of the Lord (2:3-4)

Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.  He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God."

Before God's Day comes, man and Satan will have their final day; a day of total rebellion.  We learn here what is in our future.  There will be final rebellion of mankind, and then Jesus will return to judge mankind for all of our sins.  The word translated "rebellion" in the New International Version is "apostasia" from which we get our English word "apostasy."  It describes a falling away.  In this case, it describes a falling away from God.  This rebellion is predicted in a number of verses in the Bible.  "The Spirit clearly says that in the later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceitful spirits."  (I Timothy 4:1)  "But mark this:  There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive….." (II Timothy 3:1-9)  "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine…" (II Timothy 4:3,4)  "First of all you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires…"  (II Peter 3:3-7)  "At that time many will turn away from the faith will betray and hate each other."  (Matthew 24:10)

Some, trying to support their Pre-tribulation Rapture position (that Jesus will return before the seven-year period they call the tribulation), say that the apostasy is the rapture.  They translate "apostasia" as the "departure."  Hiebert disagrees with this translation and makes the following arguments against this viewpoint: "But this interpretation is not in harmony with the nature of the rapture.  Nowhere else does the Scripture speak of the rapture as "the departure."  A departure denotes an act on the part of the individual or company departing.  But the rapture is not an act of departure on the part of the saints.  In the rapture the church is passive not active.  At the rapture the church is 'caught up'  or 'snatched away.'"  "Taken from The Thessalonians Epistles by D. Edmund Hiebert.  Copyright 1971 by Moody Press."  The church will not decide to depart and go to Heaven.  We will be grabbed up and taken up to Jesus Christ.

Not only will the "rebellion" or "apostasy" precede the Day of the Lord, but there will also be a "man of lawlessness ..revealed."  Paul tells us three things about this man:  (1) He is a "lawless."  He is a man of sin.  John tells us that "God is love."  This man is sin.  In I John 3:4, John defines sin as "lawlessness."  He will be a complete rebel against God's holy and morally pure laws.   (2) He is "the man doomed to destruction."  In 1:9, we learned that when Jesus returns, the ungodly will be "punished with everlasting destruction."  The "man of lawlessness" will be doomed to this destruction when Jesus returns.  (3) "He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God."  He will be opposed to everything about God, and he will ultimately declare himself to be God.  We see this spirit in our society today.  There are certainly those in this country who are opposed to God and opposed to everything about God.  They desire to eradicate God or the mention of God from our schools, from our universities, and from everywhere else.  They have been successful in removing the true God from many of the institutions of our society.  When the lawless one is revealed, mankind will see total opposition to God in one man. 

The final step in his effort to eradicate the worship of God or the worship of anyone or anything outside of the worship of him will be to set himself up to be worshiped in the very Temple of God in Jerusalem.  This is the final act of arrogant defiance of God called the "abomination of desolation." See Daniel 9:27 and Matthew 24:15   For the one who is totally sinful will declare himself to be God in the very Holy of Holies where God chose to dwell when He was present with His nation Israel.

There was an apostasy in Israel during the time of Antioches Epiphanes, a Syrian ruler over Israel during the time between the Old and New Testaments.  Antioches was determined to replace the Jewish culture and religious beliefs with the Greek culture and religious beliefs.  Many of the Jews turned from their Jewish beliefs and became Greeks.  They fell away or apostatized from their belief in God.  Antioches set up the worship of the pagan Greek god Zeus at the Temple at Jerusalem.  See Daniel 11:31,32  It is picture of the abomination that will be perpetrated also in Jerusalem in the last days when the Antichrist sets up the worship of himself in Jerusalem. See Revelation 13:15

 2. Now, he (the "man of lawlessness") is being held back (2:5-7)

(Someone is holding him back)
"Don't you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?  And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time.  For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way."

Thought Question:  What and who is preventing the "man of lawlessness" from coming on the scene right now?

 

 

Paul begins in verse five reminding them that what he was telling them in this letter, he had already told them in person.  Paul had not held back from teaching these new Christians about prophecy and the end times.  But, because we are so prone to forget, teaching needs to be repeated.  So, Paul repeats what he had taught them.

He starts to repeat what he had taught them by saying, "And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time.  For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so until he is taken out of the way."  A spirit of rebelliousness towards God or lawlessness was already present in their time (as it is in our time), but the person of lawlessness was being prevented from making his appearance by something who is also a someone (a "he").  Who and what is holding back the "lawless one"?  (The "lawless one" is called "the Antichrist" in I John 2:18.)

They knew who and what was holding the "lawless one" back.  We do not know.  So, we must search the Scriptures for the answer.

The most popular interpretation in the church today regarding the restrainer of the "lawless one" is that the "what" is the church and the "who" is the Holy Spirit.  The church began when the Holy Spirit came on the church and took His residence in each individual Christian.  This interpretation holds that the Holy Spirit in us who are the church is restraining the devil.  According to this view, we the church are preventing Satan from bringing this person of lawlessness on the scene and bringing his rebellion against God to completion.  When the church is raptured before the seven-year tribulation, according to this interpretation, the restraint of the Holy Spirit through the church is removed and Satan is able to bring about his total rebellion and is able to lead a world-wide unrestrained rebellion against God.

This viewpoint, though, is not without some difficulties.  First of all, the one who now holds it back" is in the masculine gender; whereas, the Greek word for the church, "ekklesia," is in the femine gender.  Secondly, we know that the Holy Spirit Himself will not be taken away.  In fact, the book of Joel says that the Holy Spirit will be even more active during this time:  "And afterward I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will see visions.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days." (Joel 2:28-29)

Thirdly, the pre-tribulation period requires that there be an enormous number of new believers to be converted after the Rapture and during the tribulation period.  Revelation seven describes a great multitude from "every nation, tribe, people and language" who have died and have come out of the great tribulation. (Revelation 7:9,14)

If the pre-tribulation view is correct and the church is raptured and not present at all during the tribulation period, this great multitude must be saved during the tribulation period.  It is obvious, then, that for this great multitude to be saved during the few short years of the tribulation period there will have tobe a tremendous and unprecedented work of the Holy Spirit going on during that time.  In Ezekiel 36:24-28, it is predicted that in these last days that at least the Jewish converts to God during this time will be born again of God's Spirit, and then in the two verses in Joel we quoted earlier, Joel predicts that God will pour out His Spirit "on all people."  If the pre-tribulation viewpoint is correct, will not this great number of believers who will be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then, have the very same type of restraint on the lawless one as the church had?  Fourthly, verse seven says that the restrainer, "he," will "be taken out of the way."  The Holy Spirit is God.  Who will take Him out of the way?

So, if it is not the church who is the restrainer, who is holding Satan back so that he cannot personally infill the heart of the Antichrist and lead a world-wide rebellion through him?  The only ones who can hold Satan back are God or an angel who is at least an equal of Satan?  In Revelation 12:7-9, we read these words:  "And there was war in heaven.  Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and his angels fought back.  But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.  The great dragon was hurled down---that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.  He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him."  As was just mentioned, we find this account in Revelation twelve.  What do we find in Revelation thirteen?  The revealing of the Antichrist!  Michael and his angels throw Satan to the earth and remove their restraint from him; then, he (Satan) infills an individual who becomes the Antichrist.

We do not find anything about the church being raptured in Revelation twelve just preceding the sudden emergence of the Antichrist into world affairs as described in Revelation thirteen, but we do find the Archangel Michael throwing Satan to earth in Revelation twelve just preceding this sudden emergence of the Antichrist into world affairs.  Also, if the church is raptured before the seven-year tribulation period, the lawless one will not be revealed for who he is and begin his reign for 3 ½ years after the church is raptured.  This would mean that the restraint is removed and Satan restrains himself for 3 ½ years. But, the Antichrist is revealed almost immediately after Michael throws Satan to earth.

Notice that we are told in I Thessalonians that when the Antichrist's time is over, Jesus returns with the "voice of the archangel."  The Thessalonians, then, were at least familiar with the archangel.  Also, most of the Thessalonian Christians were Jewish.  They would have been familiar with the Archangel Michael's role of protecting Israel, as it is described in the book of Daniel.

In Daniel 12:1, we see these words:  "At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise."  And what happens after he arises? "There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of the nations until then."  This, of course, will be when the lawless one leads a world-wide rebellion against God and massacres those who believe in God.  What is meant by Michael arising?  It could mean that he stops protecting Israel so that "power of the holy people" will be finally broken by the persecution of the Antichrist and his forces (Daniel 12:7).  My conclusion, obviously, is that the one who is presently restraining Satan is the most powerful angel of all, the Archangel Michael.  Then, when he is taken away for 3 ½ years (the last 3 ½ years of the seven years described in Daniel 9:27), Satan will be able to have his way for a time, times, and a half a time (which equals 3 ½ years). 

There are a number of other possibilities for the identity of the restrainer, such as government, the Jewish state, and the preaching of the Gospel.  But, none of these interpretations provide something which would restrain a supernatural being like Satan.  Only God and Michael can restrain Satan.  For the reasons given, the archangel Michael appears to be the most likely identity of the restrainer.  The presence of the church in China did not prevent the takeover of that great country by the atheistic and murderous communists.  But, Michael was able to hold back the Babylonians and the Persians from annihilating the Jewish people.  See Daniel 10:13,21, 12:1

The worst attempt to annihilate the Jewish people will take place in the end times under the Antichrist.  But, after God has allowed His people to be murdered for a specific period of time, Jesus will return and Michael with Him.  Michael will once more protect the Israelite people.

3. Jesus Christ will easily defeat the "lawless one" when He returns! (2:8)

"And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming."

Thought Question #1:  What do you believe it will be like when "the lawless one" is revealed?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  From this verse, what will the battle be like when "the lawless one" faces Jesus Christ?

 

 

The "lawless one" will be revealed at some time in the future when God allows lawlessness to no longer be restrained.  The world will see first hand what it is like when sin is allowed to fully have its day.  Today, there are those who are working with all their might, and with Satanic and demonic help, to eradicate God's moral influence in our world.  When the "lawless one" is revealed they will have their way and they will have their day.  In the books of Daniel and Revelation, we are told a little about what it will be like at that time:  "He will speak against the most high and oppress his saints and try to change the set time and the laws.   The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and a half a time." (Daniel 7:25)  "The king will do as he pleases.  He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods." (Daniel 11:36)  "The beast [the "lawless one"] was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months.  He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven.  He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them.  And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation.  All the inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast" (Revelation 13:5-8a).  God will allow Satan and man to be in charge of the earth.  It will be the day of Satan and man.

Paul summarizes this time with the words, "And the lawless one will be revealed."  So Paul first explains what will occur before Jesus returns.  Now he explains what will occur to "the lawless one" when Jesus returns: "whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming."

 Paul has already described what "the splendor of his coming" will be like.  In chapter one, verses 7b-10a is an expanded description of "the splendor of his coming": "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 majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed."

Here we are told that Jesus will slay the Antichrist "with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming."  It will be immediately and dreadfully evident who the true Christ is!

What is meant by Jesus slaying him with the "breath of his mouth"?  Whatever it means exactly, one thing is certain, Jesus will easily and totally defeat the Antichrist.  It will certainly not be much of a battle.  Jesus will only need to breath on the Antichrist or speak to him and the battle will be completely over!  The one who overpowered the world and totally defied God will himself be decisively overpowered immediately by the glorious appearance of Jesus Christ.  The arrogant Antichrist will be humiliated and defeated just by merely being in the presence of the glorious Son of God, His angels, and His saints. See Revelation 19:11-21

4. But before he is defeated, the "lawless one" will first have deceived the

whole world (2:9-12)
"The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing.  They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.  For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe a lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness."  Those who reject the Lawful One will also be those who receive the "lawless one."

Thought Question #1:  From these verses, how will the coming of the Antichrist be similar to the coming of Jesus Christ?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Do you believe that the miracles of the Antichrist will actually be miracles?  What does Paul mean by counterfeit miracles?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  According to these verses, why will the people of the end times believe the Antichrist's lies?

 

 

a. He will perform powerful counterfeit miracles (2:9-10a)

Paul immediately describes for us what it will be like when the Antichrist appears and wins over the world: "The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing."  We see first what the Antichrist will do: He will be a miracle-working Antichrist.  As Jesus Christ came performing mighty miracles, so the Antichrist will come working powerful miracles.  These miracles will be like the miracles of Jesus Christ: "Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him." (Acts 2:22)  As Jesus' miracles were sensational and awe-inspiring, so the miracles of the Antichrist will be sensational and awe-inspiring.  In Revelation 13:3,4, we read these words: "One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed.  The whole world was astonished and followed the beast.  Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, 'Who is like the beast?  Who can make war against him?'"

Then in Revelation 13:11-13 we learn that the Antichrist will be accompanied by a public relations man, the one who is called the false prophet: "He made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed.  And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men."

It will be a spectacular time with apparent miracles for all to see.  But, these will not be miracles from God; they will be miracles from Satan.  They also will be counterfeit miracles.  Scholars are not in agreement about whether or not they will be actual miracles.  They will either be phony miracles and not miracles at all; or they will be counterfeit miracles because they come from Satan and are not miracles from God.  The magicians in Moses' time were able to copy some of God's miracles with their magic tricks.  See Exodus 7-11

b. Those who reject God will receive the lawless one and his counterfeit

miracles (2:10b-12)
"They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.  For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe a lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness."

The world as a whole will gleefully receive this master deceiver.  When men reject the truth, leave the light, and enter the darkness, they have of their own free will chosen darkness over the light.  They prefer lies to the truth.  "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil." (John 3:19)   Those in the end times who love moral darkness and reject the light will be ready to be deceived.  As Paul says, "They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved."  God allows them to have their choice, and God's judgment on them is that He allows the Antichrist to thoroughly delude and deceive them.

What will happen at the time of the Antichrist is very much like what happened when the Pharaoh of Egypt in Moses' time hardened his heart against Moses' appeal to allow God's people to leave Israel.  See Exodus 8:15  Yet, in Exodus 9:14 and in Romans 9:17-18 we are told that God hardened the Pharaoh's heart.  The people in the end times will choose delusion over the truth; yet God, who is in control of all things, will allow Satan's man and Satan's spirits to deceive them.  So, they will choose to not believe and harden their own hearts to God; but God will allow them to have what they want and will participate in the hardening of their hearts. See Romans 1:21-28  Romans 1:28 sums it up: "Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done." 

"God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe a lie."  We get a look behind the scenes to see how this might happen in II Chronicles 18.  King Ahab the wicked King of Israel wanted King Jehosophat of Judea to help attack and conquer a region to the north of them.  But, Jehosophat wants to hear from God's prophets first.  Ahab, in contrast, did not want to hear what God had to say.  Particularly, he did not want to hear from a prophet of God named Micaiah whom he was certain would tell him what he did not want to hear.  So, God enlisted a lying spirit to say what Ahab wanted to hear.  Ahab received a powerful delusion from God.  God gave him the lies that he wanted to hear.  So, God will provide the people of the future with the lies that they want to hear.

The Christians of Thessalonica learn from Paul that the day of the Lord had not yet arrived during their time.  The Antichrist must first appear and the world-wide believing of his lies must precede the day of the Lord.

 

A WIDER FOCUS ON WALKING WITH GOD (2:13-17)
Young Christians need to be encouraged by those who are farther along in their Christian walk than they are, have a deeper understanding of God's ways than they have, and have a wider perspective on the Christian life than they have.  Here, Paul, the mature Apostle, seeks to encourage these young Christians at Thessalonica by helping them to see from his perspective what it means to be a Christian and to walk with God.

"But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.  He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.  May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loves us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word."

Thought Question #1:  What realities about being a Christian do you find in these verses that fills you with awe and gratitude?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  How can these realities about who you are as a Christian effect how you face this next week?

 

 

1. The bigger picture on what it means for them to be Christians (2:13-17)

Have you ever reflected on what it means to be a child of God?  Well, if you have not thought much about the significance of what it means for you to be a Christian, you have an opportunity to do that right now.  For Paul is about to help the Thessalonian Christians to reflect on what God has done for them in making them part of His family.  He, of course, will also be helping us to reflect on what it means for us to be a part of God's family.

a. You are loved by Jesus Christ the Lord (2:13a)

These young Christians (and we) did not become part of God's family by our own religious efforts.  No, we are Christians for one reason and one reason alone.  It is because we are loved by God.  "But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord,"  We are "loved by the Lord" and loved by His Father.  In Romans 5:8 we are told of the love the Father and the Son have for us: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  That is the bigger picture.  We became Christians because we are loved by God!  Do you ever feel alone and unloved?  That is the small picture.  The big picture is that you are as loved right this minute as you can possibly be, for the Creator of the universe fully and individually loves you.  He showed you how much He loves you by the enormity of the sacrifice His Son Jesus Christ made for you on a cross 2,000 years ago.

b. You were chosen in the beginning by God (2:13b)

In the last part of verse 13, we see next that we became Christians because God chose us from the beginning.  You, the Thessalonian Christians, I, and Paul are all chosen by God: "because from the beginning God chose you".

Why did God choose you?  It is because He has an eternal plan for you!  We see here what God's eternal plan for you is-"God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth."  Paul is not talking here about how we became Christians, but he is talking about God's work in purifying us who are His people until we are fully liberated from the power of sin.  We who are chosen by God can be confident that God will finish his work---until we become God's holy finished product: "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6).

Paul also explains how we will be changed.  First of all, we will be saved by the "sanctifying work of the Spirit."  It is God's Spirit who changes and transforms us into Christ's image.  "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (II Corinthians 3:18).  Sanctification means being drawn from the center of our being and character into the holiness of God.  This is God's plan for us; a plan which He designed for us from the very beginning---from eternity past.

Secondly, we will be changed "through belief in the truth."  In Romans 12:2, we are told that we are "transformed by the renewing of our mind."  Lies and moral darkness have a transforming effect on us.  They transform us into self-centered beasts.  Truth and moral light, because God's Spirit is within each of us who are Christians, transform us into Christ's image.  This is God's eternal plan for us: "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son" (Roman 8:29).

c. You are called to share in the glory of Christ (2:14)

We did not become aware that we were part of God's eternal plan until we heard the gospel message presented to us with God's power.  Then we became aware that God was calling us into a relationship with Him.  Now we are personally experiencing God's plan for us, which Paul says here has its goal that we share in the glory of Jesus Christ.  God created us in His image.  But, because of the fall of Adam and Eve, we have all fallen "short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23).  Jesus Christ is the last Adam, the last man to represent all of mankind.  He is the perfect representative for mankind, for in Him and Him alone we see a man who has the very image of God.  He is what God originally planned for mankind, and now we are to become like Him.  "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when He appears, we shall be like him" (I John 3:2).

d. Your (our) part: to stand firm in these truths (2:15)

What God has planned for and what He plans to fulfill through the gospel, the Holy Spirit, and the truth still require our voluntary participation.  He sums up one of our primary responsibilities in the Christian life in the following way: "stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you."  We are not to fall away from what we have been taught in God's word, but we are to hold on to them.  There will always be false teaching.  And that false teaching will always be what men want to hear.  Men want to hear that we can become a god through our own efforts.  They do not want to hear that we can only become like God through the working of God's Spirit in us.  When this and many other false teachings come our way, we need to stand firm and hold on to the word of God.

The Greek verbs "stand firm" and "hold to" are commands to us that contain the meaning that we must keep on standing firm and keep on holding on to God's teachings.  The temptation to fall away from God and His truth will always be presenting itself to us.  We must keep on holding on until our lives on this side of the resurrection come to an end.  This is the Christian battle!

e. God's part (2:16-17)

Paul closes with a prayer that once again describes God's part in our Christian lives:  "May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word."

We are not to stand firm all by ourselves.  But, we have infinite help from God.  He loved us by sending His Son to die for us and by calling us into His family through the Gospel.  He graciously gives us a hope and encouragement that will never go away.  No matter how bad our circumstances will get, we who know the Lord can always be certain of the eternal life with God that is ahead of each member of God's family.  Even in the very worst of trials, we continually have this hope: "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).  Even when you go through the very worst of times, you can say, "I am still going to heaven!"  And when you and I get there, we will immediately recognize that the worst of what we went through was nothing at all compared to the glory of our new home and the relationship with God that will be ours at that wonderful time.

The appropriate response to God's eternal gifts to us is to want to serve Him and fulfill His goals for us and for His church.  Paul prays that God will "strengthen" them in the works that they do in response to His love.  Paul prays that they will not be alarmed and fearful about the false alarms that they were receiving saying that the day of the Lord was already upon them.  Instead, he desires that they will be encouraged by the overflowing and certain encouragement that God's word continually provides for them.  So, we should not be terrified or crushed by the alarming circumstances that also come into our lives.  For we also have a solid rock in the middle of our storms.  We, like the Thessalonian Christians, have a type of hope, encouragement, and strength that the world cannot take away from us!

2. A bigger picture of the place of prayer in the Christian life (3:1,2)

"Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.  And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith."

Thought Question:  What can we learn from these two verses about when we can properly ask others to pray for us?

 

 

It is possible for false teachers to persuade men and women that prayer is primarily self-centered.  There are television preachers who emphasize that prayer can be used to make you wealthy and healthy.  Those who know the Bible realize that God does not authorize us to pray to him so that we can get rich.  But, is Paul being self-centered here?  He does ask the Thessalonian Christians to pray for him. There are other times where Paul asks Christians to pray for him.  See Romans 15:30-32; Ephesians 6:19; Colossians 4:2; and Philemon 22  Hehad already asked the Thessalonian Christians to pray for him in I Thessalonians 5:25 where he simply writes: "Brothers, pray for us."  Here in II Thessalonians, he expands on his request and instructs them on how to pray for him.

a. Prayer is necessary for God's word to spread rapidly (3:1)

"Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you."  Did Paul ask them to pray for him so that he would become wealthy and healthy?  No!  Quite the opposite!  He asked  them to pray for him so that others would become wealthy with the eternal riches that will be theirs as they come into an eternal relationship with God.  Also, he prays that the gospel message would be honored.  He asks them to pray for him, but he asks them to pray that God's work would prosper through him (not that he would prosper).

Paul uses figurative language to animate his prayer request that the word of God will advance.  He desires that the "message of the Lord may spread rapidly."  He pictures God's word as being in a race, and he asks them to pray that it would run rapidly.  The late 1960s was a time of great need and turmoil on the college campuses.  There certainly were those who prayed that the word of God would have an impact on the rebellious and empty 1960s college students.  The world of God did spread rapidly in what came to be called "the Jesus movement."  Many others and I became Christians during that time.

Paul asks them to be continually praying for his request (the verb tense tells us that he was asking for continual prayer rather than a one-time prayer).  He asks them to continually pray that the "message of the Lord" would "spread rapidly."  May we also continually pray that God's message would "spread rapidly."  Tucked away in II Thessalonians between the large section on prophecy and a large section focused on dealing with unruly Christian brothers, we find these two short verses on prayer.  But, just because we may not have thought much about these two verses, does not mean that what Paul asks them to pray for, is not what we should be praying about.  Can you think of anything more important than God's word spreading rapidly and that it would "be honored" by the people in our community and world?

He closes the first verse with "just as it was with you."  Many of us have experienced times when God has mightily used us to minister to someone.  We have been filled with God's love and ministered in God's strength.  Often, though, we can think that what happened was something that we did and we could easily do it again.  Then, when we try to duplicate what we did before, we fall flat on our faces.  Paul was not going to make this mistake.  He knew he had been successful in his ministry to the Thessalonians because people had prayed for him and because God had transformed the lives of these Thessalonian Christians.  He knew that for his ministry to continue to be effective he needed their prayers, and he needed God to continue to touch people's lives with His word.  May we also continually be aware of what Jesus said, "apart from me you do nothing"! (John 15:5)

b. Prayer is needed to protect us from evil men (3:2)

Next, Paul asks that he and those with him will "be delivered from wicked and evil men."  We can think of Paul as being like an invincible movie hero who could physically and verbally deal with twenty or fifty opponents with ease.  But, Paul was probably quite far from being like one of our modern-day heroes.  He needed their prayers so that God would protect him.  The truth is none of us are like our modern-day fictional heroes.  We need people's prayers to protect us.

Paul wrote this letter from the city of Corinth.  It was a rough and very immoral port town.  Listen to what happened to Paul while he was in Corinth: "One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: 'Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.'" (Acts 18:9-11)  We also can and should seek prayer from others so that evil men will not hinder us in doing God's work.

The type of people whom Paul was concerned about were men who were actively evil.  They are those who purposely seek to hurt and destroy good men and women.  In our world today, there are those who hate the church.  They will not be satisfied until every Christian has been eliminated or converted to their form of godlessness.  We need to be praying that God's people in active ministry will be saved from these types of people.  See Acts17:5-9, 13-15, 18:12-17; 14:5-7,19,20, 19:23-41 for the type of fierce and evil opposition that Paul faced.

Paul sums up what his enemies were like in the following way: "for not everyone has faith."  There will always be those who respond in faith to the message of the gospel; but there will also be those who reject the gospel.  Some of these who reject the gospel will also become bitter enemies of Christianity and its messengers.  In II Corinthians 2:14-16 Paul figuratively explains this reality.  Just as the incense which was burnt in a victory parade when a triumphant Roman general of Paul's time returned from war was a pleasant aroma to the victorious army, that very same aroma was a sickening stench to the captured prisoners.  So, the message we preach will be loved by some and hated by others!

3. A bigger picture of how God looks at us while we are going through tough

times (3:3-5)
"But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.  We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command.  May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance." 

Thought Question #1:  What do you find in these verses that will help you to have confidence when you are weary and weak in God's work?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Name two times when you have been encouraged by a mature Christian right at a time when you were weak and were in desperate need of encouragement?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  Maybe there is someone who is feeling weak and could use your encouragement.  Can you think of someone?

 

 

When the going is tough for us, we can think that we are too weak and too helpless to keep on moving forward.  In these three verses Paul encourages us with God's perspective on us.  We can often see ourselves as near giving up.  But, He is not anywhere near giving up on us.  The reasons that Paul was confident and encouraged about these Thessalonians are as follows:

a. We can always trust that God will faithfully protect us from the evil one

(3:3)
"But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one."  They were feeling very unstable and uncertain (as we also often feel), but their stability was not supposed to be based on their ability to control the circumstances of their lives.  Nor is our stability to be based on our ability to control the circumstances of our lives.  No matter what your circumstances are right now and no matter what kind of problem(s) you are going through, stability will only come when you are able to put your focus on God and place your trust in His faithfulness and in His ability to strengthen you in the midst of these difficulties.  Paul said in verse two, "not everyone has faith."  We are to have faith!

We find a similar thought in Philippians 4:4-7: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God will guard [protect] your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  When we try to weather the storms and troubles of life by ourselves, we are eventually beaten down by them.  But, when we put our trust in God to get us through the troubles, we experience a peace that the world does not understand.  In the midst of the troubles that you and I are going through, and will go through, God wants us to rely on His strength.  He wants us to rely on His strength and experience His peace.  "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak." (Isaiah 40:29)

b. Paul trusted that they were seeking to obey his commands (3:3-4)

When we are struggling through a tough time, we can feel that our struggles are a sign that we are failing.  We may and often do feel as if we are going backwards and not forwards.  The Thessalonians Christians were experiencing persecution.  They were confused by false reports that the day of the Lord had already come, and as we will see in the last part of this chapter, there were some unruly people within their own church.  They did not feel that they were doing too well.  But then they received Paul's words in this verse:  "We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command."  Because these were the God-inspired words from God, it was as if God Himself were patting them on the back and saying, "You are doing well and I believe that you are going to continue obeying me."

You may have had a time (or times) in your Christian life when you were going through a rocky time and God used a Christian brother or sister to encourage you by telling you that he or she had confidence that you were seeking to be obedient to God in your Christian life.  Words like, "thank you for caring" or "thank you for serving the Lord" could have been just what you needed to keep you going.  Certainly, Paul's words in this verse were just that type of encouragement to the struggling Thessalonian Christians.

c. We can trust that God will direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's

perseverance (3:5)
Paul prays here for what we all need – the ability in Christ's strength to persevere through tough times. "May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance."   It is difficult to tell whether Paul was praying that they would be directed into experiencing God's love for them or God's love being expressed through them.  It may be that he was praying for them to both learn to trust in God's love for them and that they would continue loving others with God's love.  As John says in I John 4:19, "We love because He first loved us."  If we learn from the heart of God's love for us, we will also love others from the heart with this same type of love.

He also prays that they will experience from the heart the patience of the Lord.  The word for patience here speaks of endurance against opposition and in the midst of trails.  It is not difficult to respond in a Christian way to people who are wonderful to be around.  It is quite another thing to respond in a Christian way to people and in situations that are very trying and difficult.

You may possibly be going through something like this right now in your life.  How patient and enduring is the Lord with us?  How did He handle the false accusations, mocking and persecution?  Through it all, He continued to love and have peace and joy.  This is the patience He desires to build in us.  It is in troubles that we learn and develop this patience.  As Paul says in Romans 5:3, suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance leads us to Christ-like character.

What do we need when we are going through tough times?  We need to know that God will continue to protect us from our enemy the Devil.  We need encouragement that those we trust and respect have confidence in our walk with God.  Finally, we need to believe that we are growing in love, endurance, and character as we go through these troubles.  Then, we will go from doubt, fear, and instability to confidence, peace, and faith.  In troubles it is most easy to become self-oriented and overwhelmed.  But, in these verses Paul shares how we can experience stability as our focus is widened, and we include God and God's people in our focus.  With the help of God and others, we can find strength and stability even in the midst of very difficult times.

4. A bigger picture on dealing with the unruly (3:6-15)

Paul now turns his attention towards how the Thessalonian Christians were to handle a group among them who were, as our society has come to call them, "freeloaders."  There are sometimes those who respond to teaching on the second coming of Jesus Christ by deciding that Jesus is about to return, so all that is left to do is to wait until He comes.  There may have been some within the Thessalonian church who were doing nothing but waiting for Jesus' return; and while they were waiting, they were depending on fellow Christians to take care of them.  Paul has strong words for those who were taking advantage of these Christians' generosity. See also  I Thessalonians 4:11,12, 514

"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.  For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example.  We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it.  On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.  We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.  For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat."  We hear that some among you are idle.  They are not busy; they are busybodies.  Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.  And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.  If anyone does not obey our instructions in this letter, take special note of him.  Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed.  Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother."

Thought Question #1:  What guidelines do you gain from these verses about how the church is deal with those in the church who stubbornly refuse to change some destructive pattern after being warned?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Jesus talked about treating someone like "pagan or a tax collector"?  Is that what Paul is talking about here?  Paul also talks about turning people over to Satan (I Corinthians 6 and I Timothy 1:19-20).  Is that what Paul is talking about here?  Please explain your answers.

 

 

a. Do not associate with them (3:6)

"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us."  In I Thessalonians 5:14, Paul instructed these Christians to "warn the idle."  If they did warn them, there were at least some who did not respond to the warning and continued to be idle.  So, it was necessary for Paul himself to warn these idle people with even stronger words and require that the Thessalonian Christians take even stronger action toward them.  In the name of "the Lord Jesus" he commands them to "keep away" from those who are not working and not living according to Paul's teaching.  When someone does not respond to words, then some type of action must be taken.  The action that they needed to take was to separate themselves from these who continued to not obey Paul's teaching.  They needed to communicate to those who were unruly with more than words, that their behavior was unacceptable.

Paul is not talking about forcing them out of the church, but of temporarily shrinking away from them to bring about a change of behavior.  It appears that Paul's instruction in other books to turn people over to Satan is an even stronger discipline than what he is recommending here. See I Corinthians 5 and I Timothy 1:19-20

b. But, you follow our example (the example of Paul, Silas, and Timothy)

(3:7-10)
"For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example.  We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it.  On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.  We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.  For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

Thought Question #1:  What does Paul's pattern tell us about what our ministries to others should be like (Sunday school teacher, youth group leader, or any ministry that we have)?

 

 

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What principles do we find in these verses to guide us in helping the needy? (personally, as a church, and as a nation)?

 

 

First of all, Paul reminds them of how he and his followers acted while they were in Thessalonicia.  Paul had a free conscience when he gave these strong words to the Thessalonian Christians who were idle and unruly, for Paul and the others had not been freeloaders when they had been with them.  They worked hard, and paid for any food they received from the Thessalonians.  We see here that for them to minister free of charge to the people of this new church, they needed to work day and night.  Paul is not moaning here at all.  It was his joy to labor for the sake of reaching them with the gospel.

In verses 8 and 9, Paul gives the reasons why Paul and the others had worked night and day.  First of all, he had not wanted to be a burden to any of them.  These words repeat what Paul had said in I Thessalonians 2:9: "Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order to not be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you."  Paul desired above all else to reach them with the gospel.  He avoided anything that might have given them the wrong impression about his ministry and the gospel.  If the Thessalonians had provided for their needs, a number of things might have happened: (1) some might have charged that his main motive in all he was doing was to get what he could from them; (2) they might have thought that they were paying for the gospel.  Paul worked night and day so he would not in any way hinder them from receiving the gospel for what it was, a free and wonderful gift from God.

Secondly, Paul and the others desired that the Thessalonian Christians would imitate their examples of toiling sacrificially for others.  If the Thessalonian Christians had given to them, then, they might have gotten the impression that the Christian life was a life of getting from others and not a life of giving to others.

Paul immediately explains, however, that he and the others had the right to receive support from them. See I Corinthians 5:3-14 and I Timothy 5:18  If Paul had not made it clear that Christian workers can rightly be supported by the church, he would have ruled out for all time our present practice of supporting pastors and missionaries.  Even though Paul could have received support from them; his desire to not be a burden to them and to be a good example for them was his primary goal at that time.

Paul summarizes all that he has been saying in verses six through fifteen in a few wise words: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."  Notice, Paul did not say, "If a man cannot work," but he said, "If a man will not work."  Here we find the major weakness of our welfare system in this country.  We have not only helped those who cannot work, but we have also helped those who will not work.  Paul had a simple solution for those who will not work: they also will not eat.

When we help those who stubbornly and lazily refuse to work, we are encouraging them to spend a lifetime "sponging" off others.  When Jesus taught that if "Someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well;" He appeared to be saying the opposite of what Paul is saying here.  But, there is actually no contradiction between what Jesus said and what Paul said.  Jesus was saying if someone asks us for food, we should be willing to give him more than he asks us for.  Jesus was emphasizing that we should not allow selfishness and stinginess to prevent us from giving even to our enemies.  But, Jesus was not saying that we should give to people even when our giving to them will hurt them.  So, when we encounter someone who is refusing to work, though we are to be willing to sacrificially give to him or her, we should not give to them if it will encourage them to live a lazy lifestyle.

When we combine the principle taught by Jesus and the principle taught here by Paul, we have two primary rules to help us to decide whether or not to give to those who ask us for financial help.  Selfishness should not be the basis of our not choosing to give to them.  Instead, we should consider whether giving to them will help them or harm them.  And, if they are choosing not to work, we should not help them, even if we are willing to sacrificially give to them.  Sometimes it will be best for us to give to them, and at other times we should make it clear that they should be working to earn their money. See also Genesis 3:19

c. The unruly should also follow Paul's example (3:11-12)

"We hear that some among you are idle.  They are not busy; they are busybodies.  Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat."

Thought Question:  What do we learn from these verses about the value of work?

 

 

We find here that those who were not busy working, were busy causing trouble in the church at Thessalonica.  "They are not busy, they are busy-bodies."  It, sadly, is not unusual for there to be some in the church whose energies are directed toward doing some type of harm rather than toward doing good.  If these trouble-makers are not working, they should be told that if they do not work, then, they also will not be provided for.  Paul commanded those who were like this in the church at Thessalonica "to settle down and earn the bread they eat."

Years ago my wife and I were house parents in a Christian Boys' home.  The director of that home had discovered that if he had some type of physical work project going somewhere on the grounds of the Boys' Home that there were fewer discipline problems.  Shirley and I were regular witnesses to the truth of his theory.  Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, taught the very same truth: those who are idle are going to eventually be busy, but they are going to be busy doing what is destructive.

d. Discipline the idle busybodies (3:13-15)

A pattern of biblical discipline is to begin with verbal correction.  Then, if there is no response to the verbal, the next step is for some type of corrective action to be taken.   We saw that Paul had instructed the Thessalonian church in I Thessalonians 5:14 to "warn the idle."  The idle had not responded to verbal warnings.  Now, we see in these verses that Paul prescribes that there be action taken against unruly Christians among the church at Thessalonica.

"And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.  If anyone does not obey our instructions in this letter, take special note of him.  Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed.  Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother."

Thought Question:  We can think that we are disciplining people in the church and even disciplining children in a proper and biblical way, when we actually have the wrong motives.  What do these verses teach us about the proper motivation for discipline?  What are some wrong motives for discipline?

 

 

(1) Persevere in doing right (3:13)

"And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right."  Paul had urged them to follow the example that he and those with him had set for them.  They worked hard to meet their own needs, and they also worked hard to reach out with God's love and God's message to others (both inside and outside of the church).  So, the Thessalonian Christians should not follow the example of the idle and unruly, but they should follow the example of Paul and those with him.  We, also, should follow Paul's example and work hard and do what is right without tiring.  As Paul says in Galatians 6:9: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."  There are many reasons to grow tired and quit.  But, if we keep on working and doing what is right, we someday will see that our toil in God's work was worth it!

(2) Do not associate with them to shame them (3:14-15)

"If anyone does not obey our instructions in this letter, take special note of him.  Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed.  Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother."

Once more, Paul instructs those who were faithful and obedient to Paul's teaching not to associate with those who were disobedient to God's word taught through Paul.  But, he also gives them some additional information about this instruction.

What is meant here by "Do not associate with him"?  Do not associate means to not have "intimate association with an individual as a close and acceptable friend."  "Taken from The Thessalonian Epistles by D. Edmund Hiebert.  Copyright 1971 by Moody Press."  So, we are not to ignore their rebellious behavior and continue to be close and approving friends, as if what they are doing is acceptable.  We are, instead, to show them that we disapprove of what they are doing by withdrawing our approval of them and our fellowship with them.

So, first of all, the purpose for not associating with the unruly is so that they "may feel ashamed."  By not associating with them, we are to show that we disapprove of their behavior.  The purpose of avoiding them is a form of discipline with the hope that they will become ashamed and aware that what they are doing is deserving of the disapproval of their fellow Christians.

What if the person does not feel ashamed, but persists in his idleness?  Paul does not give the answer to this question in this book.  But, in Matthew 18:15-18, Jesus gives instructions in what we are to do if someone rejects all attempts to correct him or her.  Then, you will finally need to treat them as a "pagan or a tax-collector."  In other words, you treat them as if they are not a Christian and not a brother or sister in Christ.  We can see here that those at Thessalonica had not yet reached this stage, for he says, "yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother."

The second purpose of the discipline is so that he might be warned "as a brother."  Once more, listen to Hiebert's words:  "To regard him 'as an enemy' one personally antagonistic to God and to the church, would only hinder the moral result aimed at in the discipline.  'Disapproval as a means of moral discipline, loses all its effect if the offender does not realize its object and reason, or if it is tainted with personal hostility.'  Such an attitude toward him would probably only evoke sullen persistence in his refusal."  "Taken from The Thessalonian Epistles by V. Edmund Hiebert.  Copyright 1971 by Moody Press."

But, instead, we are to "warn him as a brother."  How can we not associate with him or not have an intimate friendship with him, but still "warn him as a brother"?  We must continue to desire his best. 
We must continue to see him as part of our Christian family.  We must correct him with the goal of restoring him once more as an intimate Christian friend.

It is not appropriate for us to lash out at the wayward Christian brother or sister or gossip about our Christian family member.  Instead, we are to only do that which will be most helpful in restoring them in Christian fellowship.

It is very possible to discipline someone for the wrong reasons.  We can discipline children just because we do not want them to embarrass us or because we want to be in control of them.  We can discipline someone in the church because they have been an embarrassment to us or because we can feel that they have let us down.  We can discipline someone out of anger and resentment.  I heard someone on a Christian radio program today who said we can feel that if we are right and we are angry it is righteous anger.  But, God's discipline and proper discipline is always done in love and in hope that the person who is being disciplined will respond to the discipline and be fully restored to fellowship in the church.  See Galatians 6:1-5; II Corinthians 2:5-11

FINAL GREETINGS (3:16-18)
Now may the Lord of peace give you peace at all times and in every way.  The Lord be with all of you.  I, Paul write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters.  This is how I write.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all."

Thought Question #1:  What the Thessalonian Christians needed was "peace."  Are you experiencing God's peace right now?  How can Paul's words in these verses help you to experience God's peace?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Why do you think that Paul says that he wrote this letter with his own hand?

 

 

1. May the Lord of peace give you peace at all times (3:16)

Paul's prayer in this verse sums up what he desires for them-"peace"!  In chapter 2, verses 1 and 2, he says to them: "we ask you brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report, or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come."  In this same chapter, verses 16 and 17, he offers up another quick prayer that they would be encouraged and strengthened.  When we are discouraged and feel weak, it is because we have lost our peace.  Then, in chapter three, he tells them how to deal with some who are unruly.  What does removing unruliness in a church produce?  The opposite of disorder is peace!

So, Paul prays that the One who is "the Lord of peace" (or "the Lord of the peace" for there is a "the" before "peace") would give them peace.  May the only One who can give true peace give you peace!

Notice that Paul does not pray that they would be removed from their trials and tough times, but he prays that they would have "peace at all times and in every way."  This sounds a little like Paul's statement in Philippinas 4:12 where he says, "I have learned the secret of being content in every situation."  Paul desires that they would also come to the place where they also can learn how to have God's peace in every situation.

The way for these Thessalonian Christians to find peace and the way for us to find peace is found in the last words of this verse: "The Lord be with all of you."  Peace comes through fellowship with the Lord who is the Prince of peace.  "For he himself is our peace." (Ephesians 2:14)  The most important war that needed to end before we could find peace was the war between God and man.  That war was brought to an end when Jesus went to war for us.  We deserved to lose God's just war against us because of our sinfulness and many sins.  Jesus took our defeat on Himself.  His blood is a picture of our defeat.  But now the war is over.  God is no longer against us, but for us!  Jesus is now with us and not against us.  May we find peace in this truth.  "And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." (Colossians 1:20)  Through Him alone can we be reconciled and at peace with God.  Paul wished that these Thessalonian Christians would experience the peace that comes through Jesus Christ the Lord of peace.  "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)  And He is!!  See Romans 8:31-39

Even in our storms and fears, He is the Lord of peace.  May we experience His peace!  I am convinced from the Bible and from personal experience that one of Satan's primary goals is to destroy our peace.  If our peace is destroyed, we are easy prey for him and of little worth in God's service.  These Thessalonian Christians needed the peace that Paul was talking about.  We need the peace that the Lord of peace has provided for us through His blood, through His advocacy for us when Satan accuses us, and by His caring for us when our burdens are too great for us. May you experience His peace! See Matthew 11:28-30

2. Paul wrote the greeting with his own hand in his own handwriting (3:17)

They had received phony letters which said that they came from Paul, with false messages telling them that the Day of the Lord had already come. See 2:2  Paul probably dictated this letter to someone else, but this last greeting to them he writes in his own handwriting.  Then, he points out to them that the handwriting was his very own handwriting.  If this handwriting was not on a letter, it was not from him.

They probably had seen his handwriting even before they had received this letter.  They had his first letter, and he may have written other messages to them while he was with them.  The unruly that Paul chastised could not say that this letter sounded too harsh to be from Paul.  For the handwriting was Paul's.  Also, each letter that they had received that claimed to be from Paul could now be checked by comparing it to Paul's handwriting in this letter.

Today, the Bible is challenged by scholars in many ways.  One way they seek to discredit the Bible is by saying that the Bible books were not written by Paul and others as we have been taught.  We as Christians need to be able to defend the Bible as God's authentic word.  One of the ways we can show that the Bible is God's word is by pointing out that the early churches recognized Paul's handwriting and could tell which letters were authentically from him.  In other books Paul defends himself as an authentic spokesman for God.

See II Corinthians 12:12  See also I Corinthians 16:21 and Colossians 4:18 for other examples of Paul pointing out that a letter was authentically from him by saying that his was writing with his own hand.  Furthermore, see Galatians 6:11 where Paul points out that his handwriting was larger than average.  Some think he may have written in large letters because he had poor eyesight.  Another possibility is that he wrote in large letters to the Galatians for emphasis.

3. Paul closes this letter with these words: "The grace of our Lord Jesus

Christ be with you all." (3:18)
In these few words, Paul sums up what is unique about Christians.  We experience the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in the very core of our being.  God's Spirit writes it there with His Spirit.  We have a living relationship with God made possible by the "grace of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Have you had times when it is hard for you to see the big picture clearly?  In those times we can tend to feel like failures.  We can feel that we are going backwards rather than forwards.  But, we, like the Thessalonian Christians of so many years ago, may be growing as Christians and battling admirably against the forces of darkness that are all around us.  We need to see the big picture and be encouraged as Paul desired that these Thessalonian Christians be encouraged.

They did not see clearly the growth in their lives, and that they were standing up well against opposition.  They did not see clearly what was in the future for their enemies and what was in their own future.  They did not see clearly how significant it was that God had loved and chosen them.  They did not see clearly their high calling to share in Christ's glory.  They did not see clearly the power of prayer to make their efforts in the Lord effective and to protect them from evil men.  And they did not know how to deal with the unruly among them.  In this letter Paul widens their focus.  Surely they were encouraged by his words.

How about you?  Were you also strengthened and encouraged by Paul's words?  Are you able to now see more clearly the bigger picture?  We can see with complete confidence that we are on the winning side.  More than that, we are on the totally victorious and triumphant side.  May we, then, experience God's strength, encouragement, and hope!

 

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. ®   NIV ®   Copyright ©  1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.  All Rights reserved.

Studies in Thessalonians