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Paul and Barnabas parted ways on account of a dispute involving young Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. Thereafter Paul chose Silas or Silvanus as his partner in spreading the evangel and, upon his return to cities in what is now modern Turkey, selected young Timothy as an assistant. (Acts 15:36-40; 16:1-3) In about 50 CE, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy brought the glad tidings about Jesus Christ to Thessalonica, the main seaport in Macedonia.
As was his custom, Paul, on the sabbath, went to the synagogue and seized the opportunity to speak to those assembled, using the Scriptures to identify Jesus as the promised Messiah. Some of the Jews responded in faith, as did numerous God-fearing Greeks and certain prominent women who assembled with the Jews at the synagogue. The unbelieving Jews, however, began to oppose Paul and Silas and enlisted some worthless men loitering in the marketplace to form a mob and stir up the populace against them. Thinking that Paul and Silas would be at Jason’s home, the mob went there with the intent of seizing them and bringing them before an assembly of the people. Not finding Paul and Silas, they dragged Jason and a number of other believers before the city officials, making false accusations and stirring up the crowd against Paul and Silas. To be released, Jason and the others were required to make a surety payment. Possibly another condition of their release was that Paul and Silas were to leave Thessalonica, for the believers immediately sent them away during the night to Beroea. Under the cover of darkness, Paul and Silas would have been far safer from possible mob attack than during a departure in daylight. Later, the unbelieving Jews from Thessalonica, upon receiving news of Paul’s activity in Beroea, followed and succeeded in stirring up the populace against him. (Acts 17:1-14)
Note: For pictures of Thessalonica and comments about the city, see bibleplaces.com/thessalonica.htm.
Out of deep concern for the new believers in Thessalonica whom he was forced to leave behind, Paul wrote his letter, addressing them as “the congregation of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” As a community of believers, they were at one with God and his Son. (Compare John 17:21; 1 Corinthians 3:23.) Paul’s desire for them to have “favor,” “unmerited kindness,” or “grace” and “peace” signified that they be in possession of all the divine blessings and aid in which believers share and the inner tranquility of knowing that as beloved children of God they would be sustained and strengthened in whatever trials or distresses they might experience. (1:1)
The apostle Paul used the editorial first person plural verbs (e.g., “we thank”) and pronouns (e.g., “our”). In this letter, one cannot always determine whether he used the editorial “we” or meant to include Silvanus (Silas), if not also Timothy.
Paul’s concern was for all the believers in Thessalonica, and for each of them he gave thanks to God when mentioning them in his prayers. (1:2) He recalled their “work of faith,” that is, the activity which resulted from their having placed their unqualified trust in the Father and his Son. The “labor of love” which Paul remembered in their case would have been all their labor that was motivated by a love for God, his Son, fellow believers, and fellow humans. Paul also mentioned remembering “the patience of the hope of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This “patience,” endurance, steadfastness, or perseverance would have been the result of having placed their hope in the Son of God. Being associated with him, that hope included awaiting his return in glory and sharing in all the blessings linked to this grand event. The words “before our God and Father” may be understood to mean that the Thessalonians were persevering, enduring, or maintaining patience or steadfastness in the sight of God. (1:2, 3) A number of translations make this meaning explicit. J. B. Phillips paraphrased the words, “endurance in the life that you live before God, the Father of us all.” The New King James Version reads, “patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father.” Other translators have chosen to transpose the phrase, linking it to Paul’s remembering or recalling. “We recall, in the presence of our God and Father, your work of faith, labor of love, and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (HCSB) “For we remember before our God and Father how you put your faith into practice, how your love made you work so hard, and how your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ is firm.” (GNT, Second Edition) “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (NIV)
Paul knew that all who had responded in faith were “sons” of God, and so he confidently spoke of these “brothers beloved by God” as having been chosen, that is, chosen by the Father as his own children. (1:4) The basis for this confidence appears to have been the manner in which the evangel or glad tidings about Jesus Christ had been presented to the Thessalonians. (See the Notes section for additional comments.) The words “our evangel” do not mean that the “good news” originated with Paul but that it was the message he proclaimed. That evangel did not come to the Thessalonians “in word only.” It was not a mere speaking of words lacking substance and sincerity, but there was power behind the proclamation, a divine power. Paul preached the evangel while under the powerful guidance of holy spirit. He also did so with complete conviction respecting the truth of the message. The Thessalonian believers knew full well the kind of person Paul had shown himself to be for their sake. He had conducted himself in an exemplary manner as one in the service of God and Christ and as deserving to be entrusted with the evangel. His example for their sake was worthy of imitation. (1:5)
The Thessalonian believers became imitators of Paul (and also of his companions) and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul, Silas, Timothy, and the Lord Jesus Christ faced hostility from unbelievers and persevered when faced with persecution. Likewise, the Thessalonians, despite being confronted with much tribulation or suffering from unbelievers, accepted the “word” or message about Jesus Christ with the joy that the holy spirit produces. (1:6)
To believers in the rest of Macedonia and in Achaia (the neighboring southern province), the Thessalonians had become an example in enduring suffering and in making their faith known. As a seaport, Thessalonica would have been a place frequented by many merchants, travelers, and mariners, making it possible for news about developments in the city to spread far and wide. The Thessalonian believers did not hide their faith, but made it known. Therefore, from them, the “word of the Lord” or the glad tidings about Jesus Christ came to be heard in other parts of Macedonia, in Achaia, and in regions beyond those two provinces. In all those areas, the faith the Thessalonians had in God became known. As a result, Paul (and his companions) did not need to say anything about the basic message respecting Christ. People already knew about how the Thessalonian disciples of God’s Son had responded to Paul and his companions, and what they had done and come to believe. The Thessalonian believers had abandoned lifeless idols and turned to God, choosing to serve the living and true God. They were looking forward to the return of God’s Son from heaven, the Son whom the Father had raised from the dead. That glorious return of the Son would mean being delivered from the coming wrath to be expressed against those defiantly persisting in unbelief. (1:7-10)
In verse 1, not all manuscripts end with “peace” (eiréne). The following are readings found in various manuscripts: “peace from God and [the] Lord Jesus Christ,” “peace from God [the] Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ,” “peace from God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ,” “peace from God [the] Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,” and “peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In verse 4, the reference could either be to the manner in which Paul and his companions communicated the message about God’s Son or in the way the Thessalonians received it. Applied to the Thessalonians, this would mean that the message had a powerful effect on them, that it produced a remarkable change in their lives, that God’s spirit became operative upon them, and that they were fully convinced respecting the truth of the message. It does, however, appear more likely that Paul referred to the manner in which the evangel came to be proclaimed. The concluding part of verse 5, with its specific focus on the proclaimers, would support this conclusion (“as you know what kind [of persons] we came to be among you for your sake”).
Regarding “holy spirit” in verse 5, see the Notes on Galatians 3:2 in the Commentary section.
Believers in Thessalonica, “brothers” in Christ, knew that Paul’s coming (along with his companions) to them had not proved to be in vain or without positive results. They had responded in faith and been greatly enriched spiritually. (2:1)
Before arriving in Thessalonica, Paul and Silvanus (Silas) had suffered and been mistreated in a high-handed manner in the city of Philippi. (2:2) After Paul caused a slave girl to lose her predictive ability, which led to a monetary loss for her owners, they led Paul and Silas before the rulers, accusing them of introducing unlawful customs. Paul and Silas were severely beaten with rods upon their bare skin and then imprisoned. The jailer placed them in the inner prison and secured their feet in stocks. (Acts 16:16-24)
Having endured painful mistreatment as disciples of God’s Son, they were in need of courage or boldness to continue proclaiming the glad tidings concerning him. In God or on account of looking to him for strength, they found the courage to speak the evangel of God or the message that had its source in him, doing so in Thessalonica with “much struggle” or in the face of intense hostility. (2:2)
The “exhortation” or appeal to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and the one through whom forgiveness of sin had been made possible did not have its source in error, impurity, or deceit. The message was solidly based on truth, and, when proclaiming it, Paul and Silas maintained a pure motive and remained free from any unworthy aim to derive selfish profit. They revealed themselves to be men whom God had found worthy of being entrusted with the glad tidings. Fully aware that God would be the examiner of their hearts or deep inner selves, they proclaimed the message with the objective of pleasing him, not men. (2:3, 4)
The Thessalonians knew that Paul and his companions had not resorted to flattery to throw them off guard in an effort to gain some advantage and had not secretly coveted anything they possessed. (Compare Acts 20:33, 34.) Paul could write this with a clear conscience, even calling upon God as witness. (2:5) Perhaps Paul’s emphasis on sincerity and purity could be an indication that the hurried departure from Thessalonica under the cover of darkness may have caused some to question his motives and those of Silas. On the other hand, Timothy would never have doubted Paul’s pure motives and, yet, the apostle did use similar language in his first letter to him. (1 Timothy 2:7) So the apostle’s words may, in themselves, be no clear evidence of any negative thoughts among some in Thessalonica.
Paul and Silas did not seek “glory” from men, wanting special honor or an elevated standing among others. They did not desire such glory from the Thessalonian believers nor from anyone else. (2:6)
As one “sent forth” in the service of Christ from Jerusalem to Syrian Antioch and afterward accompanying Paul upon departing from Antioch to declare the evangel elsewhere, Silas (Silvanus) was an apostle, for the Greek term denotes “one sent forth.” (Acts 15:22, 40) As apostles of Christ, Paul and Silas could have made others feel the weight of their authority or made certain demands in keeping with their position, insisting on their dignity. But, according to the oldest Greek manuscripts, they proved to be as “babes” (népioi) among the Thessalonians. This could mean that they were unassuming. Later Greek manuscripts read “gentle” (épioi). Nothing in their attitude or bearing suggested any desire on their part to lord over others. Like a nurse or a mother tenderly cherishes or comforts her own children, Paul and Silas, motivated by affectionate care and concern, were not only delighted to share the evangel of God (the message centering on Jesus Christ and which had his Father as the ultimate source) but also to give of themselves fully (their “souls”). This was because the Thessalonian believers had become the object of their love. (2:7, 8)
The Thessalonians, their brothers in Christ, could recall that Paul and Silas were willing to expend themselves fully for them. They knew about their labor and toil during the day and the night or how Paul and Silas had diligently worked to care for their needs so as not to be a burden to anyone when proclaiming the “evangel of God.” (2:9)
The Thessalonian believers and the Observer of all, the Most High God, could testify that Paul and Silas had conducted themselves in a holy or pure, upright, and blameless manner. Like a father with genuine concern for his children, Paul and Silas exhorted, encouraged, and solemnly charged each one of the Thessalonian believers to “walk” or conduct themselves worthily of God, the one calling them to his kingdom (out of this world and into the realm where his appointed King, Jesus Christ, is Lord) and glory (sharing in the excelling splendor of the relationship with him that his beloved Son enjoys). (2:10-12; compare John 17:20-24.)
Without ceasing, Paul (and his companions) thanked God that the Thessalonians had accepted the message he proclaimed, not as the word of men or as a message originating from a human source, but for what it truly was, the “word of God,” which was at work within them, transforming their lives to come to be progressively more like the Lord Jesus Christ. (2:13)
That the Thessalonians had accepted the message as being from God was clearly evident from what they were willing to endure. They had come to be imitators of the congregations of God in Judea, congregations that were at one with Jesus Christ. Jewish believers had suffered much from unbelieving fellow Jews. The letter to the Hebrews (10:32-34, NRSV), written some years later, relates the following: “Recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting.” Like those believing Jews, the Thessalonian believers suffered at the hands of their unbelieving compatriots. Regarding the unbelieving Jews who manifested intense hostility, Paul continued, “They killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and persecuted us, and they are not pleasing God.” (2:14, 15)
In their rabid efforts to prevent Paul and his companions from preaching to non-Jews the message that revealed how an approved relationship with God was possible on the basis of faith in his Son, they demonstrated themselves to be against everyone. (Compare Acts 13:44-50; 14:1-7, 19-22; 17:5-10.) When opposing Christ and his disciples, they filled up the measure of their sins. As the Son of God had said, “The wisdom of God said: ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles; some of them they will kill and persecute’ in order that this generation might be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who died between the altar and the temple building. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be charged with their blood!” (Luke 11:49-51, NAB) Evidently because the judgment was sure to come, Paul wrote that God’s “wrath has finally [eis télos, into the end (possibly meaning “completely”)] come upon them.” (2:15, 16)
Upon being forced to depart from Thessalonica, Paul and Silas found themselves as if orphaned from the believers there. But that short bereavement was not a bereavement in their heart or deep inner self; it was only a separation as to “face” or in person. They greatly longed to see them, and Paul tried hard to do so. Twice he found his purpose frustrated, as he expressed it, “Satan blocked us.” (2:17, 18)
To the apostle Paul, the Thessalonian believers were his “hope,” “joy,” or “crown of boasting” before the Lord Jesus Christ at his arrival (parousía, meaning “presence” or “arrival,” the start of the presence) in glory. With confidence, Paul added, “You are our glory and joy.” (2:19, 20) His hope for the Thessalonian believers would have been that the return of the Lord Jesus Christ would find them in an approved state. This would give him reason to be joyful respecting them, as his labor and toil would not have been expended in vain. As loyal disciples of God’s Son, they would be a credit to him or a crown occasioning exultation. Apparently because Paul was confident respecting the genuineness of the faith the Thessalonians manifested, they were a glory or credit to him and a source of joy.
Note: In 2:12, the Greek participle for “calling” is kaloúntos (“is calling”) in fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and numerous other manuscripts, whereas fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, and many other manuscripts read kalésantos (“has called”).
Out of deep concern and love for the Thessalonians, Paul was willing to be without the help of a companion while in Athens. So great was his concern for them that he could not bear it any longer not to know just how they were faring. Therefore, he sent Timothy, his brother and theirs, a fellow worker of God in the evangel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage or console them in their faith. As God’s fellow worker, Timothy followed divine direction in advancing the glad tidings that focused on Jesus Christ and what he accomplished through his sacrificial death. Paul desired that Timothy’s visit would help the Thessalonians to hold firmly to their faith in God’s Son, not being shaken by the tribulations or distress the opposition of unbelievers had brought upon them. (3:1-3)
Paul reminded them that they were appointed for “tribulations.” He could say this because Jesus Christ had told his disciples, “In the world, you have tribulation.” (John 16:33) They would not be shielded from becoming objects of hostility among unbelievers, and Paul had prepared the Thessalonians for this while he was with them. Based on their own experience, they knew that his advance warning about tribulations had proved to be true. Aware of the strain the opposition of unbelievers could have on the Thessalonians, Paul had experienced anxious care for them, wanting to know about their faith (apparently meaning whether they continued to adhere to their faith in Christ) and hoping that the tempter (Satan) had not succeeded in his efforts to tempt them to abandon their faith and nullify Paul’s labor. If they had lost their faith, all the efforts of the apostle in advancing the cause of Christ would have proved to be in vain or useless. (3:3-5)
Upon his return from Thessalonica, Timothy brought Paul a good report about the believers in the city. Their faith and love had remained intact, and their memory of Paul continued to be a favorable one. They longed to see him as he yearned to see them. Because his Thessalonian brothers in Christ had continued in the faith, Paul, while himself having experienced need and distress or hardship, was comforted or consoled. The good report refreshed him as if he had been infused with new life. As he said, “Now we live if you are standing in the Lord.” Firm in their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, they were “standing.” (3:6-8)
The apostle’s rhetorical question revealed the depth of his joy. “How can we thank God for you in repayment for all the joy with which we are rejoicing before our God because of you, as night and day we, in superabundant measure, pray to see your faces and to remedy whatever may be lacking in your faith?” (3:9, 10) Paul simply could not thank God enough for the joy the good report about the Thessalonians has brought him. During the day and periods of wakefulness at night, he earnestly prayed that he would be able to see them personally, providing him with the opportunity to assist them in making up for any lack in their faith.
Paul ardently desired that God, the heavenly Father, and the Lord Jesus would open the way for him to visit the Thessalonians. His prayer for them was that the Lord Jesus Christ would cause their love for one another and for all (fellow humans generally) to grow and abound or thrive, as was the case with Paul’s love for them. At Christ’s arrival in glory with all his holy ones or his “mighty angels” (2 Thessalonians 1:7), the apostle wanted the Thessalonians to be found with firmly fixed hearts or deep inner selves devotedly attached to God’s Son in a state of unblemished holiness or purity before the Father. Paul looked to the Lord Jesus Christ to aid the Thessalonian believers to be approved. (3:11-13)
In verses 1 and 5, Paul uses the same expression about not being able to bear not knowing just how the Thessalonians had been affected by tribulations. In its basic sense, the Greek word stégo means “cover,” often to prevent something undesirable from reaching the covered object. In this context, however, stégo denotes “bear,” “endure,” or “stand.” The apostle could no longer stand not knowing how the Thessalonians were faring.
In verse 3, the term for “shaken” is saíno. In ancient Greek writings, this term is used to mean “wag the tail” (as applying to dogs) and, by extension, would denote “to flatter” or “to try to win favor.” Therefore, some have concluded that Paul may have meant that he was concerned that the persecuted Thessalonians might be “deceived” by those who would show kindness to them in an effort to turn them away from the faith. In the Vulgate, a form of the word moveo (“move”) is used, and ancient interpreters likewise understood the term in Thessalonians to signify “move,” “disturb,” or “agitate.”
In verse 13, the Greek term parousía evidently refers to the “arrival,” the start of the presence.
Paul made his request and directed the encouragement to his brothers in Christ, doing so “in the Lord Jesus.” The apostle thereby indicated that he acted as the representative of God’s beloved Son. While with the Thessalonians, Paul had given them instructions about how to conduct themselves in a manner pleasing to God, and they were “walking” or conducting themselves accordingly. At this time, he requested and admonished them to please God to a greater degree in their conduct, continuing to make progress in living as his approved servants. (4:1)
Paul reminded the Thessalonians that they knew or were fully aware of the instructions he had given them “through the Lord Jesus.” When referring to these instructions, orders, or charges as being given “through the Lord Jesus,” Paul indicated God’s Son to be their source. (4:2)
God’s will for believers was their “holiness” or purity, reflecting his holiness as his people. This required that they refrain from engaging in any kind of sexual immorality. Each of them should “know” or understand how to take possession of his own vessel in “sanctification and honor.” The expression “vessel” could either refer to a person’s own body or to a wife. If understood to refer to the body, the thought would be that the individual should maintain his body in a chaste state. (4:3, 4) If the “vessel” denotes a wife, the counsel would be similar to the admonition Paul gave to the Corinthians: “‘It is well for a man not to touch a woman.’ But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:1, 2, NRSV)
Numerous translations interpretively render Paul’s words to the Thessalonians as applying to a wife. “Respect and honor your wife” (CEV), “that each of you know how to acquire a wife for himself in holiness and honor” (NAB). Other translations are explicit in referring to the body. (NIV, NJB, NRSV, REB) Whether the specific reference is to the body or to the wife, the basic point would be the same. The marriage bed should remain undefiled, and an immoral man is not treating the wife in a pure and honorable way. Likewise, sexual immorality constitutes a misuse of the body, a failure to maintain it in a state of purity and honor.
Anciently, as today, sexual immorality was widespread. In the first century, it was one of the corruptions associated with idolatry. Believers, as Paul admonished, were not to be like people of the nations who did not know God or had no relationship with him and who freely indulged their passionate lust. (4:5)
Paul urged believers not to injure or exploit a brother “in the matter.” If directly related to the previous words, this “matter” relates to upholding a brother’s right to moral purity. The Contemporary English Version makes this meaning explicit in the way it paraphrases Paul’s words, “You must not cheat any of the Lord’s followers in matters of sex.” In the footnote, however, the application is to matters “in business.” The apostle added a sobering reason for upholding the rights of one’s brother. “The Lord is an avenger concerning all these things.” As Lord and Judge, Jesus Christ will require an accounting. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” “For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.” (Luke 6:46; 2 Corinthians 5:10, NRSV) The Thessalonians were fully aware of the Lord’s role as avenger, for Paul had told them about this while with them and had solemnly affirmed it. (4:6)
God’s “call” to individuals to be his people, his children, was a call to holiness or a life of purity, not impurity. Whoever disregarded the moral teaching that called for living an exemplary life disregarded God, not man or some human authority. It was God who had given his holy spirit to believers, and the spirit exerted a powerful influence that opposed impurity. (4:7, 8; see the Commentary section on Galatians 5:16-18.)
Regarding the kind of love or affection that should exist among believers as “brothers” in the family of God’s children, Paul did not see a need for anything to be written. As he said to the Thessalonians, “For you are taught by God to love one another.” They had come to know the greatness of God’s love as revealed through the giving of his beloved Son to effect a liberation from sin and death. (See the Commentary section on 1 John 4:9-11.) They were, in fact, showing love for all the brothers in Macedonia, but Paul desired that they continue to grow in this aspect of their lives. (4:9, 10)
According to Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, certain ones among the believers had drawn the wrong conclusion about the nearness of the arrival of Jesus Christ in glory. Believing the event was at hand, they felt there was no reason for them to work, expecting fellow believers to provide for them. (Compare 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12) This may well be the reason Paul gave the admonition in his first letter for the Thessalonians to live quietly, caring for their own affairs and working with their hands, as he had instructed them while with them. When acting in harmony with the apostle’s admonition, they would have been “walking” or conducting themselves respectably in the eyes of persons outside the community of believers and would not be in need of anything on account of indolence. (4:11, 12)
It appears that one or more among the believers in Thessalonica had died. This apparently is the reason Paul wanted his Thessalonian brothers not to be in ignorance about those who had fallen asleep or had died. His desire was that they not sorrow as did persons without hope, persons who were totally overcome by grief and had no hope of any kind to mitigate their sadness. Believers had faith that Jesus had been raised from the dead. This faith provided the basis for the hope that God, “through Jesus,” would bring “with him” (with Jesus at his arrival or at the start of the presence) those who had fallen asleep or who had died. The words “through Jesus” may indicate that God would raise the dead through or by means of him. Another possibility is that the “ones sleeping through Jesus” are the dead in Christ who would be resurrected and whom God would bring with his Son at the time of the glorious arrival. (4:13, 14)
Apparently Paul referred to authoritative teaching of Jesus Christ when indicating that what he said was “by the word of the Lord.” While on earth, Jesus did tell his disciples that he would “return in the glory of his Father with his angels and then repay each one according to his action.” (Matthew 16:27) At that time, according to Jesus’ words, he would “send out his angels with a great trumpet blast,” and they would “gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other end.” (Matthew 24:31) For those who had died to receive their reward would require their being raised from the dead. As for those alive at Christ’s arrival in glory, they would be gathered to him. Likely Paul had additional teaching from the Lord that made it possible for him to say that, with reference to entering upon their reward, those who would survive until the arrival of the Lord would not precede those who had died. Accompanied by a word of command, an archangel’s voice, and God’s trumpet, Christ would descend, revealing himself as having returned in glory, and the dead in Christ or believers would rise first. Afterward all believers then alive would be “caught up in clouds to meet the Lord in the air,” making it possible for them always to be with him. According to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (15:51-54), the living believers would experience a change from a corruptible body to an incorruptible body. The words about the hope for those sleeping in death, words solidly based on the Lord’s teaching, would enable the Thessalonians to comfort one another about any from among them who may die or may have died. (4:15-18)
Regarding his return in glory, Jesus Christ told his disciples that the “day and hour” was unknown to the angels and the Son and known only to the Father. (Mark 13:32) It was not for his disciples to know the times and seasons the Father had placed in his own authority or which were under his exclusive control. (Acts 1:7) In parables relating to his return, God’s Son repeatedly emphasized that the time of his arrival would be unexpected, requiring his disciples to maintain spiritual wakefulness and divinely approved conduct at all times. (Matthew 24:42-51; 25:1-30; Luke 12:35-48; 21:34-36)
Paul’s words to the Thessalonians conveyed the same teaching. There was no need for anyone to write to his Thessalonian brothers in Christ about times and seasons, for they knew that the day of the Lord or the time of his arrival would come like a thief in the night, unexpectedly and without a previous announcement pinpointing the time. (5:1, 2)
In the centuries since then, many have disregarded the straightforward statements of God’s Son and the apostle Paul. Drawing primarily on the book of Daniel, they have written much about times and seasons, raising false hopes in those who were willing to believe them. Despite numerous failed predictions, the leadership in some of the existing movements that have focused on “times and seasons” continues to represent itself as knowing that the time is very close, “just around the corner.” Therefore, Paul’s letter is as relevant today as it was for first century believers who had drawn wrong conclusions about the Lord’s return and made decisions about their personal life based on their erroneous view. (See 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12.)
Continuing to stress that the day of the Lord would come at an unexpected time, Paul said, “Whenever they are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ then sudden disaster is upon them like the labor pains of a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (5:3) The apostle clearly was not telling the Thessalonians to watch for a time when world rulers would be making a declaration of having attained a state of “peace and safety.” Rather, he was showing that people would not be expecting the Lord Jesus Christ to arrive to execute judgment against them. Their attitude would be like that expressed in 2 Peter 3:4, “Where is his promised arrival? From the day our ancestors fell asleep, everything is continuing as from the start of creation.” Accordingly, people would be feeling that all was well and secure, with no possibility of their facing a day of divine reckoning. Suddenly, however, that day would come upon them, as when a woman is seized by labor pains, and they would not escape adverse judgment.
Paul’s Thessalonian brothers, however, were not in darkness about the certainty of Christ’s return in glory so that the day would overtake them unexpectedly as a thief. All of them were “sons of light” and “sons of day,” for they were not guilty of habitually carrying on godless activities under the cover of darkness. Their aim was to live lives free from the shameful deeds that were commonly committed in secret. Accordingly, they were not of the “night nor of the darkness.” It was not fitting for them to sleep like the rest, the unbelievers, whose lives reflected no awareness of any accountability to God and Christ for their actions. Unlike the rest who were “asleep” (blind to their responsibilities and unaware of the grave danger in which they found themselves), believers needed to be awake and sober, not burdened by sinful acts and life’s anxieties but living lives that reflected favorably on the Most High God and his Son. (5:4-6)
Paul continued, “For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night.” (5:7) In the case of unbelievers, their whole life is spent in the “night” or in the dark. Their state is therefore one of sleep and their activity like that of a person overindulging in drink. As persons of the “day,” believers needed to remain sober, in full control of their senses, with their hearts or deep inner selves protected by faith and love as by a breastplate. To remain spiritually awake, they needed to maintain a strong faith in God and Christ and love for them, fellow believers, and fellow humans. To safeguard their thinking, they needed the protection of the “hope of salvation,” which hope would serve like a helmet and enable them to remain focused on the certainty of attaining all the divinely promised blessings. (5:8)
God’s purpose for them was to obtain salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ and to be delivered from the wrath to come upon all who deliberately and defiantly choose to remain alienated from him. Salvation through Jesus Christ was made possible by what he did in laying down his life in sacrifice. As Paul expressed it, “He died for us.” Therefore, whether believers remain “awake” or alive at Christ’s return or are “asleep” or dead, they would live with him, for his death opened up this marvelous prospect. In view of their God-given hope, the Thessalonian believers had good reason to heed Paul’s admonition to comfort or encourage one another and to build up or strengthen one another, as they were also doing at the time. (5:9-11)
Next Paul focused on the responsibilities of the Thessalonian believers as brothers in the family of God’s beloved children. Among them were those who labored for them in promoting their spiritual well-being, “stood before” them “in the Lord” as teachers and caring shepherds, and admonished them regarding their conduct. Paul asked that the Thessalonians grant these faithful ones in their midst the recognition they deserved and show them high esteem in love on account of their work. He urged them to be peaceable among themselves, preserving a loving spirit and maintaining a good relationship with one another. As for the disorderly ones among them, Paul admonished the Thessalonians to correct the thinking of these idlers. Despondent or discouraged ones needed consolation, and the weak required loving support to strengthen them. As members of the spiritual family did have flaws, the Thessalonians needed to be patient or forbearing with everyone. All were to see to it that no one repaid wrong for wrong but that all were seeking the good of one another and of all others or of all who were not part of their spiritual family. Especially because of what God and Christ had done for them, their help and guidance, and the certainty of seeing the fulfillment of the divine promises, believers had good reason to rejoice always. (5:12-16)
The apostle continued, “Pray continually; in everything, give thanks, for this is God’s will in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the spirit. Do not be contemptuous of prophecies, but test everything; cling to the good. Shun every form of evil.” (5:17-22)
As persons continuing to need God’s help, direction, and strength, believers rightly persevere in prayer, never ceasing to make their petitions. (5:17) They also maintain a spirit of gratitude. The phrase “in everything” could mean that thanks be given in all circumstances or for everything. “This is God’s will in Christ” may mean that always rejoicing, praying constantly, and giving thanks are what the Most High desires that believers do, those who are “in Christ” or at one with him. There is also a possibility that the words “this is God’s will” specifically relate to the giving of thanks. (5:18)
Upon first coming under the influence of God’s spirit, new believers may have manifested an intense fervor. As a result, others may have been inclined to want to put out the “fire” that the spirit had generated. This aspect may explain the reason for Paul’s admonition not to “quench the spirit.” (5:19) Prophetic utterances may likewise have been accompanied by an extraordinary intensity of feeling and fervor, which could have prompted certain ones to look upon the prophetic utterances with contempt and thus would have made Paul’s exhortation appropriate. (5:20) Still, prophetic utterances needed to be tested, making sure they had God as their source. (See the Commentary section on 1 John 4:1.) Then, whatever testing revealed to be good should have been valued and retained. (5:21) Evil of every kind, on the other hand, needed to be rejected and abhorred.(5:22)
As the source of an inner tranquility because of his love and care, the Father is the “God of peace.” Paul prayed that God would sanctify the Thesslonians completely, setting them apart as holy, and that their whole spirit, soul, and body be kept (or, that their spirit, soul, and body be kept whole) blameless at the arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ. This may denote that the apostle’s prayerful desire was for each one of the Thessalonians to be preserved in their entirety as a person—spirit, soul, and body—and found blameless at the time of Christ’s arrival, the start of his presence. The “spirit” may be understood to denote the motivating and energizing power of the inner being; the soul, the life of the individual in its outward manifestation, and the body, the human body with all its members. Because the one who had called them, the Most High God, is faithful or completely dependable and trustworthy, the Thessalonian believers could be confident that he would preserve them as approved persons. As Paul expressed it, “The one calling you is faithful, and he will also do it.” (5:23, 24)
Paul, too, was in need of God’s guidance, care, and help. He therefore included the request for the Thessalonian believers to pray for him. (5:25)
They were members of a beloved family of God’s children. So the apostle encouraged them to greet one another with a “holy kiss,” a kiss that reflected their holy standing and affection for one another. (5:26)
Paul wanted all of the believers in Thessalonica to know what he had written. Therefore, he solemnly charged them to read the letter “to all the brothers.” With all of them knowing what he had written, they would have been less likely to believe teachings differing from what they had personally heard. (5:27)
For the favor, unmerited kindness, or grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to be with the Thessalonians would have meant for them to continue to benefit from his aid and guidance. (5:28)
In verse 4, the plural “thieves” (not the singular “thief”) appears in fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus. This could mean that the day would not overtake believers like the coming of day might surprise thieves while engaged in their nightly lawless activity.
In verse 21, many manuscripts read “but [dé] test”; other manuscripts omit “but.”
Instead of “brothers” (verse 27), other manuscripts read either “holy brothers” or “holy ones.”
Many manuscripts conclude the letter with “Amen.”
Paul introduced his second letter to the Thessalonians in basically the same way as he did his first one. “Paul and Silvanus and Timothy to the congregation of the Thessalonians in God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ. Favor to you and peace from God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:1, 2; see 1 Thessalonians for comments.)
Paul used the editorial first person plural verbs and pronouns, but it is not always apparent when he also meant to include Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy. The apostle considered it as something noble or deserving to feel obligated always to thank God for the Thessalonians, as their faith (their trust in God and his Son) was growing wonderfully and their love for one another was increasing. Faced with persecutions and distress of various kinds, the Thessalonians had maintained exemplary endurance or steadfastness and faith. Therefore, Paul, with an appropriate pride, could mention their example in faith and perseverance to other congregations of God. (1:3, 4)
The faith and steadfastness of the Thessalonians while undergoing suffering revealed God’s righteous judgment. This may be from the standpoint that they were sustained and strengthened through help made available through his spirit and that they were considered worthy to be dishonored for him and his beloved Son. (Compare Matthew 5:10-12; Acts 5:41; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Philippians 1:27-30; 4:13; 2 Timothy 4:17; 1 Peter 2:19-21.) Their faith and endurance confirmed that they had God’s approval and would be found deserving of his kingdom for which they were suffering. As part of God’s kingdom, they would share with his appointed king, the Lord Jesus Christ, all the joys and blessings associated with his royal realm. (1:5)
God’s righteousness or justice would also be revealed in his repaying those responsible for causing believers to suffer unjustly. At the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven, accompanied by his powerful angels, “in flaming fire,” afflicted believers would experience relief, but all who deliberately and defiantly chose not to know God and refused to obey the evangel of the Lord Jesus would face doom. Disobeying the evangel would mean rejecting Jesus Christ as God’s Son and his sacrificial death as the means for having sins forgiven and being delivered from divine wrath. The execution of divine justice on defiant unbelievers is unalterable—eternal destruction or ruin “from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his power.” This would signify that the defiant ones would be permanently cut off from the Lord Jesus Christ and his glorious strength employed for beneficent purposes. Never would the face of God’s Son be turned to them in a favorable way. They would have no share in the marvelous things Jesus Christ would accomplish by his extraordinary might. (1:6-9)
Paul referred to the “revelation of the Lord Jesus” as the “day” he would be “glorified in his holy ones and to be marveled at in all those having believed.” This could mean that, by reason of what Christ had done for them, his glory, magnificence, or splendor would be reflected in the holy ones or the believers and that the wonderment with which he would be regarded would likewise be the result of his effectual working within them. The Greek preposition en (“in”), however, may also mean “by” or “among,” and this would allow for other possible meanings. Christ would be glorified by or among believers and also be marveled at among them. Or, Christ would be glorified in believers and marveled at among them. The apostle included the Thessalonians as participants in the blessings of Christ’s revelation by specifically mentioning them as suffering affliction (1:7) and then saying that “our testimony to you was believed.” (1:10) They had responded in faith to the message about God’s Son.
In view of all that the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ would mean for the Thessalonian believers, Paul always prayed that God would consider them worthy of the “calling” to be his people or his children and would fulfill “every good will of goodness and work of faith in power.” The expression “good will of goodness” could denote the will or desire to carry out what is good. It has been rendered “good purpose” (NAB, NIV, REB), “good resolve,” and “desires for goodness” (NJB). The “work of faith” would signify the activity or conduct that is a product of faith. If “in power” is specifically linked to “faith,” this would mean that the activity would be the result of the powerful working of faith. There is a possibility, however, that “in power” relates to divine action. The words could then be understood to mean that God, by his power, would fulfill every good purpose and work of faith or make it possible for the Thessalonians to carry out their noble desires and the activity motivated by faith. (1:11)
In his prayer for the Thessalonians, Paul’s desire was, as he said, that “the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the favor of our God and [the] Lord Jesus Christ.” The “name” denotes the person of the Son of God, and “in you” may be understood to mean by or among the Thessalonian believers. Because they were at one with Christ as members of his body, they would share in his glory, splendor, or grandeur and so would be glorified “in him.” The bringing of glory to Christ’s name and the sharing of the Thessalonian believers in his glory were made possible through the favor, unmerited kindness, or grace of God and of his Son. (1:12)
Note: In verse 2, manuscripts variously read “our Father and [the] Lord,” “Father and our Lord,” and “our Father and our Lord,” and “Father and Lord.”
Certain ones of Paul’s Thessalonian brothers in Christ had come to a wrong view about the arrival of the Lord and their being gathered to him. The apostle therefore appealed to them not to be quickly shaken or unsettled in their thinking nor to be alarmed, startled, or stirred to undue excitement by some communication supposedly indicating that the day of the Lord had come. The apostle referred to such communication as being “through a spirit or through a word or through a letter as from us.” A “spirit” may designate a prophetic or spirit-inspired utterance, and a “word” could denote an oral message. The words “as from us” may relate only to a letter Paul allegedly had sent or the phrase could also include the prophetic utterance and oral message. (2:1, 2) Both meanings are reflected in translations. “They may say that they heard this directly from the Holy Spirit, or from someone else, or even that they read it in one of our letters.” (CEV) “We ask you ... not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a ‘spirit,’ or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.” (NAB) “Perhaps it is thought that we said this while prophesying or preaching, or that we wrote it in a letter.” (GNT, Second Edition) “Someone may say this in a prophecy or in a message or in a letter as if it came from us.” (NCV) “Even if they claim to have had a vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us, don’t believe them.” (NLT)
Paul urged the Thessalonian believers not to allow anyone to mislead them in any way about the Lord’s arrival. This event would not take place until after the coming of the “apostasy” or the great rebellion against God and the revelation of the “man of lawlessness, the son of destruction.” This “man of lawlessness” (or, according to the reading of other manuscripts, “man of sin”) would be guilty of God-defying conduct and, as “the son of destruction,” be doomed to everlasting ruin. He would exalt himself over and resist everything regarded as “god” or sacred, seating himself in the sanctuary of God and claiming to be god. (2:3, 4)
Paul’s words suggest that the “man of lawlessness” is a product of the “apostasy” or rebellion against God. Just what form this development may take prior to Christ’s return in glory falls in the realm of conjecture, especially since the information available today is more limited than what Paul had shared with the Thessalonians. (See the Notes section for additional comments.) He reminded them that he had previously told them about this development, but whatever he said in addition to the brief statement in his letter has long ceased to be preserved in living memory. Lost to present readers of his letter is the knowledge about what was restraining or holding back the terrifying development until the appointed time for the revealing of the “man of lawlessness.” As Paul said, however, the Thessalonian believers did know. In their time, “the mystery of lawlessness” was already at work, operating in a hidden or secret manner as a corrupting influence. When the restraining one or thing would no longer be functioning in that capacity, the lawless one would be revealed or be openly active. The Lord Jesus Christ would slay him with “the spirit of his mouth” or the expression of the condemnatory judgment that would come from his mouth. The manifestation of Christ’s arrival would render the “man of lawlessness” powerless. (2:5-8)
Satan would be the source of the power the “man of lawlessness” would exercise. Through the workings of Satan, the “man of lawlessness” would display might and lying signs and wonders. Those who would perish would be taken in by the evil deception. Their being deceived would be retribution for their deliberate failure to accept the “love of the truth,” which could have led to their salvation or deliverance from divine wrath. Instead of desiring truth, the marvelous truth that centers on the Son of God, loving it and considering it as precious, they would prefer falsehood and delusion. God, therefore, would send them exactly what they want or let nothing stand in the way of their being exposed to the workings of error so that they might believe the lie. Consequently, their adverse judgment would befall them because they deliberately and defiantly chose not to believe the truth but delighted in wrongdoing. (2:9-12)
Paul considered himself obligated always to thank God for the Thessalonian believers, his brothers beloved by the Lord, because God had chosen them as “firstfruits” or as an acceptable offering (aparché, but ap’ archés [“from (the) beginning”] according to other manuscripts, including fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus) “for salvation in sanctification of the spirit and faith in [the] truth.” It was through the operation of God’s spirit and their faith in the truth (with its specific focus on God’s Son) that believers were sanctified or set apart as holy and thus divinely approved. The evangel or the message about Jesus Christ proved to be the means by which God had called them to be his sanctified people, with salvation or eternal life in view. Paul referred to it as “our evangel,” meaning the glad tidings that he proclaimed. The eventual result of God’s calling would be for the Thessalonian believers to share in the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. For them to share in his glory would mean enjoying all the joys and blessings associated with being members of his body. (2:13, 14)
In view of all that sharing in Christ’s glory would mean for them, they had good reason to heed Paul’s admonition to stand firm and to adhere to the traditions they had been taught, whether through the apostle’s word or a letter from him. Recognizing the need the Thessalonian believers had for the help of God and his Son, Paul continued with the prayerful expression, “May our Lord Jesus Christ, and God our Father who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope in favor, comfort your hearts and firmly establish you in every good work and word.” (2:15-17)
Through his favor or unmerited kindness, the Father granted believers, those whom he loved and continues to love, comfort that is lasting and that can sustain them in whatever trials and suffering they might experience. He has also given them a “good hope,” the hope of sharing in the fulfillment of all the promises made to them as his children. For the hearts of the Thessalonian believers to be comforted could have included their being granted an inner calm from knowing that the Son of God and his Father would continue to aid, guide, sustain, and strengthen them. The Father and his Son would also “firmly establish” them “in every good work and word,” enabling them to conduct themselves aright and to express themselves in a manner that would be becoming of their dignified standing as sons or children of God and brothers of Christ. (2:16, 17)
It is only natural for people who find themselves in distressing circumstances to long for relief. This desire can make them vulnerable to being deceived by claims of individuals representing themselves as being “in the know” or in possession of unique information about the nearness of deliverance from hardships. As in the case of believers in Thessalonica to whom Paul had imparted the truth about Christ’s return in glory but who nevertheless were induced to draw wrong conclusions, many in more recent times have similarly become unsettled in mind and excited about the closeness of this event. Although the Son of God stressed that such developments as wars, famines, earthquakes, and pestilences were not to be the happenings on which his disciples should focus, religious movements with an end-times orientation have pointed to and continue to point to such occurrences as a sign that the culmination is near. (Matthew 24:4-8; Mark 13:5-8; Luke 21:8-10) When prominent ones within such movements or their official publications express that the end is “very close,” the loyal membership is often stirred to a renewed state of excitement and may be induced to make choices that adversely affect their future well-being.
As some of the Thessalonians became idlers because of having adopted the wrong view of Christ’s return, many members in movements with an undue end-times focus tend to make unwise financial decisions, do not plan for the future, fail to utilize educational opportunities to the full, and may even speak disparagingly of those who apply themselves scholastically and choose to prepare themselves for careers best suited for their aptitudes and abilities. Therefore, in lands where social programs are in place, members of these movements may disproportionately be found among those taking advantage of governmental arrangements for needy ones. Like the idlers among the Thessalonian believers, their way of life is one that unbelieving outsiders look upon unfavorably. Instead of winning the respect of outsiders, they contribute to dishonoring God and Christ. The prime responsibility for this, of course, falls on the leadership of the respective movements, as the leadership exercises the teaching authority that gives rise to the wrong views. Tragically, many who become disillusioned by these movements when wrongly generated hopes fail to materialize also become impervious to the message of the Scriptures and tend to choose paths that either ignore God and Christ or reflect total unbelief.
In the answer Jesus Christ gave to his apostles about the destruction of Jerusalem and his return, he provided the warning for them not to be deceived by any expressions about Messianic deliverance in connection with the destruction to come upon Jerusalem. (Matthew 24:4, 23-26; Mark 13:5, 21, 22; Luke 21:8) That warning about not being deceived should also be taken seriously respecting his return in glory at a time only known to the Father.
The first-century Jewish historian Josephus, who witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem, confirms that many Jews were deceived and relates what happened to them. In his Wars, Book VI, chapter V, paragraph 2 (Whiston’s translation), he wrote: “The soldiers also came to the rest of the cloisters that were in the outer [court of the] temple, whither the women and children, and a great mixed multitude of the people fled, in number about six thousand. But before Caesar had determined anything about these people, or given the commanders any orders relating to them, the soldiers were in such a rage, that they set the cloister on fire; by which means it came to pass that some of these were destroyed by throwing themselves down headlong, and some were burnt in the cloisters themselves. Nor did any one of them escape with his life. A false prophet was the occasion of these people’s destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get up upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now, there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose upon the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God: and this was in order to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such hopes. Now, a man that is in adversity does easily comply with such promises; for when such a seducer makes him believe that he shall be delivered from those miseries which oppress him, then it is that the patient is full of hopes of such deliverance.”
There is grave danger when perceived self-interest or personal desire takes precedence over love for truth. King Ahab of Israel, for example, did not want to hear that his plan to recapture Ramoth-gilead would fail. Even after YHWH’s prophet Micaiah portrayed for him a heavenly scene revealing that the very message about certain success he wanted to hear was the product of a “lying spirit” in the mouths of all his prophets and that he himself would die in the attempt to seize Ramoth-gilead, Ahab still chose to believe the lie, although taking the precaution of not wearing his royal attire. That precaution, however, did not save him from being mortally wounded. (1 Kings 22:2-35) Similarly, during the time Jeremiah prophesied in Jerusalem and Ezekiel prophesied in Babylon, God allowed an operation of error to go to the people. The false prophets proclaimed what the people wanted to hear, and the people turned a deaf ear to the proclamation of the true prophets that could have benefited them. (Jeremiah 5:12, 13, 31; 14:11-16; 23:16-18, 21-32; 27:8-18; 28:1-11; Ezekiel 13:2-19; 14:9) The same thing will happen when the “man of lawlessness” is revealed.
In numerous respects, the description of the “man of lawlessness” parallels the actions of Antiochus Epiphanes, which fit the words recorded in the book of Daniel and are narrated in 1 and 2 Maccabbees. The quotations that follow are rendered according to the Septuagint version of Daniel (with the major variations of Theodotian being provided in brackets).
Respecting a “little horn” that is designated as a “king,” Daniel 7:25 says, “And he will speak words against the Most High, wear out the holy ones of the Most High, and attempt to change times and law, and all things will be given into his hands for a time and times and half a time.”
“And the king will do according to his will, be provoked to anger, and be exalted over every god [And he will do according to his will, and the king will be exalted and magnified over every god], and he will speak outrageous things against the God of gods.” (11:36)
“The king [Antiochus Epiphanes] sent messengers with letters to Jerusalem and to the cities of Judah, ordering them to follow customs foreign to their land; to prohibit holocausts, sacrifices, and libations in the sanctuary, to profane the sabbaths and feast days, to desecrate the sanctuary and the sacred ministers, to build pagan altars and temples and shrines, to sacrifice swine and unclean animals, to leave their sons uncircumcised, and to let themselves be defiled with every kind of impurity and abomination, so that they might forget the law and change all their observances. Whoever refused to act according to the command of the king should be put to death.” (1 Maccabees 1:44-50, NAB)
“The king sent an Athenian senator to force the Jews to abandon the customs of their ancestors and live no longer by the laws of God; also to profane the temple in Jerusalem and dedicate it to Olympian Zeus... This intensified the evil in an intolerable and utterly disgusting way. The Gentiles filled the temple with debauchery and revelry; they amused themselves with prostitutes and had intercourse with women even in the sacred court. They also brought into the temple things that were forbidden, so that the altar was covered with abominable offerings prohibited by the laws.” (2 Maccabees 6:1-5, NAB)
Past history illustrates what can happen when there is a deliberate and defiant rejection of God. Crowds have been readily induced to follow unworthy ends. In fact, whenever humans are exalted and regarded as more than mere earthlings, the potential exists for exalting one human to the level of a deity and rendering him blind allegiance. So there would not be anything particularly surprising for the “man of lawlessness” to be one man.
Early interpreters did expect the “man of lawlessness” to be one man—the Antichrist. Justin Martyr (second century) wrote that Christ “shall come from heaven with glory, when the man of apostasy, who speaks strange things against the Most High, shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against us the Christians.” Tertullian (c. 155?-230?) stated, “According indeed to our view, he is Antichrist; as it is taught us in both the ancient and the new prophecies, and especially by the Apostle John, who says that ‘already many false prophets are gone out into the world.’” Hippolytus (who died in 235) also identified the “man of lawlessness” as being Antichrist, as did his contemporary Origen. In the fourth century, John Chrysostom, after referring to the “man of lawlessness” as being “some man,” continued, “For he will not introduce idolatry, but will be a kind of opponent to God; he will abolish all the gods, and will order men to worship him instead of God, and he will be seated in the temple of God, not that in Jerusalem only, but also in every Church.”
Paul requested the Thessalonian believers, his brothers, to pray for him (and also his companions) in order that the word of the Lord would “run” and be glorified, as it was in their case. (3:1) Apparently the “running” of the “word” would denote rapid and unimpeded progress of the message about God’s Son. Those accepting the “word of the Lord,” as had Paul’s Thessalonian brothers, would glorify it, acknowledging its inestimable value and, with divine help, transforming their lives in imitation of Jesus Christ. (Compare Acts 13:48.)
Not all would respond in faith to the “word of the Lord,” and so faith would not be the possession of all. Therefore, the apostle requested that his Thessalonian brothers pray that he (and his companions) would be delivered from evil and corrupt men or vile and faithless people. (3:2)
Aware of the opposition the Thessalonians were facing, Paul reminded them of the faithfulness, trustworthiness, or dependability of the Lord Jesus Christ. They could be confident that God’s Son would strengthen them and safeguard them from the wicked one, the devil. (3:3)
It may be that Paul referred to being “confident in the Lord” about his Thessalonian brothers because of his absolute trust in Christ’s care for them. (Compare John 10:27, 28.) The apostle did not doubt that the Thessalonians would respond to his spirit-guided admonition, heeding and continuing to heed it as Christ’s loyal disciples. As for the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul’s prayerful desire was that he would direct the “hearts” or the deep inner selves of the Thessalonians to “the love of God and to the steadfastness of the Christ.” (3:4, 5) For his Thessalonian brothers, this would mean that, from deep within themselves, they would be motivated to love God and this would be evident in their faithful adherence to his commands. (Compare 1 John 5:3, 4.) The “steadfastness of the Christ” could refer to their manifesting the same kind of endurance, patience, or perseverance that Christ displayed. (Compare 1 Peter 2:21-23.)
Although much about the Thessalonian believers deserved commendation, some among them were disorderly or idle, not living in harmony with the traditions they had received from Paul. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ or on the basis of the authority the Lord had granted him as an apostle, he directed that the rest of the Thessalonians withdraw themselves from such disorderly ones. Paul (and his companions) had set an impeccable example as workers. So his Thesssalonian brothers knew how they should imitate him (and his companions), for they had not conducted themselves in a disorderly way or as idlers. They did not eat food from anyone for nothing, but labored during the day and the night so as not to be a burden to anyone. In view of their diligent efforts to aid the Thessalonians spiritually, Paul and his companions were entitled to material assistance, as he said, “Not that we did not have the authority” or the right to receive food and other assistance. In order to set an example deserving of imitation, however, the apostle and his companions did not avail themselves of this “authority” or right. When with them, Paul set forth the rule, “If anyone does not want to work, let him not eat.” (3:6-10)
The apostle must have been distressed to hear that some among the Thessalonian believers were idlers, not working but injecting themselves into the affairs of others. In view of Paul’s having to correct the Thessalonian believers about Christ’s return in glory, the idlers may have regarded the nearness of Christ’s return as an excuse for not working. The apostle’s words to such idlers left no doubt about what they should be doing. He ordered and exhorted them in the Lord Jesus Christ, or on the basis of the Lord’s authority, to work and eat their own bread, or food they themselves had purchased. (3:11, 12)
As for the other Thessalonian brothers, Paul urged them not to be negligent in doing what is right or good. He did not want the attitude of the idlers to have an adverse effect on them. In the case of anyone failing to respond to the admonition in Paul’s letter, the Thessalonians were to take note of such a one and terminate association with him so that he might become ashamed about his idleness and change. Nevertheless, they were not to treat him like an enemy but to admonish him as their brother, one for whom they had concern and love. (3:13-15)
Jesus Christ is the “Lord of peace,” the one through whom the inner peace or tranquility resulting from an approved relationship with the Father is possible. Paul’s prayerful request was for the Lord to give the Thessalonian believers peace always and in every “way” (trópos, but other manuscripts say “place” [tópos]). For the Thessalonian believers to possess this peace would mean their enjoyment of the inner calmness from knowing they would continue to benefit from divine care, guidance, and safeguarding. Paul also desired that the Lord be with all of them, which would mean that they would continue to be under his care and guidance. (3:16)
Possibly because communication had wrongly been attributed to him (2:2), Paul made a point to call attention to the greeting written with his own hand, identifying it as his writing style and an authenticating sign in every one of his letters. He concluded, “The favor of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with all of you.” This is almost identical to the way in which he concluded his first letter (which see for comments). (3:17, 18)