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Busy Teacher’s Guide to the New Testament:
Quickly Understanding 2 Thessalonians
Roland H. Worth, Jr.
Copyright © 2021 by author
Greetings To A Beloved Congregation
1 From Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! 3 We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith flourishes more and more and the love of each one of you all for one another is ever greater. --New English Translation (for comparison)
1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the
church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The same three individuals who shared the
gospel message with the Thessalonians in the first letter are sending this one
as well. Paul does not identify himself
either here or in the first epistle as an “apostle” because they know full well
his status, especially in light of Timothy’s temporary presence with them. “Silvanus” is taken
as an alternative identification for “Silas” and in Latin that is how the name
is rendered. (CEV, GW, NIV, and
The language of “our Father” points to Yahweh (in older translations Jehovah), the Ultimate One in charge; the supreme authority over both heaven and earth. Jesus is described in terms of both His role as “the anointed one” appointed to be the Messiah of prediction (the “Christ”) and His authority that is the result of it (= “Lord”) . . . who is the appointed King until all earth existence is brought to a close.
The congregation in that city are “in” both the Father and the Son in several senses: Perhaps the most important is that they were converted according to their will and as converts they continued to follow their will . . . and enjoy the Divine approval of both.
1:2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul expresses his own prayer—and doubtless that of his associates as well—that Divine favor would be granted them (i.e., “grace” = acceptance, friendliness) and that also comes from “the Lord Jesus Christ” as well since He adheres to the standards God Himself has set (John 6:38; 15:10). In a similar manner comes the wish that the existing “peace” (= reconciliation) they have with the Divine Father and Son will continue as well.
It should not be forgotten that in prophecy the Messiah is predicted to be the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). For that matter the Father Himself is called “the God of peace” (Romans ; Hebrews 13:2). One of the reasons for writing this and other epistles is to assure that they continue to live the right lifestyle and thereby meet the prerequisite for keeping their reconciled relationship.
1:3 We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other. Paul and his coworkers are obligated (“bound”) to give thanks for their faithfulness because there is no way to deny that “it is fitting” and praiseworthy to do so. This is proved by two phenomena that are obvious when one looks at their congregation. Not only do they persevere in “your faith” but it continues to “grow” in spite of all obstacles.
But it goes far beyond that for their “faith grows exceedingly” (“abundantly,” ESV). Theirs is not a minimalized faith; it is a “flourishing” faith (Holman)--one that “is growing all the time” (CEV). This had deeply cheered Paul when he learned of it during the hard times he himself was enduring (1 Thessalonians 3:6-10).
It is “fitting” that they give thanks--“right” or “rightly” in various translations--because of the very nature of the situation: When others are prospering in their faith they are succeeding at what God wishes for them . . . and for us as well. Or as he said in a different epistle, it “is right for me to think this of you all, because . . . you all are partakers with me of grace” (Philippians 1:7; context verses 3-8).
“Faith” is God centered and is thriving—“grows exceedingly”--but their “love” is human centered as shown by the addition of “toward each other.” You could see it demonstrated in how they acted toward each other. In what they did to be helpful and beneficial to the other members. They were not just interested in their own welfare; they were also interested in every one else’s as well. This intent and involvement “abounds.”
Both of these are splendid testimonials because this is occurring during a time of persecution (verse 5) with all the additional problems, pressures, and hindrances that it brings.
The Return Of The Lord Is The Day Of Final Equity:
The Day Of Ultimate Justice Against All Persecutors
And That Of Ultimate Comfort To The Abused
4 As a result we ourselves boast about you in the churches
of God for your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions
you are enduring. 5 This is evidence of God’s
righteous judgment, to make you worthy of the
1:4 so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure. So praiseworthy is their example that Paul happily points to their steadfastness (“boast[s] of you”) among the churches he labors with. These are called “churches of God” even though Christ is head of the church (Ephesians -23; -16; ). The description is logical because even Christ, though its leader, is still subject to His Father (1 Corinthians 11:3) who had sent Him to earth and provided Him with the teaching to share with others. Furthermore Jesus has the attributes of God as well (John 1:1-3).
Throughout their local troubles they had continued to demonstrate “patience” . . . the strength and willingness to continue in faithfulness even though the adversities were not yet over and they couldn’t be sure when they would be. Their willingness to do this—and avoid repudiating their “faith”--demonstrates how strong their commitment was and how deep were the roots.
Paul describes what the Thessalonians have had to endure as both “persecutions” and “tribulations.” Note the plural attached to both. It indicates there had been a series and variety of misfortunes. The form and nature we are not given and this type of generalized description makes what he says fully applicable to Christians in other places who may go through parallel adversity but in a different form.
covers religious based harassment, maltreatment, ill-treatment, and abuse and
alternate translations rarely attempt to make a substitution for it. “Tribulations” is another matter. The most common are “afflictions” (ESV,
Holman, ISV, NASB,
Describing these as things “that you endure” argues that they have been a repeated or ongoing problem—and continue to be so. Not overwhelming but a burden of abuse that has had to be carried by either the congregation at large or a significant number of the members at any given time. . . . with the others encouraging those currently targeted (as in Hebrews ).
1:5 which is manifest evidence of the righteous
judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the
Unfortunately there is a way of thinking that regards punishment as almost inherently unjust by the very fact that it occurs. But if that were the case, one could get away with virtually anything and everything. God knows our inabilities and our limitations and He also knows full well our excuses and lies!
fact that their faith did not collapse under pressure will show that they are
“worthy of the [eternal heavenly]
1:6 since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you. When persecuted we should remember that it is honorable and desirable--“a righteous thing” our text calls it--when God punishes the injustice we had to suffer. The NKJV calls the coming punishment “tribulation:” the ESV, Holman, and others render it “affliction;” the GW prefers “suffering.”
Humans can be deceived or mislead but God never can be. Nor will there be an inconsistency in the punishment administered for the same evil as there often is in human justice (Colossians 3:25). He will give them only “their just due” (Revelation 16:6).
One of the oddities of early twenty-first century life is the strange attitude among many that it is virtually evil to punish evil. We may try to rationalize away fully deserved punishment, but the fact remains that equitable retribution is fully justified. And, at the hands of our Creator, there is never going to be any excuse that “our judge got it wrong!”
1:7 and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels. When Christ returns, those who have been “troubled” in this life due to their loyalty to the Lord will receive the long hoped for “rest” from temporal adversity--“relief from our suffering” as the GW renders it. It will be ended permanently and forever . . . rather than just temporarily . . . never to arise again in any form. To enforce this ending of all earthly injustice Jesus will return with “His mighty [“powerful,” CEV, Holman] angels” who have the power to back up and carry out His every command. He will not be returning from some subterranean refuge or from some well disguised hiding place on the surface of the earth. Instead He will be returning from heaven itself.
The blessing He will bring for believers is for all faithful believers: Note how both “you” (the Thessalonians) and “us” (those with Paul) could confidently look forward to all these hindrances being permanently removed. In a similar vein Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:8 how “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
Just as Jesus will be returning in obvious triumph and power, accompanying Him will be “His mighty angels” . . . those who have been and will continue to carry out whatever He decrees be done. They are vastly numerous according to Jesus Himself (Matthew 26:53). The Psalmist speaks of how they “excel in strength” (103:20; “powerful warriors,” NET; “mighty beings,” GW).
Christ came in 70 A.D. in Divine judgment against
“The Scriptures do not always refer to the coming of Christ (Parousia) in the same terminology; here the word is ‘revelation’ or ‘manifestation.’ At other times, reference is made to His ‘appearing’ (2 Timothy 4:1); but it is strongly believed that these variations do not imply different events, but one event only, namely, the coming of the Son of God for judgment in the final day. . . . The conviction that there is but one ‘coming of Christ,’ and that it will be for the purpose of the final judgment, stems from the oft-repeated mention of ‘that day,’ always in the singular and never in the plural.” (James B. Coffman)
1:8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will use “flaming fire” to inflict “vengeance” (= justice; “retribution,” ESV) on those who abused us for our honest and honorable lives. “Flaming fire” could refer to the majestic angelic appearance (verse 7)--overwhelming to our physical senses. Consider how “the Lord shone around” the angel when he announced the birth of the Lord (Luke 2:9) to the shepherds. In the Old Testament an appearance is described as, “His face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and legs like burnished bronze in color” (Daniel 10:4-6).
However “in flaming fire” could well mean something far different than just a description of appearance. Especially if one adopts such translations as “with a flaming fire” (CEV, GNT, NET). This points toward the angels delivering the persecutors (on His behalf) to the place of ongoing post death punishment . . . which is described in terms of being a burning fire: Of post-personal death and pre-return of Christ punishment, see Luke 16:19-31, especially verses 23-24. Of similar imagery used of their fate at the return of the Lord and the ending of the temporal earth see Revelation 20:11-15. To the extent there is judicial punishment (= “vengeance”) to inflict on the unrighteous, it is being done on behalf of God (Romans 12:19, Hebrews 10:30—both texts quoting the Old Testament).
They are placed there to permanently liberate believers from their enemies. This involves providing the retribution due them . . . “taking vengeance” on them in the words of our text (= “punish,” CEV). Their sins can be of one--or both--of two things. First there are those who refuse to admit that Jehovah exists or honor Him as they should--they “do not know God.” This includes the outright pagans who were religious but refused to worship the true and only genuine God.
Then there are those who reject obedience to “the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Since God sent Jesus to teach and instruct, anyone who rejects His message is automatically rejecting the message God sent with Him as well. This refers not just to traditionalist Jews who rejected Jesus, but anyone who had not met the Divinely established rules for salvation and refuses to live in a truly Christian manner afterwards. In other words having a “form” of Christianity but not its substance as described in the gospels and epistles counts one as an outsider as well (cf. 2 Timothy 3:5).
1:9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power. “Everlasting destruction” is not defined here as ceasing to exist but in terms of an unending exclusion from the “presence” of Christ. You didn’t meet the prerequisite for heaven and never will. The punishment is called “everlasting” because there is no time limit imposed on it.
Furthermore if you died in hostility with God before this event occurs, there is no way to ever alter your state afterwards--cf. the example of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16. And that exclusion will be continued after the Lord wraps up all earthly affairs. By being excluded from His “presence” you then are automatically excluded from ever being benefited by “the glory of His power” as well. Whatever He could (and will) do for His people through His vast “power” you will never share in. “Once lost, always lost” is your sad fate.
“Seventy-two times the Greek original of the adjective [rendered
“eternal” or “everlasting”] is found in the New Testament: forty-four of these examples are repetitions
of the phrase ‘eternal life;’ it is arbitrary to suppose that in the opposite
combination ‘eternal’ bears a restricted sense. Christ’s judicial words in Matthew 25:46 bar
all attempts to minimize the penal effect of the sentence of the Last Day; ‘eternal
punishment,’ He says, and ‘eternal life.’ ” (
when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed. The events being described will occur in that unique and one time only “day” when He will “be glorified in His saints.” It will be the day that they will be blessed by the resurrection from the dead if they are deceased and both living and dead transformed into a nature suitable and necessary for the heavenly kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:50-58).
His performing this amazing transformation will result in His being profoundly “admired” among all believers. Up until now it was only a promise; now the promise has been transformed into the eternal reality. Is not admiration the obvious result? “Honor” (GNT) or “honored” (CEV) is preferred by some and others prefer “admired” (Holman, NET). The preference for “marveled at” (ESV, NIV) seems intended to refer to the awesomeness of what has just been seen by the community of believers.
All this will occur because they had accepted and embraced the message Paul had taught: “because our testimony among you was believed.” It permanently changed their behavior and their eternal destiny. Could there be a better reason to remain loyal to the gospel than the promised glorious outcome of continued loyalty?
Greek note: “When he shall come -- The Greek word here, according to Kelcy, ‘is the aorist subjunctive, a construction indicating the certainty of the event and yet the uncertainty of the time of it,’ the same being another bit of evidence that neither Christ nor any of his apostles expected the coming as a certainty in their day. Kelcy is also supported in this by all the other Greek scholars consulted in this work.” (James B. Coffman)
Because Of The Coming Return,
Paul Regularly Prayed That They Would
Continue To Meet The Lord’s Approval
11 And in this regard we pray for you always, that our God will make you worthy of his calling and fulfill by his power your every desire for goodness and every work of faith, 12 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. --New English Translation (for comparison)
Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power. The triumph of God’s people over the forces of evil will be so grand at Jesus’ return (1:6-10), that Paul made it a point to constantly pray (“pray always”) that they would be counted among those “worthy” of this great blessing. The word “church” designated a “called out body of people, an assembly” so it is perhaps not surprising that Paul here labels their future fate as a “calling out” as well--to glory and triumph.
The triumph will “fulfill [= exhibit and reflect] all the good pleasure of His goodness”--it will be manifested in full and spectacular form. We had labored for this triumph through our “work of faith.” Note carefully that expression “work of faith,” expressing the idea that work[s] and faith go hand-in-hand; one without the other is futile. Our ultimate victory over earthside difficulties and tribulations will be made possible through the use of God’s triumphant “power” and authority.
This is the approach that seems most congenial to the KJV and NKJV reading. However the bulk of translations suggest a different emphasis being intended: Paul’s prayer that God intervene to fulfill our best spiritual intents. Hence the reading of NET above, “And in this regard we pray for you always, that our God will make you worthy of his calling and fulfill by his power your every desire for goodness and every work of faith.” The CEV words it this way, “We pray for God’s power to help you do all the good things you hope to do and your faith makes you want to do.” In other words, we don’t do it alone; if we have the true intent, God will help us accomplish the honorable goal (cf. Philippians ).
that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. These things will be done so that the “name” (= reputation, respect, and awe) of Jesus might be praised--“glorified in” (= by them) . . . through their words, their actions, their attitudes. In turn the prolonged loyalty they have exhibited will bring honor and credit to His reputation. The Pulpit Commentary prefers to describe the interaction this way: “Christ is glorified in believers, when by their holiness they promote his cause and reflect his glory; and believers are glorified in Christ, when they receive out of his infinite fullness.”
The fact that this is done is an expression of “the grace” (Divine favor) given by both the Father and the Son. Both will be there strengthening and assisting them in their weakness. What was true of Paul personally was also true of them, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians ). Indeed it was the apostle’s prayer that Christians be “strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy” (Colossians ).
Before Jesus Returns Again,
A Massive Falling Away From the Truth
Will Come First
1 Now regarding the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to be with him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to be easily shaken from your composure or disturbed by any kind of spirit or message or letter allegedly from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not arrive until the rebellion comes and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. 4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, and as a result he takes his seat in God’s temple, displaying himself as God. --New English Translation (for comparison)
2:1 Now, brethren, concerning the coming of
our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you. Earlier in these
two epistles he had instructed, ordered, and pled with them. Here, though, his plea is introduced with the
far milder word, “we ask you.”
The GNT suggests an imploring overtone to that word by rendering “I beg
Perhaps this form of address is used because what follows may be hard to accept: With such repeatedly manifested praise for their steadfastness he needs to raise the embarrassing subject of whether they will be able to successfully resist internal efforts to subvert the church. Not internal rabble rousers yet and not external persecutors but those claiming to represent the Divine truth when they have actually seriously misunderstood it. No doubt they will claim to be “faithfully” serving God, but that won’t change the spiritual destruction they can bring about.
Ultimately it will be blatant misrepresentation so profound that its chief perpetuator—whether considered as a specific individual or holder of a specific church office . . . or as that of every church leader who acts in this arrogant manner--can only be described as uniquely “the man of sin.” Other false teachers were “innocents” in comparison with these folk! A massive falling away from the true faith will be required for him (or them) to reach the pinnacle of success (2:3). Not that it won’t happen, but it’s not happening in the near term. The immediate danger is that they will fear that the Lord has already returned and they have somehow been left out of it (2:2).
Both of these dangers will arise before that event (His “coming”) and our being reunited with Him at the resurrection (“our gathering together to Him”). Sadly this will be as inevitable as the return itself. A major “role of the dice” by Satan, so to speak: If He can’t crush the church externally he will try to subvert its internal purity and commitment to the Lord.
2:2 not to be soon
shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if
from us, as though the day of Christ had come. One aspect of what
they will face are false reports that the Lord had
already come; this is identified quite naturally as “the day of Christ.” This pseudo-knowledge might come through
supposed Divine revelations given local church members (= “by spirit”), which
argues that certain supernatural gifts were practiced in Thessalonica just as
they were in
Both could, understandably, disturb them. They might be “shaken in mind” (“unsettled,” NIV; “confused in your thinking” GNT) as the result. The Greek expression used here means “thrown off the course of sound reasoning and thinking” that they already had (David A. Hubbard, quoted by James B. Coffman) Walking hand in hand with this would be feeling “troubled”--again, in their minds—by what they have heard. At the minimum this would mean that they were “disturbed” (CEV) and, at the maximum, “alarmed” (ESV, NIV).
Surely we have here the implicit message that if they heard anything either verbally or in writing that contradicted what they knew Paul had previously taught, they were to regard it with the deepest suspicion. In all ages there seem to be some who believe that a “pious lie” is acceptable because it is “in a good cause.” God thinks rather differently!
It should also be noted that the firmness of Paul’s language argues very powerfully that his own best judgment was that the actual return would not be coming in the near future . . . in his own lifetime. Therefore when liberal theological interpreters—who deny even a meaningful definition of “inspiration” for Paul and the other apostles—insist that they were convinced it would be within that framework they impose their own non-believing biases on the text.
2:3 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition. Whatever the future might hold so far as its details, they could be absolutely certain that a massive internal threat to the church’s purity would arise. It would maintain itself as God’s church rather than a humanly subverted institution because of its collective delusion that they remained such in spite of all the changes.
They have (more or less) the same membership—or their children’s descendents—so they must surely still enjoy the same relationship with Jehovah and the Lord. They can chart the line of their leaders one generation after another all the way back to the first century. (At least in theory.) But the ability to do so proves little as to whether they have maintained the genuine apostolic tradition delivered by Paul, Peter, and the other apostles and inspired prophets.
This “falling away comes first” before the Lord’s return. He writes not as if a few will be involved but that it will be widespread and become dominant. Not that the spiritual contagion will necessarily come at equal speed in all churches--just that it is one that is potentially affecting one and all. Including the Thessalonian congregation. Hence this is a warning for both them and all other groups of worshippers as well.
This was not necessarily an easy truth to accept or hold to since obviously they—like Paul—wanted Jesus to be returning. Hence his warning, “Let no one deceive you by any means.” Those you want to accept as reliable . . . those who you expect to be reliable . . . even they can be misleading you—not necessarily out of some vile intent but sometimes simply because their sources of instruction weren’t reliable. Or their enthusiasm overcame the truths they had once been rooted in.
The person who embodies the departure from truth is called “the man of sin.” Since sin automatically involves the violation of Divine law that makes him simultaneously “the man of lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.”) Since the two earliest complete New Testament manuscripts provides that reading here, “the man of lawlessness” is often substituted as the textual rendering.
He is also “the son of perdition.” This is often changed to “the son of destruction” (such as in Holman, NET, WEB), i.e., the person who brings spiritual destruction upon the Lord’s church. This could, however, refer to his own ultimate fate--“the man doomed to destruction” (NIV). In the New Testament the only identifiable person that expression is applied to is Judas (John ).
Paul is depicting a type of person . . . the one totally rejected and scorned by God. It is not an “office” per se that is in mind--like the person who happens to be pope--but whoever and everyone who acts in this self-centered delusional manner of independence from God’s will regardless of what title he might claim. They are infamously claiming power and importance in diametrical opposition to the humble recognition of personal limitations that God demands of all who are truly faithful.
Church centralization and the Roman Catholic Church ultimately grew out of such an attitude, thinking that all their centralization of power in a limited number of hands was for the “true” betterment of the church. But we would be foolish to think that this had to have been its only expression. The “revelational” delusions of the Gnostics that would have split the church into multitudes of fragments would also fit the mind frame of practical “omniscience” claimed by such folk.
In an essentially non-religious context the mind frame is reflected in the common human arrogance that whatever sexual and ethical behavior we find attractive is automatically acceptable to God for it meets “my inner needs and drives.” When this becomes engrained into large numbers of church members they begin to think that an unrepentant lifestyle can be safely masked in a veneer of piety. Surely those religious leaders who propagate it are equally worth of the title “men of sin!”
speaks of this horrible transformation coming before the “day” when Christ
returns to raise the dead and punish the unfaithful (1:7-10). Unlike much of Matthew 24, the text is not
talking about the “day” Jesus came in temporal judgment on apostate
A note on chronology: There is no suggestion how soon after this figure arises that Jesus will return. All we know is that figure—or one imitating his same faults—will still exist when the Lord returns to bring judgment upon him (verse 8). Since this figure opposes and fights the power of Christ to establish the truths and organizational structure of His own church, he surely qualified (among others) for the label of “antichrist.” In fact John stresses that the label applies not only specially to one specific (type of?) person but to a broader spectrum as well (1 John 2:18).
2:4 who opposes
and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped,
so that he sits as God in the
Such people unwittingly--and out of the best of intentions in the bulk of cases--exalt themselves into the role of supreme authority over religious and moral matters. Motives and intent aside, however, such a person has effectively “exalted himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped.” In other words he/she has become the supreme authority and acts with the assurance that only Jehovah Himself can properly act. The person has fallen into a religious delusion.
They are acting “in the temple (= church) of God” as if they were God Himself—or at least is the embodiment of His authority on earth. In “real world” terms they are acting as if they really are God . . . for the scriptures God gave to provide a full revelation of His truth (2 Timothy 3:16-17) are subservient to what they now deem to be the more prudent alternatives. Hence they land up as one who “opposes” God and, effectively “exalts himself” above the authority of God. Of course he will never admit it of course. Nor is he likely capable of grasping his offense against the Divine. But that doesn’t change the grim reality.
The Lawless One Is Temporarily
Being Held Back, But the Day Will Come
When He Bursts Forth
In All His Supposed Glory
5 Surely you recall that I used to tell you these things while I was still with you. 6 And so you know what holds him back, so that he will be revealed in his own time. 7 For the hidden power of lawlessness is already at work. However, the one who holds him back will do so until he is taken out of the way, 8 and then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will destroy by the breath of his mouth and wipe out by the manifestation of his arrival. 9 The arrival of the lawless one will be by Satan’s working with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders, 10 and with every kind of evil deception directed against those who are perishing, because they found no place in their hearts for the truth so as to be saved. 11 Consequently God sends on them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false. 12 And so all of them who have not believed the truth but have delighted in evil will be condemned. --New English Translation (for comparison)
2:5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? The warning about ominous days that would come was not some new concept that God had just revealed to Paul. He had already been referring to it when he was last with them. But the message was worthy of renewed emphasis because of the seriousness of the danger and the havoc that could be inflicted upon God’s people.
2:6 And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. Two different words are used to describe what is hindering the rise of religious delusion in the church. Here it is described as “what is restraining” and in the next verse “He who now restrains.” These could be used in a loose sense as synonymous. The “he” would then likely be Paul and the “what” refers to his preaching when he had been there and now through his letter when he is not. Both emphatically stressed the same message of persistence in faithfulness. When such obstacles are removed through his death (or that of all the current Thessalonian church members), the opportunity will grow for genuine revealed truth to be ignored or “interpreted” away.
he may be revealed in his own time” is a generalized statement alluding to the
fact that at some unspecific future date his identity will be obvious. Some gloss this as meaning “at the proper time”
(GNT, NIV), i.e., it is not yet the time for him to be recognizable.
Note: The bulk of interpreters believe that the “what is restraining” is the Roman government. Since Paul is clearly discussing an intra-church problem I find it difficult to see how this is possible. How in the world is that government suppressing the developing of extreme heresy within the church?
(However if the “Roman” interpretation is preferred, one should see a fulfillment of Paul’s predictions only after its fall. 395 A.D. would be the obvious date for the victory of the alien tribal invaders but it was not until 476 that the last hopes collapsed and what remained of the (western) Roman Senate “sent the imperial insignia to the Eastern Emperor” (Wikipedia). This poses certain obvious problems for those who make the papacy the sole target in mind since it had already significant strides toward religious dominance before then.
2:7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. The “He who now restrains” is capitalized, which in Bible printing usage used to indicate a reference to God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit being the active agent. (Nowadays capitalization is often omitted.) However it is very hard to imagine how any of these could be “taken out of the way!” No human being exactly has the power to move them when they say “no!”
Hence if the usage refers to such, it refers to how when the church voluntarily loosens its full commitment to the Lord and the Heavenly Father, that the Divine restraint will be eliminated. They will effectively be stripped of their authority by their rebellious subjects. It isn’t that they have, objectively, lost any of their power but that their earthly servants refuse any longer to accept it and retain their original loyalty. If they do this, then it will be something they answer for at the Final Judgment (Matthew 25:41-46, in reference to humanitarian obligations to fellow believers in particular). When they grow less determined to be steadfast, the initial stages of the corrosive new theology will appear and blossom.
“he” makes more sense as a reference to the apostle Paul himself. After he is “taken out of the way” by death,
a/the major obstacle to evil’s triumph will have been removed. The “he” has also been interpreted as a
reference to the
evil that is developing is called “the mystery of lawlessness.” In English “mystery” often carries the
connotation of something that can’t be explained or something that is
“mystical” rather than objectively existing.
Hence translators occasionally wrestle with how to convey the point in a
more understandable manner. NIV suggests
“the secret power of lawlessness” and
The fact that it is not already obviously challenging them argues that it is being kept low key and out of sight . . . being preserved as a “secret” among those enchanted by it. Or, more likely, it being considered only on a theoretical basis by a few of the members: “I wonder if. . . .” Nothing to fight about, but something to quietly ponder until the cancer comes to full growth.
Note: A true “mystery” that involves Divine truth refers to a matter known by God which can only be known by us if it is miraculously revealed through inspired teachers. Evidence of this is easily found in Ephesians 3:1-7: “how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery . . . which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets.” In a similar vein Colossians 1:26; Ephesians 1:9, 3:4; 1 Corinthians 2:9-10.
2:8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The individual who refuses to be bound to Divine law--he is literally “lawless” . . . refuses to listen to it, to obey it, or be bound by it. He will be “revealed” in his outlook’s most blatant form because he no longer feels the need to hide his true intentions and attitudes. “Times have changed!” would be one obvious battle cry for him. So he can now speak candidly and openly. But “change” is never a guarantee of change for the better. If it’s for the worse, at best its “backsliding” and at worst outright “apostasy.”
When the Lord returns for the resurrection of His people (1:7-10), the current verse tells us that He will “consume with the breath of His mouth” the insurrectionist and his supporters. The imagery may be that of “blowing away”--knocking down, destroying all vestiges of its power . . . exposing it as an empty delusion. (Compare the imagery of the wind and storm assaulted home that is driven to collapse in Matthew 7:24-29). The imagery of consuming with the fire of His wrath would also fit (2 Peter 3:3-7).
They will not only be “consume[d],” they will also be “destroy[ed] with the brightness of His coming.” The language of being “burnt to a crisp” would fit the imagery well (Hebrews ). All their dreams and fantasies will be totally crushed and all that awaits them after this destruction will be the fires of an unpleasant eternal fate (Matthew -20; -42).
(We use “they” rather than the singular “he” because others will surely be embracing the same evil or “he” could not be successful in the first place. How could “they” be spared fatal consequences since the evil had been condoned and supported and enabled to exist because of their support for it?)
2:9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders. What was coming represented “the working of Satan” to produce spiritual decay and rebellion against the Divine order. What is described as the “deception” in the next verse will be encouraged by supposed supernatural acts. As translated here and in the KJV, “lying” is mentioned only in regard to the “lying wonders.” But that could leave the demonstrations of “power” and “signs” as possibly being genuine. But if that were the case why would only the “wonders” need to be by deception? Hence Holman makes sense when it shifts that concept to a different location in the sentence: “all kinds of false miracles, signs, and wonders.” It is describing the fraudulent nature of all of these.
They all share in common the idea that they look impressive and awesome. For an innocent form of this kind of phenomena consider the talent of a really skilled magician giving a performance. (Think David Copperfield and his making the Statue of Liberty and airplanes disappear on live TV!) It can leave your mouth hanging open, “How in the world did he do that?” But here it is not to entertain and amaze you, but to deceive you into supporting what is wrong and evil.
and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. Since the success of the coming spiritual contagion is based upon the suppression of Divinely revealed truth, it is hardly surprising that it is popularized through “unrighteous deception.” The goal of change is so important, so overwhelmingly vital, that “mere honesty” can not be allowed to stand in the way. Those adopting such dishonorable tactics are, not surprisingly, “among those who perish” . . . for if you are going to routinely use dishonesty to further your agenda how could there be any other result?
They lacked adequate “love of the truth” that had been revealed through the apostles. The pseudo-truth advocated by the wave of “new thinking” was so important for the church’s “real future and prosperity” that the Biblical truth was reserved for special occasions and doled out only with the greatest caution lest people grasp how hugely different the new theological system(s) were.
Whatever they were convinced they were gaining--through “greater insight, spiritual maturity, and adaptation to the changing times”--was purchased through their loss of salvation. Adherence to revealed truth was essential “that they might be saved” and they had substituted something else in its place.
And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie. Because their fundamental loyalty was no longer God centered, He gave them the fruit of their folly . . . a powerful, appealing “strong delusion.” It wasn’t involuntarily imposed upon them. Perhaps they had never developed true depth of understanding of the Divine will in the first place, making the process of altering their spiritual direction far more easy. Perhaps they had misgivings about that pattern in the first place; they were more or less convinced, but it was not the way they wanted to go though they would go along with it at least for “now.” Such would be predisposed to embrace an alternative that is attractively presented.
Having given them ample opportunity to choose the right priorities, He gave them--“send[s] them”--a powerful deception that caters to their wishes and desires. This is done so that “they should believe the lie” they were already predisposed to accept. You could even say that on some level “God answers their prayer!” Not their verbal prayer, but the hidden and unexpressed desires that reveal their true wishes and preferences.
that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. God does this to give them what they wanted. He will involuntarily impose truth on no one, but if you clearly prefer self-deception He will be sure you get the opportunity. But this will not produce the continued Divine approval that their sentiments are convinced will come. Instead it results in them being “condemned” and rejected because they did not continue to embrace (“believe”) that “truth” which scripture had provided them.
Note the reason that the alternative will be appealing to them: they enjoy the evils they now practice. They took “pleasure in [their] unrighteousness [= actions].” When you no longer have to regard the behavior you want to engage in as prohibited, you’ve removed the taint of sin. You can now happily engage in what you’d prefer in the first place.
The presence of such sin is confirmed through the description of the behavior as “unrighteousness.” That is such an uncommon and “religious” term that some translations prefer to render it into language that makes more crystal clear (to the modern ear) what is being driven at: “wickedness” (NASB, NIV) or “evil” (CEV, NET).
Though The Future Holds The Danger
Of The Lawless One, They Must Remain
Steadfastly Loyal To the Lord Christ
13 But we ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 14 He called you to this salvation through our gospel, so that you may possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold on to the traditions that we taught you, whether by speech or by letter. 16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good thing you do or say.
2:13 But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. Paul felt obligated (“bound”) to regularly express his happiness in his prayers on their behalf (= “give thanks to God always for you”). This was because of two interlocked reasons. The first was that they were “beloved by the Lord.” It was impressive when someone you revered felt this kind of affection toward you: Think of how Paul’s readers must have felt for the numerous times he used such language of them. But to be beloved by God moves that fondness to something many times more significant.
The second reason was that God had selected them for “sanctification.” Being “chosen” however does not force you to accept being selected. A modern parallel: Being “chosen” for a television series only shows that you are regarded as qualified and worthy of the role. Most smile and happily agree. (A few, however, have turned down what became a hit and went for what became a one season embarrassment.) But it is still solely up to you whether you embrace the opportunity. Similarly for us as to whether we are willing to embrace the salvation we have been generously offered.
This was not some arbitrary selection of them above others for reasons unknown to any mortal. Rather “by the Spirit” shows that the Spirit was the means of access to the sanctification that God wishes to provide . . . that does not require personally and directly forcing it upon you. Rather sanctification by receiving the message of the Spirit is what is in mind. Hence their own contribution was through “belief in the truth” the Spirit revealed—and acting upon it. This is like in Acts 2:38: “the remission of sins” was produced by “receiv[ing] the gift of the Holy Spirit” since the Spirit had inspired the message the apostles taught that day (John 16:12-15; Acts 2:14-17). Embracing that message enabled the Spirit to bring salvation to you. That obedience was the “tool” the Spirit used to provide salvation.
to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. The salvation they had obtained was through the message taught “by our gospel.” Just as the message of Peter and the other apostles led to salvation on the first Pentecost in Acts 2, the message Paul preached offered the opportunity to an even wider variety of people . . . and in many other places as well. This salvation meant one is destined to receive “glory” dispensed by the Lord when the time of the resurrection occurs. A glory similar to that “of our Lord Jesus Christ”--an apparent allusion to the glorified nature of our heavenly bodies in a “weaker” imitation of that which the Lord will have in Heaven. Compare the description of our resurrection bodies being “incorruptible, and [how] we shall be changed” into an undecaying, never dying form that is immortal (1 Corinthians -54)
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. “Therefore” . . . because God had selected them for salvation through their obedience to the gospel (verses 13-14) . . . they needed to do their part as well. This involved staying firmly loyal to the gospel: “stand fast” in its teachings by continuing to embrace the truths and practices (“traditions”) they had been taught. They were to “hold” to them . . . never letting them go. These instructions could have originated in either sermon (“word”) or through “epistle[s]” from Paul--of which this was the second one targeted at them in particular.
Of course “our epistle” would also logically embrace the epistles written to other congregations which were later shared with them as well. Note that these were apostolic traditions rather than traditions embraced as customary practice by the church decades and centuries later. These may or not be worthy of continuance; the apostolic ones always are.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace. The following verse is clearly describing gifts from both the Father and the Son. Hence, even though the grammar of verse 16 clearly makes the three gifts of that verse as coming from the Father in particular, it seems inescapable that “our Lord Jesus Christ Himself” is the implicit co-deliverer of them as well.
Hence these three blessings originate from both our “Lord Jesus Christ Himself” as well as “our God and Father.” A given passage may refer to only one of these being involved, but if one wishes to understand the total picture one must grasp that both are. From the human side of matters, think of salvation “by faith” and “by works.” Both are true but either only saves if both are joined together in the convictions and behavior of the specific individual. Likewise both God and the Son are involved in the Divine blessings we receive.
Three blessings are specified: First mentioned is that all of us are “loved” by God. We have met His requirements and we are cherished as children.
The second blessing is that He has provided us “everlasting consolation.” Most modern translations opt for replacing the first word with “eternal” and the second with either “encouragement” (as in NIV) or “comfort” (as in ESV). All have in common the idea that there will be discouraging and difficult events in life and we will be given the strength to successfully get through them.
That gift is not just for one event or a short part of our discipleship, but the entire duration. One of the most memorable short passages on this theme is Psalms 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength.” Also consider, “The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble” (Psalms 9:9).
The third blessing is that He uses “grace” in order to provide us “good hope.” Reliable hope; hope that we can trust in and rely upon. The promises of mortal men and women can evaporate in an instant; the promises and commitments of Deity never will.
comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work. Having just described the broadness of the Divine love of both Christ and the Father toward them, it was natural to pray that the two would bring “comfort” to their hearts in times of difficulty with family, congregation, and members of society. The common substitution of “encourage” perhaps makes the point even stronger. “Comfort” we typically apply to just dealing with sorrow, while “encourage” easily supplements this with lifting us up above such difficulties—not just to endure them but to triumph over them. “Comfort” fits best in describing Divine help in enduring the depth of the discouragement; “encourage” with raising us up out of it. In both cases helping us in the way we need.
Even after sorrow, there is the need to find constructive activities to engage in. Hence the logic of the prayer that the Father and Son “establish” us firmly in what we do. Well grounded in it; well established in it. Therefore the appropriateness of the dominant substitute translation, “strengthen.” For that is what allows us to become deeply rooted in this lifestyle of prospering during and after hard times.
lifestyle involves “every” thing we do--whether spoken (“every good word”) or
action (“work”). When people hear what
we say and how we behave they grasp where our commitments are. The things that interest
us. The principles we live
by. The goals we seek out. This adds up to, “ ‘May
God give you courage and confidence of heart in all good that you say or do.’ He knows that they are busy in doing good (1
Thessalonians 1:3; 4:[9-]10), and he would have them
do it with a good and cheerful heart (compare 1 Thessalonians -18).” (
Their Prayers Are Requested
1 Finally, pray for us, brothers and sisters, that the Lord’s message may spread quickly and be honored as in fact it was among you, 2 and that we may be delivered from perverse and evil people. For not all have faith. --New English Translation (for comparison)
3:1 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you. Having stressed His own prayers on their behalf (-17), Paul requests their prayers for himself as well. It is not for physical well being or such like, but that the gospel message (“word of the Lord”) might “swiftly” spread (= “run swiftly”) and be respected and honored (= “glorified”) because of its supernatural origin. Since it is doing this “with you,” he implies its current success within their community: This was the case with them and he wishes it to be the same where he is as well.
3:2 and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. Praiseworthy and desirable as the spread of the gospel was, there were also outright dangers attached and he urges them to pray for his protection from such. One category was from “unreasonable” men. Some people simply are incapable of dealing with things they disagree with and rhetorically or violently strike out due to their own limitations.
The Greek word here is broad and can be considered as a synonym for “wicked” (ESV, NIV) or the morally bent (“perverse,” NASB, NET). Those who take this option are left with the challenge of how to translate the next words, “wicked men,” since that category has, in their minds, already been explicitly mentioned. Typically the substitute is “evil” (ESV, NIV). These people persecute and oppose not out of a bent intellect but because of a fundamental failure in character. The apostle says it twice to make it more emphatic. A failure in both rational capacity and self-control (“unreasonable”) and character as well (“wicked”) is an interpretation that makes more sense to me.
The Lord Will Stand By Them
3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. 4 And we are confident about you in the Lord that you are both doing—and will do—what we are commanding. 5 Now may the Lord direct your hearts toward the love of God and the endurance of Christ. --New English Translation (for comparison)
3:3 But the Lord is faithful, who will
establish you and guard you from the evil one. Whatever
may happen to Paul himself (verses 1-2), the apostle is convinced that “the
Lord” will unquestionably stand by them.
He will not leave them unassisted or unaided. He will ground them firmly in the faith--“establish
you” deeply in it. Contemporary English
translations usually go with “strengthen” (NET), presumably to more emphasize how
it is done while “establish” stresses the result of it being done.
He will also protect us (“guard you”) from our enemy as well. In other words, “protect you from” him (GW, NASB). Although our immediate enemy may be a variety of individuals and the danger faced encountered in a variety of forms, the ultimate enemy working behind it all is Satan, “the evil one.” He doesn’t really care what form of evil topples our spirituality, but only that some form does.
(The Greek here could be translated either as “from evil” or “from the evil one,” with most preferring the latter. Either way Satan is still going to be using whatever evil is most likely to seduce us away from faithfulness. Hence whether referring to the tool being used or the one using the tool, the danger to our soul is the same.)
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges points out that John could well be translated by the word “guard:” “I guarded them (the disciples), and not one of them perished, except the son of perdition.” Whatever motivated Judas—greed, the “certainty” of Jesus’ cause being ended by His death, or even an effort to “push” Jesus into using the supernatural powers He had against His enemies and Rome—it was still the decision of Judas to betray . . . yielding to the “pressure point” that Satan found to push. The same is true of our doing evil. The devil may pressure us, but we make the decision to yield.
Both sides: Although the “Lord” language could refer to either the Father or the Son--after all, both are our “Lord!”--the language is normally used in the Thessalonian epistles of the Son in particular (as in 2:1, 2, 7, etc.). On the other hand, one could reasonably argue that when “the Lord” is used without “the Lord Jesus Christ” being explicitly specified, that the vagueness is intentional so that we will automatically attribute the action to both of them . . . since they work in unison and toward the same goals. An excellent example is only two verses later (3:5) where “the Lord” would lead them to both “the love of God and into the patience of Christ.” Is not a dual involvement virtually a certainty in such cases?
3:4 And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, both that you do and will do the things we command you. Paul felt he could count on (“have confidence”) that they would consider reliable and authoritative whatever he said: Note the word “command” . . . things that rise in authority above his mere personal preferences. (As he noted in 1 Corinthians 7:1, 7 those rare utterances weren’t binding on them.) Not only were they currently recognizing their obligation to obey inspired teaching, he felt confident that they would continue to do so.
3:5 Now may the
Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ. Paul prays that
Deity might point them in the right direction:
“direct your hearts” (“guide your hearts,”
The Lord is, so to speak, trying to steer them deeper into “the love of God.” To the extent that they do what God wants . . . and grow in the degree that they do it . . . are they not burrowing ever deeper into the protective cocoon of that love? That involves both their commitment to Him and its expression in His ideal of them having a constructive and beneficial relationship with others.
They are also pointed toward “the patience of Christ” to imitate as well . . . His willingness to endure whatever He had to in order to be faithful to His Heavenly Father is an example for both them and us to remain loyal no matter what circumstances confront us. Hence the alternate translation of “steadfastness” (ESV) or “endurance” (Holman) that some prefer.
If “patience” in a narrower sense be in mind, then the idea is that of cultivating the ability that Jesus had to continue proclaiming the good news of God even when people were rejecting it and times were discouraging. Cf. Jesus’ encouragement “by your patience possess your souls” (Luke ), which comes immediately after mention of the intense opposition they may encounter (verses 16-18).
Paul Had Set The Personal Example
Of Providing For Himself
As Others Also Should
6 But we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from any brother who lives an undisciplined life and not according to the tradition they received from us. 7 For you know yourselves how you must imitate us, because we did not behave without discipline among you, 8 and we did not eat anyone’s food without paying. Instead, in toil and drudgery we worked night and day in order not to burden any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give ourselves as an example for you to imitate. --New English Translation (for comparison)
3:6 But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. Presumably because he is going to instruct them to do something they might feel hesitant to do, he had only two verses earlier, stressed that they had a well established “track record” of following his instructions and that he had confidence that this would continue to be the case. Now he lays out something quite specific and it concerns what we might call “internal church house cleaning.” Just as people may overlook or intentionally avoid doing things that they, on one level, realize need to be done, the Thessalonians had done the same.
Specifically there were those among them who lived “disorderly”--a catchphrase when I was young for any Christian who was morally living how they should not. Although the teaching here is logically applicable to such behaviors, it was not the point Paul was immediately making. Instead he was targeting three interrelated sins: the primary one was refusing to seek out the work they were capable of doing (verse 8). The second was the inevitable result and also mentioned in that same verse: they were freeloading on the charity of others in order to get by. The third intertwined evil was being busybodies instead of working (verse 11).
There may be hints in the first epistle that this was already arising as a problem (-12; -14). If so it hadn’t yet reached a point where Paul felt comfortable dealing with it explicitly.
Seeking a substitute for “disorderly,” NET opts for “undisciplined”--which says it well. “Idleness” is an interpretation rather than translation (ESV) as is “laziness” (GNT) but, even so, both certainly describe their behavior well. The point Paul is making is that their manner of life is totally out of line with what it should be. It is hard to see how any behavior that fell into that category would be anything other than “disorderly.”
“tradition” (“instructions,” GNT; “teaching,”
What they are instructed is pointedly described as a “command.” Not a suggestion . . . not a recommendation . . . not a request. The authority behind it is that of Christ Himself (“in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”). He backs it; He supports it; He demands it.
They were to “withdraw from every brother.” Not just this offender or that offender but anyone who acts in this manner. Perhaps he is concerned with certain individuals escaping because of close ties to key members of the congregation. Perhaps he is simply concerned that they will act against one or two obvious offenders and ignore others.
The action demanded is “withdraw.” In colloquial late 20th century terms that was taken as meaning “kick them out of the church.” In a sense that is involved (they are being rejected as unacceptable to the congregation), but it gets backwards what is really supposed to be done: the emphasis is not with them leaving or being rejected but with us leaving all dealings with them. It doesn’t specifically have in mind some formal church edict or decision—though that would be a fair and equitable way to remind all members of their role in what is to be done next. Indeed it is probably the only way to avoid giving the offender the ability to claim ignorance of why it is being done. When we collectively “withdraw” from them it means we are to “keep away from” (ESV and many others) . . . “not to have anything to do with” (CEV) . . . “not to associate with” (GW).
3:7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you. Paul is not playing the hypocrite in what he is teaching. They had observed his behavior among them (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2:5, 9; 4:2). They knew full well that he lived the life of a self-supporting man just as he is demanding that others do as well. He had proved by his own example that it could be done. And it is surely safe to say that he was carrying a whole lot of additional spiritual burdens on his shoulders while simultaneously providing his own financial support.
3:8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. He paid for his food by hard work: he did not have to rely on their charity (“eat anyone’s bread free of charge”). He did not want to be a load they had to carry (= “a burden”) when he could take care of the matter himself. And it hadn’t exactly been easy! It had involved both “labor and toil” at all kinds of hours both “night and day.” Or as he said in a different place, “We work hard with our own hands” (1 Corinthians ; “we wear ourselves out with hard work”--GNT).
Paul’s trade was tent making (Acts 18:1-4) though he doesn’t specify it here. The fact that he was also vigorous in building up the spiritual condition of the congregation meant that he spent yet more hours on deepening their understanding of the gospel message and sharing it with others. In both his “paid” work and his “unpaid,” he worked vigorously and with dedication.
Not that sitting back with no duties and responsibilities is unpleasant, but our turning it into a lifestyle is a violation of our fundamental responsibilities both to ourselves, others, and God. James B. Coffman concisely sums up the point when he writes,
3:9 not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. Note that he carefully stresses that it was not wrong if he had abstained from secular work: He had the inherent “authority” to do so if he wished. Most translations render it along the lines of, “have the right”—as in the NIV—which may, marginally, make the claim even more emphatic.
all, he would have been working—and working hard. (Ask any full time gospel minister whether
that is the case!) But he counted it as
more important to set them the right example by “erring on the safe side” when
he had no real obligation to engage in the secular work that would take many
hours away from gospel labor. This
didn’t alter the fact that Paul readily acknowledged he had a right to
financial support in other epistles, “Let
him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches”
(Galatians 6:6). Indeed at the time of
his first preaching in Thessalonica he had received financial support from the
But having a right doesn’t necessarily mean that we choose to exercise it. Specific circumstances may argue against doing so. There is no inherent right—much less obligation--to advance one’s own legitimate interests when it can get in the way of fully developing our spiritual goals. Or hindering those of the local congregation. In this case, did Paul already have the “gut suspicion” that there was a tendency among some to avoid their self-support obligation and he wanted to be sure that he did nothing that could be used to justify it? Consider the next verse in terms of this possibility.
Paul’s Teaching On Self-Support
Remained The Same As
When He Had Preached Among Them
10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this command: “If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat.” 11 For we hear that some among you are living an undisciplined life, not doing their own work but meddling in the work of others. 12 Now such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and so provide their own food to eat. --New English Translation (for comparison)
For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. Since he had taught this both by his example (verse 8) and, in this verse, by what he “commanded” them, it is not strange that he expected those currently active in the congregation to be following that teaching. He himself unquestionably had a legitimate justification not to do so--his gospel work--but they did not.
If they had the capacity to work but refused the opportunities to do so, they had no one to blame but themselves for going hungry (“if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat”). Admittedly this is an extreme measure, but there are folk who are so hard headed or so lazy that mere teaching them the right thing won’t produce the desired result . . . if that happens, how long dare you tolerate the situation?
principle of the obligation to work was recognized by Jewish tradition and actually
goes all the way back to creation. “Thus:
‘Whoever doth not work doth not eat’ (Bereshith
Rabba); ‘Let not him who would not labour before the Sabbath eat on
the Sabbath’ (In Lib. Zenon.). It is a law of nature, and the apostle here
sanctions it as a law of Christianity. There is here a reference to the sentence
pronounced on man in
Of course some of the Thessalonians may have had hyperactive hopes: “Jesus will return soon!” Putting that last word in italics, bold print, and with the exclamation point. Expecting God to provide—either miraculously or through the other brothers and sisters—puts them in the position of effectively demanding what the Lord has not promised. As Jesus Himself rebuked Satan. “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’ ” (Matthew 4:7)—the paraphrase Living Bible (1971) sums up the point well, “not to put the Lord your God to a foolish test.” Does not their attitude fall under that prohibition as well?
Application: It may be more sermonic than an essential
deduction from our text, but a late 19th century British commentator
provocatively suggested the principle of this verse also rules out idle living
even by the well to do: “This law of St. Paul’s touches the idle rich, as well
as the poor; it makes that a discredit which one hears spoken of as if it were
a privilege and the mark of a gentleman,—to ‘live upon one’s means,’ to live
without settled occupation and service to the community.” (
3:11 For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Or as the CEV renders our text, “Now we learn that some of you just loaf around and won’t do any work, except the work of a busybody.” This is because “there is here a . . . play upon words, the words ‘working’ and ‘busybodies’ being cognate. It is difficult to preserve the resemblance in a translation. ‘Busy only with what is not their own business’ (Jowett). ‘Working at no business, but being busybodies’ (Ellicott). ‘Not busy, but busybodies’ (Wordsworth). The word ‘busybodies’ denotes busy in useless and superfluous things, about which one need not trouble himself—occupied about trifles.” (Pulpit Commentary)
They found a way to make their laziness even worse. “Nature abhors a vacuum” and if you are not working, then you are still going to find something else to fill the time with. So they became “busybodies” as their unpaid profession. No skills required; no sweat; just a big (and perhaps) uncontrolled mouth that could cause no end of complications in the lives of other people. But was their “advice” going to be any more beneficial to others than their non-existent “hard work” was to themselves? Not likely! Hence GW surely catches part of the problem when it translates “go around interfering in other people’s lives.”
And if you “just happen” to be there when it’s time to eat, surely they will be gracious enough to share with you! You are, after all, a fellow church member! You have “done your work of helpfulness” for the day and now it is only “just” for you to be repaid for it with a good meal.
Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. These words he addresses directly to those he is criticizing. He both “command[s]” and “exhort[s]” them to follow his own style of self-support. “Exhort” certainly includes the idea of pleading with. “Urge” is used by the ESV, but in light of the warning that comes next (verses 13-15), translating “warn” is surely not out of line either (as in GNT).
Instead of being disruptive busybodies (verse 11), they are to do their work in non-intrusive “quietness” centered on earning their own living and thereby being able to pay for “and eat their own bread.” They would not have to rely on the charity and embarrassment of others.
instructions ultimately come “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In His earthly incarnation he had been the
son of a carpenter (Matthew ). In the customs of His day, He also
would have mastered and practiced those skills under the tutorship of his
father (Mark 6:3). Hence the Lord Himself
had walked in the pattern being enjoined on the Thessalonians.
They Are To Reject Association With
Any Members Who Refuse
To Obey Paul’s Instructions
13 But you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing what is right. 14 But if anyone does not obey our message through this letter, take note of him and do not associate closely with him, so that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. --New English Translation (for comparison)
But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. Those who had been discouraged in being helpful to others due to these folk should not allow their bad examples to keep them from doing right toward those who were in genuine need. They were a totally different category of people. The situation could easily lead to strong frustration. Hence the abuse could easily discourage people from wanting to help anyone. In effect the admonition is, “Don’t avoid providing charity completely; just avoid providing it to those who aren’t seriously working to provide for themselves.” Or, at the very most, “make the help time contingent upon their making serious efforts on their own behalf.”
And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Paul is very realistic in suspecting there will be those who will hear the epistle and still refuse to change their way of life. (Note the “if anyone.”) We often resist change even when it’s for the best . . . and these folk have had plenty of opportunity to develop the feeling that what was happening was now “perfectly normal.” Hence he clearly recognizes the strong possibility that the problem will continue.
First of all, all members should mentally mark that person (= “note” him). Yes the church should formally call for its members to withdraw from all dealings with that person (“we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly,” 3:6). However the language is broadly enough written that it could properly be referring to individuals adopting that course even before the matter is taken to the congregation. After all, is laziness and sin to be encouraged by us because the church has not--perhaps is even unwilling--to take any formal action?
Secondly they are to have nothing to do with that person: “do not keep company with him” (“do not associate with,” NIV). You do not “hang out” with that person or encourage him in any active or passive manner. To the extent possible, social ties cease to exist.
This is not done out of vindictiveness but out of the desire to make him “ashamed” of his folly. In other words to feel guilty and alter his lifestyle for the better.
Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. There is, of course, a danger in minimizing or eliminating dealings with the offender and that is it may cause us to treat him bitterly and as nothing short of being “an (outright) enemy.” Yet for all his laziness, he remains our spiritual kin (“brother”) and should be treated within that mind frame. Just as you would strongly encourage (“admonish”) your physical kin to set life aright, with the same flame and passion you should encourage your spiritual ones as well. This clearly implies that at least some personal and verbal contact will be continuing. It is emphatically not the kind of severe “shunning” in which no interactions are permitted to occur at all.
Closing Words of Good Will
16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with you all. 17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, which is how I write in every letter. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. --New English Translation (for comparison)
Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all. Christ came to earth to bring reconciliation (“peace”) rather than conflict. He would bring conflict only in the indirect sense that many would so vehemently reject Jesus as Messiah that even their closest of kin who embraced the Divine Cause would be repudiated from home and family (Matthew 10:34-39). But for those who refused to yield to such pressure, the Lord would provide psychological and spiritual “peace in every way” that is possible to occur.
If there is a plea that their internal problem with the non-working come to an end, that is surely a secondary application of his point. The “center of gravity” is with the broad array of problems virtually all Christians encounter rather than just one type of difficulty. He wishes them success whatever their own problem(s) may be.
The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every epistle; so I write. Paul made it a custom to write the closing words of all his letters, which argues that his signature was distinctive and that there were many familiar with it. It also acts as verification that whoever did the “penmanship” for the text of the epistle had written what Paul wanted. If you had a problem with anything that was said it was not that intermediary you were upset with, but the apostle himself.
“There [clearly] was something peculiar and noticeable
in the Apostle’s penmanship, which could not he mistaken. Some infer from Galatians 6:11 that
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. Since they had a sound “track record” of obedience, it was natural that Paul wishes Divine favor (“grace”) to be with them. The way to reconciliation always requires seeking and receiving such. And the only way to obtain it is on the Divine terms. Jesus Christ provides the terms; it is our role to obey them.
His wish clearly includes a passing allusion to his own good will and concern for all the members. He prays that the Divine grace will be “with you all”—not merely a limited number of them. Can one possibly avoid this including those whose behavior he is trying to alter?
George G. Findlay.
James B. Coffman. Commentary on 2 Thessalonians. Internet edition at: https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc.html.
Marvin R. Vincent. Word Studies. Internet edition at: https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/vnt.html.
Joseph Exell. Pulpit Commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Internet edition at: https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/2-thessalonians.html.