Read the Passage: 2 Thessalonians 1
Greetings and Grace (1:1–2)
As was the case with Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church, so his second epistle is pastoral in nature, as here Paul comforts the church and addresses their concerns about Jesus’ return. As with his first epistle to Thessalonica, it is likely that Paul wrote this second letter, in the presence of Silas and Timothy, from the city of Corinth (cf. Acts 18:5; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1) about 52 AD. If this date is accurate, this epistle would have been penned a few months after Paul’s first letter to the church. In fact, given the similarities between the two letters to Thessalonica, it is probable that within this epistle Paul is addressing questions brought back to him by the courier of his first letter. Note that if more time than 18 months had elapsed between Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians, then this second epistle may have been penned from Ephesus (cf. Acts 18:11). Observe that in 2 Thess. 2:15 Paul actually does refer to his first letter, calling it “our epistle.”
Just as he had done in 1 Thess. 1:1, so in 1 Thess. 2:1 Paul notes he was ministering with Silvanus (or Silas) and Timothy. As was discussed earlier, when Paul was forced to leave Thessalonica, he traveled first to Berea, and then to Athens, and finally to Corinth (cf. Acts 17:10–18:17). Paul had sent Timothy from Athens to Thessalonica in order to minister to the fledgling church (cf. 1 Thess. 3:1–2). When Timothy finally met Paul in Corinth (cf. Acts 18:5; 1 Thess. 3:6), Paul penned the letter of 1 Thessalonians to answer questions from the church. Paul then wrote 2 Thessalonians to respond to feedback from his first letter. As with all his letters (except for Hebrews—if Paul is the author of that book), Paul greets the church with grace and peace. Grace is unmerited favor and peace is the result of grace. Outside of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, note that Silas, who is usually referred to as Silvanus, is only mentioned by Paul in the book of 2 Corinthians.
Suffering and Judgment (1:3–10)
In 2 Thess. 1:3–4 Paul expressed his thanks for the growing faith of the Thessalonian believers, which was manifest in their love for one another. Indeed, Paul writes, “We ourselves boast of you among the churches of God” (2 Thess. 1:4). The churches to which Paul refers were the assemblies in Berea, Athens, and Corinth. Recall that the church in Thessalonica was new, only being planted by Paul a matter of months before he wrote this epistle. Believers in this young church had been sanctified by persecution and afflictions. In 2 Thess. 1:5 Paul writes that the patient, enduring faith of these fairly new Christians “is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God.” In other words, the enduring faith of the church was proof that they had truly accepted the gospel, which entailed Jesus’ atonement for their sin.
In 2 Thess. 1:6–10 Paul discussed two facts related to the Thessalonian believers’ suffering: first, he writes, “God [is going] to repay with tribulation those who trouble you” (2 Thess. 1:6); and second, Paul notes that God will “give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed” (2 Thess. 1:7). While Paul does not expand here upon the rest that these Christians will receive when Christ returns, in 2 Thess. 1:7b–10 he does elaborate on the judgement of unbelievers, as he gives four details about Jesus’ return. First, at 2 Thess. 1:7b Paul notes that Christ will return “with His mighty angels” (cf. Matt. 13:41, 49). Second, at 2 Thess. 1:8 Paul teaches that when He returns Christ will take “vengeance on those who do not know God.” Third, at 2 Thess. 1:9 Paul writes that unbelievers will “be punished with everlasting destruction. Fourth, at 2 Thess. 1:10 Paul teaches that Jesus will be glorified.
Calling and Glory (1:11–12)
Paul records his prayer for the Thessalonian believers, writing, “Therefore, we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling” (2 Thess. 1:11). In context, the proof that these believers were worthy of their calling is that their faith survived the persecution and tribulations that they were experiencing (cf. 2 Thess. 1:5). While it is counterintuitive, suffering is a blessing for Christians, as it both proves the authenticity of their faith and refines them to be more like Jesus. Note Peter’s words to the persecuted church, “If you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. . . . If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed” (1 Pet. 3:14; 4:14). Paul, too, would later write, “We also glory in tribulations” (Rom. 5:3) and “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake” (2 Cor. 12:10).
- What types of events in the world cause believers to be interested in the end-times? What affect can over-emphasizing eschatology have on the church?
- Is grace an often-discussed topic in the modern church? What is the “peace from God our Father” that Paul cites in 2 Thess. 1:2?
- In what ways does suffering enhance the faith of Christians and contribute to the overall sanctification of the church?
- Why are many people offended at the idea of Jesus’ return entailing the judgment of unbelievers? Is Christ unjust for judging the lost?
- How has past suffering been a blessing to you? How have personal trials worked to refine your faith?