So, we’re turning today to Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. Remember that we read in Acts 17 how Paul and Silas visited the city of Thessalonica and preached the gospel in the Jewish synagogue on three Sabbath days. Some of the Jews and a large number of God-fearing Gentiles as well as some prominent women were persuaded by what they said about the Lord Jesus and joined Paul and Silas.
However, the Jews who did not believe were jealous. And so, we’re told that they rounded up some bad characters and formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They went to look for Paul and Silas in the home of a man called Jason, who was presumably one of the new believers. When they couldn’t find Paul and Silas, they dragged Jason and some of the other Christians before the city officials and accused them of rebelling against the Roman Emperor.
Well, because of the opposition, the believers decided to send Paul and Silas away to nearby Berea, where Paul continued to preach about the Lord. However, when the Jews in Thessalonica found out that Paul was in Berea, such was the intensity of their opposition to the gospel, that they went to Berea in order to stir up the people there against Paul and Silas. And so, once again Paul had to leave.
Well, some time later, Timothy came to Paul with news about the church in Thessalonica; and Paul decided to write these two letters to them. And we spent seven weeks on the first letter. In the first chapter, Paul gave thanks to God for the Thessalonian church, because it was — in several important ways — a model church. And he wrote about how they had turned from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
And then, in chapter 2, Paul wrote about his ministry among them. Some people were criticising him and were spreading rumours about him. And so, he wrote to defend his ministry among them, and how he was like a mother, caring for them; and like a father, instructing them.
And then, in the next part of the letter he wrote about the encouraging report Timothy had brought to him about their faith in Christ and their love and affection for Paul.
And in chapters 4 and 5 he wrote to them about holiness; and about loving one another; and about the coming of Lord and how he will raise the dead; and all who have trusted in him in this life will live with him forever; whereas all those who do not believe will face destruction and the wrath of God.
And then in the final part of the letter, at the end of chapter 5, he wrote to them about congregational life and about congregational worship and he prayed for the Lord to sanctify his readers through and through so that they will be blameless at the coming of the Lord. So, that was his first letter to them. Today we turn to his second letter to them.
And in today’s passage — after the greeting in verses 1 and 2 — Paul goes on in verses 3 to 12 to give thanks to God for the believers in Thessalonica. And the thanksgiving section can be divided into three main parts. In verses 3 and 4, Paul commends them for their spiritual growth. Then in verses 5 to 10 he writes about God’s just judgment. And, finally, in verses 11 and 12 he asks God to work in their lives. So, let’s turn to these verses now.
Verses 3 and 4
So, Paul gives thanks to God for the believers in Thessalonica. In fact, he doesn’t just give thanks for them, but he says ‘we ought always’ to thank God for them. He’s saying it’s necessary and proper and fitting that we should give thanks to God for you. And he says it’s necessary that we give thanks, not just once, not just occasionally, but always. And to underline how fitting it is, he adds the words ‘rightly so’ in the same verse. It’s only right that we always give thanks to God for you.
So, what have the Thessalonians done to make thanksgiving so fitting? Well, Paul tells us. Their faith is growing more and more. And the love every one of them has for each other is increasing. Furthermore, in verse 4 he refers to their perseverance and their faith in all the persecutions and trials they were enduring. So, he refers to their faith and to their love and to their perseverance in the face of persecution. That’s why he gives thanks to God for them.
So, not long before, Paul had gone to Thessalonica and preached the gospel in that Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica. And some of the Jews believed as did a number of God-fearing Gentiles and some prominent women. For the very first time, they believed the gospel message about Jesus Christ and began to trust in God for all things. And since those days, their faith in Christ has continued to grow. And since Paul uses the present tense and says their faith ‘is’ growing, that means it didn’t grow for a time and then stop, but it was still growing whenever Paul wrote this letter.
And their love for one another has kept growing too. So, when that little church was planted, they began to love and care for one another, because they were now united together as a family, with God as their Father and Jesus Christ as their elder brother. And their love and care for one another kept growing since those early days. And once again, Paul uses the present tense and says their love ‘is’ increasing, so that they were finding new ways to love and care for each other.
And despite the persecution they faced and the trials they encountered — and remember that as soon as this church was planted, the new believers faced fierce opposition from the unbelieving Jews who formed a mob and started a riot and dragged poor Jason from his home to the city officials — despite the persecution they faced and the trials they encountered, and continued to encounter, they persevered in the faith. They didn’t give up their faith, but they continued to trust in the Lord and to love one another.
That’s why Paul believed it was necessary and fitting and right to give thanks to God for them. It’s because their faith was growing; and their love was increasing; and they were persevering in the faith despite persecution. And, of course, the reason Paul gives thanks to the Lord for this, is because the Lord was the one who enabled their faith to grow; and their love to increase; and for them to persevere in the faith. The Lord strengthened their faith so that they learned to trust in him again and again and more and more. The Lord increased their love so that they learned to care for one another again and again and more and more. And the Lord enabled them to keep going in the faith again and again and more and more despite all the persecution they faced.
And since the Lord did these things in them, then believers in every generation — including us — must look to the Lord to help our faith to grow and our love to increase and to enable us to persevere. Did you know that faith is meant to grow? It’s not something that’s meant to stay static, like a statue that doesn’t move or change over time, but is frozen. And it’s certainly not meant to shrink, the way a balloon filled with air shrinks over time. No, it’s meant to grow over time, becoming stronger. So, think of a child who grows and grows every day, becoming stronger. Think of a tree that grows and grows every day, becoming stronger. Well, our faith is to grow stronger like that, so that as time goes by we’re able to trust in the Lord more and more whenever we face trials and troubles. Instead of being overwhelmed by them, we learn that we can trust in the Lord to help us.
And our love for one another is to grow. Sometimes, the love we have for one another cools over time and becomes smaller, because we upset one another; or we hurt one another; or we just get used to one another; and we take each other for granted. But no, the love we have for each other should be growing all the time, so that we love and serve and care for one another more and more. And as time goes on, we learn to be patient with one another, and to put up with each other’s faults. We learn to bite our tongue and not say those things we might have said when we first believed.
And we’re meant to persevere. Remember the Lord’s parable of the sower and the seed? Remember the seed that fell on the rocky ground; and the plant shot up quickly? But then it quickly withered. And it stood for those who receive God’s word with joy. They make a profession of faith; and join the church; and get involved in everything with enthusiasm. But when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they just as quickly fall away. Well, we’re not to be like that. We’re not to fall away when persecution comes because of the word. We’re to endure all things.
And the marvellous thing is that we can look to the Lord to help us. We can look to him to strengthen our faith and to increase our love and to help us stand firm in the faith. And as we come to church week by week, and as we listen to the reading and preaching of God’s word, and as we celebrate the sacraments together, and as we pray, God works in his people to change us so that our faith grows and our love increases and we’re able to persevere.
Well, let’s move on, because in verse 5 he says:
All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.
Now, I remember saying before when we were studying Romans 8 at the midweek that I was encouraged by the verses I was studying. And the reason I was encouraged was because there were some verses in Romans 8 that always puzzled me; and I wasn’t sure how to interpret them. But I was encouraged because I discovered that the Bible scholars were just as puzzled by the same verses. I used to think I was a dummy for not being able to make sense of them. But it turns out that even the scholars with their phds aren’t sure. And the same applies to 2 Thessalonians 1:5. I’ve never preached on this passage before. So, I’ve never really studied these verses in depth. But every time I’ve read this passage, I’ve never been sure what the connection is between verses 3 and 4 and verse 5. You see, if I were writing this, I’d write something like this:
We ought to give thanks to God for you, because your faith is growing, and your love is increasing, and you’re persevering in the faith despite all the persecutions and trials you’re enduring. All this is evidence of God’s sustaining grace, because he’s kept you and strengthened you and helped you.
That’s how I would put it. But Paul doesn’t say that. He says:
All of this is evidence that God’s judgment is right.
So, what’s the connection? I’ve never been able to work it out. And so, I was encouraged to discover this week that many Bible scholars have also been puzzled by the connection. I’m not just being a dummy, because the scholars with their phds haven’t been able to see what the connection is either.
But here’s the thing: since it’s hard to see the connection between verses 3 and 4 and verse 5, a few scholars have suggested that verse 5 is not meant to connect with verses 3 and 4 at all. They say that verse 5 is meant to connect with what follows. So, when Paul says ‘All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right’, he means:
All this that follows and which I’m about to describe is the evidence that God’s judgment is right.
And what he goes on to describe is how the Lord will come again to punish their persecutors and to give relief to his suffering people.
So, imagine God’s people in Thessalonica, these men and women who believed the gospel and who turned from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for his Son from heaven. But they’re being persecuted. And they’re facing trials. And they’re suffering. Life has suddenly become very hard for them. And perhaps they were tempted to think:
It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s neither fair nor right that I should have to suffer like this. I love the Lord and trust in him, but look what’s happening to me! Meanwhile, all these people who don’t love or trust the Lord are getting away with hurting me. It’s not fair.
And so, Paul writes to the believers in Thessalonica to reassure them that God’s judgment is right. It is just. But you’ll have to wait until the coming of the Lord before you’ll see it for yourself. And as a result of God’s just judgment, you’ll be brought into God’s eternal kingdom when Christ comes again.
Verses 6 and 7a
And so, in verse 6 and the first part of verse 7, Paul goes on to write briefly about the coming day of judgment. And then, in the rest of verse 7 and down to verse 10, he writes about it in more detail.
So, look with me at verse 6 and the first part of verse 7. And, of course, there are two sides to the coming judgment. Firstly, God will pay back trouble to those who trouble you. Secondly, God will give relief to you who are troubled and to us as well, he says. So, the believers in Thessalonica and Paul and his companions who have also suffered for the faith, will receive relief and rest from their troubles.
Paul is saying that God’s judgment will be just and fair, because those who trouble them will be troubled in return; those who afflict them will be afflicted in return; God will do to them what they did to God’s people. And God’s people — who have been troubled and afflicted for their faith in God — will receive relief and rest from all their troubles.
Of course, we should add that if any of their persecutors confessed their sin and turned from it, asking God to pardon them, they would receive forgiveness from God. That’s always true. But Paul’s message is clear: those who continue to persecute God’s people will face God’s judgment in the end. This was true of those who persecuted the church in the days of Paul; and it’s still true for those who persecute the church in our day and in every generation. In this life, they might get away with it; and it might seem there are no consequences to their actions. But in the end, when Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead, those who troubled God’s people will receive trouble from God.
By means of these words, Paul wanted to reassure the Lord’s people. Their enemies will not get away with what they have done; and God’s people, who are called to suffer so much in this life, will eventually receive relief and peace and rest in God’s presence.
Verses 7b to 10
And in the following verses, Paul goes into this in more detail.
So, when will this happen? Well, it’s when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven. Now, Paul often writes about how the Lord will ‘come again’. He often uses the language of ‘coming’. This time he says the Lord will be ‘revealed’. So, think of a painting that is put on display in an art gallery for the first time. Perhaps there will be an unveiling ceremony, and some important guests will be invited and they’ll stand in front of the painting, which is covered with a red curtain. And someone gives a short speech and pulls the cord and the curtain is pulled back and the painting is revealed. And everyone applauds and they cheer. Well, when the Lord ascended to heaven, the disciples watched him leave until the clouds hid him from sight. And angels appeared and explained that this same Jesus will come back in the same way. So, when he comes again, the clouds will — in a sense — be pulled back like a curtain; and the Lord will be revealed.
And he will be revealed in blazing fire. So, the first time he came to earth, he came in weakness and humility, didn’t he? He was born in a stable and in poverty and as a little baby. But when he’s revealed again, it will be with glory and with great power. In fact, It’s likely that Paul is alluding here to Isaiah 66:15, where Isaiah foretold how the Lord God will come with fire to execute judgment on all men. The Lord will come with fire to destroy his enemies.
And he’ll be revealed with his powerful angels, says Paul. Well, when any king or queen or prime minister or president travels anywhere, they don’t go alone, do they? They always bring their attendants: people to help them. And perhaps the more important they are, the more attendants they have. Or, when a bride turns up at the church for a wedding, she’s not on her own, but she has her bridesmaids to help her. And when the Lord Jesus comes again, he’ll not be on his own, but will have angels as his attendants.
And look what Paul says about what he’ll do when he returns. In verse 6, he wrote that he’ll trouble those who were troubling God’s people. So, according to verse 6, he’ll punish their persecutors. But in verse 8, it’s not only persecutors who will be punished, but it’s those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. He’s referring to those who don’t know the one, true and living God, and who haven’t obeyed the gospel. And, of course, the gospel demands a response from us, doesn’t it? When we hear the good news of Jesus Christ who died for sinners, the gospel demands a response: we’re to repent and believe. But these people Paul is referring to have not repented or believed. So, it’s not only persecutors who will be punished, but it’s all unbelievers.
And in verse 9 Paul explains what their punishment will be. They will be punished with everlasting destruction, and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power. Now, ‘destruction’ here doesn’t mean annihilation. It means they will experience disaster or ruin. And they will experience it forever, because it will be everlasting. Whenever we’re in pain, we long for relief. When we’re sick, we long to recover. But when Christ comes again to punish those who do not know God and who have not responded to the gospel, there will be no relief and no end to their punishment. And whereas the hope of believers is that we will be with the Lord forever, because he’s the source of all that is good and in his presence there is only peace and joy and rest, those who don’t believe will be shut out of his presence.
On the other hand, Paul says in verse 10, on the day of the Lord, when Christ comes again, he will be glorified in the presence of his holy people; and he’ll be marvelled at among all those who believe. Occasionally I’ve been to concerts. And I’ve queued all day. And at first everyone is a bit sleepy, because nothing is happening. And then, as time goes on, and attendants begin to appear, everyone is standing up, standing on tip toes, straining to see to the start of the queue, waiting for the doors to open. And then, when you’re led into the convert venue, and reach the stage, everyone is excited. But more time passes; you still have to wait; it’s still not time. But everyone’s more excited now, because they know it will start soon. And eventually, after hours of waiting, the lights on the stage go on, and the band comes out, and everyone begins to cheer and to shout and to applaud, because here comes the person we’ve been waiting to see and hear. And the day will come — and we’re waiting for that day — the day will come — and we don’t know when it will be — but the day will come, when in a sense the lights will come on; and all of God’s people will be on their feet; and the Lord will appear. And when he appears, all who have been waiting for him will praise him and we’ll marvel at him, because here’s the person we have heard about and the person we’ve believed in, the person who died for us and who was raised for us and who has helped us for so many years. And here at last, he’s come.
And you’ll be there, Paul says to his readers at the end of verse 10. What I’m saying includes you, because you have believed our testimony about Jesus Christ the Saviour. The Thessalonians believers will be there to see it; and so will all of us, so long as we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. All those who do not believe, will be shut out of his presence forever. But if you believe in the Lord Jesus, who died for sinners and who rose to give us life, then when he comes, you’ll be there to welcome him and to be with him forever. So, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ — and ask God to forgive you for his sake — and he will give you the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life.
Verses 11 and 12
Well, in verses 11 and 12 we come to Paul’s application. We know that these verses are his application, because they begin with the words:
With this in mind….
Well, what do you think the application is? If you were writing this, how would you apply it? Would it be the same as Paul’s application? Because this is how he applies this passage to us. He says:
With this is mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling and that by his power he may fulfil every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.
Well, when Paul preached the gospel to them, God called them into into his kingdom. And by faith in Christ, they responded to the call. Well, Paul now prays for them that they will live a life that is worthy of their calling: a life of obedience to the one who called them and who has forgiven them and who will save them from the coming wrath. He prays that God will enable them to carry out every act of obedience that is prompted by their faith in Christ. And he prays for them in this way so that everything they do here on earth will bring glory to Christ when he comes again. And more than that — unlike those who don’t believe who will be covered in shame when Christ comes again — believers will be glorified in the presence of the Lord when he comes again.
Well, the Lord has called you into his kingdom. And so, you’re to live a life that is worthy of your calling, a life of obedience to the one who called you. You’re to live in such a way that everything you do and say and think here on earth will bring glory and honour to Christ your Saviour when he comes again. And despite whatever trials and sorrows you have to endure in this troubled life, believe that in the end — if you persevere in the faith and don’t turn from the Lord — you will be glorified in his presence and will enjoy everlasting relief and rest when he comes again.