By Peter Amsterdam
April 25, 2023
The second letter to the Thessalonians was probably written around AD 51–52, shortly after 1 Thessalonians. Like 1 Thessalonians, the authors were Paul, Silvanus (Silas), and Timothy, and the recipients were the church in Thessalonica. Information about the Thessalonians can be found in 1 Thessalonians: Introduction.1
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.2
It was common in ancient times for the authors of letters to identify themselves at the beginning of the letter, as Paul and his companions did here. After that, the recipient of the letter was named—in this case, the church of the Thessalonians. The only difference between this letter’s opening phrase and that of 1 Thessalonians is the inclusion of God being called our Father. This reflects the prayer Jesus taught His disciples to pray:
Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”3
Throughout Paul’s letters, he refers to God as Father.
To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.4
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.5
The Thessalonians’ belief in God has drawn them into one family and joined them to Paul and his partners, as well as to the church throughout Macedonia.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.6
Paul added a blessing for the church at the beginning of his letter, which again echoes how he opened his first letter to the Thessalonians. Here he names both the Father and Jesus as the source of blessings. In doing so, he makes the point that the Lord Jesus Christ is not seen as inferior to God the Father in the work of salvation.
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.7
Paul begins with a thanksgiving to God for the Thessalonian believers, echoing his first letter where he wrote of their faith, their labors of love, and hope in Christ.8 Here he says that giving thanks for them is an obligation (we ought always to give thanks). Paul adds that it is right for him and his companions to give thanks to God because the Thessalonian believers’ faith is growing abundantly.
Along with the flourishing of their abundant faith, their mutual love for one another was growing ever greater among the brethren. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul exhorted the church to show love for one another and prayed that their love would increase and overflow for each other.9 In this second letter, it seems that God has answered that prayer and that the believers have applied what he taught, and that their love for one another was increasing, which moved Paul and his companions to give thanks to God.
Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.10
Paul said that they boasted to the other churches about them. We also find mention of such boasting in one of his letters to the Corinthians.
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.11
Such boasting was used to strengthen the churches as they faced persecution, and to encourage other churches to emulate the Thessalonians’ example of steadfastness and faith in the face of persecution.
The content of Paul’s boasting was their steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. The church’s endurance was an example to the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia, and now Paul revealed that it was partly because of the report that he had spread abroad. The Thessalonian believers’ perseverance was rooted in their hope in the coming of the Lord. The church stood firm in their faith, despite the persecutions and afflictions they endured. The use of the plural persecutions and afflictions probably indicates that the hostilities they faced occurred on several occasions and in various manners.
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you.12
In the following six verses (5–10), Paul broadens his thoughts regarding the Thessalonians’ persecution and the destiny of the believers and their persecutors. This first verse presents an important aspect of the theology of suffering. The suffering of Christians plays a central role in God’s plan and shouldn’t be seen as God neglecting or rejecting His people. The evidence of this judgment is found in the preceding verse: Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.13 The “evidence” or “sign” here points to the statement that God’s judgment is right. This point is repeated three more times in upcoming verses.14
Paul reminds the believers of the future result of their present endurance. God’s righteous judgment on their behalf is that they will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, which is the ultimate goal for which you are also suffering. They are currently suffering for the kingdom, which transcends the kingdom of this world. At the same time, their present suffering plays a role regarding the final future kingdom and their place in it. Suffering is to be expected for disciples of Christ, as is made clear in Paul’s letter to Timothy:
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.15
In verse 6, Paul returns to the just judgment of God: indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you.16 Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, God’s judgment aligns with His justice.
Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?17
God is a righteous judge.18
He judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness.19
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just.20
Because He judges justly, those who acted in opposition to the church will suffer.
Paul goes on to say:
…and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.21
Having touched on what would happen to those who persecuted the Christians, Paul focused on the believers, assuring them that they would be liberated from their oppression when the Lord is revealed. The promise is that God will reward those who have suffered persecution and affliction with relief at the time of the revelation of the Lord Jesus. The believers knew that they would face affliction, but in the midst of it they could rest on God’s promise that He would empower them to overcome.
Paul elaborated on the time when these events will come to pass: when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire. Elsewhere in Paul’s writings, he refers to the coming of the Lord as the Parousia, the Lord’s coming,22 but here it is described as His “revelation” (being revealed from heaven). This “revelation” was important for the believers, as they didn’t have a temple like the Jewish faith did, or a visible god as the pagan religions had. However, Jesus, whom neither the believers nor their persecutors could see, will be revealed in all His glory and power on that day, and all will see Him. In the book of Matthew we read:
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.23
Paul goes on to say that the Lord Jesus will bring divine judgment. The language of verse 8 is taken from two verses in the book of Isaiah, 66:15 and 66:4.
For behold, the LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.24
I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight.25
These two verses describe God’s wrath on the disobedient. It is a judicial decision against those who have rejected God and the gospel, those who do not know God and … those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.26
Paul went on to describe the Lord’s vengeance against those who had rejected God and the gospel. The wording they will suffer the punishment comes from the legal world and means “to pay the consequences” for some action. In the book of Jude, we read of people of Sodom and Gomorrah who suffered a punishment of eternal fire,27 which is similar to the punishment of eternal destruction found in this text. Elsewhere in Scripture we find more references to eternal punishment.
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’28
If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.29
The place where the judged are sent is described in the New Testament as unquenchable fire,30 a fiery furnace,31 utter darkness that has been reserved forever,32 and a fiery lake of burning sulfur.33
While those who have rejected God and who persecute the church34 will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction away from God’s presence, the situation for believers is totally different. When he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.35 That day refers to the day of the Lord, which has been mentioned throughout the Thessalonian letters. You yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.36 When speaking of his saints, Paul was referring to the Thessalonian believers, just as he used this term to speak of believers throughout the Epistles.37
Those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel will suffer punishment. However, on that day, Jesus will be glorified in His saints. His people will give Him the glory and honor He deserves, because of His judgment on that day.
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.38
At this point, Paul informs the Thessalonian church that he and his companions pray for them. His prayer here is similar to his prayer in 1 Thessalonians 1:2. His and his partners’ prayers for the church were constant. Their commitment to prayer was rigorous. Because the final judgment would be severe, and the revelation of the Lord would be so glorious, Paul prayed that “God would make you worthy of his calling.”
In the second part of the prayer, Paul prays that God will fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power. This prayer acknowledges that God is the source of the good that Christians do. The fulfillment of what they should do as disciples depended on God’s guidance and help in their lives. They were not to depend on their own abilities or their determination to accomplish what pleased God. Their “good works” were rooted in their faith and were carried out by the power of God.
Paul goes on to state the purpose of why they prayed as they did: so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.39 While this point was made earlier in verse 10, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, here Jesus’ glorification is linked with the attitude and conduct of the Thessalonian believers.
Paul put emphasis on the way the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified. The name of a person in Paul’s time was more than a way to distinguish one person from another. It often became a symbol of what the person was, or his or her qualities and power. For the persecuted followers of Jesus, the promise that His name would be glorified had great social importance. The glorification would be mutual—He in them and they in Him. All of this is due to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2 2 Thessalonians 1:1.
3 Matthew 6:9.
4 Romans 1:7.
5 Galatians 1:3–4. See also 1 Corinthians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2, 4:20; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 3:11; Philemon 3.
6 2 Thessalonians 1:2.
7 2 Thessalonians 1:3.
8 1 Thessalonians 1:3.
9 1 Thessalonians 3:12.
10 2 Thessalonians 1:4.
11 2 Corinthians 8:1–4.
12 2 Thessalonians 1:5–6.
13 2 Thessalonians 1:4.
14 Verses 6, 8, 9.
15 2 Timothy 3:12.
16 2 Thessalonians 1:6.
17 Genesis 18:25.
18 Psalm 7:11.
19 Psalm 9:8.
20 Revelation 19:1–2.
21 2 Thessalonians 1:7–8.
22 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1.
23 Matthew 24:30. See also 1 Peter 1:8.
24 Isaiah 66:15.
25 Isaiah 66:4.
26 2 Thessalonians 1:9–10.
27 Jude 7.
28 Matthew 25:41.
29 Matthew 18:8. See also Matthew 25:46.
30 Matthew 3:12.
31 Matthew 13:42, 50.
32 Jude 13.
33 Revelation 21:8 NIV.
34 2 Thessalonians 1:7–9.
35 2 Thessalonians 1:10.
36 1 Thessalonians 5:2. See also 1 Thessalonians 5:4, 2 Thessalonians 2:2.
37 Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2.
38 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12.
39 2 Thessalonians 1:12.