By Peter Amsterdam
May 23, 2023
Previously, in chapter 2:1–8, Paul wrote that the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. He then continued to describe the lawless one:
The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.1
The mention in verse 8 of the coming of the Lord, which will bring the destruction of “the lawless one,” leads to Paul’s description that the “lawless one” will do signs and wonders. In verse 9, we’re told the power he will display will be satanic. The phrasing activity of Satan (work of Satan in other translations) highlights that the lawless one, by means of supernatural signs, will deceive those who have not accepted the gospel. Paul wants to protect the Thessalonians from being deceived in this way, as already the false teaching concerning the day of the Lord had entered the church (v. 2).
The miracles of the lawless one will include false signs and wonders. Elsewhere in the New Testament, signs and wonders are referred to positively.2 However, this time they refer to satanic activities. Paul states that the power behind these wonders is Satan himself, and he calls them counterfeit. One author explains:
A number of ancient texts testify that false miracles accompanied a number of cults, and such were even characteristic of the imperial cult [the worship of emperors as divine]. Such wonders included images that could talk and move as well as the production of thunder and lightning. Although the apostle recognized the tricks that “the lawless one” would play, according to the religious conventions of the day, he is careful to note that real satanic power was working in him.3
Verse 10 goes on to describe the lawless one’s deception, along with the rejection of the truth of the gospel and the consequences of that rejection. The lawless one comes with false miracles, signs, and wonders, and will use any other method to promote his deception, which those who have rejected the gospel will embrace. This deception is called wicked; in other translations it’s referred to as evil deception (NLT), unrighteous deception (NKJ), all the deception of wickedness (NAS). Those who believe the lawless one are those who are perishing, meaning those who are not saved, who are lost. The power of Satan operates to make sure that people will be eternally lost. Paul’s letter expresses his conviction that a person’s final destiny is connected to the truth, the gospel which had been preached in Thessalonica.
Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.4
Because the unbelievers rejected the truth of the gospel, God judged them in a surprising way. He sent them strong delusion so that they would believe what is false. Since they didn’t receive the truth, God sent them confusion, so they were unable to distinguish between truth and lies, resulting in them believing a lie as if it were the truth. Elsewhere in Paul’s writings we find more references to God giving unbelievers over to the sins and errors they have accepted and embraced.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.5
As it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”6
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.7
People who reject the truth and believe what is false, as promoted by the lawless one, ultimately choose to believe a lie. They believe it because they are persuaded due to the strong delusion which has overtaken them because they have rejected the truth of the gospel.
In verse 12, Paul continues to explain the divine judgment which will come upon those who have believed the lawless one. The result is that they will be condemned. These are people who have rejected the message of the gospel and have aligned themselves with the lawless one. They not only rejected the gospel, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
At this point, the theme of the letter moves on to Paul’s thanksgiving to God for how the gospel came to the Thessalonians and their belief in its truth. He reassures the Thessalonian church that, contrary to the unbelievers who have rejected the gospel, they have accepted God’s call, are beloved by God, and were chosen by Him to be saved when Jesus returns.
But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.8
This mirrors the first expression of thanksgiving found earlier, in 2 Thessalonians 1:3. It expresses the obligation that Paul and his partners felt to give thanks to God. Paul refers to God’s choosing of the Thessalonian believers and His love for them. He doesn’t explain why God loved and chose the Thessalonians, but only offers thanksgiving that He did so. Paul explains that these believers were the first fruits of this church. The NLT Bible expresses this well: We are always thankful that God chose you to be among the first to experience salvation—a salvation that came through the Spirit who makes you holy and through your belief in the truth.9
To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.10
God called the Thessalonians to belief through the preaching of the gospel. He made sure that the message of salvation reached them through Paul and his partners. He gave Paul the vision to preach the gospel in the province of Macedonia,11 and when they came to the city of Thessalonica, the people heard and received this message from God. Thus Paul could write that God called you through our gospel. It wasn’t Paul’s speaking abilities that won them, but rather God was active in Paul’s teaching, and He called them through the message.
The reason for this calling was so that the Christian Thessalonians would share in Jesus’ glory. The promise of receiving glory was one of the hopes of the Christian faith, as seen throughout Paul’s writings.
Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.12
If children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.13
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.14
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.15
Paul’s main concern was that the Thessalonian believers would stand strong and remain stable in their faith, that they would hold on to the teachings of the apostles in spite of Satan’s activity. They should faithfully continue in the apostles’ teaching and should hold on to it and not waver, even if they faced opposing opinions. Paul refers to the teachings as the traditions, which here are referred to positively. Within the New Testament, sometimes traditions have a negative sense.16 However, Paul’s reference here to the traditions describes the teaching he has imparted to the Thessalonian church.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.17
At this point, Paul prays the first prayer of this letter in the form of a wish or desire. The prayer is directed to both God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, which puts them on the same plane. (Earlier, in verses 13–14, Paul included the full trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.) It’s interesting to note that unlike most verses where both the Father and Jesus Christ appear together,18 the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in this instance is placed in the first position.
However, though Jesus is placed in the first position, it is God the Father who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace. This points to some event in which God the Father demonstrated His love, likely referring to His choosing of the Thessalonians. Whatever act of love Paul had in mind, the purpose was to encourage and strengthen the church in the midst of persecution and in their fight against false teaching. As they were facing these adversaries, the love of God our Father was the foundation of their hope.
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.
1 2 Thessalonians 2:9–10.
2 Acts 2:22; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:4.
3 Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 321.
4 2 Thessalonians 2:11–12.
5 Romans 1:24.
6 Romans 11:8.
7 Romans 1:28.
8 2 Thessalonians 2:13.
9 2 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT.
10 2 Thessalonians 2:14.
11 Acts 16:9–10.
12 Romans 5:2.
13 Romans 8:17–18.
14 Colossians 1:27.
15 2 Thessalonians 2:15.
16 Matthew 15:2–3, 6; Mark 7:8–9, 13.
17 2 Thessalonians 2:16–17.
18 Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Ephesians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 3.