In 2 Thessalonians 2:15, we read the following message: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold on to the traditions that we taught you, whether by speech or by letter” (NET). That “letter” was undoubtedly the Biblical epistle we know today as 1 Thessalonians. Therefore, it’s likely that the New Testament letter of 2 Thessalonians represents Paul the Apostles’ immediate follow up letter to this young first-century church.
The Biblical letter of 2 Thessalonians was probably written less than a year after the New Testament book of 1 Thessalonians was delivered. One commentary offers an introduction that provides some valuable background information (1) regarding the church at Thessalonica…
“The recipients of 2 Thessalonians were Christians in Thessalonica, a city in Macedonia (northern Greece) where Paul and his companions had planted a church (Acts 17:1–9…). This letter does not provide as many clues about the date and place of its writing as 1 Thessalonians (which was sent from Corinth around AD 50–51). Since the two letters cover many of the same issues, 2 Thessalonians was likely written soon after 1 Thessalonians (2 Thess 2:15) near the end of Paul’s second missionary journey (circa AD 49–51).” (2)
It seems the letter of 2 Thessalonians was prompted (at least in part) by some news Paul received about the state of the church in Thessalonica. Some of that news was good, for the Thessalonian congregation was growing in faith and love (1:3). They also exhibited patience and endurance in the midst of persecutions and tribulations (1:4).
However, it also appears that the Thessalonian church continued to struggle with several issues. These included…
- Erroneous teachings that had entered the church through some “prophetic” means or through counterfeit letters purportedly written by Paul (2:1-2).
- Confusion regarding Jesus’ return (2:3-12).
- Idleness, disorder, and gossip among some members of the congregation (3:6-15).
Like many of Paul’s other New Testament letters, we can separate the book of 2 Thessalonians into multiple sections. In chapter one, Paul expresses his thankfulness for the Thessalonian Christians and assures them that God will ultimately vindicate them. Chapter two provides some clarification regarding Jesus’ return and an exhortation to stand firm in the faith. Chapter three then closes with a call to pursue a responsible lifestyle that honors God.
Finally, another source provides us with an apt comparison between the books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians: “It is simply a second prescription for the same case, made after discovering that certain stubborn symptoms had not yielded to the first treatment.” (3)
(1) See the introduction to the book of 1 Thessalonians beginning here for additional background on the church at Thessalonica
(2) Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
(3) Rollin Hough Walker. (1915). International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Thessalonians, the Second Epistle of Paul to The. (p. 2968) James Orr, M.A., D.D, General Editor. Howard-Severance Company https://www.internationalstandardbible.com/T/thessalonians-the-second-epistle-of-paul-to-the.html
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“Now on the topic of times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 NET).
The “day of the Lord” is a phrase that merits close attention for it is a term appears with considerable frequency in the pages of the Scriptures. For instance, this phrase is used in both the Old and New Testaments to describe God’s wrath (Isaiah 13:9), God’s judgment (as we’ll see next in 1 Thessalonians 5:3), a time of destruction (Joel 1:15), and a day of recompense for those who have done wrong (Obadiah 1:15).
The prophet Joel also described the day of the Lord as “great and very terrible” in Joel 2:11. However, Joel was not alone in this characterization, for the Old Testament prophets Ezekiel, Amos, Zephaniah, and Malachi associate the “day of the Lord” with similar words like, “doom,” “darkness,” “trouble and distress,” and “dreadful.”
Here in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, the day of the Lord is associated with the events that will accompany Jesus’ return. Three commentators provide some additional insight into the use of this important term…
“The prominent idea associated with that Day in the Old Testament, and in this passage as well, is that of ‘judgment’ and destruction upon the enemies of God. This stands in striking contrast to the previous passage (4:13–18), where the emphasis was hope and resurrection. The difference of course is one of focus; it depends upon whether believers or unbelievers are in view.” (1)
“In the OT the writers saw two ages, an evil age and a coming age of righteousness, the age of the Spirit. God would intervene in history through His Messiah to set up this new age. This event was known as the ‘Day of the Lord.’ Notice that NT writers attribute this to Christ. His first coming, the Incarnation, was foretold in many OT texts. The Jews did not expect a divine person, just a divine intervention. The two comings of the Messiah, one as suffering servant and savior, one as Judge and Lord, were not obvious to OT people.” (2)
“Christ has already passed through the judgment of the day of the Lord for believers, so they need not fear His return (Heb. 9:27, 28). Unbelievers, however, will feel the wrath of God when the day of the Lord is consummated at the second coming of Christ.” (3)
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2480). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
(2) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 5:2 Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL07/VOL07B_05.html
(3) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2138). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 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” (2 Thessalonians 1:2-3).
Paul the Apostle opened this message to the Thessalonian church with a familiar salutation: “Grace to you and peace…” One source offers a helpful summary of these two important elements…
“…(Grace) is God’s unmerited favor which He freely bestows on all who accept Jesus Christ’s substitutionary work for them on the cross by faith. God gives man the opposite of what he deserves: blessing instead of judgment. This is the grace of God. ‘Peace’ is the cessation of hostility which has resulted from Christ’s death; God and people can be reconciled because the debt of human sin has been paid by Christ. Christians have peace with God through the death of Christ. They also experience the peace of God as a result of Christ’s work.” (1)
We should also note that the faith and love expressed by the Christian community in Thessalonica encouraged Paul to express his thankfulness to God. Those characteristics remind us that we can prompt others to respond in a similar manner by the example of our lives. While there may be some who inspire us to respond very differently, we can act as better role models by prayerfully seeking to live in a way that positively reflects upon our relationship with Christ. With this in mind, we should ask for God’s help in enabling us to be (and become) people who motivate others to thank God for the impact we make upon their lives.
Yet even while Paul was thankful for the faith and love expressed by the Thessalonian church, there is a third element that seems conspicuous by its absence. That element is hope. Since faith, hope, and love form a well-known trilogy of Biblical virtues, we may wonder why it is absent from this passage. One commentator addresses that question with an insight that will take on greater significance as we move further into this epistle…
“In the first letter Paul speaks of their ‘work of faith,’ their ‘labor of love,’ and their ‘patience of hope.’ Here he refers to their faith and their love but does not say a word about their hope. That indicates the problem that this letter was written to correct. Paul has learned that they are still confused and uncertain about the coming of the Lord. Their hope is not clear.” (2)
(1) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary [2 Thessalonians 1:2]
(2) Excerpted with permission from The Fire next Time © 1987 by Ray Stedman Ministries. All rights reserved. Visit www.RayStedman.org for the complete library of Ray Stedman material. Please direct any questions to webmaster@RayStedman.org
“… the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, 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” (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4).
The patience and faith displayed by the members of the Thessalonian church offered an excellent example for other churches to follow. Paul the Apostle also noted this positive quality in his previous letter to the Thessalonians…
“…you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:7-9 ESV).
The fact that Paul began these letters by focusing upon these positive qualities is something that warrants our attention. In fact, this approach offers a valuable example that we can use in our relationships with others, especially in those instances where we must issue a reprimand (as Paul will impart later in this epistle). As one commentator observes, “…(Paul) once more expresses gratitude for what God is already doing, thus putting the emphasis where it belongs, rather than focussing immediately on areas that need correction or improvement. May his tribe increase!” (1)
As mentioned earlier, two of those positive qualities appear in verse four: “…your patience and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions that you are enduring” (Mounce). The first characteristic (patience) is marked by “steadfastness, constancy, (and) endurance… in the NT the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.” (2)
The second characteristic (faith) involves a sincere trust and belief in God that is reflected by a commitment to His will for our lives. Such faith is not the type of “faith” that has no basis in reality (also known as “blind faith”). Instead, Jesus’ resurrection establishes a historical foundation for our faith for He verified His claims and teachings by rising from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
These elements -patience and faith- enabled the young Thessalonian church to endure the persecutions and afflictions they suffered as a result of their relationship with Christ. We’ll look at some additional examples of patience and faith from the Scriptures next.
(1) Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, 1:5-10 Judgment And Salvation Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (p.251)
(2) G5281 hupomone https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g5281
“…because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 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. (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 ESV).
This passage mentions the persecutions and afflictions the Thessalonians endured as an outgrowth of their relationship with Christ. Some of those afflictions likely involved social rejection. Other members of the church may have been beaten and/or killed for what they believed. We’ll discuss the larger issue of suffering in our next study but for now, one source reminds us that “Suffering is normal for believers in a fallen world (cf. Matt. 5:10-12; Acts 14:22; Rom. 8:17-18; 1 Thess. 2:14; 3:3; James 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 4:12-16). It often is the very means of our spiritual growth (cf. Heb. 5:8).” (1)
Perhaps it would be helpful to consider the lives of some important Biblical personalities to gain some insight into this topic. For instance…
Joseph: Was thrown into a cistern and left for dead (Genesis 37:12-36). Later he was put into prison for a crime he didn’t commit (Genesis 39) and forgotten for over two years (Genesis 40, Genesis 41:1).
Job: Suffered the loss of his finances, family, personal possessions, and physical health for no discernible reason.
Isaiah: Tradition holds that Isaiah was sawn in two for his dedication to God and His Word.
John the Baptist: Was beheaded for telling the king that it was wrong to be involved in a marital relationship with his sister-in-law (Mark 6:17-29).
Peter: Is said to have been crucified upside down during the persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Nero.
Stephen: Was stoned to death for preaching about Jesus (Acts 7:55-58).
Paul: Was shipwrecked, whipped, thrown into prison multiple times, then beheaded according to church tradition.
Each of these individuals were dedicated men of God yet they suffered for doing what was right from God’s perspective. Of course, we find the ultimate example of unwarranted suffering in Jesus Himself. Many who heard Jesus speak during His earthly ministry might have responded to His crucifixion with the following questions: “Why is God allowing this man to suffer? What possible reason could God have for permitting his crucifixion?”
The difference is one of perspective, for we have a better understanding of the reasons behind Jesus’ crucifixion from our 21st century vantage point- and therein lies an important message. We’ll consider that message next.
(1) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 1:4 Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL07/VOL07C_01.html
“We have a sense of personal obligation to be constantly thanking God at all times concerning you, brethren, even as it is fitting and proper, because your faith is growing wonderfully and the divine and self-sacrificial love of each one of you all for one another exists in great abundance, so that we ourselves take pride in and boast about you in the assemblies of God concerning your fortitude and faith in all of your persecutions and tribulations which you are enduring” (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 Wuest).
We are often confronted with a difficult question when facing the pain and affliction that exists within our world: “If God is good, then why does suffering exist?” Since many instances of suffering seem to be devoid of meaning or purpose, we may be challenged to make sense of painful events that seem to make little sense.
While it is impossible to address the individual cause of suffering in every instance, we can say that valid reasons for suffering always exist, even if we don’t fully comprehend them. With this in mind, we can make some general observations from the Scriptures that can help us understand why God may allow suffering to enter our lives.
First, God may permit suffering in order to strengthen us (2 Corinthians 12:10) or increase our trust in Him (Psalm 50:14-15). God may also use suffering to help us develop patience (Romans 5:3-5) and endurance (Hebrews 10:35-38). He might also use such things to serve as an example to others and demonstrate the proper way to handle trials and difficulties (2 Thessalonians 1:4 above).
The tribulations we experience can help us learn to follow God more closely (Hebrews 5:7-8). While suffering is undeniably painful, it also helps maintain humility (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) and establishes a common ground for ministering to others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Finally, suffering can lead us into a greater appreciation for Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf (see Philippians 3:10).
Finally, we should remember that suffering is an element that accompanies life in a sinful, fallen world. Nevertheless, we can rest in the assurance that there is a God who has our best interests in mind in the midst of our suffering even if we don’t understand why things happen the way they do. One source closes our look at this topic with a challenging but necessary perspective…
“Believers must remember that problems and suffering are not necessarily a sign of God’s anger or rejection. Bad things happen to faithful followers in a fallen world (cf. 1 Pet. 4:12-19). God’s promises and Christ’s self-giving death are the signs of God’s love (cf. Rom. 5:8). Scripture must take precedence over temporary circumstances!” (1)
(1) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary. Special Topic: Why Do Christians Suffer? Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/special_topics/why_do_christians_suffer.html
“…we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer” (2 Thessalonians 1:4-5).
The Living Bible offers a helpful paraphrase of 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5 by rendering these verses in the following manner: “This is only one example of the fair, just way God does things, for he is using your sufferings to make you ready for his Kingdom, while at the same time he is preparing judgment and punishment for those who are hurting you.” That brings us to the first issue addressed within this epistle…
“As noted, Paul’s first thanksgiving in this letter evolves into the first of the three major concerns of the letter – to encourage the Thessalonian believers in the face of increased ‘persecutions and trials’ (1:4)… The other two are found in 2:1-12 (an apparently misguided prophetic word that the day of the Lord is already at hand) and 3:6-15 (the continuing problem of the disruptive-idle).” (1)
So this passage reminds us that God uses trials and persecutions to make us fit to be “…counted worthy of the kingdom of God.” It’s not that persecution makes us right before God for that is accomplished through faith in Christ. However, the act of patient endurance in the midst of persecution helps reveal the existence of genuine faith.
From the opposite perspective, those who inflict such persecution may feel as if they will never be called to account for their activities. But as the following verses and Romans 2:6 go on to remind us, God “…will give to each person according to what he has done.”
The fact that wrongdoing sometimes goes unpunished points to a future period when God, as a righteous judge, will correct such injustices. While it is often challenging to maintain this long-term perspective in light of our current tribulations, another commentator reminds us that we are not alone in seeking to make sense of such things…
“David (Psa_73:1-14) and Jeremiah (Jer_12:1-4) were perplexed at the wicked prospering and the godly suffering. But Paul, by the light of the New Testament, makes this fact a matter of consolation. It is a proof (so the Greek) of the future judgment, which will set to rights the anomalies of the present state, by rewarding the now suffering saint, and by punishing the persecutor.” (2)
(1) Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, 1:5-10 Judgment And Salvation Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (p.252)
(2) Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. “Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 1:5”. “Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible“. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/2-thessalonians-1.html
“This is evidence of God’s righteous judgment, to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which in fact you are suffering” (2 Thessalonians 1:5 NET).
Although it is often difficult to understand how the righteous can suffer at the hands of the unrighteous, the New Testament book of 1 Peter helps provide us with an answer: “…judgment must begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17 GNV). These seemingly unrelated verses from 1 Thessalonians and 1 Peter may have more in common that it appears.
You see, we commonly view “judgment” as a corrective measure. In other words, a person who is accused of violating the law is subject to judgment for his or her alleged violation. However, we should not overlook the fact that many are also found “not guilty” when placed under judicial review. In fact, a righteous judge must find a defendant not guilty if the evidence supports that verdict.
In light of this, we can say that judgment began at the house of God in Thessalonica in regard to the sufferings that had been inflicted upon them. The Christian community’s response to that persecution offered demonstrable evidence of their underlying faith and righteousness. It also demonstrated their blamelessness as they patiently endured the unwarranted persecutions that had been inflicted against them. In view of that evidence, God (as the ultimate Judge) held sufficient cause to render a “not guilty” verdict in the case of the Thessalonian church.
Therefore, these trials and persecutions served a dual purpose. In a positive sense, they produced a purifying effect upon the church at Thessalonica and demonstrated evidence of their faith. From a negative perspective, they provided a means of illustrating God’s righteousness in judging their persecutors.
In a similar manner, God’s people serve as mirrors in the face of such persecution today. No matter what form they take, our response to the trials and persecutions of life reflect who and what we truly are as well as God’s just response in dealing with those who persecute His people. One source summarizes this concept with a valuable insight…
“Endurance in trials does not make one worthy of heaven; one does not earn heaven by suffering. But endurance in trials does demonstrate one’s worthiness. A Christian is made worthy by God’s grace, which he receives as a free gift by faith in Jesus Christ. His trials simply expose what is there already and since the character that emerges through the fire of testing is God-given, God receives all the glory.” (1)
(1) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary [2 Thessalonians 1:5]
“This is clear evidence that God’s judgment is just; and as a result, you will be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God for which you are suffering” (2 Thessalonians 1:5 CJB).
The “Kingdom of God” (sometimes expressed as the “Kingdom of Heaven”) is a recurring theme throughout the Biblical Scriptures. Much like an earthly kingdom, the “Kingdom of God” features a King and citizens who are subject to Him. But unlike an earthly kingdom, the Kingdom of God is not limited to a geographic location or specific point in history.
For instance, the Kingdom of God exists in places where people respond to God through faith in Christ and demonstrate the characteristics of His leadership. Jesus identified these characteristic qualities of God’s kingdom in response to a question from the religious leaders of His day…
“Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).
In a larger sense, the Kingdom of God will be completely fulfilled at a future time when God will reign in complete righteousness (see 1 Corinthians 15:22-28). However, Jesus also acknowledged that His kingdom was not of this present world (John 18:36). Therefore, it should not come as a surprise when those who seek to follow Him are persecuted for doing so now.
Despite this unfortunate reality, Jesus reminded us that such persecutions hold great value in respect to the Kingdom of God…
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
The Thessalonian church’s response to this type of persecution has led one commentator to identify several applications…
“Having a right attitude toward suffering is essential, and that required attitude is concern for the kingdom of God. They were not self-centered, but concentrated on God’s kingdom. Their focus was not on personal comfort, fulfillment, and happiness, but on the glory of God and the fulfillment of His purposes. They were not moaning about the injustice of their persecutions. Rather, they were patiently enduring the sufferings they did not deserve (v. 4).” (1)
(1) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (2 Th 1:5). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
“since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you” (2 Thessalonians 1:6).
In the course of one of their missionary journeys, Paul the Apostle and a fellow minister named Barnabas offered a cautionary message to the members of a local church community: “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
In considering this verse, it’s important to remember that God and His people each assume different responsibilities in responding to the adversities He permits to enter our lives. The following passage from the Biblical book of Romans outlines each of these responsibilities, primarily from a human perspective…
“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-21).
This directive to “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (NLT) may sometimes require us to overlook insults, slights, or personal losses for Jesus’ sake. Although we may derive a measure of satisfaction from retaliating against someone who has injured us, that choice often does little or nothing to change the internal mindset of the person who is responsible for that injury. It might also lead to an ongoing cycle of retaliation where each side seeks to inflict greater forms of punishment upon the other. Those who travel that path are certain to end in a bad place.
That brings us to God’s responsibility as detailed here in 2 Thessalonians 1:6: “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you” (NIV). One source summarizes that response with the following insight…
“The righteous action of God is seen in two ways—punishment for the persecutors and then rest for the persecuted. Williams says: God’s action in allowing His people to be persecuted, and in permitting the existence of their persecutors, had a double purpose—first, to test the fitness of His people for government (v. 5); and second, to manifest the fitness of their persecutors for judgment.” (1)
If we are armed with the knowledge that God will ultimately vindicate us, then we need not seek to avenge ourselves when others inflict injury upon us.
(1) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary 2 Thessalonians 1:6, pg.2049
“and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 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” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8).
We may acknowledge that God will vindicate us in response to the persecutions we experience. However, a more troublesome question may be “when?” As days turn into weeks, months, or years with seemingly little change, we may be tempted to lose hope that God will ultimately exonerate us. As it turns out, an Old Testament psalmist was intimately familiar with that very sentiment…
“How long must I wait before you punish those who persecute me? These proud men who hate your truth and laws have dug deep pits for me to fall in. Their lies have brought me into deep trouble. Help me, for you love only truth. They had almost finished me off, yet I refused to yield and disobey your laws. In your kindness, spare my life; then I can continue to obey you” (Psalms 119:84-88 TLB).
Another psalmist voiced a similar lament but was ultimately jolted into an important change of perspective that we would do well to remember…
“…I was envious of the prosperity of the proud and wicked. Yes, all through life their road is smooth! They grow sleek and fat. They aren’t always in trouble and plagued with problems like everyone else… And so God’s people are dismayed and confused and drink it all in. ‘Does God realize what is going on?’ they ask. ‘Look at these men of arrogance; they never have to lift a finger—theirs is a life of ease; and all the time their riches multiply.’
Have I been wasting my time? Why take the trouble to be pure? All I get out of it is trouble and woe—every day and all day long! If I had really said that, I would have been a traitor to your people. Yet it is so hard to explain it—this prosperity of those who hate the Lord.
Then one day I went into God’s sanctuary to meditate and thought about the future of these evil men. What a slippery path they are on—suddenly God will send them sliding over the edge of the cliff and down to their destruction: an instant end to all their happiness, an eternity of terror. Their present life is only a dream! They will awaken to the truth as one awakens from a dream of things that never really were!
When I saw this, what turmoil filled my heart! I saw myself so stupid and so ignorant; I must seem like an animal to you, O God. But even so, you love me! You are holding my right hand! You will keep on guiding me all my life with your wisdom and counsel, and afterwards receive me into the glories of heaven!” (Psalms 73:3-5, 10-24 TLB).
“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” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 ESV).
A skillful journalist, researcher, or law enforcement officer knows that some of the most important elements of a good investigation involve the following one-word questions: who, what, when, why, and how. We can apply these investigative tools to the passage quoted above as we seek to understand and apply these verses.
The “who” part of this equation comes first: “…the Lord Jesus.” The next question (“what”) is answered in 2 Thessalonians 1:7: “…he will give relief to you who suffer and to us as well” (GNB). As we struggle with the painful events of life, we can find encouragement in the assurance that God will eventually grant us relief from such things. That leads to our third one-word inquiry: “when?”
This question is addressed in 2 Thessalonians 1:7 as well: “This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire…” (NIV). This tells us that those who endure patiently through the trials of life can have the satisfaction of knowing that they will receive clear and definitive vindication through Christ.
The “why” question is discussed next: “With flaming fire he will mete out punishment on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 NET). This refers to the administration of justice upon those who have acted wrongfully.
The following verse addresses the “how” portion of this inquiry: “They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from His glorious power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). We’ll examine this passage in greater detail in a future study, but for now, we can say that God will punish those who have chosen to disobey Him. That penalty involves everlasting destruction and separation from His presence.
Finally, it’s interesting to note that a host of angelic beings will accompany Jesus when the answers to these questions are fully resolved. One source draws an intriguing parallel between the angels who appeared at the time of Jesus’ birth in the town of Bethlehem and those who will accompany His return…
“The angels accompanying Christ at His first coming testified of peace and good will (Luke 2:13-14). At His second coming, they bring vengeance and flaming fire.” (1)
(1) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes 2 Thessalonians 1:9 https://www.icr.org/bible/2Th/1/7
“And God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted and also for us when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven. He will come with His mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 NLT).
Flaming fire is a common element that often signifies God’s presence within the Scriptures. For instance, the Biblical book of Exodus tells us that God descended upon Mount Sinai with fire when He appeared to the Israelites in the Old Testament era (Exodus 19:18). God also appeared to Moses in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush (Exodus 3:2) and led His people through the wilderness of Sinai with a pillar of fire as well (Exodus 13:21). Finally, fire is associated with the presence of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:1-4.
In the context of 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8, the presence of flaming fire is linked to the idea of judgment and retribution against those who have refused to acknowledge God. As one scholar explains, this imagery also appears within the book of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah…
“(Blazing fire) itself is an echo of Isaiah 66: 15, while the end of the clause includes language from Isaiah 66:4. The significance of this intertextual echoing of Isaiah is best seen by a display of the three texts (where common language is underlined):
Paul: of the Lord Jesus … in flaming fire, giving punishment to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Isa 66:15: The Lord as fire will come, and as a storm his chariots, to recompense with wrath, punishment and repudiation in flaming fire.
Isa 66:4: Says the Lord [v. 2], … I will repay them because I called them and they did not obey me.” (1)
Of course, many are understandably uncomfortable with the idea that God would exact vengeance (ESV, RV) or revenge (GW, ISV) upon those who do not know Him. For some, it is difficult to understand why a just God would take revenge upon someone for his or her lack of knowledge. For others, the concept of vengeance suggests a kind of vigilantism associated with those who arbitrarily punish others.
Thankfully, this passage does not involve our modern-day concept of vindictiveness. Instead, it expresses the idea of dispensing justice in a lawful manner in response to a wrong that has occurred. We’ll see how this applies to “…those who do not know God” (NIV) next.
(1) Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, 1:5-10 Judgment And Salvation Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (p.256-257)
“and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 NIV).
It may be easy to read this passage and come away with the idea that God is malevolent and vindictive in punishing human beings for their lack of knowledge regarding Him. However, this objection overlooks the fact that Christians and non-Christians alike must both explain how and why our world (and the universe by extension) came to exist. Our response to that question will impact our response to the passage quoted above.
While many seem to accept “god” as a higher intelligence, supernatural being, or creator, that belief often has little or no real influence in their lives. We can attribute this to our human tendency to redefine the concept of god according to our preferences.
For instance, let’s take the Biblical idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing, just, and holy God who created and loves human beings but holds them accountable for their choices. That kind of God is intolerable for anyone who prefers to live life on his or her own terms. Therefore, it becomes necessary to substitute the God of the Scriptures for a different god, one that aligns more closely with his or her preferences. In fact, Paul the Apostle spent a large portion of the opening chapters of the Biblical book of Romans discussing that very subject.
Herein lies the problem: that type of “god” is nothing more than a human construct that may have little (if any) relation to the God who exists in reality. Those who choose that path ultimately arrive at the destination given to us in the New Testament epistle of Titus: “They profess to know God [to recognize, perceive, and be acquainted with Him], but deny and disown and renounce Him by what they do” (Titus 1:16 AMPC). In the final analysis, those who take this approach often exhibit little difference between their god and themselves.
In light of this, we can say that this passage involves more than a simple lack of knowledge; it relates to a volitional rejection of God in favor of something else. It encompasses those who could become acquainted with the one true God if they were so inclined but choose to pursue other priorities instead. That corresponding lack of knowledge, based on voluntary negligence and a disinclination to know God is what invites His judgment.
“These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
In order to gain a proper understanding of this passage, it is important to first define our terms. For instance, some might associate the term eternal (ASV) or everlasting destruction with the permanent cessation of conscious existence. However, a closer look at the original language of this verse reveals something different.
The word translated “destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 involves a continual or perpetual state of ruin. (1) One scholar expands on this concept with the following explanation: “The term ‘destruction’ (olethros) is also found in 1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Thess. 5:3; 1 Tim. 6:9. It means ‘the loss of all that gives worth to existence’ (Moulton, Milligan , p. 445), but not annihilation (exolethreuo, LXX of Deut. 18:19).” (2)
Another commentator offers the following insight…
“Paul explained the duration and extent of what is elsewhere in Scripture called ‘hell.’ First, it is forever, thus it is not a reversible experience. Second, destruction means ruin and does not involve annihilation, but rather a new state of conscious being which is significantly worse than the first (cf. Rev 20:14, 15). This is described as the absence of God’s presence and glory (cf. Mt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; Lk 16:24–26).” (3)
Therefore we can associate “everlasting destruction“ with the concept of hell, or the place of eternal separation from God. It is destructive in the sense that it represents a perpetual state of isolation from the God who created us as well as anything that gives worth to our existence. This destination is so horrific that it prompted Jesus to offer the following warning…
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands” (Mark 9:43 NLT).
The meaning behind this passage is clear: this state of eternal separation from God is so exceedingly bad that it would be better for someone to lose one of his or her hands if that’s what it would take to avoid going there. We’ll close this portion of our study with one element of hell that makes it the ruinous place it is…
“The very essence of eternal hell is that it involves everlasting separation from God and all manifestation of His glorious power… To be forever separated from all that God is—love, power, righteousness, beauty, intelligence, etc.—is essentially what men who reject Him have chosen, and this is what hell will be like.” (4)
(1) G3639 olethros https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g3639
(2) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 1:4 Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL07/VOL07C_01.html
(3) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (2 Th 1:9). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
(4) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes 2 Thessalonians 1:9 https://www.icr.org/bible/2Th/1/9
“These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction from the Lord’s presence and from His glorious strength” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 HCSB).
Our next three studies will feature two commentators who address the difficult topic of hell and the eternal consciousness of those who pass from this life without Christ…
“…(T)here are several lines of evidence that support the everlasting consciousness of the lost.
First, the rich man who died and went to hell was in conscious torment (Luke 16:22–28), and there is absolutely no indication in the text that it was ever going to cease.
Second, Jesus spoke repeatedly of the people in hell as ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30), which indicates they were conscious.
Third, hell is said to be of the same duration as heaven, namely, ‘everlasting’ (Matt. 25:41).
Fourth, the fact that their punishment is everlasting indicates that they too must be everlasting. One cannot suffer punishment, unless a person exists to be punished (2 Thes. 1:9).
Fifth, the beast and the false prophet were thrown ‘alive’ into the lake of fire at the beginning of the 1,000 years (Rev. 19:20), and they were still there, conscious and alive, after the 1,000 years (Rev. 20:10).
Sixth, the Scriptures affirm that the devil, the beast, and the false prophet ‘will be tormented day and night forever and ever’ (Rev. 20:10). But there is no way to experience torment forever and ever without being conscious for ever and ever.
Seventh, Jesus repeatedly referred to hell as a place where ‘the fire is not quenched’ (Mark 9:48), where the very bodies of the wicked will never die (cf. Luke 12:4–5). But it would make no sense to have everlasting flames and bodies without any souls in them to experience the torment.
Eighth, the same word used to describe the wicked perishing in the OT (abad) is used to describe the righteous perishing (see Isa. 57:1; Micah 7:2). The same word is used to describe things that are merely lost, but then later found (Deut. 22:3), which proves that ‘lost’ does not here mean go out of existence. So, if perish means to annihilate, then the saved would have to be annihilated too. But we know they are not.
Ninth, it would be contrary to the created nature of human beings to annihilate them, since they are made in God’s image and likeness, which is everlasting (Gen. 1:27). For God to annihilate His image in man would be to attack the reflection of Himself.
Tenth, annihilation would be demeaning both to the love of God and to the nature of human beings as free moral creatures. It would be as if God said to them, ‘I will allow you to be free only if you do what I say! If you don’t, then I will snuff out your very freedom and existence!’ …Eternal suffering is an eternal testimony to the freedom and dignity of humans, even unrepentant humans.” (1)
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (pp. 493–494). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
“They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 HCSB).
We’ll continue our look at this passage with some observations from the following commentator…
“For many people, the idea our finite, temporal choices here should merit an eternal punishment of infinite torment in Hell seems rather inequitable. The punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime. In fact, the punishment seems extraordinarily excessive. Why would God torture eternally those who have sinned temporally? Why would God torture infinitely those who have only sinned finitely?
… Part of the problem is the way we are using language here. The Bible says those who are delivered into Hell will be tormented, and the degree to which they suffer is described in illustrative language. The torment is compared to an unquenchable fire. But the scripture never describes Hell as a place where God or His angels are actively torturing the souls of the rebellious.
It is accurate to describe Hell as a place of separation from God where souls will be in ongoing conscious torment, but Hell is never described as a place of active torture at the hands of God or His agents. Instead, Hell is always described as a state of torment coming as the result of a choice on the part of the person who finds himself there. There is a difference between torture and torment. I can be continually tormented over a decision I made in the past, without being actively tortured by anyone…
The torment experienced in Hell is eternal, and for some, this still seems inequitable compared to the finite and limited sins that we might commit here on earth. So let’s address the issue of the duration of the punishment. First, it’s important for us to remember the severity of a crime does not always have anything to do with the amount of time it takes to commit it.
If I embezzle five dollars a day from my boss over the course of five years, I might eventually get caught and pay the penalty… But if I become enraged at a coworker and in the blink of an eye I lose my temper and kill him, the crime is now murder… This crime took much less than five years to commit. It only took five seconds. Yet the penalty for this crime is far greater…
The penalties for these two crimes are very different, and they have nothing to do with the duration of the actual criminal act. Instead, the severity of the crime is the key to determining its punishment. It’s the same way with God. The duration of the crime has little to do with the duration of the penalty. It’s all about the severity of the crime.” (1)
(1) Excerpted from J. Warner Wallace, Can The Existence and Nature of Hell Be Defended? (Free Bible Insert), Retrieved 5 June 2020 from https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/can-the-existence-and-nature-of-hell-be-defended-free-bible-insert/
“They will undergo the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 NET).
We’ll close our overview of 2 Thessalonians 1:9 with some final commentary from the following author…
“…(I)t’s important to remember the punishment for any crime is not determined by the criminal, but by the authority who is responsible for upholding the standard. Justice is not determined by the law breaker, but by the law giver. Justice and punishment are established based on the nature of the source of the law, not the nature of the source of the offense. Since God is the source of justice and the law, His nature determines the punishment. Since God is eternal and conscious, all rewards and punishments must also be eternal and conscious…
A Loving God simply allows us to suffer the anguish and torment resulting as a consequence of our bad choices. There is a difference between self-inflicted torment and active torture at the hands of another. The duration of the crime has nothing to do with the duration of the punishment (even in this life). The source of the law determines the degree of the punishment, and God is a perfect eternal, conscious being. Don’t be surprised to find we often underestimate the eternal consequence of our own sinful and ultimate choice to reject God.” (1)
“…The God of the Bible is described as loving, gracious and merciful (this can be seen in many places, including 1 John 4:8-9, Exodus 33:19, 1 Peter 2:1-3, Exodus 34:6 and James 5:11). The Bible also describes God as holy and just, hating sin and punishing sinners (as seen in Psalm 77:13, Nehemiah 9:33, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7, Psalms 5:5-6, and Matthew 25:45-46). It’s this apparent paradox reveals something about the nature of love and the necessity of Hell.
…When a judge pardons an unrepentant rapist without warrant, we don’t typically see this as an act of love, particularly when we consider the rights of the victim (and the safety of potential future victims). Mercy without justice is reckless, meaningless and dangerous. True love cares enough to punish wrongdoing. For this reason, a God of love must also be a God of justice, recognizing, separating and punishing wrongdoers. Hell is the place where God’s loving justice is realized and executed.
…The paradox of God’s love and justice necessitates the existence of Hell. God’s love does not compel Him to eliminate the necessary punishment and consequence for sin, but instead compels Him to offer us a way to avoid this consequence altogether. By offering forgiveness through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (who took our punishment), God demonstrated His love for us. It cannot be said that a loving God would never create a place like Hell if that same God has provided us with a way to avoid it.” (2)
(1) Excerpted from J. Warner Wallace, Can The Existence and Nature of Hell Be Defended? (Free Bible Insert), Retrieved 5 June 2020 from https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/can-the-existence-and-nature-of-hell-be-defended-free-bible-insert/
(2) Excerpted from J. Warner Wallace, Why Would A Loving God Create A Place Like Hell?, Retrieved 5 June 2020 from https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-would-a-loving-god-create-a-place-like-hell/
“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
The “punishment of eternal destruction” referenced here in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is associated with the Biblical concept of hell. In the original language of the New Testament, “hell” is translated from the word Gehenna, the Greek form of a Hebrew word that means “the valley of Hinnom.” In Israel, the Hinnom Valley served as the place where the ancient Israelites once sacrificed their infant children to a pagan deity named Molech.
Molech was the pagan god of the Ammonites, a people group who co-existed along with the nation of Israel during the Old Testament period. Molech was represented as a hollow brass statue with a calf’s head and outstretched arms. A person who sought to bring a sacrifice to Molech would begin by loading the brass statue with hot coals. He or she would then place an infant child on the outstretched arms of the statue where the child would be seared to death. (1) This horrific practice continued until Israel’s King Josiah tore these altars down around 620 BCE. (2)
In the New Testament era, the Hinnom Valley served as something of a centralized garbage dump for the city of Jerusalem. All the waste and refuse generated by the city eventually found its way there. The Valley of Hinnom was the place of disposal for dead animals and the bodies of executed criminals. It also accommodated the human refuse generated by the residents of the city. In order to consume this tremendous amount of daily waste, fires burned continuously within the valley.
These elements made the Hinnom Valley suitable for use as an illustration to describe the concept of hell. In addition, “hell” is also described within the Scriptures as a lake of fire (Revelation 20:10), as well as a place of outer darkness (Matthew 25:30), weeping (Matthew 8:12), and torment (Revelation 14:11).
In remarking on these horrific images, one source offers a disturbing analysis: “If men object to the concept of hell fire, they must realize that, if these fires are not to be taken literally, it is because the reality which they represent is so terrible that it can only be visualized as everlasting fire, where ‘the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever’ (Revelation 14:11).” (3)
With these things in mind, it becomes easier to understand why 2 Thessalonians 1:9 uses the term eternal destruction to describe such a fate.
(2) See 2 Kings 23:10
(3) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes James 3:6
“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” (2 Thessalonians 1:10).
In a world that seems to offer very little of lasting value or substance, we might be tempted to echo the lament found within the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes: “‘Everything is meaningless,’ says the Teacher, ‘completely meaningless!’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2 NLT). Is it possible to find anything of genuine worth in a world where so many things seem temporal and insignificant? The answer to that question is a resounding “yes” in Christ.
You see, the passage quoted above tells us that Jesus will be “…glorified in His saints.” In the original language of the Old Testament, the word “glory” is translated from the Hebrew phrase kabad. This word communicated the idea of heaviness, weight, and/or substance when used in this context. (1) In the New Testament, “glory” is represented by the word doxa and refers to a good opinion that results in praise and honor for the person under consideration. (2) A modern definition of this word includes “very great praise, honor, or distinction bestowed by common consent; renown.” (3)
How do these definitions apply to Christ? Well, consider the following statement from Jesus to the religious authorities of His day: “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). Jesus’ use of the term “I AM” in this passage is a direct, unmistakable, and intentional claim to deity for it established a direct link to the Old Testament book of Exodus where God applied this very same title to Himself (see Exodus 3:14).
If we reflect upon this statement and consider the extraordinary circumstances of Jesus’ birth, His sinless life, the miraculous works He performed, and His resurrection from the dead, it becomes clear that Jesus is more than just a good moral teacher; He is God. Thus, Jesus is worthy of glory, for there is no Being of greater worth or substance than God.
Furthermore, Colossians 2:3 refers to “(Christ), in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” In light of these things, we can say that every human desire for meaning, purpose, wisdom, knowledge, relevance, satisfaction, and fulfillment finds its ultimate consummation in Christ. This also explains why the Scriptures associate Jesus with other substantive elements like a rock (1 Corinthians 10:4), a foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11), and an “…anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19-20).
However, there are numerous other aspects of Jesus’ character that make Him worthy of glory and we’ll explore some of those aspects next.
(1) H3513 – kabad https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H3513
(3) “Glory” Dictionary.com, Retrieved 1 June 2020 from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/glory
“When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day” (2 Thessalonians 1:10 KJV)
Why should Jesus be glorified and admired? Well, the Scriptures provide us with a variety of reasons…
Jesus is compassionate: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
Jesus is selfless: “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Jesus expressed forgiveness for those who were complicit in His death: “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do’” (Luke 23:34).
Jesus did not seek to promote Himself: “Holding her hand, he said to her, ‘Talitha koum,’ which means ‘Little girl, get up!’ And the girl, who was twelve years old, immediately stood up and walked around! They were overwhelmed and totally amazed. Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone what had happened, and then he told them to give her something to eat” (Mark 5:41-43 NLT).
Jesus is opposed to hypocrisy: “Be careful not to do your good works in public in order to attract attention. If you do, your Father in heaven will not reward you. So when you give to the poor, don’t announce it with trumpet fanfare. This is what hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets in order to be praised by people. I can guarantee this truth: That will be their only reward. When you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your contributions privately. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4 GW).
Jesus is self-sacrificial: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Jesus associates with those who are rejected by others: “Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them’” (Luke 15:1).
Jesus helps those who have nothing to offer Him: “When Jesus was in one of the towns, there was a man covered with a skin disease. When he saw Jesus, he bowed before him and begged him, ‘Lord, you can heal me if you will.’ Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man and said, ‘I will. Be healed!’ Immediately the disease disappeared” (Luke 5:12-13 NCV).
Jesus’ love is enduring: “…Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1).
“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, 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” (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).
2 Thessalonians chapter one ends with the first of Paul the Apostle’s prayers for the church at Thessalonica. This prayer features several characteristics that we can emulate as we pray for ourselves and others.
Paul began by reminding the Thessalonians, “We are constantly praying for you…” (CEB). In addition to Paul’s diligence in praying for the Thessalonian Christians, the content of those prayers included something important: a request that God would enable them to act in a manner that was consistent with what they professed to believe. Since it is impossible to live a God-honoring life based on our own limited resources, Paul interceded on behalf of the church at Thessalonica for God’s empowerment to help them “…do the good things you want and perform the works that come from your faith” (NCV).
The Scriptures often use the concept of “fruitfulness” to reflect this general idea. Just as we can identify a tree by the type of fruit it produces, we can often identify the presence of Christ in someone’s life by examining the “fruit” (or the identifying characteristics) that his or her life produces. In general, a God-honoring person will demonstrate God-honoring qualities (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). In other words, a Godly person will bear fruit that is consistent with his or her profession of faith in Christ.
We can help ensure that our lives produce the right kind of fruit by paying heed to the following message from Jesus to His disciples…
“…No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing… If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:4-5, 7-8 NIV).
It is in this manner that “…the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him” (NLT).