New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary


1:1 Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ- As the three of them were still together, we can assume that the second letter was written soon after the first. The emphasis upon "God" rather than the Lord Jesus continues, appropriate to the way they had converted to the one true God after being pagans (1 Thess. 1:9).

1:2 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ- There was real meaning and intention behind these greetings and farewells. Grace, charis, often refers to the gift of the Spirit, and peace, Biblically, refers to peace with God through forgiveness. And Paul believed that by his prayers and wish, these things could be true for the readership.

1:3 Brothers, we are obligated to thank God always for you, as is appropriate, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other- As in 1 Thess. 1:2,3, Paul talked to God about the Thessalonians, thanking God for their spirituality. We need to have this feature in our prayer life too. And yet in chapter 3 it is clear that all was not well with the community; those sponging off others were hardly abounding in their love toward the others. But Paul's positivism, and faith in their status in Christ and His grace, was such that he genuinely held this view of them. See on 1 Thess. 4:4.

1:4 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- We recall Paul's boasting of the Corinthians' promised generosity to his Jerusalem Poor Fund. Despite all the betrayals and disappointments of his life, Paul's positivism about his converts- to God, to them and to others- is a real inspiration. The opposition to Paul during his brief visit had obviously continued, but those converts- who had had only three weeks of Paul's time and probably only a few real contact hours with him- were still enduring. This is the abiding power of true ideas, of the Gospel, and of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to those who believe it.

1:5 These are proof that God’s judgment is righteous, and you are enduring them to the end you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer- That "we must through much tribulation enter the Kingdom" was Paul's standard teaching (Acts 14:22). We are only accounted worthy of the Kingdom by the grace of God's plan of imputing righteousness to us. And yet because He counts us worthy, He works in our lives to make us in reality what we are by the status He has granted us. Romans 8 caps the previous teaching about imputed righteousness by teaching about the work of the Spirit in our hearts and the purpose of suffering- because these are the means by which we are brought in practice to that status of rightness with God which has been counted to us. And in 1:11 Paul uses the same word in praying that God would count them worthy of the calling he has given them; and this again is the language of Romans 8, where the predestined calling of God is cited as the great example of salvation by grace. This prayer for them to be 'counted worthy' as therefore uttered in full awareness that the process would require suffering on their part, which they had to endure. When we pray for another to be saved, to be in God's Kingdom, we are in fact praying that they shall pass through and endure "much tribulation". This is why our response to suffering now is a foretaste of judgment. See on 1 Pet. 3:16.

1:6 It is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who afflict you- The emphasis is that God and not us will repay evil with evil. Paul had had to teach them that before; see on 1 Thess. 5:15. God's repayment of evil is just / righteous; whereas any human attempt to do so is unjust, because we fail to understand the complete picture which we are attempting to judge; and we too are sinners, in essence having committed whatever we would seek to condemn others for having done. "Afflict" is literally 'to narrow', and the same word is used of how only the narrow way shall lead to eternal life (Mt. 7:14). The persecution they endured was a narrowing of their way- that they might enter the Kingdom.

1:7- see on Mt. 24:28.

And to give relief to those who are afflicted (and to us too), when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire- Paul saw the day of judgment as an "assurance", a comfort, a relief longed for, rather than an inevitable and dreaded event on the horizon of our existence (2 Thess. 1:6-10; Acts 17:31).  Job and David speak of it likewise. Paul envisaged the persecution of the Thessalonians as continuing right up until the moment the Lord Jesus returned from Heaven. He believed that the latter day tribulation had begun, at the hands of the Jews and Romans who were doing the persecuting; although he believed that the antichrist had still to be revealed (chapter 2) and so the time of tribulation would continue for some time yet. And so often, Paul argues as if he and his readership were living in the last generation before the Lord would return; see on 2 Cor. 5:4. This is not to say he got it all wrong. The Lord's coming was indeed scheduled for some time in the first century, as the Olivet prophecy makes clear. But Bible prophecy is mostly conditional; preconditions must be met. And they weren't; there was not the repentance of enough Jews as required, the Gospel was not taken to the Gentiles as it should have been, the church was not spiritually fruitful enough to be harvested, and there was a falling away from the Faith. And so the Lord's return was delayed.

Note that the Lord Jesus will return to earth with His Angels, and this means that throughout eternity there will be Angels with us on the earth. This is something to take into account in our visions of the Kingdom age. It appears that they are more prominent in the setting up of the Kingdom, and that we will take over their role later on. They are the "reapers" sent forth to gather the saints, and that they will be responsible for punishing the nations (2 Thess. 1:7,8).  Initially, the Angels and the Lord Jesus will be physically together in the judgement of the world- the unrepentant worshippers of the beast "shall be tormented... in the presence of the holy Angels and in the presence of the Lamb" (Rev. 14:10). Presumably the individual beast worshippers will be brought together to one locality for this judgement- the literal location of Gehenna, where the unworthy saints will be punished? This gathering process will be by the Angels, as was that of the saints and of the nations to Armageddon (Rev. 16:16).

1:8 Rendering vengeance to them that do not acknowledge God and to them that do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus- Those persecuting the Thessalonians were the Jews who had persuaded the Roman authorities to persecute the Christians (Acts 17). These Jews are described as not acknowledging God- whereas their much vaunted belief in God would make that seem a strange thing to say. But claiming belief in God is not very significant; He must be acknowledged, and that acknowledgment is through obeying the Gospel of His Son, who is the only way to the Father. To refuse to obey Jesus as Lord is effectively atheism; for such a person has not come to the Father. It is the Lord Jesus, and not apologetics, which leads to faith in God. We come to God through faith in Jesus, rather than coming to Jesus through faith in God. Some may disagree, but this is the Biblical position; and they would need to ask whether such 'faith in God' is legitimate and actual, rather than a mere intellectual statement. Acknowledging God and obeying the Gospel is language which tends to suggest that those in view were responsible to judgment- they had head the Gospel but refused to obey it. The reference would then be to the synagogue Jews in Thessalonica who had heard Paul preaching for three Sabbath days, and rejected the message. The same Greek phrase is used about the Jews not obeying the Gospel (Rom. 10:16). Those Jews who happened to be at synagogue service those three weeks had heard the Gospel- and were therefore responsible to judgment. That might seem rather tough, seeing that in later life they may well have forgotten all about that unusual itinerant preacher who passed through and grabbed a bit of a following from amongst the Gentiles. But out of the billions who have lived on this planet never having heard the Gospel, those men were chosen to hear- and they rejected it. And so they are responsible to judgment. For them to receive the promised judgment of this passage, they will have to be resurrected and face the Lord whom they rejected.

2 Thess. 1:7-9 speaks as if the judgment of the wicked and the coming of Christ from Heaven are simultaneous. If we could break this split second into real time, there would be the process of mortal emergence from the grave, judgment involving a period of time, then the righteous being grouped at Christ's right hand side, and then they would all be immortalised together. "Come... inherit the Kingdom" is spoken to the whole group of sheep; we will be immortalised together, at the same time. If we are all judged individually in real time, this is impossible. Some would be immortalised months or years after others. This collapsing of time at the Lord's return would explain why "the resurrection" is sometimes used as a description of the whole process of resurrection, judgment and immortality (even in the OT- Ps. 1:5 LXX; 24:3).

1:9- see on Rev. 14:10.

They shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might- See on :8. The punishment is destruction; it is eternal in that it has eternal consequence. No second chance, no way to have another crack at the eternal future which they have missed. "From the presence of the Lord" envisages them appearing before His judgment seat and then going out from His presence- "these shall go away into..." destruction (Mt. 25:46). Why the reference to them having to go away from "the glory of his might"? The "might" refers to His might which is given to us by the Spirit to transform us and lead us on the journey to transformation now and final salvation at the last day. The same word is used of this might in Eph. 1:19; 6:10; 1 Pet. 4:11. Those who are rejected will have hidden their talent / gift, quenched the Spirit, grieved the Holy Spirit... and now they walk away from it all to eternal non-existence. We really must use it or lose it.

1:10 When he shall come to be glorified in his saints- We can live the Kingdom life now, in that this word is only used again in :12, where Paul wishes them to glorify the Lord now.

And to be marvelled at in all them that have believed in that day (because our testimony to you was believed)- Our amazement and incomprehension at the judgment is brought out here, using a Greek word meaning 'to marvel at in incomprehension'. This praise will also be on account of our being "presented faultless" before the judgment (Jude 24). We will feel the wonder of it all. The Gospels often record the 'marvelling' of people at the Lord Jesus. We are to do that in this life, so that we shall do so at the day of His coming too; see on :12. And all this is because Paul's preaching to them was believed; and as explained on 1 Thess. 1:1, this testimony to them likely lasted only a few hours. This is the power of ideas, of the Gospel- that what can be explained and believed in a few hours now can lead to life eternal at the last day.

1:11- see on 1 Thess. 1:3.

To which end we also pray always for you, that our God may count you worthy of your calling- See on :5. Paul had the end in view for them, which was acceptance by the Lord at the last day; so that their calling to the Kingdom would come true in practice.

And fulfil every desire of goodness and work of faith, with power- Paul assumed they had such spiritual ambition, desiring good news, and wanted to see it realized. Spiritual ambition means that we will desire to do some things which we can’t physically fulfil- and yet they will be counted to us and we will be empowered to do them. Abraham is spoken of as having offered up Isaac- his intention was counted as the act. And Prov. 19:22 RV appropriately comments: “The desire of a man is the measure of his kindness”. It is all accepted according to what a man has, not what he has not. And yet the filling ["fulfil"] with "power" speaks of the power of the Spirit to empower us to actually do the goodness which we in faith would like to achieve. It is God's "desire" that we should be saved (Eph. 1:5,9 s.w.). If this is also our desire, then we will be empowered towards it. We are strengthened with "power" (s.w.) "by his Spirit in the inner man" (Eph. 3:16), "the power (s.w.) that works within us" (Eph. 3:20). If we desire goodness and believe God will empower us, then He will, through the gift of the Spirit. And that is in view too in the next verse (see note there). We know that it is God's will for us to be spiritual and to be saved; and so in praying for things relating to that, we are praying according to His will and will be thus empowered.

1:12 To the end 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- The grace of God often refers to His charis or gift of the Spirit. The same Spirit is at work now transforming our hearts as will transform our bodies at the last day (Rom. 8:11). This is why we right now are to glorify the Lord Jesus, just as we will at His return (see on :10).