The believers in Thessalonica had faced persecution since the beginning but it was becoming more and more severe. A false teaching was circulating, supposedly written by Paul that said the day of the Lord had already come and they had missed it. Some believers even gave up and quit working. This letter is written to people whose lives have gone from bad to worse. Some of the Thessalonians had become frantic about the return of the Lord. Others had taken to living off the largesse of their fellow believers. Paul wrote to sent the record straight. As you read notice Paul’s words of encouragement to the Thessalonians, expressing his concerns for them through his prayers. Paul shared several truths with them regarding the end times and Christ’s second coming. Look also at these themes. First, Christ’s return. Some of the believers had developed an unhealthy anxiety about Christ’s return and had been duped by those who claimed this event had already happened. Paul told the believers that Christ’s coming will be preceded by the arrival of an antichrist figure who will unleash a season of unprecedented hostility towards God, incite widespread rebellion and delude many through satanic signs and wonders. He will be a self deifying figure who will exalt himself over other deities, seek to destroy Christ’s work and beguile those who are perishing. The second theme is vigilance until Christ’s return. Paul reminded this church that it had been chosen for salvation through sanctification by God and that it must stand firm to the end. Since God is the One who will inflict vengeance on those who afflict the faithful, Christians are to wait patiently and faithfully for Christ’s return. Watchfulness is expressed by diligent work for Christ.
Paul opened by wishing for the Thessalonians both grace and peace. Their hope was bound to God’s grace and even in persecution they could find peace in the Lord. He began his letter by speaking of the Thessalonians persecution which had increased since the last letter. He told then that God would relieve their suffering and He would punish those who persecuted them. Again Paul thanked the Thessalonians for their faith, love, and endurance. These are fundamental Christian values and they were maturing in them even under persecution. Paul even went so far as to boast to other churches about the faith of the Thessalonians and he reminded them that those who are called to enter God’s kingdom will suffer for it. He reminded them that God would give them rest, which here means peace, and then he spoke of Christ’s second coming as the appearing or unveiling of the Lord Jesus Christ who cannot currently be seen physically. It will be quite a sight, what with mighty angels and flaming fire. Those who have refused to obey the Good News of Jesus Christ will be punished for rejecting the message about Christ which will lead to eternal destruction and a forever separation from the Lord and His glorious power. The decision is irrevocable. When that day comes the Thessalonians will join with all the other believers to praise and glorify the Lord.
Paul assured the believers that God will enact justice and that Paul, Timothy, and Silas were praying for them all the time. There would be justice for both the Thessalonians and for their persecutors. And because future deliverance means carrying out present responsibilities, Paul prays that they will be found worthy at Christ’s return. Paul reminded them that there was a point that he had warned them to conduct themselves in a manner that God would consider worthy. He prayed that God would give the Thessalonian Christians power to live and work in a manner that would please God. Though the name of the Lord Jesus was rejected by the Thessalonians persecutors, Jesus will ultimately be glorified because of the lives of the believers. Further more, they will be honored along with him.
False teaching about the day of the Lord had disturbed the Thessalonian church and Paul reminded them that two events will precede the day. There will be a great apostasy and then there will be the unveiling of the man of lawlessness. Christ will destroy this man when He returns and those who have been deceived will also be judged. When Jesus returns all His people will be gathered to meet Him. This will occur at the resurrection and rapture of the church. The Thessalonian Christians had previously asked Paul when the day of the Lord would come. Now a false teaching that this day had already begun was causing the Thessalonians to waver in to faith and become frightened. The source of the teaching might have been a false prophecy, an erroneous sermon, or a letter falsely attributed to Paul. Both Jewish and Christian theology predicted a great rebellion against God before the end. The man of lawlessness is without and against the law, and his character is defined by sin. Some translations say that this man is the man of sin, the son of destruction. The emphasis is on the lawless man’s own destruction rather than on the destruction he brings.
Like other Roman cities, Thessalonica constructed temples for the worship of the emperor; not places for him to worship but places to worship him. This cult was the prototype of the worship described here. He would even sit in the temple of the Lord and call himself god. In 167 BC Antiochus Epiphanies profaned the temple in Jerusalem, perhaps a foretaste of the things to come. It may also be a reference to the emperor Caligula, who referred to himself as the new god manifest, when he tried to erect a statue of his own image in the Jerusalem temple. This occurred in 40 AD. This temple could also be an imperial temple built in honor of the lawless man and not necessarily built in Jerusalem. Giving the emperor a divine title was common practice in the first century. When Paul speaks of what is holding this lawless man back there is quite a bit of speculation as to who this is. Some believe God the Father and others the Holy Spirit. Some think the church, the gospel, Paul, the emperor, the Roman Empire, or the government. It is also possible that the term may refer to something or someone who comes before the man of lawlessness, an agent of the lawless active at that time. In Greek literature, this term could describe demonic possession. This figure would prepare the way for the man of lawlessness when his time comes. But we know that God is ultimately in charge and everything will happen in His time and in His way. The power of the coming man of lawlessness is already at work secretly, like the antichrists in 1 John 2:18. Secretly is a descriptor commonly used of rituals in the mystery religions. The one at work indicates some sort of supernatural intervention, either divine or evil. The one holding it back could refer to one who is in opposition to the man of lawlessness, to one who is possessed, or to the evil one, the one who possesses. Paul announced the doom of the man of lawlessness. Although this figure claims to be divine, he places his cult above all other worship, and receives power from the evil one. Then Jesus will utterly and violently destroy him with the breath of His mouth and the splendor of His coming. This relates to the mighty angels and flaming fire Paul spoke of earlier. This is the epiphany of the Lord. In ancient literature an epiphany was the appearance of a deity or a demonstration of divine power that evoked worship.
As Christ will appear in royal and divine power this figure similarly will come with a royal entrance. Doing the work implies supernatural, evil action and he will do everything in his power, which will be significant, to pull people away from the Lord. People will be deceived and believe this evil ones lies. Sometimes we have seen God hand people over to the power of sin because they have desired sin and evil in place of the truth. Then they will be destroyed because they enjoyed the evil rather than believing the truth. They will be condemned by God’s judicial verdict for not believing the truth and instead they have believed the lies of the man of lawlessness. Paul thinks that God had chosen the Thessalonians to experience salvation, because God calls His chosen ones to Himself through the preaching of the Good News. Those who suffer because of their faith will ultimately share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ever since the founding of the Thessalonian church Paul has been concerned for the stability of their faith and their adherence to his teachings. Paul asked for eternal comfort and hope for the Thessalonians. Both of these things transcend death and the uncertainty the immediate future. Paul’s prayer echoes the purpose of Timothy’s visit to the church, to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonian believers in their faith. Comforting someone in this instance means more than just to console. It also means to exhort or encourage them because of their fears or doubts.
Before he took up his final topic in this letter Paul asked for prayers, prayers that the Lord would keep opening doors for Paul, Timothy, and Silas to keep sharing the Good News. He also assured the Thessalonians of God’s Providence in times of trouble. The image Paul paints about the prayer for he and his co-workers merges with an image of a reference to the games, like Olympic style games, in which the victor was honored. But he is praying that the Good News is what gets honored. Paul also asked for prayer that they will be rescued from the evil that persists. He is asking that they might be rescued. He knew that the sufferings that the Thessalonians were enduring came from the evil one. Paul is also confident that the Thessalonians are strong and can withstand the challenges and be obedient to Paul’s teachings. He prayed that the Lord would lead their hearts to better understand the expression of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Believers are expected to love as God loves and practice patient endurance like Christ did. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians he addressed the problem of believers who were being lazy, going so far as to say that if you won’t work you shouldn’t eat. Some had ignored Paul’s message so he gave additional instructions! He gave his command under the authority of Jesus Christ. Church members are to shun Christians who live idle lives. To stay away from the lazy would make a strong impression on them, promoting shame, and repentance, but stopping short of excommunication. Teaching by example was very highly regarded in the ancient world and Paul practiced this all the time, often regarding his refusal to accept help from the churches he was serving. He worked for his own food. But, Paul also taught that workers in the christian church could receive pay for their labor but he did not take advantage of that privilege. He had distanced himself from others who were motivated by fame and money. Work is the appropriate way to gain a living, and Paul absolved the church of responsibility of feeding other believers who refuse to work. By calling these folks to settle down he was telling them to start leading a quiet life instead of being involved in meddlesome affairs.
The Thessalonians were encouraged to reach out and help those in genuine need, in contrast with those who were lazy and dependent. Paul hoped the disobedient Christians would be ashamed and repent in response to being shunned by the community. But he also told them not to look at these folks as enemies. That would bring a whole different set of rules and regulations. In the ancient world social relations with enemies were broken off and punitive action was initiated against them. Paul warned the Thessalonians that discipline against disobedient Christians should not result in this kind of attack. Rather, the church should treat them as members of the family, with the hope that they would correct their conduct. Paul’s final prayer echoes Jesus’s blessing in John 14:27 and contrasts with the situation these believers faced in Thessalonica. Paul was always conscious of the Lord Jesus’s presence with His people. Once again we know that a secretary had written this letter for Paul but again he took the pen and added a final greeting to give it authenticity. He suspected a letter he had not written was being circulated in his name so he wanted to emphasize this letter was from him. And once more Paul called on the Lord Jesus Christ to grant the Thessalonians grace.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W