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Waiting For His Son - Thessalonians

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II. Thanksgiving And Prayer For The Thessalonians (1:3-12)

A. Paul's Thanksgiving (1:3-5)

v. 3
"We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;
v. 4
"so that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:
v. 5
"which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer."


v. 3 "We are bound": "Opheilo" -- to owe (as money) in Luke 7:41; to be under obligation (to love our wives) in Eph 5:28. The same phrase, including "opheilo", is found in 2Th 2:13, but not elsewhere in Paul's letters.

"As it is meet": "Axios" -- right, on the ground of fitness, as for examples: that labor should be rewarded (Luke 10:7) and sin punished (Luke 23:15).

"Your faith groweth exceedingly": The superlative "hyper" (English equivalent: "super!") is prefixed to "auxano", which described organic growth, as the growth of that which lives, such as seed (Luke 13:14) or flowers (Mat 6:28). Faith must be alive" and active before it can grow. There is no such thing, really, as a passive "faith", or a "nodding assent" to that which is true. Paul had earlier expressed a desire to return and strengthen the Thessalonians in faith (1Th 3:10); now he is thankful that, even in his absence, their faith has grown.

"The charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth": "Charity" is of course "agape", the full, self-sacrificing Christian love (1Th 3:12). Such "love" was a quality for which the church had already been commended (1Th 1:3, 4:9,10). "Aboundeth" is the same word ("pleonazei") used in 1Th 3:12, so that Paul is here recording the answer to his prayer expressed there.

v. 4 "We ourselves glory in the churches of God": The ecclesias over a rather wide area (1Th 1:8,9) had heard of the practical faith of the Thessalonians. Even Paul and Silas, in contrast to their normal practice, are not embarrassed to speak in glowing terms of these new converts (cp 1Th 2:19,20).

"Patience": "Hupomone" -- literally, an abiding under, or endurance. "Perseverance" in NIV, or "steadfastness."

"Persecutions": "Diogmos." This generally refers to sufferings endured on account of one's faith.

"Tribulations": "Thlipsesin": means afflictions of a more general nature (1Th 1:6, note). The Thessalonians had a faith strong enough to remain steadfast under every form of trial (1Th 3:7). In this Paul commends them as an example for other ecclesias to follow.

v. 5 "Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God": Their heroic endurance in the face of sufferings was so unusual as to indicate ("endeigma" -- offer evidence or proof of) its divine source: God was on their side, and they were strengthened by their faith and hope in Him. Furthermore, it is part of God's "righteous judgment" that trials are the means by which His people may be brought to maturity or perfection (1Th 3:3; Acts 14:22; 1Co 11:31,32; Heb 12:5-8).

"That ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God": They were not worthy as a result of what they did, but rather they were deemed to be worthy as a result of what God did righteously in and through them. They were not justified by their works, but by their faith -- once it was put to the test by God.


Paul's prayer in these verses parallels closely his opening prayer in the first letter (1Th 1:2,3).

* * *

The preservation and growth of the ecclesia at Thessalonica was to be credited, not to those who preached in the first place, nor to those who were converted by their preaching, nor to those who continued to labor in their midst, but first and only to God Himself. So it must always be when men evaluate even the best and most diligent and most sacrificial of their own works -- even then (especially then) does all the glory and honor belong to the Father! Paul and his companions had worked strenuously in Thessalonica -- as elsewhere -- on behalf of the Truth. But they fully recognized that nothing could have been achieved without divine co-operation. "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase" (1Co 3:6).

* * *

The apostle Paul, driven by an urge which was both right and proper, thanked God for his brothers and sisters. How easy it would be for us to take such blessings for granted. The blessings of the Truth are not just to be found in the future, but are present with us now, if we have eyes to see. The faithful and loving examples we can find all around us, in our divine family, can -- if we allow them -- produce an atmosphere of spiritual strength. Those who are elderly, those who are battling against illness or marital trials, those who are quietly laboring... for such as these we thank God, and from them we take courage (Acts 28:15).

* * *

The Christian community should not be a comfortable club for the conserving of the lives of a few believers. It should be a place of striving, of enduring, of overcoming, where real "fruit" is produced to the glory of God. It should be a place where faith and love are refined in the crucible of trials and hardships. If it is not such a place, then why not?

At first sight the apostle's argument in v 5 is difficult. Surely the presence of sufferings would deny, rather than prove, that God is working to a righteous purpose. The fault is ours if we fail to understand the divine message, if we see instead as the "world" sees. The Bible does not look on sufferings in quite the same way as most modern people do. To us, accustomed as we are to the conveniences of an affluent society, suffering may seem almost an "evil" -- something to be avoided at all costs. It is true that one need not be a masochist -- seeking pain out of some sense of perverted "pleasure." Nevertheless the true Bible message is that suffering, in all its varied forms, is often the means of working out God's eternal purpose. It develops in the sufferer qualities of character. It teaches valuable lessons. In one form or another, it is inevitable; the believer is ordained to it (1Th 3:3).

The faith of a believer is not some fragile thing, to be wrapped in cotton, insulated from all shocks. It is robust, it is alive, it grows and flourishes, and it needs both sunshine and rain. The very troubles which the world heaps upon the believer become, under God's hand, the means by which he may grow into a fruitful vine, a productive plant. Suffering therefore is no evidence that God has forsaken us; it is evidence that He is with us.

B. Divine Judgment (1:6-10)

v. 6
"Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;
v. 7
"and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
v. 8
"in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
v. 9
"who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
v. 10
"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."


v. 6 "Tribulation": "Tribulation" ("thlipsin") is the present lot of believers (v 4; 1Th 1:6; 3:4). However, for the rest of the world, tribulation will be future and far greater in intensity (Mat 24:21; Mark 9:47-50; Luke 13:3,5; Rom 1:18-32; Rev 3:10). Paul is preparing to give some of the details (2Th 2) of those terrible tribulations.

v. 7 "And to you who are troubled (God will recompense) rest with us": The word "rest" ("anesin") signifies a relaxation of tension and is used by Paul with regard to relief from suffering, as in the slackening of a taut bowstring (2Co 2:13; 7:5; 8:13). Such rest will be experienced along with Paul and Silas and Timothy in the kingdom of God (2Th 1:5), accompanied by other, more positive and far-reaching, blessings. Since Paul had experienced, and was continuing to experience, his own sufferings (2Th 3:2; 1Th 2:15; 3:7; 2Co 11:24-27), he knew what he was talking about! This was no smooth "bedside manner" of one who had never known pain and anguish. Paul had known God's comfort even in tribulation; now he is in a position to dispense that same comfort to others who suffer (2Co 1:3-7).

"When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed": "Apokalupsis": the unveiling of that which is at present hidden (1Co 1:7; Rom 2:5; 8:18; 1Pe 1:7,13; 4:13; 5:1; etc). This word, with its air of mystery and suddenness and surprise, offers a different aspect of the "parousia", which had been discussed earlier (see "Main Theme: The 'Parousia'" in the Introduction). The two words refer to the same event -- that is, the literal return of Christ -- but from different perspectives.

"From heaven": This is expressive not just of location and direction (1Th 4:16) but also of authority. The "kingdom of heaven" is the kingdom of God on earth, because it derives its power and authority from God in heaven (Mat 5:3,5,10; 6:10).

"With his mighty angels": The "angels of his power" (Mat 16:27; 24:30,31; 25:31; 26:53). This is equivalent to his "saints" or "holy ones" (NIV) in 1Th 3:13 (see note there). Christ does not come with his saints (ie, his glorified brethren); he comes with his angels and to his brethren. The angels are also involved with the Lord's coming in such passages as Mat 13:39,41,49 and Mark 8:38.

v. 8: "In flaming fire": Most translations (NIV, RSV, NASB, NEB) attach this phrase to v 7, as one of the aspects of Christ's appearance at his revelation. The "blazing fire" of his coming is reminiscent of the glory and brightness of the special divine manifestations in the Old Testament: Exo 3:2 (cp Acts 7:30); 19:18; 24:17; Deu 5:4; Psa 18:12; Isa 30:27-30; Dan 7:9,10. Fire may be associated with jealousy (Song 8:6), and divine punishment (Lev 10:2; Num 16:35; Isa 65:15,16; Mal 4:1; Rev 20:9). God, benevolent though He might wish to be, is also in certain circumstances a "consuming fire" (Heb 12:29).

"Them that know not God": The Gentiles, those who are "without God ('atheists') in the world" (Eph 2:12; cp Gal 4:8; 1Th 4:5), being estranged and alienated from Him (Rom 1:18-32; Eph 4:17,18). There is comparable Old Testament language describing the "heathen", or nations (Jer 10:25; Psa 79:6). Paul appropriately singles them out for special retribution, in view of their special participation in the persecution of Gentile believers in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5; 1Th 2:14).

"That obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ": Paul here means the Jews, well-grounded in the Scriptures, who should have been expected to obey the gospel preached by Jesus. These Jews were the indisputable enlightened rejectors of the first century (John 3:18,19; 9:31; 12:48-50) -- Abraham's natural descendants (Rom 10:3), who should have obeyed but did not (v 16; cp Isa 53:1; 66:4). Like the Gentiles -- and with much less reason -- the Jews have been adamant in their opposition to believers in Thessalonica and its vicinity (Acts 17:5,13).

v. 9 "Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction": The same word for "destruction" occurs also in 1Th 5:3. "Everlasting destruction" is clearly the counterpart and contrast of "everlasting life" (Rom 2:7; 5:21; 6:22,23; Gal 6:8), and therefore involves death -- literal and final. It is plain that everlasting punishment means a punishment that is everlasting in its effect, though not in duration of actual suffering. The ultimate wages of sin is literal death (Rom 6:23), in this case the "second death" (Rev 21:8). The punishment of the wicked is annihilation: a complete and final cutting off (Psa 37:9,10,20,34; Job 20:5-8; John 15:6; Mal 4:1,3). Death is a state of unconsciousness (Ecc 9:5,6; Psa 146:3,4), and so it will be even for the wicked. Sodom is spoken of as "suffering the vengeance of eternal fire", yet Jeremiah speaks of Sodom being "overthrown in a moment" (Lam 4:6).

"From the presence of the Lord": An aspect of this punishment is a dismissal "away from" the very presence of Jesus Christ (Mat 7:23; 8:12; 22:13; 25:30,41; Luke 13:27; Rev 22:15), echoing the fearful language of Isa 2:10,19,21. Therefore Paul has in mind here those who, being responsible by their knowledge, have appeared before Christ the Judge (Rom 14:10-12; 2Co 5:10,11) only to be rejected by him.

There is a link with 1Th 1:9: Believers had turned "away from" (same word) idols, so that they might not be turned "away from" the presence of Christ at his coming.

The language here is that of the Garden of Eden: As Adam and Eve hid themselves from the presence of God (Gen 3:8), so He at last sent them forth from His presence (v 23). Cain, as punishment for his crimes, was sent even further from the presence of God (4:16). And so man, ever since, has existed apart from, or away from, God. Jesus is the means by which God seeks to bring man back into His presence (Psa 16:10,11), but for some who listened to (and even accepted) His initial invitation, their fate will be the same as Cain's.

v. 10 "When he shall come to be glorified in his saints": The glorification of the saints (1Th 4:17; 2Th 1:7a; 2:1; Psa 89:7) will occur at the same time as the everlasting destruction of the wicked. They are the two aspects of the vindication of the righteousness of God. These "saints" are -- probably in contrast to 1Th 3:13 -- the once-mortal believers called to be "holy ones" (Rom 1:7; 1Co 1:2; 16:1; 2Co 1:1; 9:1; Phi 1:1; Col 1:2,4; etc).

Christ will be glorified -- physically -- in his saints, who will be made "like him" when he appears (1Jo 3:2).

"And to be admired in all them that believe":

"...saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever" (Rev 5:12,13).
"Admire" in this verse has the connotations of praising, and glorifying, and especially that of breath-taking wonder (Psa 68:35).

"Because our testimony among you was believed": They had not only accepted the facts, but they had acted, decisively and with finality, upon what they believed. Even though their faith and actions had brought sufferings upon them, it was that very action of believing and accepting that will one day stand them in such glorious company at Christ's coming. Thus the present is always linked to the future.


Paul expressly teaches that believers must not avenge themselves on their enemies, because such vengeance belongs to God, who will surely execute it (Rom 12:17-21). It may be objected, then, that if God forbids His people to take vengeance, He ought also to act in the same way -- showing love for His enemies. In fact, He does! While we, for example, were enemies of God He reconciled us to Himself through the death and resurrection of His Son (Rom 5:8,10). Our God does offer reconciliation and love and mercy to His enemies, but if they refuse that offer and continue in opposition to His holiness and goodness, then it seems inevitable that they must face His justice. The God who is three times "holy" (Isa 6:3) could scarcely be expected forever to look the other way and "wink" at rebellion (Acts 17:30).

* * *

This chapter seems to draw heavily on Isaiah 66. Some of the parallels are outlined below:

2 Thessalonians 1
Isaiah 66
5. For which ye also suffer
7,8. Travail... pain
6. To recompense tribulation
6. Recompense to His enemies
7. Rest with us
13. So will I comfort you
8. Flaming fire
15,16. Flames of fire
Taking vengeance
14. His indignation towards His enemies
That obey not the gospel
4. When I called, none did answer
9. Everlasting destruction
5. They shall be ashamed
From the presence of the Lord
24. The carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me
  1. To be glorified... admired
5. He shall appear to your joy
18. they shall come and see thy glory
12. That the name... may be glorified
5. Let the LORD be glorified

C. Paul's Prayer for their Future Acceptance (1:11,12)

v. 11
"Wherefore also we 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:
v. 12
"that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ."


v. 11 "That our God would count you worthy": We cannot be "worthy" by our own actions solely; every man sins and falls short of the glory of God (Rom 3:19). However we may be deemed or reckoned worthy by the One who created us, and Who has provided a covering and cleansing for our sins (Eph 2:5,8; Rom 4:16).

"And fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness": "That (God) may fulfill every good purpose (in you)." Paul's words in Phi 2:12,13 express a similar thought:

"Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
Compare also Col 1:9,10 and Eph 1:5-11. What they had already attained was important, but there was still room for growth and improvement (1Th 3:10; 4:1).

"Work of faith": See 1Th 1:3, note. Faith is never a passive thing, but a ceaselessly active phenomenon -- appropriating God's blessings and God's power to our service of Him.

v. 12 "That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you": In v 10 Paul stated that Christ at his coming will be glorified in his people. Now he goes even further, to assert that Christ may be glorified even now in his brethren.

"Name" in Scripture suggests more than a verbal designation: it speaks of character (Exo 34:6,7; Psa 9,10; John 17:6), rank (Heb 1:4); and power and authority (Mark 9:39; John 5:43; 17:11,12; Acts 4:10; 1Co 5:4); in short, the whole personality. This was the "name" of God (whether "Yahweh", "Jehovah", "Shaddai", or "Theos" is a matter of lesser consequence) -- His character and His authority -- which Jesus manifested to the disciples (John 17:24-26).

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