(last updated 5/20/19)
This may have been Paul's first epistle, or some think Galatians might be the first. He and Silas and Timothy visited Thessalonica and started a church there. In Acts 16 we read of them being led through a dream to go to Macedonia, where they ended up in the city of Philippi, meeting with Lydia and some other women. When Paul cast a spirit of divination out of a slave girl, he and Silas were put in prison, where they escaped when God sent an earthquake. They left and came to Thessalonica--read Acts 17:1-15. They were there three weeks, 17:2, then again had to flee danger. 17:10-11 tells us that not many Jews in Thessalonica turned to Christ, but they did in Berea. Leaving Silas and Timothy in Berea, Paul went to Athens, then Corinth. Timothy later brought him word of the Thessalonian church, and some of their questions. Paul wrote this letter from Corinth.
1 Paul is with Silas (a shortened form of Silvanus) and Timothy. Is Paul all about Paul? We find Paul's usual opening greeting: grace (salvation) always precedes peace (with God and with man). We also see that in every case, he says grace and peace come from who and who? They are followers of God; this sets them apart from pagan religion. They are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; this sets them apart from the Jews. It's interesting that he never includes the Holy Spirit here. The Holy Spirit is never the focus; those who make Him the focus are not following the biblical pattern.
2-3 And in Paul's typical style, he often starts out sharing with them how he prays for them. How does he start, as usual? Should our prayers open with begging or telling God what He want Him to do? Giving thanks...always...how many of them does he pray for? Making mention of them--we wonder if he prays for them by name? How much praying do you think Paul does? What do we learn about this church, 3? Is "work of faith" a contradiction? Are works "bad"? Trusting in our good works for salvation is unbiblical, and trusting in our works to gain points with God after salvation is unbiblical. What kind of works does Paul mention here? "Works of faith." Some teach that trying to do ANYTHING is wrong for Christians; I've read books that claim we need only to contemplate Christ in order to become Christlike. But here is one of many examples where Christians are to "do" things--things that are pleasing to God. Compare John 6:29. Labor of love: how do we show God we love Him? Hope: what is it that we patiently anticipate, confidently expect? Eternal life, righteousness, being with Christ.
4-5 Here Paul alludes to the concept of predestination that he talked so much about in Eph. 1--God's choice/NASB or election/KJV. As we discussed in Ephesians, this could be God's choosing of individuals for salvation, or it could refer to His choosing of the church for salvation. No one is chosen or rejected against their will. We don't find God choosing anyone without their exercising faith (see 6,9). God's choice (based on His foreknowledge, I Pet. 1:2) works with our faith--we don't need to understand how that happens. Paul's preaching was not based on man's words and power; what is the source of our power? How does that knowledge encourage us in witnessing to others? Did Paul's life match his message?
6-7 We learn many things here about these Thessalonians. Paul commends their church! They imitated Paul because he was the only example of a Christian that they knew. We may not ask others to imitate our lives, but what about our kids and grandkids--might they? Whether we mean to or not, aren't we modeling the Christian life? These believers were facing persecution for their belief in Christ. Should Christians be surprised at troubles in their lives? But what can we have anyway? How?
8-10 What else do we learn about this church? 8 may refer to missionary efforts by this church, or it may just be talking about how word about them has spread. Even in their day, word traveled fast. People notice and talk. How do we know from 9 that this is mostly a Gentile church? They turned to God; how does God differ from the pagan gods? What is it about Jesus that proves He is God, 10? We have seen that this fact is the center of Paul's message, rather than God's love. Usually we think of salvation as believing; what word does Paul use instead that clarifies faith as not just head knowledge?
J. Vernon McGee thinks it is significant that it says first that they "turned to God," THEN it says "from idols." Theologians argue over whether faith and repentance are two separate steps, and which must come first. He says this shows they both happen at salvation and that turning to God by definition means turning from something else. But the most important thing is turning TO God. So should we tell people they need to repent of their sins? Or should we be presenting God, telling them about Jesus, and tell them to turn to Him? Of course, the message of Jesus is the cross--people must realize they ARE sinners and that Jesus paid for their sin, so believing on Him includes the recognition of their sin problem. It's all a package deal; we don't need to separate it.
In 10, what's the other thing this church is known for? A belief in and understanding of the rapture is not necessary to salvation, but we see how Paul taught this church to focus on the rapture. Remember how long he had been with them? Only three weeks, yet we see how important this belief is. AND the fact that the rapture comes BEFORE the tribulation; how does this verse clarify that? Wrath usually refers to the day of wrath, the pouring out of God's wrath on the earth during the seven years of tribulation--not hell. "The" wrath: a specific event that Paul had already taught them about. The church will be rescued/delivered FROM (not "through" or "in") the day of wrath. We are not waiting for the appearing of the Beast or taught to prepare to go through the tribulation. We will see that Paul's two letters to this church emphasize these truths. Each chapter ends with a reference to the rapture.
In 1-12, Paul refers back to how he, Silas and Timothy initially came to these people and how they conducted themselves. Apparently they have been bad-mouthed by the false teachers, as we have seen elsewhere, and perhaps these Christians have been influenced to doubt the motives or character of these men.
1-4 Their coming was not in vain (emptiness) but they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. Had the things they suffered in Philippi caused them to tone down their message, to become timid or hesitant? Was this because of a warm pleasant reception in Thessalonica? Apparently the false teachers had been slandering them in what way, 3? Paul never comes right out and says he is criticizing the false teachers, but how does he contrast his ministry to theirs in 4? They were SELF-appointed; they were people pleasers. God is interested in our words and actions, but He is also interested in what else? Our heart motives.
5-6 Here, how does he contrast himself and his helpers with the false teachers? So what are some things we do not want to see today in a teacher/leader/pastor, 3-6? Aren't there well-known "Christian" leaders out there today that fit this description? Christians are not to be naive.
At the end of 6, Paul may be calling Silas (Silvanus) and Timothy apostles, or may just be including them as part of his own ministry as an apostle; they were not among the original apostles and we have no record they performed miracles. We again see the concept of apostolic authority; a pastor does not have the kind of authority Paul is speaking of. The apostles were given authority from God to establish the church, to establish God-given doctrine, to appoint leaders. Their ability to do miraculous signs and wonders attested to their God-given position; these were their credentials. Today some claim falsely to be apostles and to have power to establish new doctrine and to tell churches and Christians what to do, to threaten them with their power, saying no one can even disagree with them because they are apostles. These types are on power trips. The Bible does not teach that apostles and apostolic power would continue after the founding of the church.
7-12 Was Paul an in-your-face authoritarian type of apostle? We don't often see Paul talking about God's love as the focus of his message, rather the resurrection, yet we see God's love characterizes his approach. Was their ministry money-driven, 9? Paul engaged in his tent-making occupation while preaching and traveling. 10, why is it important to conduct ourselves this way? Why are pastors and leaders are held to a higher standard? Because of their power to draw others or turn them away from the Lord. 11, what did he do besides preach? 12, what is God's will for us? Is the Christian life about what I can get God to do for ME, in my life in this world?
13 Sometimes Christians get confused regarding the issue of predestination or election--God's calling and choosing, and our free will. How do the two work together when they seem to be opposites? God's Word does not present them as opposite, but that they are both true. In 4, Paul gives one side of the coin. What is the other side of the coin, here in 13? What three verbs talk about our role, our free will? What is one of the common misconceptions people have about the Bible? How might you address this with someone?
14-16 No matter what your background before salvation, what is likely to happen once you turn to Christ? Paul compares the experience of Gentile persecution and Jewish persecution. Today many have the New Age that whatever you believe is "cool," as long as you don't go around telling others that they also ought to believe that. In 15 Paul says the Jews killed Christ; he does not say, however, that they alone are responsible for His death. The Bible makes it clear that the sins of all put Him on the cross. Even though His death was God's plan, the unbelieving Jews did have Him put to death. What awaits them because of their hostility to the Gospel? The tribulation is called the day of wrath; the Old Testament prophets refer to that time as Jacob's trouble. That day is still future, yet is spoken of here in the past tense--it's as good as done. We often want to take vengeance now, but God will have His day of vengeance, and it will be done righteously and better than we could have managed ourselves. Fill up the measure: compare Mat. 23:32-33 (spoken during the final week of His ministry, Jesus was pronouncing condemnation on the Jewish leaders). Always: evermore, now as at all former times.
17-18 Paul, even more than the others, had been hoping to visit them. Why hadn't it worked out? Can we know, when our plans are thwarted, if it is Satan hindering us or God closing a door? Might it be both? Compare Acts 16:6-10, I Cor. 16:9; also compare II Sam. 24:1-25 and I Chron. 21:1. Sometimes we wonder about what is from Satan and what is just from Self; I'm not sure it's important, but Satan tempts us. We (Self) make choices; if we rely on Self we are powerless to stand against temptation, but if we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit we can stand. So perhaps where Self comes in is in the choices we make and our actions. Can Satan really thwart God's plans? So is God always at work in every situation, whether it looks like it or not? God is sovereign! This is really important to understand and accept. This will help us to truly trust Him in every situation.
19-20 What is one of the crowns awaiting the believer? For what? Winning souls. Also the imperishable wreath, I Cor. 9:24-27, for self-discipline in running "the race." The crown of life, James 1:12, Rev. 2:10. The crown of righteousness, II Tim. 4:8. The crown of glory, I Peter 5:4. As did chapter 1, this chapter ends with the rapture. This letter emphasizes the return of Christ, which includes both the rapture and the second coming. It emphasizes how an endtimes perspective is vital to the understanding of the church and the individual believer. It should impact our world view. If we know the rapture could happen at any moment, and the horrors that await those who are left behind and become believers, and the wrath and judgment facing unbelievers, we will be more concerned about unbelievers around us.
1-4 Paul continues with his thought from the end of chapter 1. "When we could endure it no longer": endure what--what was his great concern? Sending Timothy, he stayed behind in Athens; it's not clear if "we" means Silas was there with him, or if it just Paul's way of referring to himself sometimes. Timothy was to do what two things? Encourage the believers, and find out for Paul if they were still walking with the Lord. Timothy was not an apostle, but traveled and worked with Paul, training under him, and later became a pastor. How does Paul describe him?
Sometimes Christians interpret the troubles of life as a sign God doesn't love them, that they have taken a wrong path, or that they are not doing a good job of living the Christian life. Might any of those be true? Not the first, but possibly the others. But even when we do everything right, to the best of our ability, the Bible promises believers--the church--that they will have troubles/afflictions/tribulation, John 16:33, II Tim. 3:12, I Pet. 4:12-19. God told Paul that he would suffer for the name of Christ. Tribulation (KJV) here does not refer to the great tribulation; that follows the rapture and the revealing of the Beast. But all Christians of all ages experience pressure, burdens, anguish. If you don't understand the distinctions between God's dealing with Israel under the Law in the Old Testament, and His dealing with the church under grace in the New Testament, you might read Deut. 28:1-14 and assume that living a good Christian life results in God's blessings. Actually it does; God promised Israel physical blessings and He promised the church spiritual blessings, Eph. 1:3.
5 Besides the troubles of life, and persecution for bearing the name of Christ, what is another problem for the Christian? Is Paul afraid these believers might have lost their salvation? If we witness to someone who doesn't believe, or try to help a brother or sister but it does no good, is it in vain? Are we responsible for the outcome? I Cor. 3:6. How does Mat. 13:18-23 address this? Sometimes it seems (to our eyes, or to others) that our efforts are in vain, but in God's eyes, we have been faithful in our efforts.
6-10 When you have ministered to someone, or prayed for them, then see them growing in faith, how does it make you feel? If you can't see God working, does it mean He isn't? What should be an important part of our prayers, 9? Paul is a prayer warrior. He looks forward to continuing to help them grow in their faith.
11-13 Paul continues his prayer. He often shares how he prays, modeling for us how to pray for others. Who directs our steps? But should we make our own plans? What is one thing God desires to see happening in our lives, 12? Whose doing is this? Looking for the rapture should cause us to live how? We are motivated by knowing we will give account for our lives at the judgment seat of Christ
1-8 How should we feel about pleasing God, 1? What was going on in this church? Fornication was not looked on as sin by the pagans, much as today. Mistresses and prostitutes were acceptable; wives were for children and keeping the home. Pagan religions included prostitutes. What is God's will in this matter? Purity. They did not have the New Testament of God's written Word, but what did Paul say about his teachings? They were God's Word.
9-12 What was this church good at, 9-10? They provided for needy believers in other areas; Paul encourages this commendable behavior. 11-12, apparently another problem was that in anticipating the rapture, some had quit working and were mooching off others. In other letters Paul also speaks of not being a busy-body, of minding your own affairs, and working hard as for the Lord. We don't see him organizing Christians against social or political issues.
13 When our saved loved ones die, our grieving is to be balanced by what? How sad to have no hope.
14-17 Their concern was that those believers who had already died had missed out on the rapture; what would happen to them? Paul lays out a very clear teaching on the rapture.
All Christians who die (figuratively, who sleep--their bodies sleep) are with the Lord, 14; a Christian is one who has believed that Jesus what and what? Their spirits are with the Lord; when we die, we are immediately with the Lord, Phil. 1:21,23, Luke 23:43, II Cor. 5:8, Heb. 12:22-23. When Christ returns to catch us up to meet Him in the air, those believers--their spirits--will accompany Him.
He will descend from heaven with a shout and a trumpet sound. The bodies of the Christians ("in Christ"--not the Old Testament saints) who previously died will be resurrected, and living believers will be caught up together with them. Can we rise in these mortal bodies? Nor can the mortal remains of dead believers be resurrected; compare I Cor. 15:51-53, which tells what happens then, but doesn't give the time frame we have in I Thes.
We meet Him where? So Christ does not come to the earth at the rapture, only at the second coming. So we see that His "coming" has two parts. This is similar to the fact that the Old Testament prophets saw the Messiah's coming and prophesied both of His birth and sacrificial death for sin, then of His triumph over evil and His earthly reign; it was not revealed to them as two separate comings. The second coming is seen in Rev. 19:11, Mat. 24:30-31, II This. 1:7-8, Zec. 14:1-5. This happens at the end of the seven years of tribulation when Christ physically returns to earth in judgment and to receive and rule over His earthly kingdom.
Do we see the word "rapture" here? No, caught up is the Greek word "harpazo" which can mean: to seize, to catch up or away, to pluck, pull, take by force. The English terms "rapture" or "rapturous" have to do with being carried away. The Latin Vulgate--the main Bible of the medieval church prior to the Reformation and still used by Catholics--translates the word "rapture," meaning a seizure, kidnapping, rape or carrying away by force. This same word is used in Acts 8:39, II Cor. 12:4, Rev. 12:5, and is possibly what happened in II Kings 2:11-12. Some think Enoch was raptured, based on Gen. 5:24 and Heb. 11:5; "translated" can mean transfered, transported, exchanged, changed sides, changed, removed. So don't get hung up on the term "rapture"--some Christians prefer to say "caught up" or the "catching up."
18 If we were to expect the tribulation before the rapture, why would Paul have added this? The doctrine of imminence means that Christians have always believed the rapture to be imminent; it could happen at any time. No signs are given the church; we are not to watch for something to happen first, like the tribulation, or the appearance of the Beast. Paul used "we" in 15 and 17; he expected this to happen to him, to them. Notice the order he gives: the rapture in chapter 4, then he goes on in chapter 5 to explain the tribulation (the day of the Lord). He gives that same order of events in II Thes. 2:1-2 and 7-8.
Thomas Ice and others point out the fascinating and significant parallel in the rapture teaching presented by Jesus in John 14:1-3 and Paul's rapture teaching in I Thes. 4:13-18 (which Paul received from Jesus), even to the very wording. Note the key terms and their order. In John 14:1-3: trouble, believe, God/me, told you, come again, receive you, to myself, be where I am. In I Thes. 4:13-17: sorrow, believe, Jesus/God, say to you, coming of the Lord, caught up, to meet the Lord, ever be with the Lord. The Bible tells us that when we die, we GO to be with Christ. At the second coming, He returns to earth WITH us, who are already with Him heaven. But here we have something different: He will COME for us and RECEIVE us.
1-3 Paul had already taught them these things in the mere three weeks he spent with them. He speaks of times and seasons, but no specific timeline for the church. God only gives specific timelines for Israel. Teaching in chronological order, Paul moves from the rapture (chapter 4) to the day of the Lord--the tribulation. This day is not a 24-hour day, but a particular period of time, sometimes called the day of wrath, the day of God's wrath, the time of Jacob's trouble, the day of judgment. Old Testament references often include "that day," "in that day," "on that day," "the day," "the day of the Lord."
Sometimes people think the Bible says Jesus will come for the church like a thief in the night--not exactly. What comes as a thief in the night, to who? Compare II Pet. 3:10. Twice Christ does say He comes as a thief, but neither time speaking of the rapture, Rev. 3:3, 16:15. Is a thief someone you look forward to seeing? This does not picture our attitude of watching for Him to catch us away. Once we are gone, He will definitely be unwelcome to the world, but He WILL come to them with wrath, destruction and judgment. Note in 3 the pronouns "they/them": the unbelievers who are left following the rapture. He did not say "we" will experience this destruction.
"Peace and safety": this desire has been in the news more and more, but cannot be achieved, especially because of conflict involving Israel. They are so sure world peace is possible. The Old Testament confirms that after the Beast signs the covenant (peace treaty) with Israel, the first few years of his reign will be peaceful, at least somewhat. Then at 3 1/2 years, he breaks the treaty, and literally all hell breaks loose. Perhaps this refers to the covenant the Beast will sign which signals the beginning of the seven-year tribulation, Dan. 9:27. Perhaps destruction begins to fall the moment he signs the treaty. Labor pains speak of sudden onset, increasing in severity and rapidity.
4-6 "But" contrasts who? Note the change of pronoun; who is "we"? We have seen elsewhere in the Epistles that Paul often uses such pronouns to distinguish between the believers he is talking to, and unbelievers he is talking about. What Paul described in 2-3 does not apply to the church. "The day" = "the day of the Lord," the tribulation. There are two groups of people: those who are of the light/day (believers) and those who are of the night/darkness (unbelievers). Knowing these things should affect the way we live--why? "Sleep" here is a different Greek word than the one used in 4:15; it MAY also refer to death, or it may refer to spiritual lethargy, which the context implies.
7-8 Paul again contrasts the church and the world--believers and unbelievers.
9 Wrath is not hell but the day of wrath--the seven years of tribulation. Who is "us"? Paul clearly teaches here that believers/the church/those who have obtained salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ are NOT destined for God's wrath. This is a KEY VERSE pointing to the timing of the rapture as being PRIOR to the tribulation: the pre-tribulation rapture. God's wrath is for unbelievers--the wicked.
10-11 "Sleep" again seems to refer to spiritual lethargy, not death here. It COULD mean that whether we are living or have already died when the rapture takes place, we will be with Him. However, in the context, it seems to mean that whether believers are vigilant and watchful or in spiritual lethargy, they will be taken alive in the rapture; some Christians teach the unbiblical view that only some of the church will be raptured--those watching, those who are found "worthy" enough to be taken (the "partial rapture" theory). Because of these truths, we are to do what, 11? Comfort, encourage, entreat, exhort.
12-15 Our responsibility to those over us in the church and to other believers. Does this say that those over us in the church have authority over us? "Among us" and "in the Lord" and "instruction" imply spiritual instruction. 13, do we esteem them because of their superiority or their likability? Are the leaders to admonish (caution, reprove gently) those who need admonishing? End of 13, is this comment really necessary in the church? Unfortunately, yes. What else are we all to be doing? So is ministry just for a few who hold certain positions? "Unruly" implies spiritually unruly--perhaps, holding deviant views or being disruptive, so this speaks of church discipline. Follow the Golden Rule, in the church and the world.
16-18 No one can say it's hard to figure out God's will; it is not mysterious or something we have to figure out. The Bible clearly teaches what is God's will for our lives. 18, in everything, not for everything--we can always find something to be thankful for. If we do these things, won't many other things just take care of themselves? Of course we can't literally do these things 24/7, but these are to be our habitual, ongoing practices, our approach to daily life.
19-22 This is the only mention of quenching the Spirit, so we can't compare this to other similar passages to get the meaning. So then we turn to context; 19 appears to go with 20-22. Prophesying takes us back to I Cor. 12-14, Paul's lengthy teaching on spiritual gifts. The New Testament had not yet been written down and compiled for the church, so apparently, besides the letters of the apostles, God also gave supernatural manifestations of the Spirit in the early days of the church, for the purpose of establishing the church and laying a foundation of God's truth, Rom. 1:11. To prophesy was to speak words directly from God; however, Paul warned the church to examine what was said and pass judgment on it rather than to accept everything uncritically. Why?
The apostles spoke with God's authority, and God proved this how? by performing miracles through them to authenticate their message. Those with the spiritual gift of prophecy also claimed to speak for God, but apparently were subject to human error or even the possibility of deception. They may have been self-deceived, thinking or hoping they had heard a word from the Lord when actually it was their own words. Or some could even engage in purposeful deception of others, to manipulate others or elevate themselves. To protect the church from false teachings, the church, or the other prophets, were to judge the message, comparing it to what? To Scripture and to what Paul had taught them.
The age of the apostles has passed; today, does anyone have the infallible authority to speak for God? His written Word is complete--what does Rev. 22:18-19 teach us? So the church no longer has need of prophesyings; God has said everything He has to say. Yet what religious leaders claim such authority and infallibility, without the oversight of others judging and comparing their words to Scripture? The Catholic pope and the Mormon president.
So the Thessalonians were warned not to reject prophecy nor to accept it uncritically, but only to hold fast to that which was good, while holding themselves aloof from any teaching that did not line up with God's revealed Word. Paul says that speaking falsely in God's name is evil. Even if supernatural manifestations of the Spirit are no longer given to the church, the application for us is to examine every teaching and compare it to Scripture.
Some teach that 22 means we should not engage in any behavior that may appear evil to others; what is the danger of trying to do that? The end result is legalism, because someone might think evil of ANYTHING you do, especially if they are more narrow-minded than you are. Jesus healed on the Sabbath and broke the Sabbath in other ways, and the Pharisees thought that was evil. His eating with publicans and sinners may have had the appearance of evil to some...to the legalists. Other passages teach us how to handle gray areas biblically, such as Rom. 14.
23 Paul prays for their what? The main idea is completeness. God is setting us apart from the world, setting us apart and purifying us for His own purposes. I believe we also see a rapture teaching here: Paul, looking forward to Christ's soon return to catch them up, prays that they and he will be alive at the coming of the Lord. He prays that their spirit, soul and body are preserved complete at that time--that death has not separated their body from their soul and spirit. Or there may be the thought that at the rapture, our body, soul and spirit will be united, and therefore preserved complete in our immortal bodies. We will also be found blameless at His coming--no Christian need fear that they are not good enough and might be left behind. None of us are "worthy" of being raptured because of how good of a Christian we are--that would lead to pride, which would make us sinful; we are only "worthy" because we are "in Christ."
24 Is any of that of our own doing? If you are one of the "called," you will be with Him--not because of you, but because of who? We can trust Him to do what He says He will do.
25-26 So in this relationship of believers and leaders, who prays for who? Both! In that day, women greeted women with a kiss, and men kissed men. The holy kiss was obviously not a sexual or romantic kiss. Christians need to be careful not to imply such things in the way we greet and interact. Today we would think in terms of a hug or handshake.
27-28 Adjure/NASB or charge/KJV is a strong word, which includes the idea of swearing or taking an oath. Paul considers this first letter of his to be as Scripture, knowing his message was delivered to him from whom? It was to be read to ALL, possibly even shared with other churches, just as the Old Testament Scriptures were read in the synagogue. He generally opens and closes his letters with reference to God's grace--His unmerited favor being expressed how? The salvation we have through the Lord Jesus Christ.II THESSALONIANS
Paul wrote his second letter to the church at Thessalonica several months later, probably still from Corinth. Apparently they had received a letter falsely claiming to be from Paul, teaching something different than Paul had actually taught them (2:1-2). Also, he had heard reports of behavior in the church that needed addressed (3:6, 11).
1-2 As in the previous letter, Paul is still with Silas (shortened form of Silvanus) and Timothy. We see his usual opening greeting: God's grace (salvation through Christ), which brings God's peace. This comes from the Father and the Son--not FROM the Spirit, because He is within them.
3-5 This chapter is a bit difficult to interpret. Paul usually starts out speaking of how he prays. Here he briefly mentions his prayers regarding them; as usual, what do his prayers major in? For what? As we read in I Cor. 13: 13, faith, hope and love are the qualities that should define the Christian. What is going on with these believers? Paul has heard about their persecution, and how they are responding. In the Old Testament, under the dispensation of the law, believers were promised earthly blessings, and persecution by their enemies was a sign of God's displeasure with them. However, in the New Testament, under the dispensation of grace (the church age), we are promised spiritual blessings instead, and we are told to expect troubles and tribulations.
5-10 Are we worthy to enter the kingdom? What makes us worthy? Suffering for Christ is not to be looked at as unusual but as part of God's Big Plan, which ultimately results in His righteous judgment. Unbelievers will persecute believers and will ultimately reap what they have sown--God's retribution, eternal destruction. Persecution will reveal those who have true saving faith; believers will be rewarded ultimately (maybe not in this life) with rest and relief. Or is Paul saying that those counted worthy to suffer for Christ reveal how righteous God's judgment is, because it will fall upon those who clearly deserve it? All will experience God's justice, but we may not see it till the return of Christ.
Does this passage match the description of the rapture that Paul taught about in I Thes. 4, or is this the second coming pictured in Rev. 19? These are two separate events. In I Thessalonians, Paul gave details of the rapture. In II Thessalonians, he gives details of the second coming. What phrase do we see in 10 that speaks of the end times, especially the day of the Lord? So what is one purpose of the second coming? Judgment. What is one purpose of God allowing persecution and tribulation in our lives?
This passage addresses some issues that Christians are unclear on. Some falsely teach that only believers who are "worthy" (meeting a certain standard, even though the Bible does not tell us how we might know if we are being good enough) will go in the rapture, or will inherit the kingdom. However, it is possible that how we live this life will be reflected in how we are rewarded with responsibilities of ruling with Christ in the kingdom. In 7, we again read of angels as fearsome beings, not soft fluffy females or chubby winged babies. They are often described as an army, as engaged in spiritual warfare. 8 may be equating knowing God (having a personal relationship) with obedience to Christ. Some think that just holding a belief in Christ is saving faith even if it doesn't result in a changed life; others think that the Bible uses the terms "faith" or "believe" to include some sort of action, service, obedience. Or it may just be speaking of two groups of unbelievers--Gentiles and Jews. In 9, does the Bible present hell as temporary, or as annihilation?
11-12 Is Paul praying that these believers would be counted among those considered worthy to suffer for their faith, because of the qualities that will be developed in them because of it? The NASB makes 11 sound like these believers desire goodness and the work of faith with power, but the KJV makes it sound like it is God's desire ("good pleasure") that these things be accomplished in our lives. What is the ultimate purpose, 12? We shouldn't desire to be "good" for how that reflects on us, but rather for how it reflects on who? Are these qualities developed in our lives by smooth straight paths and days of ease? Isn't this the same teaching as Rom. 8:28-29?
1-2 What had apparently happened at this church? What event does he speak of in 1? What event in 2? Day of Christ/KJV = day of the Lord/NASB. A spirit would probably be a demonic spirit, or perhaps someone claiming (falsely) to prophesy; perhaps a word might refer to the spiritual gift of the "word of knowledge." A letter "as if from us" would be a forgery; it appears Paul generally had a secretary write his letters, but he signed it so they would know it was from him. Since he mentions three possibilities, we wonder if all three had happened, which sounds like someone, or some group, was trying very hard to teach error, or simply to discredit Paul. Perhaps some believers attributed the persecution to the mistaken belief that they had missed the rapture, or that there had been and would be no rapture, that they were obviously living in the days of the tribulation Paul had taught them about, and were resorting to false messages to convince the rest of the church.
3-5 New Christians are easily deceived; Paul warns them about deception, and not to stray from what he had taught them. What does "it" refer to, 3, NASB? The KJV clarifies with the phrase "that day" shall not come. So the day of the Lord--the tribulation--won't begin until what two things have happened? The apostasy, and the revealing of the man of lawlessness (NASB)/man of sin (KJV); we also know him by what other names? What event will reveal him, Dan. 9:27? 4 gives information about him that meshes with what we find in Revelation, Daniel and elsewhere. We see a reference to the abomination of desolation, when, in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, he declares himself to be God and breaks the seven-year covenant with Israel after three-and-a-half years. Dan. 9:27, 11:31, 12:11, Mat. 24:15, Rev. 13.
The Greek word "apostasia" is translated "the apostasy" in the NASB and "a falling away" in the KJV. Some translations say "revolt" or "rebellion." There are two views of the apostasy. 1) Some think the apostasy is an abandonment of doctrinal truth by the professing church. We see this happening in recent years at alarming speed, yet apostasy has always been around. Paul speaks of "the" apostasy, so this would have to be a particular recognizable event, different than others. Apostasy does not mean that someone who was saved chooses to no longer believe; true saving faith can never be lost or left, Rom. 8:39-39, Eph. 1:13-14, Phil. 1:6, John 10:29. Paul teaches that we need to make sure our faith is the real thing, II Cor. 13:5. Someone who leaves or denounces his faith was never saved, I John 2:19. Mat. 7:21 and the parable of the seed and the sower in Mat. 13 make it clear that not everyone who appears to be saved is truly saved. But we do see the visible church moving rapidly away from sound doctrine.
2) Others think it is a reference to the rapture. The only other place "apostasia" is used is Acts 21:21 where the meaning is "forsake." The Liddell & Scott Greek Lexicon defines it as: defection, revolt, departure, disappearance. The first seven English translations of the Bible translate it here as either "departure" or "departing." The KJV was the first translation to not use those terms. Also, Paul uses a definite article, "the," referring to a particular departure--the one he had just referred to in verse 1. And in 5, he reminds them that this is something he already clearly taught them. So in 3, he lays out a timeline: the rapture/departure, then the revealing of the man of lawlessness, then the day of the Lord. IF the apostasy in 3 means a large-scale departure from the faith by the church, then it appears he would be saying that the revealing of the man of sin would come next, not the rapture. This lends weight to the interpretation that "the apostasy" is the church's departure--the rapture.
6-8 Why hasn't the man of lawlessness been revealed yet, 6? Something is restraining him, holding him back ("withholdeth," KJV)--something they knew about, because Paul had clearly taught them already. "In his time" speaks of God's appointed time. So who is allowing things to go on until that time? Everything is happening according to God's Big Plan and His timetable. Everything is under God's sovereign control, even the evil we see around us.
Whoever the restrainer is ("he") will at some point to taken out of the way (not simply leave on his own), 7. KJV uses "letteth" (an Old English word meaning: delays, hinders, makes late) instead of "restrains." It can also mean "occupy"--the indwelling Holy Spirit. The "mystery" of lawlessness would be that aspect of lawlessness that has not previously been revealed; Jesus revealed through Paul what is to take place in the endtimes. At that point ("then"), 8, the man of sin will be revealed. Something must happen before the antichrist/beast/man of sin signs the seven-year covenant--something involving someone who is restraining the lawlessness that was already on the scene in Paul's day and which will culminate in the man of lawlessness, whose fate, end of 8, is described in Rev. 19:11-21. Who is capable of restraining lawlessness--holding back the forces of Satan--who will leave/depart at some point just before this man is revealed?
Christians are salt and light in this world, because we are indwelt by who? The influence of the indwelling/occupying Holy Spirit, working through the church, prevents Satan from having his way, and having his day. He cannot have his day until God permits it. When the church departs this earth--when we are caught up to meet the Lord in the clouds in the rapture--the indwelling Holy Spirit departs also. The church age will be over. Because God is omnipresent, the Holy Spirit will continue to be present and to work, as He did before the church age.
So we see that in 3 Paul presents the rapture (the departure) followed by the tribulation. In 7-8, he presents the same teaching. This passage, 1-8, clearly teaches the pre-tribulation rapture of the church, just as we saw the clear chronological order of rapture/tribulation in I Thes. 4:14-5:11 along with the clear statement in 5:9 that the church will not go through the tribulation.
9-12 We read more about this man, and those who follow him. 9 confirms what we read in Mat. 24:24 and Rev. 13:3. Many today are seeking signs and wonders rather than the crucified and risen Christ and the truth of God's Word, even those within the professing church (not necessarily made up entirely of true believers); those unbelieving church attenders who are left behind may be easily taken in by the false signs and wonders that will accompany the man of sin. 10 reminds us that deception will be rampant at that time, Dan. 8:23,25, 11:23, Mat. 24:4,5,11,23-26.
10, who are those who will be deceived at that time? Those who perish...those who did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. Some teach that the people referred to here are those who rejected Christ before the rapture--that they will not be permitted to believe following the rapture. That view has several problems. 1) It does not say that. 2) These people could just as easily be all who refuse to believe during the tribulation--those Revelation frequently refers to as "those who dwell on the earth," Rev. 3:10, 6:10, 8:13, 11:10, 13:8,14, 17:8. 3) Many who heard of Christ before the rapture but did not believe have simply not yet come to the point of admitting they are sinners and that Christ is who He said He is. How many of us believed the first moment we heard? How many heard numerous times before believing? Obviously they did not REJECT Christ before salvation--they simply had not yet believed. Not yet believing does not equal rejecting. Perhaps they teach this view because of the use of the past tense, yet many prophetic passages speak of future events in the past tense, known as the "prophetic past tense." 4) This view does not seem to fit with the character of God, who desires all men to be saved. The only people who are specifically destined for hell are those who take the mark of the beast during the tribulation.
IF that view is correct, then 11-12 is a somber warning to them today. But it could just as easily be speaking of those "earth-dwellers" (as opposed to us who are citizens of heaven). In the tribulation, those who do not believe--the wicked, those who perish, those who did NOT receive the love of the truth so as to be saved, those who took pleasure in wickedness--will be judged. Does God delude them? No, God will not force them to believe what is false, but, just as Pharaoh hardened his heart and then God hardened it more, so God will help these wicked people to do what is already in their heart. He does not force anyone to choose evil, nor does He force anyone to choose Him. But He will help us to do what is already in our hearts. We can see the great delusion already building today. It's not hard to picture how this delusion will influence them to reject the truth.
11 speaks of believing "a lie," KJV, or "what is false," NASB, which also gives the alternate translation in the margin of "the lie." Several other translations also say "the lie." What might this lie be? Perhaps the explanation given for the rapture, or the identity of the man of sin, or the explanation for the mark of the beast.
13-14 Paul wraps up his correction of the false teaching that they had missed the rapture and were already experiencing the tribulation. As we discussed back in Eph. 1, God's choosing for salvation (predestination) can be understood as choosing each individual by name in eternity past, or can be understood as His choosing the church "for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth"--distinguishing the church as a special group, the blending of Jew and Gentile as one body, the body of Christ. In 14 he uses the term "called"--we know that many are called but few are chosen, Mat. 22:14, and that whosoever will may come, John 6:37. What is the purpose of this choosing and calling, 14?
15 The Catholic church uses this verse to justify their dependence on church tradition along with the Bible (and often, above the Bible). Paul is not speaking of that type of tradition; in fact, Jesus criticizes the Pharisees' use of traditions to go beyond Scripture or even circumvent Scripture. When Paul wrote this to the church at Thessalonica, was there a written New Testament? All the churches had was letters from Paul and other apostles, and their verbal teachings that were passed around--the traditions Paul speaks of. When the canon of Scripture was complete, the written Word was the churches' final authority. No more teachings of men were to be added to it. How does this verse, taken in CONTEXT, apply to us? We are to stand firm on God's Word, on correct doctrinal truth.
16-17 This church was experiencing persecution and had been confused by false teaching. What did they need? Will a correct understanding of God's Word do that for us also?
1-3 Who should we remember to pray for, 1? Even if we don't know missionaries, what can we pray, 1-2? Those who have eagerly accepted the Gospel and the Lord might need reminded that not all people will react that way! Some simply aren't interested, but others actively attack both the truth and the messenger. Paul does not go into a bunch of melodrama about his life, but quickly turns to them, attributing their troubles to who? He is probably alluding to the Lord's Prayer, "deliver us from evil," rephrasing it to let us know who is the source of all evil (NASB, "the evil one"--the KJV says "evil"). Does God promise to keep Satan from attacking us? What does He promise instead? What is our part, Eph. 6:10-17? So God has allowed Satan to attack us, and this will not change until he is chained and thrown into the abyss for 1000 years after Christ's second coming. But He doesn't leave us to fend for ourselves; He is our help and strength.
4-5 Why does he say "in the Lord"? Outside of the Lord's empowering, should we put confidence in any man? In 5, here I think the KJV is clearer, "patient waiting for Christ," rather than the NASB, "steadfastness of Christ." "Patient waiting for Christ" clarifies the problem he discusses in the next few verses. 5, do these things happen from self-effort? This is Paul's prayer for them; this is something we can pray for others, rather than asking God to do specific things in their situation that we really don't know if it be His will or not.
6-15 Because of the fraudulent letter telling them, falsely, the day of the Lord had begun and, also falsely, that therefore the rapture must happen soon, apparently some had quit their jobs. Have we heard of this in our day--that someone falsely predicted a rapture date, and then people quit their jobs, sold their homes, or in other ways quit planning for the future? Is this how we are to wait for Christ? What does Paul say we ought to be doing? Similarly, what does Jesus say in Luke 19:13? Occupy = to busy one's self with one's trade, one's occupation. (Some today falsely teach that "occupy" here means that the church is to take dominion over the world like an occupying army, and that Christ will then return to receive His kingdom that the church has prepared for Him. This teaching may be called dominionism, kingdom now, or some other similar terminology.)
What could our society learn from 10? Do our churches sometimes have the problem of busybodies? Those in leadership need to live as good examples for the church. We have seen in every Epistle some reference to church discipline. Are these people to be brought before the church for their behavior? So there are various levels of wrong behavior in the church that might be dealt with in different ways; sin such as immorality or false doctrine would be handled differently than disruptive behavior. While we may not be mooching off others in the church, do some have undisciplined lives? Which is better--to use self-discipline, or to have others around us, or even the Lord, step in with discipline? The Bible commends hard work and discipline, not self-indulgence.
16-18 Paul opens and closes his letters with God's peace and grace--on "all," even those he just chastised. Do we experience 16? If not, why--what stands in the way? Like Paul, is this something we can pray for others, rather than asking God to do something specific in their situation that we can't know is truly what He is wanting to do? "The Lord be with you all"--is this a request or a statement, a reminder? In the KJV, "be" is supplied by the editors. Paul reminds them that even though someone writes his letters for him, he always writes in his own hand at the end, so they won't be deceived again.
Copyright 2014 Jan Young
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