2 ThessaloniansWorthy Even in the End
Introduction and 2 Thess 1
Introduction to 2 Thessalonians
Although less scholars are as apt to name Paul as the author for many times conflicting reasons, Paul does indeed seem to have written this letter based on its similar themes and vocabulary and grammar to 1 Thessalonians.
This letter shortly followed, probably within the year, the first letter. Probably around AD 51. One might think that Paul quickly responded to their questions in order to facilitate their discipleship in the matters he could not complete before he was forced out of the city. Now that Paul has heard that the Thessalonians are advancing in the Christian faith, he is eager to continue their advancement readily and quickly.
Because of the nature of the eschatology section in chapter 2, many scholars also pose the question of whether this letter preceded the first epistle or not. In the first epistle, Paul answers the question of "What will happen to those who die before the Parousia?" whereas in the second epistle, he answers the question, "Has the Parousia already occurred and we've missed it?" Many suggest that Paul would answer the question of timing of the Parousia before he would answer the question of its effect on deceased saints. However this is incompatible and the church would probably have been immediately concerned more with their loved ones dying without partaking in the Parousia before they would worry that their intense persecutions caused the Parousia to miss them in history. It must be noted that probably through false teachers and false prophets who travelled throughout Paul's churches these two questions were raised in the first place.
Paul's purpose in writing this epistle was to continue answering questions about eschatology, this time concerning other false teachings and prophecies about the Parousia of the Lord. He also once again continues to exhort the Thessalonians toward Christian practices in living in the last days.
Paul wrote this letter to answer questions concerning eschatology and to give thanksgiving to God for their continued faith and walking in Christian holiness.
* The Judgment of God - Paul sets the context of God's judgment in the last days and points to the destruction of the wicked for the suffering of the righteous. The saints are to continue in their persecutions, afflictions, and sufferings in hope of the Day of the Lord when Christ will return to avenge their suffering in life.
* The Timing of the Parousia - Paul provides a more detailed outline of the timing of the Parousia. It must come after the Antichrist arrives and after a great apostasy, or falling away before the Lord will return and inaugurate the end of all time and the beginning of eternity.
* The Antichrist - The antichrist is here referred to as the "lawless man" in the second chapter. Paul speaks of this person as one who will easily be understood to be the one who is opposed to God. He uses apocalyptic language to speak of this obvious event and the circumstances which will follow. The antichrist is restrained in history until the time God has set for the antichrist to be revealed.
* Idle Living - Paul encourages the church once again to live worthy of God's calling them into salvation. This means that they must maintain an honest work ethic until the Lord returns. Not only is idleness a state foreign to end-times Christianity, but a Christian must be active in these last days doing good. Idle living is passive, but God has called Christians to an active and vibrant Christian practice of living with purpose and hope in the coming of the Lord.
* Suffering of the Saints - Paul uses this background of the Thessalonian church throughout both of the letters, but this background shows that the Christians were and are suffering in the last days. It is not God's will that they should suffer, for He will repay those who persecute Christians at His judgment. But Christians will suffer for God's name in the last days. This fact is borne out not only through these short epistles, but through all of Paul's epistles.
2 Thessalonians 1
Greetings (1:1-2). The same three authors begin this second letter, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. Silvanus is the Latin rendering of Silas' name. The audience is the church of Thessalonica, the capitol city of the Macedonian Province. Notice that both God and Jesus are mentioned in tandem with one another, showing the deity and connection between Christ and God. Then we see that standard greeting from Paul in verse 2. Grace and peace are hallmarks of Christian thought for Paul. Grace is a central theme of God's blessing in which we receive what we did not deserve or gain on our own. It is a gift. Peace is not used here as a term for the absence of hostilities but is used more in its Jewish connotation of well-being and wholeness. Paul wishes upon the Thessalonian church grace to live out kingdom character and wholeness. The source of both grace and peace is two-fold, God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are the sources of grace and wholeness.
Thanksgiving (1:3-5). Paul opens the body of the letter by letting the Thessalonians know how pleased he and his comrades are that they have continued in the faith of Christ. The word "ought" here concerns an obligation. Paul is so pleased that their faith is stable and growing that he must give God thanks, for this was his biggest fear, that their faith would fall because of persecution instead of be strengthened by persecution. Their faith and love were abounding, just as Paul had prayed in his first epistle for them to continue to grow.
It is for these very reasons that Paul is not only so tickled with their progress that he "ought to give thanks," but he also boasts about the great work of God among the Thessalonians, that God has increased their faith and love so that they might be an example to the other churches of how to face adversity and persecution. And this suffering has a direct link with God's judgment of the world. Their persecutions have shown that they are worthy of the Kingdom of God. In a way, suffering and steadfast faith in the midst of persecution shows that Christians have the essence of the Kingdom of God. God's Kingdom works on opposite principles than the world does, so it is no surprise that all of the NT writers share this observation that Christians who are suffering show the character of God's Kingdom, instead of reacting in the same way the world would under persecution or adversity.
Judgment at Christ's Coming (1:6-10). The saints' vengeance and redemption from all of this suffering on this earth will come at the time of the Day of the Lord, when Christ returns for the church. At that time, God will judge the world by exposing persecutors to the same afflictions with which they have persecuted the church. God's vengeance will be just and honorable as He returns back the same trials that persecutors have launched against the saints.
The heathens and persecutors will know the flames of fire and be afflicted for two reasons: (1) because they do not know God or believe in Him, and (2) because they disobey the gospel. The two are closely related. One concerns the unbeliever's relationship to God. For all of their life they have chosen to be away from God and to run from His presence and be autonomous in their decision to not know God. Of course, because they have no relationship with God, they would not then obey His laws or gospel or good news about reconciliation between them and Him. So God will give them over to their desire to not know Him.
They will suffer eternal destruction whereas the righteous have only suffered temporal and earthly destruction. And most importantly, unbelievers will be given over to what they have desired their entire lives, to be away from God, alone, on their own, in a cold, dark world. God will leave them and His presence will no longer be near them or attempt to woo them. They will receive exactly what they asked for, to be alone forever, without God. For the second time, Paul links these actions to the Parousia or the Day of the Lord. Both the coming of Christ and the Day of the Lord seem to be linked in Paul's explanations in these early epistles. They seem to be the same event, so that the Day of the Lord, the day of judgment for the wicked and salvation for the remnant, and the Parousia, where Christ returns in the rapture for His Church, are the same event in Paul's writing here.
On that Day, Christ will be glorified by the saints in that He will finally be with them, the culmination of all redemptive history. The believers will marvel at His appearance and worship Him. This is a day that we are looking forward to as believers. And the way we live our lives with that goal in mind is what Paul has in mind in chapter 3.
Paul's Prayer for the Thessalonians (1:11-12). Paul prays to this end for the Thessalonians, that they might be worthy of this day and the calling of God into salvation. Paul always prays this way for them. We saw one of his prayers for their sanctification in the first epistle and here we see that his approach and subject matter concerning them in his prayers has not changed, even though there was a good report. Paul continued to seek God for their salvation and sanctification in light of the Day of the Lord, when this glorious picture of worship would become a fulfilled reality.
Notice that God is the one who makes them worthy. It is nothing we do ourselves that makes us worthy of salvation or God's grace or anything we think we can gain of our own works or will. God alone makes us worthy of that Day. Paul mentions both the will when he speaks of God giving us the resolve to do good works, and he also speaks of our actual ethics, where we do the good works based on our will. Paul is praying that God would continue to spur us on toward sanctification, that God would continue to light a fire of desire in us so that we might cooperate with God in our growth toward His purposes and plans for our lives.
When this happens in our lives, Christ is glorified, and we are also glorified. It is a circle of enjoyment and glorification that happens when we are obedient to the will of God in our daily lives. This whole process is shrouded and immersed in grace, for that is the operative method of God. Always as we grow closer to God, there is grace for every moment, both the times when we are obeying and the times when we struggle to continue to obey. The process of sanctification is begun by God and takes our cooperation. It is a synergy of both agents working together to produce holy and righteous saints who are Christ's bride, the Church collectively. God works and wills His purposes in our lives. All we have to do is obey!
Man of Lawlessness
2 Thess 2
Chapter two is the theological heart of Paul�s second epistle to the Thessalonians. Since he has written his first epistle, they have now asked him a very important eschatological question: "Has the Day of the Lord already begun?" When Paul was with them, he taught them according to early Christian apocalyptic language that the coming of the Lord would be surrounded with great and extreme persecution. The Thessalonians are witnessing such persecution in their city. It is likely that a false traveling teacher or prophet had falsely proclaimed that Jesus had already come back and they missed it. This alarmed the Thessalonians greatly and so they asked Paul if the Day of the Lord had already arrived and instead of being caught up in the clouds together with the Lord, they were enduring the judgment of the Day of the Lord.
We also must take into consideration that after these eschatological sections in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, we will still be lacking in some minor tidbits of information because we are walking in on a conversation. We do not have Paul's original teaching in the Thessalonian church of Eschatology. All we have is his responses to their questions about the material covered or lacking in his initial presentation. So we are eavesdropping on this matter and we may have just as many questions as answers when Paul moves on to other issues. But rest assured, we have all we need to know to apply eschatology to our lives. God has given us everything we need to know here and now. We must trust Him in this matter and others. He is not the kind of God to lead us astray.
2 Thessalonians 2
The Matter at Hand (2:1-2). Paul uses the conjunction "Now concerning" to point to another issue apart from his opening prayer for the Thessalonians. He has switched gears to speak of the main subject of this letter. Paul considers now the issue of the Coming of the Lord (the Parousia), and the gathering together with Him (the Rapture of believers). These two events are tied into one. At the same time that Christ returns in the clouds, believers will be caught up with Him in the air. Paul has already spoken of this in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11.
Because of the intense persecution and what some false teachers and prophets were teaching in the church at Thessalonica, they believed that since their persecution and affliction in that city was indeed quite severe, that the intense judgment of God was already upon them, an event that occurs after the Parousia. This misunderstanding can be easily seen. Paul asks them to not be shaken in mind or alarmed. If you thought you had missed the Parousia, you would be shaken in mind as well.
This phrase shaken in mind and alarmed shows not just a mental shaking, but also an emotional and psychological shaking. They are messed up over missing this important event. We know that they were shaken by outside and more than likely false teachers because of Paul's next phrase. He names the instruments which caused their confusion: (1) A spirit, as in prophetic utterances or spiritual experiences, (2) a spoken word, from a visiting teacher or a prophetic message or an oral tradition being passed around, (3) or a false letter that seemed to be from Paul but was not. The false message was that the Day of the Lord had already come upon them. The theological implications of such a predicament cannot be over-exaggerated. Missing the Parousia and Rapture would mean that they were not really saved and that they deserved the full wrath of God reserved for the wickedness of humanity.
Describing the Lawless Man (2:3-7). Paul desires that the church not be deceived in any way. His strong language here shows just how integral and imperative eschatology is to the church. It is not the last thing that needs to be discussed in systematic theology, for in eschatology, we find our ultimate purpose and identity as the Church. Eschatology is extremely crucial to practice living life with the end goal in mind.
Paul proceeds to tell the Thessalonians that the Day of the Lord has not indeed come just yet because there are certain chronological events that must first take place. Two events specifically must take place before the Day of the Lord. The first is the rebellion. This is the apostasy, which generally has spiritual connotations, such as an abandonment of the faith. It is possible that the apostasy of the end times may be more complex than just believers leaving the faith. It may include political unruliness and unrest, social and cultural war, and other types of rebellion. But this rebellion, along with the next sign, are so abundantly clear that they cannot be missed by Christians. Paul is very clear that these signs and events will be so obvious to us. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul discussed the blatant and obvious events of these times.
The second event that must happen is the coming of the "lawless one." This person will be someone completely opposed to order and laws. The idea of lawless here is not just someone who breaks a rule but someone who embodies the rebellion or apostasy. This person will be destructive to society, culture, political arenas, and spiritual issues. One of the reasons this lawless one, whom we are more used to calling the Antichrist, probably mostly carries the idea of the religious rebel. In verse 4, we see that this person rises up against spirituality and religion. This person is so full of pride that all other gods will be opposed.
This Antichrist will indeed rise up and place himself above all other gods and spiritual objects. There is a debate concerning whether or not Paul is talking about the literal temple in Jerusalem in verse 4. Because the word for religious objects of worship, it is most likely speaking also of a literal temple. However, no one can be sure. This segment of Paul's description follows very closely the "Abomination of Desolation" in Matthew 24:15-28. Some scholars would say that the phrase "he takes his seat in the temple" is figurative for taking command or rule as God already does. The suggestion is that this person will usurp the throne of God or steal His place. Either way, the literal or figurative expression arrives at the same understanding, that this person will proclaim with absolute pride that he is God.
In verse 6 we see that Paul is distressed and not understanding why the Thessalonians are asking him about these details because he has apparently already explained these two events that follow before the Parousia of the Lord when he was there with them. Although Paul does not understand their sudden interest in his reiteration of these events, Paul's pastoral heart provides him with the desire to answer all of their questions. It is very possible that the false teachers and prophets had flashed hefty credentials at these believers when they linked the suffering and persecution of the church with the great rebellion before the end and the massive and complete affliction Paul had described before the Lord's coming when he was present among them. But Paul desired for them to not live in fear or apathy for thinking that they had missed the Parousia.
In verses 6-7, Paul brings up the restrainer, which has kept the lawless one at bay all of this time until the designated season of his arrival. Remember that as we study this material, we are coming in on a conversation that has been going on between Paul and the Thessalonians since they began in Christ. In verse 6, the restrainer is a neuter participle, but in verse 7, this restrainer is in the masculine form. Many scholars have taken approaches to understand why the participle changes while in the context, Paul refers, it seems, to the same thing. This might be the biggest issue of this chapter. Answering this grammatical question answers the identity of the restrainer. Over seven theories have been proposed to resolve this question. Some of the common suggestions are that the restrainer is both a government (such as Rome) and an emperor. Almost all of the possibilities suggest something like a government or an impersonal barrier and then a personal or person as the second retainer. One suggestion proposes that the Holy Spirit is the restrainer because Pneumatos can be referred to in the masculine and the neuter at different times. We do not know who this restrainer is, but the Thessalonians understood Paul's meaning because he says, "You know!?
The mystery of lawlessness could possibly be the neuter restrainer, but no one is certain. The function of this restrainer is to keep the Antichrist from appearing before the proper time. God has all things under control and just as there was a season, a proper time for Christ to come and die for us, and there will be a proper time for Him to return, there also is a proper and God-ordained time for the release of the Antichrist and the rebellion. God never loses His sovereignty in the end times.
The False Coming (2:8-10). In this section, Paul shows that the Antichrist will mimic Christ in all that he does, from his revelation and arrival. The Antichrist will be revealed and will come (this is the same word used for Christ's coming, Parousia) in which there will be some miraculous power of some sort, but engineered by Satan. There will be false signs and power and wonders. Christ spoke of this in Matthew 24-25 when He said that people will say "Here he is or there he is." This will all be to deceive the world. Clearly, the defeated Satan will use anything to take as many people away from the presence of God as he can.
But Satan is not nearly as powerful as God at all. In fact, he uses smoke screens and mirrors and engineers miracles because he has no power. This is not a dualistic approach by Paul. His point is not that Satan has any power whatsoever, but that all the devil can try to do is to mimic God only for the sake of deception. But Christ will come in the real and undoubted obvious Parousia, which will discredit the Antichrist completely. But it will be too late for those that sided with the Antichrist. The wool that was pulled over their eyes will not be taken away. The phrase "whom Jesus will kill with the breath of His mouth" is ambiguous, but it could mean that the Spirit (in Greek, breath, spirit, and wind, are all the same word) is involved in this destroying of the Antichrist. This may also speak to a wind or to Christ's speech, which would make an interesting correlation to Genesis when God spoke into existence the world. The Word, Jesus Christ, was there (John 1) as well with God.
Verse 10 describes how Satan treats the followers of the Antichrist. After deceiving the people of the world, Satan will now continue to deceive these people from whom he has removed hope because they have followed the Antichrist instead of Christ. All of them will perish because they chose the Antichrist over Christ, because they chose rebellion over obedience and unbelief over belief. They are doomed to destruction with the choice they made. When Paul uses in this section the phrase "Love the truth," he is referring to the gospel. The truth is the gospel of Christ. These people refused to listen to the gospel of Christ and cannot be saved because God's salvation comes only through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
God Judges The Antichrist's Followers (2:11-12). God judges these people for their unbelief. Part of the judgment, based on their actions, is to be under a strong delusion. This delusion keeps them from seeing what they have done, who Christ really is, and the wrong choice they have made. They will still believe in and endorse the Antichrist. They will believe the false and fake miracles and wonders and signs done by the Antichrist. They will fully invest their hearts in belief of this false Christ who has raised himself up against God and God's Anointed One. When Paul says that they will believe what is false to reference the false signs and wonders and miracles.
There is a purpose to God's sending the delusion. Notice that they have already been judged because they have already made up their minds. God only keeps them from seeing the truth when Christ comes back. They continue to believe in the Antichrist. God is a just God. The reason He sends the delusion is so that all of these people who have made up their minds may be punished for their unbelief. They will be condemned and judged because they did not believe in the truth, or the gospel. Their refusal of the gospel will cause God's refusal of them. And God will judge them for their wickedness and their pleasure of unrighteousness. God will judge them for what they did outside of the bounds of the gospel, their pleasures and their wicked deeds that resulted directly from rejction of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no in-between, no fence-sitting. Allegiances and consequences will be clear, distinguished, and justified.
Be Sanctified (2:13-15). Through mentioning the truth of the gospel and its slavific nature and power, Paul is reminded, after his tirade against those rebels who do not believe, of the fact that these Thessalonian saints have not rejected the gospel like the others. So he calls them in the vocative "brothers beloved by God." He once again uses the word "ought" not as a duty but as a deep pastoral desire to give thanks because they are indeed saved. The way Paul uses the word "firstfruits" is interesting. It could either be "chosen from the beginning" or "chsen firstfruits." The idea of firstfruits usually, if not always, refers to Christ in the New Testament. It does not refer to saints. The other possible understanding of "from the beginning" would probably refer to their eager desire from the first time that Paul preached the gospel in their city to accept and apply it to themselves.
There are two instruments of salvation that Paul lists in verse 13. Sanctification by the Spirit is the instrument of the believer's salvation. It is through sanctification that at this Parousia of the Lord the believer's salvation will be culminated and finalized. In this construction, the Spirit is the agent of the sanctification. Your growing into the image of Christ is supervised by the Holy Spirit. God is with you every step of the way. He is molding you, a hands-on, on-the-job, God who is intimately involved in your experience of salvation. The other instrument of salvation is belief in the truth, or the gospel. When people believe what they hear from the preaching of the Word of God and the gospel of Christ, they are taking part in their own sanctification. The Word of God, the Bible, and the gospel are instruments along with the Holy Spirit's involvement, in making us like Christ.
In verse 14, we see that God has called us to the goal and purpose of sanctification. This is one of our main duties as Christians, to cooperate with the Spirit in our growth and mimicking and following of Christ and Christians into a fuller knowledge and experience of God's salvation. Sanctification is a process as much as it is an event or point in time. It is both. Sanctification and salvation are the call of the gospel. The gospel calls us to be obedient to God, to sacrifice our resources for His benefit and to suffer for His name's sake. But the result, the goal, is the glory of Christ both for Christ's sake and for our own. We will be glorified in the clouds when Christ returns for us. Because sanctification is so crucial to final salvation at the eschaton, Paul demands that the Thessalonians keep to the traditions taught them by the apostles and leaders of the church, which will help them arrive at complete sanctification, which can be found in the spoken words of the apostle when he was with them or the written letters that he has personally signed as belonging legitimately to him. These traditions are not simple legalism rules to be kept on fear of death, but helpful stepping stones on the move toward final glorification.
Doxology Prayer (2:16-17). Thoughts of the end when all saints will be glorified in Christ and salvation will be completed so that they look like Christ in thought and deed has led Paul to pray once again for the Thessalonian Christians and to provide an elevated level of prayer in a doxology to thank and glorify God for His working in them. The fact that Paul refers to both Christ and God the Father shows Paul's clear reference to Christ's divinity and two members of the Trinity are spoken to directly in prayer.
This prayer is about the Thessalonians' comfort and calm spirit concerning the eschaton for which they were worried because they had feared that they had missed this great event. Paul describes God as the One who loved the Thessalonians so much that He sent His Son. God's instrument of grace, fueled by His love for them, provides comfort to all Christians and a positive and eager hope in Christ's return. Paul's pastoral nature comes through as he prays that the God of comfort will comfort them and settle their minds in the matter of the Parousia of Christ and that they will be established in their faith even though they are persecuted and suffer afflictions. In everything they do and say, God will comfort them and equip them to be effective Christians who represent Christ in this world until He comes back for them.
Idleness is Wickedness
2 Thess 3 / Summary and Synthesis
Finally, after Paul has expelled the idea that the church has missed the Rapture and has comforted their hearts with the assurance that they are doing well for a new church, he turns to his own comfort as he travels. A short note soon follows with one more warning against idleness and an exhortation to follow Paul's example when he was with them. Then Paul finalizes the letter and blesses the congregation.
2 Thessalonians 3
Paul's Continuing Mission (3:1-5). When Paul finally asks for them to pray for him and his comrades, note what he actually prays for. Paul does not ask them to pray that no trouble happens to him on his journeys. He does not ask them to pray that people will support him. In fact, Paul asks nothing for personal requests in prayer from the Thessalonians. Instead, he asks them to pray for the message of the gospel! He is purely concerned that the Gospel speeds ahead and advances in the areas and cities in which he preaches. Paul is concerned for the Word of God, for its acceptance in the hearts of the people he meets.
In a sense, Paul is asking them to pray for something that is going to already happen anyway. The gospel has an innate quality of being heard and accepted because it is good news. People love to hear good news, especially when it concerns their own livelihood. Aside from the fact that the Gospel has qualities of acceptance stamped into its message, the Holy Spirit draws people to accept the message. So Paul is only praying that God does what He already does and that he does it quickly and among many people. But what a thing to pray for! This is praying the will of God into action. This is asking God to go before you and do what He already wants to do. This shows how in tune Paul is with God's will and how he prays within God's will, reminding himself of God's will at every turn and matching his will with God's.
Secondarily in verse 2, Paul does add that his party might be delivered from evil and wicked men. This is another allusion to those Jews and the group of Judaisers that followed Paul around from city to city and ruined the work of God in each place. They constantly were at Paul's heels, biting and scratching. We have seen from 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16. Even more widely than this group is the general group which ignores and even slanders the gospel message and its representatives. These men also are evil because they reject God's good news. Paul then reminds the Thessalonians that not everyone in the city will believe the message. Not all believe. Not the Jews who are following him around and not the Gentiles who not only refuse his message but attempt to riot against him. The gospel has enemies that seek to destroy it from its inception. So Paul prays that he might be delivered from these evil schemes against God's gospel and, therefore, against him.
In verse 3 Paul makes a direct contrast from the unbelievers who have no faith in God to God who is always faithful. Faithfulness is one of God's core qualities and characteristics. As Paul thinks about his next part in the journey of spreading the Gospel, he turns to remember how God was faithful even in Thessalonica where the wolves had gathered against the gospel message and staged a persecution so great that church thought it was the final great persecution of the Church. Paul reminds them that they are now Christians because the Lord is faithful. And
God who began this work of salvation in them was not about to let them go. No, He would continue the work and the establishing of their hearts in Christianity. Their walk was far from over and it would be an adventurous journey, but God would be with them all the way. The same is true for you and your journey with God. At times, there will be so much adventure and adversity mixed in with your growth that you'll think God isn't there at all, but He is faithful. He never leaves us. He never lets go. And He never lets anything happen to us that does not make us stronger and proclaim His glory and honor throughout the earth.
Paul reaffirms his confidence in the church that they have been doing what he has instructed and that they will continue to do what the apostles have told them to do. It is in doing what the Bible says that Christians open themselves up to a deeper walk with God. Through obedience comes relationship and growth into God's plan for your life. When we do what God, God's Word, and God's leaders in our life tell us to do, which lines up with His Word, we will grow closer to God and also advance in our sanctification. It's not all about doing, but that is part of the Christian life. God leads us to deeper love and commitment to Him. The love of Christ draws us in and the steadfastness of Christ keeps us moving in our sanctification. We need both love to continue the relationship and steadfastness to keep working on the relationship we have with Jesus.
Imitating Paul's Example (3:6-15). After Paul mentions the instructions and commands he left with the Thessalonians before his departure, he reminds them as he did in his first letter that they must not become idle in their work and also in doing good. Apparently, this church had a problem with idleness, that is, the desire to not work but still receive benefits for work. This attitude and practice produced a bad reputation for Christians in the Greco-Roman world. Paul did not want for people who were idle to give Christians a bad name. Besides this aspect of the problem, idleness without work was unbiblical.
So Paul commanded the members of the church at Thessalonica to keep away from such characters. This action of idleness goes against Scripture and the traditions of the apostles. Such a person is not following the apostolic example set by Paul while he was among them. The principle here is that Christians should not be a burden to anyone. Proper gain of goods, food, and anything shows a Christian witness. The apostles while among the members of this church did not ask for anything, although a traveling preacher or apostle could demand that his wages be taken care of and that the community support him financially. But Paul did not do this for the very reason that he wanted to teach them to not be idle and to work for a living, to be honest in the way they lived and worked.
The apostles provided an example for mimicking, for imitation. The church was to learn a proper and godly work ethic that they must work for whatever they receive. Freeloaders were not welcome in the praxis of the apostles. Their desire was that the church would be a shining example to the community, not a bunch of freeloaders who took but did not give. The church was not necessarily built to be self-sufficient, but to interact with the community and replenish at least as much as was taken. Paul's tough apostolic command that those who didn't work didn't eat shows where the rubber meets the road. He was willing to go so far as to demand that anyone who did not work would not freely receive sustenance for the day. This method meets people at the first level of needs, where we all are. Everyone needs to eat. But Paul is trying to make the church realize that everyone needs to work. It was a matter both of principle and of character.
In verse 11, Paul lets the church know that he has heard of some who do not work. He may even coin the phrase in Greek "busybodies," referring to people who gossip about others in the church. Such a problem as gossip eats away at the church from the inside out. When people
are not working at some job, they are usually working in a different, negative way, inside the community. These people who talk about others had no room to speak of others, so Paul ordered that they get to work and produce a good work ethic that would be a testimony not only to their own character, but to the character of Christ. By earning their living, they are not taking advantage of anyone inside the Christian community or outside in the world.
Then Paul realizes that even in doing good to others, Christians can lose heart. We sometimes work long and hard for the Lord before we receive any reward, so it is easy for us to grow weary in well doing. Sometimes when we try to help others, we end up incurring damages or debt as we help others. We take all of this on ourselves and after a while, we seem to understand and internalize all too well the proverb and the psalmist who noticed more oft then not that "the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer." But if Christians stopped doing good in the world, where would the world be? I am not saying that Christians are the only ones who ever do good, but they are a large force of good in the world (or at least they should be). So Paul quickly encourages them to do their work and continue to do good.
Now, in verse 14, Paul releases a conditional statement that forces those who disagree with his instructions in this letter. Thos who reject the letter of Paul's instruction are to be shunned. The community is to have nothing to do with them. They are to reject the person as the person has rejected Paul's commands, which carry the weight of the Lord's authority. Rejecting the letters is the same as rejecting the Scriptures and rejecting God, because it is God's communication to humanity. Anyone who does not accept and obey Scripture is on shaky ground at the least with the Christian community. Scripture is the essential guide and words of God to all Christians. The community rejects this person who disagrees with the letter with love in a Christian manner with the purpose of shaming him or her into accepting the Word of God again.
This person is not an enemy or automatically an unbeliever, according to verse 15, but is on extremely shaky ground. Such Christians who do not see the Word of God as paramount to Christian life, thought, and practice cut out the essentials of the faith. They must be warned that one more step beyond the authority of Scripture for their lives is next to leaving the faith. But they are to be warned as part of the family, in Christian love, not as an enemy who has been completely cut off from the community. These are very touchy situations and dangerous, even for the person's soul, because without Scripture, no one can know the way to salvation.
Roll Credits (3:16-18). Paul issues a benediction to the church of Thessalonica to ask the Lord of peace for peace. This peace was for their situation of intense persecution. The Lord of peace, Jesus, would actively give them the peace of mind to face persecution and be strengthened in their faith. This verb for give is an optative in Greek, which is the mood used to ask for something, usually used in prayers. It is extremely rare in the New Testament but used more often by Paul. After this prayer for their peace, Paul wishes upon them the Lord's presence. There is no verb here, but it is understood that this would also be an optative.
In verse 17, Paul ends the letter with his own hand. We do not know if this was just his own signature written in his own hand, as we commonly do in our own business letters. It could also be that Paul wrote the whole ending here. What is striking about this letter and a few others, like Galatians, is that Paul seems to personally sign and make note of his signature when he feels that his apostleship is being mocked or ignored. In a way, Paul is letting them know that the letter is genuine by making note of his personal signature.
In troubled churches like Galatia and Thessalonica, Paul makes note of his signature. This may show how entrenched the opposition to his letters was in Thessalonica. It may also show that Paul simply was more uneasy about this church than others, because of its small and
treacherous beginnings. Nonetheless, Paul takes great pains to ensure they understand this letter is genuine. In Chapter 2, Paul speaks of letters "not from us" which may have been forgeries by his opponents or by false teachers or prophets traveling about the churches. He ends the letter in typical Pauline fashion by wishing God's grace upon all of the members of the church. This grace is favor with God that is given to His people. Paul wishes finally that God's grace will rest upon His church in Thessalonica.
Summary and Synthesis
Throughout the letters to the Thessalonians, Paul continues themes that surface in both letters such as eschatology, church practice and idleness, God�s faithfulness and judgment, and how to pray with thanksgiving.
* Faith and faithfulness. The fledgling faith of the Thessalonians throughout both letters is encouraged and correlated to God's faithfulness that never fails. God's faithfulness and the lack of humanity's faithfulness will cause a judgment in the end times. But even in God's judgment, the church will be saved because of His great love for all who love and serve Him.
* Praxis Concerning Prayer. Paul rarely prays concerning his own needs or himself. He is always praying along with the will of God, that God's will be done quickly and immediately. Even when he could show concern for the logistics of life on the road as an apostle and missionary, he decides to petition God concerning God's current and future involvement in the growth and discipleship of His church. Paul's prayers teach us how to pray for others instead of ourselves.
* Eschatology and End Times. In the first letter, Paul encourages the church by answering the question, "Will the dead in Christ miss out on the Parousia?" In the second letter, Paul answers the question, "Has the Day of the Lord already come?" Through his answers of questions without the original conversation and teaching of Paul concerning the end times, Paul's answers about the Antichrist, Rapture of the Church, and the Day of the Lord in judgment and salvation provide the church with all that we need to live in expectance of Christ's return. We need to live eagerly waiting for that Day by doing God's will in ourselves, our church, and our world.
* Church Practice and Idleness. Paul encourages the church in connection with his teaching on the end times to not lose heart or grow weary in the task at hand. He also warns against idleness and weak work ethics among believers, so that they do not take advantage of the Christian community or the unbelievers for the sake of Christ. The Church has no time to idle stand by and gossip, destroying itself from within. There is a great mission placed upon the Church and all followers of Jesus everywhere to actively pursue the will of God until the return of Christ. We are not to live in fear or anguish or idly while God's plan of salvation is so far from so many unbelievers.