Thursday

14 December 2017

2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

“We always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfil by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (vv. 11-12)

Psalm: Psalm 138


Background

The first letter of Paul to the church at Thessalonica was written in the early part of the year 51 on behalf of Silvanus and Timothy to a young church which they had founded a few months earlier (Acts 17:1-4). This first letter supplements the teaching Paul personally gave in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10) by offering guidance to the church concerning how to live a holy life in the light of the coming again of Jesus.

Now this second letter, also written by Paul on behalf of all three early apostles, was written a few months after the first letter. Paul begins by acknowledging the steadfast faith and love of the Thessalonians despite the struggles they are facing - he tells them how much he talks about this faith to other Christians (verse 4). He has shared some of their suffering first hand, having fled from a mob roused by opponents from the synagogue, narrowly escaping being dragged before the magistrates with Jason (who had welcomed the church into his home) and with other church members, who were accused of insurrection. Jason and the others were asked to provide bail and were bound over to keep the peace (Acts 17:5-10). Whilst Paul personally was smuggled out of the city overnight, he knows that for the new Christians in Thessalonica, times are tough. Yet these young Christians must not give up hope. Their faith in the midst of suffering will make them, and is evidence that they are "worthy of the kingdom of God" (v. 5), because God is just. They will eventually find rest from their sufferings when God comes in judgement, and all the world will see Christ revealed as he truly is (verses 7, 10; Mark 8:38). That revelation includes his glory being seen in Christians (verses 10, 12). Christ himself will reciprocate by glorifying them (verse 12), perhaps boasting about them in the same way that Paul does in verse 4.

On the flip side, God's justice also means that those who were afflicting them will themselves be afflicted by God (verse 6) and will suffer "eternal destruction" (v. 9). This is in accordance with the law of restitution (Leviticus 24:17-22). Note that the "flaming fire" (v. 8) refers to the glow of majesty of Christ, not to any fires of destruction. It thus relates to the depictions of the fire of God's presence as depicted in Exodus 3:2 and Isaiah 66:15. Paul has personally encountered and been blinded by this fire of Christ's presence, an experience he later recounts to King Agrippa (Acts 26:13-15).


To Ponder

  • Notice that those who afflict God's people will suffer "eternal destruction" (v. 9). In what way do you think that this differs from 'eternal suffering' or 'eternal punishment'?
  • Should people only follow Jesus because they hope to be rewarded in the future? Why, or why not?
  • How Christian is the law of restitution? Where do you find the place of forgiveness in it?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Neil Cockling

Neil spent 20 years as a circuit minister before becoming the District Development Enabler for the Newcastle upon Tyne Methodist District. He now works full-time for the NHS as a Consultant Lead Chaplain in mental health, leading a multi-faith team of 14 chaplains working in 10 hospitals in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.