Sunday School Lesson for November 4, 2001
2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
Focal Teaching Passage: 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12
Encouragement and Assurance for Those Who are Persecuted (1: 5-10)
As the second Thessalonian letter commences, the apostle Paul again makes note of the exemplary Christian lives being lived by his brothers and sisters in the city of Thessalonica. As in his first correspondence, he praises God on their behalf and commends them for their "faith," "love," and "perseverance" which they continually displayed in the midst of numerous "persecutions and afflictions" (vv.3-4). It is apparent that Paul’s intention in these initial verses is to provide both encouragement and affirmation for his suffering friends with the aim of spurring them on to greater faithfulness to Christ and the gospel. In verses 5-10 there are three main truths presented to the persecuted church for this purpose: God will reward them for their faithfulness; God will repay their enemies for their persecution; God will ultimately relieve them of their suffering.
Here Paul announces that there is ample evidence, "a plain indication," of the reality of their faith in Christ. This has reference to the virtues presented in verse 4 that serve as the undeniable proof of their salvation. However, to many, such persecutions would seem to indicate God’s disfavor with them rather than His approval. Yet, Paul understands such hardships as the very evidence of "God’s righteous judgment" of their lives—His perfectly just assessment of their Christian commitment. In fact, God’s approval has resulted in their being "considered worthy of the kingdom of God." Leon Morris comments that such consistent faith and obedience in the face of severe persecutions "could come only from the action of God within them; and if God has so inspired them there is clear evidence that He does not intend them to fall short of the final attainment of the kingdom" (116). This statement should not be taken to indicate that the kingdom of God, or salvation in its fullest expression, is entered by means of suffering as if works could save, but that such persistence and perseverance is the hallmark of the ones who are saved (Matt. 10:22; 24:13). True believers do, in fact, suffer "for" the kingdom, that is, for the sake of Christ Himself. What the suffering believer has to look forward to, then, is the gracious reward of full and complete salvation—not a reward that is earned by human achievement, but one graciously given in Christ to all who have been mercifully called to eternal life in Him.
Verses 6,7b, 8- 9
To those who are perpetrating the tribulation and persecution of God’s people, Paul speaks a solemn word of warning—God will "repay with affliction those who afflict you" (v.6). Truly, God will have the last word for those who have so violently opposed the gospel and His called-out people. Such vindication is "just" in that it satisfies the demands of God’s holiness. Those who sin against Him and His church will be punished, especially those who attack His sheep and work so diabolically to hinder the dissemination of the good news. Verse 8 further describes the opponents of the Thessalonians as those who:
It is to such persons that God will hand out "retribution," or divine punishment, on the last day—"the day of the Lord" (1 Thess. 5:2). On this day, "the Lord Jesus" Himself shall be "revealed from heaven with His mighty angels and flaming fire" (v. 7b). In other words, the Second Advent of Christ will be accompanied by the sure sign of God’s fierce judgment—the presence of divine "fire" (Ps. 18:8; Isa. 66:15-16; Ezk. 1:13; Dan. 7:9,10).
This punishment is further amplified in verse 9 where Paul declares that the unrepentant will "pay the penalty of eternal destruction." Such a sentence does not imply the complete annihilation of the sinner, but his total ruin and the loss of all that may be considered as "life." Specifically, this involves removal "away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power." In other words, those who do not know God savingly through Christ, and do not obey the gospel, will know the very opposite of the eternal life given to those who have believed in Christ (Rom. 5:21; 6:22-23; Gal. 6:8). As Matthew 25:41 confirms, the impenitent and disobedient will be cast into the "eternal fire" of God’s holy wrath.
Verse 7a, 10
In stark contrast to the judgment and eternal death that awaits the persecutors of Christ’s church, Paul announces that at the parousia Christ Himself will "give relief" to those who are "afflicted." Thus, the coming of Christ will not only bring to an end the empire of evil and the reign of death, it will result in unfathomable blessings for those who have endured hostility and persecution for the sake of His name. The word translated "relief" indicates the removal of tension (as in the slackening of the bow-string), or that which causes undue pressure and anxiety. Thus, Paul is "[pointing] his friends forward to the prospect of release from the afflictions that tormented them" (Morris, 117). This message would doubtless bring great comfort to the souls of the tribulated saints.
Yet another description of the Second Advent is presented in verse 10 where Paul declares that on "that day," the Lord will personally return and will be "glorified in His saints" and "marveled at among all who have believed." The suffering believers of Thessalonica, then, have the reassuring promise that they "will be, as it were, a mirror reflecting something of the greatness of the glory of their Lord" (Morris, 120). Such a scene will be beyond all description, as even the saints will stand in awe of its true majesty and greatness. Indeed, the full glory of that day "will far surpass anything of which we can have any idea before we behold it, and when we do behold it we shall be lost in amazement" (Morris, 120). This shall be, therefore, the glorious reward for those in Thessalonica who have embraced the "testimony," or gospel, proclaimed by Paul and his missionary companions.
A Prayer for the Glory of God and the Good of His People (1:11-12)
Having given his spiritual children the assurance of God’s faithfulness, Paul now turns to reveal to his brethren the contents of his continual prayers for them. This statement—"To this end we pray"—recalls his assuring words of 1 Thessalonians 1:3. As the apostle expresses the prayer, several specific requests are surfaced:
Major Questions for Application and Discussion
One: Look carefully at verses 3-4 and consider this question: When those around you think of you, are they immediately led to give glory and praise to God on your behalf? How does your life and the strength and quality of your Christian commitment affect those around you?
Two: Verse 5 indicates the undeniable link between faith and works. What is it, and are there other passages in the Scripture that reveal such a link? In light of this connection, what can be said of those who make a profession of their faith, yet never display the fruit of salvation (namely faith, love, and perseverance under trial)?
Three: This passage makes it clear that at Christ’s Second Advent believers will finally be freed from the difficulties, tribulations, and troubles of this life. But what should suffering believers do in the mean time? What if the coming of Christ is not to be in our lifetime?
Four: In this first chapter we discover some of Paul’s strongest words concerning the subject of eternal punishment. What place does the reality of judgment and hell have in our presentations of the gospel? Is it really necessary to include such "bad news" in our presentations of the good news?