2 Thessalonians 1:1:1—12

Judgment” is not a very popular word. A preacher would never fill his church preaching messages about sin and its inevitable judgment. People nowadays are much happier hearing about love and compassion, grace and mercy.

Yett judgment for sin is a major theme in the Bible, but almost always it is discussed within the context of avoidance. That is, judgment can be avoided if sinful people change their ways and turn back to God. However, there will be a final day of judgment; a day of reckoning that cannot be avoided by any human being: is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment… (Hebrews 9:27)

The Thessalonians, like so many Christians, got confused. They thought the great day of judgment had arrived and they were being judged by God. Persecution of Christians was not uncommon during Paul’s day, and the Thessalonians were well acquainted with it. The church there was born in persecution (see Acts 17:1—9) and grew in spite of continued trials. But some believers in the congregation had grown weary and began wondering, “Why do we have to suffer?” It’s a common question, and Paul deals with the answer in the context of the end times and God’s judgment on a sinful world.

1. The righteous are worthy, 1:3—5

a. The church’s condition, vs. 3, 4

Because this church seemed to always be facing some persecution, Paul took every opportunity to encourage them and build them up. This he does in verses 3 and 4. Since his first letter, the church had continued to grow and mature spiritually in the face of many trials. Paul took their condition as an answer to his prayers; he thanked God for the present state of the Thessalonians. As a result, Paul talked up the Thessalonian church to his other churches, citing them as a good example of how to persevere under persecution:

Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. (verse 4)

So this church, with all its faults, impressed Paul on two fronts: (1) their faith continued to grow and grow. Paul had been somewhat anxious about the faith of his converts in Thessalonica, but he now sees that they doing well. Faith will always grow when one learns more and more about the One who saved them. The verb Paul used of their growth is huperauxano, which is often used in secular Greek literature to describe the growth of a strong, healthy plant; (2) Paul is thankful for their love. Their love grew like their faith and literally “overflowed,” touching others. The love of this congregation reminds us of the love of God in all believers:

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:5)

b. The church’s future, vs. 5

The subjects of persecution and trials almost always raise the question of fairness and justice. Why is it some Christians suffer and others do not? What is the purpose of it all? Here is how Paul reconciled their present afflictions with God’s judgment:

All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.

This verse is almost always misunderstood by Bible students and mistaught by Bible teachers. It sounds like Paul is saying all the persecution the Thessalonians are experiencing is evidence that God’s judgment is right. But that’s not what Paul is saying. The token of God’s righteous judment is not the persecution, but rather their endurance and faith in the face of persecution. It’s not their suffering, but their attitude of faith and constancy in suffering that is the proof of God’s righteous judgment.

This kind of endurance is only made possible by the presence and working of God in a believer. This proves that God is righteous in declaring (or judging) the believer’s worth to be a part of His great kingdom. The Thessalonians, then, should rejoice because they are holding fast to their faith regardless of their circumstances. The mere fact that they can do that proves they are God’s children.

2. The disobedient punished, 1:6—9

a. God is just, vs. 6, 7

Paul moves from God’s judgment (estimation) of the Thessalonians to another kind of judgment. This is what was concerning his friends: what about those who were persecuting them?

God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you… (verse 6)

It is an inescapable fact that evil doers will face God’s justice. Paul personalizes it, saying that those who are troubling his friends will be paid back in kind. This is a classic illustration of a wonderful doctrine:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. (Galatians 6:7)

Those who dared to persecute the Thessalonians, or those who persecute Christians anywhere, are sowing the wind today but they will reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7). Knowing this, Paul wanted his readers to rest in this knowledge.

and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. (verse 7)

The “relief” or “rest” in the KJV, means that even during times of persecution, those who are trusting in the Lord and remain faithful can find relief; it does not necessarily mean the end of all trouble. The phrase “to us as well” indicates that Paul and his friends also experienced persecution and they, like the Thessalonians, foundd relief. The ultimate judgment of the persecutors and evil doers will occur when Christ returns. It may be the Thessalonians were hoping for a quicker judgment—like a pox on their homes—but Paul makes it clear that they are not getting away with anything.

b. Punishment for unbelievers, vs. 8, 9

There are two aspects to the righteousness of God’s judgment. The first is vindication, which he just dealt with. The second is punishment. God will undoubtedly mete out punishment to all evil doers. His punishment will be just:  it will be “pay back.” It will be a perfect punishment; they will get what they deserve. This was a sentiment spoken of by the prophet Isaiah:

Hear that uproar from the city, hear that noise from the temple! It is the sound of the Lord repaying his enemies all they deserve. (Isaiah 66:6)

God promises to “balance the books” in the future, meaning that all suffering will not be removed from believers in the present. This fact, though, does help to put suffering into perspective.

3. Christ’s glory revealed, 1:10—12

The coming of Christ will mean punishment for the wicked, but it will also be a time when Christ will be glorified. There are two stunning facts in verse 10:

on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (vs. 10)

First, when Christ returns He will be glorified “IN” His holy people, not “by” them. Paul is making amazing statement, which must be true given that he is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit:  the glory of the Lord will be reflected or mirrored in believers. This is a wonderful thought! Only God’s amazing grace can take a dirty rotten sinner, once condemned to death, and lift him to the place where he actually reflects perfectly the glory of God

Second, believers will “marvel” at the return of Christ. We may love and adore Christ now, and from time to time we witness glimpses of His power and glory, but when He returns, we will finally see Him in all of His glory and majesty. We will witness with wonder and admiration His return.

In a very real sense, the world should see some of Christ’s glory in us now as we live lives that mirror His will for us. Today, His reflection often brings derision from the world, but when He returns, Christ will be admired in all who believe. Knowing this should be a comfort and an encouragement to all who believe.

Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians at this point bears looking at:

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. (vs. 11)

He wanted God to able to declare his friends worthy of their high calling as Christians. This can be done only if they, in turn, do their part to please Him. God is full of goodness, but we must also be full of goodness. Being worthy, then involves determining to do good, as God would do.

Along with this resolve, is the the work of faith. Faith is not a passive thing, but it is an active use of the power of God in works of service to Him. So Paul is praying that even while they are suffering persecution, they continue to faithfully serve God by performing good works and manifesting the fruit of the Spirit.

Verse 12 describes the result of this life of service:

We pray this 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.

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