2 Thessalonians 3:16-18 With His own Hand

After the end of the Civil War, a Union cavalry troop was riding along the road from Richmond, Virginia, to Washington, D.C. Suddenly a soldier in tattered gray stumbled out of a bush. “Can you help me?” he called out. “I am starving to death. Can you give me some food?” The Union captain questioned why he was starving. “Why don’t you just go into Richmond and get what you need?” he asked. The soldier answered that if he went to Richmond, he would be arrested. “Three weeks ago I became discouraged because of our losses that I deserted and I have been hiding in the woods ever since.” He had broken the law of his country, and if found he would be shot. “Haven’t you heard the news?” the captain asked. “Why, the war is over. Peace has been made. General Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox two weeks ago.” “What!” cried the soldier. “Peace has been made for two weeks, and I have been starving in the woods because I didn’t know it?”

There is an analogy between that soldier, who feared the just punishment of death for his crime of desertion, and the sinner, who fears God’s justice. Like the deserter, hiding in the woods and starving, the unbelieving sinner hides from God, suffering a spiritual death as one cut off from the resources of life. The Christian faith, however, declares news similar to that of the cavalry captain. Peace has been declared through the saving conquest of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. It is for this reason that Paul concluded his letters to the Thessalonians with a benediction of peace: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way” (2 Thess. 3:16).

It was essential that Paul’s letter, as a message declaring the peace of Christ, be validated as an official apostolic writing. As was common in the ancient world, Paul seems to have dictated his letter to a secretary and then taken up the pen himself for the final verses. “I, Paul,” he says, “write this greeting with my own hand.” He explains further that this was his normal procedure: “This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write” (v. 17).

This is an interesting statement, since scholars are agreed that Paul’s Thessalonian letters were among his earliest known writings. It seems that Paul had other letters that have not been preserved by the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the problem of false letters made it imperative for Paul’s letters to be authenticated. 2 Thess. 2:2 mentioned “a letter seeming to be from us” that falsely stated that the Lord had returned. By writing the final verses in his own handwriting, Paul provided the church leaders with a basis for comparison with 1 Thessalonians and perhaps with earlier samples of his writings.

It isn’t merely that Paul wrote with his own hand, but also with the context of these final verses. Here, the apostle identifies peace as the ultimate answer to his readers’ needs. We may summarize his final message as setting forth the peace that is from God, that meets our every need, and that is granted by the grace of Jesus Christ. Paul generally concluded his letters with a benediction, and these prayers often referred to “the God of peace.” In this way, Paul indicates that peace is a quality of God’s inner being.

Unlike the worldly idea of peace, God’s peace does not merely consist of the absence of strife but involves harmony, wholeness, and prosperity. Paul’s conclusion makes it clear that true peace comes only from God: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace” (v. 16). Our great need of peace is not met, therefore, by something we can do but rather by receiving the peace that originates with God and that He alone can give. This is what God’s peace provides: a blessed life forever.

The root of mankind’s lack of peace is the warfare that exists between man and God. Sinners have rebelled against God by violating His law and refusing His lordship. Paul summarized the problem in Romans 1:21: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.” To honor God is to recognize His right to rule your life by His Word and accept your duty to worship, obey, and glorify Him in all things. The worst news is that because of our war against God in refusing these things, God is also at war with us. Romans 1:18 says that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” Even worse, we ourselves are unable to end our warfare with God, since our very nature has been corrupted by sin. When we diagnose the problem of sinful mankind in a biblical way, we see that man can be saved only through a peace that come from God.

The good news of the Christian gospel is that God gives us the peace that meets our very need. We see this in Paul’s prayer for God to “give you peace at all times in every way” (v. 16). His point is that God provides peace to His people in every circumstance of life. Paul warns against those who have a false hope for “peace and security,” because they rest their anxieties on worldly resources such as money and power. Those who seek peace in the world will experience “sudden destruction” when Christ returns, “as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thess. 5:3).

In speaking of the peace that God gives “at all times in every way,” Paul adds the prayer, “The Lord be with you all” (v. 16). In all circumstances, peace results from the presence of Christ, which Jesus promised through the ministry of the Holy Spirit: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth…You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). Jesus saw the Spirit working in us primarily by means of His Word: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth…He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-14). Moreover, Paul asserts in Romans 8:16-17 that the Spirit bears an inward testimony to believers of the privileges of our adoption in Christ. With Christ’s Spirit testifying to us by the Scriptures and bearing witness in our hearts to God’s fatherly love, believers experience the peace of God that results from union with Christ in faith. Paul prayed (2 Thess. 3:16), knowing that Christ’s presence brings the peace of God for the blessing of His people.

Having prayed for the peace that only God can give, the peace that meets all our needs, Paul concludes in the final verse by declaring that peace is granted by the grace of God in Jesus Christ: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (v. 18). Grace is God’s loving favor to those who deserve His hostility and wrath. Therefore, when Paul concludes with a prayer for God’s grace, he notes that the divine peace that we can never earn or win by any efforts of our own, since we are condemned by our sin and unable to earn God’s favor, God grants as a free gift through His grace in Jesus Christ. As Paul sees it, a Christians is someone who is at peace with God through saving grace in Christ.

In concluding his letter, Paul wrote out the final verses in his own hand. The words for which he took up the pen express the heart of his gospel: God’s peace through the grace of Jesus Christ. This reminds us that while Paul’s own hand completed this letter, it was Christ, by His own hand, who secured that peace by His gift of grace. Jesus extended His hands upon the cross, gaining the peace of forgiveness with God through sin-atoning death.

Our hands, as well, have a role to play. First, we receive saving grace by opening our hands in humble faith, believing God’s Word and receiving Jesus Christ as the giver of peace with God. Then, like Paul, we should surely reach out our hands to others who do not yet know God’s peace in the grace of Christ for all who believe in His gospel.

2 Thessalonians 3:16-18 Study Questions:

Will you open your hands in faith to receive this precious gift? And will you reach out your hands to others, offering the priceless good news about the peace of God that is freely given from heaven by the grace of Jesus Christ?

In context in which the Thessalonians were living, why is the grace of the Lord Jesus so important?

Where do you and your Christian community feel the need for the grace of the Lord Jesus now?

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 Willing to Work

In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul responded to a false report that Jesus had already come or that the day of the Lord was upon them. In chapter 3, he deals with an erroneous response to that false report. The Thessalonians had stopped working and carrying on their lives because they expected Jesus at any moment. Paul complains, “We hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies” (2 Thess. 3:11). This is the problem that the apostle confronts in the final section of his second letter to this church. Instead, the way to respond to the thought of Christ’s return is to go on working in the callings that God has given us. Paul summarizes: “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good” (v. 13), even if today might be the last day that we have to live on this present earth.

Paul urges his Christian readers to consider the manner of their walk, that it would be “worthy of the calling” in Christ. As Paul sees it, Christianity is not something that takes up just a corner of our lives but instead involves the whole manner by which we live. It is a life style that says Yes to some things and No to other things, because of the truths that we believe and that govern our walk.

The book of Hebrews stresses that this biblical tradition of lifestyle does not substantially change from one generation to the next. The reason is that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). This means that the Bible’s teaching of salvation and morality is not irrelevant to modern or postmodern man. In the face of the world’s complaint that ours is an outmoded creed, we reply: “Jesus Christ is the same.” This means that Christians are now to live in a manner that would be recognizable to those who came before us in the faith. Our forerunners have passed down to us a body of doctrinal truth and a pattern of life received from Jesus. Paul therefore commands Christians to walk “in accord with the tradition that you received” (2 Thess. 3:6).

Nonetheless, for all the commitments that Christians are bound to keep, there remains a need for correction and church discipline. In this matter, just as in Paul’s description of a true Christian lifestyle, his writing is perfectly suited to our contemporary needs. In this case, church discipline is directed to the sin of sloth: “Now we command you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (v. 6).

It is necessary for church discipline to exercise spiritual authority rightly. Paul speaks here directly on the authority of Christ: “We command you…in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is because Christ is the Lord of all believers that those granted authority by Christ are to be obeyed. Paul held his authority as an apostle. Today it is the elders of the church who wield Christ’s authority in church discipline, so that when they insist on biblical standards of faith and conduct, they are acting in Christ’s name. The key passage on this topic is Matthew 18:15-20, in which Jesus requires believers to “listen…to the church” (Matt. 18:17).

The primary purpose of church discipline is to restore a member who has fallen into serious sin. Paul identifies the purpose of his action to be “that he may be ashamed,” so as to repent and thus rejoin the church fellowship (2 Thess. 3:14). To this end, he directs sanctions to be taken against the idlers who are refusing to obey. In this case, the unrepentant sinners are to be shunned by their Christian friends: “keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition” (v. 6); “take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him” (v. 14).

The main pastoral problem in Thessalonica was the unwillingness of some church members to work. Paul writes; “For we hear that some among you walk in idleness” (v.11). The word translated as “idleness” (Greek ataktos) more generally means to “be unruly.” Originally it was a military term that described a soldier who got out of line. Here it applies to professing Christians who are not living up to their obligations. Specifically, they were not working hard so as to provide for their own needs, but instead were relying on gifts from the church and from other Christians. Because of their sloth, other Christians were being wrongly burdened and the gospel was suffering disgrace in the society.

Paul responds to this problem with a command, and example, and a precept. His command was simple: “Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (v. 12). First, Christians are to apply themselves to their work. Christians have various callings in the workplace and in the home. Men and women have professions or trades, mothers have a calling to their children and to the home, and students have a calling to their studies. The duty of Christians is to labor in these callings. Paul adds that we should do this “quietly.” His meaning seems to be that we should work without disrupting others – the very opposite of what the busybodies were doing in their idleness. In this way, hardworking Christians will fulfill their obligations in life, will avoid depleting the church’s resources, and will gain the respect of watching unbelievers in the surrounding society.

Paul’s command reflects the general Christian attitude toward work that often conflicts with a low view of work in secular society. Many people today approach work by doing only enough to avoid being fired. In contrast, the Bible teaches that man’s basic calling before God is to work: “The Lord God took man and put him the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Work is not a punishment but a gift from our Creator by means of which we may bear His image in doing His will.

Work was not caused by the fall, though Adan’s fall into sin caused work to become painful and frustrating (Gen. 3:19). But when all is redeemed in the eternal age of Christ’s glory, Christians will revel in the privilege of working with and for the Lord. According to Jesus’ parable of the talents, His reward for faithful service in this life is the privilege of greater work in the age to come: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21, 23).

I’ll conclude this study with a biblical perspective on reasons that Christians should work hard, as well as motives that should shape our attitude to the work that we do. The first reason Paul gives for working hard is to provide for ourselves so as not to be a burden to others. Then we can also rejoice in gaining the resources that we can use to provide for others in genuine need. Paul saw this desire to work hard in providing for ourselves and others as a mark of Christian redemption (Eph. 4:28). Christians should therefore work hard in order to make money. We should also be wise in investing and saving our money, so that it may be used in providing for those placed under our care and for those who truly cannot help themselves.

A second reason to work hard is that we may do good in the world through our talents, training, and labors. This aspiration should shape the kind of work that we seek to do. Most people today evaluate work strictly in terms of the money they make. But Christians will desire to expend their labor in worthy causes, as part of sound organizations. Whether your work is admired by the world or considered menial, Christians should rejoice in every opportunity to serve others.

Finally, Christians should realize that the primary purpose of all that we do, including our work, is to serve and glorify God. This is Paul’s ultimate reason for writing, “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good” (v. 13). Christians should not allow resentment over the idle, or over government redistribution of wealth, to harden our hearts when there are real needs that call for mercy. Moreover, our work ethic provides a compelling testimony that will often provide openings for a gospel witness.

In Jesus’ own teaching about His second coming, He emphasizes the value and significance of the work that we have done on His behalf. When He returns, Jesus will point to our work of mercy, provision, and service, saying: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). Then we will have the privilege of marveling not only at how Jesus was blessed by the diligent, faithful work we have done in His name, but also at how Jesus has blessed others, many of them with eternal life that came about at least in part through the work that we did for Him.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 Study Questions:

Looking at verses 4-13, what seem to be some challenges or problems that the Thessalonian church is facing as it attempts to live as a “family”?

How did Paul model among the Thessalonians the kind of communal life that he expected them to follow?

How would the exhortations that Paul gives in verses 12-13 have helped the Thessalonians to live a godly life together when there were obviously some among them who were not living as would be expected in a spiritual family?

Describe the kind of discipline that Paul encourages in verses 10 and 14-16.

What sort of things are likely to happen in a fellowship that does not include a measured, loving exercise of authority?

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 Praying with Confidence

The book of Acts contains the record of Paul’s ministry, describing enough opposition and suffering to discourage anyone from following in his steps (see Acts 13:3, 50; 14:5-6, 19; 16:22-24). All these events took place before Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica, where his preaching caused a riot in which several believers were arrested and beaten, and the apostle himself had to flee (Acts 17:5-9).

In light of these ceaseless trials, the last thing we would expect from Paul is confidence about his ministry. Yet he writes to the Thessalonians that “we have confidence in the Lord about you” (2 Thess. 3:4). Indeed, throughout his letters Paul exudes confidence in the success of his ministry enterprise. If we wonder at the source of this optimism, we find it in the apostle’s appeals for prayer. “Finally, brothers,” Paul begins the final section of his letters to the Thessalonians, “pray for us” (v. 3:1). Here is the secret not only of Paul’s success in ministry but especially of his confidence in the face of ministry trials: his confidence that God answers prayers.

Paul begins his final section not by writing just about prayer in general but specifically seeking prayer for the ministry of the gospel. As the apostle sees it, prayer is necessary for gospel ministry, so that “the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored” (v. 3:1). If anyone could seem to get by without prayer, that person would be the apostle Paul. Nonetheless, throughout his letters Paul solicits the prayers of fellow Christians.

For his own part, Paul was devoted to praying for others. It seems that he made it his practice to pray for someone whenever he heard or thought about the person. In the same spirit, Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). We find this same commitment to prayer in practically every Christian who has been greatly used by the Lord. Paul realized that the success of God’s Word does not rely on natural factors such as oratorical ability and a dynamic personality. Rather, since the gospel aims to bring spiritually dead unbelievers to saving faith, it relies on God’s power to convey spiritual life to those who hear and believe. Since the gospel requires the Holy Spirit’s working to open the hearts of those who would otherwise never believe, Paul knew that prayer is needed for the gospel to speed ahead and glorify God.

Another reason why Paul urgently desired prayer was to counter opposition to his ministry: “that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith” (2 Thess. 3:2). In Corinth, Paul was “opposed and reviled” by Jews who opposed the gospel (Acts 18:5-6, 12-13). He may well have these specific people in mind when he speaks of “wicked and evil men.” The word translated as “wicked” is better rendered as “unreasonable” or “wrongheaded” (Greek atopos). To be “unreasonable” and “evil” go together in hatred of the gospel.

Paul mentions “not all have faith” to point out that faith is God’s sovereign gift and that opposition to the gospel is inevitable. We should never be dismayed when people rise up in anger at the message of God’s grace or when worldly powers misrepresent the gospel as something narrow or bigoted. Without the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, no one has faith and everyone hates the light that Jesus shines. Jesus explained: “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). The reality of this opposition urges us not to despair but to prayer.

Even as Paul appeals for prayer in light of the slow advance of his preaching in Corinth and the serious opposition against it, he simultaneously expresses his confidence in this very ministry. “We have confidence in the Lord,” he writes (2 Thess. 3:4), just as we should have confidence in our own prayers for gospel ministry. If we ask why Paul was so confident in prayer for the gospel, one answer is found in verse 3 where he declares that “the Lord is faithful.” The apostle states this to form a decisive contrast. Our problem is that “not all have faith.” “But the Lord is faithful,” and this is what really matters. Like Paul, we should pray for gospel success in preaching, in witnessing, and raising our children, not because we trust our own labors or because we see spiritual promise in those whom we seek to reach, but solely because we trust God to be faithful to bless and empower His gospel for salvation of those whom He will call.

Paul expresses confidence not only in God’s faithfulness to his present ministry of the gospel but especially in God’s saving work among the Thessalonians: “We have confidence in the Lord about you: (v. 4). The key phrase is “in the Lord.” Paul knows that his readers possess union with Christ through saving faith; he is confident about them because they are “in the Lord.” This is the second source of our confidence: the decisive difference it makes to be in Christ and to have Christ in us, experiencing saving faith and the reality of the new birth. However unpromising Christians may seem, we know that great things are in store. We might come to Christ with great problems, character defects, and crushing failures in life. Yet Paul wrote that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). For this reason, whenever someone is “in the Lord,” we anticipate supernatural power for change and spiritual growth. God’s faithfulness does not relieve us from needing to persevere in prayer. Instead, confidence in God will keep us praying until God has sped forth the gospel and overcome spiritual opposition.

Verses 3-5 presents a brief description of what God does in saving us through faith in Christ. First, Paul rejoices that God is faithful to “establish you and guard you against the evil one” (v. 3). This is the apostle’s way of describing a true conversion to faith in Christ. Fatih does not involve a bare profession of faith, but our being rooted in Jesus Christ. In terms of Jesus’ parable of the soils, true salvation is not like the seed that falls amid the thorns of worldly cares and desires, which choke faith to death, or like the seed that falls in shallow soil, where the heat of tribulation causes it to wither (Matt. 13:20-22). Instead, saving faith is like the seed that falls in good soil, so that it “bears fruit and yields” (Matt. 13:23).

Second, God enables believers to obey His Word. Paul writes: “We have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command” (v. 4). Contrary to the easy-believism practiced so widely today, biblical evangelism includes obedience to the Bible. Jesus’ Great Commission tells us to “make disciples…, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). We must therefore pray for the obedience of those who profess faith in Christ, trusting God’s faithfulness and the Holy Spirit’s power to train them to a life of practical godliness.

Third, in verse 5, Paul speaks of God’s bringing believers to spiritual maturity: “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” Growing in our knowledge of God’s love, we mature in our love for God. Relying on Christ’s faithfulness as our Savior, we persevere through steadfast faith in Him. Paul particularly notes that in maturing us, God directs our hearts to spiritual maturity. This is something that we should pray for: “O God, direct my heart!” We can be confident that God will answer. In the words of Hebrews 13:21, He will equip us “with everything good that [we] may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.”

So how can we learn to pray with greater confidence in the Lord? First, we will gain confidence in prayer by increasing in our knowledge of what God is like. Knowing God comes only through study of the Bible. The Bible assures us that through faith in Christ we become God’s dearly beloved children. As a faithful Father, God is certain to receive our prayers with love and concern. As God’s children, Christians pray with confidence. Jesus promised: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9).

Second, we grow confident in prayer through positive experiences in which we clearly see how graciously God has intervened. As we start praying about our needs, and especially for ministry situations, is that we will learn how powerful prayer is in the hands of our gracious God.

Third, we gain confidence as we pray for the things that our Lord desires in our lives. Jesus said, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23). “In Jesus’ name” means “in accordance with Jesus’ will.” We do not

know whether God wants us to have a certain job or improved health. But we do know that God wants us to repent of sins, grow in godly character, and offer ourselves for the spread of the gospel. When we pray for these and other priorities of Christ, we can be certain of a positive answer. Praying in confidence thus starts with seeking from God the things that God is seeking in and through us. As we grow spiritually and become more committed to Christ’s work of salvation in our lives and in the lives of others, our confidence in prayer soars through God’s power.

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 Study Questions:

For what reasons does Paul ask for prayer in verses 1-3?

Why might Paul need prayer to be rescued from evil and wicked people?

Think about Christian leaders you know and the opposition that may result when they shine God’s light, even with God’s love, in dark places. How can you pray for them as the Thessalonians did for Paul?

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 Encouraged and Established

On the night of His arrest, Jesus expressed concern for His disciple Simon Peter, who faced a threat that was too great for him. Peter had boasted that he would be more faithful than the others, not knowing what was in store for him that very night. Jesus warned: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). Under this diabolical pressure, Simon Peter failed utterly that night, denying Jesus three times before the rooster crowed (Luke 22:34, 54-62).

The apostle Paul’s converts in Thessalonica faced a similar threat under persecution for their faith. So far, they had done well, and Paul had boasted of their steadfastness (2 Thess. 1:4). There would be greater tribulation yet to come, however, because of the Antichrist’s opposition. How would believers hold firm in faith when beset by supernatural evil attacks?

Paul’s answer to the Thessalonians’ need was the same as the answer that Jesus gave to Peter on his dark night of the soul: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32). Though Peter stumbled, he did not ultimately fall because Jesus interceded on his behalf. In the benediction of 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, Paul likewise appeals to Christ’s intercession on behalf of His church. The final verses of chapter 2 are a benediction, a “good word,” uttered by the apostle in the authority of his office. These verses express not merely a personal prayer desire but an apostolic declaration of Christ’s intersession and the resulting blessings that flow from the Father. Jesus told Peter, “I have prayed.” Similarly, Paul declared to his needy friends, “Christ will pray for you.” His benediction therefore consists, first, of a reminder of the God to whom he prays, second, of the saving love that ensues our blessing, and third, of his desire for them to persevere despite trials in a life of practical godliness.

Paul begins his benediction by reminding the Thessalonians of the God to whom he prays. In doing this, he incidentally makes a striking assertion of the deity of Jesus Christ: “Now may the Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father,” he begins (v. 16). Note that Paul lists Jesus together with God the Father, praying with equal respect to both persons. Moreover, the apostle lists Jesus’ name first, which would be blasphemy if he did not believe in the full deity of Christ. The probable reason for this unusual ordering is Paul’s emphasis in the preceding verses on the victory of Christ in His return.

Another reason that Paul named Jesus first might be that Christians pray to the Father through the Son. As the incarnate Christ, Jesus is the Mediator between man and God (1 Tim. 2:5), The Bible teaches, therefore, that the trajectory of prayer is “through [Christ]” and “to the Father” (Eph. 2:18). The question now comes to you: Does your faith accept the Bible’s teaching of Jesus as the Son of God? Without this belief, you cannot be a Christian. The apostle John wrote: “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23).

Having identified the recipients of his prayer, Paul continues by noting the ground of his petition. He prays for God’s help in the future on the basis of God’s act of salvation in the past: “who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace” (v. 16). This brief statement contains some of the greatest claims ever made. First, the apostle says that he prays to God “who loved us.” It makes sense that he would do this, since we naturally turn for help to those who have loved us previously. Let the impact of Paul’s words sink in. God loves you, if you are in Christ. Does that truth shape all the rest of your thinking about life and God? It should, because the Bible over and over declares God’s love.

God’s love for us is the spring of every comfort and encouragement that flows to those who trust in Christ. Paul goes on to note the “eternal comfort” that God has given His people. Because God’s comfort to those who trust in Christ is eternal, it will “outlast the afflictions of this age and the judgment to come.” In this life, the trials of the world oppress and threaten us. But God has given us comfort that reaches into the age to come and provide us with the resources of heaven to endure in faith.

Paul adds God’s gift of “good hope” (v. 16). Eternal comfort speaks to our present blessing with God, whereas “good hope” speaks to our confidence for the future. Since God has loved us by sending His Son to secure our salvation, Christians are optimistic about what the future holds, even when persecution rages against us. Paul’s “good hope” relates specifically to the return of Christ, who comes “to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted” (2 Thess. 1:6-7). If the future holds the overthrow of all evil and the consummation of our entry into eternal glory with Christ, then Christians have every reason to live in hope for the future.

Paul has set before us God’s love and His gifts of eternal comfort and a good hope. So far, all of this is still the preface to his actual prayer request. These blessings in Christ are the ground on which Paul stands as he turns to God to meet the needs of his afflicted readers. God’s love and saving gifts, eternally confirmed to all who believe in Christ, are the soil in which bold confidence in prayer may flourish and the Rock on which Paul may stand to pronounce that God is certain to meet His people’s needs. To this end, Paul prays that God will “comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word (v. 17).

Paul focuses not on the great events in his reader’s outward circumstances, but rather on God’s work in the hearts of the persecuted believers so that their lives may honor Him. First, Paul prays that God would “comfort your hearts.” This is the same word for comfort that he used in verse 16, with emphasis on “encouragement.” Earlier, Paul reminded us that God had given us reasons for eternal encouragement; now he prays that God would work these gospel truths into our hearts so that we receive the inward benefit of them.

Paul’s prayers, recorded across the span of his ministry and throughout his epistles, clarify the priority for our lives as Christians. We are to be established in our knowledge of God’s love for us – a love declared in the past but now applied inwardly to our hearts by the Holy Spirit – and encouraged so that we have spiritual motivation to live for Christ. We keep expending our efforts to gain positive settings, not realizing that God sometimes keep us in trials so as there to glorify Himself in us. Therefore, Paul prays for God to give “eternal comfort and good hope through grace” in order to “comfort [our] hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”

Paul concludes his benediction by praying for us to be established “in every good work and word” (vv. 16-17). The apostle is referring to a lifestyle of practical godliness, with works and words that follow the teaching and example of Christ. In concluding his end-times teaching with an appeal for practical godliness, Paul matches Jesus’ emphasis in teaching on the same subject. Jesus concluded His Olivet Discourse on the second coming by telling of the praise He will give to His sheep when they are gathered to Him in the final judgment (Matt. 25:35-36). Jesus then indicated that the glorified believers will be surprised that He noticed such seemingly unimportant works. But the Lord responded by saying how much our daily godliness and love mattered to Him (Matt. 25:40). By Jesus’ own reckoning, in light of the awesome events planned by God for history, the thing that matters most is the daily love of God shown in the works and words of the people who claim His name. The supportive visit, the welcoming meal, the fervent prayer, and the timely word of truth are esteemed so highly by our returning Lord that He takes them as offered to Himself.

Paul has offered a benediction – a good word – reminding us of God’s love and praying for God to apply His gospel grace to our lives. His purpose is that we would become a living benediction to the glory of God through “every good work and word” (v. 17). The apostle’s benediction for us is designed to become a benediction in us so that Christ may speak a benediction to us on the day of His coming.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 Study Questions:

Is your life a benediction for the blessing of others and the glory of Christ?

In the midst of all the problems with deceiving words the Thessalonians had heard, or prospects of being troubled by the lawless one and Satan, in verses 13-17 what does Paul want them to focus on about God?

How do you see God’s power being exercised precisely by your standing firm and holding tight?

2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 To Obtain the Glory

In 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 the apostle’s doctrine of salvation is thoroughly Trinitarian. Considering first the sovereign will of the Father, he urges us to be seated in the truth of God’s election to salvation. Moving to the Spirit’s sanctifying work, he urges us to walk in holiness and truth (vv. 13-14). Continuing to the glory that believers share through union with Christ, God’s Son, Paul urges us to “stand firm” in the gospel truth committed to us through the apostles (v. 15).

It is significant that Paul begins a passage with the word But. Realizing this, we note the connection between Paul’s confidence of salvation here and his alarming portrayal of the Antichrist in the preceding verses. The apostle’s point is that while there is great evil in this world that poses a deadly threat, there remain the strongest reasons for confidence when it comes to true believers in Jesus Christ. “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers” (v. 13), Paul writes, going on to note the mighty work of the triune God that secures salvation for His people.

Paul’s first ground for confidence against the evil afoot in the world is the sovereign election of the Father: “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers by the Lord, because God chose you…to be saved” (v. 13). Believers are secure in salvation because their destiny was decided by God’s choice of them before any decision on their part. The Bible teaches that from God’s perspective our salvation began in eternity past, when He chose us to be saved through faith in Christ. Romans 8:30 begins a chain of saving links – similar to Paul’s teaching in Thessalonians – with reference to God’s sovereign predestination: “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Opponents to election reply that God merely chose that whoever believes in Jesus will be saved. Or they argue that God did not choose any particular people before their faith, but only foresaw who would believe in Jesus and predestined that by believing they would be saved. The problem with these views is what the Bible actually says! Second Thessalonians 2:13 says not that God chose a principle of salvation but that “God chose you…to be saved.” Election is of persons to salvation. Moreover, God did not choose the elect because He foresaw their faith, but simply because of His sovereign love for them. Paul declares, “In love he predestined us” (Eph. 1:4-5). This is consistent with how Jesus described election in His High Priestly Prayer to His Father, saying that He had received authority “to give eternal life to all whom you have given him” (John 17:2).

The doctrine of election is rooted not only in eternity past but also in the unconditional love of God. It is not incidental that Paul identifies his readers as “brothers beloved by the Lord” (2 Thess. 2:13). We see the same affection in Ephesians 1:4-5, where Paul notes that we are predestined “in love.” Love is the foundation of a believer’s security, despite the awful threat posed by Satan and his antichrists. God said of old: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jer. 31:3). It is God’s loving faithfulness to His elect people that secures us for salvation in the face of evil and spiritual danger.

The Christian’s salvation is rooted in eternity past but lived out in the power that comes from the Holy Spirit. The image of walking in the Spirit’s sanctifying power is Paul’s second ground for the believer’s confidence. Whereas 2 Thessalonians 2:13 begins by saying that believers are saved by God’s electing grace, Paul continues to see us as saved “through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”

The word sanctification often refers to the believer’s subjective transformation from sin into holiness. Yet the idea of sanctification also has a broader, objective meaning, which Paul has in mind here. God chose His people in eternity past, but in the present, He set them apart for service to Himself. This is the apostle’s second reason for rejoicing that his readers will not be made captive by Satan: God has set them apart once and for all to be holy to Himself.

The believer’s security from the coming evil is experienced by being seated in God’s eternal election and by walking in faith through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. In 2 Thessalonians 2:14, Paul turns to glorification of God the Son, Jesus Christ – a transformation to which Christians are called through the gospel. By standing with Christ in His glorification, believers are made secure against the coming onslaught of the evil one.

Paul connects believers to Christ by our calling through the gospel. This completes the Trinitarian outlook on salvation. According to these verses, the Father elects His people, who are then sanctified by the Holy Spirit and called through the gospel to salvation in Christ. Paul refers here to what theologians define as the effectual call, which is the preaching of the gospel as it goes forth with God’s power to open the heart to saving faith in Christ. This saving call joins the believer to Christ as he or she trusts and begins following Him. Levi the tax collector rose up when Jesus said, “Follow me,” leaving his seat of sin and becoming the disciple Matthew (Matt. 9:9). The Savior’s call in his life had an immediate effect. Likewise, everyone who is saved is called by God to believe in and stand with Jesus before the world. The effectual call is always “through [the] gospel” (v. 14), the good news of Christ’s saving work for sinners.

Whenever God’s sovereign grace in salvation is emphasized, as it certainly is in verses 13-14, there is a tendency for some readers to draw the conclusion that nothing is therefore required on our part as believers. Paul makes it clear, that this is far from the truth. It is God who saves us, to be sure, but the gift of salvation requires a wholehearted commitment to Christ and His saving truth. “So then, brothers,” Paul concludes, “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter’ (v. 15).

How then, do Christians “stand firm” against enemy attack in the victory won by Jesus? Paul explains by urging us to “hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (v. 15). Far from being able to relax as Christians, we must lay hold of the gospel truth in the same way that a man at sea braces himself against the mast in the thrashing winds of a storm. “Stand firm!” Paul cries. “Hold fast!” This is how we withstand the present course of evil working through intimidation, temptation, and false teaching in the world.

Paul specifically calls us to hold hast to “the traditions.” Here we see the Bible’s emphasis on a body of doctrinal truth that Christians receive and believe. Similarly, Paul urged Timothy to “follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me” (2 Tim. 1:13). These statements refute the idea that Christians do not need to know theological terminology (“sound words”) and doctrinal truth (“the traditions”) that are handed down to us. On the contrary, it is valuable for churches to profess creedal statements in our public worship, thereby holding “to the traditions” of biblical Christianity. It is vital, however, for us to distinguish between apostolic tradition and traditions that are merely fabricated by men. Any doctrine that we embrace must therefore be based on and built upward from the written record of the Bible.

What difference does it make to us, beset in a world of darkness, idolatry, and empty unbelief, to believe in the gospel? Jesus put it this way: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). According to Paul, eternal life is grounded in God’s sovereign election “from the beginning” and comes to life in us as we answer the call to believe the gospel and follow Jesus Christ. If we are seated in God’s sovereign grace, walk in the Spirit’s power, and stand firm with Christ against unbelief, holding fast to the truth, not only will we be freed from the evil powers of sin and death, but we will also “obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 2:14) so that God’s saving blessings are forever glorified in us.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 Study Questions:

In verses 13-14, Paul thanks God for His activity in the Thessalonian believers. What progression of the spiritual life and journey do you see in these verses?

How would holding “tight to the traditions” enable the Thessalonians to stand firm in the face of troubled times?

What can you do to hold tight to the traditions taught by the apostles in order to face the web of lies that threaten and the troubles that challenge us in the world?

2 Thessalonians 2:3, 9-12 The Great Apostasy

Paul wasn’t surprised by the reality of apostasy. Paul had notified the Thessalonians that there would be a great rebellion against the gospel before Christ’s return. “Let no one deceive you in any way,” Paul wrote. “For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first” (v. 3). One of Satan’s chief goals, especially through the future “man of lawlessness,” is to induce people to abandon Christianity. Paul therefore knew that some people who profess faith in Jesus Christ will later renounce that faith, to their own destruction.

The Greek word translated in verse 3 as “rebellion” is apostasia. This word refers to the turning away from a former position or the abandonment of prior loyalties. It can be used of a political rebellion, however, in the Bible the word is used to describe a turning away from the true faith. Apostasy reflects an evil heart that embraces unbelief after previously professing faith. Does apostasy, however, describe a person who once truly believed and was saved, and who then, by losing his or her faith, lost salvation as well? The answer to this question is No. The Bible clearly teaches that those who possess a true and saving faith cannot be lost, for the simple reason that genuine faith results from the grace of God, and God never loses any of those whom He has saved. Jesus said of His true sheep: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

If believers in Christ can never be lost for salvation, then what is an apostate? An apostate is a professing believer and outward member of the church who, having never truly believed, falls back into unbelief and condemnation. John explained: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that they might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). How then, do we tell that a professing believer is really an apostate? In most cases, it is difficult if not impossible to tell until he or she actually abandons the faith. It seems, for instance, that the other disciples never suspected Judas Iscariot of his falseness even up to the night on which he betrayed Jesus to His death.

If professing believers may fall away, how can a Christian know that his or her faith is genuine and therefore eternally secure? Should believers worry that their faith is actually false and that sometime in the future they might apostatize? John addressed this issue in his first epistle, when he wrote “that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). According to John, there are three tests of a true, saving faith. One is a doctrinal test, focused on faith in the person and work of Jesus: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (v. 1). Another is a moral test: “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (2:5-6). This doesn’t mean that true Christians never sin or are as perfect as Jesus is. Yet true Christians have taken up the calling to follow Jesus in practical godliness, turning from sin and pursuing holiness. Third is the test of love: “everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him” (5:1). True Christians are drawn to other believers and gain a love for the church that reflects the family love of God. According to the Bible, these three tests – dealing with theology, ethics, and love – provide Christians with a testimony from God’s Word as to the assurance of their salvation.

This understanding of apostasy shows why Paul was so pleased with the news that the Thessalonians were holding fast to the gospel and embracing a lifestyle of godliness and love (2 Thess. 1:3). They were steadfast in faith under persecution, as their worldly goods and even their lives were threatened (v. 4). According to Paul, this confirmed that they were “worthy of the kingdom of God” (v. 5); that is, their lives manifested a true and saving faith in Jesus.

Yet the day will come, Paul warns, when a great apostasy will fall upon the church. Christ will not return “unless the rebellion comes first” (2 Thess. 2:3). Having understood the doctrine of apostasy, we learn from verses 9-12 that a great apostasy will occur in the end, both by the working of Satan and by God’s sovereign judging of unbelief. In verse 3, Paul had linked the great apostasy to the coming of “the man of lawlessness,” often known to Christians as the Antichrist. In 2 Thessalonians 2:9, the apostle makes it clear that the rebellion is the work of this evil person: the great apostasy by which multitudes of professing believers abandon the Christian faith and turn against the church results from “the activity of Satan” in “the coming of the lawless one.”

Paul makes three statements relating the coming Antichrist to the great apostasy that he inspires. First, the man of lawlessness comes as a counterfeit of Christ. Paul indicates this by applying to the Antichrist the same word that he has frequently used of Christ’s coming. Just as God the Father has ordained the coming of His Son, Jesus, back to earth, Satan has planned the “coming of the lawless one.”

Second, Paul says that these false signs employ “all wicked deception for those who are perishing” (v. 10). If we wonder how people can be deceived by false miracles, we need only consider the many examples that abound today. For example, in 1858 a Roman Catholic woman named Bernadette Soubirous claimed that the virgin Mary had appeared in the French village of Lourdes. Today, five million pilgrims journey to Lourdes each year, seeking miraculous healings, so that the town of fifteen thousand residents boasts 270 hotels, second in France only to Paris. In light of the power of many imaginings and frauds that happen today, consider how great will be the deception of the Antichrist when he appears with satanic power, performing genuine wonders so as to deceive the unwary, foolish and needy. Paul’s warning of Satan’s deception points out how perilous it is for anyone to neglect the saving truth revealed in God’s Word. Jesus stated that these wondrous deceptions will be so powerful that “if possible, even the elect” would be persuaded (Matt. 24:24). How much success then, Satan will have with those who have rendered themselves vulnerable by rejecting biblical truth.

Paul’s third statement regarding the satanic strategy in apostasy states that his victims are deceived “because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (v. 10). Though Satan is unable to undo the salvation of true believers, his targets inevitably accept the deception because that is all that is left to them once they have rejected the truth. When Paul points out that Satan’s targets refused to love the truth, he inevitably includes worldly malice toward Jesus Christ Himself, who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). They hated the gospel because it offended their self-righteous pride and threatened their lifestyle of cherished sins. For those who reject the gospel truth of Jesus Christ, there is no salvation from God but only a path leading away from Him, to Satan, and with Satan to eternal condemnation.

When Paul considers God’s purposes in the great apostasy, he says that in the coming of the Antichrist, “God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (vv. 11-12). Here Paul observes that the unbeliever not only refuses to love the saving truth that God sent through the blood of His Son, but also delights in the things that transgress God’s law and give offense to God’s holy person.

The Bible’s prophecies of the end fit the pattern both of what the early Christians faced and of the tendencies that will challenge the church throughout her history. John wrote: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). The coming of the lawless one will put an exclamation point on what takes place throughout the present era, which Hebrews 1:2 calls “these last days.” Thus, Paul’s teaching about the great apostasy and the man of lawlessness warns all Christians and provides an agenda for our watchfulness in faith.

2 Thessalonians 2:3, 9-12 Study Questions:

Paul connects the “man of lawlessness” with the presence of Satan. Describe how Satan works in the world in verses 9-12.

What is another name for “the man of lawlessness” often known to Christians?

What is the relationship between God’s activity and mankind’s choice that is alluded to in verses 9-12?