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?