1:1 From Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 1:2 Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
1:3 We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith flourishes more and more and the love of each one of you all for one another is ever greater. 1:4 As a result we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions you are enduring.
Morris points out that Paul had used similarly complimentary language in the first epistle, and suggests that in subsequent communication they may have disclaimed such praise. But Paul insists that it is well-deserved.
It’s useful to notice the prayers of Paul because what he prays for in the beginning he talks about in the letter. Maybe you have had this experience when you were at college and went home for the Christmas holiday. You are sitting down for dinner and your mum says, “Let’s pray. Lord, thanks for bringing Mary back this Christmas. I hope we have a wonderful time. I hope she studies really hard during this time and does well in her College work and is able to enter the career of her choice.” From that prayer you know that there will be conversations on those subjects! This is true of Paul, too.
We ought always to thank God for you…we boast – ‘What should our attitude be to Christians who are doing well in some aspect of their discipleship? Some people resort to congratulations: ‘Well done! I think you’re marvellous. I’m proud of you.’ Others are uncomfortable with this and see its incongruity. It borders on flattery, promotes pride and robs God of his glory. So, although they may thank God privately in their prayers, they say nothing to the person concerned. They replace flattery with silence, which leaves him or her discouraged. Is there a third way, which affirms people without spoiling them? There is. Paul exemplifies it here. He not only thanks God for the Thessalonians; he also tells them that he is doing so: ‘we ought always to thank God for you … we boast about you’. If we follow his example, we will avoid both congratulation (which corrupts) and silence (which discourages). Instead, we can affirm and encourage people in the most Christian of all ways: ‘I thank God for you, brother or sister. I thank him for the gifts he has given you, for his grace in your life, for what I see in you of the love and gentleness of Christ’. This way affirms without flattering, and encourages without puffing up.’ (Stott)
Your faith is growing more and more– ‘This idea of spiritual growth is foreign to many people, not least in the areas of faith and love. We tend to speak of faith in static terms as something we either have or have not. ‘I wish I had your faith’, we say, like ‘I wish I had your complexion’, as if it were a genetic endowment. Or we complain ‘I’ve lost my faith’ like ‘I’ve lost my spectacles’, as if it were a commodity. But faith is a relationship of trust in God, and like all relationships is a living, dynamic, growing thing. There are degrees of faith, as Jesus implied when he said ‘You of little faith’ and ‘I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith’ (Mt 8:26, 10). It is similar with love. We assume rather helplessly that we either love somebody or we do not, and that we can do nothing about it. But love also, like faith, is a living relationship, whose growth we can take steps to nurture.’ (Stott)
Faith – Although pistis could mean ‘fidelity’ here (note the link with ‘perseverance’), Morris says that the word ‘nearly always’ means ‘faith’ in the NT; and this is its meaning in the preceding verse and there seems ‘no reasons’ to assign a different meaning here.
Encouragement in Persecution
1:5 This is evidence of God’s righteous judgment, to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which in fact you are suffering.
How can ‘persecutions and trials’ (v4) provide evidence ‘that God’s judgement is right’? Morris says that it is not the circumstances themselves, but the Thessalonians’ attitude towards them that is decisive: ‘Such constancy and faith could come only from the action of God within them, and if God has so inspired them this is clear evidence that he does not intend them to come short of the final attainment of the kingdom.’
Counted worthy – Not ‘made worthy’, but ‘declared worthy’. This phrase is reminiscent, then, of Paul’s doctrine of justification = to count as just. ‘By his choice of this word the apostle is excluding human merit even in a section where he is drawing attention to a noteworthy piece of endurance, and is emphasising that attainment to the kingdom is not the result of human endeavour at all, but of the grace of God.’ (Morris)
1:6 For it is right for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 1:7 and to you who are being afflicted to give rest together with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.
God…will give relief – ‘Some object that this is an unworthy motive, but such objections usually emanate from the comfortable. It is a matter of history that those who are passing through suffering for the Lord’s sake do not, as a rule, despise the prospect of final blessedness. This is not the whole of the gospel, but it is an authentic part of it and we are not wise to overlook it.’ (Morris)
‘God’s righteousness is manifested in a twofold manner. On the one hand, it is retributive: God repays (gives in return; see on 1 Thess. 3:9) with afflictions those who afflict believers. On the other hand, it is remunerative: he grants those who are being afflicted rest (ἄνεσιν, from ἄνεσις, literally let-up), gracious relief (2 Cor. 2:13; 7:5; 8:13) from all the hardships they have borne on account of their valiant battle for the truth.’ (Hendriksen)
When the Lord Jesus is revealed – lit. ‘the revelation (apocalypse = unveiling) of the Lord Jesus.’ The return of Christ is thus viewed in 1 Cor 1:7; 1 Pet 1:7; cf. Lk 17:30.
1:8 With flaming fire he will mete out punishment on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
He will punish – A divine prerogative, here applied to the Lord Jesus.
Those who do not know God are those who have neglect such light as they have been given (cf. 1 Thess 4:5).
Those who…do not obey – This description probably does not refer to a different group of people (Jews, perhaps, compared with Gentiles), but rather fills out and exemplifies the first one.
Hendriksen agrees that the second clause is explanatory of the first: ‘In view of the fact that in the entire context the blind heathen who have never come into contact with the message of salvation are never alluded to, and that those who in their wilful disobedience persecute God’s children are definitely in the apostle’s mind (see verses 4, 6, 9), we accept the latter alternative.’
The same commentator continues: ‘Not ignorance of the gospel but disobedience was the sin of the persecutors. It is true that the wicked are here described as “those who do not know God.” They do not know him as their own God. They do not call on his name. They hate him; hence, they also hate his gospel (the gospel which proclaims him, and which he proclaims).’
So who are these people? Some think that they are simply those who persecute Christians. But Moo regards this as ‘most unlikely’, because Paul has move from a pronouncement of judgement upon such persecutors to a general description of God’s judgement: ‘As Chrysostom pointed out long ago, the people are condemned not because they persecuted the Thessalonians but because they refused to acknowledge God.’ (Morgan, Christopher W.. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Kindle Locations 2437-2438). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)
As firmly as we believe in the doctrine of election to eternal life, so we believe the parallel truth of human responsibility. They are punished, not because they are not elect, but because they do not obey.
1:9 They will undergo the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength,
Penalty – the expression occurs only here.
Everlasting – aoinios, ‘eternal’; ‘pertaining to the age to come’.
Destruction – alethros, used only here and in 1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Thess. 5:3; 1 Tim. 6:9. The other main word translated ‘destruction’ is apollymi/apōleia.
Morris is confident that ‘destruction means not “annihilation” but complete ruin.’ He does not justify this conclusion, however.
More cautiously, Moo states that these words ‘need not mean “destruction” in the sense of “extinction”. But, adds Moo:-
‘The key words for “destroy” and “destruction” can also refer to land that has lost its fruitfulness (oletbros in Ezek. 6:14; 14:16); to ointment that is poured out wastefully and to no apparent purpose (apōleia in Matt. 26:8; Mark 14:4); to wineskins that can no longer function because they have holes in them (apollymi in Matt. 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37); to a coin that is useless because it is “lost” (apollymi in Luke 15:9); or to the entire world that “perishes,” as an inhabited world, in the Flood (2 Pet. 3:6). In none of these cases do the objects cease to exist; they cease to be useful or to exist in their original, intended state.’ (Morgan, Christopher W. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment)
For Moo, the fact that the ‘destruction’ is ‘eternal’ is in favour it being regarded as ‘ruin’, rather than as ‘extinction’. A punctiliar action, such as ‘annihilation’, cannot be described as ‘eternal’, says Moo. Annihilationists would respond in either of two ways:
(a) ‘eternal’ means ‘pertaining to the age to come’, rather than ‘everlasting’; but, replies Moo, the age to come is an age that has no end, and, in any case, most scholars agree that the word has a mainly temporal significance.
(b) More promising for annihilationists, says Moo, is to regard the word translated ‘eternal’ as referring not to the action itself, but to the result of the action. The life which is exterminated stays exterminated, everlastingly:-
‘There is some point to this claim: In other New Testament passages where “eternal” describes a noun of action, it is sometimes the results of the action that are indicated. The “eternal sin” of Mark 3:29, for instance, means “a sin whose consequences last forever” (see also Heb. 5:9; 6:2; 9:12; Jude 7). Nevertheless, even if this is the sense of the word here, one must still ask how a destruction whose consequences last forever can be squared with annihilationism. For eternal consequences appear to demand an eternal existence in some form.’ (Morgan, Christopher W. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Kindle Locations 2491-2495). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)
It is clear that Moo himself thinks that this argument on the part of annihilationists has some force; and I find his implied rebuttal (‘one must still ask how a destruction whose consequences last forever can be squared with annihilationism’) unconvincing. After all, capital punishment has consequences that last for ever (to put it bluntly: once a man has been executed, he stays executed).
‘The apostle by no means implies that those who have rejected God will be annihilated eternally, a notion that appears to take the edge off the severity of divine judgment. Rather, the punishment will endure and will not end.’ Green does attempt, by means of an appeal to Marshall, to support his assertion: ‘In favour of everlasting punishment it can be argued: (1). Jesus believed in it, and Paul will have shared his outlook (Matt. 5:29–30; 12:32; 18:8–9; 25:41, 46; Lk. 16:23–25); (2). Jewish teaching of the time accepted the fact of eternal punishment (1QS 2:15; 5.13; Pss. Sol. 2:35; 15:11; 4 Macc. 10:15); (3). In the present context the reference to separation from the Lord is of little significance if those punished are not conscious of their separation.’
Philip Hughes writes:
‘Everlasting life is existence that continues without end, and everlasting death is destruction without end, that is destruction without recall, the destruction of obliteration. Both life and death hereafter will be everlasting in the sense that both will be irreversible.’ (Quoted in Morgan, Christopher W.. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Kindle Locations 4907-4909). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)
Shut out from the presence of the Lord – So translated (with minor variations) by ESV, NASB, RSV. The alternative translation is, ‘destruction that comes from the Lord’ – so AV, ASV, and ESV footnote.
‘While the preposition that begins this clause in the Greek text (apo) is construed in the NIV as signaling that the judged will be excluded from the presence of the Lord, the thought is rather that the presence of the Lord is the source from which the judgment proceeds.’ Paul may well be thinking of Isa 2:10 here: ‘Go into the rocks, hide in the ground from the dread of the Lord and the splendour of his majesty!’
Atkinson thinks that
‘this destruction must be annihilation or personal extinction, since it is destruction from the presence of the Lord. All will agree that the presence of the Lord is everywhere. To be destroyed from the presence of the Lord can therefore only mean to be nowhere.’ (Christopher M. Date, Gregory G. Stump, Joshua W. Anderson. Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism, p101)
This interpretation, regarded by Atkinson as probable, rather than certain, strikes us as strained.
‘Everlasting life is existence that continues without end, and everlasting death is destruction without end, that is destruction without recall, the destruction of obliteration. Both life and death hereafter will be everlasting in the sense that both will be irreversible.’ (The True Image, p405)
Arguing that ‘annihilation’ of the wicked is not a ‘soft option’, Hughes writes:
‘The horror of everlasting destruction will be compounded…by the unbearable agony of exclusion. To be inexorably excluded from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his kingdom, to see but to be shut out from the transcendental joy and bliss of the saints as in light eternal they glorify their resplendent Redeemer, to whose likeness they are now fully and forever conformed, to be plunged into the abyss of irreversible destruction, will cause the unregenerate of mankind the bitterest anguish of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. In vain will they have pleaded, “Lord, Lord, open to us!” (Matt 25:11f.; cf. 7:21– 23). Too late will they then wish they had lived and believed differently. The destiny they have fashioned for themselves will cast them without hope into the abyss of obliteration. Their lot, whose names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life, is the destruction of the second death. Thus God’s creation will be purged of all falsity and defilement, and the ancient promise will be fulfilled that “the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind” as the multitude of the redeemed are glad and rejoice forever in the perfection of the new heaven and the new earth (Isa 65:17f.; Rev 21:1– 4).’ (In Christopher M. Date, Gregory G. Stump, Joshua W. Anderson. Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism, p197)
The majesty of his power – ‘The Thessalonians were feeling the power of human oppressors, but Paul reminds them that there is One mightier.’ (Morris)
‘These solemn words make clear the utter finality of the lot of the wicked. As Denney says, “If there is any truth in Scripture at all, this is true—that those who stubbornly refuse to submit to the gospel, and to love and obey Jesus Christ, incur at the Last Advent an infinite and irreparable loss. They pass into a night on which no morning dawns.”‘ (Morris)
1:10 when he comes to be glorified among his saints and admired on that day among all who have believed—and you did in fact believe our testimony.
Glorified in his holy people – This may mean, (a) ‘glorified in the midst of his people’; or (b) that the Lord’s glory will be shared by his people (cf. 1 Jn 3:2).
Those who have believed – either (a) those whose former faith has now been transformed into sight; or (b) those who took the initial step of faith (i.e. became believers).
1:11 And in this regard we pray for you always, that our God will make you worthy of his calling and fulfill by his power your every desire for goodness and every work of faith, 1:12 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.
Name = person.
Our God and the Lord Jesus Christ – The two titles might be synonymous, although most commentators consider that the reference is to Father and the Son. Even if the latter is the correct interpretation, Christ is certainly being mentioned in the same breath as God.