Monday, July 06, 2015

Reading Through 2nd Thessalonians

I aindexm continuing to read through the New Testament accompanied by the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John R. W. Stott. This is the second of two posts from the book The Message of Thessalonians: The Gospel & the End of Time, written by John Stott. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I post quotes from these commentaries on my Facebook page and periodic summaries of the commentary here on my blog. I welcome discussion on these post on my Facebook page. As always, quotes from the author are in blue font.

After writing 1 Thessalonians Paul received news of the church at Thessalonica. This prompted him to write this letter within 18 months after 1 Thessalonians. The conditions in the church seem to be very similar to those at the time of the writing of 1 Thessalonians but Paul had been informed of more bad teaching in the church that was causing some confusion. The letter was probably written from Corinth (Acts 18:1) during Paul’s 2nd missionary journey. This makes 1 Thessalonians the 3rd letter written by Paul and a good view of the early church’s situation. Interestingly, this is the only time and place where Paul, Silas and Timothy are recorded in scripture as being together.

The letter was written to correct misunderstanding and false teaching in the church regarding the Day of the LORD, To correct disorderliness and idleness in the church, and to commend the Thessalonians for their growth in the faith. Paul wanted the Thessalonians to live expectantly because our sure future should impact every moment of our present. The main message of 2 Thessalonians is "Stand firm, keep growing and fulfill God’s calling with prayer, hard work and discipline because you can be confident that God will accomplish his plan to defeat evil and glorify Christ in you.”

After greeting the church, Paul thanks God for their growth in faith and perseverance despite (and because of) difficult trials. A correct view of present trials takes into account that God’s plan is right and He will give you credit in His Kingdom for your suffering; and that He is just and will bring relief to His suffering people and punish those who cause the suffering at the 2nd coming when Jesus is revealed in all His glory. God is glorified in us when, by his power, our faithful actions fulfill His purpose. The goal of Paul's prayer is that Jesus be glorified in us and we be glorified in Him. (1)

If we follow (Paul's) 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’. 2 Thessalonians 1.3-4, 145

The glorification of Jesus in his people, and their consequent glorification, are not a transformation which is entirely reserved for the last day. The process begins now. Indeed, it must begin now if it is to be brought to its proper end when Christ comes. That day will not suddenly reverse the processes which are going on now; it will rather confirm and complete them. 2 Thessalonians 1.12, 155

Paul then corrects wrong doctrine about the Day of the LORD. It will not come until after the deception and revelation of the man of sin. They shouldn't be worried that the Day of the LORD has already come. It is still future. Any supposed communication from Paul saying that the Day of the LORD is here is counterfeit. That Day will be preceded by a great rebellion and revelation of the man of lawlessness when he will try to take God’s place, receive worship and set himself up in the temple as God. Paul taught this to the Thessalonians when he visited them. That person is presently being restrained until the proper time. Then he will be defeated and destroyed by a Word at the 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ. In contrast, believers were chosen by God (based on His love) from the beginning to be saved so stand firm and hold on to apostolic (biblical) teaching. (2)

Yet all these, together with other evil leaders down the centuries, have been forerunners or anticipations of the final ‘man of lawlessness’, an eschatological yet historical person, the decisive manifestation of lawlessness and godlessness, the leader of the ultimate rebellion, the precursor of and signal for the Parousia. I agree with Geerhardus Vos that ‘we may take for granted … that the Antichrist will be a human person’.  2 Thessalonians 2.3-5, 167

Now is the time of restraint, in which the secret power of lawlessness is being held in check. Next will come the time of rebellion, in which the control of law will be removed and the lawless one will be revealed. Finally will come the time of retribution, in which the Lord Christ will defeat and destroy the Antichrist, and those who have believed the Antichrist-lie will be condemned. 2 Thessalonians 2.9-12, 173

Far from relaxing, they must brace themselves. Far from lying down and falling asleep, they must stand firm. That is, Paul’s assurance regarding God’s stable purpose for his people, instead of justifying irresponsible slackness, is the very basis on which he can urge them with confidence to be stable themselves. 2 Thessalonians 2.15, 177

Paul closes the letter by commanding that the church pray for one another and hold each other accountable. They should pray that the gospel will spread through the world and its messengers be protected and that his people would love like the Father and persevere like the Son. They also must hold each other accountable for bad conduct and bad doctrine and not allow them in the fellowship. Paul‘s example of good conduct is to work hard to serve others without demanding your rights. He counsels the church to settle down, work hard and never quit serving other people. He reminds them that the purpose of church discipline is to shame the offender into repentance to win back a brother and that God gives the peace of His presence entirely by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. (3)

God wants his church to grow both extensively (by its spread of the gospel) and intensively (by its own obedience to the gospel). Each is incomplete and unbalanced without the other. Both also demand time—world evangelization on the one hand and church formation on the other. 2 Thessalonians 3, 184

We have to divest our gospel of the cultural clothing in which we have received it and sometimes even of the precise cultural garb in which Scripture presents it. We also have to reclothe it in cultural terms appropriate to the people to whom we proclaim it. 2 Thessalonians 3.1-3, 187

To be sure, there is an important work of interpretation and application to be done, in order that the apostles’ teaching may be related to contemporary situations and cultures. Nevertheless, their essential teaching retains a permanent and universal validity. For if Christ spoke through them and they spoke in the name of Christ, to disagree with their teaching is to disagree with him. The well-being of the church, in the twentieth century as in the first, depends on our listening to Jesus Christ and obeying him as his word comes to us through his apostles in the New Testament. 2 Thessalonians 3.4-15, 196–197

Paul’s repeated commands, with their expectation of obedience, also condemn those churches whose attitude to the Word of God appears to be subjective and selective. They wander at random through Scripture, choosing a verse here and discarding a verse there, like a gardener picking flowers in a herbaceous border. They have no concept of a thorough study of the Bible, or of a conscientious submission to its teaching. Let not such a church imagine that it will receive the blessing of the Lord!  2 Thessalonians 3.16-18, 199

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