2 Thessalonians 1:1-4

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 316 - September 1882


2 Thessalonians 1:1-4

The first Epistle to the Thessalonians dealt with a mistake of the saints there as to those who fall asleep in Christ. In their immature and absorbing occupation with the coming or presence of the Lord, they had too hastily affirmed that such saints as were not found alive and waiting for Him would lose their part, not of course in eternal life and salvation, but at that blessed moment of His advent. This error was dissipated, not only by bringing in the grand principle of a dead and risen Christ with whom we are associated, and of especial cheer to those who are put to sleep by Him, but by a special revelation which discloses the Lord descending to raise the dead in Christ, and change the believers surviving till His coming, in order to their all coming together along with Him.

In the second epistle, the delusion which false teachers sought to foist on the saints, and even with the claim of the Spirit, and a pretended letter of the apostle, concerned the living whom the enemy endeavoured to shake and trouble under the apprehension of the presence of the day. All knew that the day of the Lord is to be ushered in by darkness and divine judgments, and these Satan sought to inflict on the saints so as to fill them with terror and distress. Clearly this is the natural expectation of a Jew, who, even if he fully confided in the faithfulness of God, cannot but look for an awful season of tribulation and of judicial dealings to precede the kingdom of glory for Israel on the earth. (Ιsa. ii.—iv. 18; Jer. xxx.; Joel ii. in.; Amos v.; Zeph. i.—iii.) As the enemy is ever at work to draw back the heart of the Christian to the law, if he cannot entice him into lawlessness, so did he at Thessalonica, and ever since, put forth his wiles to judaise the hope, presenting the Lord as about to appear in judgment, instead of letting him rejoice in His coming as the Bridegroom for the bride. The deception is the more perilous, because the day of the Lord is a weighty truth in itself, and the revealed period of divine intervention and blessing for the ancient people of God. How the coming of the Saviour, for us who now believe and wait for Hun from heaven, would fit in with the prophetic testimony, must have been as yet vague, as there was no written word to define the matter or solve the difficulty. Hence the importance of this fresh communication. For the question was raised by Satan's attempt to pervert the saints from the enjoyment of their own proper hope. They were agitated under the false alarm that the day was actually come. This more or less completely obscured from their eyes their bright and longing expectation of the Saviour's coming to receive them to Himself, and present them, perfectly like Rim in glory, before the Father with exceeding joy.

As in the first epistle, the apostle does not immediately grapple with the error, but prepares the hearts of the saints gradually and on all sides so as to clench . the truth and exclude the error once it is exposed. This is the way, of divine grace and wisdom; the heart is set right, and not the mere point of error or evil dealt with. The very snare is thus made the occasion of fresh and deeper blessing; and as all truth is consolidated, so the Lord is more enjoyed.

It will be found however that this new work of the devil was not without its effects on the saints, if we may judge by the apostle's manner of addressing them.

"Paul and Silvanus and Timothy to the assembly of the Thessalonians in God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ: grace to you and peace from Go [the] Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ."

"We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, even as it is meet, because your faith increaseth exceedingly, and the love of each of you all toward one another aboundeth; so that we ourselves glory in you in the assemblies of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and the tribulations which ye are enduring." (Ver. 1, 4).

It is impossible to accept as sound and satisfactory Chrysostom's remarks on the address to " the church" rather than to " the saints," as in other epistles. (Field's ed. v. 314, Oxon. 1855.) It has nothing to do with comparative paucity of numbers, and their aggregation in a single company. For in no city perhaps were the saints more numerous than in Jerusalem, when we read of the church or assembly there (Acts v. 11; viii. 1; xi. 22; xv. 4, 22.) A similar remark applies to Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, or to any other place where we know the numbers were great comparatively, and there might be, as in Jerusalem, not a few houses where the saints met to break bread, but all composed " the assembly" there. Never, in short, whatever the number do we in Scripture hear of " assemblies" in a city (as of a province), but always of " the assembly." No doubt the apostle addresses those at Ephesus and Colosse and Philippi and Rome as "saints"; but this, because of the truth he was communicating by the Spirit of God, and not because of their greater numbers. In fact, we read of "the assembly in Ephesus" (Rev. ii. 1) after his epistle to " the saints" as well as before (Acts xx. 17.) Nobody can deny that a long time had passed and the organization was complete, when St. John wrote to "the assembly" there; and therefore Chrysostom's reason is invalid. The true ground lies in the perfection of wisdom with which the Holy Spirit addresses according to the nature of that which He is making known.

Thus the apostle again associates with himself in the salutation those dear fellow-labourers whom the saints in Thessalonica knew already when the assembly was founded there; and he again characterises the assembly as in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: the one severing them from Gentiles, as the other from Jews. Indeed at bottom both contrasted them with both. For what did a Jew more than a Gentile know of such a new, living, and intimate relationship with God as Father? And what knew a Gentile more than a Jew of a rejected but risen Lord and Saviour in heaven? " Our " is added here, as compared with the opening formula in the first epistle. Is it not to rivet emphatically those saints, who, however well they walked in most respects, needed to be reminded more than ever of their common relationship with him who wrote, and with all saints, to Him whose grace is the source of all blessing?

Thanks as before he owns as due to God always for them, not simply because they were objects of His grace, but as was meet because their faith was greatly growing, and the love of each individually and of all mutually was abounding. This was much; but what of their joy of hope in the Holy Ghost? Of this he says nothing. And the absence is the more striking, because in the introduction to the first epistle he had spoken of remembering without ceasing, not only their work of faith and labour of love, but also their patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. Here, to the close observer, there is an ominous silence on any such enduring constancy of hope. Yet there is nothing said to damp their hearts, but all he could say to encourage. The fact is that their hope of Christ was unconsciously but seriously undermined and clouded, not by undue excitement but by agitation and trouble of mind as if the awful day of the Lord were upon them. This brought in fear which darkened their experience of persecution and of outwardly trying circumstances, though the apostle could boast in them among the assemblies of God for their patience and faith in all their persecutions, and the tribulations they were sustaining.

But patience and faith need the power of hope to sustain in freshness. There will and must be a lack when Christ is not personally before the heart as One who may at any moment come to receive His own to Himself. But yet more, there cannot but be an exposure, as we shall find here, to the counter and disturbing influence of fear, which leaves the soul open to the positively delusive power of the enemy. Even in the first epistle the apostle was not without apprehension on that side; and therefore did he send Timothy to establish them and comfort them concerning their faith, that none might be moved by these afflictions; knowing as they did that hereunto we are appointed. For they had surely not forgotten that Paul, when with them, told them beforehand that we are to suffer affliction, even as, they knew full well, it came to pass. But this did not hinder, rather did it draw out, the solicitude of the apostle on their behalf, " lest by any means the tempter had tempted you, and our labour should be in vain." (1 Thess. iii. 5.)

For the enemy has, of course, no real good or blessing to hold out; but he can and does work most effectively through fear of evil, especially where the conscience is bad or gets troubled. Therein lies his great power in awakening terror, availing himself of God's own threatened judgments en a guilty world. He may deceive the unbeliever by flattering him with false peace and false hopes; from this the believer is freed by the gospel, but if not filled with the hope of Christ, he might easily be distressed by the pressure and the variety and the continuance of affliction, especially if Satan got him under the fear that they were judicial inflictions from God on the world in which he was involved like others. Where the heart is kept in peace and confidence before God, the mind can judge soundly. Fear unnerves the soul that is occupied with painful circumstances and throws all into confusion; for God and the word of His grace no longer guide, in the calm trust of a love that never fails, and that gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The apostle, en the contrary, would have them take fresh courage from all their persecutions and the afflictions they were enduring; as he lets them know that he himself was boasting in them en that very account. Se he bade the Philippians at a later day be in nothing affrighted by the adversaries, which is for such an evident token of perdition, as it is for the saints of salvation, and this from God; because it is a real privilege on the behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him but also to suffer for His sake. It is part of the great conflict ever raging between Satan and those who are of Christ. This the Thessalonians had to learn more perfectly; and we shall see in what follows how skillfully the apostle sets their souls right on general grounds before he broaches the direct correction of the error in the second chapter.