The Thessalonians were evidently forward-looking people. In both letters Paul discusses the future. In the first, the state of the righteous dead at the coming of Christ. In the second, the relief from persecution they will have at Christ’s coming, and the false teaching that the day of the Lord is already here. The time between the two letters is unknown. Though liberal scholars doubt that Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians, external evidence is strong for his authorship, especially for the second. Those who believe Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians estimate that no more than weeks or a few months interval passed between them, placing the date in the early 50s.
Paul treats three topics, all apparently related: suffering for the Kingdom of God, a false teaching about Christ’s coming, and the undisciplined life of some saints. Apparently, he had received new information (2:2; 3:11), whether by letter or visit is unknown, about the situation in the congregation and was moved to write further on these topics.
1:1-2. Greeting. Paul’s greeting is identical to his first letter, except for the addition of our. Liberal scholars argue that this and other similarities in the letter are signs that he could not have written 2 Thessalonians. On the other hand, it is also argued that phraseology like the thanksgiving, “We ought to thank God,” which Paul does not use elsewhere, are indications he did not write the letter. So which is it? Why are similarities and differences taken as evidence of the same conclusion?
Grace, mentioned at the end of each chapter (1:12; 2:16; 3:18), is the ground of the gospel, peace, which also closes the letter (3:16), its fruit. For more on the greeting, see 1 Thessalonians 1.
1:3-4. Thanksgiving for Faith and Love. Paul speaks to and of his readers as brothers and sisters rather than as mere friends because God is “Father” (1:1). It may be also that he avoids the language of friendship and prefers the language of kinship to avoid man-centered cultural associations with influential philosophies of the period. It may be significant that Paul does not mention “hope” here as he did in the first letter. If they believe that “the day of the Lord is already here” (2:2), then hope is gone.
Paul uses the Thessalonians’ faith and love as a reason to boast about them (not about his work, to call attention to himself) in the churches of God. Paul has no name in mind for the church, evident by his varying use of the term, but as a description of the reality of those who have been united in Christ and belong to God. Paul uses the word church only twice in the letter, in verses 1 and 4, the same as in 1 Thessalonians. He uses the term brothers and sisters eight times, 18 times in the first letter. It would seem the familial description of Christians may have meant more to the Thessalonians than the concept of assembly, considering the inevitable rupture in social relationships and resulting isolation they would feel. Their sharp sense of Christ’s coming would also heighten these feelings. Christian relationships not only replace the old in many instances, but surpass them in genuine love for each one of the spiritual family.
1:5-10. Rest for the Suffering Saints. Verses 3-10 comprise a single, long sentence, not unlike Paul’s opening in Ephesians, and ties together his thanksgiving prayer and boasting to painting the scene of the revelation of the Lord from heaven. The endurance of the Thessalonians leads naturally to consideration of the End, when it will be rewarded and God’s righteous judgment will make them worthy of the kingdom of God, because they were suffering for it. God always does what is right, and in their case it means he will repay with affliction those who afflict them, as well as give rest to them, since they were afflicted. Both sides are requited for their deeds, but the distinction between repayment and giving, which in other contexts is correct (see Romans 6:23), is not one to be made from this text, since the phrase to give has been inserted into the NET text (also, NRSV, NIV, NASB, in italics; ESV, “to grant;” NKJV inserts “give” in the middle of a prepositional phrase – strange!) to make the sentence clearer, but without the usual accompanying footnote. The verb repay, meaning “to recompense” serves both objects, as Moffatt’s translation makes clear by repeating the verb: “since God considers it but just to repay with trouble those who trouble you, and repay you who are troubled (as well as us) with rest and relief.” Each will get what is coming to him.
With allusions to Jeremiah and Isaiah, Paul paints the picture of the Lord Jesus’ coming with his mighty angels and with flaming fire. Eternal destruction (not a one-time event, but a punishment as long as eternal life, Matthew 25:46) is reserved for the persecutors, who have afflicted the Thessalonians because they do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These three descriptions refer to the one and the same class of people. It becomes evident that knowing God depends upon obeying the gospel. The gospel is not merely a set of facts, but commands to be obeyed as well (see John 12:50), for one cannot obey facts. (The modern attempt to pare down the content of the gospel is, in its essence, a desire to rid oneself of the obligation to obey God’s commands.) This destruction is described in its most horrifying detail, banished from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength. This banishment and punishment will occur when he comes to be glorified in his saints and admired on that day among all who have believed. Again, the two phrases describe the same class of people, as above. Despite the modern religious twisting of the meaning of saints, God’s people should not avoid its use, considering Jesus will be glorified in them. The connection between saints and those have believed reinforce the truth that belief is not mere mental consent or acceptance.
Though Jesus did not come to earth for the purpose of judging, or condemning people, but to save by his death on the cross (John 12:46-48), his rescue of the righteous also means that he will mete out punishment. Whoever rejects this facet of Christ rejects the biblical picture which takes into account both the goodness and the severity of God and his plan in Christ (Romans 11:22).
1:11-12. Prayer for Worthiness and Fulfillment. Prayer focuses on what God will do, on our desires for his action in our behalf or in the lives of others. Here, Paul desires that God will make the Thessalonians worthy of his calling, which he asserted that God would do in verse 5. But there is no uncertainty here, since it equals a prayer for their strengthening in their every desire for goodness and and every work of faith. This way, in them the name of our Lord Jesus would be glorified, as they would be in him. For the mutual glorification between Christ and the Father, see John 17:1-5. Glorification often presupposes honor or praise before others or by others through one who acts as an agent to make aware of special behaviors or characteristics. To glorify God and the name of Jesus is the Christian’s ultimate goal. He is equal to such a daunting task because he works according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. The name refers to the person, especially his character and work.