The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians.

An Expository Outline.

Introductory.

The two Epistles to the Assembly of the Thessalonians were written to meet errors that had arisen in their midst as to the Christian's hope — the coming of the Lord.

Scripture presents this great truth in a double aspect. There is first the coming of the Lord for His saints to take them out of this world to be with Himself in the glory: secondly, there is His coming with His saints to bring them into the world to reign with Him. The First Epistle presents the coming of the Lord to take His saints out of the world, and corrects the error that had arisen as to the saints who had fallen asleep. The Second Epistle presents the coming of Christ with His saints and corrects errors that were being taught as to the saints still living.

The Thessalonian Assembly was well aware that the coming of the Lord with His saints would end man's day and usher in the day of the Lord. Already the Apostle had referred to "the day of the Lord" in the First Epistle (v. 2) as a truth with which they were well acquainted; and again he takes up this great theme in this Second Epistle (see Chapter 2:2, where "the day of Christ" should be translated "the day of the Lord").

These believers would know that the prophets spoke of this day as "The great and dreadful day of the Lord" (Mal. 4:5); "a day of trouble, and distress, a day of wasteness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness" (Zeph. 1:14, 15). Thus, however great the glory and blessing of the reign of Christ, the day of the Lord, that leads to the Kingdom, would be ushered in by overwhelming judgments on the world.

It would seem that the enemy took occasion, by the persecutions and tribulations that the Thessalonian believers were passing through, to raise the terrible thought in their minds that the day of the Lord was present, and that the believers would have to pass through the horrors of this day before being taken to be with the Lord. The Apostle writes this Epistle to correct this error, not only for the Thessalonian Assembly but for all God's people who still think that the Church must pass through the great tribulation before the Lord comes to receive His own to Himself. Moreover, as ever, the Spirit of God, when correcting error, also unfolds solemn and precious truths for the warning, comfort, and establishment of believers.

The contents of the Epistle may be summarised as follows:
First, the Apostle comforts believers in the midst of persecution, and fortifies them against being deceived with error, by instructing them in the truth (2 Thess. 1).
Secondly, having instructed them in the truth he exposes the error and foretells the apostacy of Christendom and the manifestation of the man of sin (2 Thess. 2:1-12).
Thirdly, he comforts believers by reminding them of their present portion and their future prospect in contrast to the coming doom of Christendom (2 Thess. 2:13-17).
Finally, he instructs us as to the practical walk that is consistent with the coming of Christ (Chapter 3).

1. Comfort in Persecution.

2 Thessalonians 1.

The Assembly of the Thessalonians were troubled and distracted by some evilly disposed persons who took occasion by the persecutions they were suffering to teach the error that the day of the Lord had already come. Before, however, exposing the error, the Apostle, after the salutation (Vv. 1, 2), gives thanks for the spiritual condition of these believers (3, 4), comforts them by presenting the truth as to the day of the Lord (5-10), and encourages by his prayer on their behalf (11, 12).

The Salutation (2 Thess. 1:1, 2).

The Apostle addresses the Assembly of the Thessalonians as being "in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." He recognises that they are in the enjoyment of the full truth of Christianity that reveals God as our Father and Jesus Christ as our Lord. So the Apostle can write to the Corinthian Assembly, "To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him" (1 Cor. 8:6). He desires for these saints grace to endure in their persecutions, and peace to garrison their hearts in spite of their tribulations.

Thanksgiving on their behalf (2 Thess. 1:3, 4).

The spiritual condition of this Assembly was such that it was meet that the Apostle should thank God on their behalf. There may be ignorance that calls for instruction, error, that requires correction, and even individuals whose walk is disorderly, but, as ever, the Apostle delights to recognise what is of God in His people before dealing with their ignorance and failure.

It is noteworthy that the Apostle gives thanks for the fruit of the work of God in the saints — their "faith" and "love." He does not, in this passage, thank God for the knowledge of the truth they may have acquired or for their diligence in searching the word, but for the results of the truth seen in their lives. Even so, in writing to the Ephesian believers, he does not thank God that they entered into the highest truths connected with the counsels of God, but he thanks God for the measure in which the truth had affected them, as witnessed by their "faith in the Lord Jesus" and "love unto all the saints" (Eph. 1:15, 16; also Col. 1:3, 4).

Very blessedly the Assembly was characterised, not only by faith toward our Lord Jesus, but by faith that was growing exceedingly; and not only by love to one another, but by love that was abounding. Moreover it was not only that there were devoted individuals in their midst, but the Apostle speaks of "the love of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth."

There was then, in these Thessalonian believers, a very blessed witness to what the Assembly should be according to the mind of God — a company of people to whom Christ was the one Object of their faith, and where divine love prevailed. In such a company there would be no room for the pettiness of the flesh with its love of self-exaltation, its jealousy and its malice. In such a company confidence in one another would abound, every one's reputation would be safe, and all would seek the good of others.

The Apostle says nothing, in these introductory verses, of their hope, as in the first Epistle. Probably their hope had become a little dimmed by the false report that the day of the Lord was already present. The effect of this Epistle would be to revive their hope so that later he can close the corrective part of his Epistle by reminding them of the "everlasting consolation and good hope" given to us "through grace" (2:16).

(2 Thess. 1:4). An Assembly where faith was growing and love abounding would not, either in that day or this, escape the attacks of Satan. So we learn they were passing through persecutions and tribulations. Nevertheless God allowed these trials for the testing of their faith, for the proving of faith "works endurance" (James 1:3). With the Thessalonian believers the efforts of Satan had only been a means of drawing out their faith in Christ, their love to one another, and their endurance in trial. Such qualities called forth the thankfulness of the Apostle to God and enabled him to glory on their behalf in other Assemblies.

Every effort of the enemy is to weaken faith in Christ, to break up love between one another, and to lead us to resent evil rather than patiently endure. In the midst of the special trials of the closing days we may not, in this country, have to meet active persecution; none the less we shall have tribulation. In a day of confusion and scattering among the people of God the trials we have to meet are more often from the flesh showing itself, in different forms, within the circle of God's people rather than from opposition from without. Such trials are allowed of God in order to work endurance. Alas! too often we miss the lesson God would teach us by resenting the trial and rendering evil for evil, and railing for railing. In such circumstances the trial may be allowed to continue, or, if removed we miss the blessing that God intended, and shall have to go through yet further trials. Good for us if we take every trial from God, and to God. Then, having committed all to God we shall learn "endurance" which carries with it great blessing for our souls even now, and, in the day to come, a bright reward in glory.

The Kingdom of God and the Day of the Lord (2 Thess. 1:5-10).

The reference to the persecutions and tribulations that these saints were passing through, naturally leads the Apostle to speak of the Kingdom of God and the day of the Lord by which the Kingdom will be introduced, and thus prepare these saints to detect and refuse the error by which they were being troubled and of which the Apostle speaks in the second chapter.

(2 Thess. 1:5). First we learn that the coming Kingdom will make manifest the righteous judgment of God in allowing His people to pass through persecution and tribulation. The beautiful traits these believers were exhibiting in the midst of persecution and trials, proved them to be worthy of a place in the coming glory of the Kingdom. It was the maintenance of the principles of the Kingdom that brought them into suffering, and the suffering was allowed in view of the rewards and glories of the Kingdom.

(2 Thess. 1:6). Secondly, in the coming day, the righteousness of God will also be seen in recompensing tribulation to those who trouble His people. This is a truth of the utmost importance showing, as it does, that we must wait for a future day for the final solution of the righteous government of God. The righteousness of God, whether in rewarding those who do good or in the judgment of those who do evil, is not fully seen in this life, as the friends of Job falsely argued. Now the people of God oftentimes have to endure suffering while the wicked prosper. Nevertheless, in the world to come all will be brought to an issue, and it will be demonstrated before men and angels that God has not been unmindful of the sufferings of His people throughout the ages, nor indifferent to the violence and corruption of their enemies. Every kind of persecution and trial, whether from pagan Rome or papal Rome, whether from within or without the professing Christian circle, will at last be remembered for exposure and judgment. In the light of that day God's suffering people need not be indignant with their enemies; they need not seek to take vengeance, or even vindicate themselves: they only have to wait God's time when all will be dealt with in perfect righteousness.

(2 Thess. 1:7). Thirdly, the future day of tribulation for the world, will be the day of "rest" for believers who are troubled in this the day of grace. So the Apostle can say to these tried saints, "rest with us" in that day. One has said, "Now it is the saints that are troubled, then it will be the world. Now the saints suffer at the world's hands; then the world will be punished by the Lord's hand."

Fourthly, we learn that the "rest" of the saints and the tribulation of the world will be brought about by the day of the Lord — the day "when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels." At His first coming, in humiliation and grace, the angels announced the glad tidings and a multitude of the heavenly hosts were there to celebrate His praise, and announce blessing to man and glory to God. At His second coming He will be revealed in power, and again the angels of His might will be present, but to execute judgment on a world that has rejected His grace.

(2 Thess. 1:8, 9). Fifthly, we learn that, in the day of the Lord, divine vengeance will fall on all those who know not God. The nations have the witness of creation through which the eternal power and divinity of God can be known (see Rom. 1:19, 20; Ps. 19:1-6). They have rejected creation's testimony, fallen into idolatry, and corrupted themselves with every conceivable lust. All this evil has not been passed over; it will be dealt with in the day of the Lord. Their ignorance of God is an ignorance that has had opportunity of knowledge but rejected it.

Sixthly, there are those who have heard the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ — a much higher testimony than that of creation, for therein is revealed the love of God. Such will be dealt with according to the light and privileges they have had.

But whether men reject the creation testimony or the gospel testimony it will involve their everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power. They saw no glory in His humiliation in grace that they might be saved; they will know nothing of the glory of the day of His power.

(2 Thess. 1:10). Seventhly, above all else, the day of the Lord will be the day of the glory and exaltation of Christ, when He will be "glorified" and "admired" in all them that believe.

Prayer for Believers (2 Thess. 1:11, 12).

The Apostle closes the introductory portion of the Epistle with a word of encouragement to these believers by telling them of his prayers on their behalf. He has set before us the rest and the glory of the coming Kingdom to which we are called in association with Christ; now he prays that the saints may be found walking in a way worthy of this high calling. Did we enter more fully into the reality and greatness of this calling — that we are going to be associated with Christ in glory — we should be more entirely separate from this world and its passing glories.

Further, the Apostle prays that God would fulfil in us "all the good pleasure of His goodness." We are not left here to fulfil the pleasure of the flesh. It is our high privilege to be here for the pleasure of God. The Lord, in the perfection of His way, could say, "I do always those things that please Him" (John 8:29). Alas! too often we do the things that please ourselves. In the light of the Lord's example, and the Apostle's prayer, we may well challenge ourselves and ask, Are our thoughts, our words, our ways, our walk, pleasing to God, and according to the pleasure of His goodness? Let us remember that His pleasure can only be good, and for our good.

Moreover, the Apostle desires that "the work of faith" — that which God has given us to do — may be carried out by power given by Him. The power is needed to continue the work of faith. We should like power to deal with our enemies and all that oppose and insult us. This however is the Lord's work who will deal with them by "the glory of His power" when He is revealed (V. 9).

Finally, the Apostle desires that "the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified" in the saints even now. Christ will be glorified in His saints in the day of His glory, but it is the good pleasure of God that the Name of Christ should be glorified in His people in the day of His rejection. The flesh would like to glorify itself, and, in the presence of opposition, and insults, we would like to vindicate ourselves. But our business and our privilege is to think only of what would be for the glory of Christ. His glory demands that we should act as He acted, "Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, he threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously." This however calls for great grace, therefore the Apostle closes his prayer by desiring that we may glorify Christ "according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." We need power for the Lord's work and grace to glorify Christ.

There is thus set before us, in this first portion of the Epistle, a beautiful picture of the moral qualities that God desires to be found in the Assemblies of His people. He would have all such to be marked by growing faith in Christ; by abounding love to one another; by endurance in the midst of trials; by a walk worthy of our calling; by ever seeking His good pleasure; by continuing in the work of faith, and, above all, by a condition that glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. We know how far we come short of the picture, but at least may we have nothing less than the perfect pattern before our souls.

2. The Doom of Christendom.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.

(2 Thess. 2:1, 2). In the second division of the Epistle, the Apostle takes up the special subject that led him to write again to the Thessalonian believers. The enemy, taking occasion by their trials and persecutions, had deceived them into thinking that the day of the Lord was present, and, therefore, believers, before reaching their final blessing, would have to pass through the great tribulation that the day of the Lord will bring upon all the world.

Owing to a defective translation in our Authorised Version, the difficulty that troubled these believers is not very apparent. The statement at the end of verse two, "that the day of Christ is at hand," should, beyond all question, read "that the day of the Lord is present" (see N. Tn. and Rev. Ver.). The fact that the day of the Lord was at hand would be no occasion of trouble to these saints. If, however, the day of the Lord was present, then, instead of being caught away to meet the Lord in the air, according to the truth of the First Epistle, they were apparently left behind to go through the great tribulation. Little wonder they were troubled.

Apparently this error had come to them through false teachers who, were not merely themselves deceived, but were deliberate deceivers, for they had even stooped to forging a letter, as from the Apostle, in order to give this error the appearance of apostolic authority.

The Apostle appeals to these saints not to be "shaken in mind nor troubled" by such errors, whether they come through an evil spirit, by oral teaching, or through a forged letter purporting to come from himself, and bases his appeal on the great fact, already brought before these believers, in the first Epistle, — the fact of "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him." This great event will precede the day of the Lord.

(2 Thess. 2:3, 4). It is of the first importance to see that Scripture clearly distinguishes between the Lord's descent into the air for His saints, and His later appearing with His saints. It is of the interval, between these two great events, that the chapter speaks, and with which so much prophecy is occupied, whether in the Old Testament, in the Lord's own prophetic utterances, or in other prophecies of the New Testament.

This period is referred to by our Lord as "the completion of the age" (Matt. 24:3, N. Tn.). It must be remembered that the "end of the age" is not the end of the Christian interval which ends with the rapture. The "end of the age," of which the Lord speaks, is the end of the Jewish age, not the end of the Christian period. It comprises the last unfulfilled week of Daniel's Seventy Weeks. It is, as one has said, "the cut off end of the Jewish age." It is to this age that the day of the Lord belongs. Much confusion would have been saved if the true meaning of the expression "the end" or "completion" of the age had been seen. The false interpretation that it refers to the end of the Christian period has led many "to hunt for dates and calculations of times which have been so fruitful a cause of disappointment to multitudes at various periods" (F.W.G.).

This period — the interval between the rapture and the appearing — is one of solemn import in the history of the world. The great outstanding feature of this time will be the development of the evil of man apart from the restraining power of God. For this reason it will of necessity be a short period, for when once God removes all restraint, man's evil will develop with fearful rapidity. This heading up of the lawlessness of man will prepare the way for the appearing of the Lord in judgment. It will make manifest the need of judgment, as well as the righteousness of the Lord in intervening in judgment.

The Apostle, in this passage, throws great light on this solemn period. First, he shows that this period cannot commence until the coming of the Lord Jesus for believers, and "our gathering together unto Him." These two events are sufficient to meet and dispose of the error that troubled these saints.

But there were other events to take place before the day of the Lord comes. So the Apostle goes on to say, "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come except there come a failing away (or 'apostacy') first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition." Here, then, are two more events that precede the day of the Lord. The "gathering together" of the saints to Christ in heaven, is followed by the apostacy of Christendom on earth; and the apostacy prepares the way for the manifestation of the man of sin.

As to the apostacy, we are warned in other Scriptures that as we near this awful day, signs of the coming apostacy will manifest themselves. We read, "the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall apostatise from the faith giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons" (1 Tim 4:1-3). While, however, individuals may apostatise, "the apostacy" awaits the removal of the true Christians. This event will be followed by the apostacy of the whole corrupt professing Christendom. Thus the gathering together of the saints to Christ in heaven, is followed by the falling away of professing Christendom on earth. Alas! it is only too evident, how fast Christendom is moving towards the apostacy. Modernism with its rationalism; science, falsely so-called, with its godless and self-confident speculations; superstition, with its childish ritualism, are all preparing men to throw off the outward profession of that of which they have never known the vital reality.

The apostacy will prepare the way for the appearance of the man of sin. Comparison of this Scripture with others, leads to the conclusion that the person spoken of in this passage, as the man of sin, is the Antichrist of whom the Apostle John writes, and the one who is described under the figure of the second beast in Revelation 13:11-18. It is only in the Epistle of John that this wicked person is called the Antichrist. As the Apostle Paul warns us that there will be individual apostates before the great apostacy, so the Apostle John warns us there will be anti-christian teachers before the manifestation of the Antichrist (1 John 2:18).

The Antichrist is not to be confused with the blasphemous head of the revived Roman Empire, described under the figure of the first beast in Revelation 13:1-10. The Antichrist will be the vessel of religious energy and opposition to Christ. The revived head of the Roman Empire will be the leader in evil public government. One will wield evil religious power; the other evil secular power. Both powers will be energised by Satan, and both will come to the same fearful end (Rev. 13:2; 2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 19:20).

The Apostle John shows that the religious opposition of the Antichrist will have both a Jewish as well as a Christian character. He will deny the Christian revelation of the Father and the Son, and deny that Jesus is the Messiah promised to the Jews.

The Apostle Paul, in this Epistle, gives further details of the character, and actions, of this terrible man. He is here called the "man of sin," for in this man there will be seen the result of a man being left to do his own will without restraint from God or man. As in the case of Judas, he is called the "son of perdition," for, even as Judas was a traitor in the midst of the favoured band of disciples who companied with the Lord, so this man will arise from the ranks of professing Christians. Both men are doomed to perdition, or utter destruction (John 17:12).

As to the activities of this wicked man, they all express religious wickedness, rather than secular mis-government, being impious toward God and seductive toward men. He "opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped." In this man will be expressed all the enmity of the human heart to God which is the effect of sin. Moreover, the man that seeks to dethrone God, is set upon exalting himself. So we read of the man of sin that, he not only opposes God, but, he "exalts himself." So boundless is the pride of man that it would seek to exalt man "above all that is called God, or that is worshipped."

Further, this fearful man defies the God of Israel, for "he himself sitteth in the temple of God," and would seek to eliminate all faith in the one and unseen God, for he shows himself that he is God. One has said, "There is thus concentrated in this man of sin all the power of sin, all the enmity of the human heart to God, all the pride that exalts self, all the defiance of the human heart against every revelation of God, whether in nature, in Judaism, or Christianity. In this person God is excluded from the earth, and man arrogates to himself the place and honour that alone belong to God."

(2 Thess. 2:5-8). In the course of his description of the coming Antichrist, the Apostle stops to remind us of what is taking place at the present moment, while the true Christians are still on the earth. First, in the goodness of God, there is that which holds back the revelation of this terrible man of sin. Secondly, though the goodness of God holds back the full manifestation of wickedness, yet the evil, that leads to the apostacy, and the revelation of the man of sin, is already at work. This iniquity was, indeed, at work in Paul's day, for he has to say, it "doth already work." It has continued working all through the Christian period, though in a secret way, and therefore is called "the mystery of lawlessness." The great restraining power is spoken of as a Person, and One who is present upon the earth, but who will soon be gone, so we read, "He who now restrains until He be gone" (N. Tn.). There is only One to whom this can refer — the Holy Spirit. It is not merely the presence of true Christians that hinders the full development of evil, however much the Holy Spirit may use such in restraining power, but it is rather the presence of a Divine Person who restrains the power of Satan.

Thus the mystery of lawlessness, though not set aside, is at present restrained, a truth that gives great comfort, and confidence, to the Christian. When the Holy Spirit is gone, the restraint will be removed, and the mystery of lawlessness will stand revealed in the lawless one (N. Tn.).

The consummation of evil in this man of sin will call forth the righteous judgment of God. The Lord Jesus, the One to whom Antichrist is in deadly opposition, will consume this wicked man with "the spirit of his mouth." This, surely, is the "sharp sword" that proceeds out of His mouth of which we read in the Revelation, and doubtless symbolizes the word of God applied in judgment. This sword of judgment will be wielded by the Lord Jesus at the "appearing of His coming" (N. Tn.). It is well to note the difference that Scripture makes between the coming of the Lord for His saints, and His coming in judgment. When the Apostle speaks of believers "gathering together unto Him," His coming or presence is named, but not a word about His appearing (verse 1). When the lawless one is dealt with in judgment it will be not merely at the coming of the Lord, but at His appearing. He can, and will, come for His saints without appearing to the world. When He comes in judgment, He will appear before all the world. As one has said, "The distinction therefore of 2 Thessalonians 2:1, and 8 (the presence of Christ simply, and the appearing of His presence) is precise, instructive, and undeniable. The one is to gather together the saints to Christ above: the other is for Him (and we may say for all His saints thus gathered to appear with Him) to crush His enemies. It is then that every eye shall see Him, as it concerns every soul on earth" (W. K.).

(2 Thess. 2:9). Having instructed us as to the power that restrains the full development of this fearful evil, the Apostle concludes his description of this lawless one by foretelling the seductive power he will wield, and its terrible effects upon those who have rejected the truth. This fearful display of seductive energy will give occasion for the full manifestation of the power of Satan. The coming of this man of sin will be "after the working of Satan with all power, and signs, and lying wonders." This lawless man will act in deadly opposition to Christ, but his seductions will be shown in that he does so by imitating Christ. We read of the Lord Jesus that He was "approved of God . . . by miracles and wonders and signs" (Acts 2:22). The same words that are used to set forth the power of God, acting in grace, in Christ, are used to set forth the power of Satan, acting in malice, in the man of sin. Thus Antichrist, under the power of Satan, will seek to belittle the witness borne by God to Christ, by miracles and wonders similar to those performed by Christ.

These powers and signs will not be the trickery of some man-made priest, or the sham healings of men; they will be terribly real, though called "lying wonders," inasmuch as they will deceive men. Thus the coming of the lawless one will be accompanied by the supernatural power of Satan. Men forget that there are spiritual beings — "angels that excel in strength," and that Satan, though a fallen angel, has immense powers, far exceeding the powers of man. When the restraining power of God is removed the supernatural powers of Satan will be fully displayed. The working of Satan will be accompanied with the manifestation of "power" far beyond the power of man, with "signs" which convey some portent, and with "wonders" which excite attention.

(2 Thess. 2:10-12). The Apostle closes this solemn portion of his Epistle by describing the awful effect of Satan's power working through the lawless one. All this unrighteousness will deceive "them that perish," those who have heard and refused the truth. "They received not the love of the truth that they might be saved." Having refused the truth they will be given over to this "strong delusion" and will believe a lie. Moreover they "believed not the truth," because they had pleasure in unrighteousness.

The whole passage plainly discloses the order of these solemn events.
1. At the present moment evil is secretly working, here called "the mystery of lawlessness."
2. At the coming of Christ for His saints, true believers will be caught away, and the One who restrains will be gone.
3. Following upon the rapture of the saints to Christ in heaven, there will come the apostacy of the christian profession on earth.
4. The apostacy will prepare the way for the revelation of the man of sin.
5. The revelation of the man of sin will become the occasion for the full display of the power of Satan.
6. The display of the power of Satan, through the man of sin, will lead to the strong delusion of those who, finding pleasure in unrighteousness, had rejected the truth.
7. Evil, both in man and Satan, having come to its head in open revolt against God, will be dealt with in overwhelming judgment by the Lord "with the appearing of His coming."

In the light of this passage it is clear that so far from the millennial blessing being brought about by the spread of Christianity or the preaching of the gospel, Christendom itself is passing on to judgment. One had said, "It is a remarkable proof of the power of Satan, that in the face of these passages (2 Thess. 2:3-12; 2 Tim. 3:1-5, 13; 2 Tim. 4:34) men, wise in their own conceits, will bring reason to prove that they are to go on and fill the whole world with the gospel — that, at the very time that judgments are hastening upon them, men will cherish the expectation of the earth being filled with a widespread blessedness, — is the strongest possible evidence of the power of that delusion of which the Apostle speaks. It is not that God is not working, and turning men from darkness to light. It was the same before the destruction of Jerusalem; three thousand were converted in a day. If we had three thousand converted in a day now, would it be a proof that the millennium was coming? No, but rather that it was judgment that was coming. It was because the judgment was coming that this happened. It was the Lord's gathering out His saints before the judgment, and adding to the Church such as should be saved. And, if He is now working in a special manner to gather out souls, it is not because the gospel is to fill the world, but because judgment is coming upon the professing Church" (J. N. D. Col. Wri. 11:448).

3. The Portion and Prospect of the Believer.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17.

Having dealt with the error which had been a cause of agitation to the Thessalonian believers, and foretold the coming doom of Christendom, the Apostle, by way of contrast, speaks of the present and future portion of believers. In the first part of the Epistle he had thanked God for these saints, instructed them, and prayed for them; so, again, he resorts to thanksgiving, exhortation, and prayer.

The Thanksgiving (2 Thess. 2:13:14).

In the opening verses of the Epistle the Apostle thanks God for the saints because of the graces found in them for God. Here he gives thanks because of all that God is for them. Very happily, he speaks of believers as "Brethren, beloved of the Lord." However much the failure and weakness among the people of God, and whatever differences there may be in spiritual attainment, he delights to view them as being bound together as "brethren." Seven times, in the course of this short Epistle, the Apostle addresses these saints as "brethren" (1:3; 2:1, 13, 15; 3:1, 6, 13). Moreover, though persecuted and tried by the world, they are "beloved of the Lord." Should we not be more careful of the way we think of, speak about, and act towards, one another, if we remembered that we are "beloved of the Lord?" Can the Lord be indifferent to any persecution, or insults, suffered by those who are beloved of Him, from whatever quarter such suffering may come?

Then the Apostle thanks God for all that God is for His people, whether in the past, the present, or the future. First, looking back into eternity, he says, "from the beginning" God has chosen us unto salvation. Left to ourselves we should have passed on with the world to the judgment of which he has been speaking; but the sovereign grace of God has chosen us to salvation. This salvation has not been brought about by any works that we have done; but through the work of the Spirit in us, separating us from the world, and leading us to believe the truth. That truth, we know, is the gospel concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, who, in order that we might obtain salvation, died for us (1 Thess. 5:9, 10).

The Apostle thus draws a contrast between believers and unbelievers, of whose doom he has previously spoken. Unbelievers, wrought upon by Satan, received not the love of the truth, and come under condemnation. Believers wrought upon by the Holy Spirit, believe the truth and obtain salvation.

Secondly, if believers were chosen in a past eternity, they are called in time, and the call reached them by the gospel which Paul speaks of as "our gospel." We often confine the gospel to the preaching of the forgiveness of sins; but Paul's gospel not only proclaimed the salvation that meets our need, but also the calling that meets the need in the heart of God; for if God calls us it is in order to gratify the purposes of love in His own heart.

The call of God has a twofold character. It calls us out of this present world, and it calls us to another world. When the God of glory appeared to Abraham, the word was, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I will show thee" (Acts 7:3). We, too, are called out from this present world in view of a heavenly home. For us the world is the world of corrupt Christendom — a mixture of Judaism and Christianity — therefore the call to us is "Go forth therefore unto Him without the camp." Having gone forth we immediately find that "Here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come" (Heb. 13:13, 14).

If then we were chosen in eternity, and called in time, it is in view of "the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ," throughout the coming ages. Wonderful grace! If God calls us, it is with no less purpose than the obtaining of the glory set forth in our Lord Jesus Christ as Man. We are to be like Him and with Him. Again, we may say, how differently we should speak of, and act towards one another, did we view the Lord's people as "chosen," "called," and going on to glory,

The Exhortation (2 Thess. 2:15).

Seeing then that we are brethren, beloved of the Lord, chosen, and called, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Apostle exhorts us to "stand firm," and "hold fast" (N. Tn.). Again, be it noted, that it is as "brethren" these exhortations are pressed upon us. It is only as we walk together, united as brethren, that we shall be able to "stand firm" and "hold fast" in any collective sense. If, like the Galatian Assemblies, we "bite and devour one another," it will end in our being "consumed one of another." But, says the Apostle to the Galatians,"If," in contrast to biting one another, "we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." Then, indeed, we shall not be "desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another," but we shall walk as brethren, "bearing one another's burdens" (Gal. 5:15, 25, 26; Gal. 6:1, 2).

Walking as brethren we shall be able to "stand firm" in the presence of the assaults of the enemy, whether by persecution or tribulation. Moreover we shall be able to "hold fast" the instructions of the Apostle (N. Tn.). For the Thessalonians, these instructions came either by word or by letter; for us they are preserved in the Epistles. Every effort of the enemy today, is to lead the saints to "give way" in the presence of trial, and "let go" the truths we have been taught.

The Prayer (2 Thess. 2:16, 17).

The Apostle has brought before us the salvation and calling of God, he has exhorted us to "stand firm" and to "hold fast;" but He realises that, if we are to enter into the calling, and stand firm in the presence of all the power of the enemy, it will not be possible in our own strength. Thus it is he resorts to prayer. He turns to our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself, the One who is going to deal with all evil and annul every opposing power by the appearing of His coming. How good that we have access by prayer to "Himself!" Further he turns to "God even our Father" — One who loves us, has chosen us, called us, and given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace.

There may be many sorrows to meet on the road, but there is "everlasting consolation" at the end of the journey. We may have to pass through difficult times, but we are passing on to the fulfilment of the "good hope." False teachers may seek to distress and distract the saints, but the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself, and God our Father can minister comfort. The enemy may seek to turn the saints from their service of "good works and words," but, in spite of every attack of the enemy, whether from false teachers within the Christian profession, or from persecution without, God can enable the saints to "stand firm," to "hold fast," and to continue in every good work and word.

4. The Practical Walk of the People of God.

2 Thessalonians 3.

In the closing portion of the Epistle, the Apostle instructs us as to the practical walk that should mark the Christian Assembly in the presence of opposition from without (1-5), and in view of difficulties that may arise within the circle of fellowship (6-18).

Instructions as to meeting opposition from without the Christian circle (1-5).

(2 Thess. 3:1, 2). In order that we may meet the opposition of wicked men, and resist the evil of the world we are passing through, the Apostle presents the practical Christian qualities which, if found among believers would enable them to "stand firm" in the face of opposition.

First, Paul speaks of prayer. If we are to "stand firm" in the face of opposition, and "hold fast" the instructions given by him (2:15, N.Tn.), it will only be by grace supplied from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God, even our Father. On our side, we receive this grace through prayer by which we draw near to the Throne of grace to receive grace in the time of need. In prayer we express our weakness and dependence upon God, and acknowledge our confidence in His power and grace.

Already, the Apostle has twice spoken of his prayers for these saints (1:11, 12; 2:16, 17): now he desires their prayers on his behalf. Though an Apostle, and one who received revelations, and could speak by inspiration, he felt the need of prayer, and was conscious of the value of the prayers of God's people. He thus views the people of God as a praying company to whom he can appeal.

The particular request that he desires brings out another mark that should characterise the Christian company. They should be a company of believers in whom the word of the Lord is glorified. The Apostle gladly admits that the Gospel was glorified in these saints, but realising the opposition of the world, and that he, himself, was a very special object of the attacks of unreasonable and wicked men, he desires their prayers that he may be delivered from such. He personifies the gospel and views it as actively pursuing its course. Where the gospel is received, and fruits produced, and lives are changed, as in the case of the Thessalonian saints, the gospel is indeed glorified. Nevertheless a gospel thus glorified will raise the opposition of wicked men who find in these changed lives a condemnation of their own lives.

(2 Thess. 3:3). Further, in order that the word of the Lord may be glorified we need to be established in the truth, and Paul is confident that the Lord, in His faithfulness, will establish the saints. Wicked men may oppose, but the Lord is faithful to His own. Our safeguard against error, and every form of evil, is found in being grounded in the truth. If the Lord establishes us in the truth we shall be kept from the evil. Our care then should be to pursue the truth. "I would," says the apostle, in another passage, "have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil" (Rom. 16:19).

(2 Thess. 3:4). Moreover, the Christian company is to be marked by obedience to the instructions of Scripture. It is true that the Lord alone can establish us in the truth and keep us from evil; nevertheless, on our side there is to be the readiness to obey; as the Apostle can say, "We have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we enjoin you." We may thank the Lord when His people do obey, but only deep confidence in the Lord will enable us to say that they "will do," and thus continue to obey. We need not only present obedience, but continuance in obedience come what may. Good for us to be found amongst those who "both do and will do."

(2 Thess. 3:5). Further, the Apostle says. "The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God." The One through whom, at such a cost, all the love of God has been fully revealed, is the One who alone can direct our hearts into that love. In the woman by the well we see not only the way in which the Lord declares the love of God to a sinner, but, also, the tender way He takes to direct her heart into that love.

Finally, the Apostle desires that we may be led "into the patience of the Christ" (N. Tn.). Christ is waiting to receive His saints at the rapture, and to reign with His saints at His appearing. He would have our hearts marked by that same patience.

Thus the Apostle passes before us some of the marks that God would have to be found in every Christian company. They should be a praying people, in whom the word of the Lord is glorified; a people established in the truth and separate from evil; a company obedient to the word, walking in the love of God, and patiently waiting for the coming of Christ. A company thus characterised would be able to withstand the assaults of the enemy and the temptations of the world.

Instructions as to meeting disorder within the Christian circle.

(2 Thess. 3:6-18). Having instructed us as to the Christian qualities that will enable believers to stand against wicked men, and the evil of a hostile world, the Apostle passes on to instruct us how to deal with disorder that may arise within the Christian circle.

(2 Thess. 3:6). There were, at that day, as so often since, some in the Christian company who walked in a disorderly way," and not after the instruction "received from the Apostle."

We are solemnly enjoined, in the Name of the Lord Jesus; how to act towards such. In the first Epistle he had instructed the Assembly that, if there were unruly people in their midst they were to be warned (1 Thess. 5:14). Here he carries his instructions a stage further. If the warning had no effect, those composing the Assembly were to "withdraw" from the disorderly brother. His disorder is to be judged by the instructions of the Apostle.

(2 Thess. 3:7-9). Paul reminds these saints of his own life in their midst as an example of one who walked in an orderly way. His manner of life was the practical expression of his own instructions. In order that he might be an ensample to the simplest Christian, he refused to take any temporal help from these believers. He had "the right" (N. Tn.), as a servant of the Lord, to receive temporal help (1 Cor. 9:7-14). But for their good, he waived the right, and wrought in "toil and hardship" night and day, to meet his own needs. Thus, his life became an ensample for all, and a rebuke to those who would not work. Apparently, if the enemy could not rob these saints of the truth of the Lord's coming, he sought to beguile them into abusing the truth, by leading some of them to give up their daily work under the plea of the immediate coming of the Lord.

(2 Thess. 3:10, 11). When present the Apostle had warned them against disorderly practice, and that if any one would not work, neither should he eat. In spite of the example of his life, and the warning of his words, there were some who declined to work and had become mere busybodies in other people's affairs. They were marked by disorderly walk, refusal to work, and unprofitable talk.

From such we are to withdraw. As one has said, "Foolish talkers are maintained by the folly of hearers; and bread eaten without cost must find those ready to pay the cost." Foolish tongues would soon be quiet, if there were no foolish ears to listen.

(2 Thess. 3:12). Having instructed the brethren how to act towards the disorderly, the Apostle now makes a direct appeal to such, enjoining them, in the Name of the Lord Jesus, that with quietness they work and eat their own bread.

(2 Thess. 3:13). In the presence of disorderly persons we are to beware lest we grow impatient, or weary in well doing. There is the danger that through weariness of constant exercise we either grow indifferent to disorderly persons, or deal harshly with them.

(2 Thess. 3:14, 15). If a disorderly person persists in disregarding the instructions of the Apostle we are to mark that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet, even so, we are warned against treating him as an enemy; he is to be admonished as a brother. We are to beware of a pharisaical spirit; even, if for a time, we can keep no company with him, we are still to act in brotherly love.

(2 Thess. 3:16). The Apostle finally commits them to the Lord of peace. He can, under the guidance of the Lord, give us instructions, but only the Lord, Himself, can give the saints peace at all times, and in every way. Disorder would make for disruption and conflict in the Christian circle. The Lord of peace would bring into the Christian circle that godly peace which soon He will bring into the Kingdom; and where the peace of the Lord is, there the Lord, Himself, can be. Hence the Apostle closes with the desire that the Lord Himself may be with them all.

(2 Thess. 3:17). The Thessalonian assembly had, apparently, been disturbed by a letter professing to come from the Apostle. Hence, in his closing salutation, he tells them they may be assured of the authority of his letters by finding the salutation attached in his own handwriting.

(2 Thess. 3:18). He has desired for us peace from the Lord of peace; now he closes with the desire that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may be with all. If the instructions of the Epistle are to be carried out, it will only be by a company maintained in the peace of the Lord, with the Lord Himself in the midst, and under the constant supply of His grace.
H. Smith.


And Saviour! 'tis Thee from on high
We await till the time Thou shalt come,
To take those Thou hast led by Thine eye
To Thyself in Thy heavenly home.