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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: January 15, 2021
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Introduction to 2 Thessalonians
Welcome to HBS and thank you for being here today.
Paul’ second letter to the Thessalonians is a follow-up epistle. It was probably written only a few months after his first letter in response to reports that had come to him re: the spiritual progress of these new Believers and the lack thereof in some cases (3:11). Paul had traveled to Athens, Greece and then down to Corinth which is where he penned this communication. He was concerned about how these converts were holding up under fierce persecution. Paul was unable to leave his ministry in Corinth, however, he continued to maintain a keen interest in this little church to the north that had only recently “turned to God from idols.” They readily accepted and believed the preaching of the cross, i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ died for their sins, was buried, and rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) or the good news we must believe today for salvation.
While Paul was encouraged by their faith and steadfastness (1:3-4), he recognized that some of these Believers were still unsure about certain events connected to the Rapture. Paul suggested the reason for their confusion was due to the fact that the opposition were purposely distorting his teaching on this all-important subject (2:2). This truth is supported by the appearance of counterfeit letters allegedly written by Paul. He urged them to pay special attention to his signature so that they might distinguish his writings from the forgeries (3:17).
It stands to reason the people who were misrepresenting Paul and confusing the Thessalonians were Jewish believers and not the pagans. Jewish hopes had been, and still are, earthly in sphere, and they may have confused the Rapture with our Lord’s Second Coming, i.e., His return to the earth to reign as their King at the close of the Tribulation. Since Paul expected to be alive at the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:17) they apparently concluded that “the day of the Lord” had already begun. It would follow then that these Believers would be called upon to endure the most horrible sufferings this world has ever known or ever will know until that appointed time (Daniel 12:1; Matthew 24:21). Only after this pouring out of the bowls of God’s righteous wrath, the argument went, would the Lord come to receive His own to Himself. It is this error that Paul refutes in the strongest terms in this second letter. That being said, Paul knows the ultimate source of this trouble in Thessalonica and elsewhere is Satan himself, “the evil one” (3:3), but he is confident the Lord will protect these saints from his schemes.
Nevertheless, this misunderstanding gave way to some emerging problems, namely, it had led some of these Believers to forsake their occupations, to lead undisciplined lives, and to breed unrest among the people by becoming “busybodies” (gossipers) and beggars, living off of those who still maintained gainful employment (3:6-15). Still others had become discouraged, thinking “the day of the Lord” had already begun and somehow they had missed it. They expected the Lord to destroy their enemies, but they were still being persecuted by them. Paul addressed these concerns in this second letter. He explained that while the time of Christ’s coming in the clouds for His own cannot be predicted, it will be a spectacular event that no one could miss. Furthermore, if “the day of the Lord” had already begun, then many other events would already have taken place (2:1-12). Since they had not seen any of these events, they could be certain that they had not missed the Rapture. In the meantime, they should take heart in the fact that from the start God’s purpose is to include the entire Body of Christ, both the dead in Christ and those that remain alive in the glorious events of the Rapture (2:13-14). As for those Believers that were presuming on the good graces of their brethren, they should return to work or else expect not to eat on a regular basis (3:6-15).
Please open your Bible at 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4.
“Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:”
The first two chapters of 2 Thessalonians give the members of the Body of Christ full assurance that they will not be engulfed in the coming Tribulation and the pouring out of the bowls of God’s wrath. For one thing, this letter, like the earlier one, opens with the benediction: “Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). Take note of the fact this verse is devoid of any word of warning, comfort, or encouragement concerning “the day of (God’s) wrath,” and that’s because they have no connection to it. It makes sense does it not that if they were to face the horrors of the Tribulation Paul would have written a message of comfort and encouragement and not one of “grace and peace” from “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” I also point out the fact that these folks were still living in the age of God’s grace and peace, as are we today, but time is running out. In addition to that, this passage of Scripture speaks of a growing ministry of grace, not a last stand against the forces of evil such as will be taken by the remnant in the Tribulation.
In our study of the opening chapter of 1 Thessalonians we find our Apostle Paul rejoicing in the Thessalonian’s faith, love, and hope (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3). But he had greater cause for rejoicing at the time of this writing because in the midst of bitter persecution, the Thessalonian’s faith had not been shaken, in fact their faith had grown “exceedingly.” In addition to that, their “charity” for one another “abounded,” and they endured their persecutions and suffering in “patience and faith” (1:3-4).
Here we’re seeing the opposite of what’s normal in the world. God used these persecutions and afflictions to strengthen these saints spiritually, to increase their faith, to reinforce their zeal for serving the Lord and others in His name, and to intensify their joy (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). Whereas the unsaved world does not view suffering, toil, and sacrifice as ingredients for happiness. They seek after worldly things such as prosperity, pleasure, and security even though the Lord Himself said, “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth,” and worldly ease and pleasure are but “for a season” (Luke 12:15).
Although some people believe once you become a Christian you are then immune to life’s trials and tribulations, the Bible doesn’t say this. The Bible clearly teaches that God loves those who are His, and He “works all things together for good” for us: “And we know that all (all means all) things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
From this Bible verse we determine the trials and tribulations God allows in our lives are part of the working together of “all things… for (our) good.” Therefore, we conclude the trials and tribulations we are facing have a divine purpose. What could that possibly be? God’s ultimate purpose for us is to grow more and more into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18). This is His goal for every true Believer, and everything in life, including the trials and tribulations is designed to help us to reach that goal. The biblical term for our spiritual progress (maturity) or the goal of Christ-likeness is “present sanctification.” It is the result of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in producing godliness in the life of the Believer. In essence, it is becoming in experience what we already are positionally in Christ: "…but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3).
It goes without saying persecutions and sufferings are not easy to endure, but they are the means by which God strengthens our faith and sanctifies each one of us (2 Corinthians 4:17).
“We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;” Here Paul’s saying, “They owed the Thessalonian saints constant thanks for their abundantly increasing faithfulness and their charity, i.e., their sacrificial love toward one another.” To say Paul and his co-workers were pleased to hear that the Thessalonian’s patient response to persecution is an understatement. Their endurance and faithfulness was such a stalwart testimony that Paul boasted about them and their spiritual growth among the other grace churches (1:4).
Again, these Believers came under fierce persecution for the faith. Not the kind that we might experience on occasion, theirs was both intense and unrelenting. It’s highly likely that their lives were threatened, they were probably shunned by family members and friends, and they might have lost their means of livelihood, and yet they never deserted the faith. Thus, in response to their “patience and faith” in the midst of vicious persecution, Paul’s saying, “See these Thessalonians! Can anyone compare!
“So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.”
“So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God (this phrase does not conflict with the Body of Christ for there has always been the kingdom of God. Paul, as well as other Bible writers speak of Believers being in this kingdom and unbelievers being excluded from it - Romans 14:17; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 1:3), for which ye also suffer:”
The term “manifest” means: Plain, open, clearly visible to the eye or obvious to the understanding; apparent; not obscure or difficult to be seen or understood. With this in mind, the persecutors were showing signs of aggravation and deep-seated hatred because the Believers they were persecuting were demonstrating patience, peace, and joy, and that was not in line with their purpose. Paul said this was “a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God” for without a doubt the Thessalonian Believers were far better off than their persecutors. We note then that this was but a “token,” though a “manifest” one, of the actual judgment that is to come, i.e., the day when verses 1:6-10 will be fulfilled as promised.
If we compare this verse with Philippians 1:27-28, it will reinforce what Paul’s saying here about this situation being “a manifest token” to them, i.e., the persecutors, of judgment still to come: “Only let your conversation (behavior) be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them (the unbeliever) an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.”
Therefore the Thessalonian’s present situation was but “a token of the righteous judgment of God,” for the judgment of which he writes is yet to come.
“Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense (pay back) tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,”
Here again we see this truth emphasized. When the Lord Jesus Christ comes “from heaven with His mighty angels” (in judgment) they, the unbelievers, will be “suffering tribulation,” while those that were hated and persecuted (the Believers), will be enjoying “rest with us,” which is clearly a reference to the Rapture.
The other thing we learn from these passages of Scripture is their present situation was “a manifest token” to them, the Believers, that they are not to seek revenge against their tormentors for only God is to “recompense,” (repay tribulation) to all those who trouble His saints: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
Thus the passage in Philippians chapter 1 goes on to show that persecution for the faith and living in accordance with God’s expressed will is not to be counted as a calamity, but instead an honor and a privilege: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;” (Philippians 1:29; Colossians 1:24).
Before we proceed to the verses just ahead re: God’s judgment that is to be poured out in the Tribulation, I think we should observe that all this again indicates the Rapture of God’s saints will definitely mark the close of “the day of salvation,” (2 Corinthians 6:2), i.e., the age of God’s Grace and usher in the day of judgment, that is, the Tribulation also known as “the day of the Lord.”
God the Father will not permit the rejection of His beloved Son to go on forever, which means the dispensation of God’s grace will not continue on indefinitely. It has been in affect for some two thousand years, but He will bring it to a close and speak to this Christ-rejecting world in His righteous wrath. (Psalm 2:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:3; 2 Thessalonians 6-9). It could be said that for two thousand years the unbelieving world declared war on God (Psalm 2:1-3), and if anything is clear in the Scriptures it is the fact that He will, in turn, make a counter-declaration of war on “them.” Plainly said, during all this time, He has proclaimed “grace and peace,” but the time is coming when He will “judge and make war” against His enemies and none will escape His wrath (Galatians 1:3; Revelation 19:11).
Now I’m addressing the unbeliever who finds this message. Ponder this, if you will, war is the opposite of “peace” and judgment the opposite of “grace.” We are now living in the parenthetical period of time known as the Grace Age, those tense moments between the declaration of war on God by lost mankind (Psalm 2:1-3) and a counter-declaration of war by the one true living God. He has said He wants everyone to come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved (2 Timothy 2:3-4). One of the ways in which He achieves this goal is by “committing unto us the word of reconciliation,” that is, “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). So, clearly, as God’s ambassadors on earth, we have much work to do, but here’s the thing there’s no guarantee that God’s offer of “peace and grace” will be valid tomorrow, thus, “Now is the accepted time…now is the day of your salvation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21, 6:2).
Here I’m addressing all those who deny or ignore Paul’s apostolic authority (Romans 1:1). In Acts 9 the risen and ascended Lord revealed Himself to Saul of Tarsus from heaven and He reveals Himself to the world today through the writings of our Apostle Paul. In Galatians 1:2 Paul said he received his message by “the revelation of Jesus Christ,” but in verses 15-16 he said, “…it pleased God… to reveal His Son in me.” Here we find God’s blaspheming enemy, the chief persecutor of His people, being called as His Apostle to the Gentile nations. Surely then, God’s display of “grace and peace” in this instance to His #1 enemy shows the world that He desires them to be at “peace” with Him; that He desires them to be “reconciled” to Him. But, as I’ve pointed out, the Lord Jesus Christ will not be forever revealed to this world in “grace.” One day future, only the Father knows when that is, He will be revealed to the world-at-large in His glory, “to judge and make war” or as Paul put it in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8, “…the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:” (1:7-8).
The Obedience of Faith and the Disobedience of Unbelief
“In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;” I don’t understand how anyone can read this scripture passage and come away thinking God’s benevolence will continue on and on without end or that they can rely on His loving kindness and forgiveness forever (Psalm 86:5). For verse 1:8 clearly says, the opposite of that is true: “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:”
This truth is further supported by the verse that follows: “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;” (2:9)
One of the things we learn from this passage is it is not the unbeliever’s misfortune that he or she does not “know God;” Paul’s implying that it is their sin of unbelief this is the issue at hand. You see, all through history, in every dispensation, pleasing God centered on “the obedience of faith,” simply said, this means believing what God has said. This is how people were saved both then and now. That probably needs clarifying and I’ll do my best to help with that. In the O.T. when the LORD God said, “Offer the prescribed animal sacrifice and I will accept you,” what did faith do? Faith brought the required sacrifice, and it was accepted (See Genesis 4:4; Hebrews 11:4). When the LORD said, “Obey My Voice indeed and you will be Mine” (Exodus 19:5), what did faith do? It sought to obey His voice (Psalm 1:1-3) or what He had clearly said, and this was then counted as righteousness before the LORD God (Jehovah).
Let’s look briefly at Abrahams righteousness by faith as an example of this truth. Turn with me in your Bible to Romans 4:1-3: “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Genesis 15).
Here we note Paul did not say Abraham “believed in God,” he said, “Abraham believed God.” What a difference this makes in one’s life and the life to come. Therefore, in the Dispensation of God’s Grace, when God said, “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested” (Romans 3:21); and “To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5); “Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24), when God says this, what will faith do? Faith will accept His gracious offer and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ (alone) for salvation and thus be saved. All this speaks of “the obedience of faith.”
At the beginning and the ending of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome he declared the gospel to which he had been separated (called to preach) was to be declared among all nations “for the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:1-7, 16:25-27). This glorious gospel has (by the grace of God) been in effect for two thousand years, and all who have exercised “the obedience of faith,” have come to know God, “or rather are known off God” (Galatians 4). But what will be the just judgment of those who do not believe God? Paul said all of them who reject the grace so dearly purchased for them by God’s beloved Son “…shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;” (1:9).
Now I want to point out that Paul repeats the word “from” in this verse, so let’s take a look at the significance of this.
1) “…everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord…” - based on my experiences I don’t think people fully appreciate this dire warning re: the fate of the unbeliever in the eternal hereafter. The first biblical example that comes to my mind is when Cain was driven “from the face of the LORD,” he said, “My punishment is greater than I can bear” (Genesis 4:13-14). The LORD God punished Cain for the murder of his brother Abel. Cain's response shows that he was not repentant. Instead of acknowledging his sins and receiving the consequence, he complained about the result of his actions saying it was more than he could bear. Not only had he lost his relationship with God and with his family, but God also removed his livelihood. In the following verse, Cain will reveal that part of his objection is being driven from God's presence, losing that relationship and God's protection from harm. Even rebellious Cain understood he needed God's help to survive in this world. But there is no sense of repentance or regret in Cain, i.e., there is no change in his heart or his thinking. This part of the Bible is extremely light on the details, but there is nothing that even suggests Cain is sorry for what He had done. All of his comments, and all of his actions later in this chapter, suggest a selfish and rebellious spirit. Rather than asking God for forgiveness, Cain's only response worth recording for posterity is his complaint that he is unable to cope with his punishment.
2) “…and from the glory of his power;” - this is another overlooked fact the unbeliever ought to be aware of. According to 2 Thessalonians 1:9, the punishment and/or destruction of God’s enemies in the Lake of Fire will consist of not only suffering in the "fire" but also banishment from the presence of the Lord forever (Philippians 3:19). The word “presence" literally means "face." Whereas Believers will see the Lord face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12), unbelievers will be driven from the “face” of the Lord and will never know the joy of being in His “presence.” The Lord’s awesome “power” will be of no help to them at this time, as it has been all along for the Believer. Bottom line, gone forever will be the days when they could trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and personally know “the glory of His power.”
The Lord Jesus Christ Glorified in His Saints
In verse 1:10 we find our Apostle Paul contrasting the glorious prospect of the believing saints in Thessalonica with the disgraceful fate of their unbelieving persecutors. I again remind the group that Paul believed he would be alive at the Lord’s coming for “his own.” But his words to them are also his words to us today. All the vengeance and punishment Paul wrote about in verses 6-9 will take place on the earth it’s only a matter of time and only God the Father knows when “the times of the gentiles” will end: “When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.” (verse 1:10)
Ponder this thoughtfully, while the unbelievers are banished from the Lord’s presence and glory, our Lord will be glorified and admired in us, “His saints,” because we believed His Word. As the artist or sculptor is honored and admired because of the work of his hands; as men gaze at his workmanship and lavish praise upon him, so to one day future angels and men will gaze upon the Lord Jesus Christ’s masterpiece, His true Church, which is His Body, and “admire” and “glorify” Him.
I’ll close this portion of the lesson with Bible verses that reflect on God’s “grace” and mentions the true Believer as being the Lord’s “workmanship,” i.e., His masterpiece:
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us it together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:4-10).
(To be continued)
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