2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5


The Thessalonian Christians had been wrongly informed by someone that the Day of the Lord had already occurred. This had a tendency to disturb and unsettle them. False doctrine always does that. But Paul tells them (2:3-12) that the Day of the Lord will not come until there first comes the apostasy and the appearance of the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, the Antichrist. The Lutheran Church has always insisted that Paul is here describing the Papacy.

It is well known that, after Luther's death, the Council of Trent anathematized the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ Jesus. This has never been retracted. It is required of all Roman Catholics that they acknowledge the Pope as Christ's Vicar on earth. The first requirement for becoming a Roman Catholic is subjection to the Roman Pontiff.

Paul's description of the Antichrist is a frightening account. He must rise first, says Paul, before the final coming of the Lord Jesus. On this passage The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, Tappert 327, 39, comments:

But it is manifest that the Roman pontiffs and their adherents defend godless doctrines and godless forms of worship, and it is plain that the marks of the Antichrist coincide with those of the Pope's kingdom and his followers. For in describing the Antichrist in his letter to the Thessalonians Paul calls him 'an adversary of Christ who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God' (2 Thessalonians 2:3,4) He speaks therefore of one who rules in the church and not of the kings of nations, and he calls that man 'an adversary of Christ' because he will devise doctrines which conflict with the Gospel and will arrogate to himself divine authority.

Many signs point to and remind us that Christ will come again. There are signs in nature, in politics, in economics, in the family, and even in the church. Signs are all those phenomena over which we have no control. But when they occur we should lift up our heads for our salvation is drawing near.

Signs remind us of deliverance, not of further anguish and trouble. The prospect of thermonuclear war is frightening but god does not want us to live in fear. The description of the Antichrist is frightening, more frightening than the prospect of war, but God does not want His children to live in fear. He wants them to live in firm confidence in their Lord, Jesus.

That is where the doctrine of election comes in. The main passages on election are found at Romans 8; 1 Peter 1; Ephesian 1 and the passage before us, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15. The doctrine of election assures the frightened believer of God's eternal grace in Christ Jesus to save him. When the believer is down and out he must be directed solely and only to the cross of Christ which assures him that God, in His abundant grace and mercy, has chosen him in Christ Jesus before the world was created. The doctrine of election is nothing but comfort. It is purely Gospel. It assures us that nothing is demanded of us but that before we ever came on the scene God planned our entire salvation, from conversion to everlasting life.

2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

Compare the beginning of this verse with 1:3. It differs in three respects. Our passage has the conjunction "but." Our passage adds the emphatic pronoun "we." And, thirdly, our passage adds "loved by the Lord" to "brothers." This perfect, passive participle shows that the love began in the past and still continues. The phrase "By the Lord," denoting agency, implies that Christ is eternal. All commentators agree that Christ is meant here. Christians are in a state of being loved by their Lord and they are brethren to each other. Why are they in a state of being loved? "Because" denotes cause. It goes back to God's eternal plan for that individual. "He chose for himself" is one of a number of synonyms used in the New Testament for election.

Paul says "you," for God has chosen individuals. Paul addresses his hearers as God's elect. We should do the same with our hearers. We agree with most commentators and the versions that we ought read "from the beginning" here rather than "firstfruits." It is the equivalent of the same phrase at Ephesians 1:4. "To be saved" denotes purpose. "Through the sanctifying" denotes manner. It tells us how God actually saved us in time. Lenski here considers "spirit" the spirit of man but we know of no one who agrees with him. The Spirit caused the sanctification, which is used in the wide sense and denotes everything from election to everlasting life. The work of the Holy Spirit lies behind everything that God had done, now does, and ever will do for my eternal salvation. "Belief in the truth" meaning "by belief in the truth," describes salvation from man's point of view, though God Himself is the Author of Christian faith.

2 Thessalonians 2:14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This verse describes the result of God's eternal salvation in time. The phrase "to this" covering everything in the previous verse, practically means "to which salvation."  Paul makes election very personal. Abstractions are not used when Scripture speaks about election.

The Lutheran doctrine of the means of grace is very important. Nothing could be plainer in Scripture. The Gospel is the power of God until salvation. Paul calls it "our Gospel," the Gospel which they preached. It does not mean that Paul originated it.

There follows another purpose phrase "for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." On "glory" compare John 17:24. In everlasting life Christians will experience the very glory of Christ. They will be everything that Christ is except that they will not be God. Here in verse 14 "glory" is objective genitive and "of our Lord, Jesus Christ" is likely both possessive and subjective genitive.

On the doctrine of election The Formula of Concord, Tappert 618,12 says:

So, too, Scripture presents this doctrine in no other way than to direct us thereby to the Word (Ephesians 1:13,14; 1 Corinthians 1:21,30,31), to admonish us to repent (2 Timothy 3:16), to urge us to godliness (Ephesians 1:15ff; John 15:16,17,3,4,10,12), to strengthen our faith and to assure us of our salvation (Ephesians 1:9,13,14; John 10:27-30; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15). Hence if we wish to think or speak correctly and profitably about eternal election or about the predestination and ordering of the children of God to eternal life, we should accustom ourselves not to speculate concerning the absolute, secret, hidden, and inscrutable foreknowledge of God. On the contrary, we should consider the counsel, purpose, and ordinance of God in Christ Jesus, who is the genuine and true 'book of life' as it is revealed to us through the Word.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

"So then" means "therefore, then." In view of what was said in verses 13-14. Sanctification is not possible without the Gospel. that is so easily forgotten. Again Paul calls them "brothers." He calls them "brothers" both in justification and sanctification. We have two imperatives both denoting constant and continuous action: "Constantly stand fast and cling to." 

Morris: 'Teachings' or 'traditions' is a word which points us to the fact that the Christian message is essentially derivative. It does not originate in men's fertile imaginations. It rests on the facts of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Paul disclaims originating these things, and expressly says that the things he passed on he had himself first received (1 Corinthians 15:3). For us these traditions are embodied in the documents of the New Testament.
Lenski: Romanists have appropriated 'traditions' and refer it to teachings handed down in the Church and not recorded in the Scriptures. . . . The Thessalonians are to cling to the things they have personally heard from the lips of Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, and have personally received in the authentic letter sent by these three.
Rienecker: Here 'traditions' refers to the teaching of the apostle.
Bruce: The spoken words have gone beyond recall, but the letters remain, preserving the traditions for our instruction and obedience.
Kretzmann: The apostle wants his readers to stand up in the midst of the general falling away, to be firm in spite of all attacks on the part of their enemies, and to keep a firm hold on the statutes and instructions which he had delivered to them, which he had taught them, both by word of mouth and by means of the first letter addressed to them.

2 Thessalonians 2:16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope,

Verses 16 and 17 amount to a prayer. In verses 13-14 we had thanksgiving. In verse 15, admonition. And now, prayer. Verse 16 starts in the past and brings us up to the present. Verse 17 looks to the future.

Note the emphatic use of "our" in "our Lord Jesus Christ Himself." Secondly, note that "our Lord, Jesus Christ" is named before "God our Father." Also at Galatians 1:1 and 2 Corinthians 13:14. Thirdly, note that the two names are joined by "and," plainly making them equal. And, finally, not that the same works are predicated of both Jesus and the Father.

God has already given us "everlasting consolation." The doctrine of forgiveness of sins and justification is everlasting consolation. It never ends. It reaches into eternity. It is our consolation amidst the terrible fears of this life. God has given us "beneficial hope." 

Morris: The Christian hope is good, both in contrast with the empty hope of those who are not believers, and also because it will endure till it is realized at the coming of the Lord.

The final phrase reminds us that everlasting consolation and beneficial hope are purely gifts of God in Christ. I cannot produce consolation and hope on my own. Nor can anyone else. Only God can and does give it.

Kretzmann: Our Lord Jesus and our heavenly Father, being one in divine essence, are continually busy in our behalf, in the interest of our salvation.
Bengel: 'Eternal,' that is, nothing can destroy believers.

2 Thessalonians 2:17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

In this verse we have two aorist optatives, denoting wishes. AAT renders this verse: "May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father inwardly comfort and strengthen you to do and say everything that is good." The word "inwardly" evidently is the innermost part of the personality. This verse reminds us of the fact that Christianity is not for lazy people.  "The doctrine of election does not aid and abet laziness and sloth. The Lord Jesus and our heavenly Father gives us all the strength and power to perform every beneficial work and to speak every beneficial word. Christians have absolutely no excuse for godless and lazy works and words." 

2 Thessalonians 3:1 Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.

The versions, almost unanimously, begin this verse with "finally." This is an indication that the letter is drawing to a conclusion. Rienecker suggests "as our last matter." Paul's request shows his greatness. When people ask others to pray for them it is an indication that they do not trust in their own resources.

"Spread rapidly" contains a metaphor. Its intended sense here is that the Word of the Lord might enjoy swift progress. The second verb could mean "be glorified" or "be spoken well of." RSV renders it "That the word of the Lord triumph." 

Kretzmann: He wants the Word of the Lord glorified by its fruit, by the actual demonstration of its divine power and truth.
Morris: The imagery of our present verse probably goes back ultimately to Psalm 147:15 'His word runneth very swiftly.' It is clear that when Paul first preached at Thessalonica there were spectacular results. Many were speedily converted.
Lenski: The Word is glorified when people believe and prize it.

"Just as it was with you" is a clear indication of the great and rapid success of the Word in Thessalonica.

2 Thessalonians 3:2 And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith.

"Wicked" is used of persons only here in the New Testament. it is variously rendered "unreasonable, wicked, wrong-minded, perverse." "Evil" means "actively evil." It is clear that Paul is speaking of people who try to hinder the progress of the Gospel

Morris: It seems most natural to understand that they dogged his steps at Corinth as elsewhere, Acts 18:12ff.
Bruce: The writers have in mind here those opponents of the gospel who tried to stop its progress by stirring up attacks on those who preached it, like their enemies in Thessalonica who incited the rabble against them, Acts 17:5.

Paul had many enemies. The last sentence in verse 2 makes it clear that Paul is not speaking about people in the church. Does "faith" here denote the doctrine or the faith ( quae or qua)? Lenski says it is both. Morris puzzles over this question and then says: "There is not a great deal of difference between 'Not all men believe in Jesus Christ,'and 'Not all men embrace the Christians faith.'" 

2 Thessalonians 3:3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.

Note the contrast between the faithlessness of unbelievers and the faithfulness of God. does the final phrase mean "from the evil" or "from the evil one"? In view of the Satanic work of the Antichrist, described in 2:1-12, most commentators opt for the "evil one." The Lord will protect His own both offensively and defensively.

Kretzmann: The fate of the adversaries of Christ is a sad one indeed, but Christians cannot afford to spend any time in brooding over their perversity.

He is implying that sometimes the Lord's adversaries were His former friends.

Morris: As so often in his writings Paul turns away from the difficulties of men to the God on whom all men must depend. . . . His usual practice is to refer to the faithfulness of God (1 Corinthians 1:9; 10:13; 2 Corinthians 1:18). . . . From the time of the mention of the Man of Lawlessness onwards Paul has been constantly referring to 'the Lord.'
Lenski: The writers are mainly concerned about their readers, and thus revert to them.

2 Thessalonians 3:4 We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command.

They have confidence with reference to the Thessalonians because they have already been obedient to His Word. Or perhaps they are speaking about the promises of God toward the people.

Bengel: Trust no man by himself.

That is a thought-provoking statement. Men can and do err. Only God can make a person faithful. Some commentators think that Paul is here looking ahead to what he will say next.

Morris: Paul is preparing the way for the commands which follow. The verb 'command' denotes an authoritative command.

The fact that the final words in this verse mean:  "You are both doing and will be doing" seem to indicate that Paul speaks not only of what lies in verses 6-12, but also to what precedes.

Kretzmann: The apostle's confidence is in the Lord, since he knows that the Lord's strength is powerful enough to uphold His own at all times and to direct their feet into the paths of sanctification.

2 Thessalonians 3:5 May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance.

This is a general statement which look back and forward too. Note that the word "Lord" was used in verses 13, 14, 16, 3:1, 3, and 4 and now again in this verse. We think that it means "Jesus" in every instance. We have the present optative mood: "May the Lord constantly guide you hearts," etc. "Into" can mean "into" or "to." We consider both genitives subjective: "The love which God gives, the endurance which Christ bestows." AAT renders this: "And may the Lord lead you to realize how God loves you and how patiently Christ suffered." TEV makes "God" objective and "Christ" subjective: "May the Lord lead your hearts to the Love for God and to the endurance that is given by Christ." The more literal translations (KJV, NKJV, RSV, NASB) do not interpret these genitives any more than the Greek does. In any case, it is clear again that "God" and "Jesus" are placed on the same level. Those scholars who maintain that Paul does not teach the divinity of Jesus haven't seriously looked at the text.

Kretzmann: Not only the beginning of a Christian's spiritual life, but also the progress and the end of it depends upon God's power in the Word. . . . The Thessalonians particularly needed this admonition, though presented in the form of a prayer, because of their impatient desire for the speedy coming of the last day. But the value of God's love and of Christ's patience as examples to stimulate the love and the patience of the believers is just as great today as it ever was, and should find a marked reflection in their entire life.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 122-126. Used with permission.

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