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There was a mixed response to Paul's first letter to Thessalonica, as is clear from Paul's second letter which it prompted. On the one hand, he and his co-workers were deeply thankful to learn of the Thessalonians' growing faith and love, and of their perseverance under persecution (1:3-4). On the other hand, there was cause for anxiety because the church was being disturbed in three particular ways. First, the persecution was so severe that Paul felt the need to explain why God allows his people to suffer for the kingdom and how he will put wrongs right when Jesus comes (1:5-10). Secondly, the Thessalonians were in danger of being deceived by false teachers, which had reached them through a communication which purported to come from Paul but was a forgery (2:1-3a). In particular, they were being told that the day of the Lord had already come. Paul reminds them that the revelation of Christ would be preceded by the rebellion of Antichrist (2:3b-12). Thirdly, the group of 'idlers' (loafers, layabouts) were still not taking up work, forcing Paul to reiterate and step up his warnings to this disobedient minority (3:4-12). Paul entreated them all to be loyal to his teaching (2:13-15). Throughout he reminds them of his prayers and at the close, requests prayer for himself. His themes are the revelation of Christ (chapter 1), the rebellion of Antichrist (chapter 2), and, in the light of these, the responsibility of Christians meanwhile (chapter 3).
1 1Paul [Paulos], Silvanus [Silouanos], and Timothy [Timotheos], to the assembly [ekklēsia] of the Thessalonians in God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ [christō Heb. Messiah]: 2Grace [charis] to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3We are bound [opheilō] to always give thanks [eucharisteō] to God for you, brothers [adelphoi], even as it is appropriate, because your faith [pistis] grows exceedingly [hyperauxanō]
Implies an internal, organic growth, as of a tree.
Implies a diffusive or expansive character. There is a picture implied here of a flood irrigating the land.
Never signifies 'to make worthy' but always 'to account worthy'.
'Unveiled' at the parousia ('official visit').
A regular biblical symbol of the holy, consuming nature of God's presence, e.g., Ex 3:2; 13:22; 19:18.
Does not have overtones of revenge or vindictiveness but speaks only of justice and of a judicial punishment
'Wondered at' 'by' or 'through'. The Lord will be glorified in relation to his people not 'among' them, as if they will be the theatre or stadium in which he appears; not 'by' them, as if they will be the spectators, the audience who watch and worship; nor 'through' or 'by means of' them, as if they will be mirrors which reflect his image and glory; but rather 'in' them, as if they will be a filament, which itself glows with light and heat when the electric current passes through it.
2 1Now, brothers [adelphoi], concerning the coming [parousias] of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering [episynagō]
The cognate verb describes how the angels will 'assemble' God's people on the last day (Mk 13:27).
The single word 'unsettled' (NIV) translates a phrase meaning 'shaken from your mind', that is, from your conviction or composure. Saleuō refers to their initial upset, and was used of ships being forced from their moorings by the pressure of a storm.
Describes a continuing state of anxiety. They were in a constant state of nervous excitement.
Meant in classical Greek either a military revolt or a political defection, whereas in LXX it applied to religious apostasy, namely Israel's rebellion against God.
The theme of opposition to God has a long history, and the NT references to the Antichrist have an OT background. Although the OT contains some imprecise allusions to the Babylonian creation myth, in which the chaos monster Tiamat struggles against the god Marduk, it is in the Garden of Eden that we are first made aware of human beings seduced by the devil into defying God. The prophets detected this arrogant spirit in the surrounding pagan emperors, so that in two passages their ambition to rival or replace God is deliberately portrayed in language which echoes Genesis 3 (cf. Is 14:13-14; Ezk 28:2). However, in the second century BC, the most notable embodiment of rebellion against God and his people took place. The Syrian King Antiochus IV, known as Epiphanes, was guilty of appalling desecrations of the temple in Jerusalem. In 169BC he presumed to enter the Holy of Holies, and the following year he erected an altar to Zeus on the altar of burnt offering, probably placed a statue of Zeus over it, and sacrificed a pig on it (the 'abomination that causes desolation'), see 1 Macc 1:54ff and Dan 8:13; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11. Antiochus Epiphanes became a prototype of the Antichrist and phrases from the Daniel prophecies are found in Jesus' Olivet discourse and Paul (2 Thes 2). The Jews saw another example of 'the abomination of desolation' in the Roman general Pompey, who in 63BC defeated their nation, captured Jerusalem and desecrated the temple by intruding into the Holy of Holies. The 'Psalms of Solomon', which were written soon afterwards, refer to him as 'the sinner' and 'the lawless one' (ii, xvii and xviii). Since Jesus' predictions are open, some see a further fulfillment in the mad emperor Gaius (Caligula). About ten years later (AD 40), claiming the worship of all his subjects and angered by what he saw as Jewish disloyalty, he gave instructions for a large statue or image of himself to be erected in the temple. Large numbers of Jews protested in horror, stimulating the diplomatic interventions of Petronius, governor of Syria, and of King Herod Agrippa I who persuaded the emperor to withdraw his order. Paul may have been thinking of Caligula, since only ten years had passed since his death. More likely, Jesus was referring to the Jewish War (AD 66-67). He had predicted God's coming judgment on the Jewish nation, and warned of the destruction of the temple. Luke understood that the abomination of desolation related to the Roman siege of Jerusalem (Lk 21:20-24). As for the temple, it was profaned first by Jewish zealots during the war and then by the Roman army in AD 70, who carried their ensigns (which bore the emperor's image) into the courts and then proceeded to offer sacrifices to them (Josephus, Wars, vi.6.1.). Moreover, as the emperor cult developed, it became ever more clearly a form of Antichirst, as Christians were commanded to substitute the words kyrios kaisar ('Caesar is Lord') for their basic Christian confession kyrios Jesus. Augustus had been the first emperor to claim divinity and solicit worship. Later, Nero's combination of personal vanity and hostility to Christians made him an object of contempt and fear. But it was Domitian, who became emperor in AD 81 and demanded to be worshipped as Dominus et Deus, who persecuted those who denied him the divine homage he coveted. During his reign, John was banished to Patmos and the beasts of Revelation 13 as allies of the dragon personify the Roman Empire under Domitian and the emperor cult.
Lit. 'object of veneration'.
'Sets himself up' (NIV) has overtones of brazen effrontery. To 'sit' is to display the minimum of respect while at the same time showing the maximum claim to deity, for God sits, not alongside other gods in a pantheon but to take a unique place.
Even if no specific temple is in mind, the motif of sitting in the temple and claiming to be God is used to express the opposition of evil to God.
Often used to denote the proclamation of a sovereign on his accession. Having set himself against every object of worship, the antichrist will demand for himself the worship which he has forbidden to everybody and everything else.
Usually translated 'hold back' or 'hinder', but can also mean 'hold sway' or 'rule' and could designate a figure hostile to God. Paul and Silas had recently benefited from Roman justice at Philippi and at the hands of the politarchs in Thessalonica itself, and the proconsul Gallio's fair handling of a potentially ugly situation in Corinth might be fresh in Paul's mind (Ac 18:12-16).
The alternative aparchēn (firstfruits) has been suggested but may not fit this context.
Paul's double exhortation may picture a gale, in which they are in danger both of being swept off their feet and of being wrenched from their handhold.
3 1Finally, brothers [adelphoi], pray for us, that the word [logos] of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified [doxazō]
Lit. 'may run and be glorified'. Paul personifies the word as a runner. Perhaps he is thinking of the Isthmian games, for which Corinth was famous, and in particular of the athletes who carried the Olympian torch, cf. Ps 147:15, Ps 19:4b-6, quoted in Ro 10:18. Paul also prays for a 'glorious reception', perhaps picturing the athlete at the winning post. Paul imagines the evangelization of the Roman Empire. After leaving Thessalonica and then Berea, he evangelized Athens, the intellectual capital of the empire. He is writing from Corinth, its commercial capital, and is experiencing some opposition. Already, he is beginning to think of reaching Rome, the administrative capital, for the main port of Corinth looked north-west across the Adriatic Sea to Italy.
Lit. 'out of place'.
N.B. word-play with pistis, v2.
Such repeated imperatives in this section (3:4,6,10,12,14), were the usual terms for the commands given by an officer to his men. These words give the passage a military ring.
The third group to disturb the church at Thessalonica, together with the persecutors (2 Thes 1) and false teachers (2 Thes 2), cf. 1 Thes 5:14.
'Tradition' or 'teaching' which Paul had received then passed on. The Jewish oral traditions which Jesus rejected were referred to by Paul as the 'traditions of men', whereas the traditions or teachings of the apostles had a divine origin. Both Paul and Jesus opposed human traditions.
'For nought.' They were evidently lodgers or paying guests in Jason's home (Ac 17:5-9).
This Greek assonance has been translated 'toil and moil'.
'Charged'. Some have speculated whether the proverb here is an unknown epigram of Jesus; others have looked for antecedents in Jewish or Greek literature. But all cultures have similar proverbs. Paul was probably borrowing a maxim applied hundreds of times by industrious workmen as they forbade a lazy apprentice to sit down to dinner.
Note word-play here on 'good-for-nothings' earlier.
Cf. 3:4 note.
Mingle or associate with.
Paul autographed his letters personally so as to distinguish them from forgeries (2:2). This became his regular practice, and Paul probably closed every letter in his own hand even without necessarily saying so. Paul's authority as an apostle was recognized straight away and by subsequent church leaders. Ignatius, Bishop of Syrian Antioch at the beginning of the second century, and condemned to die for his faith, wrote seven letters on his way to Rome. In his letter to the Romans he wrote: 'I do not give you orders like Peter and Paul. They were apostles; I am a convict'.