Introducing The Keller Center
The Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics helps Christians show unbelievers the truth, goodness, and beauty of the gospel as the only hope that fulfills our deepest longings. Help train Christians to boldly share the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that clearly communicates to this secular age.
In this second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul and colleagues provide encouragement and exhortation to this church, which is experiencing pressures from without and within.1
Who Wrote 2 Thessalonians?
Like 1 Thessalonians (cf. 1Thes 1:1), this letter names the missionary authors: “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy” (1:1). Paul is the lead author, speaking individually (2:5) and signing the letter (3:17); yet the inclusion of all three missionaries reminds the Thessalonians of the role the whole missionary team served in the Thessalonians’ conversion and growth in Christ.
Some have queried Pauline authorship, in part based on perceived differences between 1 and 2 Thessalonians concerning Jesus’s return; however, the writing style and theology are quite similar in 1 and 2 Thessalonians (and consistent with Paul’s other letters). The Thessalonians’ concerns about Jesus’s return had changed between the two letters, hence different emphases; yet both epistles are consistent with the Jesus tradition on eschatology that Paul received (see TGCBC commentary on 1Thes 4:13–5:11; 2Thes 1:5–2:12). Thus, most recent commentaries in English affirm Paul’s authorship (see Bibliography).
When Was 2 Thessalonians Written?
This letter was written after the missionaries’ first visit (see Acts 17:1–10) and following a previous letter from Paul (2:15). Most interpreters throughout church history have believed that previous letter was 1 Thessalonians. This notion is consistent with the increasing intensity of some of the controversies at Thessalonica since Paul first wrote (e.g., 2Thes 2:1–12; 3:6–12). The mention of Timothy and Silas alongside Paul implies they are still on mission together, probably during Paul’s second missionary journey in the early 50s AD.
Why Was 2 Thessalonians Written?
This letter alludes to ongoing persecution in Thessalonica (1:4, 6), which necessitated a renewed call for endurance (e.g., 1:11–12; 2:15, 17; 3:3, 5, 13). Within the church, false teaching about Christ’s return—possibly wrongly attributed to Paul (2:2; 3:17)—required correction (2:1–12). Some church members refused to work, contrary to apostolic example (3:6–12). Yet, the missionaries remained thankful the church was growing in Christ and increasing in love (e.g., 2:3–4, 13). They also sought to maintain an affectionate relationship with the church, which included praying for them (1:11–12; 2:16–17; 3:5, 16, 18) and requesting prayers from them (3:1–2).
The letter provides encouragement and instruction for the church in Thessalonica amid external persecution and internal challenges.
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”
— 2 Thessalonians 2:16–17 ESV
I. Greeting (1:1–2)
II. Thanksgiving and Prayer for the Persecuted Church (1:3–12)
A. Thanksgiving for Their Persevering Faith and Love (1:3–4)
B. Future Hope for Relief and Justice (1:5–10)
C. Prayer for the Church (1:11–12)
III. Stand Firm (2:1–17)
A. Instruction and Appeal for Calm from Eschatological Worries (2:1–12)
B. Further Thanksgiving and Admonition to Stand Firm (2:13–15)
C. Benediction (2:16–17)
IV. Final Instructions and Admonitions (3:1–15)
A. Request for Prayer, and Paul’s Confidence in the Church (3:1–5)
B. Directive to Work and Cease from Idleness (3:6–12)
C. Do Not Grow Weary, Warn the Disobedient (3:13–15)
V. Benediction and Closing (3:16–18)
A. Benediction (3:16)
B. Paul’s Signed Greeting (3:17)
C. Invocation of Grace (3:18)
1:1 This greeting is nearly identical to 1 Thessalonians 1:1 (see TGCBC commentary there). Paul is again lead author (cf. 2Thes 2:5; 3:17), with fellow missionaries Silvanus and Timothy as co-authors (note use of first-person “we” and plural verbs throughout letter). This inclusion reminds readers of the affection between all the missionaries and the church. The church is identified in relationship to God as “Father” and Jesus as “Lord” and Messiah (“Christ”).
1:2 Paul’s greeting follows his regular form (cf. Rom 1:7; 1Cor 1:3; 2Cor 1:2), combining a Jewish greeting (“peace”/shalom) with an appeal for God’s “grace” (i.e., God’s undeserved favor; cf. 1Thes 1:1). Paul asserts that such grace and peace flow “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (missing from 1Thes 1:1 in manuscripts). These titles are repeated from verse 1, emphasizing the exalted status of Jesus alongside God the Father. Paul is pointing his readers to the personhood, deity, and humanity of Jesus.
Thanksgiving and Prayer for the Persecuted Church (1:3–12)
Typical of Paul’s practice, the letter begins with thanksgiving (1:3–4) and prayer (1:11–12). The verses between (1:5–10) connect the thanksgiving and prayer with the hope that Christ’s return brings deliverance for the church and vengeance on the church’s persecutors.
Thanksgiving for Their Persevering Faith and Love (1:3–4)
1:3 The missionaries address the church with family language (“brothers” occurs nine times in 2Thes; see TGCBC commentary on 1Thes 1:4). Such thanksgiving is “right” and “ought” to be given because the Thessalonians continue to “grow abundantly” (Greek hyperauxanei) in faith and increase in love (cf. 1Thes 3:12; note the emphatic “every one of you”).
1:4 Due to the church’s increasing faith and love, the missionaries “boast” about them among other believers. As in 1 Thessalonians 2:19–20, the authors act like proud parents who rejoice in their children’s growth. Paul highlights the Thessalonians’ perseverance and faith amidst persecution (see 2Thes 1:5–7; cf. 1Thes 2:2, 14; 3:3; Acts 17:1–10). They exclusively worshipped God through Christ in a polytheistic pagan culture with a deified Caesar, which brought social pressure against the church (cf. Acts 17:6–8). In addition, Jewish leaders persecuted the church for attracting worshippers away from the synagogue (cf. Acts 17:5; 1Thes 2:14–16). One key motivation for penning both 1 and 2 Thessalonians was to encourage this young church to endure.
Future Hope for Relief and Justice (1:5–10)
1:5 With the mention of persecution (1:4), Paul encourages the church to persevere with confidence in Christ’s victorious return (1:5–10). The church’s faithful response to affliction provides evidence that God is a just judge. He will bring justice and vengeance on the persecutors (1:6, 8–9) and deliverance and entrance into his kingdom for the church (1:5, 7, 10).
In view of their resolute faith (1:4), God knows this persecuted church is worthy to enter his eternal kingdom. God’s “kingdom” is a regular theme in Paul’s teaching (e.g., 1Thes 2:12) and draws on Jesus’s teaching about the kingdom of God. The kingdom is God’s reign and realm, experienced partially now (cf. Rom 14:17; 1Cor 4:20; Col 1:13) and fully consummated at the return of Christ (e.g., 1Cor 15:24, 50).
1:6–7 The justice of God at Christ’s return brings judgment on those who persecuted God’s people. God’s justice also brings relief to the suffering church. Like the Thessalonians, the missionaries experienced suffering, and together they will receive God’s rest. Consistent with Jesus’s teaching (e.g., Matt 24:30–31), Paul asserts that Christ’s return will astonish. And his coming will be evident to all, when Jesus is revealed “from heaven” coming with “mighty angels.” Jesus is implicitly referred to here as deity: the angels of God are called the angels of Jesus.
1:8 Jesus returns with “flaming fire,” parallel to OT passages about God coming with fire in judgment (Isa 66:15–16; Ps 97:3). In the NT, fire regularly accompanies Jesus’s coming judgment (Matt 25:41; 1Cor 3:13–15; cf. Heb 10:27; 2Pet 3:7, 12), especially as a sign of vengeance against God’s enemies. Those enemies receive two descriptions: “they do not know God” and “they do not obey the gospel.” To “know God” is to recognize God and be in covenant relationship with him (e.g., Exod 6:7; Deut 4:35; Ps 100:3); conversely, to “not know God” indicates a refusal to acknowledge the true God, as seen in the OT (e.g., Exod 5:2; Isa 45:4–5) and in the NT (e.g., Gal 4:8–9; 1Thes 4:5). Paul elsewhere speaks of “obeying the gospel” as a proper response of faith and commitment to the good news of Christ (Rom 10:16; cf. 1Pet 4:17).
1:9 God’s enemies (1:8) face the dreadful, but just, penalty of “eternal destruction” (cf. Matt 8:12; 13:41–42, 49–50). Translators debate how to relate “from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” to the preceding clause. The Greek favors the idea that the punishment itself stems from God’s presence and glory (cf. ESV footnote). Here, the “Lord” could be either Jesus or God the Father, with Jesus preferred (see 1:8). Paul repeatedly affirms that Jesus bears the marks, prerogatives, titles, and very nature of God.
1:10 The Lord’s return brings judgment (1:8–9) and results in worship (1:10). The “day” refers to “the day of the Lord” (see notes on 2:2). Paul regularly calls Christians “saints,” since God has graciously declared believers holy in Christ and calls them to live out that holiness. At the Lord’s return, these saints will display his glory. Paul assures the Thessalonians they will be among that worshipping multitude of saints, since they trust the missionaries’ gospel message.
Prayer for the Church (1:11–12)
1:11 Note how 1:11 connects with both the preceding discussion of Christ’s return (“to this end” in 1:11; “glorified” in 1:10, 12) and the thanksgiving for the church’s “faith” (1:3–4) in God the Father and the Lord Jesus (1:2).
The missionaries pray with the same regularity (“always”) as their thanksgiving (1:3). This prayer makes two requests of God: “to make you worthy of your calling” and “to fulfill every resolve . . . and every work.” “Calling” refers to God’s sovereign, gracious election (2Thes 2:13–14; cf. 1Thes 1:4; 2:12; 4:7; 5:24). Similarly, in Ephesians 4:1, Paul urges Christians “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” a charge that addresses both God’s election and how one should live in response. Christians take pleasure in “goodness” (cf. Gal 5:22; Rom 15:14; Eph 5:9). “Goodness” indicates a disposition for good works that springs from “faith” in the Lord (cf. 1Thes 1:3). God graciously equips his people through his power to live out the faith resolutely.
1:12 The prayer requests of 1:11 have a purpose: that Jesus would be glorified in the church and the church would be glorified in Jesus. This purpose connects with the glorification of Jesus at his return (1:10). In God’s kingdom (inaugurated at Christ’s first coming and consummated with his second), mutual glorification between Christ and the church has both a present and future reality. The “name” of our Lord Jesus, like the name of God in the OT, stands for his very person, character, and presence. In the Trinity, God the Father and the Lord Jesus together give grace to the church, thereby making the church worthy, fulfilling its resolve for good works, and glorifying it.
Stand Firm (2:1–17)
The first section in this chapter (2:1–12) reassures the church “not to be shaken” (2:2) by misunderstandings about Jesus’s return. Then Paul returns to thanksgiving (2:13–14) and an appeal for them to remain steadfast (2:15). The chapter concludes with a benediction predicated on God’s love, comfort, hope, and grace (2:16) and an invocation of God’s consolation and strength (2:17).
Instruction and Appeal for Calm from Eschatological Worries (2:1–12)
Along with 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11, this section provides some of the most detailed teaching from Paul on Christ’s return, making the Thessalonian letters famous sources for Christian eschatology. Nevertheless, the bulk of the teaching in both letters does not concern the End Times, as Paul’s eschatological instruction is focused largely on encouraging the Thessalonians amid their confusion and persecution.
Paul reminds the church of his earlier teaching while living in Thessalonica (2:5–6; cf. 1Thes 5:1–2). Modern commentators debate why the Thessalonians were afraid that the day of the Lord “has come” (2:2), who “the man of lawlessness” is (2:3), and what is “restraining” him (2:6). Because of previous interactions, Paul could simply assume the Thessalonians already knew the answers to these questions. The modern interpreter’s job is made more complex because we do not know everything the original audience had previously been taught about such matters; therefore, we must hold our theories with some humility.
2:1 “Now concerning” signals a change in topic (cf. 1Thes 5:12). Paul often speaks of Jesus’s second “coming” (e.g., 1Thes 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 1Cor 15:23), following Jesus’s own terminology (Matt 24:3) and that of other apostles (e.g., Jas 5:7–8; 2Pet 1:16; 1Jn 2:28). Paul again affirms Jesus’s messiahship and lordship (cf. 2Thes 1:1–2, 7–9, 12). Not only does Jesus return victorious, but he also comes to “gather” the saints to join in the fullness of his eternal kingdom (cf. 1Thes 4:15–18).
2:2 This first-century church had received a false teaching that “the day of the Lord has come,” a claim that disturbed the church. No matter how such a teaching started, Paul insists it is wrong.
The “day of the Lord” is OT terminology for God’s coming to judge nations and deliver his people (e.g., Isa 13:6–13; Zeph 1:7–18; Mal 4:1–5; see further TGCBC commentary on 1Thes 5:1–2). Jesus and the apostles employed this phrase to refer to Christ’s second coming to judge and deliver (Matt 24:42; Luke 17:24; John 6:39–40; 2Pet 3:10). Again, Jesus is assumed to be God’s eternal Son, since OT terms that refer to God the Father have been applied to Jesus.
Modern commentators deliberate what this false teaching involved, how it started, and why the church worried about it. It seems the Thessalonians already knew these things firsthand; therefore, we should hold our interpretations with humility. Paul himself may not have been told precisely how this false teaching began, whether it was through prophetic utterance or via some oral or written source. Paul appears worried someone might have misinterpreted him or circulated falsities in his name (cf. 3:17; contrast 2:15).
The bigger issue concerns why some in the church worried that “the day of the Lord” may have already come. How could they not know? Some contend that the Greek verb tense for “has come” (perfect of enistēmi) might refer to a future event as if it is about to happen. So, the Thessalonians might be worried that Jesus will return soon and they will not be ready. However, all Paul’s other uses of the perfect of enistēmi refer to events whose previous occurrence already effects the present (e.g., Rom 8:38; Gal 1:4).
It seems unlikely the church believed the final judgment had already happened. Their own experience should have taught them that Jesus had not yet publicly appeared as universal judge, and Paul could have simply pointed that out. It is most likely that some feared the events leading up to final judgment had begun. Consequently, they either: (1) thought they should be experiencing a greater relief from their present circumstances, or (2) feared the horrors of the days right before Christ’s return were about to begin.2
2:3–4 Paul argues that the day of the Lord has not arrived, since the man of lawlessness has not yet taken his seat in the Temple.
Paul commands the church not to be deceived into believing that “the day of the Lord has come” (2:2). He highlights two of the events that precede Jesus’s return: a “rebellion” and the appearance of the “man of lawlessness.” The “rebellion” (Greek apostasia) may refer to a political action or (more likely) to a mass apostasy from the faith (2:9–12; possibly cf. 1Tim 4:1).3
The “man of lawlessness” receives a series of descriptors (see 2:8–10). He is the “son of destruction” (as Judas is called in John 17:12). He will be blasphemous and immensely conceited, standing against, and praising himself above, all other religious objects and deities. He sits to be worshipped in the “temple of God” (2:4), which could refer to a pagan temple, but more likely denotes the Jewish Temple. This passage reads like the OT prophets as they rail against the kings of Babylon and Tyre (e.g., Isa 14:12–14; Ezek 28:2–10) and against other opponents of God and his people (e.g., Dan 7:24–27; 8:23–25; 11:36–39). Jesus taught about the “abomination of desolation,” who will “stand in the holy place” (Matt 24:15), drawing on Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11. Paul was likely following Jesus’s teaching here.
For two thousand years, people have speculated about this “man.” We should thus be cautious against making absolute statements. Many Jewish people believed Antiochus IV Epiphanes deserved Daniel’s label “abomination of desolation” for setting up pagan rituals in the Jerusalem Temple 200 years before Jesus (c.167–166 BC; cf. 1Macc 1:54). Other similarly evil rulers arose within two decades after Paul’s letter, such as Emperor Nero (who sought to erect a statue of himself in the Temple) and Emperor Titus (who presided over the Temple’s destruction). Likely, such events (esp. those of Antiochus IV) are mere exemplars of the coming lawlessness. Jesus and Paul followed the OT pattern in teaching that toward the end of this age there will be apostasy and sacrilegious leaders. The arrival of such a day should be obvious, and Paul knew it had not yet happened.
2:5–7 Paul affirms that he had previously taught the Thessalonians that the lawless one’s arrival has been restrained until the proper time in God’s plan. Humans have rebelled against God ever since Eden, so lawlessness is “already at work” (2:7). However, God remains sovereign, restraining lawlessness so that his redemptive plan progresses. Later, such restraint will be lifted, thus speeding the events preceding Jesus’s return.
Commentators debate the identity of this “restrainer.” The Greek may imply a single individual,4 though some interpreters claim this is metaphorical for an entity or group. Some suggest a political system checks the rise of lawlessness, such as the Roman Empire in Paul’s day (or later nations). Others argue that Satan is holding back his lawless one, but this seems inconsistent with “in his time” in verse 6, which implies God’s sovereignty over such matters (cf. 2:11–12). Others reason that God’s personal agent is at work, such as the Holy Spirit or an angelic being. This has some support in the OT role of archangel Michael (Dan 12:1–4, esp. in context of 11:20–45).
God ultimately remains in charge of such restraint, either directly or through agents. Paul’s original audience knew enough that Paul decided not to go into detail (2:6). In God’s providence, Paul does not write more. Perhaps this should prompt interpretive modesty and encourage the church to be prepared for the Lord’s return at all times (cf. 1Thes 5:1–2; Matt 24:42–43; 2Pet 3:10; Rev 3:3).
2:8 Even with the coming of the man of lawlessness (2:6–7, 9–10), the church need not fear, because Jesus will have the ultimate victory. He will easily kill this lawless one with the mere “breath of his mouth,” in messianic authority like God in the OT (cf. Isa 11:1–4; 30:33; Job 4:9).
2:9–10 The wicked work of Satan will be active in the man of lawlessness. Jesus warned that false messiahs would come with false signs and wonders, deceiving many before the day of the Lord (e.g., Matt 24:4–5, 11–13, 23–25). Drawing on Jesus’s teaching, Paul remarks that people will be deceived because of their refusal to love the saving truth of Jesus.
Note how some terms used of Christ are applied to the man of lawlessness and Satan’s work: lawlessness is a “mystery” (2:7); the lawless one is “revealed” (2:3, 6, 8), “exalted” (2:4), and “comes” in ways like Jesus (2:9; cf. 2:8); he comes with “power,” “signs, and “wonders” (2:9); and he sits in the Temple (2:4). Yet, in all these ways, he is merely a wicked mimic of the true things of God and the Lord Jesus. Christians must guard against such deceptions by evil counterfeits.
2:11–12 There is mystery in the relationship between God’s providence and human will. People perish due to their refusal to love the truth (2:10), and those same people are deceived by Satan (2:10) and sent a strong delusion by God (2:11). As a result, they continue to believe lies, and they are condemned for refusing proper faith and for pursuing unrighteousness. In a similar way, the Pharaoh of the Exodus hardened his heart (e.g., Exod 8:15, 32; 9:34) and his heart was also hardened by God (e.g., Exod 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:8; predicted in Exod 4:21; 7:3; 14:4). Paul clearly assumes human culpability and willful choice, while he simultaneously affirms divine sovereignty and justice. God is holy and just, and he displays his sovereignty even over wicked decisions made by humans and Satan.
The Thessalonians should be comforted by Paul’s teaching. The day of the Lord has not yet arrived; in fact, things will get worse before Jesus returns. Yet, God is in control of all. Justice will prevail. And God’s people will be saved.
Further Thanksgiving and Admonition to Stand Firm (2:13–15)
2:13 Paul again thanks God (cf. 1:3) for the church. They are saved, sanctified, and believe the truth (2:13), unlike the condemned, who refuse to believe (2:12). Although God directs delusion on the condemned (2:11–12), he has “chosen” the believers (cf. 1:11; Eph 1:4) because they are the Lord’s “beloved.” “Firstfruits” is an OT image for the beginning of a harvest (e.g., Exod 23:16, 19; cf. Rom 8:23; 1Cor 15:20), here referring to the earliest converts in a region (cf. Rom 16:5; 1Cor 16:15).5 God’s election produces their salvation, applied by the Spirit’s work of making them pure and holy and by their belief in the true gospel.
2:14 It was the missionaries’ gospel message that God used to “call” the believers (cf. 1:11). The purpose is the “glory” (cf. 1:9; 1Thes 2:12) that comes from their union with the glorious Lord Jesus Christ (on these titles see 1:2, 8, 10, 12; 2:1; et al.).
2:15 Therefore, because of God’s saving call on their lives, Paul addresses this church as family and commands them to “stand firm” and “hold to the traditions.” Paul regularly uses the metaphor of “standing” for Christ and the faith (e.g., 1Cor 16:13; Gal 5:1; Phil 1:27; 4:1; 1Thes 3:8). During persecution, the Thessalonians need to remain faithful to Jesus and trust the teaching and traditions from the missionaries. These traditions had been conveyed both in person (“our spoken word”) and via epistle (“our letter”). Contrast the false teaching in 2:2.
2:16 As in 1 Thessalonians (see TGCBC commentary on 1Thes 3:11–13; 5:23–24), the missionaries include a benediction both here in the middle and at the end (2Thes 3:16). Paul invokes the blessing of both “God our Father” and the “Lord Jesus Christ” (for these titles, see 1:2). The relative clause (“who loved . . .”) and the verbs that follow (“comfort” and “establish”) are all singular in Greek, which shows the unified action of God the Father and God the Son. The church is “beloved” by the Triune God, who graciously gives unending encouragement and hope, even during great challenges.
2:17 Paul prays for Father and Son to continue granting them comfort (“eternal comfort,” 2:16) and to strengthen the believers’ hearts (cf. 1Thes 3:13), so that they respond faithfully to God’s salvation in proper conduct and in righteous speech (cf. Col 3:17).
Final Instructions and Admonitions (3:1–15)
In the concluding chapter, the missionaries ask the church to pray for their mission, state their confidence in God for the church’s perseverance, and direct them to work heartily and to persevere in doing good.
Request for Prayer, and Paul's Confidence in the Church (3:1–5)
3:1–2 As in 1 Thessalonians, the missionaries move from benediction to moral instruction, employing the transitional word “finally” (1Thes 4:1; cf. Phil 3:1; 4:8). They first request the church pray for their ministry (cf. 1Thes 5:25), especially for the spread of the gospel (“word of the Lord”; cf. 1Thes 1:8) and for the missionaries’ well-being. They desire the gospel “run” to the world and be received according to its proper glory, which is how the Thessalonians received the gospel. Ministry occurs within a world full of evil people who will not believe God’s message, so Paul asks for deliverance from such opposition (cf. Rom 15:31; 2Cor 1:10; 2Tim 3:11; 4:17–18).
3:3 Having mentioned opposition to the gospel (3:2), Paul again expresses confidence that the Thessalonians will persevere amid persecution. He bases his confidence on the faithfulness of God and the Lord Jesus (cf. 1Thes 5:24; 1Cor 1:9; 2Cor 1:18), who will strengthen the church (as previously prayed, see 2:17) and who will “guard” them from Satan (“the evil one”; cf. 2:9; Eph 6:16).
3:4 Paul’s confidence is “in the Lord,” because the Triune God preserves the Thessalonians (3:3) and directs them into Christian obedience to the apostolic command.
3:5 Another mini-benediction (see 2:16–17) invokes God’s work in the believers’ lives, thus indirectly encouraging their perseverance. Again, both God the Father and Jesus the Messiah are mentioned in deific tandem (cf. 1:2; 2:16–17). Paul asks that the believers’ hearts be moved to both love and endurance.
Directive to Work and Cease from Idleness (3:6–12)
3:6 In this section, Paul “commands” (cf. 3:4) this church to eschew laziness (3:10–12) and to labor for their own livelihood (3:12). The command is solemn, made in the name of Jesus, our Messiah and Lord. In turn, they should avoid lazy brothers who refuse to work. Though acknowledged as “brothers” and thus fellow Christians, their “walk” (contrast 1Thes 2:12; 4:1, 12) departs from the “traditions” the missionaries taught (2Thes 2:15). When bad behavior among Christians is egregious enough to contaminate the morality of the church, Paul can advocate casting out such brothers (2Thes 3:14; cf. 1Cor 5:9, 11; 2Tim 3:5).
Paul elsewhere opposes idleness among believers (1Tim 5:13; Tit 1:12); yet, the space devoted here, and the muted warning earlier in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, indicate idleness was a significant problem in Thessalonica. Several commentators suggest a connection to false teaching (2:1–12)—perhaps some church members thought the imminence of Christ’s return meant they did not need to work. Other commentators wonder if some Thessalonians preferred to presume on the church’s generosity rather than work. In any case, Paul is not having it. Paul certainly believed churches should care for the poor and needy (e.g., Rom 15:25–26; 2Cor 8:1–5; 9:6–15; Gal 2:10; 1Tim 5:3–16); however, anyone capable of labor should work both to supply their own needs (3:12) and to help others (Eph 4:28); they should not drain church funds to provide for themselves.
3:7 Paul regularly encourages Christian imitation of godly exemplars. The full chain of imitation follows this pattern: Christ is the perfect example, Paul and the missionaries imitate Christ, the churches follow the missionaries, and the churches imitate one another (also 1Cor 11:1; 1Thes 1:6; 2:14; 2Thes 3:9; 1Cor 4:15–17; Eph 5:1; Phil 3:17). Here, believers should imitate the missionaries’ dutiful labor.
3:8 Far from being “idle” (3:7), the missionaries earned their own food, laboring “night and day” and refusing to be a financial “burden” to the church (cf. 1Thes 2:9). While wealthier Romans only worked part of the daytime, the missionaries were exceedingly diligent, both in gospel proclamation and in their daily jobs. Paul probably worked in his tent-maker profession here, as in Corinth (Acts 18:3).
3:9 Apostles, missionaries, pastors, and church workers certainly have the “right” to receive funds from those whom they serve (1Cor 9:4, 12–18; following Jesus’s instructions, see Matt 10:10; 1Tim 5:17–18; cf. 1Thes 2:6–7). Yet, Paul regularly relinquished these rights for the sake of the newly founded churches (1Cor 9:18; 2Cor 11:7–9; 1Thes 2:9). In Thessalonica he did so for at least two reasons: (1) to provide a model of diligent labor (3:9), and (2) to avoid any accusation of greedy motives in his gospel proclamation, especially within a culture where itinerant teachers promoted false ideologies for financial gain (see TGCBC commentary on 1Thes 2:1–12). Paul accepted support from previously established churches, who sent him to other mission fields (e.g., 2Cor 11:7–9), including Thessalonica (Phil 4:15–16). Yet, Paul carefully evaluated when to accept local funding.
3:10 While in Thessalonica (cf. Acts 17:1–9), the missionaries apparently foresaw the danger of church participants refusing to work, so they issued this seemingly harsh edict: if capable people refuse to work, then do not support them, and let them experience hunger. Paul thus established a standard of energetic Christian labor.
3:11–12 One further danger of laziness is that people become “busybodies”—gossiping and otherwise inappropriately using their time (cf. 1Tim 5:13). Paul apparently received information that some refused work and had fallen into these habits (3:11). To such folks, Paul issues an apostolic exhortation, invoking the authority and presence of the Lord Jesus: they should “eat their own bread” (i.e., food that they pay for) by “working quietly,” peacefully focusing on their godly labors rather than being a gossip and busybody (cf. 1Tim 2:2).
Do Not Grow Weary, Warn the Disobedient (3:13–15)
3:13 Toward the letter’s end, the authors issue a general edict not to tire of performing good works (cf. 1:11; 2:17). In both Thessalonian epistles, the Christian walk requires endurance throughout one’s whole life, even amid opposition in this world (cf. Gal 6:9–10).
3:14–15 Paul calls the Thessalonians to follow the missionaries’ instructions. The disobedient imperil themselves and anyone whom they dissuade from obedience, so persistent defiance must be recognized, and the church must disassociate from the rebellious (cf. 3:6; Titus 3:10–11; Matt 18:15–17). This separation is not done out of enmity, but out of brotherly love, purposing to protect the church and draw the wayward back to Christian obedience (cf. 1Cor 5:4–5; 1Tim 1:20).
Benediction and Closing (3:16–18)
3:16 Like OT benedictions (e.g., Num 6:24–26), this closing invokes peace. This peace flows from the “Lord of peace”—either God the Father (cf. Rom 15:33; 16:20) or the “Lord” Jesus, since both persons of the Trinity convey grace and peace to the church (1:2). Such peace is all-encompassing (“at all times in every way”). As in the common OT blessing (e.g., Ruth 2:4), Paul entreats the Lord to be “with” the whole church (cf. 2Tim 4:22).
Paul’s Signed Greeting (3:17)
3:17 In other epistles, Paul records his signature (1Cor 16:21; Gal 6:11; Col 4:18; Phlm 19). Here he emphasizes that his signature proves the letter’s authenticity, perhaps because he suspects they previously received a letter falsely claiming to be from him (2:2).
Invocation of Grace (3:18)
3:18 Paul often concludes his letters with an invocation of grace (e.g., Rom 16:20; 1Cor 16:23; 2Cor 13:14; Gal 6:18; 1Thes 5:28). The form here acknowledges that Jesus dispenses grace to the church, that Jesus is Lord and Messiah, and that such grace flows to everyone in the church.
Bruce, F. F. 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1982.
Chapman, David W. “1 Thessalonians” and “2 Thessalonians.” In ESV Expository Commentary. Edited by Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton, Jr., and Jay Sklar. Vol. 11, pp. 257–357. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018.
Fee, Gordon D. The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009.
Green, Gene L. The Letters to the Thessalonians. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.
Gupta, Nijay K. 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Zondervan Critical Introductions to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019.
Malherbe, Abraham J. The Letters to the Thessalonians. Anchor Bible. New York: Doubleday, 2000.
Morris, Leon. The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians. Revised ed. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.
Nicholl, Colin R. From Hope to Despair in Thessalonica: Situating 1 and 2 Thessalonians. SNTSMS 126. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Shogren, Gary. 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012.
Wanamaker, Charles A. The Epistle to the Thessalonians. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990.
Weima, Jeffrey A. D. 1–2 Thessalonians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014.
Witherington, III, Ben. 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006.
Endnotes & Permissions
1. Many thanks to Tasha Chapman for her help in editing this commentary.
2. From the bibliography, see: Chapman, “2 Thessalonians,” 334–35; for other viewpoints, see e.g., Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 165–66; Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 305; Weima, 1–2 Thessalonians, 501–06; Shogren, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 274–77.
3. The few other uses of apostasia in the NT and OT (LXX) all refer to religious apostasy. See Acts 21:21 regarding Paul’s supposed “departure” from Moses’s teaching. In the LXX: Josh 22:22; 2Chr 29:19; Jer 2:19; 1Macc 2:15.
4. Note the shift from neuter single in 2:6 (“what is restraining”) to masculine singular in 2:7 (“he who now restrains”).
5. As the ESV margin indicates, many manuscripts read “from the beginning” (Greek ap’ archēs) instead of “firstfruits” (Greek aparchēn), the difference being a single Greek letter. The result makes little theological difference, but “firstfruits” seems the origin of both readings (cf. Rom 16:5 manuscripts).
The text of 2 Thessalonians, excluding all Bible quotations, is © 2022 by The Gospel Coalition. The Gospel Coalition (TGC) gives you permission to reproduce this work in its entirety, without any changes, in English for noncommercial distribution throughout the world. Crossway, the holder of the copyright to the ESV Bible text, grants permission to include the ESV quotations within this work, in English.
In addition, TGC gives you permission to faithfully translate the work into any other language, but you may not translate the English ESV Bible into another language. If you wish to include Bible quotations with the translated work, you will need to obtain permission from a publisher of a Bible translation in the same language.
All scripture quotations are taken from the ESV® Bible (the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. ESV Text Edition: 2016. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated into any other language. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, is adapted from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
2 Thessalonians 1
1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers,1 as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.
The Judgment at Christ’s Coming
5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from2 the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Or brothers and sisters. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, the plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) may refer either to brothers or to brothers and sisters
Or destruction that comes from