Comforting the Persecuted
2 Thessalonians 1:3–12
The apostle Paul made a practice of visiting churches he had planted and providing pastoral care and counsel. But sometimes opposition to him and his ministry made the task impossible, as it did with the Thessalonian church.
So Paul penned a letter to the Thessalonians and gave it to Timothy to deliver to provide pastoral care. Paul reminded the church that God the Father’s sanctifying grace brought them to salvation through Jesus Christ, resulting in their personal peace, and that God’s peace through Christ would keep and sustain them in the violent persecution they faced.
In 2 Thessalonians 1:3–12, Paul counseled and encouraged these believers in three areas: He praised their faith under persecution (vv. 3–5), described the punishment their persecutors eventually would face (vv. 6–10), and promised ongoing prayer on their behalf (vv. 11–12).
Praising the Persecuted
Paul praised the Thessalonians for their commitment to Christ and each other: “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other” (v. 3).
The apostle and his team felt it imperative to thank God continually for the Thessalonians because they were brothers and sisters in the faith, having received the Lord through Paul’s preaching. Therefore, Paul and Timothy felt privileged to give thanks for their exemplary commitment.
Second, they gave thanks because the Thessalonians’ faith had grown “exceedingly,” or beyond anything the missionary team had expected. The phrase your faith speaks of the Thessalonians’ trust in Christ after they heard the gospel.
Third, they gave thanks for the agape, or self-sacrificing, love these new believers showed to one another. Paul was so impressed by their commitment to the Lord and each other that he said, “We ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure” (v. 4). They joyfully told other churches about the Thessalonians’ faith, patience, and endurance under fierce suffering for Christ—an endurance that could come only from their unwavering trust in the Savior. Notice, they exhibited patience and faith not merely in some trials, but in all of the trials they faced.
Paul assured the Thessalonians their suffering mattered and that their faith and patience provided “evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer” (v. 5).
Their endurance in affliction revealed they were indeed born again, that God’s presence was sustaining them, and that God would judge their persecutors and reward the Thessalonians’ unjust suffering for the gospel. Paul said they suffered so they “may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God” (v. 5). This verse looks toward judgment day, when God will consider them deserving to enter the Kingdom. Their worthiness will come from the fact they put their faith in Christ alone for salvation, not because their suffering was somehow meritorious.
Paul encouraged the Thessalonians not to think about their painful present but, rather, to focus on the glorious Kingdom awaiting them. This future hope comforted and strengthened the believers, reminding them Paul and his missionary team faced the same suffering for the coming Kingdom.
Punishing the Persecutors
Paul abruptly shifted gears and explained God’s future judgment on their ungodly persecutors. He mentioned the “righteous judgment of God” (v. 5) and then described it: “It is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels” (vv. 6–7).
God’s judgment is not arbitrary or capricious; it is righteous because God is a righteous Judge. He is true and just and cannot lie. Since His character is righteous, His judgment is, as well.
God will “repay with tribulation those [the unsaved persecutors] who trouble you” (v. 6). He will compensate in full both the good and evil actions people do to one another. In this case, Paul said God will judge the Thessalonians’ persecutors for their evil deeds.
He assured them those believers who have been “troubled” will receive “rest” when “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven” (v. 7). The word revealed means “unveiled.” Jesus’ glory was veiled by flesh during His earthly ministry; but at His Second Coming, the veil will be lifted, and everyone will see Christ in His unsurpassed glory. This verse looks to when all believers will experience final relief and rest from the persecution, affliction, and trouble they suffered for their faith. They will enter the glories of God’s Kingdom and never suffer again.
When Christ returns, “every eye will see Him” (Rev. 1:7). He will come “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Th. 1:8). Christ’s return will terrify His enemies as they watch Him coming “in flaming fire,” or encircled with leaping flames.
He will be “taking vengeance” on (punishing) two groups of people. The first will be “those who do not know God,” meaning the heathen Gentiles who rejected the light given to them through natural revelation (Rom. 1:18–23).
The second group will be “those who do not obey the gospel” (2 Th. 1:8). They listened to the gospel and understood the Lord’s death and resurrection but willfully refused to receive Jesus and obey the gospel’s demands. Paul said these people will be “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (v. 9).
This punishment is not arbitrary. It is a just penalty meted out by a just and righteous God according to His unchanging law. He will repay unbelievers for their character and deeds based on their rejection of what they knew God required of them to be saved.
Their punishment will be “everlasting destruction” (v. 9). Its duration will be eternal and immeasurable. We should not interpret this destruction as annihilation or extinction, because Scripture says unbelievers will live eternally in a state of separation from God and suffer in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10, 14–15).
Paul used two phrases to describe the condition of these unbelievers:
1. They will be away from the presence [face] of the Lord (2 Th. 1:9). God will banish them into outer darkness (Mt. 7:23; 8:12). The unbearable sting is that they will be separated from Him forever and will be tormented day and night for eternity (Rev. 14:11; 20:11–15).
2. They will be away from the glory of His power (2 Th. 1:9). They will be consigned to an eternity devoid of help from God’s power.
In contrast, all who receive Christ as Savior will have a glorious future: “When He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed” (v. 10). This verse centers not on the saved at Christ’s coming but, rather, on the glorious Lord. Perfected believers will have their glorified bodies. Christ not only will be glorified among the believers, but His glory will be manifested in them, as in mirrors.
Paul said the reason for their experience in the Lord was “because our [Paul and his ministry team’s] testimony among you was believed” (v. 10). Paul and his team not only preached the truth of Christ and the gospel among the Thessalonians, but they also personally manifested the reality of Christ’s power and salvation in their lives.
Prayer for the Persecuted
As he often did, Paul closed his teaching with a prayer of encouragement: “Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power” (v. 11).
The prayer’s content was twofold: First, it asked God to “count [them] worthy of this calling.” Paul repeated what he stated in verse 5. God would count them worthy based on their salvation through faith in Christ and their devotion to Him.
Second, the prayer asked God to “fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness” in them (v. 11). Paul wanted God to complete the purposes for which He had called them and prayed the Thessalonians would live out their faith through the Holy Spirit’s power.
Paul closed by stating the primary purpose of His team’s prayer: “that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified…according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 12).
Therefore, at Christ’s Second Coming, every believer will share in celebration, honor, and glorification—all made possible through God’s grace and the Lord Jesus Christ’s provision of salvation. The Thessalonian church set the example for all believers regarding patience, faithfulness, love of the brethren, service, and love for Christ. Let us carry on the same witness until Christ returns.