Twin City church of Christ Blog
The Speedy Word
Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5
Paul begins to wind down his letter with a prayer request. “Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men”(2 Thess 3:1-2). He wants them to pray that the message about Jesus will “speed ahead”—the word means to run—and in its speeding, to find new receptive audiences like the Thessalonians. He also asks their prayers for the potential encounters he will have with “wicked and evil men” who may attempt to restrain the spread of the gospel and harm its proclaimers. Paul has had his run-ins with this type before—stoning him, jailing him, and conspiring against him. “For not all have faith.”
Yes, there are faithless people in the world, “but the Lord is faithful”(2 Thess 3:3). Jesus will not treat us the way evil people do. “He will establish you and guard you against the evil one”(2 Thess 3:3). He consistently watches over us and answers our prayers for safe-keeping from Satan’s attacks. Paul adds that just as he is confident in Jesus, so “we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command”(2 Thess 3:4). Paul has a command that he is about to give (3:6, 12) and expresses his certainty that his words will be taken in the best way.
I am intrigued by the idea that “the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored”(2 Thess 3:1). Paul views the gospel as a dynamic force moving throughout the world. It goes from place to place, setting people free and leaving pockets of new believers in its wake. It goes with us, but it is not limited by us; it “speeds ahead” whether we do or not. Glory goes to God as his word is “honored” by people who humbly receive it, offer themselves to Jesus, and begin to live differently.
One Thing to Think About: How have I seen that Jesus is faithful—even when people are faithless?
One Thing to Pray For: That the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored
Hold to the Traditions
Reading: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
Paul has been describing how many will be led astray by Satan and the “man of lawlessness” because they did not believe or love the truth. The Thessalonians are different: “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth”(2 Thess 2:13). Their “belief in the truth” is the means of their salvation, not destruction. It marks them as the “firstfruits” of those who will be saved—a term that describes the first part of the harvest that promises more to come. They will continue to be made holy by the Holy Spirit within them. All of this began with their receiving the gospel and will continue until they “obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ”(2 Thess 2:15).
So the Thessalonians stand between a marvelous beginning and a transcendent future. What do they do now? “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter”(2 Thess 2:15). Rather than being upset by false messages (see 2:2), they need to cling to the beliefs and practices revealed by the apostles. God will work in them to bring them to their final goal, but only as they remain true to what they have received. “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 Thess 2:16-17). He prays that Jesus and the Father will give them comfort and stability as they serve.
While Jesus warns about keeping the traditions of men over God’s word (Mark 7:8), Paul encourages us to “hold to the traditions.” The key is their source: do they come from God (and his chosen spokesmen) or from men? Through the apostles, God has revealed the true nature of the Christian faith. Our job is not to reinvent it, update it, or correct it; our job is to hold to it.
One Thing to Think About: Why do we sometimes struggle respecting traditions—even if they are from God?
One Thing to Pray For: Comfort and stability as I serve
What Do I Love?
Reading: 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12
Having described the “man of lawlessness” whose “rebellion” will precede Jesus’ return, Paul explains how this man gains such a foothold among people. “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved”(2 Thess 2:9-10). Satan is behind his rise and the “lawless one” uses Satan’s tactics: “false signs” and “wicked deception.” He lies to and deceives the people about who he is and what his aims are. This may involve displays of seemingly miraculous acts (“power and false signs and wonders”). The tragic part is that those who follow him never see through his act because “they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”
Paul then elaborates on these followers: “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness”(2 Thess 2:11-12). As they are deceived by the man of lawlessness, so God “sends them a strong delusion” to allow them to believe his lies and be condemned. This sounds uncharacteristic of God, yet he is actually giving people what they want, since they have “pleasure in unrighteousness.” It is similar to how God treats the Gentiles in Romans 1: “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind”(Rom 1:28, see also Rom 1:24, 26). If we are determined not to follow God’s word and believe his truth, God won’t force us but will allow us to walk away from him and pursue our desires. If we want to believe lies, he won’t stop us.
Those who follow the lawless one and receive condemnation “refused to love the truth and so be saved”(2 Thess 2:10) and “had pleasure in unrighteousness”(2 Thess 2:12). What do I love? Do I love truth—even when it hurts? Am I committed to knowing and doing what is right? Or is my true desire to do evil, to believe lies that comfort me, to pursue my own pleasure? If I want to survive the onslaughts of Satan, I must honestly answer this question: what do I love?
One Thing to Think About: What might it look like in my life to “love the truth”?
One Thing to Pray For: A tender heart willing to believe and obey the truth
Reading: 2 Thessalonians 2:5-8
Paul is explaining to the Thessalonians that certain events must occur before “the day of the Lord”(2 Thess 2:2) comes. The key development seems to be the “rebellion”(or “apostasy,” 2 Thess 2:3) led by “the son of destruction.” “Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time”(2 Thess 2:5-6). This is our reminder that we are reading someone else’s mail; we were not there for the teaching Paul refers to. It is also unclear to us what (or who) is restraining or preventing the appearance of this awful figure.
But Paul seems to expect these developments imminently: “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way”(2 Thess 2:7). These things are happening at the time of Paul’s writing (“already at work”). How and when they will be fully exposed is part of the “mystery of lawlessness,” but it appears to be soon. “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming”(2 Thess 2:8). Even as the “man of lawlessness” makes his power play (see v. 4), Paul assures us that Jesus will kill, defeat, and destroy him. Though we may wrestle with the exact historical referents of these words, we can remain confident that Jesus wins.
This text raises all kinds of questions for me. Who is Paul thinking of and how does he know all this? Has the “man of lawlessness” already appeared (and been defeated)? Do we still wait for him? Does a figure like this appear in every age? Yet Paul’s letter seems clearly aimed not at answering all our questions, but at reminding us that even when things look grim, God will defeat his enemies and rescue his people. In all eras, his people live in less-than-ideal circumstances, often beset by evil, egomaniacal rulers. Jesus will humble those exalt themselves, judge the world, and save his people. Jesus wins.
One Thing to Think About: Why has God chosen not to reveal to us when Jesus will return?
One Thing to Pray For: The patience to wait for God to act in his time
You Haven’t Missed It
Reading: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4
This section of the letter (2:1-12) is challenging to interpret because Paul refers back to his previous teachings that we have no record of (see 2 Thess 2:5, 6). The topic here is the return of Jesus, something he spoke about at length in his first letter (1 Thess 4:13-5:11). “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come”(2 Thess 2:1-2). Paul has previously described that day as something universal everyone will see (1 Thess 4:13-5:4, 2 Thess 1:6-12), yet some message has convinced the Thessalonians that Jesus came back and they missed it. This must have greatly upset them, so he urges the Thessalonians “not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed.” You haven’t missed it; God’s timetable is still on track.
Instead, Paul informs them that some things must happen first. “For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 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 Thess 2:3-4). First there will be a “rebellion” (or apostasy), which seems to imply a widespread departure from God’s ways. Then there will be a figure of great evil, the “man of lawlessness” and “son of destruction.” His work will be characterized by an arrogation of power and effort to be recognized as a divine authority (“proclaiming himself to be God”). It appears that many will be swept up in this man’s consolidation of power and influence. The details are fuzzy, but Paul’s point is clear: things will get worse before they get better.
It is remarkably difficult to pinpoint what Paul is describing. Every generation identifies its own religious figures, world leaders, and false prophets as the “man of lawlessness.” Many people fit the description of proclaiming themselves to be God. Is the temple reference literal? It seems to me that in the absence of further information, we must acknowledge that rebellion and apostasy happen in each age. Rather than seeing this as a sign that God has lost control, it should serve as a reminder that Jesus can return at any time. No matter how ugly the world becomes, you haven’t missed it; Jesus is still coming back!
One Thing to Think About: Why might someone follow a figure like this?
One Thing to Pray For: Stability in my faith so that I am not “shaken in mind or alarmed”