Believers prepare for the “apostasy” and the coming “man of lawlessness” by “standing firm” in the apostolic tradition.
Having explained the coming “apostasy” and “man of lawlessness,” Paul then provided instructions on how believers avoid the coming deception and find themselves standing “blameless” before Jesus when he “arrives with all his holy ones.” And above all, they must “stand fast” and cleave to the teachings received from the apostles.
The conclusion to this paragraph includes verbal links to Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. The second letter was written within a few weeks or months at the most of the first one.
Moreover, in the second letter, Paul again addresses questions about the future, especially concerning the “Day of the Lord.” This was necessitated by false information that was being propagated in Thessalonica about the imminence of that event.
- (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17) – “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the beginning for salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth to which he called you through our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, stand fast and hold the traditions that you were taught, whether by word or by epistle of ours. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who loved us and gave us everlasting comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”
“God chose you…for the acquisition (peripoiésis) of the glory of our Lord Jesus.” The clause echoes statements in the first letter about how “God appointed us not for wrath, but for the acquisition (peripoiésis) of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,” and both statements use the same Greek noun for “acquisition,” peripoiésis – (1 Thessalonians 1:3-5, 5:9).
In his first epistle, after referring to the “times and season,” the stress fell on right conduct and belief, not on knowing “signs” and timetables. Faithful disciples who remain watchful and live as “sons of the light” will not be overtaken by the sudden arrival of that day. Likewise, in the present passage, Paul instructs the Thessalonians on how to avoid the coming deception by “standing firm” in the teachings they had already received.
“Stand fast and hold the traditions.” This is what the Thessalonians must do to persevere through the coming onslaught and avoid the final “apostasy.” “Stand fast” translates the Greek verb for “remaining stationary,” and thus, “to persevere.” Paul used this same verb in the first letter in a similar context.
- “But when Timothy came even now from you and brought us glad tidings of your faith and love… for this cause, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our distress and tribulation through your faith: for now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord” – (1 Thessalonians 3:6-8).
The Thessalonians would persevere if they “held fast” to the teachings they had received from Paul and his coworkers.
“Whether by word or by epistle of ours.” Here, the Apostle echoes his warning at the start of this section – believers must not be “shaken from your mind, nor be troubled, either by spirit or by discourse or by epistle as from us.” Apparently, some of the rumors about the “Day of the Lord” were attributed falsely to Paul.
But the words to which he now refers were received from him both in person and by letter (“of ours”), unlike the false information propagated by word and letter “as if from us.” The genuine words of the apostles are trustworthy.
“Comfort your hearts.” This clause parallels the two admonishments given at the close of Paul’s discussions in his first letter, first, on the “dead in Christ,” and second, on knowing the “signs and seasons.” At the end of both sets of instructions, the Thessalonians were to “comfort one another with these words.”
“And establish them in every good work and word.” This wish for the Thessalonians parallels the one Paul gave at the close of the first half of First Thessalonians:
- “And the Lord make you increase and abound in love, one toward another, and toward all men, even as we also do toward you; to the end, he may establish your hearts blameless in sanctification before our God and Father, at the arrival of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” – (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13).
Paul will make practical applications of his exhortations in the closing verses of this letter, instructions that are not unrelated to his comments about the “apostasy” and the “man of lawlessness.” Thus, for example, the Thessalonians were admonished to “withdraw from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the tradition which they received of us” – (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).
And again, in his closing words, Paul stresses the necessity for believers to follow the teachings of the apostolic tradition. What marks an individual as “disorderly” is his or her refusal to follow the teachings of Paul and his coworkers.
Not only so, but the Thessalonians were called to “imitate” Paul and his companions, who certainly did not behave in a disorderly fashion when they were in Thessalonica:
- “We ate not bread at any man’s hand, but in labor and travail, working night and day, that we might not burden any of you; not because we have not the right, but to make ourselves an example to you, that ye should imitate us” – (2 Thessalonians 3:8-9).
Paul referred to his practice of working as a tentmaker to support his ministry. While it was appropriate for his converts to support him financially, to provide an example for them, he often chose instead to work with his own hands.
It seems that in Thessalonica certain members of the church refused to work, which is certainly an example of what it means to “walk disorderly” – (“For even when we were with you, this we commanded you: If any will not work, neither let him eat”). Paul dealt with this same problem in his first letter to this church. Considering their heightened apocalyptic expectations, some members chose not to work.
And whether it came by “discourse” or “letter,” if anyone “obeys not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, to the end that he may be ashamed.” The purpose of shunning someone was not to reject him, but to shame them into right conduct (“count him not as an enemy but admonish him as a brother”).
Even with their hope and belief in the coming of Jesus, Christians must not be “weary in well-doing” between now and the day of his “arrival.” Whether Christ comes today or centuries from now, Christians must “stand fast” in the apostolic tradition and conduct their daily lives in an orderly fashion. Otherwise, they will be overtaken by the “mystery of lawlessness” that even now is at work in the world.
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