COMMENTARY ON SECOND THESSALONIANS
2 Thess 2:1 "Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him, 2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand." (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2)
Through some means, confusion had been brought into the Thessalonian church. That confusion regarded the coming of Christ Jesus. Unlike the spurious teachers of our day, Paul would not allow erroneous teaching to go unchecked, particularly when it regarded the coming of the Lord. Here is an area where the people of God must not be ignorant or confused. This is a subject that is integral to faith, hope, and love. Faith relies upon the coming of the Lord to maintain its steadfast course (1 Pet 1:7). Hope is fed by the knowledge of His coming, and lives in anticipation of it (Tit 2:13). Love embraces the return of the Lord, knowing that at that time a crown of righteousness will be received (2 Tim 4:8). Confusion on this point impacts upon the whole of the believer's life. To be ignorant concerning the return of our Lord causes weakness of soul, and makes one vulnerable to the devices of the wicked one. That is precisely why the Spirit moves Paul to address this matter, refusing to treat it as though flawed teaching regarding it had no consequences. The conditions of our time are in sharp contrast with this circumstance. Countless believers are rarely told of the Lord's coming, much less presented "sound doctrine" concerning it. As a result, all manner of unacceptable attitudes and teachings are being found among the people. All believers do well to take hold of the spirit of this text as well as its teaching. If the heart can be deceived on this matter, the individual will become vulnerable in many matters.
BESEECHING BY THE COMING OF THE LORD
" 2:1a Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . " There is an urgent tone in this beseechment, even though several versions do not convey such a thought. Other versions read, "we ask you," NKJV "we request you," NASB "it is our desire," BBE and "let us tell you." NLT Such language is altogether too casual, reflecting the spiritual degeneracy of the times. There is a tone to Scripture as well as words, a spirit as well as a message. It is that spirit that awakens the soul. The Holy Spirit uses words that produce an atmosphere for the soul. This is evident to every serious student of the Scriptures.
BESEECH. Coming from the Greek word Verwtw/men, the word "beseech" is not a weak word. It denotes pleading, adjuring, begging, urging, and entreating. Three times it is used in the Thessaonian letters, and always with a sense of insistence. " . . . we beseech you . . . ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more" (1 Thess 4:1). " . . . we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you" (1 Thess 5:12). "Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thess 2:1). A "certain centurion" besought the Lord to come and heal his servant (Luke 7:3). The Syrophenician women "besought" the Lord to cast a demon out of her daughter (Mark 7:26). When Simon's mother lay sick of a fever, the people "besought" Jesus in her behalf (Luke 4:38). While this word does mean "ask," and is often so translated, it is a strong and fervent asking, as seen in 1 John 5:16. "If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death."
Without being unduly distracted by the perusal of language, it is enough to say there is nothing casual about this word, particularly in this text. The virus of spiritual ignorance was among the Thessalonians, and Paul will now deal with it through the power of the Holy Spirit. His word has to do with life, not scholarship. It touches upon the relationship of the brethren with their Lord, not the mere acquisition of impersonal and irrelevant knowledge.
BRETHREN. This is a word for those who are in Christ Jesus. I have often remarked to you that many believers are regularly exposed to preaching that has relatively little to say to them. They are neither fed nor "nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine" (1 Tim 4:6). The word "brethren" reveals a relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ as well as to one another. In fact, that is the primary relationship. Jesus said of those who did the will of His Father, "the same is my brother, and sister, and mother" (Matt 12:50). Because we have been sanctified by God the Father, Jesus is "not ashamed" to call us "brethren" (Heb 2:11). While this may seem to be a rather elementary point, it is one of great weight. When duly considered, it changes the way you speak to believers. Those who address the people of God, whether by teaching, exhortation, or comfort, do well to consider they are speaking to the brethren of Jesus. I can guarantee such a consideration will influence what is said and how it is said. With this thought in mind, trivia becomes distasteful, and error repulsive.
BY THE COMING. So pivotal is the coming of the Lord that it is the basis for fervent pleas and beseeching. Here is one of the pillars of sound doctrine: "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." This is no novel instruction, fortuitous doctrine, or inconsequential teaching. Jesus spoke of the epoch of "the coming of the Son of man" (Matt 24:27,37,39). Thrice we read of "the coming of the Lord" (1 Thess 4:15; James 5:7-8). Believers are said to be "waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 1:7). One of the primary aims for believers is that God would establish their "hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess 3:13). Another is that our "whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess 5:23). Then is when we will be raised from the dead, or "changed," if we are alive and remain (1 Cor 15:23, 51-52). Then is when the arch foe of Jesus will be destroyed (2 Thess 2:6). Remove the awareness of this climactic event from the minds of God's people, and Satan at once gains the advantage. The degree of holiness within the church will be directly proportionate to its awareness and understanding of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 John 3:3).
To beseech by the coming of the Lord is to urge the people to consider what is said in view of the coming of Christ. In our text, it is to consider the coming of the Lord itself, moving our thoughts into a position where Christ's return becomes prominent. Such a plea moves the return of Christ from the periphery of thought to its center. It removes it from the speculative realm to that of faith and hope. I will tell you that the consideration of the return of Christ dramatically changes how you read the Bible, hear the Word, and think upon the truth of God. It is like a sanctifying recollection that ushers you into the large room of edification, enabling the ministry of the Holy Spirit to the individual.
BESEECHING BY OUR GATHERING TOGETHER TO HIM
" 1b Now we beseech you . . . by our gathering together unto Him." With great care, the Spirit leads Paul to speak of the coming of the Lord in a personal and edifying manner. This is no cold doctrine that lulls the soul to sleep, or allows intellectual pride to surface to the detriment of the soul. Just as there is a spirit to the doctrine itself, so there is a proper spiritual and intellectual framework within which it is presented.
OUR GATHERING. Here is a most blessed deliberation - "our gathering." This is what personalizes the return of Christ. Among other things, when pondering the return of Jesus, the words "our gathering unto Him" causes joy to erupt in the heart rather than fear.
In this world, in the strictest sense of the word, we are "joined to the Lord" (1 Cor 6:17) one by one. There are, of course, times when "multitudes" are "added to the Lord" (Acts 5:14). However, even then, they are still added individually, even though at the same time. However, the appointed time is fast approaching when the aggregate people of God will be "gathered unto Him" simultaneously. In that day, we will not be gathered one by one, but as a whole - as Christ's "bride." Not a single one from any period of time will be omitted. Those who have been received by the Lord will be at once "gathered" from every quarter. The bodies of all who have died will be "gathered" from the graves (1 Thess 4:16; 1 Cor 15:52). Their spirits will be "gathered" from one end of heaven to the other (Matt 24:31).
In a state of completeness, body, soul, and spirit, the saints of all ages, none excluded, will be "gathered" to the Lord. Every vestige of the curse will be gone. Faith will have done its noble work. Hope will be brought to its fruition. Never again will any child of God be "absent from the Lord" in any sense (2 Cor 5:6)!
The time of harvest. The word "gathered" is harvest language. It declares that the time of harvest has come, and the time of growing in the midst of tares has ended. No more will the field wherein the wheat was developed be one of competition, warfare, and danger. No more will an enemy come in by night to sow tares among the wheat (Matt 13:25). Jesus declared "the harvest is the end of the world" (Matt 13:39). Modern versions read "end of the age." This is fine if you understand "age" to equate with time itself. In such a case, "age" is compared to "ages," or eternity (Eph 2:7). In fact, the words "for ever" use this very word in the sense of "an unbroken age." The "end of the world," is the conclusion of temporality, or ages that can be broken or interrupted, only to give way to another temporal period.
This is not A harvest, but THE harvest. It is then that the earth itself will be "reaped" (Rev 14:16). The children of God, likened unto His wheat, will then be "gathered" into His barn, or the place for which they have been prepared (Matt 13:30).
The role of the angels. From one perspective, the Lord Himself will "gather the wheat into His garner" (Luke 3:17). He will do it, however, through the instrumentality of the angels of God, whom He calls "the reapers" (Matt 13:39). The holy angels will play a key role in our "gathering unto Him." First, the Lord Jesus "shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Matt 13:41-42). Then, "the righteous will shine as the sun," without the distracting influence of the wicked (Matt 13:43). The Lord will also "send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matt 24:31). In another place Jesus said His angels would "gather together His elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven" (Mark 13:27).
All of this is related to the end of time, and not to time itself, which will then be terminated. The reaping of both the wicked and righteous will occur "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump" (1 Cor 15:52). There will be no gap of time between the two, for time will be no more. This should cause us no difficulty, for the Spirit has already told us the wicked will be punished when Jesus is glorified in the saints (2 Thess 1:9-10).
UNTO HIM. Although the saints will be together, their primary gathering will be "unto Him" who saved, nourished, and kept them. Then the desire of Jesus will be fully satisfied: "I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:3). Then, His garden prayer will be fully realized: "Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory" (John 17:24). Some emphasize that Jesus will come to be with us, where we are. However, no such statement is made in Scripture. God Himself will then be "with us" (Rev 21:3), but we will be with Christ.
Pondering this gathering will impact upon the way you live. Believers should often be reminded of it, drawing comfort and encouragement from its contemplation.
SHAKEN BY A FALSE WORD
" 2That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand." Although this is one of the earliest letters of Paul, erroneous teaching was already being circulated among believers. Some of it was even being credited to Paul, with spurious letters being circulated in his name. This circumstance confirms how eager the devil is to corrupt the teaching of Christ's return.
SHAKEN IN MIND. Other versions read, "that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed," NASB and "not to become easily unsettled or alarmed." NIV The idea is not that of a gradual disturbance created in the mind, but a sudden change, when the mind is easily "thrown into confusion." NJB There are teachings and persuasions that abruptly and quickly overshadow the truth of God, throwing the believer into a state of alarm and disorder. Whereas the truth concerning Christ's return calms the mind and soothes the spirit, distorted views of it trouble the spirit and disorient the soul. To be "shaken in mind" is the opposite of "a sound mind" 2 Tim 1:7). The danger of troubling and disturbing teachings cannot be overstated. Divine influence is not found in the wake of such turmoil.
SPIRIT, WORD, OR LETTER. Other versions read, "by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us," NASB and "by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us." NIV The devil uses a variety of ploys to dislodge the believer from the moorings of faith.
Spirit. "A spirit" includes the idea of "doctrines of demons" (1 Tim 4:1), as well as false prophecy, like the word of Shemaiah to Nehemiah (Neh 6:10). Satan comes to men as "an angel of light," and his ministers "transform" themselves into "ministers of righteousness" (2 Cor 11:14). It should not surprise us, therefore, that some erroneous word concerning the coming of the Lord would come by means of a spirit.
Word. This denotes all manner of speech, whether preaching, teaching, or a pretended report of something that had been said by Paul. Any word that shakes the mind of God's people, or causes confusion in the ranks of believers, is a dangerous one.
Letter. This is a spurious or fake Epistle - one that came with Paul's name on it, but was really not from him. Among other things, this shows us the importance of knowing the spirit of what is written as well as the one through whom it is said to come. Already, the devil's disciples were circulating letters in the name of Paul, that caused confusion and darkness.
THE DAY OF CHRIST AT HAND. Other versions read, "as though the day of Christ had come," NKJV "to the effect that the day of the Lord has come," NASB "saying that the day of the Lord has already come," NIV and "to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here." NRSV The idea is not that the day of the Lord is nearing, for "the day is at hand" (Rom 13:12), and "The Lord is at hand" (Phil 4:5), and "the end of all things is at hand" (1 Pet 4:7). It may appear strange that Paul would warn believers not to consider "the day of Christ" at hand here, while he urges them to consider it in precisely that way in other places.
Here, the words "at hand" mean right away, or present with us right now. They are used in this sense in Paul's reference to his imminent martyrdom: "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand" (2 Tim 4:6). This will become apparent as we proceed through this Epistle. Some, persuaded the Lord either had already returned, or would immediately return, had ceased to work, becoming busybodies (3:10-12). Thus they had ceased to prepare for the Lord's return becoming indifferent to all productive activity.
Other versions emphasize that the day was represented as already having arrived: "had come," NKJV "has come," NASB "has already come," NIV "is already here," NRSV "is present," DARBY "is even now come," BBE "hath arrived," YLT "has already begun." NLT
The idea is that the day of Christ was either already here, or was so close that no further preparation was required. The impact of such a view would overly discourage those who were suffering for Christ, and put to sleep those who were not suffering for Jesus' name. That is the whole point of the words "at hand." The literal translation of the words would read, "as that the day of the Lord is now present." Robertson It is not that the Lord's return was drawing near, or that it could occur at any time, for that is aggressively taught elsewhere. This view made preparation pointless. It had the same effect as the teaching of Hymenaeus and Philetus, who taught "that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some" (2 Tim 2:18). Such teachings, including the reference of our text, place hope into the backward and lead people to believe there is no point to aggressive preparation and labor for the Lord. Faith can think in terms of the coming of Christ being "at hand." The mind, or intellect, cannot. The error of reference was an intellectual approach to Christ's return which thought in terms of time, rather than that of faith and hope, that think in view of glory.