Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
There will always be alarmists in the world and the church.
Those whose ears are alert and attuned for the latest bad news, or the most recent conspiracy theory; those who love to dwell on the bad news. These are they who are referred here in verse 2, who have spread this pessimistic news under the pretext to speaking for the Apostles. All this is a distraction from the truth and reality of what God has done, is doing, and will yet do.
The Writer here is at pains to beg his “brothers and sisters”—that wonderful familial relationship—not to pay too much attention to the alarmists. Yet, there is here some mention of someone who opposes God. A lesson from history worth bearing in mind is that no one really knows who the Writer had in mind; nor do we know whom the readers would have interpreted these as referring to. Maybe they just stand as a perpetual warning to us and every generation of believers; there will always be those who set themselves up and are even acclaimed by others with a sense of divinity—a clearly undeserved and utterly unwarranted notion—whose rule seeks to usurp the devotion rightly owed to God and to deceive and distract believers from the coming and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, there is a warning:
- First, beware those in any form of power—whether government, or church—who lack humility.
- Second, resist the values and ethos of those who claim ultimate power.
- Third, their aim, and the aim of their followers is to deceive and mislead.
- Fourth, the devotion of Christians is to be wholeheartedly focused upon the Lord Jesus Christ
Verse 4 paints the picture of an authority figure who seemingly despises all other authority except his own. This person—whoever it may seem to be, in any and every generation—is to be resisted. Their claims to power, morals, and ethics, are to be exposed.
The focus of the believer is the Lord Jesus Christ. This is made clear in verse 1 where the writer speaks of the ‘coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’. The names and titles given to Jesus here are particularly significant in this context.
First, Jesus—the incarnation of the Living God. The One who lived in Nazareth, ministered in Galilee and Judea, revealed the glorious love, mercy, kindness, and forgiveness of God. He loved to the very end, forgiving even as his executors nailed him to the cross. This is the way of Jesus and the calling of those who are his disciples.
Second, Lord—the Lord above all other lords. For the believer there is this singular confession—Jesus is Lord. God raised this Jesus from the dead, and exalted him to the highest place, giving him the name that is above every name. The disciple of Jesus accepts that Jesus alone is worthy of devotion. And moreover, the disciple of Jesus will test all other claims to lordship from authority figures, either in the government or the church, against the model of the Lord Jesus—love, mercy, kindness, forgiveness, generosity.
Third, Christ—God’s chosen king. To speak of Jesus as Christ is to recognize that he is God’s anointed one—anointed to be king, just as David was anointed by the prophet Samuel to be king. Whilst the title ‘Lord’ inevitably has a reach far beyond the church, subverting the claims of all other lords, the title Christ/king begins with the people of God, and then spreads each day with every act of service to this king out from the homes of believers, into the communities; acts of love, mercy and forgiveness.
The second passage within this lectionary reading highlights the place and position of those who are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and this is done with a high degree of thankfulness—“Thank God that in the midst of lies and deception, God’s love and mercy will prevail.”
First, believers live as reminders that God’s work is not yet complete (verse 13). Believers are “the first fruit for salvation”—note the “first fruit.” This clearly implies that there is yet more fruit to come. In this way, the believers live—often in a complex, confusing, and difficult context, as symbols of hope. “God has shown his mercy to us—God will surely show his hope to others.”
Second, the believers are reminded of the priority of proclaiming the good news (verse 14). It is worth bearing in mind that in the first century there was more than one version of ‘good news.’ There was the “good news” spread by the Roman Empire and was focused entirely upon the emperor and his exploits, stretching the now familiar notion of “fake news” to its limit (does this sound familiar?). However, the genuine and eternal good news concerns the Lord Jesus Christ. And what is the heart of this good news?
- It is good news of the Father’s love (“beloved by the Lord”).
- It is good news of the Father’s grace (“God chose you”).
- It is good news of hope (“the first fruits”)
- It is good news of salvation
- It is good news of complete transformation into the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ (“sanctification by the Spirit”).
- It is good news of the trustworthy faithfulness of God (“that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ”)