After Paul and Silas endured a great conflict in Philippi, their second missionary journey took them to the nearby Macedonian city of Thessalonica (Acts 16:11-17:9). They ministered in Thessalonica for just three weeks. The brevity of their service there was not indicative of an ineffective ministry or an unresponsive people. The Thessalonians proved the genuineness of their conversion by enduring hardship and persecution for the gospel (1 Thess 1:5-8; 3:3-5). After Timothy returned from Thessalonica, he met Paul in Corinth with news that the Thessalonians remained strong despite their Christian hardships (Acts 18:5; 1 Thess 3:6-10). The news from Timothy prompted Paul to write 1 Thessalonians. Paul followed up with 2 Thessalonians to reemphasize the glory of the church’s sufferings, the certain judgment of their opponents, and the fact that the Lord’s return was yet in the future. To portray God’s judgement at the return of Christ, Paul used language the Old Testament prophets used when they described the Day of the Lord.
(1) In 2 Thess 1:8, Paul described fire as the means of God’s wrath, echoing Israel’s prophets. In the final chapter of his prophecy, Isaiah sketched a framework of the final judgement when God would save His faithful ones and destroy the wicked. “Look, the LORD will come with fire,” Isaiah said, “His chariots are like the whirlwind—to execute his anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire” (Isa 66:15). In Jeremiah 10, the prophet confronted the people of Judah for their idolatry and lamented that pagan nations had consumed God’s people. Jeremiah beseeched God to change course and pour out His wrath on those who made the land desolate rather than chastising His people yet again (Jer 10:25). Paul told the Thessalonians that their endurance of persecution authenticated their participation in God’s kingdom (2 Thess 1:3-5). He went on to encourage the church that in His wrath God would repay their opponents with a fiery affliction. What Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied concerning the judgement, Paul interpreted in light of God’s glorious revelation in Christ. Those who rejected Christ would suffer God’s wrath.
(2) In 2 Thess 1:9-10, Paul noted that at the judgement, the wicked would be spatially separated from the righteous, reflecting imagery found in Isaiah 2. Isaiah prophesied that on the Day of the Lord, the Lord would exhibit His wrath toward Israel for their idolatry and divination. Isaiah exhorted the people to flee to the rocks and take refuge in the dusty caves away from the terror of the Lord and His glorious presence (Isa 2:10, 21). The prophet condemned the people for their pride and prophesied that they would be brought low before the Lord when He came to judge those who rejected His instruction. Paul wrote that when the Lord Jesus and His powerful angels were revealed from heaven (2 Thess 1:7), those who opposed the Thessalonians would be sentenced to everlasting destruction “away from the Lord’s presence and from His glorious strength” (2 Thess 1:9).
(3) In 2 Thess 1:7, 12, Paul described the glory of Jesus in accord with the prophets’ statements about the glory of the Lord on the day of judgement. In Isaiah 49, the prophet addressed the nations surrounding Israel and urged them to understand that Israel was the Lord’s servant, the people through whom He would glorify Himself (Isa 49:3). Malachi also prophesied that the Lord was jealous for His name to be recognized as glorious among the nations (Mal 1:11). Isaiah prophesied that at the judgement, some will mock, saying, “Let the LORD be glorified, so that we can see your joy!” (Isa 66:5). The prophet noted that the Lord would speak from His temple to repay those who spoke mocking words (Isa 66:6). Paul encouraged the Thessalonians that on the day of Christ’s return, His name would be glorified among them and they would be recognized by the Lord as His people—despite what their opponents had done to them (2 Thess 1:7, 12).