Notes on Prayer: 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12; 2:16-17

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12; 2:16-17

In the previous study, we looked at Paul’s references to prayer in 1 Thessalonians, and saw how they were focused on two primary themes: (1) Paul’s relationship to the Thessalonian believers, and (2) Paul’s (apostolic) ministry as a missionary and preacher of the Gospel. The Thessalonians were asked to pray for Paul (and his fellow missionaries) in their ministry work, while Paul prays for the Thessalonians, in relation to his work of preaching the Gospel—that is, he gives thanks to God and makes request for the Thessalonians, that they will continue to demonstrate the positive results of their acceptance of the Gospel.

We see much the same in 2 Thessalonians, both in the introduction (exordium, 1:3-12) and the concluding exhortation (3:1-15). These sections bracket the central section of the letter (probatio) that deals with the specific issue addressed by Paul. Thus, the references to prayer in 2 Thessalonians are more integral to the deliberative rhetoric of the letter. The main issue of the letter, on which Paul wishes to persuade the Thessalonians, involves a point of eschatology—the nuance of which is difficult to recapture at this far remove. The eschatological emphasis is clearly expressed in the introduction. The thanksgiving (1:3-4) mentions the suffering and persecution faced by believers (part of the end-time period of distress); the exordium proper (1:5ff) makes abundantly clear that the end-time judgment by God is at hand, and that the return of the Lord (the exalted Jesus) will soon occur. It is in this light that Paul speaks of praying for the Thessalonians:

“(It is) unto this [i.e. for this reason] that we speak out toward (God) always over you, that you might hold up (as worthy) of th(is) calling, and (that) our God would fulfill every good consideration of goodness and work of trust in power, so (that) the name of our Lord Yeshua would be honored in you, and you in him, according to the favor of our God and (our) Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed.” (vv. 11-12)

The main focus of his prayer, according to this statement, is summarized by the phrase “that you might hold up (as worthy) [a)ciw/sh|] of th(is) calling”. The verb a)cio/w derives from the context of something being measured (in value) on the balance-scales, bringing up the balance to match a specific weight/value. What believers are measured against is the calling (klh=si$)—that is, the call of God to salvation. For early Christians, salvation was understood primarily in an eschatological sense—i.e., being saved from the coming Judgment—and that is very much the sense here, as the context of vv. 3-12 makes quite clear. Specifically, we read in the preceding verse (v. 10):

“…when he should come—to be honored among his holy (one)s, and to be regarded with wonder among the (one)s (hav)ing trusted, (in) that they trusted our witness to you—on that day.”

Note the clear eschatological context: “when he should come (i.e. return of the exalted Jesus from heaven)…on that day”. His appearance means judgment and punishment for the world, but salvation for those who have trusted in the Gospel—the preaching of the Gospel here specifically defined in terms of the ministry work of Paul and his colleagues (“our witness to you,” cf. above). The focus of Paul’s exhortation for the Thessalonians is that they will remain faithful to the end, showing themselves worthy of the salvation that is to come. Through this faithfulness, the exalted Jesus (together with God the Father) will be given honor when he appears.

The specific eschatological issue addressed by Paul in chapter 2 continues to be debated by commentators. It involves the expression “the day of the Lord” (h( h(me/ra tou= qeou=), and, in my view, Paul’s concern is to draw a clear distinction between the end-time suffering believers are enduring and the “day of the Lord”. Both are end-time events, but they should be treated as distinct stages in the eschatological sequence. The suffering of believers is part of the end-time ‘period of distress [qli/yi$]’ which precedes the “day of the Lord” proper. The latter denotes the moment when God appears (through His Messianic/heavenly representative [Christ]) to usher in the great Judgment on humankind; at this time, the wicked/faithless ones will be punished, while the righteous (believers) will be rescued and saved. Paul introduces this eschatological discussion in vv. 1-2 (the partitio, where he makes his point), before demonstrating and arguing the proof (probatio) of it in vv. 3-15.

The latter portion of the probatio (vv. 13-15) is framed as a declaration of thanksgiving (to God) and an exhortation (for believers) to remain faithful until the moment of Christ’s return. This exhortation is followed by a wish-prayer (peroratio) for the very purpose (and goal) he had expressed:

“Now he—our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed—and God our Father, the (One hav)ing loved us and (hav)ing given us a calling along of the Ages, and a good hope in (His) favor, may He call along your hearts and make (you) firm in every work and good account.” (vv. 16-17)

The “calling along” (para/klhsi$, vb parakale/w) is related to the “calling” (klh=si$) in 1:11 (cf. above), and this calling is to be understood as the call to salvation—i.e., the hope (e)lpi/$) of deliverance from the coming Judgment. Through the favor (xa/ri$) of God, we, as believers, were called to salvation (eternal life); and Paul’s prayer is that God (along with the exalted Jesus) would continue to “call along” our hearts all the way to the end, strengthening us (vb sthri/zw) in every important way. Such strengthening and help is necessary due to the suffering believers face—and will continue to face—during the end-time period of distress.

The closing exhortation and conclusion to the letter (chap. 3) follows this same thematic emphasis, but adds the aspect of the Thessalonian believers also praying for Paul (cf. above). The persecution faced by Paul and his fellow missionaries is part of the same end-time suffering faced by the Thessalonians themselves. The two sides of the prayer-relationship—between Paul and the Thessalonians—are captured in verses 1-2:

“For the remainder [i.e. in conclusion], may you speak out toward (God), brothers, over us, (so) that the account of the Lord might run (unhindered), and might be honored, even as (it gives honor) to you, and that we might be rescued from the improper and evil men—for (there is) not trust (present) among all (people).”