Chapter 2, Verse 13
In this verse, Paul is referring back to his actions earlier, especially in 6 and 7, where he tells them they came without flattering speech or seeking greed and power. He acknowledges that the Thessalonians didn’t accept it as mere words of men, but as from God.
He contrast their reactions with that of the Jews. The Jews did not accept the Gospel, and only on that, the rejected Christ himself, to the point of killing him, just as they had the prophets before them. Even now, they hinder Paul and the apostles from spreading the work.
Most translations read, ‘we were taken away from you’. The word translated for taken away is aphorphanisthentes. You might recognize our modern word orphan in there. However, the word has a broader meaning, it was just children who lost parents, but also parents who lost children. The later context is likely how Paul is explaining the way he feels about being a part from them.
Interestingly, here he says that Satan has blocked him from seeing the Thessalonians. We don’t know exactly to what Paul was referring here. THe word used for stop comes from a military term, in which, to stop an advancing army, soldiers would destroy the road, so that there would not be an easy way to pass. For whatever reason, he is unable to visit them again, and he considers this the work of Satan. He doesn’t always attribute hardships to Satan, but sometimes attributes reasons things happen to God, even if they are negative.
He rhetorically asks them the question who will be their crown and then answers that it is the Thessalonians, saying that when Jesus returns, they will be the crowning achievement of their ministry. He even repeats himself again in verse 20 to drive the point home.
Some commentators have put all of Chapter 3 together with verses 13-20 in Chapter 2 as one big apology (in the classic sense) for his not coming to see them. I think that makes sense in light of verse 3:1 starting with ‘therefore’ which reaches back to some previous thoughts. So, Paul is saying that while he in Timothy and Silas were in Athens, hearing about the troubles of the Thessalonians, and as they are a crown in his ministry, and as he (Paul) was blocked by Satan from visiting them, he could no longer stand to think of them alone or to find out how they were doing and finally sent Timothy to check on them.
I think this Chapter especially lays out the reason to believe that 2 Thessalonians was actually the first book, as I mentioned in the intro. It would seem to make sense that they established the church there, had to leave, heard of what was happening and sent Timothy with a letter (2 Thess), then Timothy reported back to Paul and Silas, from which they wrote the second letter, which is 1 Thessalonians.
Paul can longer resist and send Timothy to check in on them, and also to ‘strenthen and encourage them in faith.
These verses are hard to hear, or really to even understand, as a Christian in modern American. He tells them they shouldn’t be concerned that they are suffering and being persecuted, because Paul told them this would happen. He points out again, ‘we kept telling you in advance that you were going to suffer affliction’, and reminds them that they shouldn’t be surprised that it happened. Our current level of persecution is limited to someone saying happy holidays instead of merry Christmas. I wonder how successful our churches would be, how many people would actually show up on Sundays, were our pastors to warn us that affliction is coming, and it be true. If it caused actual risk or pain to go to church, how many would we lose? Somewhat ironically, in places today that are persecuted, where there is real risk, the church is thriving and growing, not sitting fat and happy as here in America, or withering away as in other parts of the ‘Western’ world.
He repeats again his anguish and fear as to what was happening in Thessalonica.
However, the report is good. Timothy finds that they are holding strong and longing to see Paul as much as he longs to see them. This comforts him and he tells them we can now ‘really live’, if they continue to stand firm.
Paul ends this section with a long prayer of gratitude and thanksgiving; thanking God for answering their prayers for the Thessalonians and asking that they will increase in and abound in love (for each other, and for all people, just as they are loved).
The Letters to the Thessalonians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC))
1 and 2 Thessalonians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (IVP Numbered))
The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Bible Speaks Today)
Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)
1-2 Thessalonians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
1-2 Thessalonians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series)
The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)