The Life of Paul After Acts

What follows below is an attempt to figure out where Paul went after his first imprisonment in Rome.1 These travels of Paul are based on statements in Acts and the letters of Paul that indicate his intended or actual travels at this time. Especially helpful are the Prison Epistles since they were written during Paul’s two years in Rome, AD 60–62 (Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, Philippians; Acts 28:30), just before his release. Also helpful are the letters written after Acts and during the time of these travels (1 Timothy and Titus  in AD 66, 2 Timothy in AD 68). If Paul was released in AD 62 and wrote 2 Timothy just before his death (cf. 2 Timothy 4:6–8), then Paul’s life after Acts continued for 5 or 6 more years.

After the events in Paul’s life in Acts 28, Paul stood before Caesar (Emperor Nero) in Rome as promised (Acts 27:24), probably in AD 62. Tradition tells us that he was released from his imprisonment, probably due to his innocence (cf. Acts 23:29; 25:25; 26:32). Already in Rome, he could have visited the believers there as he intended (Romans 15:24, 28), having met some of them already (Acts 28:15–16; cf. 28:30).

Being on the western coast of Italy, Paul may have then taken the gospel further west to Spain (Romans 15:24, 28) and stayed there for some time, maybe a year or two (AD 62–64), taking the gospel where it had not gone before (cf. Romans 15:14–21). Or, if Philippians 2:24 and Philemon 22 indicate Paul’s haste to visit Philippi and Philemon, Paul’s trip to Spain may have taken place later. Either way, we lean on tradition and not an explicit statement in Scripture that the trip indeed took place. But tradition suggests that Paul went to Spain just after being released.

If Paul did complete a missionary trip to Spain, he could have then sailed east along the northern coast of Africa and under Cicily to eventually land on Crete where he and Titus evangelized the island (Titus 1:5). Leaving Titus there, he could have gone north to Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20) and visited Philemon in Colossae thereafter (Philemon 22).

Not stopping in Ephesus (cf. Acts 20:38), Paul sent Timothy there while Paul traveled to the region of Macedonia (1 Timothy 1:3). While on the way, he left some items at Troas (2 Timothy 4:13) and then stayed in Philippi as he intended (Philippians 2:24). Paul may have then stayed in Nicopolis during the winter as he had hoped (Titus 3:12). He could have also visited Corinth at this time (2 Timothy 4:20), or maybe he traveled through there after being arrested and taken to Rome. Though many did not stand by him at this time (2 Timothy 4:16), the Lord Jesus did (2 Timothy 4:17; cf. Acts 23:11). Tradition tells us that Paul stayed in the Mamertine Prison and was beheaded in AD 68.

  1. The years and timeline here is primarily based on traditional, conservative dating for the NT’s events and letters and especially on William Combs, “The Life and Ministry of Paul” (course notes, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, Spring 2007), 79, and Robet E. Picirilli, Paul the Apostle (Chicago: Moody, 2017), 241–62. []

Discouraged? Take Courage and Take Heart

Unbelievers persecute Christians throughout the world, and an unbelieving worldview is capturing America and bringing opposition to the doorsteps of our churches. In spite of the difficulties we as Christians face today, I simply want to say this: take courage and take heart.

How, you ask? Consider the Lord’s dealings with Paul in Acts 27:1–28:16.

In Acts 23:11, Jesus commanded Paul, “Take courage” (tharseō) and promised him that he would “testify also in Rome” concerning “the facts about Me.” This idea of “taking courage” is similar in concept to “taking heart” (eutheumeō) as it is found in Acts 27:1–28:16 (cf. Acts 27:22, 25, 36).

As the story goes, Paul and 275 other passengers found themselves in a “tempestuous wind, called the northeaster” (Acts 27:14). An angel appeared to Paul and promised that the only loss would be the ship itself (Acts 27:22–26). The passengers would live, likely something God “granted” to Paul in response to his prayers (Acts 27:24). As Jesus promised in Acts 23:11, so also the angel repeated in Acts 27:24: “you must stand before Caesar.” For these reasons, Paul twice told the men to “take heart” (eutheumeō; Acts 27:22, 25). After encouraging them again that God would save their lives, “they were all encouraged” (Acts 27:3). “Encouraged” here is the adjective eutheumos, related to the verb eutheumeō. It seems these men now shared Paul’s confidence that Paul’s God would save their lives despite their looming shipwreck.

And save their lives He did. Just as Paul promised that eating food would give the men “strength,” or better, “deliverance” (sōteria, a word often translated “salvation”), the food gave them strength to swim and float to the Malta shore where they were “brought safely” to the island (Acts 27:44; 28:1). “Brought safely” is from diasōzō, another word from the family of words for “salvation.”

But Paul’s trials were not over. A viper bit him, and the shipwreck left him and the rest without any provisions (Acts 27:41–28:4). But Paul miraculously survived and even healed many others (Acts 28:6–9). As a result, the islanders happily honored Paul and his companions with the provisions they needed for the journey ahead (Acts 28:10).

Paul sailed along the Italian coast and finally made it to Rome by land. Just before getting there, however, fellow Christians came down to Paul in order to escort him to Rome (Acts 28:11–15). As a result, “Paul thanked God and took courage” (Acts 27:15). “Courage” here is from tharsos, a noun related to the verb tharseō that Jesus used to command Paul to “take courage” in Acts 23:11. From salvation from shipwreck to the faces of fellow Christians, Christ kindly provided Paul with what he needed to possesses the courage He commanded him to have.

While Paul’s situation was unique, we can still learn something from him today: when we trust in the promises of God, we take courage and take heart to persevere. That may sound too simple to grab your interest, but it can be difficult to do in a world run by the devil, especially when the devil is in the details.

Consider just two promises for now. Christ promised that He will build His church, and He promised that our souls are secure in Him. Whatever this world may do to oppose the church and each of its Christians, like Paul, we should take courage and take heart that God and the gospel will always prevail. The church will go on, and come what may, we will one day be in heaven. Whatever you face today, and whatever the church faces as a whole, trust in the promises of God, and take courage and take heart.

Three Accounts of Paul’s Conversion and Commission in the Book of Acts

We find three accounts of Paul’s conversion in the book of Acts—Acts 9:1–19a, 22:1–21, and 26:9–23. Why? And what are the primary differences among them?

In answering why, if nothing else, Luke wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit, so we can conclude that Paul’s conversion was important to God and that He wanted it to be remembered by His people. In keeping with the book of Acts, Acts 1:8 announced the spread of the witness to Christ and His resurrection to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth. In taking the gospel beyond Samaria, Acts 9 records the history of Paul’s conversion through the pen of Luke. Acts 22 presents Paul’s conversion and commission from his own lips to the Jews, and Acts 26 does the same to the Gentiles in Caesarea. So, one might say Acts 9 introduces us to the primary apostle to the Gentiles, and Acts 22 and 26 gives us his witness to this conversion and commission before the Jews and Gentiles in keeping with the theme of the spread of the gospel in Acts.

In discovering the differences among the three accounts, we might first notice that each account details Paul’s encounter in Christ on the road to Damascus and his commission to be an apostle. Beyond that, what follows is a summary of the primary differences between these three accounts.

The difference in contexts was already noted. Acts 9 is a third-person account of Paul’s commission, Acts 22 and 26 first-hand accounts from Paul, and that to Jews and then Gentiles.

Acts 9:1–19a brings out the hesitation of Ananias to see Paul, something the reader himself might have had (Acts 9:9–16). But, knowing that he, too, spoke to the Lord and accepted Paul would have built the anticipation that others would as well (e.g., Barnabas and the apostles; cf. Acts 9:26–30).

Acts 22:1–21 contains a number of choice details by Paul to connect with his Jewish audience. He gives his Jewish background (Acts 22:1–5) and focuses on Ananias’s good repute, God’s revelation through him to Paul, and his miracle in curing Paul’s blindness (Acts 22:12–16), as if to give a Jewish witness to his commission. Tying Jesus to the Jewish God of the Old Testament, Ananias describes Paul as called by the Father (God) to know His will and see and hear the Righteous One (i.e., the Messiah). Paul also recalled a second commission by Jesus in the temple, as if to say that God through Jesus called him to the Gentiles from the most important place in the Jewish nation.

Acts 26:9–23 leaves out Ananias and Paul’s blindness altogether and summarizes Paul’s commission in terms of Jesus alone. In recalling this commission, this account gives the most detail for the gospel that he was to preach (Acts 26:18–23), a necessity in light of his Gentile audience.

We can only thank God for Paul and his role in taking the gospel to the world. May our lives as Christians be as his—radically transformed by Jesus from walking in darkness to spread the light of the glorious gospel of Christ.

The Geographical Spread of the Witness of the Gospel in the Book of Acts

The words of Jesus in Acts 1:8 announce where the witnesses of Jesus and His resurrection would go—to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the end of the earth. Acts 1–7 records the witness to Jerusalem, Acts 8 the witness to Judea and Samaria (cf. Acts 8:1, 14), and Acts 9–28 the witness to the end of the earth.

Looking at Acts 9–28 more closely, we see a progression of this witness moving further and further away from Jerusalem. Saul (Paul) is called to be an apostle to the Gentiles in Acts 9. Peter takes the gospel to the Gentile Cornelius in Caesarea in Acts 10. Peter reports back to Jerusalem in Acts 11 to confirm that God is saving the Gentiles. Then, the church is relieved from persecution through the death of Herod in Acts 12. In this way, Acts 9–12 functions to give us an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9), Jerusalem’s preparation for the salvation of the Gentiles at large (Acts 10–11), and God’s protection of Saul and the church while he was in Jerusalem at the time of Herod’s persecution (Acts 12; cf. Acts 11:27–30, 12:25).

Acts 13–14 then tells of Paul going to the Gentiles in Galatia, the beginning of the ends of the earth (cf. Acts 13:47). After a clarification by Jerusalem in Acts 15 that they were indeed accepting that God was saving the Gentiles through the gospel, Paul returned to the Galatian churches and planted others even further away from Jerusalem in Acts 15:36–18:22. Paul returned to these churches again for his third journey in Acts 18:23–21:16, spending much of his time in Ephesus (cf. Acts 20:31).

During this third trip, we are prepared for Paul’s witness to go even further. After a return to Jerusalem, Paul would go to Rome. Paul resolved to do just this (Acts 19:21; cf. 20:22–24; 21:4, 10–11), and Acts 21–28 tell us of Paul’s witness in three locations—Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome. In Jerusalem, Paul was arrested, leading to an address before the people and then the Jewish leaders (Acts 21:15–23:10). Acts 23:11 reports the Lord’s words to Paul, capping of his time in Jerusalem and preparing us again for Rome. God protected Paul (Acts 23:12–35), and before getting to Rome, Paul stood before three leaders in Caesarea—Felix (Acts 24:1–20), Festus (Acts 25:1–12), and Agrippa (Acts 25:13–27). Finally, they sent Paul to Rome.

Experiencing God’s protection in travels once again (Acts 27:1–28:16), Paul arrived in Rome and spoke before the Jewish leaders and a larger group of Jews as well (Acts 28:17–31). Paul’s final words and actions in Acts indicated that the witness to Christ would continue yet further. The Gentiles would hear the gospel, which kept Paul preaching it to all who listened (cf. Acts 28:28–31).

Luke somewhat leaves the readers hanging to wonder what took place after Acts 28. It’s as if he meant for his readers to keep on going from where Paul had stopped (though the NT seems to indicate Paul’s release and further travels)—taking the gospel even further, making disciples, and glorifying God that many would listen. May God help us and our churches as we continue this Great Commission!

Prophecy Is Not… Prophecy?

There is a prominent view of prophecy that God can apparently presently give revelations or visions but then leaves the interpretation of such to the prophet, potentially resulting in errant prophecy that was only partially correct. Explaining this view in brief, 1) if the term prophets in Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5 is simply an appositional title for the apostles (meaning they are one and the same), 2) if these apostles act as the NT counterpart to the OT prophets, and 3) if any other prophets in the NT can merely be a prophet like the pagan prophets in Crete (Titus 1:12) or someone who might know something about you (cf. John 4:19) or might know who did some unseen thing (cf. Luke 22:29), then we can identify all of the other NT prophets (that is, in all other instances besides Eph 2:20 and 3:5) as something other and less than the OT prophets and have them speak from some mere “spiritual influence of some kind.”1 This influence could be the Holy Spirit, but (hopefully not) one’s “own interpretation” could muck the revelation up, maybe getting at least some of the details right along the way. In fact, Agabus in Acts 21:10–11 is an example of just that—though he said the Jews would bind Paul and deliver him to the Romans, it was the Romans who took Paul from the Jews and delivered him to their courts (so says Acts 21:33; 22:29). But he got the general idea of Paul’s arrest correct.2

A biblical view of NT prophecy, however, is to see all of it (whether by apostles or their fellow recipients of revelation, the prophets; cf. Eph 2:20; 3:5) as parallel to OT prophecy, and furthermore, as something that ceased once the Scriptures were complete (cf. Rev 22:18–19). There was obviously a loose sense of the word prophet (cf. Titus 1:12) and a narrow, biblical sense that referred to men who infallibly spoke for God, such as Agabus in Acts 21. The narrative of Acts 21:10–11 (and Acts 21:4 for that matter) would have perfectly fit with the revelation given by the Spirit to Paul in Acts 20:22–23—that imprisonment and afflictions were awaiting Paul in Jerusalem. And in keeping with Acts 19:21, Paul’s Spirit-given resolve in Acts 21:1–6 and 21:7–14 was to go obediently to Jerusalem despite what waited for him there. The resistance to Paul in the abbreviated narrative in Acts 21:4 was most likely the same in the more detailed and clearer Acts 21:10–14—inerrant prophecies of affliction were given, resulting in the human resistance of the brethren to Paul’s resolve to go to Jerusalem, much like Peter’s human resistance to Jesus once he understood that Jesus would likewise suffer (cf. Mark 8:31–32).3 As for Agabus and the fallout of his prophecy, his summary version of the events could simply be explained as the Jews and Paul described the matter later—that the Jews seized Paul, resulting in his being taken by the Romans (Acts 24:6; 26:21; 28:17).4

Of course, if one is compelled to explain the modern phenomenon of errant prophecy as a biblical phenomenon, one might find examples of such in the Bible as well. Or, if one simply lets the OT be the context for the NT, the prophets are in a class all their own from one testament to the next. According to the brief explanation above, this is the better and more biblical option of the two.

  1. Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 1050. []
  2. This argument can be found by Grudem in his Systematic Theology, 1050–53. []
  3. David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (PNTC; Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 2009), 579–81. []
  4. See Bruce R. Compton, “The Continuation of NT Prophecy and a Closed Canon: Revisiting Wayne Grudem’s Two Levels of New Testament Prophecy” (paper presented at the Conference on the Church for God’s Glory in Rockford, IL on May 19, 2014), 11. Available online: http://ccggrockford.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Compton-Bruce.-A-Critique-of-Wayne-Grudems-Two-Levels-of-Prophecy.pdf. []

An Overview of Acts 20:17–38

The text of Acts 20:17–38 has a certain gravity that has endeared its words to the hearts of many. It contains someone’s last face-to-face words to a group of people (Acts 20:25, 38), summarizes what an excellent ministry should be (Acts 20:18–21, 25–27), and shows a resolve to live and die for the gospel (Acts 20:22–24, 33–35).

Moreover, this text is written deeply in the hearts of many pastors. Not only does Paul give us himself as an example for gospel service by reviewing his three-year ministry in Ephesus, but his charge to the Ephesian elders endures for pastors today: 1) pay attention to yourself, 2) pay attention to your flock, 3) watch out for false teachers inside and out of the church, and 4) do all of the above because God purchased the church with His blood (Acts 20:28–31; cf. 1 Timothy 4:15–16). These imperatives and their reason for obedience are central to the ministry of every pastor.

For a quick walk through this passage, Paul calls the Ephesian elders to him in Miletus, some 25 miles away (Acts 20:17–18a). His address can be broken into three sections, the first two sections each looking to the past and then the future (Acts 20:18a–21 and 20:22–24) and a third section looking back one more time to provide an example for the future service of the elders (Acts 20:33–35).

In the first section of Paul’s address, Paul reviewed his faithful ministry in Ephesus (Acts 20:18b–21) and then looked ahead to the conflict awaiting him in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22–24). What Christian does not want to echo the words of Paul in Acts 20:24? “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

In the second section, Paul looked back his ministry again, now informing the elders that he would never return (Acts 20:25–27). In light of this absence, Paul warned them to mind themselves and the flock, entrusting them all to God and His word (Acts 20:28–32). In the third section, Paul reminded the elders of his selfless service, an example for them to follow (Acts 20:33–35). Finally, the passage closes with prayerful and tearful goodbye (Acts 20:36–38).

All Christians can learn from the example of Paul in this passage. We all want to be faithful to God, come what may, and finish our service well. And, when we’re gone, what we’ve left behind is sufficient for others to repeat the disciple-making process. For pastors in particular, this passage is incredibly rich. Paul is a stellar example of living for the gospel, and his charge to the elders is one for us to remember today—watch yourself and the flock, a people God purchased with His blood.

 

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Motivation for Making Disciples: Jesus’ Words to Paul in Corinth in Acts 18:9–10

Jesus encouraged Paul in Corinth, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:9–10). These words are encouraging to us today as well, giving us multiple motivations to give the gospel to the lost.

We are motivated to make disciples by the presence of the Lord.

Paul could be fearless and vocal for the gospel because Jesus promised him, “I am with you.” As seen in the Great Commission (Matt 28:18), this promise is to us today and for exactly the same reason—making disciples. The presence of the Lord is that of the Lord Jesus who possesses universal authority and accompanies us until He comes again (Matt 28:18, 20). With His help, who can be against us to thwart His purposes?

We are motivated to make disciples by the protection of the Lord.

Paul was uniquely promised, “no one will attack you to harm you,” and Paul therefore suffered no injury in Corinth (cf. Acts 18:11–17). Already in the book of Acts, however, the apostles had been arrested and beaten, Stephen and James had been martyred, and the church experienced other persecutions as well. While we wish we could claim physical protection at all times when we go out for the sake of the gospel, sometimes God allows His servants to fall to an unholy sword. Even then, however, our soul is eternally safe. We should therefore “not fear those who kill body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28), even if it means suffering physical death. Being willing to uphold the name of Christ shows one’s faith to the end, and Christ Himself will acknowledge such a one before His Father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:32).

We are motivated to make disciples by the people of the Lord.

Paul was told in advance that some of the Corinthians yet to be evangelized were part of the “many” that were “my people,” that is, people who belonged to God (Acts 18:10). God knows the beginning from the end and who would respond to the gospel in faith. Their faith was patently certain and could be promised as such to Paul. Paul simply needed to give the gospel in order for them to believe. While we may wish that Christ would identify the cities where disciples will be made, we already have His promise to go to the nations of the world wherein He will build His church (Matt 16:18; 28:19). We simply need to give the gospel and make disciples of those who believe.

Churches Helping Churches to Keep Pastors in the Word

Acts 18:5 records, “When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.”

It might seem that Luke is merely telling us that Paul was evangelizing the Jews when Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth from Macedonia. A closer look at Acts 18, however, shows us how generosity from others can free ministers to further the work of the Lord.

When first in Corinth, Paul financially supported himself by making tents with Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2–3). Paul later told the Corinthians that though he had the right to receive compensation for his spiritual labors (1 Cor 9:3–12a), he did not make “use of this right” in order to keep from putting “an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor 9:12). Paul had them keep their money so they would not suspect him of serving for money alone.

As time went on, however, Paul apparently stopped his secular labors and engaged in spiritual labor alone. Paul went from making tents to being “occupied with the word” (Acts 18:5). The Greek word for “occupied” is used elsewhere by Luke to describe how crowds would “surround” someone (Luke 8:45), enemies that would “hem… in” their victims (Luke 19:43), and “holding” someone “in custody” (Luke 22:63). Whereas Paul previously split his time between a secular vocation and spending his Saturdays in the synagogue (cf. Acts 18:2–4), we might say that he was now able to be surrounded by, hemmed in, and held in custody by the Word. The ministry of the Word now dominated his attention.

But what did Timothy and Silas do to change Paul’s situation? The answer lies in what Paul told the Corinthians later: “I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way” (2 Corinthians 11:8–9). In Macedonia was Philippi, and Paul told the Philippians this: “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only” (Philippians 4:15). Paul was in Philippi before he came to Corinth (cf. Acts 16:11–34).

So, matching Acts 18:5 with 2 Corinthians 11:8–9 and Philippians 4:15, we could conclude that, when Timothy and Silas came from Macedonia, they brought a financial gift from the Philippians that freed Paul from making tents in order to make disciples alone.

From this example, we learn in principle that, whereas a church may not be able to fully financially support a pastor, sometimes God provides that financial support through others. And if those finances are provided, the church can rejoice and use them for his support.

 

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Faithful to the Finish: Overview of 1 and 2 Thessalonians

The author of 1 and 2 Thessalonians is Paul (1 Thess 1:1; 2:18; 2 Thess 1:1; 3:17) who wrote both of these letters during his during his 18 months in Corinth (cf. Acts 18:1–18a, esp. 18:11). In hearing of their welfare from Timothy (cf. 1 Thess 3:1–10), Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians. Paul then wrote 2 Thessalonians, perhaps after the courier of 1 Thessalonians returned and told Paul of how they continued to fare.

A snapshot summary of each book is given below and a survey of each book’s contents as well.1

The Message of 1 Thessalonians: If you are truly converted (1:2–2:12), even when you suffer (2:13–16), you will live as Christians (4:1–5:22) and persevere (2:17–3:13; cf. 5:23–24), knowing that the day of the Lord is coming (5:1–11). This is an apostolic message for all Christians today (cf. 1:1; 5:25–28).

1 Thessalonians was written to encourage believers concerning…

Conversion (1:1–10): Paul thanked God that the Thessalonians were truly converted (1:2–5) and that it was widely known because of it occurred in persecution and involved rejecting idols (1:6–10).

Criticism (2:1–12): Paul answered criticisms of error, impurity, deception, man-pleasing, etc. with the fact that he was like a parent who worked to serve his children.

Calamity (2:13–16): the Thessalonians were experiencing the same afflictions as the Jews in Judea, and their persecutors would be judged.

Continuing (2:17–3:13): Paul wanted to see them but was hindered (2:17–20). He sent Timothy and heard that they were persevering in spite of persecution (3:1–10). He prayed that they would continue in the faith and stand in perfection before the Father when Christ comes again (3:11–13).

Conduct (4:1–5:22): They were to abstain from immorality (4:1–8), keep to themselves, and work hard (4:9–12). They could be encouraged that the living and heaven-dwelling saints would be reunited at the Lord’s coming (4:13–18). The day of the Lord would come quickly, and they were live for salvation from this wrath (5:1–11). They were to honor pastors, be at peace, work with the struggling, do good in all things, rejoice, pray, give thanks, and hear when the Spirit speaks (5:12–22).

Conclusion (5:23–28): Paul prayed for them to conclude their lives by standing perfect before God (5:23–24) and gave his own request for prayer (5:25), a greeting (5:26), a command to read (5:27), and final prayer (5:28).

The Message of 2 Thessalonians: God will comfort you in suffering (1:1–12), especially if you are thinking correctly about the end (2:1–17) and living in light of that day (3:1–18).

2 Thessalonians was written to…

Comfort the discouraged (1:1–12): After introducing the letter (1:1–2), Paul thanked God for their growing faith and even spoke of boasting of their perseverance in suffering (1:3–4). Their suffering was for sanctification, and their persecutors would suffer when the Lord came again (1:5–10). Paul prayed that their faith and God’s power would be at work in them to glorify the name of Jesus (1:11–12).

Correct the deceived (2:1–17): Paul told them to remember his end-times teaching and to reject forged letters and false prophecies—the day of the Lord has not come because neither has the antichrist and the apostasy (2:1–5). The antichrist is presently restrained but will be revealed, deceive many, and be destroyed by Christ at His coming (2:7–12). In contrast to such a dismal picture, Paul thanks God for choosing and calling of the Thessalonians to salvation and thus prays for God to comfort and establish them in their faith (2:13–17).

Confront the disobedient (3:1–18): Having prayed for them and asking for prayer (2:16–3:5), whoever was still being a lazy busybody was to be excluded yet admonished as a brother (3:6–15). Paul prayed for the Lord’s peace, presence, and grace, and clarified that the handwriting present was indeed his own (3:16–18).

  1. For a helpful look at both the text and some helpful notes for 1 and 2 Thessalonians, see John MacArthur, One Faithful Life (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2019), 119-44. []

God’s Grace in the Midst of Rapid Leadership Change

From time to time, Luke records dual-episodes in Acts to show the similarities and contrasts between events in the life of Paul. We see this in Acts 17:1–9 and 17:10–15. In both instances (in Thessalonica and Berea), Paul and others evangelized (Acts 17:1–3, 10), people believed (Acts 17:4, 11–12), others persecuted the missionaries (Acts 17:5–7, 13), and Paul was forced to leave (Acts 17:8, 14–15). The contrast between the two is that the Berean “Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica” (Acts 17:11).1 That is, whereas the Thessalonian Jews were split in believing that Jesus was the Christ, the Berean Jews eagerly received the gospel at large.

Paul stayed in Thessalonica perhaps 3–6 months, and he was briefly in Berea as well. In both instances, just as the believers came to know the gospel, so also they had come to know Paul as a spiritual father who quickly had to leave. How did they process his departure?

1 Thessalonians was written shortly after Paul’s departure, and the letter is replete with how this quick departure was difficult. He had worked as a tentmaker in their midst and thus shared his very life with them (1 Thess 2:8–9). Paul mothered and fathered these believers in their newfound faith (1 Thess 2:7, 11). They believed the gospel in spite of the Jewish opposition and thus persevered together (1 Thess 2:13–16). Such bonds would have tightly tethered their hearts together as one.

Nonetheless, “We were torn away from you,” Paul recalled (1 Thess 2:17). What pain of heart this must have been. As a result, “We endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face… again and again, but Satan hindered us” (1 Thess 2:17–18). And why did he repeatedly attempt to see them again? Because these dear people were Paul’s glory, joy, and crown—his reward for service to show Jesus at His coming (1 Thess 2:19–20).

Unable to go himself, Paul sent Timothy in his stead, desperately wondering if the persecution was too much for them (1 Thess 3:1–5). Upon Timothy’s return, Paul found out that they were persevering, still thought of him kindly, and longed to see him (1 Thess 3:6–10). Of course they would. He had faithfully given them the gospel and nurtured them in the faith, taking nothing in return, and in spite of the persecution. In this was love—that Paul imitated Christ and gave himself in this way for his spiritual children. He prayed for them to persevere and for the Father and the Son to work in them until Christ came again (1 Thess 3:11–13).

Even though Paul could not return, as we saw, Timothy was regularly back and forth these early days (1 Thess 3:1–10; see also Acts 20:5). Besides this, the Thessalonians had respectable men who were over them, labored in study, and admonished them in the Word—in a word, elders (1 Thess 5:12–13). Thus, in Paul’s absence, God’s grace was to have other good men brace them up to keep running the race that their Lord had run before them. Perhaps we might assume that something like this situation was God’s grace to Berea as well.

From the above, we can see that, even when unexpected changes come about, and even when it concerns the leadership of the church, the Good Shepherd is not inattentive to His sheep. One man is not the church, and as gifted as he may be, Christ can guide His people through a change of leaders. What He did then He can do for us today. May God be likewise gracious to our own churches when we experience this kind of thing.

  1. All quotes ESV. []