Also available as MP3: 2 Thessalonians 1:4-6 – I Don’t Mean to Brag
The Thessalonians were enduring persecution so patiently Paul boasted of them to others. You wouldn’t think it would be okay to boast about yourself though (Pr.27:2). Of course, when David boasted (Isa.17:34) he was boasting about what the Lord could do through him (v.45,46). And when Paul boasted (IICor.11:5) he too was boasting about the Lord too (10:8).
It must be okay to brag about others, though, since Paul did it (1:4). If it wasn’t, Solomon would have said “don’t let another man praise thee” (Pr.27:2). Of course, when we praise men in spiritual areas, we are praising the Lord for what He is doing through them. That’s why Paul praised the Thessalonians. Beloved, it is not a natural thing for faith to grow amidst tribulations (1:4). It’s natural for faith to be shaken instead of growing, or Paul wouldn’t have warned us not to let it happen (ITh.3:3). So when their faith grew, Paul knew it was the Lord’s doing!
How’d Paul know they were enduring tribulation with “patience”? Because most of them weren’t impatiently quitting their jobs! Some were thinking, “Instead of going to work and making myself vulnerable to persecution, why not hide and be safe?” We know this because Paul directed their hearts “into…the patient waiting for Christ” and then went on to talk about working for a living (IIThes.3:5-10).
“Manifest” (1:5) means not secret (Lu.8:17). A “token” is a sign (Ex.12:13; Mark 14:44). So Paul is saying the persecutions the Thessalonians were receiving was a sign of the righteous judgment of God, a manifest token or an obvious sign, that when God judges the persecutors He will do so in righteousness.
God is always eager men know that when He judges, He does so righteously, so He let men know He conducted a thorough, personal investigation of Sodom before snuffing out so many lives (Gen.18:20). And throughout the Old Testament said things like what we find in Psalm 19:9, to make sure men knew His judgments are righteous.
God planned to judge their persecutors with the Tribulation (1:6). You see, a token is often a sign of a covenant (Gen.9:12,13; 17:11), and their persecutors were Jews (Acts 17:1-8). The Jews had a covenant with God called the Law, a covenant that said God would punish them if they were bad. Their persecution was a sign of their rebel-lion against God, so it was a sign that when God judges them with the Tribulation He will do so in righteousness. This is similar to how Daniel mentions God’s righteousness three times in speaking of how God judged Israel with the captivity (Dn.9:7-14). God would have been unrighteous if He didn’t judge them when His covenant with them said He would if they rebelled against Him.
The “kingdom” here was the kingdom of God in heaven, the one your body can’t go to without being “changed” (ICor.15:50,51). But the subject of II Thessalonians isn’t just the Rapture, it is the pre-trib rapture. So Paul is talking about going to the kingdom of God in heaven in the pre-trib rapture. What made them worthy of this? Well, what made their persecutors worthy of the Tribulation? They had a covenant with God and they broke it. What made the Thessalonians worthy of the pre-trib kingdom instead? They never broke the law that they were never under (Rom. 6:15), so they were worthy of the rapture. God would be unrighteous to make them go through the Tribulation.
That’s what made them worthy of the pre-trib kingdom, but Paul is talking about being counted worthy of it. If the Rapture had come in Paul’s day, and they were taken, that would count them worthy of it, and when the persecutors were left, that would count them worthy of the Tribulation.
If that confuses you, compare how Paul told slaves that had believing masters to count their masters worthy of all honor (ITim.6:1). Since slaves in those days were mostly men who racked up too much debt and had to work it off, their masters were worthy of their honor, but slaves had to count them worthy of it by serving them faithfully. In the same way, the Thessalonians were worthy of the pre-trib kingdom, and when the Rapture took them and left their persecutors, they would be counted worthy of it.