Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #1180 MP3 Audio File Video File

Stand Firm and Hold On

2 Thessalonians 2:15-17

Delivered 08/20/23

Good morning, Bereans. This morning we continue our study of 2 Thessalonians and will be finishing chapter 2. So far in this chapter we have seen that the Thessalonians were shaken because they had gotten word that the Day of the Lord had already happened. We have talked much about the Day of the Lord and have stressed that it was in fact the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. But this past week I received an email from a man that informed me that I am wrong about that date. He wrote: "I must tell you that God told me the fire of Malachi 4, the day that is going to burn as an oven, happens August 12th, 2024 by way of a solar flare. Now all prophecy has been fulfilled so how is this possible? Will you reconsider a future return of Christ when you see this happen?"

Most of the church today is looking for a future Day of the Lord that destroys the earth. And most see 2 Thessalonians 2 as talking about events future to us. But this would make it mean absolutely nothing to the people to whom Paul wrote it.

Paul assures the Thessalonians that the Day of the Lord had not yet come and would not come until the rebellion came and the man of lawlessness was revealed. Then once he was revealed, the Lord would kill him with the breath of his mouth and bring him to nothing by the appearance of his coming. This is the Second Coming which was a divine judgment that would be brought against those who were persecuting the first- century Thessalonian believers.

since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Yeshua is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7 ESV

Their persecutors were to be repaid and they were to get relief when the Lord returned in the Day of the Lord. So, how does the August 12th, 2024 date help the Thessalonians?

Then in verses 13-14 Paul tells them about the electing grace of God in their lives. This stands in dramatic contrast to the previous verses about God's judgment on those who do not believe the truth. The unbeliever would be destroyed in a fiery judgment, but they, having been chosen from the beginning to obtain the glory of the Lord Yeshua the Christ, would be saved.

In verse 15, Paul returns to the principal concern of this section—the stability of the Thessalonian Christians in the face of the false teaching.

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.  2 Thessalonians 2:15 ESV

"So then"—is Ara oun. Ara is a coordinating or inferential conjunction ("so then, consequently"), but here it is strengthened with oun, another conjunction (inferential and transitional) meaning "therefore, then." Ara points to the inference drawn from the preceding context and oun to the transitional focus or exhortation that should result. [Walter Bauer, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Fredrick W. Danker, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1979, electronic media.] Because of the coming rebellion and man of lawlessness and the deception that he causes, they were to stand firm.

"So then, brothers, stand firm"—"brethren" is often used by Paul as a transition to a summary statement. "Brothers" is from the Greek word adelphos from alpha (as a connective particle) and delphus (the womb). The fact that he calls them "brethren" indicates that these people had experienced the new birth. It is also a sign of endearment.

"Stand firm"—is from the Greek stērizō. This word is found only in the New Testament. It is a late koine Greek word. It is a military term that means to be at a point in a war where it is necessary to stand firm, to be stabilized. It is used of a soldier who will not budge from his post no matter how bad the battle gets. "Stand firm" is a present tense command, indicating that this isn't a one-time need. We could translate it, "Keep standing firm."  Paul is telling them to remain at their post and not move—there must be no compromise with error or sin, doctrine, or conduct.

This call for stability is in contrast to being shaken or alarmed in verse 2.

not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.  2 Thessalonians 2:2 ESV

"Shaken in mind"—is saleuo, which means "to agitate, shake, unsettle, cause to waver." It is a present passive infinitive which speaks of a continuing occurrence by an outside agent. It was used of moving away from something, like a ship which was suddenly torn away from her moorings by strong winds and waves.

This exhortation could be understood as a call to stability and faithfulness in the light of the false teaching they were hearing and the persecution they were experiencing.

The means for stability is found in the command to "hold to." "Hold to" is the verb krateo, which first means "to be strong, mighty," hence, "to rule, be master, prevail." From this it came to mean "to hold on to something strongly or tightly so that it cannot be lost or taken away." Both "stand firm" and "hold on" are in the continuous present tense and the imperative mood, the mood of command.

The focus is on the object to be held tightly to ("the traditions that you were taught by us"). "Traditions" is from the Greek pardosis, which means "that which is handed down or handed over." This term, pardosis, is used in several senses: Negatively, it is used in the New Testament of the teaching of the Jewish Rabbis.

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Yeshua from Jerusalem and said, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat." He answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? Matthew 15:1-3 ESV

Let me give you a little history to help you understand what is going on here. From the end of the Book of Malachi to the beginning of the Gospels, there is about a 400-year time period. And it was in that time period that the Pharisees, the scribes, and the synagogue all came to pass. That's really where the scribes and Pharisees got their power. They would stand before the people and read the Hebrew Scriptures, and then they would make comments on the Scriptures. Their intentions were very good: They wanted the people to walk in obedience to the Law. The problem was they did not trust that God could do that through people. They believed that they had to artificially make it happen, so they became very specific about what it meant to observe the Law.

For example, when they were dealing with issues of the Sabbath, they would define very clearly: You can do this, but you can't do that. Then somebody would raise the question, "Well, can I do this?" And they would say, "Well, you can walk 10 steps, but you can't walk 15 steps." They had a very detailed list of the do's and don'ts in order to observe the Law. This became known as the "oral tradition;" it also became known as the "tradition of the elders"—the "oral law." About 200 years after Christ, the "oral law" was actually written down and was known as the Mishna, which still is a significant document for orthodox Jews. But at this time, it was still just an oral law, but it was very binding in the minds of the people. As a matter of fact, their oral law was as binding as the very commandments of God.

We can see here that their tradition did not come from the Law of God. There is nothing in the Law about washing your hands when eating. And they would actually break the Law of God to keep their tradition. The Lord is here rebuking the Pharisees because they had raised their religious traditions above Scripture.

Paul does not mean tradition as it is often understood in modern English in the sense of mere human customs that one can simply accept or reject. And he doesn't use it in the way the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church use it to put a great emphasis on the traditions that have been handed down from the early centuries of the faith. But often, these traditions supersede the Bible in authority.

Traditions such as doctrines like transubstantiation, the immaculate conception of Mary, praying to the saints, purgatory, and other teachings have no basis in Scripture. These churches point to verses like verse 15 in our text to justify their emphasis on church tradition.

Paul uses pardosis in our text of the teachings handed down by the apostle and his missionary team which in turn had been handed down to them by the Lord. He calls them, "the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter."  Notice what he says in chapter 3.

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Yeshua the Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.  2 Thessalonians 3:6 ESV

The only traditions that are valid traditions are the traditions of the word of God, the traditions of the apostles, and the apostolic traditions. The inspired word of God is our only source of spiritual truth.

"The traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter"—this phrase, "either by our spoken word or by our letter" clearly contrasts with 2:2 where Paul tells his readers not to be quickly shaken or disturbed by false teaching that comes to them through spirit or spoken word. They were

not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.  2 Thessalonians 2:2 ESV

"Spoken word"—is a reference to the teaching the apostle gave when they were in the city (1 Thess. 3:4; 4:1–2; 5:1–2; 2 Thess. 2:5; 3:10), while the "letter" refers to the first correspondence sent to the Thessalonian church. They were to hold tightly to the truths Paul had taught them. They were to cling to these as the source and means for standing firm against not only all forms of false teaching but against the various storms of life, regardless of their source.

As I said earlier, "hold on" is the verb krateo, which means "to hold on to something strongly or tightly so that it cannot be lost or taken away." Let me illustrate this for you in the life of Henry Dempsey. In a New York Times article from September 4, 1987 entitled " PILOT IS SURVIVOR IN FREAKISH MISHAP," we find the story of Henry Dempsey's flight.

Henry Dempsey was flying his 15-passenger Beechcraft 99 turboprop from Lewiston Maine to Boston. At 4,000 feet he heard a noise in the back of the plane where the rear stairs are. He turned the controls over to his co-pilot and walked back. The plane hit turbulence, knocked him against the door and it fell open.

Dempsey was sucked part way out, fell face down on the steps, grabbed the railings as he fell, and lay upside down on the stairs as the plane cruised at 190 miles per hour at an altitude of 4,000 feet. Henry said he hung "partially in the aircraft and partially out'' for about 10 minutes before the plane landed. The co-pilot thought he had fallen out and diverted the flight to a nearby airport. When he landed, they found him with his face 12 inches off the runway and with his hands so tight around the rails that his fingers had to be pried open. Believers, this is the kind of hold we need to have on the teachings of the word of God.

Paul is telling the Thessalonians that they need to stand firm and hold on in the midst of persecution, the rebellion, the man of lawlessness and false teaching. And the way they could stand firm was by holding on to the Word of God with a death grip.

Does this call to stand firm apply to us? The Day of the Lord and the man of lawlessness are not in our future; they existed in the first century. So, can we apply this teaching and do we need to apply this teaching to us today? Over and over Paul told the believers to stand firm. To the Corinthians he wrote:

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 1 Corinthians 16:13 ESV

To the Galatians he wrote:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 ESV

To the Philippians he wrote:

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. Philippians 4:1 ESV

He is calling for loyalty to the Lord. The world is full of Christians on the retreat, Christians giving in to the pressures of the culture, Christians living in sin. We need to hear this as much as the first-century saints did. Paul gives us more insight to how we stand firm in this text to the Philippians. Notice that he tells them to stand firm "in the Lord." This a call for a Christ-centered life, for living in dependence upon the Lord and His strength.

Notice what Paul says in Ephesians 6.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Ephesians 6:10-13 ESV

The word "stand firm" here is the Greek word histemi. Our word stērizō comes from the perfect tense of histemi. Ephesians 6 clarifies what Paul means in Philippians 4:1 by "In the Lord."

We are not fighting Satan, demons, or gods today, but as believers, we are in a battle. Evil men will always oppose the things of Christ. We constantly battle to walk in righteousness. We battle the flesh which is always pulling us down. We all have personal trials and troubles that cause us to break down in terms of trust or that make us nervous and anxious and cause us to worry or feel vengeance or to carry bitterness. The family and marriage are under attack today. Life is a struggle. And as Christians, we battle the worldview and regulations of non-believers. But we (twenty-first century believers) are not fighting "against powers, against the world forces of this darkness, or against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." That battle was fought and won by our Lord Yeshua two thousand years ago.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Ephesians 6:10 ESV

"Be strong" here is literally "be continually strengthened." In the original text, it's in the present tense. The passive verb suggests that they are not the ones who strengthen themselves. They are continually dependent on the Lord to strengthen them.

The prepositional phrase, "in the Lord," denotes the sphere from which the strength comes, namely, in the Lord or in union with the Lord. Paul's command to be strong in the Lord rests on his first two chapters where he makes it clear what it means to be in the Lord. The phrase "in the Lord" refers to Christ and not to God, which is consistent throughout this Epistle.

The strong Christian is one who has come to see more and more of his own weakness and propensity towards sin. That awareness drives him to depend all the more on the Lord's strength for anything and everything. Notice what Paul tells the Ephesians.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. Ephesians 6:11 ESV

The words "of God" denote a genitive of origin and indicate that God provides the armor. Please keep that in mind. They are to put on the armor so they can stand." Stand" is a key word in this section. It's a military term for holding on to a position that is under attack. Believers, we are to hold our position; we are to stand theologically against all attacks. And to stand we have to have on the armor of God.

Do you remember where Paul was when he was writing this letter? Paul was in a prison in Rome as he writes this letter. And we know that he was in chains.

for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. Ephesians 6:20 ESV

So, he was chained. And he had standing before him and around him a Roman soldier.

So many have suggested that Paul got the idea of putting on the full armor of God from the armor of the Roman soldier. That may be, but it also may be that he was thinking about Isaiah 11:5, which says of the Lord:

Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. Isaiah 11:5 ESV

Or Isaiah 49:

He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified." Isaiah 49:2-3 ESV

Or, maybe Isaiah 59:

He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. Isaiah 59:17 ESV

What do these texts from Isaiah have in common? If you're familiar with Isaiah, you will recognize immediately that Isaiah 11 is the great chapter of the Messianic king which depicts how he's going to come and establish his kingdom. Isaiah 49 is one of the great Servant of Yahweh songs. And Isaiah 59 is a Messianic chapter; it has to do with Christ. All three passages, then, are passages that speak of the Lord Yeshua, the Christ as the warrior king of God.

The fact that he draws this description from the Old Covenant Messianic passages suggests that he's really thinking of Yeshua as the warrior. We are in Him, therefore, we have His strength, His power, and His authority in the trials of life as we trust in Him.

The armor is just a graphic way of saying what Paul says in Romans 13.

But put on the Lord Yeshua the Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13:14 ESV

In other words, Christ Himself is our armor. What does Paul mean by "put on Christ"? "Put on" is from the Greek enduo, which means "to put on clothes," or "envelope in." It has the idea of a garment which is wrapped around oneself, and the Greek word is used literally this way in a number of places in the New Testament.

Enduo here is an aorist imperative middle. An aorist imperative calls for a specific, definite, decisive choice: "Do this now, at once, once for all." The middle voice indicates the subject performs an action upon himself or herself. So, believers are called to once and for all put Christ on as a garment, to play the part of Yeshua. Paul is saying, "Become like Yeshua Christ, act like Him. This is what Paul said in Ephesians 5.

Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.  Ephesians 5:1 ESV

John put it this way:

whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.  1 John 2:6 ESV

Believers, we will be able to stand firm when we cling to the Scriptures, when we put on the Lord, when we become imitators of Him and walk as he walked.

Let's move on. In verses 16-17 Paul offers the first prayer of the letter in the form of a wish or desire. Though his words here are technically a prayerful wish rather than a prayer, they undoubtedly represent what he prayed and to whom he prayed (cf. 1 Thess. 3:11). Paul asked God to do two things in the Thessalonian Christians. First, he wanted God to comfort their hearts. Second, he asked God to establish them in every good word and work. 

Now may our Lord Yeshua the Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 2 Thessalonians 2:16 ESV

This prayer reveals a great deal about Paul's theology, especially his Christology and Trinitarian perspective of God or the Godhead.

Robert L. Thomas writes, "The two persons are one God as shown by several structural features in vv. 16, 17:                                                             

(1) The pronoun autos ("himself," v. 16) is singular and probably should be understood as emphasizing both persons—"our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father himself" (cf. 1 Thess. 3:11). It could read, "Now may Himself our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father." Quite interesting.                                              

(2) "Loved us and … gave us" (v. 16) represents two singular participles whose actions are applicable to both the Son and the Father. The singular number is explained by Paul's conception of the two persons as one God.                           

(3) "Encourage and strengthen" (v. 17) are likewise singular in number though they express the action of a compound subject. This grammatical feature is attributable to the oneness of essence among the persons of the Godhead (cf. John 10:30). Paul conceived of Jesus Christ as God in the same full sense as he conceived of God the Father. No other explanation of this unusual combination of grammatical features is satisfying. [Robert L. Thomas, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, New Testament, Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1976-1992, electronic media.]

Paul here elevates the Lord Yeshua the Christ by using His full title and mentioning Him before the Father.  Unlike the majority of the verses where both the Father and Yeshua appear together, the name of the Lord Yeshua the Christ is placed in first position.

Then Paul says, "who loved us." This points in general to the work of God the Father and the Son and forms the basis or foundation for the eternal comfort and good hope that God (Father and Son) are able to give. All that we are and have is because God loves us.

"Eternal comfort"—"comfort is from the Greek paraklēsis which means "comfort or encouragement." Paul puts the future of the Thessalonian believers (and all believers) in strong contrast with those previously described as perishing (2:10-12). They are eternally condemned but believers have eternal comfort.

"Good hope"—this specific form is only used here in the New Testament. Let me give you the biblical definition of hope because the word "hope" has come to have a different meaning today from that which was originally used in the New Testament. Today it indicates something of contingency; an expectancy that something will happen, but there is some question as to whether or not it will really occur. We say, "I hope it doesn't rain," or, "I hope I can make it to next payday," indicating some uneasiness or uncertainty about the future. But this is not the New Testament usage. In the New Testament, it indicates an absolute certainty about the future, an attitude of eager expectancy, of confidence in God and his ability to do what he has promised. The Greek term used here is elpis, which refers to a confident expectation. It generally has a future focus.

If you are brave enough to talk to others about the preterist view, you have most likely heard this question: "Where is my hope?" There seems to be a great confusion today about what the church's hope is. Is our hope to be snatched physically off the face of the earth? I think that most Christians would say, "Yes!" So, when you tell them that the Second Coming is a past event, they feel as if they have lost their hope.

The Bible definitely teaches that the coming of Christ was a blessed hope:

waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Yeshua the Christ, Titus 2:13 ESV

Here is the problem—the second coming of Christ was the hope of the first-century church, therefore, it is a hope that has been fulfilled. We live in a different age than the original recipients of the New Testament letters.

What Is Our Hope Today? For all of us who have placed our trust in Yeshua the Christ, our hope is heaven. Remember what we said: Biblical hope is not finger-crossing. It is a confident expectation of good things to come.

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  2 Corinthians 5:1 ESV

Whether this is talking about our physical bodies and our spiritual bodies or is it talking about the covenants, using "body" to speak of them, our future home is heaven. Believer, some day we will physically die; and when that happens, we will not go out of existence. We will not go to the Lake of fire.  We will go to heaven.

It's good hope because it is absolutely certain, based on God's promises. It's also good because it isn't based on our merits or performance but rather on God's undeserved favor. This "eternal comfort and good hope" is "through grace"—nothing can encourage the heart and bring stability like a firm grasp on God's grace. It is grace that saved us, it is grace that keeps us, and it is grace that will enter us into God's eternal presence.

In Romans 15:4, Paul combines the ideas of encouragement and hope as in this verse,

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.  Romans 15:4 ESV

Here the encouragement and hope are understood as the fruit of the message contained in the Scripture of the Tanakh.  Believers, God gives encouragement and hope to his people through his truth in Scripture. It seems as though the Scriptures are really important in our lives. We should read them.

comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.  2 Thessalonians 2:17 ESV

Believers, because we have hope, we can comfort our hearts. Comfort was not something offered in Greek society. Several ancients echoed the words of Theognis, "Best of all for mortals is never to have been born, but for those who have been born to die as soon as possible." 

Believers are encouraged to do and say "good things." Paul's concern is to encourage and strengthen the Thessalonians in the midst of their persecutions and their battle against erroneous teaching.

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