A Commentary by John Stott
2 Thessalonians 2:13-14. a)The apostle begins with a thanksgiving (continued)
Paul now gives a marvellously comprehensive statement of God’s saving purpose. As Denney rightly put it, here is ‘a system of theology in miniature’. In it the apostle alludes to the three persons of the Trinity, and in particular makes two parallel affirmations. The basic statements are as follows:
2:13 God chose you from the beginning to be saved through the sanctification of the Spirit.
2:14 God called you through the gospel to share in Christ’s glory.
We notice that, in relation to both God’s election and God’s call, Paul specifies the end and the means. God chose us ‘unto’ (*eis*) salvation ‘through’ (*en*) the Spirit’s sanctification, and God called us ‘unto (*eis*) the obtaining of Christ’s glory ‘through’ (*dia*) the gospel. We had occasion, when commenting on 1 Thessalonians 1:4, to note that the biblical doctrine of divine election has always perplexed Christian people. Yet, although it perplexes our minds, it greatly comforts our hearts, and it is entirely consistent with our experience. We know the truth of Jesus’ words ‘You did not chose me, but I chose you’ (Jn.15:16). For we remember, before God laid hold of us, how wilful, wayward and weak we were. There is, therefore, no option but to trace our salvation back beyond our ‘decision’ or ‘commitment’ (i.e. conversion) to the gracious initiative of God, and say ‘God chose us…God called us…’.
First, *from the beginning God chose you*. ‘From the beginning’ translates *ap arches*, which has strong manuscript support. Bruce Metzger explains that, nevertheless, the Editorial Committee of the United Bible Societies preferred the alternative reading *aparchen* (‘as firstfruits’) mainly because Paul uses the word on six other occasions. Yet ‘as firstfruits’ has no obvious meaning here, and the context seems to demand ‘from the beginning’ (Cf. Eph.1:4). Next, he chose us *to be saved* (in contrast to those who are ‘perishing’, v. 10, and will be ‘condemned’ v. 12), our ‘salvation’ embracing the fullness of God’s purpose to deliver us from the ravages and consequences of sin, culminating in our final, heavenly destiny. And the means by which he will accomplish this will be *the sanctifying work of the Spirit* (who indwells and transforms us) and our *belief in the truth* (13), for he opened our eyes to believe it, in contrast to those (10-12) who closed their minds to it and refused to believe.
Secondly, *he called you to this through our gospel*. Paul proceeds naturally from God’s eternal choice to his historical call. *To this* must mean ‘to this salvation just mentioned’, and *through our gospel*, shows that the gospel is the means by which God’s call comes to us and we respond to it. It is evident, then, that the doctrine of divine election, far from undermining evangelism, actually makes it essential, since it is through the preaching of the gospel that God calls us to himself. And the purpose of his call is *that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ* (14), the glory which (as Paul has expounded in chapter 1) will be seen at the Parousia, by which Christ’s people will themselves be glorified, and from which unbelievers will be excluded.
We need now to step back and survey this noble landscape. ‘God chose you from the beginning for salvation…God called you through the gospel for glory.’ There is nothing narrow-minded about the apostle Paul! His horizons are bounded by nothing less than the eternities of the past and of the future. In the eternity of the past God chose us to be saved. Then he called us in time, causing us to hear the gospel, believe the truth and be sanctified by the Spirit, with a view to our sharing Christ’s glory in the eternity of the future. In a single sentence the apostle’s mind sweeps from ‘the beginning’ to ‘the glory’. There is no room in such a conviction for fears about Christian instability. Let the devil mount his fiercest attack on the feeblest saint, let the Antichrist be revealed and the rebellion break out, yet over against the instability of our circumstances and our characters, we set the eternal stability of the purpose of God. We glance on to 2 Thessalonians 3:3 and declare with Paul, ‘The Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you…’.
Nevertheless, Paul’s confidence in God’s stability of purpose did not prevent him from taking sensible precautions. He did not conclude that because God had chosen and called the Thessalonians, and would establish them and bring them to glory, he and they could sit back and do nothing. On the contrary, he had previously sent Timothy to ‘establish’ them (1 Thess.3:2). Now he passes immediately from his confident thanksgiving first to an earnest exhortation to them to stand firm, and then to an equally earnest intercession that God will establish them.
Tomorrow: 2 Thessalonians 2:15. b). Paul continues with an appeal.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.