Verse 6 is a harsh commandment. Spongers were to be denied fellowship. “We command you … in the name of … Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly.” This situation was somewhat different from that in 1 Corinthians 5, which was more serious in some respects. Here the command was to “withdraw”; with the Corinthians the command was to expel, that is, to excommunicate. Moreover, the Corinthian instruction was to the ecclesia, whereas this was a command to an individual regarding everyday living.
1 & 2 Thessalonians
This thought is in harmony with what Paul had just said. Not only were the Thessalonians being persecuted, but God knew what they were experiencing. Not only was He aware of their work of faith, their labor of love, and their patience of hope, but the persecution was occurring in His sight. How comforting! Now we see that, in addition, God knew the Thessalonians before they knew Him. Or, to state the matter more personally, God knows us before we know Him.
With the pagan religions consisting of long-standing myths about false gods handed down from generation to generation, anyone who wanted to search out truth from that source would only go back into a hazy, vague past. In contrast, the beautiful thing about the Bible is that the further back one goes, the more mathematical it is—exactly the opposite of the false religions. The Bible contains names, dates, geography, cities, and ages. Where else is there a religion like that? In order to know if a matter is true, we can turn to the original instructions of Jesus and the original words of the apostles and the prophets. What we find is precise and definite. As Bro. Krebs used to say, “It is a miracle to see the truth.” The truth is logical, but understanding it is miraculous because Satan has deceived the whole world and kept them in ignorance. Even very intellectual, intelligent people do not understand because God has not revealed truth to them.
Paul prayed exceedingly, night and day, to be permitted to return to the Thessalonians. He prayed without ceasing, as it were. By reading the Book of Acts and the other epistles, we know that he prayed for other ecclesias as well. No doubt he had a long prayer list. However, his prayers in regard to the Thessalonians were especially admirable because he himself had suffered persecution there and most certainly would suffer again if he returned. What a great motive and example of self-sacrifice! He wanted to “perfect,” or bring to maturity, what was lacking in their faith.
Paul introduced the subject matter of verses 13–15 not only because some of the consecrated had died but because the thought had become prevalent that the consecrated would live right into the Kingdom. Paul was trying to straighten out the misconception of the Thessalonians and also to set the order straight in regard to the consecrated being with Jesus. The sleeping saints would be with Christ ahead of those who were alive at his presence. Paul was assuring the Thessalonians that not only would those who died before Jesus’ return not miss out but they would be with Jesus first—they would receive their change prior to the ones who were alive and remaining. When some of the dedicated Christians died, the Thessalonians who had the wrong viewpoint wondered why they themselves were still alive, and they began to question their own relationship with the Lord.
To harmonize all of the Scriptures pertaining to the Second Advent, we must start with the premise that God knows what He is doing and what He is saying and that He does not contradict Himself. Therefore, we must view the subject in a cautious manner and not allow ourselves to be so impressionable that we just blabber words which do not make sense. The dramatic texts indicate that a period of time is involved with various activities. To be seated on a horse indicates that Jesus comes as a General, overcoming something—he will judge Babylon and tear down the system. To come seated on a white cloud with a sharp sickle in his hand means he is doing a Harvest work as the Chief Reaper (Rev. 14:14). To be seated on the right hand of the power of God means that he comes with dictatorial power and authority—with an iron rod (Rev. 2:27). He will brook no interference. His word will be law, and every knee will have to bow to him (Rom. 14:11).
It is profitable to think of this verse in two ways: despise not prophecy and despise not teachings. Especially here in this epistle, which contains a lot about prophecy, that thought should be included in the admonition. “Despise not instruction” is another way of expressing this verse, and the instruction includes heeding times and things in season for the end time. We should be particularly interested in prophecy about the end of the age because of the day in which we are living.
We should not neglect study or hearing the thoughts of elders. Since those who are given to works might neglect study, there is a danger in putting too much emphasis on works.
Paul was entreating the Thessalonians: “We beseech you, brethren, concerning the presence [Greek parousia] of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto him.” He was the apostle who showed, particularly, that at the end of the Gospel Age, the presence would be a period of time and that those who slept in Christ would be raised first. Later the feet members of the body of Christ would be invisibly and spiritually raptured as a group. As pictured by Elijah’s being taken up by a whirlwind, a class will be taken together. When John the Baptist was beheaded, he portrayed the last members of the body of Christ.
At the end of the age, there are two collective gatherings of faithful Christians: first, the dead in Christ and then the feet members at a yet-future date (1 Thess. 4:17). In between these events, saints who die as individuals do not sleep but are instantaneously changed (1 Cor. 15:51,52). When Paul uttered these words, however, he was probably thinking of himself and the brethren at Thessalonica, rather than the feet members especially, but he was quite aware of both.
If we were not familiar with Present Truth and the teachings of all the great Reformers, we might think of the “man of sin” as a literal being, as some wicked person, but it is the false religious system just as the “man of God” is the true Church, a collective body made up of component parts or “joints.” The ideal is the picture of Jesus as the head and the Church as the body parts. Similarly, the man of sin is an organization with a person (the pope) as the head and the corresponding component parts of the Antichrist system (the Papacy) as the body. The man of God is The Christ, The Elijah,with Jesus as head. The man of sin is the Antichrist, the Papacy, a religious system, with Satan as its head. As the head of the man-of-sin system, Satan works through Papacy, whereas Jesus, the head of the man of God, works through the congregation.
Other ecclesias were aware of the severe persecutions that were taking place in Thessalonica at that time. The patience and the faith of the Thessalonian brethren were apparent in their persecutions. The Thessalonians were solidly committed to serve God; they were not wavering. However, that does not mean “once in the truth, always in the truth.” In spite of their present situation, Paul was concerned.
Two types of Jews caused problems: (1) Some who came into the meetings as fellow Jews were not really consecrated and, in fact, proved to be enemies. (2) Others who came into the meetings were true Jews who did make a full consecration but subsequently turned against the truth. Paul addressed this second class as deserving a Second Death judgment. The first element will be judged in the Kingdom. The very fact they will have a resurrection shows they did not sin unto Second Death. In succeeding verses, Paul was also speaking prophetically, indicating that something along this line would happen in our day. In other words, he used the experience of the Thessalonian brethren to ominously imply that a somewhat similar development would occur in the Truth movement at the end of the age.