2 Thessalonians: 3:1-5 (the Evil One)

map of greece2 Thess 3:1-2

(2 Thess. 3:1-2 ESV) Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you,  2 and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. 

Again, Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles, asks for prayers from the humble babes in Christ in Thessalonica.

He asks, first, for prayer that the “word of the Lord” (the gospel) will be quickly received by those he preaches to. He prays for the gospel before he prays for himself — of course.

He then asks for deliverance from evil men — which likely includes the false teachers that triggered the need for this letter.

“For not all have faith” is a bit of a surprise. How does this fit? To me, it’s Paul being wistful. He wishes all would come to faith in Jesus, but not all do — and the result is conflict and the use of worldly power to attempt to silence the gospel.

2 Thess 3:3-5

(2 Thess. 3:3-5 ESV) 3 But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.  4 And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command.  5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. 

I should have combined 2b with 3a — contrary to the verse splits. That is, Paul’s thought is “For not all have faith, but the Lord is faithful.” The Greek has the same wordplay: “For not all have [pistis (noun)], but the Lord is [pistos (adjective)].” Although people may disappoint and even reject the gospel to their own destruction, God does not disappoint. His faithfulness can be counted on and is enough.

In the ancient system of patronage, which defined many social relationships as well as religious and governmental institutions, the patron was expected to demonstrate fidelity toward his or her clients, which was understood, at least in part, as the patron’s “protection” of the client. A person or even a nation could be under the protection (Gk. pistis or Lat. fides) of another. In the present text, the Lord is viewed as the patron/protector in his faithfulness to the persecuted believers.

Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos, 2002), 337.

(Note the use of pistis to mean faithfulness to a patronage relationship (charis or grace), very similar to Paul’s references to God’s faithfulness (pistis) to his covenant with Abraham.)

The “evil one” is surely Satan, although some translators prefer “evil.” The Greek is unclear, and top flight commentators disagree.

There is also a promise that the Lord will guard them from evil (or more likely “the Evil One,” in light of the definite article here and the apocalyptic tone of ch. 2; see John 17:15).

Ben Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 242.

The same ambiguity appears in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:13), which could be “deliver us from evil” or “deliver us from the Evil One.” And the same ambiguity shows up several other times in Matt. It may well be that to the First Century Jewish mind, Satan was so prominent in their ethical thinking that “Evil One” and “evil” were essentially synonyms.

It appears likely that Paul had taught the Thessalonians to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and so he borrows a phrase from Jesus that would be especially meaningful to the church, which likely recited the Lord’s Prayer weekly if not more often.

The modern trend is to reject belief in a personal Satan, on the theory that our individual brokenness and weakness are more than sufficient to explain our evil behavior. On the other hand, Jesus and the NT authors seem to clearly believe in a personal Satan. Again, it’s argued that the language is accommodationist, that is, Jesus and his disciples are speaking in language familiar to their listeners/readers, using “Satan” as a metaphor for the evil that is in us all.

Personally, I think we’re letting our Enlightenment worldview color our readings. Paul clearly believes in the reality of Satan, demons, and spiritual powers, principalities, and authorities. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each record the temptations of Jesus by Satan.  And it’s not all that hard to believe that there were demonic powers behind Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and many such earthly powers. In fact, it’s not that hard to imagine demonic powers involved in both our political parties. (Please refrain from attacks on the candidates in the comments. I’m really tired of the political season and long past ready to move on.)

We’ve covered the biblical case for demonic beings in considerable detail in the Atonement series.

Atonement: The Powers in the Old Testament

Atonement: The Powers in the New Testament, an Introduction

I find the case persuasive — and essential for understanding what is being said in countless scriptural passages. And these demonic beings are routinely associated with political bodies and rulers. In the First Century, the Greek and Roman gods weren’t just gods. They were the gods of a city or nation. When Rome defeated another nation in war, it was perceived as a defeat of the losing nation’s gods by the Roman gods.

Just so, when Jesus was tempted by Satan, Satan claimed dominion over the kingdoms of the world, and offered Jesus rule should Jesus just bow down and worship Satan. Why would Satan have dominion over the nations? Because the nations were all connected to their own gods — and each national god answered to the Prince of Demons, Satan.

Regarding Gal 4:1-7, Wright has written,

This son-sending and Spirit-sending God is the one true God, and they have entered into a relationship of mutual knowing with him, with God taking and retaining the initiative. How, then, can they want to go back to the ‘weak and beggarly elements’, the stoicheia, the local or tribal deities who had previously kept them under lock and key?

We note in passing that Paul is here lining up the Torah along with the pagan landlord-gods; the contrast is between the true God, now fully revealed in the new Exodus as YHWH had been freshly revealed in the first Exodus, and the pagan gods. This is a typically Jewish thing to do, to line up the Exodus-God against the pagan deities; and Paul has described the Exodus-God as the son-sending, Spirit-sending God. It is as though he is saying, you either have this God, known in this way, or you have paganism.

N. T. Wright, Paul: Fresh Perspectives, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2005), 98.

Neither Saul of Tarsus nor Paul the Apostle would have supposed one had to choose between the partial analyses offered by Genesis 3, Genesis 6 and Genesis 11: human rebellion, dark cosmic forces and the arrogance of empire all belonged together. A thoughtful and scripturally educated Pharisee could have figured that out already.

But for Paul all of these were seen afresh in the light of the gospel. The fungus that had been growing on the visible side of the wall could now be seen as evidence of the damp that had been seeping in from behind. The worrying persistent and ingrained sin of Israel, not merely of the nations, was the tell-tale sign that the principalities and powers of Sin and Death had been at work all along in the covenant people, as well as in the idolatrous wider world.

N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 4:763.

To modern Christians, the Evil One is the Prince of Demons, a single evil being who may be little more than a metaphor. But to Paul, Satan was the ruler over the national gods of all nations that had not submitted to Jesus, i.e., all the world other than the Kingdom. Hence, the wickedness of Rome is not just the lust for power that drove Rome to conquer the world. It was also the evil designs of the powers that lay behind the Caesar, the military, and the pagan priests. Satan was ultimately pushing the Roman government away from its God-given agenda to bring peace and to protect the innocent from the wicked. It became the bringer of war and the oppressor of the innocent. Satan really could promise the kingdoms of the world to Jesus because they had all rebelled against God and were under Satan’s influence.

However, hearkening back to chapter 2, the unbelieving Jews rejected the warnings of Jesus and instead rebelled against Rome, using Satan’s methods to gain Satan’s “peace” — measured in Jewish blood. It’s hardly surprising the Jews chose to anoint Simon bar Giora as king — a man who killed thousands of fellow Jews to gain power and who proved to be just as oppressive a dictator as Vespasian.

[Doubtlessly the greatest political song ever written.]

We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgment of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again

The change, it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the fold, that’s all
And the world looks just the same
And history ain’t changed
‘Cause the banners, they are flown in the next war

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
No, no

I’ll move myself and my family aside
If we happen to be left half alive
I’ll get all my papers and smile at the sky
Though I know that the hypnotized never lie
Do ya?

There’s nothing in the streets
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Are now parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
Don’t get fooled again
No, no


Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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One Response to 2 Thessalonians: 3:1-5 (the Evil One)

  1. Dwight says:

    These verses could have just as easily been written about those who were attempting to bring the saints into Judaism. “For not all have faith, but the Lord is faithful”, would have described Paul himself before he was converted to Christ, which is where the verses end up in vs.5. “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”
    There is direction from God towards the love of God and ultimately towards faith in Christ.

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