|2 THESSALONIANS |
(thehss ssuh loh' nih uhnss) This letter claims to have been written by Paul (2 Thessalonians 1:1), and the style, the language, and the theology fit in with this claim. Early writers like Polycarp and Ignatius seem to have known it, and it is included in the lists of New Testament books given by Marcion and the Muratorian Canon. The letter claims to have Paul's signature (2 Thessalonians 3:17). Most scholars agree that this is a genuine letter of Paul written to the Thessalonian church not long after the first letter. The situation presupposed by this writing is so similar that there cannot have been a long time between the two writings, perhaps only a matter of weeks.
In recent times some have argued that this is not a genuine letter of Paul. They argue that in 1 Thessalonians the second coming of Christ is seen as very near, whereas here it is to be preceded by the appearance of the man of lawlessness and other signs. This is not a serious objection, for Christians have often held both these points of view; there is no reason why Paul should not have done so. That the teaching about the man of lawlessness is unlike anything else in Paul is of no greater force, for nowhere else does Paul face the contention that “the day of the Lord has already come” (2 Thessalonians 2:2 NIV).
The exact date of Paul's mission to Thessalonica is not known, and the same is true of his letters to the very young church there. Most scholars agree that 2 Thessalonians must have been written not more than a year or two after Paul and Silas left the city. The church was apparently enthusiastic, but clearly the believers had not as yet matured in their faith. Paul wrote to committed Christians who had not progressed very far in the Christian life.
The Greeks of the first century were not a stolid race. We see their enthusiasm and excitement expressed in the riots when the first Christian preachers visited them. Such a riot broke out in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-8,Acts 17:13). Those who became Christians during this time did so with verve and enthusiasm. However, they had not yet had the time to come to grips with all that being a Christian meant.
The opening salutation spoke of grace and peace as coming from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:2). Throughout the whole letter Christ is seen as in the closest relationship to the Father. This is indicated by the fact that we are sometimes uncertain whether “Lord” means the
Father or the Son, as in the expression “the Lord of peace” (2 Thessalonians 3:16). The greatness of Christ is seen in the description of His majestic return with the angels when He comes in judgment (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10). There is not a great deal in this letter about the salvation Christ has wrought, though there are references to the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8,
2 Thessalonians 2:14), to salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:13), and to the “testimony” of the preachers (2 Thessalonians 1:10). It is plain enough that Paul had preached the good news of the salvation Christ had brought about by His death for sinners, and that the Thessalonians were so clear on this that Paul had no need to go over it again.
They were not allowed to study the meaning of their new faith in peace and quietness (2 Thessalonians 1:4). While they exulted in what the new relationship to God meant, they apparently did not take seriously enough the demands of Christian teaching, particularly in two areas. These areas included the second coming of our Lord and that of daily living. Some of them had come to believe that “the coming of our Lord” was at hand, or had even begun (2 Thessalonians 2:2). Some of them had given up working for their living (2 Thessalonians 3:6-13), perhaps because they held the view that the Lord's coming was so close that there was no point in it. Paul wrote to settle them down a little, while not restraining their enthusiasm.
The letter is not a long one and does not give us a definitive outline of the whole Christian faith. Paul wrote to meet a present need, and the arrangement of his letter focuses on local circumstances.
Perhaps we can say that there are four great teachings in this letter:
1. the greatness of God,
2. the wonder of salvation in Christ,
3. the second coming, and
4. the importance of life and work each day.
God loves people like the Thessalonians and has brought them into the church (2 Thessalonians 1:4). He has elected them (2 Thessalonians 2:13), called them (2 Thessalonians 1:11,
2 Thessalonians 2:14), and saved them. His purposes last through to the end when they will be brought to their climax with the return of Christ and judgment of all. It is interesting to see so clearly expressed in this early letter these great doctrines of election and call, which meant so much to Paul. We may see also his doctrine of justification behind the references to God counting the believers worthy (2 Thessalonians 1:5,2 Thessalonians 1:11) and, of course, in his teaching on faith (2 Thessalonians 1:3;
2 Thessalonians 4:11;
2 Thessalonians 2:13;
2 Thessalonians 3:2).
Salvation in Christ is proclaimed in the gospel and will be consummated when Christ comes again to overthrow all evil and bring rest and glory to His own. This great God loves His people and has given them comfort and hope, two important qualities for persecuted people (2 Thessalonians 2:16). The apostle prayed that the hearts of his converts would be directed into “the love of God” (2 Thessalonians 3:5), which may mean God's love for them or their love for God. Probably it is God's love for them that is the primary thought, but Paul also notes an answering love from the new believers. There are repeated references to revelation (2 Thessalonians 1:7;
2 Thessalonians 2:6,2 Thessalonians 2:8). While the term is not used in quite the same way as in some other places, it reminds us that God has not left us to our own devices. He has revealed what is necessary and has further revelations for the last days.
The second coming is seen here in terms of the overthrow of all evil, especially the man of lawlessness. Paul made it clear that Christ's coming will be majestic, that it will mean punishment for people who refuse to know God and who reject the gospel, and that it will bring rest and glory to believers (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10). In the end it is God and good that will be triumphant, not evil.
In view of God's love issuing in election and call, it is interesting to see Paul's stress on God's judgment. He spoke of God's righteous judgment (2 Thessalonians 1:5) and felt that God will in due course punish those who persecute the believers and will give the believers rest (2 Thessalonians 1:6-7). But others than the persecutors will suffer in the judgment. Those who refuse to know God and those who reject the gospel will receive the consequences of their actions (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). Eternal issues are involved when the gospel is preached, and Paul would not allow the Thessalonians to miss these.
But when would it all take place? From
2 Thessalonians 2:2 we see that some of the converts had misunderstood either a “spirit” (i.e., a prophecy or a revelation) or a “word” (oral communication) or a letter (which may mean a genuine letter from Paul that was not understood correctly, or a letter that claimed to be from Paul and was not), with the result that they thought it would all take place very soon. In fact, they thought Christ had already returned. Of course, the glorious appearing of Christ had not taken place yet, but “the day of the Lord” was a complex event, with quite a number of features. They evidently felt “the day” had dawned, the events had begun to unfold, and all that the coming of Christ involved would very soon be accomplished.
Paul made it clear that this was not so. There were several things that must happen first; for example, “the rebellion” that occurs and the revelation of “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). He did not explain either. He was probably referring to what he had told the Thessalonians while he had been among them. Unfortunately, we do not know what he said then, so we are left to do some guessing. That a rebellion against the faith will precede the Lord's return is clearly a well-known part of Christian teaching (Matthew 24:10.;
1 Timothy 4:1-3;
2 Timothy 3:1-9;
2 Timothy 4:3-4). Some manuscripts read “man of sin”(instead of “lawlessness”), but there is no real difference in meaning for “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). The Bible does not use the term man of lawlessness elsewhere, but clearly he is the same as the one called “antichrist” (1 John 2:18). Paul was saying that in the end time one will appear who will do the work of Satan in a special way. He will oppose the true God and claim divine honors for himself (2 Thessalonians 2:4).
Paul spoke of that which remains (2 Thessalonians 2:6) and He who restrains (2 Thessalonians 2:7), and that which will be removed before the man of lawlessness is revealed. We do not have enough information to know precisely what is meant, and many suggestions have been made. Perhaps the best is the rule of law which may be personified in the ruler. It could be illustrated in the Roman Empire (personified in its emperor) and in other states. When this is finally removed, the time of the lawless one will come. But Paul's important point is that believers should not be rushing into premature expectations. In due course these things will take place, and God will do away with all the forces of evil (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10).
Paul had a good deal to say about people he calls “disorderly” and who appear to be idle, not working at all (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12). This may have been because they thought the Lord's coming was so close there was no point in it, or perhaps they were so “spiritual minded” that they concentrated on higher things and let other people provide for their needs. Paul counseled all to work for their living (2 Thessalonians 3:12). No doctrinal emphasis, not even that of Christ's return, should lead Christians away from work. People able to work should earn their daily bread. Believers are to work for their living and not grow weary in doing good.
Timothy had just come to Paul from Thessalonica with fresh news (1 Thessalonians 3:2). Paul saw that the troubles he dealt with in the first letter were still present. So he wrote once more to rebuke the lazy (2 Thessalonians 3:10) and to encourage the downhearted. There was a new error about the second coming, with some saying that the day of the Lord had already come. Paul set these people right, teaching them that evil will flourish when the man of lawlessness appears, but that they should look beyond that to the certainty that in due time Christ will return and defeat every force of evil. Christians have been heartened by such teaching from that day to this.
I. Salvation (2 Thessalonians 1:1-2).
II. Church Leaders Pray for the Church (2 Thessalonians 1:3-12).
A. Growth in Christian faith, love, and perseverance inspire thanksgiving (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4).
B. God is just and will help His people who suffer injustice (2 Thessalonians 1:5-7).
C. Christ's return will provide ultimate justice (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).
D. Prayer helps God's people fulfill their purposes and glorify Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).
III. Christ's Return Will Defeat Satanic Forces (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).
A. Despite deceptive reports, Christ has not returned (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).
B. The man of lawlessness must appear before Christ returns (2 Thessalonians 2:3-8).
C. Deceived followers of lawlessness will perish (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).
IV. Election Leads to Thanksgiving (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17).
A. God chose us to share Christ's glory (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).
B. God calls you to firm commitment to His teachings (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
C. Encouragement and hope comes from God's grace (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).
V. God Is Faithful (2 Thessalonians 3:1-5).
A. God's evangelists need our prayers (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).
B. God is faithful to protect His people (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
C. God's people are faithful to follow His will (2 Thessalonians 3:4-5).
VI. God Disciplines His People (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).
A. God's people must not become lazy busybodies (2 Thessalonians 3:6-13).
B. Disobedient people must receive brotherly discipline (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15).
VII. Concluding Greetings (2 Thessalonians 3:16-18).