Introduction to 2 Thessalonians

INTRODUCTION TO

2 THESSALONIANS

Following up on his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote to give further clarification on how to live the Christian life in light of the return of Christ. The Thessalonians were called to stand firm and live useful lives, because the return of Christ might be in the distant future.

The Catacombs of St. John the Baptist in Thessalonica, part of a network of subterranean passageways within the city. The severe persecution of Christians ordered by Emperor Diocletian in early AD 303 affected  Thessalonica in 304. Christians hid, gathered for worship, and buried their dead in catacombs like this.

The Catacombs of St. John the Baptist in Thessalonica, part of a network of subterranean passageways within the city. The severe persecution of Christians ordered by Emperor Diocletian in early AD 303 affected Thessalonica in 304. Christians hid, gathered for worship, and buried their dead in catacombs like this.

CIRCUMSTANCES OF WRITING

AUTHOR: Paul is stated to be the author of 2 Thessalonians (1:1). The greeting also mentions Silvanus and Timothy, but Paul was the primary author (3:17).

BACKGROUND: See Introduction to 1 Thessalonians. While there are few indicators of the date and place of writing of 2 Thessalonians, it was probably written from Corinth around AD 50-51 shortly after 1 Thessalonians. The mention of Paul, Silvanus (Silas), and Timothy together in the salutation, as was the case with 1 Thessalonians (1Th 1:1), supports this conclusion. An additional support for this view is the mention of a previous letter, which was probably 1 Thessalonians (2Th 2:15).

MESSAGE AND PURPOSE

Paul wrote in part to encourage the Thessalonian believers to stand firm for the truth in the midst of persecution and to assure them that God would judge those who were afflicting them (1:6-9; 2:13-15). Apparently the Thessalonians thought they were already in the day of the Lord (2:2). Paul assured them that they were not, since certain end-time events had not yet taken place and was currently restrained the “lawless one” from appearing (2:6-7). This appears to be the primary impetus for the letter. The fact that some people in the Thessalonian church had stopped working may suggest that their incorrect view was leading to laziness and irresponsibility (3:10-11).

The letter is not long, and it does not give us a definitive outline of the entire Christian faith. Paul wrote to meet a present need, and the arrangement of his letter focused on local circumstances.

THE GREATNESS OF GOD: God loves people like the Thessalonians and has brought them into the church (1:4). He has elected them (2:13), called them (1:11; 2:14), and saved them. His purpose will continue to the end. It is interesting to see so clearly expressed in this early letter these great doctrines of election and call, that meant so much to Paul. We also see his doctrine of justification behind the references to God counting the believers worthy (1:5,11) and, of course, in his teaching on faith (1:3-4,11; 2:13; 3:2).

SALVATION IN CHRIST: 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 he has given them comfort and hope—two important qualities for persecuted people (2:16). The apostle prayed that the hearts of his converts would be directed to “God’s love” (3:5).

THE SECOND COMING: 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 (1:7-10). In the end God and righteousness, not Satan and evil, will be triumphant.

Paul made clear that the day of the Lord had not yet occurred. Several things must happen first—for example, “the apostasy” that occurs and the revelation of “the man of lawlessness” (2:3). Paul 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 a well-known part of Christian teaching (Mt 24:10-14; 1Tm 4:1-3; 2Tm 3:1-9; 4:3-4).

LIFE AND WORK: Paul had a good deal to say about people he called “disorderly” and who appeared to be idle, not working at all (3:6-12). This may have been because they thought the Lord’s coming was so close there was no point in working, or perhaps they were so spiritual-minded that they concentrated on higher things and let other people provide for their needs. Paul counseled everyone to work for their living (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 and not grow weary in doing good.

CONTRIBUTION TO THE BIBLE

Second Thessalonians continues and further amplifies some of the same themes as 1 Thessalonians: persecution, sanctification, and end-time events associated with the second coming of Christ. One important difference is that 2 Thessalonians describes the “man of lawlessness” who will be revealed in the end times and what restrains him from being revealed (2:1-12). The book also contains a lengthy discourse on the need for believers to have a proper work ethic to provide for their own needs (3:6-15).

STRUCTURE

The tone of Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians is markedly “cooler” than his first letter. In his first letter, Paul was enthusiastic about the Thessalonians’ progress in the gospel, and he offered calm advice about congregational life (1Th 5:12-22). In this second letter, though, Paul expressed grave concern about the spiritual state of the Thessalonian believers and gave them a sharp rebuke about congregational life (2Th 3:6-15). His style is typical of his other letters—a doctrinal section followed by practical exhortation.

OUTLINE

I.Introduction (1:1-12)

A.Salutation (1:1-2)

B.Thanksgiving (1:3-10)

C.Intercession (1:11-12)

II.Instruction of the Thessalonians (2:1-17)

A.Correction of a misconception (2:1-2)

B.Revelation of the man of lawlessness (2:3-10)

C.Judgment of unbelievers (2:11-12)

D.Thanksgiving and prayer (2:13-17)

III.Injunctions to the Thessalonians (3:1-16)

A.Call to prayer (3:1-5)

B.Warning against irresponsible behavior (3:6-15)

C.Concluding prayer (3:16)

IV.Conclusion (3:17-18)

2300-150 BC

Prehistoric settlement on the site of Thessalonica 2300

Founding of Therme at the head of the Thermaic Gulf 600

Cassander, king of Macedon, establishes Thessalonica at the site where Therme had existed, naming the new city in honor of his wife. 316

The Romans gain control of Thessalonica when Perseus, king of Macedonia, is defeated at Pydna. 168

First Jewish community in Thessalonica, emigrants from Alexandria 168-103

149-42 BC

Construction of the Macedonian leg of the Egnatian Way, a Roman military road connecting Thessalonica with the Adriatic Sea in the west and with Neapolis in the east 147-120

Thessalonica becomes the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia and is referred to as “the Mother of Macedonia.” 146

The Roman statesman Cicero spends six months of his self-imposed exile in Thessalonica. 58

Many Roman officials flee Rome and take up residence in Thessalonica during the Roman civil war. 49-48

Augustus declares Thessalonica a free city following the battle of Philippi. 42

5 BC-AD 33

Jesus’s birth 5 BC

Paul born in Tarsus of Cilicia AD 5

Paul studies with Gamaliel in Jerusalem. AD 15-20

Tiberius takes away Thessalonica’s status as a free city when opposition to increased taxation is expressed. AD 15

Jesus’s trials, death, and resurrection Nisan 14-16 or April 3-5, AD 33

Pentecost AD 33

AD 34-56

Saul’s conversion on the Damascus Road October, 34

Paul, Timothy, and Silas minister in Thessalonica, one of the earliest churches planted in Europe. 50

Paul writes 1 Thessalonians a few months after being forced to leave Thessalonica. 51

Paul soon follows up with a second letter to the Thessalonian believers. 51

Paul likely revisits the Thessalonian Christians as he visits the churches planted in Macedonia. 56

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