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.
CIRCUMSTANCES OF WRITING
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
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).
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
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)
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
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
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