Introduction to 2 Thessalonians

It is thought that this letter was sent to Thessalonica in A.D. 51, maybe just a couple of months after the first letter. For more background on the city of Thessalonica and the church there, read my introduction to 1 Thessalonians.

[The belief that the Day of the Lord had begun] not only furnished a new argument for the idle but rekindled the fears of the fainthearted. If the Day of the Lord had come, no time remained to acquire the holiness and the faith, hope, and love on which Paul had insisted in his first letter (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 5:8). The wrath reserved for unbelievers would certainly overtake the Christians as well! When the elders saw that the crisis was more than they could cope with effectively, they sent word to Paul by the first of their number who had occasion to journey to Corinth [where Paul, Silas, and Timothy were] (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:11, “For we hear that …”).

Paul’s intention was not to introduce new truths but to remind the Thessalonians of the oral instruction the apostle had given while still in their midst (2:5). …

What is particularly significant in this second letter is the role assigned to “tradition” both in the discussion of the day of the Lord and in the treatment of the idle. In the first instance the Thessalonians are urged not to be unsettled in their convictions because of some prophetic utterance or even a letter purporting to be from an apostle (2:1-2); the tradition of teaching delivered to the church remains normative for the testing of doctrine (2:5: cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21. At the conclusion of chapter 2 Paul writes: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2:15). Similarly, the offense of the idle in the congregation is twofold: not only were they living in idleness, but their conduct indicated a rejection of “the tradition that you received from us” (3:6). That the second letter is itself a repository of the tradition Paul makes clear when he says: “If any one refused to obey what we say in this letter, not that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed” (3:14). — The New Testament Speaks, by Glenn W. Barker, William L. Lane, and J. Ramsey Michaels — Harper & Row, Publishers (1969)

__________

[When Paul wrote his second letter to the believers in Thessalonica] there was still much among them to be commended. Unlike those at Corinth, they had grown in grace; their faith had “grown exceedingly,” and their love for one another “abounded” (1:3). Not only that, but they were enduring fierce persecution with “patience and faith” (1:4).

When Paul wrote his first letter to them he wrote in part, evidently, to allay their fears that those of their loved ones who had died in Christ might thus miss the Rapture. Explaining the plan of God as to this, he pointed out that the Rapture would include the whole Body of Christ, both living and dead, and that it would precede the Day of the lord and the outpouring of His wrath.

Evidently erroneous teaching as to this latter was already incipient at Thessalonica at this time, that he should write on it so emphatically as he did in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5.

By now this teaching had gained ground, however, and with persecution raging, some of them had been led to believe that the Day of the Lord was “at hand” (2:2). Indeed, it seems that a letter had even been forged, to make it appear that Paul himself not taught this.

It may well be that those who thus confused the Thessalonian brethren were Jewish believers. Jewish hopes had been earthly in sphere, and they may well have confused the Rapture with our Lord’s return to reign on earth at the close of the Tribulation. And since Paul evidently expected to be alive at the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:17) they apparently concluded that the Day of the Lord had already begun.

It would follow from this, of course, that they would be called upon to endure the most horrible suffering this world has ever known or ever will known until that time (Daniel 12:1; Matthew 24:21). Only after this pouring out of the bowls of God’s wrath, the argument went, would the Lord come to receive His own to Himself.

It is this error that the Apostle refutes in the strongest terms in his second letter to the Thessalonians. — Stam, pages 108-109

__________

The principal aim of the two epistles was to recall the Thessalonians to hold fast the heavenly hope which the Apostle had taught them. They were “called on high” to a greater glory than that of Zion. [Paul] reminded them that the “Day of the Lord”—the present day is man’s day and it is darkness—was to be preceded by the appearing of the Anti-Christ (2:3) and the False Prophet (2:9), and that prior to their destruction at some unrevealed point of time, the Thessalonian believers both living and dead would be caught away from the earth and its kingdoms and glories into the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, there to be with Him, and from thence to descend with Him and with all His saints to execute the judgment of the Great Day. The Thessalonians appear to have lost the hope of this rapture; for, while in the first epistle their faith and hope and love (1 Thessalonians 1:3) are applauded, in the second only their faith and love are praised (1:3). — Williams, page 948.

Resources used in this study

bereanbiblesociety.org for online messages by Ricky Kurth (and the notes that accompany those messages), pastor of Faith Bible Church in Steger, Illinois

Ryrie Study Bible, by Charles Caldwell Ryrie — Moody Press (1985)

Commentary on the Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians, by Cornelius R. Stam — Berean Bible Society (1984)

2 Thessalonians, by W.E. Vine — Thomas Nelson Publishers (1996)

William’s Complete Bible Commentary, by George Williams — Kregel Publications (1994)

This entry was posted in 2 Thessalonians. Bookmark the permalink.