The New Testament book of 2 Thessalonians was written to clear up misunderstandings regarding the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he had helped them to grow in their faith by comforting them and encouraging them by affirming the absolute reality of Christ’s return. However, only a few months after that first letter had been written, word came from the church at Thessalonica that some had totally misunderstood Paul’s teachings regarding Christ’s Second Coming. When Paul said that Christ could return at any moment, some in the church at Thessalonica took this statement so literally that they stopped working at jobs, and simply waited, rationalizing their idleness by pointing to what Paul had said! When the daily reality of the continuing persecution of the church at Thessalonica was added, many there thought that each day could be the “Day of the Lord”.
2 Thessalonians begins with Paul’s trademark: a personal greeting and a statement of thanksgiving for the faith that the church at Thessalonica had in Jesus Christ (1:1-3). He mentions their perseverance in spite of their persecutions and trials (1:4), and uses this situation to broach the subject of Christ’s return. At that time, Christ will vindicate the righteous who endure and will punish the wicked. (1:5-12).
Paul then directly answers the misunderstanding concerning the timing of the events of the end times. He tells them not to listen to rumors and reports that the day of the Lord has already begun (2:1, 2), because a number of events must occur before Christ returns (2:3-12). Meanwhile, they should stand firm for Christ’s truth (2:13-15), receive God’s encouragement and hope (2:16, 17), pray for strength and for the spread of the Lord’s message (3:1-5), and warn those who are idle (3:6-15). Paul ends with personal greetings and a benediction (3:16-18).
2 Thessalonians is a letter that tells believers not to be idle, but rather to be working for Christ: spreading the gospel, reaching out to those in need, and building the church, the Body of Christ. Those who believe should be firmly cemented in the reality of Christ’s return (although no one knows the time of that event), and living their lives for Him until the “Day of the Lord”.
The Layout of 2 Thessalonians
Paul Speaks About The Bright Hope Of Christ’s Return:
This is concentrated in (1:1-2:17) … Paul writes to encourage those who are under persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ, and to correct a prevalent misunderstanding regarding the timing of Christ’s return.
Living In The Light Of Christ’s Return:
This is concentrated in (3:1-18) … Paul teaches that the iminent return of Christ should never be used as an excuse for idleness; indeed, those who believe should be more busy than ever, spreading the gospel, living purely, using time well, and working for the coming of the Kingdom, whether the times in which they do so are good or bad. Believers must watch patiently for the return of Christ, and work for Him while they do.
Themes: Explanation and Importance
Paul encouraged the church to persevere in spite of troubles and trials. God will bring victory to His faithful followers, and judge those who persecute them.
God promises to reward our faith by giving us His power and helping us bear persecution. Suffering for our faith will strenthen us to serve Christ. We must be faithful to Him.
Since Paul had said that the Lord could come at any moment, some of the Thessalonian believers had stopped working in order to wait for Christ.
Christ will return and bring total victory to all who trust in Him. If we are ready, we need not be concerned about when He will return. We should stand firm, keep working, and wait for Christ.
Before Christ’s return, there will be a great rebellion against God led by the ‘man of lawlessness’ (the antichrist). God will remove all the restraints on evil before He brings judgment on the rebels. The antichrist will attempt to deceive many.
We should not be afraid when we see evil increase. God is in control, no matter how evil the world becomes. God guards us during Satan’s attacks. We can have victory over evil by remaining faithful to God.
Because church members had quit working and become disorderly and disobedient, Paul chastised them for their idleness. He called on them to show courage and true Christian conduct.
We must never get so tired of doing right that we stop doing right. We can be persistent by making the most of our time and talent. Our endurance will be rewarded!
A Closer Look… 2 Th. 1:1-12
Paul talks about thanksgiving and encouragement in persecution. To non-believers, it appears strange that believers should be thankful for persecution, and for persecution that endures, but it is through persecution for belief in God and in His Son Jesus Christ that God’s judgment of the fitness for the Kingdom of believers is revealed:
We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (2 Th. 1:3-10)
Paul pledges strong support for these stalwart believers; for all, then and now, as well as in the future, who love God and His Son Jesus Christ:
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Th. 1:11-12)
A Closer Look… 2 Th. 2:1-17
Paul dispels the teaching, falsely attributed to him, that says the day of the Lord had already come. In doing so, he indicates that this day will not come until after the advent of the “man of lawlessness”… the Antichrist:
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Th. 2:1-4)
In these passages of Scripture, Paul talks about the Antichrist who will come to a position of unparalleled power in the world during the days of the Tribulation. He will be opposed to God in every aspect, and in his rampant evil and denial of the one true, living and eternal God seek to have himself be worshipped as though he were God. Paul goes on to speak of how this terrible incarnation of evil is currently being restrained from unleashing his power:
Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perished because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. (2 Th. 2:5-12)
Paul speaks of the faith of believers, his thankfulness for it being the shield against the influence of evil, and gives a benediction:
But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and work. (2 Th. 2:13-17)
A Closer Look… 2 Th. 3:1-18
Paul exhorts the Thessalonians, and all believers, to prayer and to discipline:
Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we might be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. (2 Th. 3:1-5)
It is good to do worthy things with one’s hands, not only to be self-sustaining, but much more importantly, to have something to give to those of God’s people in need:
For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (2 Th. 3:10)
Paul neatly summarizes what believers should do:
And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right. (2 Th. 3:13)
Paul gives instruction as to how best address an idle brother/sister… advice as good today as it was then:
If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2 Th. 3:14-15)
Paul ends with a short, beautiful benediction:
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. (2 Th. 3:16)