II Thessalonians

Author: Paul of Tarsus

Date Written: 51 or 52 AD


Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians shortly after the congregation had received 1 Thess.  He writes to an embattled congregation in the midst of persecution (1:4).  The letter was probably written at Corinth and then carried by Timothy or Silas (also called Silvanus).  For a brief historical context for the letter and the city of Thessalonica, refer to Introduction to 1 Thessalonians.  Some scholars dispute the authorship of this letter based on thematic elements and vocabulary differences, but 2 Thess retains Paul's name at the beginning, his signature at the end and a very typical Pauline structure


In 2 Thess, Paul encourages the fainthearted (1 Th 5:14) who are suffering persecution.  Some of the Thessalonians are having doubts about their salvation because of persecution.  He tells them of his confidence in their stance before God.  He insists that they are increasing in faith and love (1:3), that they are doing God's will (3:4) and that God has truly chosen them for salvation (2:13).  Rather than exhorting them to change their ways, Paul urges them to "stand firm" (2:15) and keep doing the good that they have already been doing.  He also emphasizes the judgment of God on the Thessalonians' persecutors to encourage the congregation.  The persecutors will be repaid with affliction and God's holy vengence (1:6-8).


Paul takes special care in 2 Thess to admonish the idle.  While most of the Thessalonians are fulfilling God's will, some have begun to "walk in idleness." (3:11)  Paul reminds the Thessalonians of his own example, how he worked for his own living while he was in their city and did not accept donations from them (3:7).  He presses them not to be "busybodies" (3:11), but to work.  Apparently, some of them thought Jesus' return was so soon that they stopped working.  He goes so far as to command that "if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat." (3:12)  He even commands the Thessalonians to avoid brothers who will not obey Paul's exhortations, but still to regard them as brothers (3:14-15). 


The central section of the letter is devoted to the parousia, the coming of Jesus at end of the world.  Some of the Thessalonians were suffering so badly that they greatly desired the parousia and some were even convinced that it was immanent.  Paul calms their apocalyptic hopes and urges them not to be deceived.  He then presents the doctrine of the "man of lawlessness," (2:3-12) often referred to as the Antichrist.  The Church Fathers variously interpret this figure as the Roman emperor Nero or a human leader in the future.  St. Cyril comments that the "rebellion" (2:3) has already taken place with heresies in the early Church.  Nevertheless, the Antichrist will come before Jesus returns and claim divine worship for himself (2:3-4).


Paul asks for the Thessalonians prayers for his missionary work and he assures them of the Lord's faithfulness (3:1-2).  The persecution of the Thessalonians must have been severe to warrant so many encouraging words from Paul.  Though not all Christians are actively persecuted today, we can take comfort in knowing that the Lord is directing our hearts "to the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ." (3:5)  2 Thessalonians challenges us to live in a constant state of hope and embrace a lifestyle of good works.


By Mark Giszczak


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