Second Epistle to the Thessalonians

Sunset on Thessaloniki (Thessalonica). Nothing remains of Paul's day.

THESSALONIANS, SECOND EPISTLE

Background.

See the article above on 1st Thessalonians.

Authorship.

An attack upon Pauline authorship arose early in the 19th cent. This attack was based upon supposed internal evidence focused in general on two lines of thought. First, it was argued that the reference to the eschatological figure of the man of lawlessness (based upon the Nero Redivivus Myth) shows the epistle to be post-Pauline; that wicked emperor had not yet died. Further, it is claimed that the eschatology of 2 Thessalonians is in disagreement with that of 1 Thessalonians. In the first epistle the Second Coming is viewed as imminent; in the second it is preceded by certain signs. Both of these arguments may be satisfactorily answered. As regards the figure of the man of lawlessness it should be noted that this was firmly rooted in the soil of OT prophecy. As regards the supposed eschatological conflict between the two epistles it should be noted that it is a common feature of Ap. Lit. to find the ideas of suddenness and signs stated alongside each other.

The second line of attack is based upon the idea that the two epistles are too much alike to have been written by the same author to the same church. A careful study of the content of each will reveal however that the similarity must not be overstated. It is reasonable to suppose that Paul would tie in that which he states in his second letter with that which he had written previously. It may be estimated that the resemblances do not extend to more than a third of the entire contents.

Date.

The date assigned to 2 Thessalonians is obviously dependent upon one’s view of the time lapse between the first and second epistles. Some hold to only a few days, others to as much as a year but it would seem preferable to predicate as is generally held that it was two or three months. This would require a date in the fall or early winter of either a.d. 50 or 51.

Place.

If the date is as suggested above then this second epistle was also written from Corinth. In further support of this is the fact that Paul, Silvanus and Timothy (1:1) do not appear together again in the NT narrative following Paul’s departure from Corinth.

Destination.

See the article above on 1 Thessalonians.

Occasion.

Information was received concerning the Thessalonians perhaps from those who had delivered his first epistle. The report which Paul received had both encouraging and discouraging elements in it. On the positive side he was thankful for the evidence of their spiritual growth (1:3, 4). On the negative side he was discouraged by their failure to understand properly certain eschatological matters. Specifically, it seems that some of the Thessalonian believers had fallen into the notion that the day of the Lord had actually begun and that therefore the Messiah would appear very soon. In the light of this expectation some had given up their work and were living in meddlesome idleness. For this reason Paul found it necessary to write a second letter to the Thessalonians.

Purpose.

Although Paul compliments the Thessalonians for their evident growth in the Christian faith and encourages them to continued steadfastness under persecution, his central concern is the correction of their mistaken view regarding the day of the Lord and rebuke of their idleness.

Content.

After the typical epistolary opening Paul expresses his thankfulness to God for the Thessalonians and the progress they had made in respect to faith and love. Indeed he was boastful before others over the way in which they were bearing persecutions and afflictions. Paul then reminds his readers that although they were suffering now, the wicked would yet suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord. In sharp contrast to the wicked in that day Christ will come to be glorified in His saints and they in Him.

Paul then moves into a consideration of the Parousia, the day of the Lord. Because some had been misled either through oral or written communication into believing that the day of the Lord had already dawned, the apostle finds it necessary to correct their teaching. He indicates that certain things must occur before that day. First there will be an all-out organized rebellion of the powers of evil against God. Second, there will be the revealing of the man of lawlessness. His career will end in the eternal destruction both of himself and his followers, those “who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2:12).

The apostle then contrasts with this dreadful picture the hope of believers. Christians are to be thankful that God has appointed them unto salvation through the sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. This glorious prospect is to bring comfort and encouragement to a continuance in every good work and deed.

Outline:

Theology.

God is viewed as the true Author of all grace and peace (1:2; 2:16; 3:16). He is the One who chose certain Thessalonians unto salvation (2:13). Thus, it is of Him that they must walk worthily (1:5). God is the One who strengthens the saints unto perseverance (3:3, 4). It is before Him that the highest human hopes will be consummated (2:19).

Christ is so united with the Father as to leave no doubt concerning His essential equality and hence true deity. It is in the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as “in God the Father” that the church’s life consists (1:1, 2). See also 2:16, 17.

The Spirit’s distinctive work is that of sanctification (2:13).

The major emphasis of this epistle is eschatological, as with the first. There is a future time of judgment coming when God will settle His accounts (1:5-10). Chapter 2 was written to correct the Thessalonians as regards the Day of the Lord, that day on which Christ would return and His saints would be assembled to meet Him (2:1). Some had fallen into the error of thinking that the day had already arrived, but Paul instructs them that certain things must occur first. Before that day commences there will be an all-out rebellion against God (2:3). As in the days of Noah many will revolt on a world-wide scale against their Creator. Then there will be the revealing of the man of lawlessness (2:3b). As Christ shall be revealed in His “time” even so shall antichrist. He too is a mystery to be unfolded and made manifest. The terrible judgment which is to come upon him and all those who follow him is sharply contrasted by the glory of Christ in which all the elect shall share.

Bibliography

J. E. Frame, The Epistles of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, “International Critical Commentary,” ed. Driver, Plummer, Briggs (1912); G. Milligan, St. Paul’s Epistles to the Thessalonians (1952); W. Hendriksen, Exposition of I and II Thessalonians, “New Testament Commentary” (1955); L. Morris, The Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians, “The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries,” ed. R. V. G. Tasker (1957); The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, “The New International Commentary on the New Testament,” ed. Ned B. Stonehouse (1959); D. E. Hiebert, The Thessalonian Epistles (1971).