Introduction to 2 Thessalonians
Author, Date, and Recipients
Shortly after writing 1 Thessalonians, the apostle Paul received a report (2 Thess. 3:11) that the Thessalonian church had accepted the strange claim that “the day of the Lord has come” (2:1–2). Paul sent them a second letter in a.d. 49–51. He was probably in Corinth at the time.
The letter’s main theme is Jesus’ second coming. Jesus’ return will be preceded by an “apostasy” (or rebellion) and by the appearance of the “man of lawlessness,” the Antichrist (2:3). When Jesus comes, he will defeat this rebellious world ruler (2:8). He will bring justice to oppressed Christians and wrath to unbelievers (1:5–10; 2:9–15).
Purpose, Occasion, and Background
Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians (1) to reassure those terrified that the day of the Lord had already come (2:1–3:5); (2) to strengthen the Thessalonians in the face of continuing persecution (1:3–12); and (3) to deal with the problem of some of the church members refusing to earn their own living (3:6–15).
Paul assumes that the Thessalonian church knew that the second coming of Jesus Christ would occur at the same time as the coming of the “day of the Lord.” Yet the Thessalonians may simply have fallen victim to a belief that the day of the Lord had already come. The persecution they were undergoing may have fueled their confusion about the end times.
Some of the Thessalonians may have stopped working to await and proclaim the second coming. More likely, lazy Christians may have been exploiting the generosity of wealthier Christians in order to avoid work.
In contrast to the warm emotional tone of 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians includes some blunt commands as Paul addresses bad behavior and bad thinking. Further, this letter is noteworthy for Paul’s tough-mindedness in predicting judgment on the ungodly and in rebuking church members who behave and think incorrectly. Still, there is a regular swing back and forth between reproof and warm encouragement.
- God’s righteous judgment will be completed when Jesus returns. Unbelievers will be condemned and believers will be saved (1:5–10; 2:9–14).
- Christians will share Christ’s glory (1:10, 12; 2:14).
- Jesus will return after the “man of lawlessness” appears and humanity rebels for a final time (2:3–4, 9–12).
- The man of lawlessness will deceive all those who have rejected the gospel. Jesus will judge them when he returns (2:3, 6–12).
- Christians must not take advantage of the charity of fellow Christians (3:6–15).