Paul assures a confused church that Jesus’ second coming has not happened yet and challenges them to keep growing in spite of persecution, while working with their own hands to earn a living.
Paul, Silas and Timothy plant a new church in Thessalonica on their second missionary journey in 50 AD. Many Jews as well as many Greeks and some leading women become believers (Acts 17:4). The Jews that didn’t believe stir up trouble and accuse Paul of subversion and rebellion against Caesar. Paul and Silas hurriedly leave town, leaving behind Timothy, the shy young co-worker of Paul, who thus gets his first emergency assignment of staying behind for a short time and looking after the newly founded church.
Paul and Silas move on to Beroea, and after further persecution Paul moves on to Athens and Corinth (Acts 17:13-15), where he is eventually joined by Silas and Timothy. Paul sends Timothy back to Thessalonica because he is worried about the very quickly founded church that has come under such persecution (1 The 3:1-5). Timothy returns and reports to Paul how the Thessalonian church is doing. In answer Paul writes the letter of 1 Thessalonians. Timothy delivers the letter and comes back with a report that persecution has intensified, that still many believers refuse to work and that there is a scare in the church because some people have claimed in Paul’s name, that Jesus’ second return has already happened – and that they missed it.
Paul responds and writes 2 Thessalonians. He warmly affirms the church for their love for one another and for their steadfastness and endurance in the face of persecution (2 The 1:3-4). He assures them that those that torment them will be judged by God when Jesus will return (2 The 1:5-10).
He tells the church to not be alarmed and assures them that Jesus’ second coming has not yet happened, that they therefore didn’t miss it and that he did not authorize those who make these claims. He goes on to tell them, that Jesus’ second coming is sure and his final victory clear and swift (2 The 2:8). But before Jesus’ second coming will occur, many other things still have to happen: the Lawless One has to appear first, he will be restrained for some time, then wreak havoc and finally be destroyed by a simple breath of Jesus’ mouth. Paul assumes that the Thessalonians fully understand what he is writing about, yet for us later readers the identification of the Lawless One and the one restraining him is rather difficult. Many suggestions have been made as to what Paul refers to, but it is far from clear.
What is clear is Paul’s overall intention in writing all this: He is calming an upset church, showing them that Jesus’ second coming has not yet happened and that it will still take some time. He assures them that Jesus’ second coming will be be a joyful event for his believers: they will finally see his ultimate victory.
As always when teaching about Jesus’ second coming, Paul draws practical application for today (In the light of the second coming, how should we live now?): He assures the Thessalonians that their salvation and calling are real and that they should now concentrate on how to live a holy life full of a steady faith, hope and good works. Paul asks the Thessalonians for prayer for him and his team as they also face many difficulties.
Finally he challenges those in the church who, even after getting Paul’s instructions, still refuse to work, those who are idle and unwilling to take responsibility for themselves. Paul again reminds them how he and his team worked hard while in Thessalonica, both in ministry and in a practical profession. They had worked hard to earn their own living in order to not burden the young church. Paul challenges the Thessalonians to imitate his example. He asserts that those who are unwilling to work should not eat. He also challenges the church to warn such believers as brothers, but also to exclude them from fellowship if they persist in idleness, in the hope that they will be ashamed, realize the importance of work and change their behavior.
The founding of the Thessalonian church
Paul, Silas and Timothy form a team that heads out on the second missionary journey (50-52 AD). Responding to Paul’s vision of a Macedonian man calling, the team sets over from Asia Minor to Macedonia in Greece.
After planting a church in Philippi, they follow the ‘Via Egnatia’ (the great Roman highway) West and reach the important port city of Thessalonica, which was also the province capital for the Roman government.
Paul, as usual, first preaches the gospel at the synagogue in town. Many Jews, many devout Greeks and quite a few leading women become believers and form the new Thessalonian church (Acts 17:4).
The Jews that did not believe stir up a riot against Paul and accuse him before the local authorities of turning the world upside down, of acting contrary to law and of disrespecting the emperor (Acts 17:6-7). The believers hurriedly send off Paul and Silas, but Timothy stays behind. The shy young co-worker of Paul in this way receives his first emergency assignment (for a short time at least) of looking after the newly founded church (Acts 17:10).
Some details about the planting of the church can be gleaned from 1 Thessalonians: While Paul and his team’s visited there the Thessalonians experience the power of the Holy Spirit and his conviction (1 The 1:5). Paul and the team worked hard (day and night) in order to not burden the young church financially (1 The 2:9, 3:8). This shows their integrity, especially in the light of “leading women” becoming believers (Acts 17:4) whom Paul probably could have asked for support.
An interesting detail: In Acts 17:6 Luke calls the city authorities that the church members are dragged before ‘politarchs’ in Greek. Some critics have claimed that no office by that name was common in the Roman civil administration of that time, discrediting Luke’s account. However, an inscription containing this term has been found in Thessalonica and is now displayed in the British Museum. The inscription, which was attached to a first century arch on the Via Egnatia, says “In the time of the Politarchs…”. (see pictures below). By now thirty-five inscriptions with the term have been discovered, nineteen of them in Thessalonica, and at least three are dated to the 1st century AD. Luke therefore was correct in his description in Acts 17:6.
Paul and Silas move on to Beroea, and after persecution there Paul moves on to Athens and Corinth (Acts 17:13-15), where he is eventually joined by Silas and Timothy. Paul sends Timothy back to Thessalonica because he is worried about the very quickly founded church that faces such persecution (1 The 3:1-5). Timothy returns and reports to Paul how the Thessalonian church is doing. In answer Paul writes the letter of 1 Thessalonians.
Timothy delivers the letter and comes back with a report that persecution has intensified, that still many believers refuse to work. He also reports that there has been a scare in the church because some people have claimed in Paul’s name, that Jesus’ second coming has already happened, and that they missed it (2 The 2:1-2). Paul responds and writes 2 Thessalonians.
The letter of 2 Thessalonians is therefore written not long after 1 Thessalonians (late 50 AD) by Paul, Silas and Timothy from Corinth. Not many months have passed since the founding of the church. It seems that Timothy is again the one to deliver the letter in person, since Paul and Silas are barred from going.
The situation of the church
How would the Thessalonian believers have felt after a very quick church founding, a little bit of teaching and then the departure of Paul, Silas and soon Timothy also? Paul’s visit was like a whirl wind, but now they are left as a very young church with very young and inexperienced leadership yet facing continual pressure and persecution from the Jews and their own compatriots (1 The 1:14). Questions, doubts and a sense of abandonment could easily slip in, especially with continuing persecution and suffering.
But worse even, some people have upset the church by claiming to speak in Paul’s name (or to have received a letter Paul wrote). They are claiming that Jesus’ second coming has already happened (2 The 2:1-2). This would mean that the believers missed Jesus’ coming, they have been left behind, that their dead loved ones are still dead – a very frightful and upsetting prospect.
It is not surprising then, to see what Paul majors on in his letter:
• An affirmation of their faith, their salvation and their ongoing growth. They have already become an encouragement to many other churches.
• A strong assurance that Jesus’ second coming hasn’t occurred yet, that they didn’t miss it, but rather that still quite a few things need to happen until that will occur.
• An exhortation to keep growing and living a godly life, which includes working with their hands and earning their own living.
Affirmation for the church
Paul affirms the chuch for their steadfast faith and their growing love for one another. He praises their steadfastness and endurance in the face of persecution, showing them that even in this situation they are fruitful: the news of their faith has encouraged many churches (2 The 1:3-4).
Paul assures them that God does see their suffering and that he will surely judge those who persecute them at Jesus’ second coming. He shows them that Jesus’ second coming means relief and deliverance to them, and even more so a glorious fellowship with Christ. But for those who heard the truth and rejected it, who chose separation from God and who persecute the believers, Jesus’ return will be a fearful prospect (2 The 1:6-10). Paul prays for the church to be worthy of God’s call and for Jesus to be glorified in them (2 The 1:11-12).
After addressing their fear about having missed Jesus’ return, he re-affirms their salvation, their calling and their continued growth as believers (2 The 2:13-15). He assures them of God’s love, grace and good hope (2 The 2:16). He prays that God would comfort them and strengthen them in every good work and word (2 The 2:17). He asks them for prayer as well (2 The 3:1) and expresses his confidence of their obedience and growth (2 The 3:3-5).
Through all this Paul expresses his love and hope for them, encouraging them and strengthening them in every good thing.
People claiming to speak in Paul’s name
Paul addresses the issue of people giving wrong prophecies or claiming to speak or write in Paul’s name. Why would people quote Paul or write in his name? Basically to give their word more authority and to have a stronger influence on the believers. Paul makes sure the church knows what writing is and isn’t of him by writing a final paragraph with his own hand (2 The 3:17, Gal 6:11). Paul assures them that he wouldn’t change his teaching, nor contradict himself. He calms them, saying that the claim that Jesus’ return has already happened is simply nonsense (2 The 2:2-3).
What will happen before Jesus’ second coming?
Paul told them in 1 Thessalonians that Jesus will definitely come back, but that we do not know the hour of his coming. He also assured them that it doesn’t matter whether a person died earlier or is alive at the time of Jesus’ return, either way all believers will be gathered to Jesus.
In 2 Thessalonians, due to the false scare about Jesus having already returned, Paul stresses the following things:
Jesus’ second coming is sure and his final victory will be clear and swift (2 The 2:8). But before Jesus will come back quite a few things still have to happen: a figure named “the lawless one” has to appear first. He will be restrained for some time by a ‘restrainer’, but then he will be let lose and wreak havoc. He will then be destroyed at Jesus’ return by a simple breath from Jesus’ mouth.
Paul asserts that the Thessalonians fully understand what he is writing about, yet for us later readers the identification of the lawless one and the one restraining him is difficult.
Paul describes the lawless one in the following way: He is associated with rebellion (as his name also suggests) and is destined for destruction (1 The 2:3), he opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship (1 The 2:4), so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God (1 The 2:4). He is restrained now until he is revealed when his time comes (1 The 2:6). The fact that he is no longer restrained will be apparent in the working of Satan, who uses power, signs, lying wonders and every kind of deception (1 The 2:9-10).
Paul also mentions a restrainer, who is currently at work (1 The 2:6), but will later be removed, resulting in the Lawless one being revealed (1 The 2:7).
So the drama is roughly as follows:
Restrainer Lawless one Jesus
Many suggestions have been made as to what Paul refers to, but it is far from clear and objections can be made to any of the suggestions.
Suggestions as to what the lawless one could be include: Satan, a Jewish pseudo Messiah taking his seat in the temple, wilful evil tyrants (like the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes, referred to in Dan 11:21-29 or lately the emperor Caligula, trying to set up his statue in the Jerusalem temple, or Nero as per the Nero redivivus myth etc.) and the Antichrist. Yet 2 Jhn 7 mentions “anti-christs” in plural, not as a single figure.
Suggestions as to what the restrainer could be include: the Holy Spirit, the gospel, apostles and true teachers, God’s law, the Roman law, the condition that the gospel has to be first preached to all nations (Mrk 13:8) or a supernatural being from God.
The simple answer is: we do not know what Paul refers to. There is also no clear match with Revelation that could shed light on the issue.
What is crystal clear, though, is Paul’s overall point and intention in saying all this: He is calming an upset church, showing them that Jesus’ return has not yet happened, and that it will still take some time till it happens. He reassures them that Jesus’ return will lead to his quick and easy victory and that it is a joyful event for his saints.
During his description Paul mentions people being deceived, even God sending a powerful delusion (2 The 2:11). It is important to note the sequence of the thought: First people refuse to know truth (do not believe truth, but take pleasure in unrighteousness), then “for this reason” God sends them a powerful delusion (2 The 2:10-12). Only when people have been confronted with the truth, had the chance to act on it but have refused to do so, God’s delusion is mentioned. This is parallel with Egypt’s Pharaoh in Exodus, who keeps hardening his heart in spite of hearing truth and seeing powerful evidence, until finally God starts hardening his heart further for the final show-down.
In summary we can say that this is one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament, and we are not really able to explain the details well. But the major point and overall intention of the passage is in line with everything else in the New Testament: Jesus’ second coming is real, it will surely happen and it will constitute Jesus’ total victory. But it’s not yet.
Anyone unwilling to work should not eat
In the final passage Paul returns to a problem that he already addressed in 1 Thessalonians: the need for believers to work in practical professions, to earn their own living, to be self-responsible, hard-working and pro-active members of society, not having to depend on anyone. In both letters Paul mentions his and his team’s example while staying in Thessalonica: though as apostles they could have claimed donations from the believers, they were rather working with their own hands to earn their living, so that the church would not be burdened. This took a clear effort, Paul says they worked “day and night”.
In spite of Paul’s example, his admonition in 1 Thessalonians and the (probable) further encouragement by Timothy, the Thessalonian believers are still refusing to work for their living. Paul therefore addresses them in a stronger language in 2 Thessalonians: He commands them to work (2 The 3:6). He also instructs the believers to use church discipline on those who after all these examples, teaching, exhortation (1 Thessalonians), commands (2 Thessalonians) and the warning of fellow believers (2 The 3:15) still persist in idleness. He instructs the church to no longer have fellowship with those who stubbornly refuse to work (2 The 3:6, 3:14), a discipline administered in the hope that they would realize how serious this is, be ashamed and change their behavior. The thrust of Paul’s instruction is not to exclude or to punish, but for them to repent and be re-included in the church.
Paul is strong on this, as he knows the dangers of people being idle:
• to be idle it is bad stewardship of time and labor (which are valuable resources)
• to be idle is a temptation to inappropriate behavior (to be busybodies, 2 The 3:11)
• to be idle creates dependency on others, which compromises a believer (1 The 4:12)
• to be idle leads to irresponsibility and associated family problems
• to be idle leads to one’s inability to be a contributing, giving member of the community
• to be idle results in one’s inability to reach one’s full calling and potential.
To not work as a believer means to not understand the value God has placed on the believer, his abilities and his time. To be lazy means to not understand one’s own value, one’s work and one’s calling. No calling can be fulfilled and no potential can be reached without faithfulness and hard work. Paul wants the Thessalonians to grow, to work, to develop, to be powerful and fruitful.
Color coding Suggestions
- who, where, when
- reasons / connectives
- emotion / warmth / encouragement / friendship
- persecution / suffering
- gospel / proclaim / speak / report / word / message
- good character: blameless / holy / sanctification / godliness
- good behavior: love, work, labor, serve, do god
Who wrote the book?
- 2 The 1:1 “Paul, Silvanus and Timothy”. Exactly parallel to 1 Thessalonians. Throughout the letter: ‘us, we’
- 2 The 3:17 “I, Paul write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine, it is the way I write”. Paul uses this as identification (parallel: Gal 6:11), especially against the backdrop of people writing letters in his name (2 Thess 2:1-2)
Silvanus = Silas
- Silas as co-author as 1 Thessalonians.
Silas (Jewish?) 13x in Acts. Silvanus (Latinized) 4x in 2 Co 1:19, 1 Ti 1:1, 2 Ti 1:1 (addressee), 1 Pe 5:12 (co-writer)
- Acts 15:40 chosen as co-worker by Paul at the beginning of 2nd missionary journey
- Acts 14:22 Silas chosen by Jerusalem council to accompany Paul & Barnabas with letter to Antioch / Gentiles
- Acts 14:22 Silas is described with Judas as ‘leaders among the brothers’
- Acts 13:32 Silas is described with Judas as prophet, encouraging & strengthening believers
Timothy (as 1 Thessalonians)
- Acts 16:3 from Lystra, Galatia, well spoken of by others, chosen by Paul as co-worker
- 2 Tim 1:5 believing grandmother Lois and mother Eunice
- Acts 16:3 Greek father, circumcised by Paul, travel companion over all he following journeys (as far known),
- 1 Ti 1:2, 2 Ti 1:2 recipient of two of Paul’s letters, recipient of Paul’s last letter (2 Tim)
- Paul, Silvanus, Timothy … the one time they are documented to work together in this formation is Acts 16:3ff, 2nd missionary journey > helps with the dating.
Church founding & Ongoing history & Historical background as 1 Thessalonians
- Acts 15:40 Paul chooses Silas
- Acts 16:1-3 They go on the 2nd missionary journey from Syrian Antioch > Cilicia > Galatia > pick up Timothy
- Acts 16:4-5 forbidden to enter Pontus, Bythinia > Troas >
- Acts 16:6-12 God’s call to Macedonia > Philippi
- Acts 16:13-18 no Jews, conversion of Lydia, exorcism of fortune telling slave girl
- Acts 16:19-40 > persecution by owners of slave girl > jailed > earthquake > released & led out by city’s politarchs
- Acts 17:1 Amphipolis > Apollonia > Thessalonica
- Following the Via Egnatia, the East-West Highway of the Roman empire > evidence for accuracy of NT
- Thessalonica is a seaport on the Via Egnatia, the capital of the Province Macedonia, still today Greece’s 2nd most populated city ‘Saloniki’ (after Athens), center of trade
- Greek city (architecturally advanced), Roman colony (special rights: self-administration, self-justice, right to taxation, own currency), seat of civil authority headquarters, Arch of Galerius from Roman times still visible today
- Acts 17:1-3 Synagogue of the Jews, for 3 sabbaths argued from Scriptures: Messiah must suffer, rise from dead
after finding virtually no Jews in Philippi, Paul back to his normal pattern of preaching in synagogues first
- Acts 17:4 Some of Jews believe, many devout Greeks believe, not a few of the leading women
> who makes up church: Jew, proselyte Jews (devour Greeks), Greeks also probably, leading women would
not likely have been Jewish, upper class believers
- Acts 17:5 The Jews become jealous > with ruffians create uproar > look for Paul & Silas > can’t find him > attack Jasons’ house, drag him before the city authorities (politarchs). This is in a sense ‘normal’, already happened in Galatia repeatedly
- Mention of city authorities (Greek word used by Luke here: politarch). This was disputed saying that no office by that name was common in Roman civil administration of that time. However, an inscription containing this term has been found in that city and is now displayed in the British Museum. The inscription, which was attached to a first century arch on the Via Egnatia, begins “In the time of the Politarchs…” By now 35 inscriptions with the term discovered, 19 of them from Thessalonica, and at least 3 are dated to the 1st century AD > office of politarch existed in Thessalonica in the time of the New Testament and that the Bible is accurate in its use of the term.
- Ac 17:6 “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also … Jason entertained them … They are acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” Leaders disturbed > take bail of Jason.
- The accusation is one of ‘turning the world upside down’ which sounds a bit grand … reference to this later. The accusation takes the same line as with Jesus before Pilate: he preaches another kingdom, a rival to Rome. In one sense true, but not in the sense of civil disobedience. They are not acting contrary to law. Paul defends himself from this accusation repeatedly. On the positive side it it is an acknowledgment of the impact of the gospel!
- Acts 17:10 Thessalonian believers send off Paul and Silas to Beroea by night. A quick departure after only 3 or 4 weeks is seems > another church ‘quickly planted’, another church under continuing pressure / persecution. Paul does feel responsible, therefore the letters later.
- It seems Timothy, the young, shy, non-intimidating one manages to stay behind unnoticed. The different giftings, callings, personalities at work in favor of the gospel. One does not have to be a ‘leader type’ to make significant contributions, a Paul could not have stayed, a Timothy can :-). It seems Timothy soon rejoins them in more friendly Beroea.
- Acts 17:11 These Jews were more receptive / noble than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing. > these are what Jews were meant to be! (when meeting Jesus and now meeting the gospel) … receptive, inquisitive, testing against OT to find truth, building on what they have, willing to hear God.
- Acts 17:13 When the Jews of Thesslonica learned that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea as well, they came there too, to stir up and incite the crowds.
> again the Jews are very active in their opposition and pursuit of Paul, why?
- Acts 17:14-15 Believers immediately sent Paul away to the coast, but Silas and Timothy remained behind > Athens
Again a similar pattern, this time Silas and Timothy staying behind. Again the less eye-catching workers can do here what controversial Paul cannot.
- Acts 17:16 Paul waits for Silas & Timothy in Athens
- Acts 18:1 Paul left Athens > Corinth
- Acts 18:2 Aquila, Priscilla … recently come from Italy …because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.
Here we find important historical context: Roman Emperor Claudius has expelled the Jews from Rome (and Italy) because of a riot. We will hear more about the reasons for this riot, it was a riot about Jesus, meaning one not unlike the one just had in Thessalonica. Claudius is annoyed and bans all Jews (that’s what they all seem to be). This is important for several reasons:
- it helps us date these events accurately, Claudius edict was issued 49 AD, so we are now about 50 AD.
it helps us understand just why the Jews are so aggressive: Many had to leave Rome because of this riot, many losing land, possessions, businesses … Where do they go? Many directions, but one surely is back East, by the fastest road: the Via Egnatia for example. Many many Jews must have flooded the Greek cities, finding refuge with Jewish relatives there > the Greek cities are full of Jews, disgruntled Jews, Jews angry at the stir caused by the Christians. So far the record from Acts.
1 Thessalonians itself confirms the record of Acts:
- 1 The 2:2 “but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistrated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God is spite of great opposition”. Matching the Acts account: persecution & quick leaving from Philippi, opposition also in Thessalonica
1 Thessalonians gives us a few more hints of how the story continued (as 1 Thessalonians):
- 1 The 2:17 “As for us .. when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you …”
- 1 The 2:18 “For we wanted to come to you – certainly I, Paul, wanted to again and again”
- 1 The 3:2 “and we sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith, so that no one would be shaken by these persecutions.”
- 1 The 3:5 “when I could bear it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith; I was afraid…”
- 1 The 3:6 “But Timothy has just now come to us from you, & has brought us the good news of your faith and love”
This gives us more context: When Paul was rejoined by Silas and Timothy in Corinth, he seems to be worried about the very young Thessalonian church that still is experiencing pressure or persecution > he sends back Timothy, the least eye-catching, least riot-rousing of the three, a Helf-Jew to get news of the church, to encourage and strengthen.
- Most likely it is Timothy who will return to the Thessalonians with this letter in hand.
- Maybe therefore the renewed recommendation in 1 The 3:2 “your brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ” … Maybe this is Paul saying: ‘I really can’t come myself, but I am sending you a good guy instead’
1 Thessalonians adds a few details about the original church planting time (as 1 Thessalonians):
- 1 The 1:5 because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit wand with full conviction … it seems there were miracles, Holy Spirit’s work in people’s hearts
- 1 The 2:9 you remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might no burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God
- 2 The 3:8 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you … Paul worked hard for his income besides preaching > this will be an important example he quotes in both 1 The & 2 The to show them that laziness is not an option.
2 Thessalonians continues the story:
- 1 The 2:1-2 As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him we beg you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit of by world or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.
- It seems then that Timothy went with the letter ‘1 Thessalonians’ to Thessalonica. Upon being there he sees and hears:
- That the persecution has continued, even intensified (it seems).
- That that the church has been upset about having missed Jesus’ second coming. Some people have brought this teaching wither by prophecy, by word or by letter (Paul either doesn’t know which or tries to prevent future abuse of any king) as of Paul. Probably this was done to gain authority and influence with the church.
- That quite a few people in the church refuse to work, even after Paul’s admonition.
- Paul in answer to Timothy’s new report writes the letter of ‘2 Thessalonians’, probably only a few months after the first (allowing for travel back and forth).
Other records later: as 1 Thessalonians
- Acts 19:21 Paul sends Timothy & Erastus to Macedonia before himself (from Ephesus, 3rd journey)
- Acts 20:1, 1 Co 16:5 Paul leaves Ephesus to go to Macedonia via Corinth (3rd missionary journey)
- 2 Co 1:16, 2:13, 7:5 When the conflict in Corinth is happening, Paul goes to Macedonia, Troas, back through Macedonia again. 2 Corinthians is written from Macedonia … The Macedonian churches were places of peace & support for Paul
- 2 Cor 8:1, Rom 15:26 Macedonia has generously given towards an offering for the church in Jerusalem
Php 2:24, Phm 22 It seems after his light imprisonment (Rome), he travels East through Macedonia at least once more
- Having understood more of the Historical context & church founding,the other answers are easily given
When was it written?
The triple co-authors points to the 2nd missionary journey. The detailed knowledge Paul has and the fact that he is informed about a letter written in his name, shows that he bases this 2nd letter on Timothy’s report after delivering 1 Thess to the church. Timothy would have taken a month or two to deliver 1 Thess, spend some time with the church and return to Paul.
- The parallelity of themes, building on teach other, also speaks for the two letters being close in date.
- > during the 2nd missionary journey, from Corinth, probably shortly after 1 Thess, > 51-52 AD
To whom was the letter written?
- 2 The 1:2 to the church of the Thessalonians, 1 The 1:1 exactly same
From where was it written?
- Most likely from Corinth, as this was the next city that Paul went to after Athens (Acts 18:1) where he stays for 1 ½ years (Acts 18:11) and the letters following close to each other.
Who makes up the church? (as 1 Thessalonians)
- Jews, many devote Greeks and many leading women (Acts 17:4).
- devote Greeks could be Greek proselytes, or it could mean Greeks who are of idolatrous backgrounds, but feared God and turned to Christ.
- Paul’s summary description of the church in 1 The 1:9 ‘how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God’ seems to indicate wide idolatry background
Some believers are known by name:
- Jason, who hosted Paul & team (Acts 17:5), whose house is attacked, he is dragged before the city authorities, then released upon bail
- Aristarchus, Paul’s co-worker from Thessalonica (Acts 20:4). Aristarchus is further mentioned to be with Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:29), traveling to Rome (Acts 27:2), being with Paul in Rome (Col 4:10, Phm 1:24)
- Secundus, Paul’s co-worker from Thessalonica (Acts 20:4)
Historical Background – Political (as 1 Thessalonians)
- Free Roman city > right to taxation, to own currency, to (limited) self-govenrment, Roman colony, Roman citizens
Historical Background – Economic (as 1 Thessalonians)
- Situated on the main trade East-West trade route as well as having a harbor > trade, relative wealth
Historical Background – Spiritual (as 1 Thessalonians)
- Jews present, their numbers (and anger at Christians) probably augmented since Claudius’ edict, which forced many to leave Italy and find shelter in cities around Italy, like Thessalonica
- Greek philosophy importance on science, art, form, logic, intelligence, eloquence, appearance
- Greek idolatry
- Dionysos … wine, drunkenness, wild orgies, sexual immorality
- Cabirus … (possibly, evidence of worship in 100-300 AD), god, killed by brother, will come back to restore justice on earth, a bit a Jesus’ resurrection & 2nd coming parallel, worshiped as protective deity in Macedonia
- Isis … Thessalonica had a Serapeum, a temple dedicted to the Egyptian deities, including Isis, Osiris, Serapis, Anubis from 3rd century BC, with daily worship, sacred meals, festivals, including a ceremony & public procession to open the sailing season. Isis was praised in hymns and inscriptions as eternal, creator, savior, goddess of grain, protectress of sailors and ocean travel, lawgiver, who forgave sin
- Emperor worship started with declaring Julius Caesar divine after his death in 44 BC. Emperor worship started in Thessalonica in 42 BC, was later combined with Augustus worship in 29-28 BC, as an expression of regional relief and thanksgiving for the end of war, Roman benefaction of Thessalonica’s status as free city, and Augustus’s ascent to power. It was not yet oppressive. In Acts 17:7 the trouble ouses’ accusation of Paul preaching another king, Jesus, tries to pick up these sentiments
Strengths of the Thessalonian church
- 2 The 1:3 growing faith
- 2 The 1:3 increasing love for one another
- 2 The 1:4 steadfastness and faith during persecution
- 2 The 2:13 beloved by God, chosen by God
- 2 The 3:4 confidence that they will go on obeying Paul & team
Weaknesses of the Thessalonian church
- 2 The 2:1-2 shaken in mind, quickly alarmed, confused, fearful concerning 2nd coming
- 2 The 3:11 idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work
- 2 The 3:6, 14 some seems to have refused Paul’s correction in 1 Thessalonians and by Timothy in person
- entirely in prose > literal interpretation, no quotes
- Greek letter
- Problem > Solution
- Teaching > Application
Main ideas / topics
- 2nd coming of Jesus hasn’t happened yet, prerequisites are not met
- assurance of their salvation, and the unparalleled future results
- suffering is normal, has good sides
- encouraging a godly or holy lifestyle, including a habit of work, self-responsibility
Main reasons / goals
- to straighten out the confusion caused by the fake letter: Jesus hasn’t come back yet, much needs to happen still
- teach truth to make them able to resist false teaching
- to challenge idleness
- to encourage, affirm and comfort them
UNDERSTANDING THE FIRST READERS’ MINDSET
What questions, worries, doubts, problems would a quickly founded, persecuted church have? (as 1 Thessalonians)
- Sense of unreality (did this really happen? Were the miracles real? What did I sign up for? Am I on my own? Is this salvation real?)
- Sense of abandonment (where is Paul? Why are we alone? Who will help us now? Who will teach us?)
- Sense of abandonment would be hightened by persecution and suffering (Paul is gone, I’m stuck here? Will this continue forever? Is this worth the suffering? Did I make a mistake in joining this?)
- Sense of insecurity (how will this go on? Where is this going? Who will lead us now?)
- very young church leadership (they are not like Paul? Are they worthy? Are they examples?)
How would you feel at continued, even intensified suffering or persecution? (as 1 Thessalonians)
- Why is God letting this happen? Did I believe a hoax?
- Will God not deliver us?
- Will God not judge those who persecute us?
Letter written in Paul’s name claiming that Jesus already returned (2 The 2:1-2) (new for 2 Thessalonians)
- Jesus came but we missed it! Those who died are still dead. God has abandoned us!
Idleness, refusal to accept responsibility for oneself
- Reason: generally Greek and Rome had a low view of work (that’s what you have slaves for)
- Reason: maybe due to persecution, irregular life, emergency-mindset, relief mindset.
- Reason: maybe due to an over-reliance on the leading women that were saved (Acts 17:4)
- Reason: maybe due to an over-excitement about Jesus’ return, leading to abandoning current duties and long-term thinking
- Reason: maybe due to Roman patronage, small errands run for rich Romans, an unreliable source of income, dependency, participating in the corrupt life style of the Roman masters
2 THESSALONIANS – TEXT
- 1 The 1:3-4 Paul is giving thanks for the Thessalonians’ faith that is growing abundantly, their increasing love for one another. Paul boasts of them among the churches for their faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that they are enduring. Continuation from 1 Thessalonians: a heartfelt affirmation of their growth and steadiness, a reminder of them being an example and encouragement to other believers.
- 1 The 1:5 This their growth and steadfastness is a proof for the righteous judgment of God and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom, for which you are suffering.
- 1 The 1:6-8 “God’s righteous judgment”: at Jesus’ 2nd coming God will inflict vengeance on those who afflicted the church, on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel.
God’s righteous judgment: at Jesus’ 2nd coming God will give relief to you, the afflicted and us. Promise of persecution, injustice and suffering one day ending, and what is right to be restored (parallel to Revelation). The suffering believers need this eternal perspective of hope to persevere now. Same for us today: do not inwardly dismiss the importance of Christ’s return because of the many false interpretations. Jesus’ 2nd coming remains an essential, inspiring reality, helping us to stay faithful now.
- 1 The 1:9 Punishment is eternal destruction, being separated from the presence of God. They get what they chose and wanted: separation from God. Which is hell. God is all goodness, light, love, justice, beauty, life … if you do not get that, what is left? Hell is indeed horror, the horror of a reality without God.
- 1 The 1:10 ‘the glory of his might, when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at on that day among all who have believed’. Jesus fully in and with and among his redeemed humans will be the amazing thing to marvel at! What a view of ‘heaven’.
- 1 The 1:11 “To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, 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”.
Their sanctification now will culminate in a full fellowship with Christ. Sanctification is not a prerequisite for salvation, neither a annoying test to sift out, it is getting ready for what we will be fully!
How do I view the Spirit’s prompting and conviction, the law of Christ? Do I still see it as a ‘jump’ to pass the mark, as a rule the boss can impose, or as the beauty God wants to lift me to? We need to check our heart, and to understand God’s goodness in the very demand for sanctification.
This is Paul’s prayer for them. This is what he wrote the two letters for: to encourage them living holy lives.
Chapter 2 – First Half
- 1 The 2:1 “As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and out being gathered together to him” … This is Paul’s summary of the 2nd coming, not judgment, not scary, but essentially this: we will finally be with him.
- 1 The 2:2 “Do not be quickly shaken in mind of alarmed, either by spirit (prophecy) or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.”
‘Day of the Lord’ is the Old Testament way to refer to Jesus’ return, it means the day when God will intervene in human history and bring his full judgment (termination of Satan, sin, death and injustice) and full redemption (a restoration life by resurrection, a complete redemption of heaven and earth). It is often called ‘the end’, but really it is the end only of evil, and the celebration of all that is good, which will remain forever.
So Paul basically says: Jesus hasn’t returned! You didn’t miss the rapture. You didn’t miss Jesus. You are not ‘left behind’. The dead didn’t miss it either.
- “Do not be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed” … how we need to hear that before we get anxious about the next ‘Jesus will come back in 2021’ prediction. Do not be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed!!!
- 1 The 2:3 “Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion / the lawless one will come first”. Before going into the following passage (very difficult passage!) Paul makes in abundantly clear what his main point is: The 2nd coming hasn’t happened yet, and much still needs to happen till that day. So basically: calm down! Christians, calm down!
- 1 The 2:4-12 Paul describes events that need to happen before Jesus’ return: He describes three figures: the Lawless one, a Restrainer and Jesus.
We will look at these figures in turn, but first the basic drama: The Restrainer holds back the Lawless One, then eventually he will release him, so he is revealed / brings about a rebellion, and then Jesus annihilates him by his coming.
- Description of the Lawless one: “destined for destruction” (1 The 2:3), he opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship (1 The 2:4), so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God (1 The 2:4), restrained now until he is revealed when his time comes (1 The 2:6), apparent in the working of Satan, who uses power, signs, lying wonders and every kind of deception (1 The 2:9-10).
- Description of the Restrainer: currently at work restraining the Lawless one (1 The 2:7), the Thessalonians know what it / he is (1 The 2:6) “You know what is restraining him”
- 1 The 2:7 “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming”.
- 1 The 2:9-12 “The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses power, signs, lying wonders 10 and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion leading them to believe what is false, 12 so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned”
- Two things to observe: The deception is not of believes, but of unbelievers. The deception is first actively chosen by the humans (they refused to love the truth, they hae not believed the truth but have taken pleasure in unrighteousness), only then will God ‘send the delusion’. It is similar to Egypt’s Pharaoh, who very repeatedly chooses to ignore powerful evidence and hardens his heart. Only after many times of doing that does God harden his heart.
- We so often doubt God’s justice. We think he judges us for not knowing. But that is actually not so. God never judges for lack of knowledge, only for refusal of knowledge and negative response to it. We are not judged for what we didn’t know, we are judged for what we did know and rejected.
What in the world does this mean? Who is the lawless one? Who is the restrainer?
The answer is: Paul thinks it’s clear. He thinks the Thessalonians knew clearly what he was referring to. But we – frankly – don’t. There are as many opinions on this as Bible Scholars. We will look at some of the options:
Man of Lawlessness
- Man of Lawlessness is simply Satan. The problem with this is that 2 The 2:9 seems to talk of Satan and him as two separate entities
- Man of Lawlessness is a Jewish Pseudo-Messiah who is taking his seat in the temple. The problem with that is the claim of messiahship is not mentioned, spiritual temple?
- Nero redivivus, a pagan king like in Da 11:36. The problem: Nero is not yet enthroned, his death is only in 68 AD
- Man of Lawlessness is Roman emperor Caligula, demanding emperor worship. Problem: Caligula dies in 41 AD, so this is not problem any more now
- Man of Lawlessness is the Anti-christ. Problem: the term is used in the plural of humans (see 2 Jn 7)
Restrainer / Restraining power
- The Holy Spirit is the Restrainer. Problem: this is a very cryptic way to refer to Him. Also he is not really removed.
- Apostles or good teachers are Restrainers. Problem: again it is a cryptic way to refer to them
- Roman law / God’s law is the Restrainer
- Roman Emperor or Government is the Restrainer (Tertullian suggested that). Problem: government is also persecuting, emperor-cult is rising
- Need to preach gospel to all nations first is the Restrainer (Calvin, church fathers suggested that).
- Restrainer is a special supernatural being ordained by God
So in summary: This is one of the most difficult passages in the entire New Testa,emt, and we can’t really explain it at all. We do not know the details that Paul refers to, but what is crystal clear is his overall purpose: To assure the Thessalonians that Jesus hadn’t returned yet and that much must happen before he does. But also: that once he returns he’ll clean out the mess with one stroke, actually with the breath of his mouth. All this is not a lack of power on God’s side.
Reminder: Clear passages interpret unclear passages, not the other way round. If suddenly somebody comes up with this super-detailed, Scripture-quoting explanation of exactly why the Lawless one must be the Russian President Putin (or somebody), I would not trust it. Do not build entire theologies on one obscure sentence in the New Testament!
Chapter 2 – Second Half
As we’ve seen many times, upon closing the topic of Jesus’ 2nd coming Paul focuses back on the now: In the light of God’s ultimate victory, what lives should we live now?
- 2 The 2:13-17 Assurance of them being loved by God, chosen by God, saved by God, by the Holy Spirit and their belief of the truth (unlike those refusing) they are on the path of sanctification. Re-affirmation of basics.
- 2 The 2:14 Good news > calling > obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (again unlike those refusing), a summary of what went before.
- 2 The 2:15 Conclusion – challenge to them: So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth of by our letter. This is in contrast to others teaching alarming nonsense.
- 2 The 2:16-17 Conclusion – prayer for them: Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
- 2 The 3:1-2 Paul also requests prayer: for the word to spread as it did among them in Thessalonica, for them to be rescued from evil people (in Corinth). Remember Jesus’ reassurance to Paul in Corinth in Acts 18:10? Obviously it was needed! This is also to affirm the Thessalonians as partners, encouragers, pray-ers, they have a role, they have something to give.
- 2 The 3:3-5 Paul expresses his confidence that the Thessalonians will do well, will obey this letter. He blesses them with God’s love and steadfastness.
- 2 The 3:6 “Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they have received from us”. Paul actually commands them with an emphatic statement. They don’t think it important, he is showing them it is. This is not optional, it’s not nice to have, it is essential to future health and growth.
- 2 The 3:7-8 Paul reminds them of his example while in Thessalonica: hes was not idle, paid for own expenses, toiled and labored night and day so as to not be a burden.
- 2 The 3:9 As apostles they would have had the right, but didn’t in order to give an example to imitate (also in 2 The 3:7)
- 2 The 3:10 “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat”. How much more clearer do you need it? Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. Distinction: those unwilling to work and those unable to work (like in the Old Testament: the widow or orphan). Those working for the church or missions: if we are unwilling to work as least as hard as people in jobs, we shouldn’t eat, we shouldn’t take donations!
- 2 The 3:11 Negative diagnosis: people being idle even after 1 Thessalonians and Timothy’s encouragement.
- 2 The 3:12-13 Positive commands: Do your work quietly, earn your own living, do not be weary in doing what is right.
- 2 The 3:14-15 Parallel 2 The 3:6 a command to use church discipline: Take note of those who even after 2 Thessalonians still refuse to work and stay away from them > with the hope that they may be ashamed, come to their senses, repent and start working. Of course they are welcome back. 15 “Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as believers.”
- Remember before the theme of ‘refusing to respond to truth’? It is a dangerous path. Do not refuse truth, conviction, correction. We need to invite truth and correction. We need to as followers and as leaders be welcoming it, not resenting it, not threatening, not intimidate. Especially as leaders we need to create a fear-free environment where anything can be said.
- 2 The 3:16 Blessing: peace.
2 The 3:17 The final sentence of the letter, written by Paul in his own handwriting, to authenticate his letters (as in Gal 6:11), especially in the light of others using his name (2 The 2:2).
2 The 3:18 Final blessing: grace.