Survey of 2 Thessalonians

Book Type: The New Testament’s ninth Pauline Epistle; the fourteenth book of the New Testament; the fifty-third book of the Bible.

Author: Paul, Silvanus (Silas), and Timothy, as noted in 2 Thessalonians 1:1.

Audience: Paul wrote this second letter to the church he founded in the city of Thessalonica during his second missionary journey (Acts 17:1–9). Though he lived among these people only a short time, he had already written one letter to them and follows up with a second letter to clear up concerns regarding the day of the Lord as well as dealing with Christian persecution.

Date: Approximately AD 51—52.

Overview: Second Thessalonians consists of three chapters in three broad categories. After a brief introduction (2 Thessalonians 1:1–2), Paul provides a beginning section of encouragement for his readers (2 Thessalonians 1). This encouragement also addresses the coming judgment at Christ’s coming (2 Thessalonians 1:5–12).

The second section addresses concerns regarding issues of prophecy (2 Thessalonians 2). Paul tells the Thessalonian believers they were not to be shaken or alarmed. Before the end, the rebellion will come, including the man of lawlessness who opposes God; this seems to be a reference to the future Antichrist. Paul had already spoken about this with these believers (2 Thessalonians 2:5). These events had not yet taken place, but would come about in the Lord’s timing. This lawless figure would be defeated by the Lord Jesus (2 Thessalonians 2:8). So, the readers of this letter are not to be concerned, but rather encouraged to stand firm (2 Thessalonians 2:13–17).

The third section requests prayer for Paul, Silas, and Timothy (2 Thessalonians 3:1–5) and warns against idleness. Paul’s life is meant to be their example: working hard to meet needs and help others. They are to continue living according to God’s ways and not grow weary in doing good (2 Thessalonians 3:13). Paul closes with words of blessing and a greeting in his own hand (2 Thessalonians 3:17).

Key Verses (ESV):

2 Thessalonians 1:6–8: “Since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”

2 Thessalonians 2:13: “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”

2 Thessalonians 3:3: “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.”

2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”




2 Thessalonians

Evidently Paul wasn’t able to answer all of Thessalonians questions and so he wrote a second letter. Just because of the timing of things and the way 2 Thessalonians reads, we assume that just a little time has passed—maybe a couple of months, but just a little bit of time. There are three basic issues that are still bothering the Thessalonians, so Paul hits on these things pretty hard.

Persevere in the Face of Persecution (2 Thess. 1:5-12)

In 1:5-12 he again talks about the whole need to persevere in the face of persecution and to not let persecution detract you from your Christian commitment, but to hang in there and to persevere. He adds the note here that when Jesus returns in judgment, God is going to wreak vengeance on those who are persecuting you now. Do you ever pray that? It’s hard to pray that, but it’s biblical; God is a God of vengeance. Our prayers for our enemies should be that they repent and become Christians. In addition, these people who are persecuting you so badly, God will punish eventually. When it comes to a discussion of the justice of God, like in Habakkuk, a lot of it is just wait. God is going to make all thing right, he will reward goodness, he will punish wickedness, but he’s going to do it on his timetable. A large part of the punishment for the wicked is evidently going to happen at judgment. He covers that issue.

Jesus’s Return is Future (2 Thess. 2)

Then in chapter 2 he gets back on Eschatology and the Eschatological question in 1 Thessalonians is, if those people die before Christ comes back again, do they get to go to Heaven? In 2 Thessalonians it’s a little different. What evidently was being taught, some people were saying that Jesus had already come back again that there was probably a secret return. Paul is going to address that. Let me start reading in 2:1, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers (1), not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit (2)” (probably like a prophetic word) “or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us,” in other words, people are saying that Paul is teaching this secret return of Christ and Paul says I’m not, “to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.” See there’s the problem. “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first,” (which we call from Revelation the Great Apostasy) “and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction (3),” whom John calls the Antichrist.

What he’s saying is that Jesus can’t have come back again because before he comes back again there’s going to be this huge leaving of people from the church and the Antichrist is going to be revealed. We work this Eschatology back in Mark 13, I don’t need to repeat that, but he goes on to discuss the Antichrist, the man of lawlessness, “4who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” That’s the essence of the Antichrist. He goes on to say that Satan gives him his power to do miracles, so the Antichrist, the man of lawlessness will be miracle worker, but he’s going to claim to be God and that’s the key to identifying him. He goes on in verse 8, “Then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.” In other words, he will immediately be gone. That’s how powerful the Antichrist is—Jesus just appears, breathes, and he’s gone. That gives us hope to persevere in difficult times because ultimately we know who wins the battle.

Among other things, this is a key passage for understanding the 666 passage in Revelation. Now I’m not assuming that everybody is going to believe this. There are a million different explanations for what 666 is: The mark of the beast inscribed in our hands and heads in order to do business during the Great Tribulation. Seven is the number of perfection, six is the number for man so the number for God as the Trinity is 777, and Revelation talks about God’s number being written in our foreheads, but he doesn’t give us the numerical value. 666 is the man who claims to be God. You don’t have to believe it, but that’s what I think 666 is. It comes out of this passage because the essence of the Antichrist is he claims to be God and that understanding of 666 fits. I like to joke that I know who the Antichrist is—it’s my father, because his name is Robert Hayden Mounce, six letters in each name, and we lived in Kentucky on 666 Windmill Way, and he wrote a Commentary on Revelation. Not really. I think the Antichrist is a human being who claims to be God, and it comes primarily out of that passage.

Look at verse 15, less we be lost in all the Eschatology rhetoric of the passage. What’s the whole point? Well, part of the point is in verse 8L he’s going to lose, Jesus is going to win. But as far as you and I are concerned, verse 15 is the point: “Then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us.” The whole call is to persevere in our faith, to hang on to the Gospel as Paul had taught.

Idleness (2 Thess. 3)

Let me briefly mention that the third thing is idleness. It definitely is going to be a real problem and in 3:6 he says, “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.” Part of Paul’s teaching evidently was that you work, and to not work is to defy the message of the apostle. He tells them, don’t have anything to do with these people. Look at verse 10, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Evidently there was a real problem in the Thessalonian church with people not wanting to work and expecting the church to pay their way. This is the unusual thing about this: it’s not that he just says, don’t give them any money, he says don’t have anything to do with them. Socially ostracize them. That strikes strong.

You’ll notice we’re getting to an area of what today we call church discipline. When someone has refused to acknowledge the truth when you’ve gone to them one-on-one, and you’ve taken witnesses, and you’ve brought them before the elders, and he’s brought before the church, the final stage of church discipline of a sinning Christian is to have nothing to do with them at all. Evidently there was something about their laziness in Thessalonica that even being lazy and not working was grounds for church discipline. I never would have thought that if I hadn’t read it, but it is interesting. Look at the qualification down in verses 14 and 15, “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed (14). Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother (15).” Church discipline is always to be done kindly, gently, and firmly with an eye to repentance, treating them as a brother. That’s the balance that is really hard for any of us that have had to do this. It’s really hard, but that’s what you have to do. You say, “Okay, the Scripture says I can’t have anything to do with you, but I love you and I hope you repent, and when you do I will receive you back in.” Evidently it was over something even like being really lazy and sponging off the church. I’ve never heard of church discipline done for that. I’ve heard it done for theological heresy, for immoral behavior, like 1 Corinthians 5, but not for this. There are lots of bits and pieces here, but these are a great two letters to a young church and the problems they were having.





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