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This introductory course is designed to provide key insights into the book of 2 Thessalonians by pulling together a number of key resources: overview videos from Fast Facts and The Bible Project, helpful contextual information from The ESV Study Bible, commentary recommendations from The Gospel Coalition, a single sermon that sums up the book from beginning to end by Mark Dever, and much more. By watching, listening to, and reading these resources, you’ll be better prepared to read, study, teach, or preach the book of 2 Thessalonians.
Second Thessalonians follows the customary order of a NT letter. It begins with a salutation and ends with a prayer and benediction. Between these bookends is found the type of informal letter that meanders through a series of topics in the way that present-day informal letters often do. There is the usual mixture of personalia (references to the letter writer’s relationship with his recipients) and public information, and Christian doctrine and practical application.
In contrast to the warm and effusive tone of 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians includes some blunt commands as Paul addresses bad behavior and bad thinking. Further, this letter is noteworthy for the author’s tough-mindedness in predicting judgment on the ungodly and rebuking church members who behave and think incorrectly. Still, there is a regular swing back and forth between reproof and warm encouragement.
The theme of the second coming of Jesus dominates 2 Thessalonians just as it dominated 1 Thessalonians. Jesus’ coming will be preceded by an “apostasy” (or rebellion) and by the revelation of the man of lawlessness, the Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:3). When Jesus comes, he will defeat this rebellious world ruler (2 Thess. 2:8) and bring justice to oppressed Christians, and wrath to their persecutors and to unbelievers in general (2 Thess. 1:5–10; 2:9–15).
2 Thessalonians 1:5–10; 2:9–14
2 Thessalonians 1:10, 12; 2:14
2 Thessalonians 2:3–4, 9–12
2 Thessalonians 2:3, 6–12
2 Thessalonians 3:6–15
Some have proposed that 2 Thessalonians preceded 1 Thessalonians, but 2 Thessalonians 2:15 rules this out. Others have postulated that Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians for a Jewish group within the church or even to the Philippians, but such hypotheses are in tension with 2 Thessalonians 1:1. Probably Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians soon after dispatching 1 Thessalonians, because he had received a report (2 Thess. 3:11) that the situation at Thessalonica had taken a surprising turn.
The Thessalonian church had accepted the strange claim that “the day of the Lord has come” (2 Thess. 2:1–2). How could they have thought this? Some think they spiritualized the concept of the day of the Lord, but Paul’s argumentation seems inconsistent with this. Others postulate that they thought that tribulation was part of the day of the Lord and that it had begun, and consequently the second coming was imminent. However, Paul assumes that they knew the second coming occurred at the same time as the coming of the day of the Lord. As strange as it may seem, the Thessalonians may simply have fallen victim to the bizarre notion that the day of the Lord, understood in its normal sense, had come. As a result they were shaken and frightened (2 Thess. 2:2). The Thessalonians were also undergoing persecution (2 Thess. 1:4), which may have exacerbated their confusion about the end. Furthermore, the community had a problem with idlers refusing to work (2 Thess. 3:6–15). They may have stopped working to await and preach the second coming, but evidence for connecting the problems in this way is lacking. Lazy Christians may simply have been exploiting wealthier Christians’ generosity in order to avoid work.
Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians (1) to reassure those terrified by the thought that the day of the Lord had come (2 Thess. 2:1–3:5), (2) to strengthen the Thessalonians in the face of unremitting persecution (2 Thess. 1:3–12), and (3) to deal with the problem of some of the church members refusing to earn their own living (2 Thess. 3:6–15).
The following recommendations are from D. A. Carson, New Testament Commentary Survey. 7th ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013.