Main Themes of 2 Thessalonians

The situation in Thessalonica has changed since Paul wrote his first letter to the church. In fact, the second letter is so different from the first that some scholars suggest it was actually the first letter Paul wrote to the church and the order was reversed as the early church gathered the Pauline letters into a collection. It is true the whole collection is not chronological, and the general order of the letters is from longest (Romans) to the shortest (Philemon). So it is possible the smaller 2 Thessalonians was placed after the first letter simply because it was shorter. In the absence of evidence, this reversal of the letters is too speculative, and it really does not take into account 1 Thessalonians fits well into the context of Acts.

The Apostle Paul with SwordAs for the situation of the letter, the consensus view is that the church received a letter claiming to come from Paul has circulated to the church. This letter claimed the “Day of the Lord” has already occurred. Paul writes to calm their fears and to assure then that the Day of the Lord has not yet arrived since the “Man of Lawlessness” has not been revealed.

But there is more in the background than a false letter claiming the “end times” have begun. It is possible the persecution the church faced has caused some in the congregation to wonder if they are suffering because they have sinned (and are being punished) or perhaps have believed the wrong things about Jesus. Much of the Greco-Roman world was motivated by pursuit of honor and avoiding shame. The suffering the church is facing appears to be “shame” rather than an “honor.” Paul taught them Jesus would return soon and render judgment, yet he has not returned to rescue the Thessalonians from their troubles.

Why does Paul write 2 Thessalonians?

First, Paul writes this second letter to clarify that Christians might suffer before the return of the Lord. First, suffering cannot be taken as an indication that the Great Tribulation has begun because God has an appointed time when the restraining power of God is removed from the world, permitting the Lawless One to be revealed.

Second, suffering should not be taken as an indication of divine disfavor. Nor should the Christian think they are dishonored because they are being persecuted. This sort of suffering is the lot of the Christian and the endurance the church has already demonstrated is a worthy testimony of the Lord’s work in their church and is a source of boasting for Paul. Paul is pleased that they are steadfast as they endure persecution (1:4).

Third, the source of the suffering which the church is experiencing is not God, but rather Satan. God is not punishing them at all. Since they are a successful, growing church, Satan is attempting to distract them from their calling as a church. They are engaged in serious spiritual warfare, so they ought to “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings” Paul had already passed on to them (2:15).

Fourth, the central problem in 2 Thessalonians is the false report about the return of Christ (2:1-12). Paul first must remind the Thessalonians of what he has already taught them, that the Lord will not return until “the man of lawlessness” is revealed, and this person cannot be revealed until “the restraining force” is taken out of the way. The identity of the Restrainer is one of the more difficult issues in Pauline studies (here are a few comments on what Paul might be talking about). Setting aside the precise identity of the Restrainer, Paul main encouragement to the Thessalonican church is that they need to be afraid they have entered into the “last days” and ought to encourage one another and be “strengthened in every good deed and word” (2:16)

14 thoughts on “Main Themes of 2 Thessalonians

  1. Is the reason Paul writes the letter clarifying that they might suffer before the return to sort of give them a notice or to warn them into good holy work? It is also tough to say that suffering would mean that it is the return because of Satan’s work. Because Satan is real there will always be suffering and sin. Satan plays a big role in sort of trying to persuade the people in the opposite direction of the church with the use of suffering. I’m sure that in this era many suffered with believing in certain people because of the fact any one can come fourth with false letters, so their faith was probably tested often.

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  2. I find it interesting that there are speculations on whether 2 Thessalonians was written first. Yet there are obvious reasons why 2 Thessalonians would come after the first letter due to Paul clearing up some confusing topics in 1 Thessalonians that weren’t covered clearly.
    Scholars have looked into the possibility of 2 Thessalonians being written first because of how the new testament is laid out. Not in chronological order but descending in length starting with the longest letter of Romans to the shortest being Philemon (Long). This theory makes sense due to inductive reasoning but what about the fact that the people of Thessalonica was confused about why they were suffering. Along with the confusion of when the day of the Lord came. Thessalonians thought the day of the Lord was here because of suffering. But this suffering is not from God but from satan. so to clear things up, Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians to inform them that The lord cannot come back because the man of lawlessness has not come yet. The man of lawlessness will come back in the end but can not be released because the restrainer is holding him back. We don’t quite know who the restrainer is, most likely the holy spirit.
    Entertaining the thought that 2 Thessalonians was written first is not a far reach. It makes far more sense that the Thessalonians would receive a letter of encouragement but following this was suffering because of their sin. This suffering means the return of Jesus. So paul needs to inform everybody of what is going on.

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  3. Fourth, the central problem in 2 Thessalonians is the false report about the return of Christ (2:1-12). Paul first must remind the Thessalonians of what he has already taught them, that the Lord will not return
    Based on what you wrote here, please do you know that everything written in the Bible was written. By the holy Spirit of God Almighty so don’t say it is false. Ok thanks

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    • How about this: the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write a letter to respond to a false letter that claimed the end times of already begun. I did not was 2 Thess was a false letter.

      You know there are several lies of Satan in the Bible, even if it is the inspired word of God? Genesis 3 accurately reports a lie.

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  4. When comparing 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians, I see a difference in purpose rather than a difference in tone. Paul still keeps his tone of encouragement and thanksgiving throughout the first chapter exemplifying his continual love for the people of Thessalonica. Yet, his purpose for writing this letter is different from the last. This letter came from a need to clarify and reinforce to the people what he had established in the first place. Some of the people were giving way to corrupt thoughts about what Paul had taught them and falling victim to deceit from outside sources as mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:2.
    Paul warns the people of straying from what he had told them, yet still continues to encourage them, which to me, seems consistent with the themes in 1 Thessalonians. In “Thinking Through Paul” it highlights how at the end of the letter, Paul is extending grace to people, because he knows of their many struggles (pg. 80). Therefore, Paul is showing his continuous love for the people, as he did in 1 Thessalonians. After reading both and comparing I find the tone and theme to be similar, and the difference is in the purpose, which in 2 Thessalonians was a need to correct issues that were beginning to rise.

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  5. It is interesting to hear about why the Thessalonians might have been fearing the wrath of God as a result of their persecution. If the Greco-Roman culture emphasized the pursuit of honor and avoidance of shame as you state above, I can understand especially why they would be living in fear of the Lords return with words of heresy floating around their church. I can imagine them being confused as they are working to honor the Lord but are still being shamed via persecution. Paul then has to clarify that they can be sure that the Lord is not angry with them and that he has not returned yet because the “man of lawlessness” has not been released (2:2-3). Rather, just as you stated in point three, the persecution they are facing is a result of their steadfastness in Paul’s teachings and faithfulness as a new growing church. Because of this spiritual warfare, it is important that the Thessalonians keep up working hard and stay true to what Paul has taught them. He gives them warning to stay away from any brothers who do not obey his words and to warn them as a brother rather than hating them as an enemy (3:13-15). Paul knows that before he wrote this letter most already knew the truth, if they were influenced by false doctrine before, they need to keep alert for those who seek to thwart the truth and cause discourse within their church.

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  6. In comparison to the believers mentioned in 2 Thessalonians, in today’s time, there are many believers that are convinced they are in the times of Christ returning. It is crazy to me that though this book was written over 2,000 years ago, the end times still have yet to come, and the believers back then were convinced it was coming in their time period! There are many different signs that people will take into consideration when discussing end times. Even if it looked like everything was lining up for end times, no one knows exactly what it will look like or when it will all happen. As it says in the first letter to the Thessalonians, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess 5:2). This is one of the reasons why Paul wants the believers to continually stand firm and do good, continually growing with one another, to prepare themselves for that day (2 Thess 2:15).
    The end times are also related to suffering, but just because a believer is suffering, does not mean it is the time. Just like you mentioned above, they were definitely dealing with spiritual warfare. This is why Paul came with calming, peaceful words to them to help recognize the truth in what is happening. There are some things that we will just have to settle on the unknown. Many of these things are ideas of end times, and questions about the man of lawlessness and the restrainer. Even Longenecker describes nine different suggestions of who the restrainer is! No wonder Paul had to give so much insight and encouragement. We still do not know everything to this day!

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  7. In this 2 Thessalonians passage it is trying to say that there will be times in life where things are not always going to go our way but you have the strength to pull through whatever situation because God is with you. A big problem in 2 Thessalonians is the false report that Christ will not be returning. Paul then just tells the Thessalonican church is that they have to encourage one another and be strengthened in every good word. I found it interesting that 2 Thessalonians was written first like this passage said and the numbers they are not in order.

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  8. One of the themes of 2 Thessalonians that the apostle Paul discusses is the fact that Christians will not only suffer for the namesake of Christ, but we must not waver or be shaken in our faith when we are presented with the trials and challenges that come with being a believer. Perhaps the reasoning behind this type of mindset can be best explained from a passage of another letter written by Paul, that of 2 Corinthians. 2 Corinthians 12:10: “That is why, for Christ sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong”. So in essence, why is it a true Christ follower willingly places his or herself in harm’s way, as well as suffers for the gospel? It is because the Lord has “heard our voice, as well as our cry for mercy” (Psalm 116:1). Not only did he hear our cry, he sent Jesus Christ to die in our place. Every one of us owes our very lives to God. At the very least, we can honor Him by living righteously and rightly.
    Another theme of this second letter of Paul’s is to not let anyone one deceive us or lease us astray in our walk and faith. According to author Bruce Longnecker, Paul did not know how the false idea being proliferated about that the Lord’s return was imminent, or had already arrived, came about (Longnecker, p.75). During the time the Thessalonians were alive, this was something that happened, either due to a ploy by Satan or simply their own sin, that attempted to deceive them. For us in today’s day and age, it will be something different, but the fact remains the same, we must guard our hearts and minds against sinful deception. Today’s world and culture is even more dangerous than the time of Paul’s, as we continue to get closer and closer to the actual day of when Christ will return. Jeremiah 9:6: “You live in the midst of deception, in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me, declares the Lord”. Often times we ourselves are the deceiver, as the sin comes out from an internal place rather than externally (Jeremiah 17:9). Regardless, we can and should listen to the words of Paul as the Holy Spirit spoke through him on these matters…

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  9. The suffereing of Christians can really take a toll on the mind. The whole social media tasks may not fit with this religious group as a whole. Are Christians seen as a outsider or do they fit in just like everyone else. Suffering can play a huge roll here because it makes it hard for the people who are trying to live for God. Many try and push through the suffereing to live the life they want to live. But it is very tough to do alone. Many try to refer back to family and friends and dig in their minds on how to make it through this stage of their life. As long as you have God you will be okay. You do not need to worry about all of the outside noise when it comes to fullfilling God’s tasks in life. Getting through tough times with others make the process go a lot smoother. Going through tough times is what Paul consitently did in life and he made it through.

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    • I love the aspects and ideas that you presented within your post about 2 Thessalonians. I like how you related your response to how someone in this day in age may feel in order to live a life please to God. As it may get hard for a lot of people but especially young people in this modern world we are faced with numerous problems. However, we must be willing to understand as Christians and wrap our head around the concept of having hope through suffering. Knowing that God will never put anything on you that you can’t stand. That evidence of having hope through suffering we come to understand that God is always with us every step of the way (Deuteronomy 31:6). As we strive to live more like Christ we may feel as outsiders or not apart of the “in” crowd, but we should know that it is all worth it in the end. Always following God’s word no matter the circumstances is pivotal in spiritual growth (Exodus 19:5). Although it may be hard we must stay steadfast in His word. That’s what Paul was trying to get the people of Thessalonica to understand. That although you may be suffering now you must withstand the fight to win the prize. He also wanted them to realize that he knows how they feel in way that he has suffered in his own life and was saved by the Grace of God (longenecker, pg. 80). That’s allows us to see that as we grow in our spiritual walk in Christ we should listen to people that have been through that storm we may be going through. That aspect of relating to each other encourages us to do better and withstand because we know someone who has went through and gotten through what we may be going through.

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  10. Thinking Through Paul seemed to view the man of lawlessness as a mystery (TTP, 77). They offered many suggestions about who he could be but concluded that we cannot know for sure. However, the ESV Study Bible and our class notes conclude that the man of lawlessness is another name for the Anti-Christ described in other Scripture passages (ESVSB, 2317)(Long, 57). Several aspects of the man of lawlessness are echoed in other biblical passages. First, the description in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 alludes to Daniel 11:36-37 which describes a king who will honor himself above all other gods and “say unheard-of things against the God of gods.” Second, the beast along with the false prophet in Revelation 13, deceive the people so that they worship the beast (Revelation 13:4; 14). Similarly, Paul writes that the man of lawlessness will perform “signs and wonders that serve the lie” and many people will be deceived and perish (2 Th 2:9-10). Third, 2 Thessalonians 2:7 states that the power of lawlessness is already here, although it is held back for now. In 1 John 4:3, the apostle also declares that the “antichrist … even now is already in the world.” All these passages seem to point to a man or power who will be revealed before the return of the Lord who will be like Christ but oppose him in every way. This person is generally referred to as the Anti-Christ.

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  11. As we examine some of the elements and concepts presented in this post we see the aspects of suffering and the return of Christ. This post provides the aspects in a way that really relate to the things that one may go through in the modern world as well. In terms of the return of Christ In 2 Thessonlians the people of Thessalonica were being falsely taught about that of the end times and trying to be moved by the notion that “the end times have already begun” (2 Thessalonians 2:2). However, Paul wanted them to not be so easily moved and shaken by the false notions that these false teachers try to present to them. This relates to the modern world in numerous instances. An individual in this day in age may come across a lot of man made things that try to stray them away from the truth of the Christ. For example, technology is an highly impactful aspect of this generation. However, as it as some positive upsides there are some negative downsides as well when we think about leading you away from the Lord. Such as, if we are present in church service and we receive a text message while the pastor is giving their sermon we tend to have that temptation of answering that text message. In which our attention would revert to the text message rather than focusing on the word of God. Therefore, the aspect of technology could pull us away from the truth of God. However, that facet of being able to withstand that temptation on not being weary in your walk of Faith and standing strong is pivotal to spiritual growth. Having that sense of being steadfast in Faith is significant, especially in terms of suffering. As we go through life and some things might not go our way or roadblocks alter our path in which we start to develop that idea of things will never go right. However, as Christians and followers of Christ we should know that ultimately we are saved by God’s grace and we must withstand the elements of suffering within our life (1 Peter 5:10).

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