Letter to the church in Thessalonica

From Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles

Compared to the gentle, pastoral tone in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, in this letter he seems anxious over what is going on in this robust capital of Macedonia.

  • First, the intensity of persecution against the gatherings of believers is clearly on the rise in and around Thessalonica. But we cannot know exactly who is bringing the pressure on this young community of faith or why they are doing it. What we do know is that it is increasingly dangerous to be a follower of Jesus in this area. Paul assures these new believers that relief is coming when the Lord returns. God’s justice will be satisfied when He punishes those who bring such misery on His people.
  • Second, apparently someone has forged a letter in Paul’s name. In that letter, Paul is said to have written that the day of the Lord has already arrived. He is quick to point out that the letter is not from him and to assure the Thessalonians that the day has not arrived. In fact, it won’t come, he says, until restraints are removed and “the rebellious one” is unleashed to start a “great rebellion.” But as awful as this sounds, Paul again assures them that almost as soon as it begins, the rebellion will be over when the Lord Jesus returns to annihilate the enemy and his minions.
  • Third, for reasons not altogether clear, a number of people in the community have quit their jobs and are no longer working. As a result, they have become a nuisance and a burden on the rest. Paul confronts them: “Anyone not willing to work shouldn’t get to eat!” As he often does, Paul points to his own example. Although as a traveling missionary he had the right to live off of the hospitality of others, he didn’t exercise that right; instead he went to work daily to take care of his own needs. So he urges the lazy Thessalonians to follow his example. With all these issues going on in the church, no wonder Paul is a bit nervous.

The day of the Lord

The themes that dominate both 1 and 2 Thessalonians have much to do with matters of last or ultimate things: death, the afterlife, the second coming, judgment, and eternity. Paul addresses these subjects not long after he planted the church.

They are clearly salient issues facing the church in Thessalonica, and they continue to interest believers today. Still Paul doesn’t answer every question about what will happen next as the story of redemption unfolds.

2 Thessalonians 2:1

On that day — though men and women have spent lifetimes scanning the skies hoping that “perhaps today” is the day of salvation — on that day, the confessed lovers of God and Jesus will glow with all the wonder of children at Christmas.

There are clear premonitions in the Bible about what we can expect on that day; but can anyone, with our rudimentary human knowledge, know what to expect? Jesus confessed that even He did not know the day or the hour when these final moments will play out, so how can we truly know?

Likely this fear of the unknown is what took root and began to spread like weeds within the Thessalonians’ community. Where fear takes root, faith withers; and people who once focused on the bright hope of the Son turn away.

2 Thessalonians 3:1

Paul brings the situation to life for them: on one side, the rebellious one opposes God by corrupting God’s world, telling lies, and instigating fear; but on the other side, there’s Jesus, who comes from above and rains mercy over the world with His blood.

He stands ready to return to face these enemies. Paul is trying to explain this epic battle with eternal consequences to his friends who have been led astray by false revelations.

While this spiritual battle will occur in the future, skirmishes representing the two sides are already taking place in the church; so remain diligent and faithful in service of the Lord.