A Bible Study
Background of the Thessalonian Letters
From Thessalonica, Paul and his party went to Beroea, then Paul continued alone to Athens. It seems Timothy joined him there (1 Thes.3:1-2) but was almost immediately sent back to Thessaionica for news. Paul was actively anxious to know what had become of the Christians there.
Paul was in Corinth by the time Timothy returned with good news. 1 Thessalonians, written at this point, is full of relief and joy. Paul answers questions that had arisen, and repeats his teaching on matters where the church was weak.
The second letter followed a few months later, reinforcing the teachings and clearing up misunderstandings, particularly over Christ's return.
These two letters are the earliest of Paul's surviving writings (with the possible exception of Galatians). These letters were written only 20 years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
It might be helpful to trace the locations of Paul and his companions in outline form that relate to the Thessalonian correspondence. Paul's travels were as follows...
1. Paul and Silas fled from Thessalonica to Berea (Acts 17:10)
Since Timothy is not mentioned, it is possible that he stayed in Thessalonica or went back to Philippi and then rejoined Paul and Silas in Berea (Acts 17:14)
2. Paul fled to Athens from Berean persecution, leaving Silas and Timothy in Berea (Acts 17:14)
3. Paul sent work back, instructing Silas and Timothy to come to him in Athens (Acts 17:15)
4. Timothy rejoins Paul at Athens and was sent back to Thessalonica (see 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5). Since Silas is not mentioned, it has been conjectured that he went back to Philippi when Timothy went to Thessalonica.
5. Paul moved on to the city of Corinth (Acts 18:1)
6. Silas and Timothy came to Paul in Corinth (see 1 Thess.3:6; Acts 18:5)
7. Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians and sent it to the church.
8. About six months later (51/52 AD) he sent 2 Thessalonians in response to further information about the church there.
The Author, Date and Place of the writing
Both external and internal evidence (1:1-3) support the view that Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians from Corinth (see 1 Thes.3:1-2) Early church writers are agreed on the matter, with testimonies beginning as early as 140 AD from a man by the name of Marcion.
Paul's known characteristics are apparent in 1 Thessalonians. (1 Thes.3:1-2, 8-11 compared with Acts 15:36; 2 Cor.11:28)
Historical allusions in the book of 1 Thessalonians fit Paul's life as recounted in the book of Acts and in his own letters (see 1 Thess.2:14-16 compared with Acts 17:5-10; 3:6 compared with Acts 17:16) Few have ever rejected the authorship by Paul.
The first letter to the Christians in Thessalonica is generally dated 51 AD. Weighty support for this date was found in an inscription discovered in Delphi, Greece, that dates Gallio's proconsulship to 51-52 and thus places Paul there at the same time (cf. Acts 18:12-17). St. Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians was written about two months after the first epistle.
Except for the possibility of an early date for the book of Galatians (48-49) 1 & 2 Thessalonians were Paul's earliest canonical letters.
The city of Thessalonica
Thessalonica was a free city, capital of the Roman province of Macedonia (northern Greece). It was a prosperous port on the Aeyean Sea, across the bay from Mt. Olympus. It also stood on the Egnatian Way, the land trade-route from Dyrrachium on the Adriatic to Byzantium (Istanbul)
Thessaloniki is today a flourishing modern city, center of government for northern Greece, and second only to the city of Athens.
At the time of Paul its population numbered about 200,000, making it the largest city in Macedonia. It was also the capital of its province.
The church of Thessalonica
The background of the Thessalonian church is found in Acts 17:1-9 Since Paul began his ministry there in the Jewish synagogue, it is reasonable to assume that the new church included some Jews. However 1:9-10; and Acts 17:4 seem to indicate that the church was largely Gentile in membership.
The church was founded about 50 AD after Paul (with Silas and Timothy) left Philippi on the second missionary journey. Paul did not stay in Thessalonica long; three successive sabbaths preaching in the synagogue, followed by a short time based at Jason's house.
Then the Jews stirred up trouble. Jason and the other Christians were hauled before the magistrates and bound over to keep the peace. For safety's sake the newly-formed church sent the missionaries away. But persecution continued, from Jews and from others.
The purpose of the letter
Paul had to leave Thessalonica abruptly (Acts 17:5-10) after a rather brief stay. Recent converts from paganism were thus left with little external support in the midst of persecution. With this in mind Paul wrote his first letter (1 Thessalonians). Paul's purpose was to encourage the new converts in their trials, to give instruction concerning godly living, to urge some not to neglect daily work and to give assurance concerning the future of believers who die before Christ's return. It is this last issue which prompted a "follow up" letter which is known today as Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians.
In the second letter Paul addresses himself to false notions concerning the "coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him'' (2 Thes.2:1). Those who advocated these notions apparently appealed to some alleged prophetic utterance "spirit" or teaching or writing of Paul's to support them. (2 Thes.2:2) Almost hysterical expectation had led some to abandon their regular occupation and had lead to an idle and disorderly life dependent on the charity of the church (2 Thes.3:6-12). Others, it would seem, struck by the high demands of the first letter (the demand that they be found ''blameless" at the coming of the Lord (1 Thes. 3:13; 5:23) had grown fearful and despondent concerning the coming of Christ; for them, they felt, it would mean not deliverance but judgment and destruction.
2 Thessalonians is Paul's answer to these questions. He sounds two notes. First, for those who indulge in overheated fantasies concerning the last times there are sobering words that point to the events which must necessarily precede the coming of Christ in glory (2 Thes.2:1-12).
For the despondent and fearful there is an eloquent and reassuring recognition of the new life which God has worked in them and a comforting emphasis on the certainty of their election by God (2 Thes.1:3-12; 2:13-15).
1:1-13 Salutation, Thanksgiving, Assurance, and Prayer
1:3-4 Paul gives thanks for the ever increasing faith and love of the Thessalonians and for their steadfastness under persecution.
1:5-10 The fidelity and righteousness of God, he assures them, make their present suffering His pledge that they shall participate in the final deliverance, when those who do not obey the Gospel and oppress the church shall perish in the judgment of the Lord Jesus.
1:11-1-2 Paul prays that God, who has called them, may in His grace and power foster and make fruitful the faith which His call has created, to the glory of their Lord, who shares His glory with them.
2:1-12 Be Not Quickly Shaken in Your Mind
2:1-2 Paul speaks from a pastoral concern. Some utterance of his concerning the imminent character of the coming of the Day of the Lord (see 1 Thes.5:1-3) had been misinterpreted to mean that the Day of the Lord had already come. Today this "teaching'' is popular within many Jehovah's Witness circles where they believe that Christ returned to this earth "spiritually."
What is the result of such a teaching? The responsible sobriety of the Christian hope (1 Thes.5:8) gives way to hysterical excitement and irresponsible idleness (see 3:11)
Paul's words are intended here to restore the hope of the church to health and vigor. Remember, a parish without a challenge has no reason to wake up in the morning! We work now while it is still day for night will come when no one can do no work. What is the ''challenge" which the Lord has given to us here today?
What Paul has to say concerning the great apostasy (rebellion) and the revelation of the man of lawlessness as signs of the coming of the Day of the Lord is nothing new. Paul has taught this as part of the basic instruction which he gave to the congregation. He had already instructed them to "wait for" the coming of God's "Son from heaven." (1 Thes.l:10)
This teaching from Paul is nothing new. The coming of God, The Great Day of the Lord, the visitation of the Lord are all terms used in the Old Testament to describe what you and I confess in the words of the creed "and He will come again in glory to judge both the quick and the dead." What is it that the Old Testament teaches?
The Old Testament speaks of a great counter thrust to the Kingdom of God in the last days. This thrust will be seen in a demonic kingdom concentrated and incarnated in a historical figure (see Ezekiel 38 and 39).
In the book of Daniel he sees in Antiochus Epiphanes IV, the Seleucid king who sought to stamp out Israel's worship of God as one such counter kingdom or anti Christian force.(See in Daniel 7:23-27; 8:23-25; 11:36-37; 9:27; 12:11).
These warning of Daniel lived on with the Jews. The expectation of a counter-Messiah, or an Antichrist, was very much alive in Israel in the time between the Testaments. Some believe that the writings of Daniel sparked the revolt of the Maccabees a few hundred years before Jesus was born.
Jesus also teaches concerning an anti-christian kingdom. In His parable of the weeds and the wheat He takes up this expectation of a diabolical counter-kingdom which appears in religious guise. At first this kingdom is hard to distinguish from the kingdom of God (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).
Jesus speaks more explicitly in His teaching on the last things of many false Christs who will come in His name with marvelous manifestations of power which are geared to deceive His elect (Matt.24:5, 23-24). The whole point of this anti-christian movement is to empty the church of faithful worshipers. (Matt.24:15)
Therefore, what Paul is speaking of in this letter is nothing new. It is a teaching of which the members of the Thessalonian congregation need to know about, it is a message which you and I need to know about as well.
2:3-8 Paul first speaks of the sequence of the terrible events which must precede the coming of the Day of the Lord.
There will be a great rebellion headed by and concentrated in a figure who is called "the man of lawlessness." This man is one who rebels so radically against God that he defies himself and therefore dooms himself (man of perdition verse 3)
The great counter thrust works in secrecy at first, "as the mystery of lawlessness." God's merciful governance of history will raise up a power and a person to restrain it "what is restraining" (verse 6) "who now restrains." (verse 7)
But the time will come Paul explains when "the lawless one will be revealed" v.8 to work openly and freely-and to be judged and destroyed. (verse 8)
2:9-12 Paul now dwells on the satanic character of the lawless one.
First, his great weapon is the satanic lie (see John 8:44). Who or what is the Antichrist? The Antichrist is a pseudo-Christ. He is a satanic perversion of the Christ of God. Consider how Paul paints a picture of this man of lawlessness...
-he has a coming (verse 9)
-he imitates and opposes the coming of Christ (verse 8)
-he is given signs and wonders (verse 9)
-he imitates but really opposes Christ. He will imitate the truth but in reality he is opposed to the truth (verse 10, 12)
Second, like all the workings and incarnations of Satan, "the man of lawlessness" can not escape and sovereign control of God.
Satan and Christ are not equals! There is not a balance of power between the satanic and the divine. This man of lawlessness must, unwittingly and unwillingly, serve God's purposes.
Through this man of lawlessness God executes His judgment, that fearful judgment which delivers up men who will not love the truth to the lie which they desire.
The only ones who become "victims" of the potent lie are those "who suppress the truth" (Romans 1:18) and in so doing invoke the wrath of God.
Is there someone that Paul saw as he painted this picture of the Anti-Christ, the man of lawlessness? We really do not know. There are many who ''fit the bill" so to speak.
1. Caligula (AD 37-41) was the Roman emperor at the time when Paul wrote. He was one who took great pleasure in persecuting the early church. If this is so what did Paul have in mind when he spoke of the 3reat restraint and the restrainer?
Perhaps the restraint was the benign power of Roman law and order which made seas and roads safe for the bearers of the Gospel and permitted the Word of the Lord to "spread and triumph" (3:1) We do know that Paul, as a Roman citizen used Roman law to his advantage appealing to the emperor. We do not know how far into the future Paul was allowed to see as he spoke of the mystery of this man of lawlessness and his final judgment.
2. The Roman Catholic Pope-The men of the Lutheran Reformation responded responsibly to that alert when they looked at the papacy and saw there the marks of the man of lawlessness. The teachings of Rome fit the marks of this man and so the early reformers reacted to the false teachings and decrees of Rome.
3. Some movement today or in the future-Here you may fill in the blank for any sort of movements today e.g. The New Age movement, situation ethics, the "moralism'' of our aye, A responsible church is always called to do in this our day what Paul and the early Christians did. We place our faith in Christ alone and do not run after any new thing which might appear to have the truth.
2:13-17 Stand Firm!
The Antichrist and the counter-kingdom can not shake or make questionable the sovereign reign of the triune God. To God Paul gives thanks for His gracious work in the believers in Thessalonica.
Paul remembers the believers past (chose, 13; called, 14) present (sanctification...belief in the truth, 13), and future (to be saved, 13; obtain the glory, 14)
2:15 In the presence of His gracious majesty Paul can bid his readers to "stand firm" in the truth which he has transmitted to them.
2:16-17 With Him Paul intercedes, with the Giver of eternal comfort and good hope, the God "of love and grace" to keep His church in Thessalonica strong in heart and steadfast in "every good work and word"
3:1-15 Exhortations To Intercession And Discipline
3:1-5 Paul turns the mind of the church from over excited idle hope to the work of the apostolic church. He asks for the church's intercessions on his behalf, now that his work is opposed and threatened by "wicked and evil men."
Assured the church once more of the aid and protection of their "faithful Lord" and of his, Paul's confidence in their obedience; and implores for them the gift of love and steadfast hope.
3:6-15 A last "command'' deals with the discipling of brethren who disobey the apostolic "tradition" and ignore the apostle's own "example" by living lives of "idleness" at the expense of others.
The church's treatment of them is to remind them, forcefully yet fraternally, that they are by their disobedience excluding themselves from the fellowship with the apostolic Word has created.
3:16-18 Conclusion: Benediction And Autograph Greeting
3:16-18 Paul dictated his letters (see Romans 16:22).
Often he added a final greeting in his own handwriting (1 Cor.16:21; Gal.6:11) This
autograph conclusion is to serve as a mark of identification
should there be any doubt about the genuineness of a letter (see 2:2)
This concludes our study in Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians.
Self Study Bible – New International Version, Robert G. Hoerber Editor Concordia Publishing House St. Louis, MO. 1986