2 Thessalonians 1 (day 1117) 21 January 2013
Although called the second letter to the Thessalonians, many scholars are reluctant to ascribe the present epistle to Paul, citing a number of stylistic and content differences.
1-2: The greeting is nearly identical to the one of 1 Thessalonians, the only difference being the double use of “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
3-4: His thanksgiving for them in this second letter is much briefer, though I am sure no less heart-felt, mentioning again the persecutions they have suffered (compare 1 Thessalonians 1:6).
5-12: Their persecution is evidence of God’s activity because a certain amount of affliction must pass before the judgment of the world and the resurrection of the dead (compare Romans 8:18-22). Everyone must suffer some affliction, it seems, and when Christ returns his followers will enjoy restoration while the actions of his enemies will be punished. The language about “mighty angels in flaming fire” is one of those things we would not expect Paul to write, but the remainder of the paragraph does mirror Paul’s sentiments elsewhere. However, the idea that Jesus might return with angels is not new with Paul (see Matthew 13:49, 25:31), and the accompanying flaming fire is an Old Testament image (remember the burning bush – Exodus 3:2?).
2 Thessalonians 2 (day 1118) 22 January 2013
1-2: It is clear that the congregation in Thessalonica is very anxious about the coming of Christ. In 1 Thessalonians the issue was their concern about those who die before the Lord returns. In this letter the issue is that they have been told by someone that Christ has already returned, and apparently it is someone who has claimed that the idea came from Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, which claim Paul obviously wishes to deny in the strongest terms. (We know today, of course, that such rumors are generated by folks like Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, authors of the “Left Behind” series of books that claim to be true to scripture, including Paul’s letters, but is only true to their fantastic extrapolations from a dozen verses gathered from here and there.)
3-12: How does he know Christ hasn’t returned? He gives his reasons here. First of all, he says, there has to be an event called “the rebellion.” Unfortunately, these verses are badly garbled in the Greek and there is little agreement among translators as to the exact meaning. The gist of it, however, seems clear enough. It is likely that the imagery employed here was familiar enough to Paul’s readers: There was a firm and widespread belief among Jews and Gentiles alike that there was a force of evil at work in the world in opposition to that which is good. Jews, of course, identified the impulse for good with the God of Abraham who created the world, and the impulse for evil with the devil, whose name, as we know from other ancient literature, was Beliar or Belial (see 2 Corinthians 6:15, where Paul contrasts God and Beliar as opposites). The common belief that had arisen among Jewish Christians was that, just as Jesus was God in the flesh, so there would arise one who would be the devil in the flesh. This one (in later writings called the antichrist) would gather around himself those who rejected Christ, and set himself up as God. Verse 4 probably conjured up in his readers’ minds stories of foreign despots of the past who had set up statues and emblems of other gods or of themselves in the temple in Jerusalem. First, however, the power that restrains him will have to be removed. The identity of that power is not revealed. One interesting guess is that he is referring to Rome. Paul, himself a Roman citizen, had been rescued on more than one occasion by Roman authorities.
It is important to understand here, I think, that Paul is setting up an opposition not only between God and Satan, but also between the church and those who side with the “lawless one.”
Christ will finally annihilate the “lawless one” with “the breath of his mouth,” an image which he possibly takes from Job 4:9 (see also Exodus 15:8, 2 Samuel 22:16 and Psalm 18:15).
13-15: Paul entreats them to ignore wayward teachings like this one, and hold to what he taught them while he was with them and in his letter, probably a reference to 1 Thessalonians.
16-17: These verses read like a closing benediction, and some have imagined the rest of the letter to have been added later. However, it might also be seen as a transition from one topic to another. Paul is simply telling them hold on to the hope that they have in Christ, and now he will move on to another topic.
2 Thessalonians 3 (day 1119) 23 January 2013
1-5: He is eager to get on with his mission and asks for their prayers to speed the work along. It is obvious that this is not one of Paul’s letters from prison. Indeed, many scholars believe that 1 Thessalonians is the earliest of all the letters of Paul that have been preserved and this one, if it is indeed Paul’s, must have followed on it in short order.
6-15: One final complaint has reached him, however. Some among them have apparently become freeloaders, and Paul will have none of that. He emphasizes his own industry (compare 1 Thessalonians 2:9). Have nothing to do with those who don’t contribute to the work, he says. Curiously, though, he doesn’t want them completely cut off. The point is to shame them into doing their part.
16-18: He closes the letter with his own handwriting, saying it is the mark in every letter he writes. All of his letters do not include this note about his own handwriting (but see 1 Corinthians 16:21, Galatians 6:11, Colossians 4:18, and Philemon 1:19), but it may be the case that he appends the final phrase or sentence in each letter’s closing. So far as I know, no manuscript has yet been found in which an obvious change in penmanship is evident at the closing – in other words, the original letters have never been found, only copies.