The unbelievers outside were still persecuting them. The unbelievers of the city had come after Paul when he first founded the church in this city (Acts 17:4–5), and they continued to afflict the church. Paul had already written them a letter to encourage them about this: the church had to continue growing in faith and love with the hope that Jesus would return.
But now false teachers were saying that Jesus had already come. The Thessalonians were being told that the day they had hoped for had already passed. They’d been working in faith and laboring in love (1 Thes 1:3) as they prepared for the day of the Lord—was all their preparation and suffering in vain?
And some of their own had just given in. They were undisciplined, doing no work, and yet trying to be involved in everyone else’s affairs (2 Thes 3:11).
This church was very dear to Paul’s heart—they were his children in the Lord (1 Thes 2:7,11). So he reaches out to them again with a letter that addresses these three issues.
Theme verse of 2 Thessalonians
“But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” (2 Th 3:3)
2 Thessalonians’ role in the Bible
Second Thessalonians is the ninth of Paul’s letters. Of the 27 New Testament books, Paul wrote 13. Nine of these book are letters to local churches (like the one in Thessalonica).
Paul needed to address the three troubles the church in Thessalonica faced:
- Persecution from outside. Paul puts the church’s situation in context. The’re being identified with Jesus, and therefore the world hates them now. But what happens later, when Jesus returns? God will give them relief and judge their persecutors (2 Thes 1:6–7). Jesus will be glorified, and so will His saints (2 Thes 1:10–12). What happens when Jesus returns? Justice.
- Despair from false doctrine. Someone has told the church that Jesus had already returned and gathered His own to Him—possibly even by forging a letter from Paul (2 Thes 2:2). Paul reminds the church of his teachings regarding the return of Jesus, and the things that must happen beforehand—including the appearance of the mysterious “man of lawlessness” (2 Thes 2:3).
- Busybodies in the church. A few Thessalonians had fallen off into undisciplined lives: they weren’t working, and they weren’t holding to Paul’s traditions. Some had become “busybodies,” people getting involved in other’s work without contributing themselves (2 Thes 3:11). Paul reminds them of the example he set: how he worked among them with his own hands (2 Thes 3:7–8). He also leaves instructions for dealing with those who would reject his teachings in this letter (2 Thes 3:14–15).
Paul cared about the church he’d established, and the message he sends them still informs the way we should think about Jesus’ coming and the work we should do in the meantime.
Quick outline of 2 Thessalonians
- How persecution of the church ends (2 Thes 1)
- What must happen before Jesus returns (2 Thes 2)
- How to live and work together (2 Thes 3)