Today we will consider Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. Written shortly after his first letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul (and Silas and Timothy) write to address two issues: the Second Coming of Christ (again) and idleness in the church. He begins with with an encouragement to them. Their faith and love are growing (1:3). For this, Paul boasts about them to all the other churches, because they are growing in the face of persecution (v. 4).
Paul then addresses their suffering because of persecution. As we have seen throughout Acts, being bold for Christ brings persecution. Paul tells them that their suffering is proof that they are following Christ rightly (v. 5) and reminds them to look to the just Judge Who will repay their persecutors according to their works (v. 6, 8) when He comes with the host of heaven to complete their salvation (v. 8, 10). In verse 9, the Greek can say “they will suffer punishment, eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord” or “they will suffer punishment, eternal destruction coming from the presence of the Lord.” Paul then tells the Thessalonians that he and his companions pray for them, that God may, all by grace, make them worthy of their calling, give them resolve, and grant them faith leading to faithful works, all for His glory (vv. 11-12).
Paul then addresses the Second Coming. In the first letter, he quelled their fears that those who have died in Christ might miss out on the promise of His coming. Here, the Thessalonians are now worried that they have all already missed the Second Coming, and the resurrection and rapture (2:1). Verse 2 seems to intimate that they were taught that Christ had already returned, perhaps by a false letter from Paul himself.
So Paul sets them straight. The return of Christ will not happen unless “the rebellion” happens first (v. 3). This will be a large-scale apostacy from the visible church near the time of Christ’s return (see 1 Tim 4:1). In addition, before the return of Christ, the “man of lawlessness” who is the “son of destruction” will be revealed. This person is who some would call the “anti-Christ.” He will exalt himself as God (v. 4). Note the progression. Paul is addressing the “our being gathered together with Him” – this is the resurrection and the rapture. Both of these things – the great apostacy and the revealing of the anti-Christ – will happen before Christ comes and we are gathered together with Him.
As always, we must interpret less clear Scripture according to clear teaching, like we have here. You cannot posit a rapture before the revealing of the anti-Christ or the great apostacy. Paul’s whole point is that they can’t have missed Christ’s coming if these things have not taken place. In addition, the “coming” of Christ and the “gathering” are spoken of as one event. And even if we want to interpret this as two separate events, grammatically, the coming would then have to precede the gathering. Paul even reminds them that he taught them this very thing while with them (v. 5).
Paul then tells them that, while this is all sure, God is restraining this from happening for now (v. 6). Even though the lawlessness is already being revealed and is at work, God will restrain it. The “until he is out of the way” can be translated “until He is in your midst.” When the time is right, God will let all of this happen, then Christ will return and destroy the lawless one and all lawlessness (v. 8) which Satan is behind (v. 9). He also deceives unbelievers (v. 10), even though it is really God Who turns them over to believe to the lie (v. 11) in order that they may be condemned (v. 12). Paul is saying that God is sovereignly preparing the wicked for destruction.
In contrast, God has chosen the Thessalonians to believe the truth and be saved (v. 13). He called them through the Gospel Paul preached (v. 14). And God did this in order that they may be glorified. Note that the whole of salvation – justification, sanctification, and glorification – is in these two verses said to be the work of God. Because of this, the Thessalonians have a responsibility to maintain and adhere to the Apostle’s teaching (v. 15), which Paul prays God would establish all of this in their hearts (vv. 16-17). Once again, God’s sovereignty and human responsibility go hand in hand.
Paul then asks that the Thessalonians pray for him, Silas, and Timothy because of the suffering and persecution they are facing (3:1-2). He is confident that God will, in His faithfulness, guard them from the evil one (v. 3 – see 1 Thess 5:24). Paul then again reminds them of their responsibility (v. 4) and God’s sovereignty (v. 5).
In the first letter, Paul exhorted the Thessalonian church to admonish the idle and be patient with them (1 Thess 5:14). Here, Paul tells them that there is a limit to that patience. Paul points to the example he set while there (vv. 6-9 – see 1 Thess 2:9, 4:11-12). He reminds them that while he was there with them, he taught that everyone should work to support himself (v. 10). The problem is not that they couldn’t work, in which case they should be supported, but that they instead chose to disorderly and waste time (v. 11). They should be avoided (v. 6, 14) and admonished and told to support themselves as they are able (v. 12, 15).
Paul ends with a final encouragement to persevere in doing good (v. 13). He then prays for them (v. 16, 18). Paul signs this letter himself (he used an amanuensis to write the letter, perhaps even Timothy or Silas) so that they would know it was authentic (v. 17). He wants to make sure they do not believe any letter supposedly from him without his signature (see 2:2).