Lesson 21--Paul's Second Letter to the Thessalonians

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Paul's Second Letter to the Thessalonians

When and where did Paul write his Second Letter to the Thessalonians?

Acts 18:4-6,11; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2

It has been suggested by numerous Bible scholars that 2 Thessalonians, which has received that name simply because it follows 1 Thessalonians in the Bible, may have been written first. What troubles these men is that 2 Thessalonians does not seem to them to expand on anything in 1 Thessalonians. In fact, 1 Thessalonians is a much more complete book and would therefore, it is speculated, have been written later to answer further questions. These men point to the fact that Paul left Thessalonica under persecution, and that 2 Thessalonians likewise speaks of current persecutions, while 1 Thessalonians 1:6 and 2:14 mention persecution in the past tense.

While it is true that the letters of Paul are not recorded in the Bible in chronological order, and therefore 2 Thessalonians would not necessarily have been written after 1 Thessalonians, it would appear that the evidence would indicate that 2 Thessalonians was indeed the second letter written. Paul, who rehearses his relationship with the Thessalonians in the first chapters of 1 Thessalonians, and who speaks of his desire to receive information concerning them, does not speak of a previous communication. In 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2 we are told that Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica from Athens. The short time factor would indicate that such a letter could not have been written at that time. Likewise it would appear from Paul’s reference to persecution in 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2 that he himself was experiencing persecution unknown at the time of the writing of the first letter, which would harmonize with the events of Acts 18. In addition, there seems to be a progression in Paul’s handling of the problem of those refusing to work from 1 Thessalonians 3:11 to 2 Thessalonians 3:6. It would appear that the best time to date the letter would be during Paul’s stay in Corinth, some months after the writing of the first letter.

Briefly review the outline of the book provided below.

Paul’s Encouragement of the Thessalonians in the Midst of Persecutions (1:1-12).

Paul greets the church (1:1-2).

Paul thanks God for the church’s faithfulness (1:3-10).

Paul prays for the church (1:11-12).

Paul’s Explanation to the Thessalonians of the Day of the Lord’s Return (2:1-17).

Paul speaks of the revelation of the "man of sin" (2:1-12).

Paul urges the church to stand fast in the truths they had received (2:13-17).

Paul’s Exhortations to the Thessalonians Regarding Faith and Life (3:1-18).

Paul requests prayers for the spread of the gospel (3:1-5).

Paul warns against idleness (3:6-15).

Paul concludes with his benediction (3:16-17).


How does Paul begin this second letter?

2 Thessalonians 1:1-2

For what does Paul thank God? What does Paul assure the Thessalonians God will do?

2 Thessalonians 1:3-10

With what does Paul end this introductory section of his letter?

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

To which doctrinal topic and problem does Paul now turn?

2 Thessalonians 2:1-2

It has been suggested that in view of Paul’s reference to the Thessalonians being troubled "by spirit or by word or by letter," that perhaps Paul’s enemies had forged a letter to the believers in order to undermine his work in their midst. Such a suggestion is certainly possible and would simply demonstrate the extent to which unbelief will go in opposition to the gospel.

What two things would happen before Christ’s second coming according to Paul?

2 Thessalonians 2:3-12

"The falling away"—throughout the Scriptures we are warned that the end of time will be a time of apostasy. Jesus spoke of this in Matthew 24 when describing the time at the end of the world as identical with that of Noah. Paul warns us of this in 2 Timothy 3 and Peter in 2 Peter 2-3. While we are to be a salt and a light in the world, we ought harbor no illusions concerning this world. There will never be a heaven here on earth!

A fuller explanation of the "man of sin" will follow in lesson XXI.

In view of these certainties what does Paul feel compelled to do? What does he urge the Thessalonians to do?

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

For what two things does Paul urge the Thessalonians to pray? Of what two things is Paul certain? For what blessing of the Lord does Paul pray?

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

What problem had developed in Thessalonica? How did Paul urge them to deal with it?

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15

A majority of Bible scholars have for a long time suggested that the people who were walking in a disorderly manner by giving up their jobs and then interfering with the lives of other Christians did so in view of their false idea that Christ’s second coming was imminent. Why should they work if the end of the world was near? Recently, some Bible scholars have suggested that perhaps the reason lay elsewhere. Perhaps the problem lay in the Greek culture’s view that manual labor was demeaning and fitting only for slaves. Paul, on the other hand, would be championing the cause of honest labor, which is in accordance with God’s will for mankind. In view of the fact that the cause is nowhere stated in the letter, this recent suggestion merits serious consideration.

Of what two things does Paul again remind the Thessalonians as he closes his letter?

2 Thessalonians 3:16-18

Discussion Topics:

Martin Franzmann commented concerning 2 Thessalonians in his book entitled, The Word of the Lord Grows, that "The Second Letter to the Thessalonians is an outstanding example of the spiritual tact of the apostle, which enables him to quell the fevered excitement of a hope grown hysterical without quenching the fervor and the life-shaping force of that hope and to instill sobriety without robbing the Christian hope of its intensity, leaving both fear and faith to do their salutary work in man." Discuss Paul’s method and manner of dealing with problems in the church as revealed in 2 Thessalonians. Discuss the importance of using such an approach in dealing with problems in the church today.

Reread 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14. Discuss the relationship between predestination and conversion as described in these verses. Discuss the role of the means of grace in conversion as described in these verses.

Reread 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14-15. Discuss the meaning of these passages and their practical application for us today. Compare the relationship of this section of Scripture with Matthew 18:15-18.