The second epistle to the Thessalonians was likely written shortly after the first one, in that it was addressing many of the same sorts of issues. This beleaguered church was faced with hostility, was affected by apocalyptic excitement, and also needed to deal with some of her members that were responding to this kind of thing poorly.
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work” (2 Thess. 2:15–17).
Summary of the Text:
As just mentioned, the two letters to the Thessalonians belong markedly to the same general situation. In this short letter, we see Paul deal with the fierce opposition they had faced in the first chapter, some discussion of the “man of sin” in the second, and then his ethical application in the third, which consisted of a strong exhortation to work. In the face of hostility and persecution, and in the light of the apocalyptic era they were in, what should these Christians do? Well, obviously, they should keep hard at their work. They should not tolerate any slackers in their midst.
They needed to stand fast. They needed to hold the traditions. They needed to receive the comfort of God, so that He would establish them in every good word and work.
A Strong Delusion:
God promises to take care of those who are harassing the church. And by “take care of,” this means He will settle the hash of the persecutors. He will take vengeance on those who do not know Him, and who do not obey the gospel (1:8). Notice that the gospel is a message to be obeyed. Notice also that Scripture does not teach that vengeance is wrong, but rather that vengeance is God’s. Not only so, but the God who will judge all such things is the God who is in absolute control of it. He is sovereign over their punishment, and He is sovereign over their sin as well. No matter how “out of control” everything might appear, remember that God is always in absolute control of all things, including the insanities of rebellious mankind.
Suspension from the Table:
We have often been asked about our periodic use of “suspension” from the Lord’s Supper as a form of church discipline. The biblical justification for that practice comes from this book. In the Matthew 18 passage on church discipline, the process culminates with someone being turned out of the church, and treated as a heathen or tax gatherer (Matt. 18:17). This is excommunication. But in this teaching from Thessalonians, there are certain brothers who walk in a “disorderly” way. This disorderly walk consists of irresponsibility and laziness, but note how Paul tells us to treat this category of sin. He says that we are to withdraw from such people (3:6), which would include eating with them. Like the virtuous woman in Proverbs, we are not to eat the bread of idleness (Prov. 31:27) We are therefore not to have table fellowship with such a person, but in the next breath he says that we must treat this person as a brother (3:15). This is something other than the Matthew 18 scenario.
Man of Sin:
Recall that the letters to the Thessalonians were written in the early fifties. Let me briefly tell you a story of what happened just over a decade earlier (41 A.D.), and ask yourself whether this was part of the backdrop in Paul’s mind as he wrote the section on the man of sin.
Caligula was emperor, and he was out of his mind. He became convinced of his own divinity, and ordered altars to be built and worship offered to him. There was a city called Jamnia where some pagans did as they were instructed, but the city had a heavy Jewish population, and they demolished that altar. When Caligula heard of this, he was incensed and ordered an image of himself be placed in the Temple at Jerusalem. Petronius, the governor in Syria, was responsible to do this, and he thought it was a crazy idea. Herod Agrippa (of all people) visited Rome, and was able to talk the emperor into what amounted to a revocation of the order. Then a letter arrived from Petronius, also asking the emperor to reconsider. This caused Caligula to lose his temper again, and he revived the plan to set up the image in the Temple. He sent a letter to Petronius commanding him to commit suicide, but that letter did not reach the governor before news of the assassination of Caligula reached him. That was a close call.
Now Paul says that parousia of the Lord would not come unless some other things had happened first. The man of sin, claiming to be divine, would declare himself to be God, and would do so in the Temple (2:3-4). The forces driving this folly were already at work (2:7). All of this would be destroyed by the Lord Jesus at His coming (parousia). All of this appears to be a description of the judgments visited upon both Rome and Jerusalem in the years 68-70 A.D.
Love/Hate the State:
Paul had a very clear-eyed view of what the state could do, both for good and evil. The state is a deacon of God’s wrath (Rom. 13:4), assigned to punish evil. The state was pregnant with iniquity, ready to burst forth at the appointed time (2:7). The state also contained elements that restrained that particular evil (2:6-7). At the same time, civil authorities are instituted by God (Rom. 13:1). More Christians need to learn wisdom from Paul. Most modern Christians know that God instituted political authority, but they then give that authority far more emotional authority than they ought to give to it. If they can be right, then they must be right. Others veer in the opposite direction. If they can be wrong, then they must be wrong.
Carry Your Own Weight:
How should you respond with unbelievers are attacking you? How should you deal with it when your theology tells you that you are living on a precipice? You should go out to the workshop. You should plant a tree. You should make dinner. “Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing” (2 Thess. 3:12–13).