Lesson 13: Introduction to SECOND THESSALONIANS
II Thessalonians 1:1-2
This is lesson #13. Welcome again. And welcome to the book of Second Thessalonians. If you have taken the time to look, this book of Second Thessalonians is 47 verses, only about half as long as the first book. We are not told who delivered either the first letter or this second letter to the Thessalonian brethren. My most likely guess would be Timothy; but, keep in mind that, we don't know that for sure, and I must admit that the very feet that Paul included the name of Timothy in the first verse (here) along with Silas and himself is enough to make one raise their eye brows on that question. Regardless of who it was, whoever delivered that first epistle had undoubtedly returned to Paul with a good bit of intelligence about the church at Thessalonica. That, in turn brought about the occasion of II Thessalonians. The first letter had undoubtedly laid to rest the question about the kinsfolk, friends and family of their near ones who had died as Christians with reference to Christ's second coming. For some unexplainable reason, instead of correcting the question about the time of Christ's second coming; it seems to have created even more confusion. This goes back to 5:1 of First Thessalonians. Paul said, "the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you." Then in the next verse, Paul had said that they already knew perfectly that "the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night." That all seems clear enough to us from our vantage point; but you see, it really didn't deal with whether the Lord's return would immediate, i.e. within days or hours or whether it may even be centuries. I suppose there's nothing that whets and occupies one's appetite for concentration more than anticipation of a major event in our lives. It's true with graduation from high school, college, getting married, expecting the first baby and on and on. Right? Although we stand in exactly the same posture with respect to knowing when the Lord will return as they did; I suppose our anticipation factor has been dampened somewhat by the centuries that have intervened. We tend to relegate it to the back burner; although, Paul said to the Romans, "now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." Thus, it seems a little peculiar to us that they would get so hung-up on the time of the Lord's return. So, in Second Thessalonians, Paul expounded and expanded on this in an effort to encourage those brethren. It's interesting that some of the very things Paul said in correcting this Thessalonian concept are used by our modern day calculating friends (we talked about back in Lesson #10) who set dates for the Lord's second coming; that of course, continues to foil as we have already noted.
If the problem at Thessalonica teaches us anything, it certainly teaches us that from the very beginning; it was hard to strike and keep a good balance in any congregation, even as it is today, with respect to teaching and learning. If you have been a member of the church for long; you have seen teachers come and go. One will put great emphasis upon this verse or that verse, this doctrine or that doctrine and the first thing you know there's a problem. It may involve instrumental music, marriage, premillennialism, church cooperation, or something else; but, the problem usually caused by out-of-balance teaching, usually heavy weighted by some emotional hobby or misunderstanding on the part of a very persuasive teacher. Yet, it all comes down to a lack of teaching, i.e. scriptural teaching. That is about my concept of the situation at Thessalonica. There is this difference, of course: they had inspired teaches called prophets as we discussed in our last lesson. The fact that such men received a lesson by inspiration didn't change the personality of the prophet (or the student). They were otherwise just plain people. They had (in an inspired form) the very same lessons we have today in written form. They were undoubtedly as hard pressed as we are in trying to strike that teaching balance we've talked about already. As a matter effect, spiritual gifts seems to have skewed the ego of at least some in those days; we shall discover in the Corinthian letters.
While we're here, let me add this: it would seem that a lack of information back there may have created as much of a problem for them as the flood of misinformation floating around today creates for us. Denominational doctrines, sanctioned by some so-called church conference are as unscriptural as the can be; are spewed out on almost every corner today. Some people are gullible as to try to accept all of them as honest and correct, authoritative and in harmony. It usually doesn't take long to learn that scads of misinformation is lurking from every closet. What did Paul say at the end of First Thessalonians (5:21)? "Prove all things: hold fast to that which is good." You see, those people didn't have any advantage over us - NOT in the spiritual sense. We don't have any advantage over them. It didn't come easy back there. It doesn't come easy yet. You've got to dig it out for yourself. For example, in this study, we have assumed that First and Second Thessalonians were written from Corinth. I believe they were; because, when you read the book of Acts and learn it; and when you study the books of I & II Thessalonians and learn what's there, they fit like a hand and a glove. Acts 18:5 seems like the natural day of Paul to have written First Thessalonians. At the end of Both First Thessalonians and Second Thessalonians in the bible I'm using (this one is the KJV, printed by Nelson Publishing Co., copyrighted in 1972 it says); this bible has the same little footnote in fine print right at the very end of both I & II Thessalonians which says: this epistle, and I quote: "unto the Thessalonians was written from Athens." Now, let me ask you, how in the world do they know that? I believe that's misinformation. Where did they learn that? Well they didn't get it from the bible. Where did they get it? Well, maybe they've got a better source than we have; I don't know. I wasn't there when Paul wrote this! But, they were not either! You know that! Now, do we have it right? Or do they have it right? Or maybe it was written from some place else. It's no big deal to me; because, that footnote is not part of the Bible. Athens and Corinth were at least 50 miles apart. Paul didn't have some of the information until Silas and Timothy came to him from Thessalonica. Paul said that plainly, in I Thess. 32:6. Acts 18:5 in it's proper context tells us WHERE Paul was when Silas and Timothy came to him from Macedonia. Now, maybe Paul took a trip back over to Athens, 100 miles round trip, to buy a scroll and to write that first letter; I don't know. Gasoline was cheap in those days and Cadillacs were plentiful. Excuse me, I'm being facetious, now, like I said, whoever put that footnote there didn't know either. But, undoubtedly wanted you to think they knew; for they place their opinion here within a quarter of an inch of what Paul did write., I hope I haven't created a lot of confusion in your mind by using this illustration; but, the bottom line of my point is this: there is a flood of misinformation around us. What should we do about that Paul? "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good," (I Thess. 5:21). And, just as Paul made the Thessalonians individually responsible; you and I are individually responsible to find out what's right and what's good. So, brother, get your spy glass out and read it more than once. That's my version of I Thess. 5:21. Some undoubtedly follow a version that says: ask your priest or follow your pastor. In that case, THEY don't even need I Thessalonians or II Thessalonians. Right? If you want to be counted with the "holy brethren" (Thess. 5:27), you need to read I AND II Thessalonians. Check it out!
Now, let's try to get perspective on this second letter to the Thessalonians. Notice in v. 1, that the book bears the name of "Paul and Silvanus, and Timothy...": This is identically the same as in the first book. Paul is the one who wrote this book; this is obvious from the personal pronoun "I" in a number of verses; see II Thess 2:5 and 3:7. Paul included the names of his two companions, Timothy and Silas since both were known to the Thessalonians. There's no evidence Paul and Silas were ever together again after their stay at Corinth. Silas is not mentioned in the book of Acts after 18:5, where it says Silas came to Paul at Corinth with Timothy. In referring back to this same tune, Paul did mention both Timothy and Silas in writing to the Corintians maybe 3 or 4 years later, in II Cor. 1:19. Thus, this feet; plus, the iact that the situation in the church of thessalonica was very much as described in I Thessalonians; as well as, the feet that the same issue concerning the time of Christ's second coming is discussed; is sufficient evidence to show that Paul most likely wrote the second epistle only a few weeks or, no more than, a few months after the first.
Try to visualize, if you will, the situation at Thessalonica. We have talked about the brief three Sabbath days Paul preached hi the synagogue. We have talked about the riot that came about a little later and forced Paul, Silas and Timothy to leave. We have discussed Timothy returning to Thessalonica and then returning to Paul at Corinth (Acts 18:5). We have done a verse by verse study of the first letter Paul wrote to the brethren at Thessalonica. Paul had likely suffered much because of that work. No doubt, the brethren in that young church had suffered much because of all the contempt that was poured upon them during the riot and following that time. About the only thing we know about the make-up of that congregation is stated in Acts 17:4; where it says "some of the [i.e. Jews[ believed." Then it says, "of the devout Greeks a great multitude" and then Luke adds, "of the chief women not a few." In other words, a few Jews and a lot of Greeks. Just how many that means, we are not given a hint, hi the intervening months undoubtedly some had been baptized into Christ and added to that number. Some may have blackslidden. Elders had been ordained, we concluded back in I Thess. 5:12-13; whether they were ordained by Paul and Silas or whether this was accomplished by Timothy as he re-visited at a later time, we are not told. They were to "Despise not prophesyings," thus, someone at Thessalonica must have been capable of prophesying. I.e. teaching by inspiration, as we have already discussed. Therefore, I must conclude that at least someone had received the spiritual gift of prophecy, by the laying on of the apostle's hands; as was known and used for teaching before the New Testament was written. They had received Paul's letter urging them on, and, as Paul had requested hi 5:27 of that first letter; undoubtedly that first epistle had been read to the whole congregation. In private, and in every assembly, the brethren must have prayed for Paul and Silas and Timothy; as Paul had requested at the end of that first letter, read in their hearing. They may have understood Paul's words better than we do about His request that they greet each other with a holy kiss. If you can program this into your mental computer; they were undoubtedly obeying that request as best they could and as they met for worship and study and fellowship. They must have been elated to learn from Paul's letter that the departed Christians (then- loved ones) i.e. "The dead in Christ shall rise first" (I Thess. 4:16), and that God would bring those that sleep in Jesus with him (I Thess 4:14) when Jesus would descend from heaven with a shout; their loved ones would arise from the dead and then they would rise together to meet the Lord in the air. Paul had said, "comfort one another with these words" and surely they were doing just that. It had been about twenty years since Jesus had returned to heaven from the mount of olives, (give or take a year or two, of course). That would place the time of this writing somewhere in the first four years of the decade of the A.D.50's. That was close to a generation. It seems most natural to me that not only Thessalonica but all of the early church looked for and expected an early return of the Lord Jesus. I can visualize and understand to some degree how some got so elated and so caught up in this immediate expectation that they began to disregard their employment, started neglecting their food supply, ignoring the upkeep of their clothing and the repair of then- homes and possibly some neglected the needs of their children and their families to some extent. In turn, some may have become idlers, busybodies and conceivably others began to walk disorderly in over-confidence.
As you begin to visualize the state of the church as it was in Thessalonica with such immediate expectation of that great day when the clouds will roll back and the Lord Jesus will step on stage; your concept is probably about as close as you can get to the report that came to Paul's ears in Corinth. The design of Paul's second epistle to Thessalonica was (#1) to correct the false perception that Christ's second coming definitely and beyond doubt had to be immediate and (#2) to correct the feeling that their only duty as Christians was to be in readiness for that event. Thus, correcting this doctrinal error; Paul would in turn correct much of the laxity that led to the neglect of their families and secular duties.
As you put your eyes on the book of Second Thessalonians, you must realize also that in recognizing some of the problems there, i.e. the primary doctrinal error at Thessalonica; we must recognize also that the report Paul got was, mainly, a good report. Much as right with respect to the congregation. Some characteristics and attributes of the Thessalonian church were outstanding. Their faith, their patience and their love for one another was substantial. They had suffered persecution and tribulation and had endured phenomenally. There is a great lesson here for us; that most problems are correctable even today. We must concentrate on correcting the doctrinal problems of course; but, at the same time we must not tear down the right and the good and the proper. The best approach is usually that which the apostle used in this letter. He first extolled their excellence and commended their desire to obey and expressed his honest desires and concerns for their welfare. He did not overlook their error.
Notice the way Paul addressed them in v. 1, 'Unto the church of the Thessalonian in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ..." Paul acknowledged them as a church. In spite of their problems and some doctrinal error; Paul addressed them as children of the heavenly Father and as being in Christ. You see, it's not once saved always saved. It is thus possible, for the most sincere brother to have a doctrinal misunderstanding of some kind. Then v.2 is Paul's usual prayerful wish for them. V. 1 & 2 in II Thessalonians is almost a verbatim repeat of v.l in I Thessalonians. We'll begin here with v.3 in lesson #14. Until then: have a good day!