LETTERS OF ST. PAUL: 2 Thessalonians
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him,
we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind, either
by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that
the day of the Lord is already here (2 Thes 2:1-2).
The second letter to the Thessalonians has important similarities with the first letter to that early Christian congregation in Thessalonica. The greeting and thanksgiving at the beginning of the letters resemble one another closely. The central issue the letters address, Jesus’ return in glory, is also shared.
This crucial issue of Jesus’ return, however, is treated from very different perspectives in the two letters, suggesting to many that some disciple of St. Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians as a kind of response to 1 Thessalonians. In 1Thessalonians Paul views the second coming or Day of the Lord, as imminent, (1 Thes 4:13-5:11), while the second letter seems aimed at refuting this claim of the second coming happening soon— perhaps even discrediting the former letter, (“by letter, as though from us,” 2 Thes 2:2), by enumerating for the congregation many events thought to precede the final judgment of all people, (2:1-12). These events would include a rebellion (2:3), the appearance of a blasphemous antichrist figure referred to by the author as “the lawless one,” (2:3, 8, 9).
Different from the warm, encouraging tone of 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians is obviously written with the persecution of Christians in mind, (see 2 Thes 1:4). The letter may even reflect the belief that imminent expectation of the second coming is at the root of a dangerous and overzealous willingness to suffer persecution for Christian beliefs. The author thereby seeks to delay expectation of the imminent return of the Lord established in 1 Thessalonians. Christians are encouraged, by this letter, rather to “stand firm and hold fast” in times of great uncertainty, (2:15). With or without an expectation of Jesus showing up on your doorstep, it’s not bad advice for any Christian.