The Recipients and Its Purpose
The readers and recipients of 2 Thessalonians were the believers at Thessalonica. The purpose of the second epistle is unique. It was written from Corinth just a few months after the first one. The teaching of the first epistle had not had all the desired effects; a new problem, relative to the Lord’s coming and the Day of the Lord, had arisen and some were disturbed greatly by this. Some false teachers were teaching that the Day of the Lord had come.
2 Thessalonians 2:2 gives the distinct impression that the origin of this teaching arose: (1) from a complete distortion of Paul’s first letter, (2) from a forged letter bearing his signature, (3) from false reports that Paul himself believed this, or (4) from imaginary revelations of the Spirit. Therefore, the second epistle was written to counteract this notion and to place the doctrine of the Lord’s coming in correct focus. The result of these false teachings was that some fanatics had left their employment, and were a burden to the fellowship. The soil of idleness germinates “busy bodies” (see 2 Thessalonians 3:11) and also endangers and disturbs the harmony of the assembly (see 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12).
The theme is the same as the first epistle - the Lord’s Coming. As a point of interest, the Lord’s Coming is referred to over 300 times in the New Testament. This is the central theme of this epistle. Each of the chapters provides significant aspects that contribute to this overarching theme:
Chapter one offers comfort from the hope of Christ’s imminent return.
Chapter two gives a word of caution regarding the exact time of Christ’s return.
Chapter three provides a command that is relative in the light of Christ’s return.
Let me explain these observations a little more:
Chapter 1 shows the believers at Thessalonica suffering considerably for their faith. They were enduring the tribulations and persecutions (see 2 Thess. 1:4). To encourage them, Paul wrote of the destruction of those that troubled them (see 2 Thess. 1:7-10).
Chapter 2, however, is prophetical and Paul would instruct them and us as to the “when” and “how” of His coming. Paul says in effect, that the Day of the Lord has not come. Two things must happen first. There must first be the falling away or “the apostasy,” and then the man of sin must be revealed (see 2 Thess. 2:3).
Chapter 3 is full of practical exhortations in view of the Lord’s coming. We should wait with patience, watch with endurance, and work until He comes. The corrective ministry of this epistle had immediate and lasting effects on the character of this church. For centuries later it was known as the “Orthodox Church”, being sound in doctrine, It was also known as the “Model Church.” This brings us to believe that a church with a correct understanding and perspective of the Lord’s Coming will be orthodox in its doctrine, holy in character, and evangelical in nature.
The first and second letters give us an entirely different view of the Lord’s coming. In the first epistle, it was a question of the dead believers missing the eternal glory of eternity. To counteract this, Paul, by revelation from the Lord, expounded what we know today as the “Rapture of the Church.” At this event, dead believers will be resurrected, living believers will be changed, and together we will be raptured to meet the Lord in the air. That settled forever the question of those who had fallen asleep in Christ.
The second epistle deals with a much different phase of the Lord’s coming. While the first letter deals with the rapture, the second deals with the revelation. The differences between the two are as follows: The Rapture is when the Lord comes to the air for His Saints. It has everything to do with the Church and involves a blessing for believers. The revelation, on the other hand, is the coming of the Lord to the earth with His Saints. It has everything to do with the world and involves the Lord’s wrath being poured out upon the unbelievers.
There are two terms which we would do well to consider at this point. One of them is in the immediate context, and the other is distinct from and completely unrelated. Let us consider both the Day of Christ and the Day of the Lord.
The Day of Christ is:
- Always spoken of in connection with believers.
- Made reference to six different times in the New Testament.
- Enacted in the air.
- A period of joy and reward.
- Always closely associated with the Rapture and the Judgment Seat of Christ.
On the other hand, The Day of the Lord is:
- Always referred to in connection with unbelievers.
- The subject of Old Testament prophecy (never the Day of Christ).
- Enacted upon earth.
- A period of judgment and punishment. A “great and terrible day” (see Joel 2:31).
Furthermore, angels are prominent in connection with the Day of the Lord, but they are never mentioned in connection with the day of Christ. Having explained this, apply it to our present study. The believers were suffering. They were afflicted and persecuted. Some false teachers took these tribulations and applied them as pertaining to the Day of the Lord.
Paul reminds them that certain things must happen before the Day arrives. These include the apostasy and the revelation of the “man of sin.” We believe that the full-blown apostasy will not take place until the Church has been removed. We also believe that the revelation of the “man of sin” will not be consummated until the removal of the Restrainer, which is the Holy Spirit.
2 Thessalonians 1 - The Day of the Lord and the judgment of the ungodly
2 Thessalonians 2 - The Day of the Lord and the Man of Sin
2 Thessalonians 3 - The Day of the Lord and the Christian’s moral obligation
There is one more suggested outline. It is as follows:
2 Thessalonians 1 - Anticipation of the Day of the Lord
2 Thessalonians 2 - Description of the Day of the Lord
2 Thessalonians 3 - Proper conduct in view of the Day of the Lord