This morning in the Daily Office, our new lectionary starts our brief journey through 2 Thessalonians. We just finished 1 Thessalonians.
There are a few New Testament books that have both the same author and same recipient: Luke & Acts, 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and probably 1 & 2 Peter. When this happens, it pays to look at what some of the primary concerns of each book is, and see why a sequel or follow-up was necessary.
In the case of the epistles of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, one of the noteworthy themes is that of eschatology – the return of Christ at the end. A handy oversimplification of these two could be:
1. Christ is coming soon! 2. But not that soon.
For in 1 Thessalonians there is that famous passage in chapters 4 & 5, “we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope“, and “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God“, and “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night“. Popular evangelicalism has right and truly muddled up many believers’ understanding of these verses with erroneous teachings about a “rapture” and I encourage you who preach to make sure you help people rightly understand verses such as these.
But then in 2 Thessalonians St. Paul encourages them “not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come” and teaches them “if any one will not work, let him not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.” It was as if there was a group of people there so excited for the return of Christ that they gave up their earthly labors to focus entirely on spiritual exercise until the Day of the Lord. Those who misunderstood his first letter to them needed the correction of a second letter to help them get balanced.
Perhaps this example will help you as you read through this epistle, reminding you to think back to what was read in the first one, and see how the situation, and St. Paul’s response, has developed over time.