Overview: 2nd Thessalonians

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Correct misconceptions of 2nd coming:

The Thessalonians had misunderstood Paul’s teaching (from his first letter) in 2 ways.

First, they seem to have thought they knew how soon Christ would come (2 Thess 2:1-3), even though Christ Himself did not (Mt 24:36) and even though Paul too had told them that the Lord would come not when expected but “like a thief in the night” (1 Thess 5:2).

Second, some had given up their jobs and were just waiting around until the end, even though Paul had explicitly warned them about this in 1 Thessalonians 4:11–12: “Aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we charged you, so that you may command the respect of outsiders and be dependent on nobody.” But Paul had to repeat his warning against idleness in his second letter (3:6) and lay down the common sense economic principle (which is no longer common sense today), “If anyone will not work, let him not eat” (3:10). 

It is enlightening to see the oneness of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, right doctrine and right life, throughout the New Testament. The Thessalonians’ misunderstanding of the doctrine of the Second Coming necessarily had disastrous effects in their lives.


  • “Modernism” = ignoring, denying, or reducing to myth and symbolism the Second Coming. This is the mistake Paul corrects in 1st Thessalonians. Don’t ignore the next life for this one.
  • “Fundamentalism” = a fixation and obsession with the imminence of the Second Coming. This is the mistake Paul corrects in 2nd Thessalonians. Don’t ignore this life for the next one.

VS. Orthodoxy: sees the two as mutually reinforcing, like life before birth and life after birth. Since we do not know the day or the hour, we must be ready at any time, not by doing nothing, but by doing everything we are called to do, by knowing and doing the whole of God’s will for us. As a bumper sticker on a college campus put it, “Prepare for your finals: read your Bible”.

“The Day of the Lord”

  • Paul uses the Old Testament term “the Day of the Lord” to refer to Christ’s Second Coming. In the Old Testament, this is a phrase full of mystery. What is clear about it is that it will be the time when God does His greatest work in history and inaugurates a radically new era. That no one understood very well just what that work was to be is shown by the fact that no one understood Christ when He came, neither His enemies nor His friends, not even His apostles. Even His mother was puzzled. The term “day” (yom in Hebrew) does not necessarily mean a literal twenty-four-hour day but a period of time, perhaps a very long time. The six “days” of creation in Genesis 1, for instance, took millions of years. When Paul spoke of “the day of the Lord” to the Thessalonians he meant the last times, the last era in world history. In one sense this era had come already with Christ’s first coming. Yet in another sense (the one Paul emphasizes here), it had not yet come, for there are certain events that have to happen before the end, such as the appearance of “the man of lawlessness … the son of perdition”, that is, the Antichrist (2:3).

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