The First Letter to the Thessalonians taught us the importance of looking forward to the coming of Christ in Paul’s preaching.
The hope of the Day of Christ was a powerful incentive for the faith of the first Christians but it could also lead to an unhealthy nervousness. The church of Thessalonica appears to have suffered from a rather frequent illness among minorities and persecuted groups, namely, the expectation of the end of the world that will solve all the problems. For the time, this expectation only disturbs Christian life.
Is this letter authentic? There have been many doubts on the subject. Why was there a second letter, seemingly so close to the first? In fact, several paragraphs are almost the same as in the first letter to the Thessalonians. There is only one clear new point, in the middle of the letter and of great interest to the author, namely, the warning about the coming of the antichrist and the hour of judgment. Since this warning appears to correct the first letter in which there was an expectation of the imminent coming of the Lord, it was surmised that, in Paul’s name, someone had wanted to add what Paul did not say before.
But what are these arguments worth even if we add to them some stylistic differences? What do we know about problems of communication, delays or about the way Paul dictated his letters? Some people claim that it was common to write a book under the name of a master or of someone whose ideas one wanted to interpret. This is true in the area of philosophical treatises but when we are dealing with a letter and with personal recollections, it is an entirely different situation. You will observe that in 2 Thessalonians 2:2, Paul issues a warning against letters that could be attributed to him and at the end of the letter in 3:17, he gives an example of his own handwriting. If it were the letter of an imitator, shouldn’t we speak of a pure and simple lie? Since from the beginning, it was accepted as a letter of Paul and an inspired book, shouldn’t we attribute these lies to the Holy Spirit? We cannot suspect the first Christians of having been overly naive and in the context of the Church of that time with so many personal contacts among the communities, it is hard to see how a forger could have succeeded in having his own work taken to be a letter of Paul.
This being the case, the letter fills a small gap in revelation as a whole. It serves to invite us not to let ourselves be impressed by rumors of revelations, tragedies and the end of the world as it has happened throughout history.
•1From Paul, Sylvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians which is in God our Father and in Christ Jesus, the Lord.
2May grace and peace be yours from God the Father and Christ Jesus, the Lord.
3Brothers and sisters, we should give thanks to God at all times for you. It is fitting to do so, for your faith is growing and your love for one another increasing. 4We take pride in you among the churches of God because of your endurance and your faith in the midst of persecution and sufferings. 5In this the just judgment of God may be seen; for you must show yourselves worthy of the kingdom of God for which you are now suffering.
The judgment and the coming of Christ
•6Indeed, it is just that God repays with affliction those who persecute you, 7but to you who suffer, he will grant rest with us when the Lord Jesus will be shown in his glory, coming from heaven and surrounded by his court of angels. 8Then with flaming fire will be punished those who do not recognize God and do not obey the Gospel of Jesus, our Lord.
9They will be sent to eternal damnation far away from the face of the Lord and his mighty glory. 10On that day the Lord will be glorified in the midst of his saints, and reveal his wonders through those who believe in him, that is through you who have received our testimony.
11This is why we constantly pray for you; may our God make you worthy of his calling. May he, by his power, fulfill your good purposes and your work prompted by faith. 12In that way, the name of Jesus our Lord will be glorified through you, and you through him, according to the loving plan of God and of Christ Jesus the Lord.
•1Brothers and sisters, let us speak about the coming of Christ Jesus, our Lord, and our gathering to meet him. 2Do not be easily unsettled. Do not be alarmed by what a prophet says or by any report, or by some letter said to be ours, saying the day of the Lord is at hand.
3Do not let yourselves be deceived in any way. Apostasy must come first, when the man of Sin will appear, 4that instrument of evil who opposes and defiles whatever is considered divine and holy, even to the point of sitting in the Temple of God and claiming to be God.
5Do you not remember I spoke of it when I was still with you? 6But you also know what prevents him from appearing until his due time. 7The mystery of sin is already at work, but the one who restrains it at present has to be taken away. 8Then the wicked one will appear, whom the Lord is to sweep away with the breath of his mouth and destroy in the splendor of his coming. 9This lawless one will appear with the power of Satan, performing miracles and wonderful signs at the service of deception. 10All the deceits of evil will then be used for the ruin of those who refused to love truth and be saved. 11This is why God will send them the power of delusion, that they may believe what is false. 12So all those who chose wickedness instead of believing the truth will be condemned.
Persevere in faith
•13But we have to give thanks for you at all times, dear brothers and sisters in the Lord. For God chose you from the beginning to be saved through true faith and to be made holy by the Spirit. 14To this end he called you through the gospel we preach, for he willed you to share the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord.
15Because of that, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold to the traditions that we taught you by word or by letter. 16May Christ Jesus our Lord who has loved us, may God our Father, who in his mercy gives us everlasting comfort and true hope, strengthen you. 17May he encourage your hearts and make you steadfast in every good work and word.
1Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the Word of God may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere as it was with you. 2May God guard us from wicked and evil people, since not everyone has faith. 3The Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and keep you safe from the Evil One. 4Besides, we have in the Lord this confidence that you are doing and will continue to do what we order you. 5May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
Let everyone work
6We command you, beloved, to stay away from believers who are living in idleness contrary to the traditions we passed on to you. 7You know how you ought to follow our example: we worked while we were with you. 8Day and night we labored and toiled so as not to be a burden to any of you. 9We had the right to act otherwise, but we wanted to give you an example.
10Besides, while we were with you, we said clearly: If anyone is not willing to work, neither should that one eat. 11However we heard that some among you live in idleness—busybodies, doing no work. 12In the name of Christ Jesus our Lord we command these people to work and earn their own living. 13And you, brothers and sisters, do not weary in doing what is right.
14If someone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take note and do not have anything to do with him, so that he may be ashamed.
15However, do not treat him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
16May the Lord of peace give you his peace at all times and in every way. May the Lord be with you all.
17I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is my signature in all my letters. This is how I write.
18May the grace of Christ Jesus our Lord be with you.
• 1.1 We again encounter the same ideas we have explained in 1 Thessalonians. A persecuted community. The basis of Christian life: faith, hope (or endurance), love. The day of Christ.
• 6. When the apostles preached to the pagans, they insisted on the judgment of God (Rom 1:18; Acts 17:31). In fact, these pagans never thought they would be judged at the end of their lives. For almost a century there has been a tendency among us Christians not to mention judgment in reaction to several centuries when it was over emphasized and with it the fear of punishment. Actually, the evangelization of modern pagans, in whom conscience has not even been awakened in the family, demands that it be spoken of as in Paul’s time.
To know that good and evil exist, that life prepares for definitive salvation (or the loss of it) and that God will judge us is an essential basis for Christian life. It is precisely from this truth that many turn away, saying for example that God is all-love, or imagining successive existences where we can catch up for our mistakes.
Indeed it is just that God repays with affliction. Let us not forget that the letters to the Thessalonians are the earliest of Paul’s letters. Even if it was his duty to remind them of the judgment, as did the prophets, and Jesus himself—certainly he had not yet totally purified his thirst for justice of every trace of violence. This violence against the wicked has been (and still is in many religions) a support for faith, but Jesus has invited us to get rid of it (Mt 13:29).
Coming from heaven… he will do justice. In the early years of the apostles, it was believed that the Day of the Lord would soon come and judgment (the Last Judgment) would inaugurate the reign of God the Father (1 Cor 15:24). We now suppose—perhaps mistakenly—that it is not imminent, and we prefer to think of judgment as coming at the death of each one: individual judgment.
• 2.1 Do not be alarmed (v. 2). What happens in Thessalonica is what frequently occurs in a persecuted community: people tend to withdraw from real life. There are rumors that the Lord’s coming is imminent and hope verges on hysteria. This is why Paul reminds them of certain truths, some of which are not new, for the Old Testament had more than once spoken of crises that would precede the Judgment. We cannot take as literally true all that the prophets have said on this subject, for they spoke with images proper to their time. They did agree in announcing difficult times for believers and almost a triumph, to begin with, for God’s enemies. Jesus did not disagree.
The apostasy must come first (v. 3). Before Christ’s return, there must be a “general apostasy,” or a worldwide religious crisis. An “antichrist” must come. It is true that there are antichrists in all times (see 1 Jn 2:18). Yet, at the end, there will be a more typical antichrist than all the previous ones. Christ will return in glory at the time the Church seems crushed.
You also know what prevents him (v. 6). For us, this phrase is obscure. For Paul the apostasy is that of the nations already converted to the Gospel and the force of evil was already at work within them (v. 7). It is probable that Paul follows the thinking of the “apocalyptic” authors (some of their works are part of the Bible, among others Ezk 38–39 and Dn 2–10). Everything happens at the time fixed by God and every person in history lasts the time needed to carry out the good and the evil that he has within himself.
Therefore, there cannot be apostasy or antichrist as long as two preceding events have not taken place: the Gospel has to be proclaimed to all the nations (Mk 13:10), and judgment passed on the Jewish nation. The fact that these events have not been realized, especially the second (1 Thes 2:16), is perhaps for Paul the reason why the coming of the antichrist is not imminent.
Paul had no idea that the time of the nations mentioned in Luke (21:24) would last for so many centuries; for him, it was a matter of years. Let us keep in mind his way of foreseeing the end of the world. All that is in human history must mature; history will end with a last adventure inspired by diabolical pride; faith or the rejection of the Gospel will be at the heart of the worldwide confrontation.
God will send them the power of delusion (v. 11). Once again we have the Hebrew turn of phrase that should be translated: God will allow the forces of deceit to act. The same people who do not take into account decisive arguments in favor of the faith, later follow doctrines and opinions without foundation.
Paul invites the Church, as he did in 1 Thessalonians, to follow his instructions and rules. He is more severe in insisting that they have an obligation to work: if everybody works, their faith will be more peaceful.
• 13. Note the word traditions used by Paul. The traditions are the customs, rites and teachings that people pass down from one generation to another. They are also the usages and lifestyles which are adopted upon joining a community. Jesus condemned the exaggerated importance the Pharisees gave to their own traditions, to the point that they prevailed over God’s commandments (see Mk 7:5). Yet Jesus himself, while he was with his apostles, taught them a certain way of praying, of doing, and of living in fellowship. It is in this sense that Paul here speaks of traditions: see Traditions and Tradition in the commentary on Mark 7:1.