Background of 2 Thessalonians
The letter itself offers no plain references to Paul’s travels or other discrete historical events, making it practically impossible to determine either the date of its origin or the specific historical circumstances to which it speaks. From beginning to end, the epistle paints a picture of a Christian community at risk of fracturing because of intense persecution. Although there is no description of the precise nature of the calamities that beset this community, 2 Thessalonians indicates that the travails are causing serious problems. One of these is that some of the church’s members have become anxiously speculative about the timing of the “The Day of the Lord, in prophetic writing, is the day of judgment when God will intervene directly in world affairs. As described in Zephaniah, for instance, God will sweep everything away. In Matthew's gospel God is described as gathering the elect on the day... More” and Christ’s return. Their misunderstandings have provoked fear and alarm (2:1-2). Another problem is that some people, perhaps out of their conviction that Christ’s coming is immediately imminent, have ceased working and thereby endangered the church’s ability to function as a community (3:6-15). In response to the particular crisis, the letter points its readers back to “traditions,” instructions previously given by Paul and his coworkers concerning Christ’s coming and the proper practice of Christian ministry (2:15; 3:6). The appeals to those traditions may indicate that debate rages over conflicting understandings of Paul’s teaching, perhaps because the letter’s recipients have received spurious communications that claimed to be either directly from Paul or consistent with his prior instructions (2:2-3, 15; 3:17). Whatever the specifics of the circumstances that give rise to this letter, it responds to the crisis by calling the community to close ranks and protect itself against threats through continued faithfulness to the message of the gospel. The letter assumes that the church can persevere because God provides the power to endure, which is a piece of the fulfillment of God’s “call” to believers (1:11-12).