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Summary of 2 Thessalonians


Written to a community of believers beset from without by persecution and from within by misunderstanding, the letter gives instruction about living faithfully in light of Jesus’ promised return. Promises, correction, and encouragement aim to comfort the church of the Thessalonians and strengthen its members’ ability to withstand their current crises. Those who endure will be vindicated, because God is just. The day of the Lord has not yet arrived for first must come a time of general rebellion against God and the revealing of “the lawless one.” Disruptively idle Christians damage the fellowship of believers and its ability to embody the gospel in the world.


Amid the traumas wrought by persecution against people of faith and the destructive reality of evil, 2 Thessalonians insists that God is just and that faithful living will result in glory being ascribed to Jesus Christ. The sometimes harsh and dire language of this letter continues to remind Christians in perilous circumstances that the church’s witness is of utmost importance, that faithful obedience is part of the calling that God empowers believers to fulfill. The book presses readers of every age to consider what it means for them to live in light of the promise that Christ will return and set things right.


The Second Letter to the Thessalonians is the fourteenth book in the New Testament. Adjacent to 1 Thessalonians, it stands in the midst of the “Pauline corpus,” the collection of letters attributed to the Apostle Paul (the books of Romans through Philemon).


The opening words of 2 Thessalonians identify its authors as the coworkers Paul, Silvanus (identified as Silas in the book of Acts), and Timothy, and the letter’s penultimate verse claims to come from Paul’s own hand. However, pivotal interpretive issues–particularly the curious relationship between the format and content of this epistle and 1 Thessalonians–give good reason to suppose that 2 Thessalonians was composed by an unknown person writing in the name of Paul and his colleagues soon or perhaps more than a generation after the letter known as 1 Thessalonians was written.


Determining when this letter was written relates to determining who wrote it, why they wrote it, and what was taking place among the people who first received it. If Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy wrote it soon after 1 Thessalonians, that would place it in the mid 50s. If someone else wrote it in Paul’s and the others’ names, evoking the apostle’s reputation to address other circumstances, then the letter could have been written as late as 80 or even 95 C.E.


The letter tells a community of Christians facing persecution to cling to what they have previously been taught, to refrain from disorderly behavior, and to wait faithfully for the return of Jesus Christ.


This letter speaks sharply about vengeance, punishment, evil, and exclusion. Its harsh language regarding current struggles and a judgment to come can shock readers who do not live in places where Christians experience persecution or who question whether assurances of retribution can really bring comfort to those who experience affliction. Read 2 Thessalonians in light of other biblical books’ teaching about the end time and with eyes to imagine how the gospel gives assurance to embattled and vulnerable communities of faith. Consider how language of “grace” and “peace” (1:2; 3:16-18) also shapes the letter. While it is important to be aware of the debates concerning the book’s authorship and origins, one can still read it with an eye on what the letter communicates. Even without making up one’s mind about the letter’s background, observe how its teachings are like and different from what other New Testament writings say.