Friday

15 December 2017

2 Thessalonians 2:1-3a, 13-17

“As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way.” (vv. 1-3a)

Psalm: Psalm 139


Background

In his first letter to the church at Thessalonica which Paul founded the previous year (the year 51) with Silvanus and Timothy, Paul sets out teaching about the second coming of Christ (see especially 1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 5:11). He tells the church that nobody knows the day or time of the Lord's return, and therefore there is no reason for him to speculate about it in a letter (1 Thessalonians 5:1). But in this second letter, it is apparent that Paul needs to write again as he has just become aware (the present tense is used in 2 Thessalonians 3:11) of a good deal of misinformation circulating in the church about the second coming. It appears that there have been people claiming "by spirit" (v. 2) (that is, by prophecy) or by spoken claims that their co-founders have taught them that the day of the Lord has already arrived. Some seem to be claiming they have received letters from Paul to this effect. (He actually signs this letter in his own handwriting to prove it isn't another fake - 2 Thessalonians 3:17). He tells them not to be deceived or alarmed (just as Jesus also warned his disciples - Matthew 24:4-6). Some of them are neither deceived nor alarmed, but have become complacent and idle (2 Thessalonians 3:11): Paul addresses this in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-7.

Paul does, however, give thanks that whenever the second coming does take place, there will be a 'gathering together' (or 'synagogue') of Christians with Jesus (verse 1). This final gathering was a centuries-old Jewish hope (Isaiah 27:13) mentioned by Jesus (Matthew 24:31). It is a reason to praise God (Psalm 106:47) and Paul moves on to give thanks to God because God has chosen the Thessalonian Christians through their faith in the true teaching Paul has given: this "belief in the truth"  has brought them sanctification in the Spirit (v. 13). Paul perhaps uses the phrase "first fruits for salvation" (v. 13) in this context as a reference to these first members of a new church; he describes Epaenetus of Asia in the same way (Romans 16:5).

Finally, Paul reminds them to stand firm to the true teaching he, Silvanus and Timothy themselves have personally handed on to them, whether by their preaching of the good news, their teaching by word of mouth or by letter (verses 14-15). They should not rely on what others claim to be from them. They have Christ himself and God the Father (notice the order!) to help them "in every good work and word" (v. 17).


To Ponder

  • Given that we cannot now receive personalised letters from the apostles, what is the best way you have found of assessing what is true teaching and what is not?
  • Some translators have translated verse 13 so that it says 'God chose you from the beginning of time for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit'. What difference does this translation make to the way you understand Paul's words here?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Neil Cockling

Neil spent 20 years as a circuit minister before becoming the District Development Enabler for the Newcastle upon Tyne Methodist District. He now works full-time for the NHS as a Consultant Lead Chaplain in mental health, leading a multi-faith team of 14 chaplains working in 10 hospitals in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.