In 2 Thessalonians 2:15, we read the following message: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold on to the traditions that we taught you, whether by speech or by letter” (NET). That “letter” was undoubtedly the Biblical epistle we know today as 1 Thessalonians. Therefore, it’s likely that the New Testament letter of 2 Thessalonians represents Paul the Apostles’ immediate follow up letter to this young first-century church.
The Biblical letter of 2 Thessalonians was probably written less than a year after the New Testament book of 1 Thessalonians was delivered. One commentary offers an introduction that provides some valuable background information (1) regarding the church at Thessalonica…
“The recipients of 2 Thessalonians were Christians in Thessalonica, a city in Macedonia (northern Greece) where Paul and his companions had planted a church (Acts 17:1–9…). This letter does not provide as many clues about the date and place of its writing as 1 Thessalonians (which was sent from Corinth around AD 50–51). Since the two letters cover many of the same issues, 2 Thessalonians was likely written soon after 1 Thessalonians (2 Thess 2:15) near the end of Paul’s second missionary journey (circa AD 49–51).” (2)
It seems the letter of 2 Thessalonians was prompted (at least in part) by some news Paul received about the state of the church in Thessalonica. Some of that news was good, for the Thessalonian congregation was growing in faith and love (1:3). They also exhibited patience and endurance in the midst of persecutions and tribulations (1:4).
However, it also appears that the Thessalonian church continued to struggle with several issues. These included…
- Erroneous teachings that had entered the church through some “prophetic” means or through counterfeit letters purportedly written by Paul (2:1-2).
- Confusion regarding Jesus’ return (2:3-12).
- Idleness, disorder, and gossip among some members of the congregation (3:6-15).
Like many of Paul’s other New Testament letters, we can separate the book of 2 Thessalonians into multiple sections. In chapter one, Paul expresses his thankfulness for the Thessalonian Christians and assures them that God will ultimately vindicate them. Chapter two provides some clarification regarding Jesus’ return and an exhortation to stand firm in the faith. Chapter three then closes with a call to pursue a responsible lifestyle that honors God.
Finally, another source provides us with an apt comparison between the books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians: “It is simply a second prescription for the same case, made after discovering that certain stubborn symptoms had not yielded to the first treatment.” (3)
(1) See the introduction to the book of 1 Thessalonians beginning here for additional background on the church at Thessalonica
(2) Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
(3) Rollin Hough Walker. (1915). International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Thessalonians, the Second Epistle of Paul to The. (p. 2968) James Orr, M.A., D.D, General Editor. Howard-Severance Company https://www.internationalstandardbible.com/T/thessalonians-the-second-epistle-of-paul-to-the.html