“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him: We ask you, brothers, not to be easily upset in mind or troubled, either by a spirit or by a message or by a letter as if from us, alleging that the Day of the Lord has come” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 HCSB)
A closer look at this passage reveals three potential avenues for spiritual deception: “a spirit… a message or by a letter as if from us.”
The first avenue (“a spirit“) likely relates to those who falsely claimed to possess a divinely-inspired message regarding Jesus’ return. Paul had earlier counseled the Thessalonians to scrutinize such things when he said, “Put everything to the test. Accept what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21 CEV). This also aligns with something we read in the New Testament epistle of 1 John…
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1 NIV).
A “message” is comparable to a modern-day sermon or “a spoken word” (ESV). While many contemporary speakers are skilled in the art of persuasion, it’s important to recognize that such talents are not always put to God-honoring purposes. It’s also important to recognize that the ability to generate fear and anxiety in the minds of an audience may be used appropriately or inappropriately depending on certain factors.
For instance, a speaker who is honest about the prospects of a Christless eternity may provoke a legitimate sense of fear and anxiety in those who do not know God. Ideally, that response would serve to direct their attention to humanity’s failure to live up to God’s moral standards and illustrate their need for a Savior. However, the Christian community in Thessalonica did not fall into that category. Because of this, their confused (CEB) and troubled (KJV) response indicates that there was something wrong with what they had been told concerning “…the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him“.
While it is right to promote a healthy sense of respect and reverence for God, we should recognize that “…perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18) in those who follow Christ. Remember that fear and anxiety are powerful motivational tools. Therefore, a speaker who generates this kind of emotional response in his or her audience should be carefully examined to ensure that his or her message corresponds with sound Biblical doctrine.
Finally, “a letter” would correspond to a written report. Today, this might take the form of a published work, online post, text message, or email. Just as in our first two examples, a spiritual teaching that takes the form of a written report may not be what it seems. In light of this, we would be wise to test the authenticity of such things against the Scriptures.