- Salutation (1:1, 2)
- Personal matters (1:3-12)
- The coming of the Lord (2:1-17)
- Final instructions (3:1-15)
- Benediction and salutation (3:16-18)
Authorship, date, and background
See the introduction to 1 Thessalonians. This second letter was written shorthly after 1 Thessalonians by Paul at Corinth (A.D. 50-51). Paul had written the first letter to instruct believers about matters having to do with the second advent of the Lord Jesus. Apparently they misunderstood what he had said. He had emphasized the imminence of the Lord's coming. The results of that teaching were quite different from what the apostle expected. Instead of getting down to business as they waited for his coming, some of them thought that the day of the Lord had already started. Others thought that he was coming so soon that they stopped work and waited idly. They had missed the point that Jesus will come as a thief in the night and at a time when men do not expect him. But no dates were set. As a consequence, Paul received disheartening news from Thessalonica about this situation. It occasioned the writing of the second letter to straighten them out. One statement made by Paul seems to suggest that the Thessalonians had been led astray by wrong teaching from unauthentic sources. Paul alluded to this in his letter when he said, "Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,... that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand." (2:1, 2). The speed with which Paul wrote the second letter after having composed the first one a short time before indicates his deep concern for the believers, he distate for the erroneous doctrine, and his pastoral heart which demanded immediate action on his part.
Characteristics and content
It is not clear to believers today what some of the conditions are which will be a sign of the end of the age and the coming of the Lord. Paul's references certainly must have been clear to the Thessalonians, but they are less clear to us. He tells them that the day of the Lord has not started and it will not commence until after certain events occur. The first is the appearance of "the man of sin," who will cause many others to rebel against God. It is a period of sudden and rapidly accelerating apostasy from godliness.
Second, this will not occur until the removing or the stepping out of the way of the one who is holding him back. Who the hinderer is, Paul does not say. Some have thought this refers to the Holy Spirit, whose presence they think will be withdrawn, and if such an event were to occur, society would crumble because the restraining power of the Spirit would no longer hold things together. But this cannot be certain, and eminent commentators disagree. Believers had best be tentative in their efforts to identify the "hinderer".
Third, the evil one who will come is he "who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God" (2:4). He is the one "whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders" (2:9). Obviously this has not occurred at the time Paul writes his letter. Nor has it occurred at any time since then. Therefore it is still future. Until this happens, believers can know that any reports of the Lord's having come are untrue. Meanwhile they are to keep on doing the will of God as though Christ were to tarry for another thousand years. Yet they are to work as though he will come tonight.