2:1-2. Don’t Be Disturbed. In 1 Corinthians, when in various moments Paul writes, “Now regarding,” it is taken as a reply to questions contained in a letter from Corinth, from the cue in 7:1. With no such cue here, no conclusion can be reached from his use of it in 2:1, although it seems to indicate his main concern in writing this second letter. Evidently Paul has received information since his first letter that motivates him to write and address the false message which taught that the day of the Lord is already here (see 3:11). Paul has already taught in his first letter about the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ and how that all saints will be gathered to be with him. He pleads that they not be easily shaken from their composure, or state of “mind,” which would render them incapable to judge, or disturbed by what they have heard. All spirits or teachings must be examined. Just because someone says so does not make it so. Satan passes himself off as angel of light, his servants as workers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). So it is no wonder that some spirit or message or letter allegedly from Paul might be a satanic forgery.
Paul perceived that the teaching that Christ has already come was a pernicious error. Though the details of the following argument are not clear, since it was based upon Paul’s previous teaching (2:5), its forceful terms and sequence of events serve to show the falsity of the doctrine and reestablish the hope of the Thessalonians. Similar teachings today, that the second coming is past, are just as dangerous as its first appearance and deserve the same rigorous challenge.
2: 3-12. The Rebellion. The passage beings and ends with terms of deception. Many will be deceived, but the Thessalonians should resist any attempts to lead them astray, because the truth stands sharply in contrast to such teaching: For that day will not arrive until certain events take place. The end is not yet.
In this passage, one of the most challenging of Paul’s letters, any identifications of the rebellion, and of the man of lawlessness will be tentative. Sufficient information is lacking to tie these events and people, if people they be, to any time, place, or name. Theories abound, especially in premillenial circles, but lack foundation and facts. Paul does not call these events “signs” of the end, but manifestations that demonstrate the futurity of Christ’s coming. Nor does he use John’s term “antichrist,” so we should not be quick to make a connection between the two.
Two main figures emerge: the man of lawlessness, whom Paul describes with a series of phrases reminiscent of Old Testament apocryphal language; and the restrainer, the one who holds him back, until he is taken out of the way, at which time the former will be revealed and destroyed at the arrival of the Lord. No indications are given of length of intervals between the events. The arrival of the lawless one will be marked by Satan’s working with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders (false may modify all three nouns), which will constitute part of every kind of evil deception. Paul probably speaks metaphorically that he takes his seat in God’s temple.
What did this passage mean to the Thessalonians? And what application does it have for us? For them, it was evidence that, although they must be ready for the return of Christ, they must also recognize that evil was among them and working against them. There is one who opposes God, displaying himself as God. The power of lawlessness may be hidden, but it is already at work. They had seen it in the Jews’ opposition to the gospel, and Paul may in some way be connecting their rebellion against Christ in this passage. (See his strong language against them in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16.) But hidden or revealed, this power will be destroyed effortlessly by the breath of the Lord’s mouth. So it is important they not be deceived, like those who found no place in their hearts for the truth so as to be saved. They must believe the truth, different from those who delighted in evil.
The application is easy to see: preparation for Christ’s coming, awareness of the working and deceitfulness of evil; the often hidden nature of evil; the forces still at work in the world restraining or releasing the exercise of lawlessness; the deification of man; the responsibility of those who allow themselves to be deceived, shutting out the truth from the heart; the omnipotence of Christ; the sovereignty of God who sends, for good or ill; the final destruction of evil.
Some charge a change of approach between the two Thessalonians letters. In the first letter, the coming is imminent, but in the second it is more distant, with a chain of events that must first take place. But both letters presuppose the readers’ knowledge of the end times through Paul’s oral instruction. The information contained in the second letter serves to correct false teaching that was not present or evident in the first. The letters, as all biblical books, were conditioned by the needs of the readers and the situation of the writer, and should not be interpreted as if they were systematic theological treatments of their topics.
2:13-17. Stand Firm. In contrast to those who perish are the Thessalonian brothers and sisters whom God chose … from the beginning for salvation. For them Paul ought to thank God always, echoing 1:3, for rather than believing a lie, they have faith in the truth. This faith coupled with sanctification by the Spirit became the means of their salvation. It was through their faith that God chose them, and through the gospel preached by Paul God called them, so that they may possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, the result which God desired. Considering their calling and election, they should stand firm by the hold they have on the traditions they had been taught by Paul by speech and by letter. Traditions are teachings received and passed on from one to the other, an important concept in the gospel (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 11:23). With the thanksgiving comes yet another prayer for his readers, with description of God our Father as he who loved us and by grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope. With the correction of the false teaching that Christ had already come, hope is restored. He prays that the Lord Jesus Christ himself and the Father may encourage their hearts through the eternal comfort of the truth and strengthen them in every good thing they do or say. What is good is important to Paul in this letter (1:11; 2:16, 17; ESV in 3:13 translates “doing right” as “doing good”). This goodness will be demonstrated by word and action in the Thessalonians, through the power of God and through the intercession of others on their behalf, as Paul was praying for them.