The Context of 2 Thessalonians

Thanks for visiting Bible Mountain. This lesson is part of a series of lessons on 2 Thessalonians. In this lesson I’m going to look at the context in which 2 Thessalonians was written.

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Thanks for visiting Bible Mountain. This lesson is part of a series of lessons on 2 Thessalonians. In this lesson I’m going to look at the context in which 2 Thessalonians was written. 

The first verse of 2 Thessalonians tells us this letter was written by Paul, Sylvanus, and Timothy; and it was written to the church of the Thessalonians. In order to understand this letter, it’s helpful to know something about the Thessalonians themselves, the city of Thessalonica, and the context in which this letter was written. One of the things we learn from studying the context is that it is possible to have success in ministry no matter how difficult the environment in which we are working.

There are nine verses in the New Testament that mention either Thessalonica or the Thessalonians.  Three of those verses are in Acts 17. That’s a very important chapter in understanding 2 Thessalonians because that’s the chapter that tells us about Paul’s first visit to Thessalonica when he founded the church in Thessalonica. I’ll come back to this in a little bit. 

The Thessalonians were also mentioned in Acts 20. That’s merely a reference in passing, basically mentioning that Paul was accompanied by two men from Thessalonica as he was traveling. 

We see the same thing in Acts 27. This chapter tells us about Paul’s journey by ship to Rome. Verse two mentions that Paul was accompanied by a man from Thessalonica. 

The city of Thessalonica was mentioned in the book of Philippians because the Philippians had sent a gift to help Paul when Paul was in Thessalonica. 

Obviously, the Thessalonians were mentioned in the book of 1 Thessalonians because that book was written to the Thessalonians. 

Likewise, the Thessalonians were mentioned in the book of 2 Thessalonians because that letter was also written to the Thessalonians. 

Finally, Thessalonica was mentioned in 2 Timothy chapter four because Demas had deserted Paul and went to Thessalonica. 

What we learn from all this is that the main passages we need to understand in order to understand the context of 2 Thessalonians is Acts 17 and the book of 1 Thessalonians. Let’s start with Acts chapter 17.

As you know, the first four books of the New Testament are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They tell us what Jesus did while He was here on earth between 0 AD and the mid-30s AD. 

The book of Acts tells us what the apostles of Jesus did after Jesus went back to heaven. The events recorded in the book of Acts took place somewhere between the mid-30s AD and the mid-60s AD. A very large percentage of the book of Acts is dedicated to telling us about the ministry of the apostle Paul, mainly his missionary journeys. 

Paul’s first missionary journey was to Crete and Asia Minor. Asia Minor was the area known today as Turkey. His second journey was to Asia Minor and Greece

Acts 17 tells us about part of his second missionary journey. Let’s start reading at verse one. The pronoun they refers to Paul and his companions.

Acts 17:1   Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures,  3 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” 

We see that Paul went to Thessalonica. He preached in the synagogue on three Sabbaths and told them about Jesus.

Acts 17:4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. 

Paul had some converts. Some Jews believed as well as some Greeks. 

Acts 17:5 But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people.  6 When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; 7 and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar,  saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. 9 And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them.

Notice that the Jews were jealous and they joined with some wicked men from the marketplace and basically started a riot. 

Acts 17:10   The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.  11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men. 

The rioting in Thessalonica was so bad that the brethren sent Paul and Silas away. They went to Berea. There’s an interesting statement here about Thessalonica. It says the Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians. The author of Acts insulted the Thessalonians. 

Acts 17:13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds. 14 Then immediately the brethren sent Paul out to go as far as the sea;  and Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 Now those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they left.

The Jews of Thessalonica were so bad, they followed Paul to Berea, started agitating the crowd, and forced Paul to leave Berea. 

That is how the church in Thessalonica was started. Paul preached the gospel. Some Jews believed and some Greeks believed, but most of the Jews were not very noble and they started a riot and drove Paul out of the city. Then they followed him to Berea and drove him out of Berea. 

Sometime after that, Paul wrote the book of 1 Thessalonians. That letter was written to the church that he had founded in Thessalonica. There were basically three things Paul was trying to accomplish when he wrote the book of 1 Thessalonians. 

First, he updated them about what had happened with him after he left Thessalonica. Second, he gave them some further instruction. It’s as if he was finishing what he did not finish when he was with them. Remember, he was with them for three sabbaths and had some converts, but then he was forced to leave quickly. It makes sense there were things he had wanted to tell them that he was not able to tell them before he was forced out. He wrote 1 Thessalonians to communicate some of that information. The third thing Paul did in 1 Thessalonians was he told the Thessalonians how to behave in light of the Lord’s future coming. 

That was 1 Thessalonians. Sometime later Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians which is the subject of this particular series of lessons. 

Let’s read the first two verses of 2 Thessalonians chapter 2. These verses tell us why Paul wrote this letter and the main idea he wanted to communicate to the Thessalonians.

2Th. 2:1   Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 

Remember, in 1 Thessalonians Paul talked about the Lord’s future coming. Then, apparently, at some point, the Thessalonians received a message, supposedly from Paul, claiming that the day of the Lord had come. However, that was not true. Paul wrote the letter of 2 Thessalonians to correct that.

That’s the overall context of 2 Thessalonians. I want to close with 2 Thessalonians chapter one verses three and four because these verses are very interesting in light of what we just learned about the history of the church in Thessalonica. When Paul started preaching in Thessalonica, he had some converts, but the Jews joined with some wicked men, started a riot, and drove Paul out of Thessalonica. The church in Thessalonica was started amidst social upheaval and a great uproar.

It’s tempting to think that it’s very unlikely to plant a good church in that atmosphere.  However, let’s look at 2 Thessalonians chapter one, verses three and four, and see what Paul wrote about the church in Thessalonica. Remember, this is a church that was founded amidst a riot. Paul wrote.

2Th. 1:3   We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater; 4 therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. 

Paul had a lot of positive things to say about the church in Thessalonica. Their faith was enlarged. Their love for one another was growing greater. They were persevering in the midst of persecution.

The lesson from this is that, despite the opposition that the church in Thessalonica faced, despite the opposition that Paul faced in Thessalonica, and despite all of the turmoil that happened in the city of Thessalonica when these people first became believers, a very good church was still established in Thessalonica. The lesson for us is that there is always hope.

There’s a lot of missionary work being done all over the world today, in many different countries, many different cultures, and many different languages. Some of these missionaries face great obstacles. Some are doing ministry in areas that are not very receptive to their message. From a human perspective, it seems unlikely they’re ever going to have success. 

When I look around my own culture, and observe American Christianity, there are many reasons to be discouraged. Our society is running away from God at a very fast pace. The church and so-called Christians in America are compromising with the world and moving away from the truth. It seems impossible to turn this around. 

However, just as Paul, in a less than noble city, was able to gain some converts in Thessalonica who were the foundation of a very solid church, so too we can have hope that anytime we’re doing ministry, there are people within that context who can turn into solid Christians and become a great foundation for a good, solid, Biblical church.

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