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2 Thessalonians 2

You can read the text here.

Paul continues to encourage the Thessalonian Christians. Apparently communication (oral or letter) had arrived in Paul's name claiming that the day of the Lord had come and gone or they had badly misunderstood 1 Thessalonians.[1] Either way, this shook the church and must have raised questions about why they were still facing persecution and had not yet been vindicated.[2] Paul claims the time had not come and gives his expectation of what must happen first. It seems clear to me that Paul expected it to come soon.[3]

Who did Paul have in mind when talking about this man of lawlessness? It sounds like Paul is talking about something concrete he is expecting to be done by someone alive at that time.[4] Whoever he is, Paul is expecting that he too will succumb to the power of the Messiah Jesus when he returns to judge. And so will all who follow him in his Satan led deception.[5]

Because of this, the Thessalonians have nothing to fear. God is on their side because they have received the Spirit that sanctifies them, which is God's proof of their election; a purposeful election - their glory. All they need to do is to hold fast in fidelity to what they were taught. Paul concludes wishing them comfort once more. The Thessalonians must have been truly shaken.

To expand on one point in the last paragraph a bit, there is a very clear pattern to salvation here. God's grace is prior to any activity on the part of the Thessalonians. God's grace also empowers them to live lives of holiness. However, nowhere is there any suggestion that there is no requirement on the Thessalonians for their final vindication. They are clearly charged with cooperating with God's grace both in trust and by living in accordance with God's rule, in a word, fidelity. The whole passage makes clear that those who are loyal to God will be saved on the day or judgment, while those who rebel against him will parish. It does leave one wondering what will happen to those "in the middle," but we need to be careful not to go beyond what Paul actually is trying to argue here.

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[1] Fee has a nice overview of the possibilities here.

[2] I think Occam's razor requires this solution to what troubled them given the information that we actually have (i.e., 2 Thes. 1). This conclusion is in line with Fee's interpretation as well.

[3] Do we also have to wrestle with failed prophecy given that it didn't happen soon (and the temple was destroyed)? Gaventa pushes back against the claim that the reference to the temple here is necessarily the temple in Jerusalem, but if Paul indeed is the author, the temple was still standing and seems the most likely referent. See the discussion in Malherbe for the range of possible interpretations.

[4] Though see Malherbe for the argument that Paul is drawing on Daniel.

[5] Malherbe argues well that God's activity here follows/is a consequence of resisting him. 

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