This is a follow-up to my little post on the first letter to the Thessalonians, which letter was slightly longer than this one. I personally think that pastoral letters should be as short as possible, and Saint Paul probably realised that. The heart of this rather short letter is chapter two, which demonstrates two things about the Thessalonian Christians: (i) that they expected the end of the world to be imminent, and (ii) that some of them had gone as far in this expectation as to leave off working, so that Paul had to scold them for it.
I think we would recognise that a people that is terrified of something are easily led by frauds, people promising them deliverance. So, Paul warns his little flock, because the spirit of antichrist is at large. This spirit constantly challenges the Christian message, in particular that God became incarnate as a particular man, in a particular time, and that that man died and rose from the dead. Here, Paul calls him a rebel.
“Do not be terrified out of your senses all at once, and thrown into confusion, by any spiritual utterance, any message or letter purporting to come from us, which suggests that the day of the Lord is close at hand. Do not let anyone find the means of leading you astray. The apostasy must come first; the champion of wickedness must appear first, destined to inherit perdition. This is the rebel who is to lift up his head above every divine name, above all that men hold in reverence, till at last he enthrones himself in God’s temple, and proclaims himself as God.”II Thessalonians, 2: 2-4
He speaks of apostasy, which seems to suggest that before the end of the world, there would be a Christian who would rebel against the Apostles to place himself above even the name of Christ, and call himself a god. How interesting. Paul goes on to say that this rebel must show himself first, before being destroyed by Christ. Before being destroyed, the rebel would use the power of the devil to produce signs and wonders, and so deceive other Christians. This would be permitted by God Himself, as a test:
“He will come, when he comes, with all Satan’s influence to aid him; there will be no lack of power, of counterfeit signs and wonders; and his wickedness will deceive the souls that are doomed, to punish them for refusing that fellowship in the truth which would have saved them. That is why God is letting loose among them a deceiving influence, so that they give credit to falsehood; he will single out for judgement all those who refused credence to the truth, and took their pleasure in wrong-doing.”II Thessalonians, 2: 9-11
But Christians should stand firm by the traditions given them by the Apostles, and so weather the storm to come, together, supporting each other. Meanwhile, there was that problem about the people not working, and living as vagabonds, perhaps thinking that it was not worth holding a job if the end of the world was nigh…
“Only, brethren, we charge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to have nothing to do with any brother who lives a vagabond life, contrary to the tradition which we handed on; you do not need to be reminded how, on our visit, we set you an example to be imitated; we were no vagabonds ourselves. We would not even be indebted to you for our daily bread, we earned it in weariness and toil, working with our hands, night and day, so as not to be a burden to any of you; not that we are obliged to do so, but as a model for your own behaviour; you were to follow our example. The charge we gave you on our visit was that the man who refuses to work must be left to starve. And now we are told that there are those among you who live in idleness, neglecting their own business to mind other people’s. We charge all such, we appeal to them in the Lord Jesus Christ, to earn their bread by going on calmly with their work.”II Thessalonians, 3: 6-12
Vagabonds, please follow the example of Saint Paul, a hard worker, tirelessly running between the churches, supporting himself by the work of his own hands. I don’t think he really meant that anybody should starve. But he had to combat an idleness that seems to have settled upon some people. And he had to be severe. Anyway, that’s about it.