Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible
Albert Barnes (1798-1870)

Introduction to 2 Thessalonians

For a general view of Thessalonica: of the establishment of the church there; of the character of the church, and of the design for which the apostle addressed these letters to it, see the introduction to the First Epistle.

This Epistle appears to have been written soon after the First Epistle, and from the same place - Corinth. See the introduction to the First Epistle, 3. The proof of this indeed is not certain, because there are no marks of time or place in the Epistle by which these points can be determined. The probability rests upon these grounds:

(1) That the same persons - Paul, Silas, and Timothy - are associated in both Epistles, and are mentioned as being together at the time when they were written 1Th 1:1; 2Th 1:1. However, since there is reason to believe that they did not continue long together, it is to be presumed that one Epistle was written soon after the other.

(2) Paul refers to an error which had grown up, apparently in consequence of a misunderstanding of his First Epistle 2Th 2:1-2, an error which he regarded as of great magnitude, and which was producing very unhappy results 2Th 3:11-12, and it was natural that he should hasten to correct that error as soon as possible.

(3) there is some probability, as Benson has remarked, that the Epistle was written before the troubles came upon him at Corinth under the administration of Gallio Act 18:12-16, and yet that he saw that the storm was approaching, and hints at it in 2Th 3:2, “And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men.” If so, this Epistle was written only a few months at the most after the First Epistle. We may regard the evidence, therefore, as sufficiently clear, that this Epistle was written at Corinth sense time during the latter part of a.d. 53, or the beginning of a.d. 54.

There is little doubt as to the design for which it was written. Either by a false interpretation of his former Epistle, or by an epistle forged in his name and sent to them, the opinion had become prevalent in the church at Thessalonica that the Saviour was about to appear, and that the end of the world was at hand; see 2Th 2:2, compare Hug’s Introduction, section 94, and Stuart’s Notes on the same passage, pp. 741ff. Correct this impression was the leading purpose of this Epistle. Some people had become alarmed, and were suffering from unnecessary apprehension 2Th 2:2; and some, under the natural belief that labor then was useless, and that property was of no value, had given up all attention to their worldly concerns 2Th 3:10-11; and it was of the utmost importance that the error should be corrected. This was done in this Second Epistle, and in doing it. As usual, Paul intermingled several other topics of importance, adapted to the condition of those to whom he wrote.

This Epistle, though short, has great permanent value, and is indispensable to a proper understanding of the great doctrine of the Second Advent of the Redeemer. It was written, indeed, to correct an error in a single church, and at a particular time, but history has shown there is a tendency toward that same error in all ages, and that there was need of some permanent inspired statement to check it. It was inferred from the First Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians, that he meant to teach that the day of judgment was not far off. If this Second Epistle had not been written to correct that false interpretation, and to show what Paul’s true belief was, it would have been charged to Paul that he was mistaken, and then the inference would have been naturally made that all the prophecies respecting that event were false! The distance between this and absolute infidelity, it is easy to see, is very small. Paul, by his prompt explanation, arrested that danger, and showed that he intended to teach no such doctrine as had been drawn from his first letter to them. There this Epistle is of importance to show:

(1) that the apostle did not believe, or mean to teach, that the end of the world was very near. There are many expressions, indeed, which, like those in First Thessalonians, would seeM to imply that the apostle held that belief, but the explanation of an inspired apostle of his own sentiments at the time, settled that matter. No one now has a right to charge that belief on him, or on others who then used the same language. No one can pretend that they held the opinion that the end of the world was very near. There is no stronger language on that subject in any of their writings than occurs in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, and Paul in the Second Epistle expressly says that he held no such opinion, and meant to teach no such thing.

(2) this Epistle is a standing rebuke of the kind of interpretation which attempts to determine the time when the Saviour will come, and of all those theories which represent “the day of Christ as at hand.” The declarations in the Scriptures are positive and abundant that the time of his appearing is not made known to mortals (Notes on Act 1:7), and it is not possible now to make out a stronger argument to prove that that time is near, than could have been made out from the First Epistle to the Thessalonians; and yet Paul deemed it necessary to write them a second letter, expressly to show them that the interpretation which they put upon his language was unauthorized. The truth is, that it was not the design of God to make known to human beings the exact time when the Lord Jesus will return for judgment; and all attempts since the time of Paul to settle that have failed, and all will doubtless continue to fall, as they always have done. 

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