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THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE
WO suppositions are possible with regard to the occasion of the Apostle's writing this second Epistle. The first is, that the Thessalonians had misunderstood what he had said in his former Epistle regarding the second coming of our Lord, and imagined that day to be close upon them. But to this there are two objections. First, that there is nothing in the former Epistle which could well have given rise to such an amount of misunderstanding. Had it been previously existing, or had it come upon them afterwards from some other influence, there might be nothing in that Epistle to check it: but we can hardly conceive it to have arisen from that letter alone. And secondly, St. Paul's own words in
this Epistle hardly bear out such a supposition. The Thessalonians are cautioned not to be "shaken in mind nor troubled, neither by spirit (spiritual gift of prophecy), nor by word, nor by letter as by us.' This would look as if some Epistle had been circulated among them purporting to come, but not really coming, from their Father in the faith. And so Chrysostom takes the passage to mean: 'He seems to me here to hint, that some were going about with a forged Epistle pretending to be from Paul, and that showing this they affirmed the day of the Lord to be already come, that they might deceive many. And this supposition also derives confirmation. from the care taken in ch. iii. 17, to add to this Epistle, itself written by an amanuensis, an autograph salutation, and to specify such autograph salutation to be the token of genuineness which the Apostle intended ever after to employ.' And more confirmation still is obtained for this view, from the circumstance that, if this second Epistle were intended for a correction of the first, it serves the purpose very insufficiently, opening in ch. i. 7, with an anticipation of Christ's coming quite as ardent and realising as any in that former Epistle.
We adopt then unhesitatingly the second hypothesis that since the sending of that letter, some one had been imposing upon the Thessalonians a letter in the Apostle's name, to the effect that the day of the Lord was close upon them; exciting them, and causing them to walk disorderly, and to disregard their own business in life. On being informed of this at Corinth, where he remained for a year and a half, he sent this second Epistle, not contradicting, not even modifying, his former teaching, but filling it out and rendering it complete informing them of those things which in the divine counsels were destined to precede the coming of the day of the Lord, and the manifestation of which was kept back by circumstances then existing. Unquestionably, this great prophetic passage is the glory, as it furnished the main object, of this second Epistle. It will be my endeavour, first to regard the Epistle as a whole, and then to give particular attention to the interpretation of this passage.
This Epistle is superscribed, as the former one was, by Paul and Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy. It would seem as if some little time must have elapsed since the former Epistle, enough both to
have brought on the Thessalonians length of persecution sufficient for endurance under it to be predicated of them, and enough also to give rise to Christian churches in Corinth and its neighbourhood: for the Apostle speaks (ch. i. 4) of his boasting of them in the churches of God for their patience and faith in all their persecutions and afflictions that they were enduring.' This endurance is treated by him as a token of God's justice, preparing them for His kingdom, at the revelation of which they should have rest, and their persecutors recompense of affliction. The manifestation of that kingdom is spoken of in the same tone as prevailed in the former Epistle : thus making it manifest that it is not the intention of the Apostle to correct or change anything which he had before written to them. He now (ch. ii.) addresses himself to the great mistake under which they were labouring: and having both reminded them of his former teaching, and imparted to them again the great truths on the matter which he had then declared to them, he repeats his thankfulness for them, and exhorts them to hold fast the traditions which they have been taught, whether by word, or by his Epistles.
In drawing to a close, he begs their prayers for the success of his great work, and for his own deliverance from the Jews, then violently contending with him at Corinth: expressing his confidence in the Thessalonians, and praying for them in turn that their hearts may be led into the love of God, and the patience of which Christ was the example.
Then follow his final injunctions; and their character, as has been already hinted, shews beyond mistake what had been the effect of their mistake which he has been correcting. Some among them were walking disorderly, not working at any business, but being busy bodies: contrary both to the Apostle's teaching, and to his consistent example when he was among them. These persons he exhorts solemnly to return to their occupations, and in quietness to earn their own bread. From such as will not, he commands the believers to separate themselves; not, however, in a hostile spirit, but with brotherly admonitions. And then, having given them a sure token of the genuineness of this letter, viz., the salutation written with his own hand, his token in every Epistle, he concludes with the valedictory prayer, that the favour of Christ might ever abide with them.