5 Reasons You Should Preach through 2 Thessalonians
Perhaps only months after writing to the Thessalonian church for the first time, Paul sends a further letter. There are outstanding and unresolved issues to address. Persecution still troubles the church. There is still confusion and fear about the last things. There is deep-rooted idleness in the church. With these matters before him, this second letter is just as warm and earnest as the first, but still more sober and urgent. Let me suggest five reasons to preach through 2 Thessalonians.
1. It sets before us first things.
Second Thessalonians sets before us the first things in terms of spiritual priority. The core of the letter, both in terms of its literary balance and its constant emphasis, is the immediate and lasting effect of a proper hearing of divine truth, a receiving of Christ as he is offered in the gospel, the peace and security that come from knowing the Lord Jesus. It is eminently concerned with what it means to live and serve in the kingdom of God in this present evil age. It holds up the glory of Christ as Lord and Savior, and calls for enduring faithfulness to the Word of God in the face of painful challenges and pressing difficulties. It drives us back to the bedrock of the Scriptures, and the inspired instruction of the apostles. It teaches us the need to preach the Word of God in season and out of season, and to desire its powerful and saving impact, by the Spirit’s influence, on the hearts of those who hear.
Are we persuaded that unless we believe the truth we shall be condemned? Are we committed to holding fast to apostolic teaching? This letter will enhance our sense of the preciousness of God’s saving revelation, and the importance of trusting and obeying what we find in the Word of God. It is no wonder that, by the end of the letter, Paul is urging these Christians to pray “that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith” (2 Thess. 3:1–2).
2. It sets before us last things.
This short letter sets before us the last things in terms of temporal sequence and theological locus. Eschatology was obviously an ongoing concern to the Thessalonian believers. The first epistle identified the danger of ignorance with regard to the return of our Lord (1 Thess 4:13ff.). The second epistle takes up similar threads. It opens with a powerful assurance of the second coming of Christ and what that means in terms of terror to the ungodly and comfort to the saints. It sets before the Thessalonians, and us, the shadowy figure called “the man of sin” (2 Thess. 2:3), and gives some sense of the character of the last days and the convictions required in order to live through them. The end of the world hangs before our eyes as we read and preach through this letter.
You cannot expound 2 Thessalonians without thinking out your eschatology carefully and specifically, and wrestling through some of its more difficult questions. It will necessarily sharpen your sense of what you believe. Alongside of that, it presents us with some of the most awful and fearful moments, and the most glorious, of this present age and its coming end. If this does not prompt striking and earnest sermons with a cutting evangelistic edge, then nothing will!
3. It sets before us eternal things.
This letter paints in vivid hues the everlasting security of the saints and the unending damnation of the wicked. Paul speaks with such plainness, and the present and permanent divide is so clearly portrayed! The eternal consequences of temporal convictions and actions are starkly before us, both for the sweetest of comforts and the most fearful of warnings. Paul obliges us to consider whether we have properly weighed time in the light of eternity. The issue of the coming judgment is prominent, but so too is the happiness of God’s people in that day: they will glorify Christ not only now but then; they have been chosen for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth; they can know peace always in every way.
A letter like this should—to use Jonathan Edwards’ phrase—stamp eternity on our eyeballs. With the bedrock truths of the gospel ringing in our ears and the striking colors of the Day of Judgment hanging before our eyes, we are given penetrating glimpses into the world to come and confidence concerning God’s gracious dealings with us. Again, it makes us realize that what we say as preachers of the gospel has everlasting consequences. This should stir us to diligence and faithfulness, not least in preaching this epistle.
4. It sets before us present things.
You have, perhaps, heard the nonsensical accusation that someone is too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use. Such an assertion suggests that either the person speaking or the one spoken of—or, perhaps, both!—don’t really understand heavenly-mindedness. Don’t imagine, then, that Second Thessalonians is full of ephemeral theologizing but fails to bite upon “real life.” The book is eminently practical. It brings the impact of things unseen to bear on the things which are seen.
It’s written to a church facing “persecutions and tribulations.” These believers need to appreciate that they have been counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. It is written to a church in danger because of ignorance and deception. These believers need to grasp certain truths that will save and sustain their souls. It is written to a church that needs to appreciate that God’s will for them is their sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3), and that they have been chosen for real godliness. These believers need to cultivate holiness of life as those who have trusted in Jesus Christ and are indwelt by his Spirit. It is written to a church with members who are walking in a disorderly and disobedient fashion, who do not seem to grasp basic patterns of Christian responsibility and integrity. These believers need to receive a loving but stinging response from those more faithful, in order to restore them to an orderly and God-honoring life.
This epistle impresses upon us the fact that conviction and action are joined together, that where there is truth in the heart there will always be righteousness in the life. If you struggle to make the connections between believing and behaving, 2 Thessalonians helps to join the dots. Applications arise naturally but pointedly from the text, training us to make the same connections when they may not be quite so obvious. It will help to make us practical preachers without allowing us to become moralists.
5. It sets before us pressing things.
The whole epistle breathes a sense of spiritual urgency. The fact of living for Christ in the last days, in an atmosphere of persecution and deception, with the prospect of glory before us, brings a pressing sense of spiritual reality to the most obviously sweeping and the most apparently mundane matters of our life and service.
As Christians and church members, the urgency of the whole epistle presses us. It sets our spiritual senses tingling as we appreciate afresh the unseen realities and future certainties that are bound up in kingdom life. It should make us more conscious that we must “awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand” (Rom. 13:11–12).
As pastors and preachers, the urgency of the whole epistle presses us particularly. It reminds us of the weight of responsibility we carry as we speak truth and press for a right response. The letter demands an earnest ministry, while underscoring our dependence on God for the discharge of that ministry. If we had any doubt about our own frailty, Paul’s pleas for prayer impress upon us our need of God’s grace to uphold and sustain us, and give God’s people a window into that steady state of reliance upon the Lord by which ministers are made most useful. It is a letter to make us trust, pray, and work.
Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Probably the best technical commentary from a more conservative and evangelical standpoint.
John Eadie, A Commentary on the Greek Text of Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians (Solid Ground Christian Books). Old-school, but when he flies he soars. Solid scholarship with a devoted heart.
Richard Mayhue, 1 & 2 Thessalonians: Triumphs and Trials of a Consecrated Church (Focus on the Bible Commentary). Thoughtful, briefer and more accessible, clear; helpful for preachers.
For what it is worth, the Puritan Thomas Manton preached eighteen sermons on 2 Thessalonians 2. I am not holding it up as an absolute model, but it is certainly stimulating!