This epistle of Paul contains many expressions which parallel those in the first letter, indeed some are verbatim. However, other aspects suggest a more impersonal tone and changed circumstances in the situation as Thessalonika which prompted this letter as well.
It begins with an address (2 Thessalonians 1:1-2) that is only a slight expansion on the address in 1 Thessalonians 1:1, and it ends with a greeting insisting on its genuine Pauline authority against the false claims made in Paul's name (2 Thessalonians 2:2). The main body of the letter is in three parts, and it is the second part (chapter 2) that presents the most difficulty, being most notorious for the obscurity of its doctrine regarding the man of sin and the Parousia of the Lord.
The opening thanksgiving and prayer (2 Thessalonians 1:3-12) testifies to the Thessalonian Christians' increasing faith and love in the face of outside persecution. God's eventual judgment against persecutors, and his salvation for his faithful, are already evident in the very fact of persecution. The heart of the letter (2 Thessalonians 2:1-17) deals with the problem threatening the faith of the community prompted by a prophetic oracle, probably in a forged letter presented at a liturgical gathering (see 2 Thessalonians 2:2 and 1 Corinthians 14:26-33), declaring that the day of the Lord and all that it means have already come, resulting in the upsetting of the life of the Thessalonian community of believers.
Their fearful preoccupation with the date of the Parousia, the coming again of the Lord Jesus from heaven (2 Thessalonians 2:1), is countered by Paul's referring to his earlier teaching to them concerning what must first happen, and then continuing with a description of what will actually happen at the Lord's coming. He presents a two-fold unfoldment in which the "activity of Satan" and God's actions (2:9-11) are already working out, the growing division between believers and those who willingly succumb to false prophesy and "the lie". He concludes by insisting on the acceptance of the traditions he taught them according to the apostolic doctrine, with gratitude that they received them from him, and by praying for divine strength (2:13-17). The last part of the letter (3:1-16) addresses in particular the apostle's directives and model of his style of life in the Lord and with correction of disorderly elements within their community.
The traditional understanding is that this letter was written shortly after 1 Thessalonians. It has been argued from time to time the 2 Thessalonians was written first, or that the two letters are addressed to two different communities or segments within the church at Thessalonika, to Gentiles in the community and to Jewish Christians there, or even that 2 Thessalonians was originally written to some other nearby community where Paul carried out some mission work, such as Philippi or Beroea. However, some scholars in more recent times have advanced the opinion that 2 Thessalonians is a pseudepigraph written authoritatively in Paul's name, long after the death of the apostle himself, as a letter intended to maintain apostolic traditions in a later period, perhaps as late as the last two decades of the first century, but certainly not later than that.
Whatever is the truth, the audience of Second Thessalonians and certain features of its style and content presumably require that it be read and studied within a Pauline context, particularly the one provided by the situation seen in First Thessalonians. If the letter is regarded by the scholar against tradition as not by Paul himself, any understanding of its apocalyptic presentation of the conditions that must precede the Parousia (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12) may profit from, and require, recourse to a much wider biblical basis for interpretation, Daniel and [[Isaiah (Biblical book)|Isaiah, Matthew 24–25; Mark 13; Luke 21:5-36; and Revelation.
The letter can be divided into four sections:
- Address (1:1-12)
- Warning against Deception Concerning the Parousia (2:1-17)
- Concluding Exhortations (3:1-16)
- Final Greetings (3:17-18)
Chapter 1 He gives thanks to God for their faith and constancy; and prays for their advamcement in all good.
Chapter 2 The day of the Lord is not to come, till the man of sin be revealed. The apostle's traditions are to be observed.
Chapter 3 He begs their prayers, and warns them against idleness.
- Anciently an oracle was (a) the established site or place of prophetic revelation, or (b) the source of a revelation, by a god, or the prophet or visionary himself or herself, or (c) the message itself. In the context of 2 Thessalonians 2:2 compare 1 Corinthians 12:3 and 1 John 4:1.