Paul’s Letters

There is treasure hidden in Paul’s thirteen letters, but the path to find it is not obvious. Here is a tip: in the Bible, Paul’s letters are not sequenced in chronological order.

The Bible rarely gives us specific dates about events it addresses, which can be frustrating for modern readers. As an example, this is a very brief timeline of the first four decades of Christianity that is probably correct to within a few years:

27 AD to 30 AD           Ministry of Jesus

30 AD to 39 AD           Death, resurrection of Jesus; Christianity spreads among the Jews

40 AD to 48 AD           Christianity spreads increasingly to non-Jews

48 AD to 57 AD           Paul’s three missionary journeys

58 AD to 70 AD           Paul’s imprisonment; Paul’s death; Temple destroyed

Paul wrote his letters within the two decades of 48 AD to 68 AD. His thirteen generally accepted letters are arranged in the New Testament in two blocks: the nine written to churches, then the four written to individuals. The nine written to churches are generally placed in order by length. (This also assumes Hebrews was not written by Paul.)

Second Thessalonians

This letter was probably written shortly after First Thessalonians. The church at Thessalonica seemed to be doing pretty well except for one thing, manifested in two ways: they were so focused on the second coming of Christ that they weren’t maturing in other areas and were not taking care of their daily business.

It may be a little dramatic to say it this way, but in this letter, Paul is setting the stage for an “us versus them” mentality, where “us” are the believing Christians (especially the persevering true believers like the Thessalonians) and “them” are all others. Developing this type of mentality is a proven way for making people commit to a cause and keeping them committed. It is a simple way to develop distinguishing characteristics.

Unbelievers will be paid back trouble for the trouble they have caused, will be punished with everlasting destruction and kept from the presence of the Lord. This will happen when Jesus is revealed from heaven. Unbelievers are those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of Jesus. (1:6-9)

Believers are those who endure through suffering. God will give them relief, and will be glorified through their lives. (1:5-12)

Paul reassures the Thessalonians that the Day of the Lord has not yet occurred, and it will not occur until certain things happened. Paul reminds them he had told them about these things before. These things may sound mysterious and incomprehensible to modern people because we do not know what he had previously told them in person. Paul must have thought this was sufficient information for them, though, so he moves on to other matters.

Among other things, he reminds the Thessalonians they must lead holy lives while they wait for the Day of the Lord. They must work to take care of themselves and set a good example for non-Christians, so that through their attractive lives they may bring others into the kingdom of God. That message was a big key to the growth of the church for the next two hundred years, and continues to be a good message today.

Primary Scriptures:
Second Thessalonians
Story Summary:
Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica
Roman Empire; Macedonia, Thessalonica
AD 30 Jesus crucified and resurrected; Pentecost; Holy Spirit arrives AD 48 Paul’s “famine visit” to Jerusalem; First Missionary Journey starts AD 50 Council at Jerusalem; Start of Second Missionary Journey. AD 51 Writing of First and Second Thessalonians