Here is an essay introduction I wrote to the book of II Thessalonians for the recently released Jesus Centered Bible.
First, a confession…
I have no idea what “the man of lawlessness” referenced in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 is all about. This mysterious phrase is more than a bit confusing to me. I’ve read all the commentaries, but I still don’t get it. But here’s what’s interesting about so much of Scripture, and is true of this second letter to the church at Thessalonica as well: Most of it is really clear. Crystal clear, actually.
In church and at conferences or retreats you’re likely to hear, on occasion, what we might call “really deep teaching.” That means you’ll be asked to swallow charts and complex thoughts and long words, many of which end in “ology.” My typical experience in these settings is always the same–not all of it makes sense to me. These teachers are, with few exceptions, really good at what they do. Often, complex and controversial teaching in the Bible requires complex and controversial explanation. But when I get home and try to explain those explanations to my wife, I can’t. It all sounds so garbled when I say it.
Now, I am not saying we shouldn’t try to understand complex teachings and doctrines. We should, and I do. It appears, however, that all of 2 Thessalonians is much like Ephesians 6–we’re called to “persevere and stand firm in difficult times.” Do the right things, stand tall in the midst of suffering, and you’ll be fine. This letter is a heartfelt plea from three men–Paul, Silas, and Timothy–to obey the commands from the Lord that they’ve passed on to the Thessalonian Christ-followers. Their instructions are direct, simple, and practical: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat” and “Stay away from idle people.”
Jesus operated in the same way–he said some things that were hard to understand (“Eat my body and drink my blood”), but he also gave his followers plenty of clear directives (“Do not judge” and “Do not worry”). He gave positive commands, and clearly told us there are some things we should not do: “Don’t pray on the streets like the religious leaders, but pray in your closet in secret.” Seems pretty clear.
Our temptation is always to obsess over the confusing parts of Scripture, when the plain parts make up the majority. Sometimes I think I’m tempted to spend more time trying to understand an obscure passage just so I won’t have to actually do what’s already clear–“Love God and love your neighbor.” Jesus definitely gave us plenty to ponder, but we can wrestle out his clear commands in our everyday life.
You can purchase the Jesus Centered Bible here.