Richard, Earl J. First and Second Thessalonians. Part of the Sacra Pagina biblical commentary series edited by Daniel J. Harrington S.J.. (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1995).
2 Thessalonians is modeled on 1 Thessalonians – with 2 thanksgivings and 2 conclusions! Richard and others argue it is NOT by Paul but by someone who admired Paul without agreeing with him about everything. There are terms and expressions used here that are not found in any other letter and, in a corollary sort of way, terms and expressions used in almost every authentic letter of Paul are NOT present.
dating this letter is difficult. I Thessalonians had an early part (concern for the newly founded congregation after Paul’s departure) and a later part (he had heard the good news of their faithfulness). Since this is modeled on the resulting / edited / put together 1 Thessalonians letter – it must be fairly late. Strong apocalyptic themes in the NT are usually thought of as being early – in anticipation of Jesus’ return. This letter is a later sort of apocalyptic that was reading the “signs of the times” and suggesting that the end was now imminent – sort of like Brother Camping of the recent end-of-the-world is here talk.
Richard p. 27: “An important conclusion that emerges from an analysis of 2 Thessalonians is that despite the document’s interest in and development of apocalyptic themes, there are many clues of an anti-apocalyptic perspective. The author considers the community’s apocalyptic beliefs sympathetically, at least the sufferings which have led it to the conclusion that the messianic woes have begun.”
Richard p. 28: “Repeatedly, however, one encounters nonapocalyptic themes and the disavowal of exaggerated eschatological ideas.” In the end the author suggests that they are wasting too much time and energy on the apocalyptic stuff and need to focus better on their Christian mission and life.
Richard p. 313: “Faith in verse 3 is not commitment to God through Christ but fidelity (to one’s commitment) in adversity, while love is mutual assistance in view of perseverance.” So, right away, the author begins to address the apocalyptic concerns of the community.
Isaiah 66 has a vision of the end of times that the author draws from:
When you see this, your heart shall rejoice,
and your bodies flourish like the grass;
The LORD’S power shall be known to his servants,
but to his enemies, his wrath.
Lo, the LORD shall come in fire,
his chariots like the whirlwind,
To wreak his wrath with burning heat and his punishment with fiery flames.
For the LORD shall judge all mankind by fire and sword.
and many shall be slain by the LORD.
They who sanctify and purify themselves to go to the groves,
as followers of one who stands within,
they who eat swine’s flesh,
loathsome things and mice,
shall all perish with their deeds and their thoughts, says the LORD.
Who / what is “the one who restrains”? Richard p. 338: “Often discussion focuses on whether Paul had a positive view of government as protector of the Christian community or a negative perception of the Empire as cohort of the lawless one. Whether Paul or a Paulinist is author of this letter, the issue revolves around the role the author of the document sees the government or restrainer playing in the scenario of chapter 2.” OT wisdom literature had a respect for the civil king – when the Jewish people were allowed to practice their faith without interference. The government provides for order, for economic activity and protection from external enemies.
one way to read this then, is that the Roman Empire restrained (to a degree) the full forces of turmoil and evil – as long as it suits God to have them do that.
The restrainer is not God – for it’s time is limited and will eventually be taken away.
Before the true end of time the Lawless one will come and be revealed and then will come the Great Apostasy. The author of the letter notes that neither is yet present.
What might be the additional problems in the community that the letter addresses? Some are busybodies poking their noses into other’s business. Perhaps they also (or others) are neglecting their responsibilities – particularly if they are proclaiming the gospel – to also continue to support themselves.