Disinformation at Thessalonica

Disinformation about the “day of the Lord” caused alarm among many in the congregation at Thessalonica2 Thessalonians 2:1-2.

Olivetti Typewriter - Photo by Luca Onniboni on Unsplash
Paul addressed claims that the “Day of the Lord had set in," rumors that were disrupting the congregation in Thessalonica and, apparently, spread by a “spirit,” a word (logos), or a letter, “as if from us.” In response, Paul listed two events that must occur BEFORE the “parousia” of Jesus - the “revealing of the man of lawlessness” and the “apostasy” - [Photo by Luca Onniboni on Unsplash].

In the preceding chapter, Paul prepared the ground for what now follows. Despite hostility from without, the Thessalonians had exhibited “endurance and faith in all their persecutions and tribulations.” But God would recompense “tribulation to them that trouble you,” but provide “release” and “glory” to the beleaguered saints at the “revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven” - (2 Thessalonians 1:3-10).

But the bigger danger was posed by deception from within the church, which could quite easily cause some if not many to apostatize. Years earlier, Jesus warned his disciples not to be alarmed by deceivers who spread false reports and caused anxiety about the nearness of the “end,” and that warning was becoming all too real in Thessalonica. Paul, therefore, began to warn the Thessalonians not to heed claims that the “day of the Lord” was imminent or had even arrived.
  • (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2) - “But we request you, brethren, in behalf of the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to him, that you be not quickly tossed from your mind nor be put in alarm, either by spirit or by discourse or by letter as by us, as that the day of the Lord has set in.”
Here, “arrival” translates the Greek noun parousia, the term applied most often by Paul to the “coming of Jesus” in his letters to the Thessalonians. It denotes an “arrival” or “presence,” the arrival of someone or something - (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2:8-9).

Our gathering together” translates the noun episunagogé. Whatever this “gathering” is, Paul connects it to the “arrival” of Jesus and the “Day of the Lord.” The Greek word is related to the verb episunagō, meaning “to gather together.” It was applied by Jesus to the “gathering of his elect” at his “coming” - (“Then shall he send his angels and gather together his elect from the four winds”), the same event Paul now states will occur on “Day of the Lord” - (Matthew 24:31, Mark 13:27, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

That you are not quickly troubled.” The verb rendered “troubled” is throeō. In the New Testament, it occurs only here and on the lips of Jesus in his ‘Olivet Discourse.’ Thus, Paul was echoing Christ’s warnings about coming deceivers:
  • (Matthew 24:6) – “And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you be not TROUBLED: for these things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet” – (Also, Mark 13:7).
Whether by spirit or by discourse or by letter, as by us.” Paul was unsure how this disinformation was being spread. “Spirit” is ambiguous but could refer to the exercise of a spiritual gift, perhaps the gift of prophecy. “Discourse” or logos can refer to several types of verbal communication, and the significance of “letter” is obvious. “As by us” points to the communication being attributed falsely to Paul.

The Day of the Lord.” Paul links this day to the “arrival” of Jesus and the “gathering” of the elect. “Day of the Lord” is a common term in the Hebrew Bible for the time of visitation and judgment by God, the “day of Yahweh” - (Isaiah 2:12, Joel 1:15, 2:1, 2:31, 3:14, Malachi 4:5).

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul used the same phrase when he wrote that the “Day of the Lord” will come “like a thief in the night,” the same analogy Jesus applied to his “coming” at the end of the age. According to Paul, that day will bring “sudden destruction” upon those opposed to the gospel. Elsewhere in his epistles, the “Day of the Lord” becomes the “day of Jesus Christ,” the hour when he vindicates the righteous and judges the wicked - (Matthew 24:42-44, Luke 12:39, 1 Corinthians 1:8, 5:5, 2 Corinthians 1:14, Philippian 1:6-10, 2:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).

Has set in” translates the Greek verb enistemi, meaning “to stand in, to set in,” and here it is in the Greek perfect tense, which signifies completed action. In the context of this passage, it indicates an imminent event, or more likely, one that has already commenced. Unfortunately, Paul does not detail exactly how the Thessalonians understood this alleged scenario.

In the next paragraph, Paul begins to defuse the situation. That day cannot arrive until after certain events occur. In all this, he did not provide “signs” by which believers can ascertain the imminence of the end. Instead, he presented evidence proving why that day had not yet arrived.

His reference to a “word” received “as from us” is a verbal link to the conclusion of this section where he exhorted the Thessalonians to adhere strictly to the “traditions” they had received from Paul and his coworkers “whether through discourse or through our letter,” rather than listening to any voices regardless of source that deviated from the apostolic teaching. By doing so, they would avoid apostasy and deception, and attain the “acquisition of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” when he appeared.



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