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Reassurance and Peace - the Pastoral Purpose of 1 & 2 Thessalonians

We spent a lot of time in the most recent Deep Roots Podcast episode discussing 1 and 2 Thessalonians, especially examining the historical situation of the original audience and the meaning behind some of the obscure figures, such as the man of lawlessness and restrainer in 2 Thessalonians 2. Understanding the historical context is a key step in correctly interpreting but in this blog post I’d particularly like to showcase some of the pastoral insights these two letters offer us. 

God’s Justice and God’s Victory

With their focus on eschatological matters, both letters recognise that the world is not as it should be, and both offer hope that things will not always be like this. The current reality is that we continue to reside in a world marked by injustice, grief, and pain. No matter how privileged we are, our lives will be touched by sadness and sin in multiple ways. In our discussion about the man of lawlessness, I noted that this figure is often interpreted as an Antichrist figure. But there’s another interesting feature of this passage. Though the man of lawlessness himself has not yet been revealed, Paul does make clear that the mystery of lawlessness (or in some translations, the “secret of lawlessness”) is already at work. This helps us to understand that lawlessness (evil, sin) will continue to exist until the day of the Lord comes. So, it should not surprise us that we must continue to face and respond to evil and injustice. 

At the same time, Paul promises that all who do evil will be revealed in the end (however much they seem to get away with it now) and subject to judgment, and the man of lawlessness himself, the epitome of evil, will be fully destroyed by Christ when he returns (2 Thess 2:8), that he is “doomed to destruction” (2 Thess 2:3). So, we do not lose hope in continually standing against evil. While it may seem like darkness still has a strong hold, like evil people continue to prevail without consequences, in 2 Thessalonians 1 we are reminded that oppressors will meet their end and receive punishment when Jesus returns. There will be a great reversal where the weak and oppressed are relieved of their sorrows, and oppressors and evildoers are brought to nothing. God’s victory will be fully brought to bear on the world when Christ returns to punish his enemies and to share his glory with his people. Because of this, both 1 and 2 Thessalonians urge us to remain “in the light”, to live as “people of the day”, to seek truth and do good, so that we may be found on the right side when Jesus does come back. 

God’s Peace

Ultimately, both 1 and 2 Thessalonians aim to give reassurance and peace. God’s justice will come, God’s enemies will be punished, God’s people will be rescued. We are reminded that our rescue is still in the future (1 Thess 1:10), but our rescuer is indeed coming. Paul assures us that we will indeed “live with Christ forever” when he comes back to save us (1 Thess 4:17; 5:10). We can have peace when our loved ones die, knowing that they will be resurrected and, like us, live with Christ forever. Evil will not have the last word. 

There’s a beautiful moment in The Return of the King, as Frodo and Sam are travelling across the mountains of Mordor and their hope is fading, weighed down by the evil of the land and of the ring Frodo carries. As Sam struggles to sleep, troubled by his fears that they will fail, he sees a sign of hope:

“There peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for awhile. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. … He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep”

The Return of the King, Book 6, Chapter 2

In 2 Thess 3:16 Paul wraps up the letter writing, “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way”. This is his aim for his troubled audience—that they are able to rest in God’s peace, knowing the beyond the darkness there is indeed “light and high beauty”. It’s a peace that does not mean all is right, but that all will be right. Whatever troubles or opposition we might face now, we can ask the Lord to give us peace in every circumstance and to help us hold on to that sustaining hope.

Among Paul’s letters, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (and particularly 2 Thessalonians) do not command nearly as much attention as letters like Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Galatians. Select verses make the occasional appearance in funerals, on gravestones, and in apocalyptic fiction; far too often that is our only sustained engagement with them. However, when we spend time digging into the richness of these letters we get a deep appreciation for the hope and peace they offer. Ultimately, eschatology should not frighten or confuse us; it should comfort, encourage, and strengthen us. Whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, 1 and 2 Thessalonians help us to keep our eyes trained on the one who will rescue us in the end, the one who gives us peace now and forever.


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