The letter known to us as Paul’s second letter to the Christian community of Thessalonica is in many respects a text that at first sight seems foreign to our present-day attitude to life. Its author, who calls himself Paul, is apparently very interested in what is usually called the second coming or parousia of Christ. He speaks of a revelation of Jesus from heaven with angels and with fire, of a retribution which means punishment for unbelievers and salvation for believers. He also asserts that Christ’s second coming will be preceded by apostasy and by the arrival of a person called ‘the man of lawlessness’, who is an instrument of Satan, and who performs signs and wonders. It seems that the author of 2 Thessalonians speaks in a mythical language about a topic that is hardly relevant to a modern reader.
At the same time, we may have a feeling that this author touches on certain important points for both ancient and modern times. He speaks of the ultimate future of our world and of final justice to oppressors and oppressed, to persecutors and persecuted. He gives a perspective in which the reality of evil in history is taken seriously but not given the final word; for him, the course of history is in the end determined by God and Christ. He discusses the value of labour and the relationship between labour and the right to sustenance. One could only wish that he had treated these topics in a language that is more comprehensible to people living at the end of the twentieth century than the apocalyptic imagery he employed.
As a part of the New Testament, 2 Thessalonians is considered by Christians as possessing a certain authority, and sections of the letter are sometimes read and explained in liturgical assemblies. For those in our society who are not themselves members of a