“Chapter 46: 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians,” New Testament Student Manual (2018)
“Chapter 46,” New Testament Student Manual
Paul and his missionary companions found success preaching to the people in Thessalonica but were ultimately forced out of the city by detractors. Sometime after they left, Paul learned that the Thessalonian Saints had remained faithful and were sharing the gospel message with others. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul reiterated his sincere devotion to God and to teaching the gospel. He also responded to the Thessalonian Saints’ concerns regarding the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Paul later wrote a second letter to the Thessalonian Saints when he learned that false ideas about the coming of Jesus Christ were continuing to cause concern.
First Thessalonians is believed to be the earliest of Paul’s existing epistles—in fact, it is probably the oldest book in the New Testament, having been written more than a decade before any of the Gospels. Paul’s teachings in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians are primarily focused on the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, including the hardships that followers of Jesus Christ will face before Christ’s return (see 1 Thessalonians 3:3), the resurrection of Christians at the Second Coming (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13–14), and the timing of Christ’s coming (see 1 Thessalonians 5:1–2). Paul mentioned the Second Coming in every chapter of 1 Thessalonians. These teachings are especially valuable to Latter-day Saints, who live in the dispensation in which the Lord has said, “The time of my coming … is nigh at hand” (D&C 35:15).
The greeting in 1 Thessalonians 1:1 states that the epistle was sent by Paul, Silvanus (Silas), and Timotheus (Timothy). All three of these men had labored together in Thessalonica, in modern-day Greece, during Paul’s second missionary journey. Although Silas and Timothy may have contributed to the writing of this Epistle to the Thessalonians, the use of “I” in several verses suggests that Paul was personally responsible for the content (see 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 3:5; 4:13; 5:27).
During his second missionary journey (about A.D. 51), Paul had labored with Silas and Timothy in Thessalonica. The three men were forced out of the city by Jewish leaders (see Acts 17:5–15). Paul later sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to give support and encouragement to Church members there. Later, Timothy reported to Paul, at Corinth, that the Thessalonian Saints had remained faithful despite persecution and that their righteous influence was spreading (see Acts 18:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:7–8; 3:6–8). It is likely that Paul wrote his First Epistle to the Thessalonians shortly after he received this news in about A.D. 52.
The short explanatory endnote (known as a subscription) that is found at the conclusion of 1 Thessalonians in some versions of the Bible incorrectly states that the epistle was written from Athens. In reality, evidence suggests that 1 Thessalonians was written from Corinth. Since both Silas and Timothy contributed to the writing of these epistles (see 1 Thessalonians 1:1), this letter could only have been written after Silas and Timothy had joined Paul in Corinth (see Acts 18:1, 5). For more information on the subscriptions found in Paul’s epistles, see “When and where was 1 Corinthians written?” in chapter 38.
During Paul’s second missionary journey, the Spirit directed Paul and his companions—Silas, Timothy, and perhaps Luke (see Acts 16:11–12)—to travel across the Aegean Sea into Macedonia. This divinely guided change in their itinerary initiated the preaching of the gospel in Europe (see Acts 16:6–11). After preaching in Philippi (see Acts 16:12–40), Paul and Silas traveled to Thessalonica. Thessalonica was the most populous and prosperous city in the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia because of two important features. The city was built on the best natural harbor in the Aegean Sea, and it was located on the major highway that connected Rome and modern-day Turkey. Paul commenced preaching the message of Jesus Christ at the city’s Jewish synagogue, and many Jews and God-fearing Gentiles accepted the gospel (see Acts 17:1–4; 1 Thessalonians 1:9). The three men were thereafter forced out of the city by Jewish leaders (see Acts 17:5–15; see also 1 Thessalonians 2:17).
The Thessalonian converts were some of the first Europeans to embrace the gospel, and they faced persecution as a result. They also had many questions about the Second Coming, perhaps because they were looking forward to a better time with less persecution. Therefore, in his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote words of encouragement and strength, and he addressed their questions about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
One of Paul’s main themes in his First Epistle to the Thessalonians is the Second Coming. He focused not on the destruction of the wicked but on the participation of the righteous at Jesus Christ’s coming, especially those Saints who had died previously (see 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13–17; 5:1–10, 23). Paul illustrated the nature of the Godhead in various passages that refer to God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost (see 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 5–6; 3:11; 4:8; 5:19). Also, unlike many of Paul’s other epistles, 1 Thessalonians does not contain any major rebukes or corrections but instead offers praise and commendation for the Thessalonian Saints.
Paul expressed great appreciation for the Saints in Thessalonica and commended them for their efforts to spread the gospel. He reminded his readers of his kindly ministry among them and expressed joy for their faithfulness. He reminded the Saints to grow in love toward one another and toward all men.
Paul told the Saints to be holy and to sanctify themselves. He explained that when the Lord comes again, Saints who were faithful in their testimony of Christ will be resurrected and appear with the Savior at the time of His Second Coming, and the righteous living on earth at that day will meet the Lord and the risen Saints. Paul reminded Church members to prepare and watch for the day of Christ’s coming.
After he greeted the Thessalonian Saints (see 1 Thessalonians 1:1–4), Paul reminded them that during his mission among them he had preached the gospel “not … in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Concerning the significance of the gospel being taught in both word and power, Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:
“The true gospel consists of two things: The Word, and The Power. Anyone can have the word; the books in which it is written are universally available. But the power must come from God; it is and must be dispensed according to his mind and his will to those who abide the law entitling them to receive it. The word of the gospel is the spoken or written account of what men must do to be saved. …
“But actual salvation comes only when the power of God is received and used; and this power is the power of the priesthood and the power of the Holy Ghost. These must operate in the lives of men; otherwise their souls cannot be cleansed; they cannot be born again; they cannot become new creatures of the Holy Ghost; they cannot put off the natural man and become saints; they cannot be sanctified by the Spirit” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 3:42–43).
Paul wrote that the converted Thessalonian Saints had become examples to nonbelievers around them (1 Thessalonians 1:7). He commended their efforts to spread the gospel, saying, “In every place your faith … is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing” (1 Thessalonians 1:8). The Thessalonian members were such effective missionaries that Paul and his companions did not feel a need to return to preach in the area.
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917–2008) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles used 1 Thessalonians 1:5–6 to explain the connection between one’s personal conversion and one’s desire to share the gospel: “Paul rejoiced in the fact that what he had told the Thessalonians was not meaningless words to them, for they had listened with great interest, and what was taught them produced a powerful desire for righteousness in their lives. … Paul was pleased that the gospel message had been received with such joy and happiness, despite many hardships. Finally, he noted what must have been their crowning achievement—that they were inspiring examples to all their neighbors and that from them the word of the Lord had extended to others everywhere, far beyond their boundaries. Paul paid tribute to them when he told them that wherever he traveled, he found people telling him about their remarkable good works and faith in God” (“There Am I in the Midst of Them,” Ensign, May 1976, 56–57).
Timothy apparently took word to Paul that the Thessalonian Saints had questions about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, for Paul mentioned the Second Coming in each chapter of 1 Thessalonians. Paul sought to help the Saints recognize that the Lord’s return would be a time of deliverance, hope, and rejoicing for the righteous Saints, both living and dead. The Second Coming will also be accompanied by the destruction of the wicked—the “wrath to come,” from which the righteous will be delivered (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:4 indicates that when the Savior comes again, it will be “the end of the world, or the destruction of the wicked.” To read more specific teachings on the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, see the commentary for 1 Thessalonians 4:14–5:6.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12, Paul spoke about his earlier ministry in Thessalonica. Paul’s language in these verses might suggest that detractors in Thessalonica were questioning Paul’s sincerity and motivations during his ministry in the city. Paul defended himself by describing the sincere and earnest manner in which he and his companions had taught and served the Saints. Paul’s words are reminiscent of those found in Doctrine and Covenants 12:8: “No one can assist in this work except he shall be humble and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity.”
President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency related a personal experience that helped him learn the importance of love as we serve and minister to others:
“The most effective missionaries, member and full-time, always act out of love. I learned this lesson as a young man. I was assigned to visit a less-active member, a successful professional many years older than I. Looking back on my actions, I realize that I had very little loving concern for the man I visited. I acted out of duty, with a desire to report 100 percent on my home teaching. One evening, close to the end of a month, I phoned to ask if my companion and I could come right over and visit him. His chastening reply taught me an unforgettable lesson.
“‘No, I don’t believe I want you to come over this evening,’ he said. ‘I’m tired. I’ve already dressed for bed. I am reading, and I am just not willing to be interrupted so that you can report 100 percent on your home teaching this month.’ That reply still stings me because I knew he had sensed my selfish motivation.
“I hope no person we approach with an invitation to hear the message of the restored gospel feels that we are acting out of any reason other than a genuine love for them and an unselfish desire to share something we know to be precious” (“Sharing the Gospel,” Ensign, Nov. 2001, 8).
Paul wrote that he and his missionary companions had preached the gospel to the Thessalonians “with much contention” (1 Thessalonians 2:2). This phrase does not mean that Paul was contentious or argumentative in his preaching; instead, it implies that he taught the gospel in the face of contention and opposition. In Thessalonica, resistance to the gospel message came from both antagonistic Jews and Gentiles (see Acts 17:5–10). Missionaries today inevitably face similar trials, but those who continue to preach despite opposition find, as did Paul, that their work is “not in vain” (1 Thessalonians 2:1).
Paul had not been back to Thessalonica after he was driven out during his second missionary journey (see Acts 17:10). He said he had been unable to return because he was “hindered” by Satan from doing so (1 Thessalonians 2:18). He did not give any details about how Satan hindered him from returning to Thessalonica, but it is clear that persecution from Jews had already forced Paul to take many detours in his journey (see Acts 17:13–15). Concerning opposition to the Lord’s servants, President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) noted: “Satan is always present and will do everything he can to hinder and block and defeat” (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, ed. Clyde J. Williams , 252).
Paul was very pleased with Timothy’s report of “good tidings of … faith and charity” among Church members in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:6). Nevertheless, Paul reminded the Saints that discipleship required consistent growth and improvement. He encouraged them to “increase and abound in love one toward another,” to “abound more and more” in their efforts to please God, and to “increase more and more” in love (1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:1, 10).
A similar principle was taught by Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when he stated that “discipleship is to be lived in crescendo” (“Premortality, a Glorious Reality,” Ensign, Nov. 1985, 15). President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency spoke about the increased need for continuous spiritual growth in the latter days: “As the forces around us increase in intensity, whatever spiritual strength was once sufficient will not be enough. And whatever growth in spiritual strength we once thought was possible, greater growth will be made available to us. Both the need for spiritual strength and the opportunity to acquire it will increase at rates which we underestimate at our peril” (“Always,” Ensign, Oct. 1999, 9).
In Paul’s day, sexual relations outside of marriage were tolerated and accepted by many Gentiles. Since most of the new members of the Church in Thessalonica were Gentile converts who had “turned to God from idols” (1 Thessalonians 1:9), Paul felt the need to strengthen their understanding of gospel principles regarding chastity. In 1 Thessalonians 4:3–5, Paul helped these members understand that, as members of Christ’s Church, they should “abstain from fornication,” “possess [their] vessel” (control their bodies), and choose not to give in to “lust of concupiscence” (lustful passions).
Concerning the Lord’s standard of sexual purity, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a single, undeviating standard of sexual morality: intimate relations are proper only between a man and a woman in the marriage relationship prescribed in God’s plan. Such relations are not merely a curiosity to be explored, an appetite to be satisfied, or a type of recreation or entertainment to be pursued selfishly. They are not a conquest to be achieved or simply an act to be performed. Rather, they are in mortality one of the ultimate expressions of our divine nature and potential and a way of strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife. We are agents blessed with moral agency and are defined by our divine heritage as children of God—and not by sexual behaviors, contemporary attitudes, or secular philosophies” (“We Believe in Being Chaste,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2013, 42).
Paul told the Thessalonian Saints, “God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:7). Since the time of the Old Testament, God’s people have been commanded to separate themselves from unholy and unclean things (see Leviticus 20:24–26). President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency explained that personal holiness comes through a combination of our efforts and God’s work of purifying our hearts: “Holiness … comes by faith and through obedience to God’s laws and ordinances. God then purifies the heart by faith, and the heart becomes purged from that which is profane and unworthy” (“Standing in Holy Places,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2005, 62).
In 1 Thessalonians 4:10, Paul counseled the Saints to “increase more and more” in their love toward one another. He encouraged them to endeavor to lead a quiet life, to not meddle in the affairs of others, to work with their own hands and avoid dependency on others, and to be honest (1 Thessalonians 4:11–12). Concerning the idea of living a quiet life, Elder Bruce D. Porter of the Seventy taught: “Personal prayer, study, and pondering are vital to the building up of the kingdom within our own souls. It is in quiet moments of contemplation and communion with the Almighty that we come to know and love Him as our Father” (“Building the Kingdom,” Ensign, May 2001, 81).
The Thessalonian Christians were apparently concerned about the fate of deceased Church members. They wondered when the righteous dead would be resurrected and whether they would have part in the Second Coming. Paul told the Saints to “sorrow not” for the dead, as do “others which have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13; see also Alma 46:41). He assured the Thessalonians that the righteous Saints “which sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:14) will take part in the Second Coming along with the living (see 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17; see also D&C 42:45–47). These “will God bring with him” at His Second Coming (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
Elsewhere in his epistles to the Thessalonians, Paul used the Greek word parousia to refer to the Second Coming. Parousia could refer to the arrival of any person, but it was often used to describe the arrival of a ruler or emperor. In the Greco-Roman world, the arrival or visit of the emperor to a community was anticipated with extensive preparation. Paul’s use of this word helped him stress the importance of proper preparation for Jesus Christ’s return to earth.
Paul’s portrayal of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is confirmed in modern revelation (see D&C 88:96–98). President Dallin H. Oaks summed up latter-day teachings about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ: “Four matters are indisputable to Latter-day Saints: (1) The Savior will return to the earth in power and great glory to reign personally during a millennium of righteousness and peace. (2) At the time of His coming there will be a destruction of the wicked and a resurrection of the righteous. (3) No one knows the time of His coming, but (4) the faithful are taught to study the signs of it and to be prepared for it” (“Preparation for the Second Coming,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2004, 7).
The Joseph Smith Translation of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 reads: “Then they who are alive, shall be caught up together into the clouds with them who remain, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we be ever with the Lord” (in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, footnote a). Many Christians use the word rapture (from a Latin term meaning “caught up”) when referring to the time when the righteous will be caught up to meet the Savior at His coming.
Paul next compared the Second Coming of Christ to the unexpected arrival of a thief (see 1 Thessalonians 5:2), a comparison earlier used by Jesus Christ (see Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39). Paul taught that because the followers of Jesus Christ “are not in darkness” they will not be caught off guard by the Lord’s return (1 Thessalonians 5:4–5). Paul compared the disciples of Jesus Christ to a “sober” person who is awake and alert (1 Thessalonians 5:6–8). These disciples are unimpaired by the drunkenness of worldly living that prevents the wicked from recognizing the nearness of the Lord’s coming. In modern-day scripture, the Lord has taught: “And again, verily I say unto you, the coming of the Lord draweth nigh, and it overtaketh the world as a thief in the night—therefore, gird up your loins, that you may be the children of light, and that day shall not overtake you as a thief” (D&C 106:4–5).
Concerning the timing of the Second Coming, President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) stated: “I do not know when he is going to come. No man knows. Even the angels of heaven are in the dark in regard to that great truth [see Matthew 24:36–37]. But this I know, that the signs that have been pointed out are here. The earth is full of calamity, of trouble. The hearts of men are failing them. We see the signs as we see the fig tree putting forth her leaves; and knowing this time is near, it behooves me and it behooves you, and all men upon the face of the earth, to pay heed to the words of Christ, to his apostles and watch, for we know not the day nor the hour. But I tell you this, it shall come as a thief in the night, when many of us will not be ready for it” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 3:52–53).
To read more about the importance of not waiting to prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, see the commentary for Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:46–54; Matthew 24:42–51.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:12–13, Paul encouraged the Saints to “know” and “esteem” those who were “over [them] in the Lord.” Although in these verses Paul did not mention specific offices as he did in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, these teachings suggest that even at this early date (around A.D. 52) there was some sort of a structure of Church leadership. Some modern scholars suggest that the early Church did not have any leadership hierarchy and that leadership structures developed much later, perhaps in the second century. It is possible, however, that the early branches of the Church had a less formal leadership structure than the bishops, elders, and deacons described later in Paul’s writings. This would parallel the early days of the Restoration, when Church leadership started with only a first and second elder, with the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and so on developing later.
Toward the end of 1 Thessalonians, Paul gave several items of practical counsel on how to prepare for the Lord’s coming (see 1 Thessalonians 5:6–23). As part of his counsel, Paul asked the Saints to “quench not the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). To quench the Spirit means to extinguish or stifle the influence of the Holy Ghost in one’s own life (see also Ephesians 4:30–31). Elder David A. Bednar pointed out that to fully enjoy the companionship of the Spirit, we must avoid activities that will drive the Spirit from us:
“If something we think, see, hear, or do distances us from the Holy Ghost, then we should stop thinking, seeing, hearing, or doing that thing. If that which is intended to entertain, for example, alienates us from the Holy Spirit, then certainly that type of entertainment is not for us. Because the Spirit cannot abide that which is vulgar, crude, or immodest, then clearly such things are not for us. Because we estrange the Spirit of the Lord when we engage in activities we know we should shun, then such things definitely are not for us.
“… As we become ever more immersed in the Spirit of the Lord, we should strive to recognize impressions when they come and the influences or events that cause us to withdraw ourselves from the Holy Ghost” (“That We May Always Have His Spirit to Be with Us,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2006, 30).
Paul invited the Thessalonian Saints to test or “prove all things”—meaning to distinguish between good and evil—and to “hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Teaching about what it means to “hold fast that which is good,” Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated:
“This exhortation was written by the Apostle Paul specifically to members of the Church. … He was speaking to people who had gained citizenship in the kingdom of God, who had come out of darkness into the marvelous light of Christ—people such as we are supposed to be. He is not speaking to people of the world, but to the Saints. …
“… It seems evident to me that the Apostle Paul was directing the members of the Church to hold fast to the faith. He was saying: ‘Cleave unto that which is good. Hold fast to the iron rod. Be valiant in testimony. Work out your salvation.’ That is, ‘Now that you are members of the Church, that you have come in at the gate of repentance and baptism, press forward to the end and do the things that will enable you to be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the Father’” (Doctrines of the Restoration: Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, ed. Mark L. McConkie , 347).
Paul taught the Saints to abstain from all “appearance” of evil, or in other words, from all “kinds” of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22, footnote b). Church officials have also used 1 Thessalonians 5:22 to teach that we should avoid appearing as though we are doing something evil. For example, President James E. Faust taught: “I strongly urge you that if there is any question in your minds or hearts about whether your personal conduct is right or wrong, don’t do it. It is the responsibility of the prophets of God to teach the word of God, not to spell out every jot and tittle of human conduct. If we are conscientiously trying to avoid not only evil but the very appearance of evil, we will act for ourselves and not be acted upon” (“The Devil’s Throat,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2003, 51). Paul offered similar counsel in 1 Corinthians 8:9–13.
In his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote words of counsel and clarification to members of the Church who misunderstood certain aspects of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. His teachings help modern readers understand the nature of the Apostasy and how to prepare appropriately for the Lord’s return.
As in 1 Thessalonians, the greeting in this epistle comes from Paul, Silvanus (Silas), and Timotheus (Timothy) (see 2 Thessalonians 1:1), although the use of “I” throughout the letter suggests that Paul was the primary author (see 2 Thessalonians 2:5; 3:17). Some modern scholars have questioned whether Paul actually wrote both 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians, pointing out perceived differences between the teachings in the two epistles. However, these differences may simply reflect the fact that 2 Thessalonians was written to respond to new erroneous claims being made in Thessalonica (see 2 Thessalonians 2:2) and to present additional insights not included in 1 Thessalonians (see 2 Thessalonians 2:3–12).
This letter was probably written near the end of A.D. 52, soon after Paul wrote his first letter to the Thessalonians. Most scholars believe that Paul and his companions wrote both 1 and 2 Thessalonians while the men were together in Corinth, since the scriptures do not have any record of Paul, Silas, and Timothy being together after they each left Corinth (see Acts 18:1, 5). The subscription note found immediately after 2 Thessalonians 3:18 in some versions of the Bible was added to the text by copyists long after Paul’s day, and it incorrectly states that the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians was written from Athens.
The themes of 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians are similar, suggesting that Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians to clarify and expand on the first epistle. It is possible that his first letter did not resolve all the questions the Thessalonian Saints had about the Second Coming. In addition, it appears that the Thessalonians had received a fraudulent letter that claimed to be from Paul, and this letter had caused some to believe that the Second Coming had already occurred (see 2 Thessalonians 2:2). At the time Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians, he had also learned that the Thessalonian Church members were experiencing increased persecution (see 2 Thessalonians 1:4–7). Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians in order to strengthen the faith of these members and to correct doctrinal misunderstandings.
The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians provides significant details about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ that are not found in other biblical prophecies. Some examples include the ideas that the Lord will return in “flaming fire” and that the wicked will be punished with “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:8–9). In this epistle Paul also prophesied of the Great Apostasy, teaching that the Church would undergo a “falling away” prior to the Second Coming of the Lord (see 2 Thessalonians 2:3–12). Paul’s teachings about the Apostasy remind modern Church members why the latter-day Restoration of the gospel was necessary.
Paul corrected the false idea that the Second Coming had already occurred. He taught that there would be an apostasy prior to the Lord’s return. He counseled Church members to work to provide for their temporal needs and not to be weary in well-doing.
Since the contents of 2 Thessalonians are similar to 1 Thessalonians, it is likely that Paul received word that his first letter did not resolve all the questions the Saints had regarding the Second Coming. Some of Paul’s remarks at the beginning of this epistle also suggest that the Thessalonian Saints were facing continued persecution (see 2 Thessalonians 1:4–9). Paul spoke strongly against the Church’s persecutors, saying that they would “be punished with everlasting destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). The Joseph Smith Translation changes the placement of the word “everlasting” in verse 9: “Who shall be punished with destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his everlasting power” (Joseph Smith Translation, 2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Speaking of wicked people who seek to destroy the tender testimonies of others, the Lord warned that it would be better for them to have a millstone (a large stone used to grind wheat) hung around their neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea than to face Christ at the Day of Judgment (see Matthew 18:5–6; D&C 121:19–23).
Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 suggest that some of the believers in Paul’s day were alarmed or fearful that the Lord’s Second Coming had already taken place. Their concerns may have resulted from doctrinal misunderstanding, or they may have been deceived by false teachings in a forged letter purportedly written by Paul (see 2 Thessalonians 2:2). Paul cautioned the Saints not to embrace information that Church leaders had not previously taught (see 2 Thessalonians 2:15). President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of the continuing threat of deception in our day:
“There are some among us now who have not been regularly ordained by the heads of the Church [see D&C 42:11] who tell of impending political and economic chaos, the end of the world. … They are misleading members. …
“Those deceivers say that the Brethren do not know what is going on in the world or that the Brethren approve of their teaching but do not wish to speak of it over the pulpit. Neither is true. The Brethren, by virtue of traveling constantly everywhere on earth, certainly know what is going on, and by virtue of prophetic insight are able to read the signs of the times. …
“… Follow your leaders who have been duly ordained and have been publicly sustained, and you will not be led astray” (“To Be Learned Is Good If … ,” Ensign, Nov. 1992, 73).
In order to calm the Saints’ concern that the Lord had already returned, Paul explained that before the Second Coming there would be a “falling away first” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). “Falling away” is a translation of the Greek word apostasia, a word that is closer in meaning to “rebellion” or “mutiny.” Paul was therefore speaking of an intentional fight against the gospel of Jesus Christ rather than a gradual movement away from it. In the Book of Mormon, Nephi’s vision of the future taught him that “the house of Israel” joined with those in the great and spacious building “to fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (1 Nephi 11:35). Apostasy is often not simply a passive letting go of truth but an active rebellion that originates within the covenant community.
President James E. Faust spoke about how the Apostasy was clearly foretold by New Testament Apostles:
“Some of the early Apostles knew that an apostasy would occur before the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. To the Thessalonians, Paul wrote concerning this event, ‘Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first’ [2 Thessalonians 2:3; italics added].
“With this falling away, priesthood keys were lost, and some precious doctrines of the Church organized by the Savior were changed. Among these were baptism by immersion; receiving the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands; the nature of the Godhead—that They are three distinct personages; all mankind will be resurrected through the Atonement of Christ, ‘both … the just and the unjust’ [Acts 24:15]; continuous revelation—that the heavens are not closed; and temple work for the living and the dead.
“The period that followed came to be known as the Dark Ages. This falling away was foreseen by the Apostle Peter, who declared that ‘heaven must receive [Jesus Christ] until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began’ [Acts 3:20–21]. Restitution would only be necessary if these precious things had been lost” (“The Restoration of All Things,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2006, 61–62).
The rapid process of apostasy commenced during the Apostles’ lifetimes. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught:
“New Testament epistles clearly indicate that serious and widespread apostasy—not just sporadic dissent—began soon. James decried ‘wars and fightings among’ the Church (James 4:1). Paul lamented ‘divisions’ in the Church and how ‘grievous wolves’ would not spare ‘the flock’ (1 Cor. 11:18; Acts 20:29–31). He knew an apostasy was coming and wrote to the Thessalonians that Jesus’ second coming would not occur ‘except there come a falling away first’; further advising that ‘iniquity doth already work’ (2 Thes. 2:3, 7).
“Near the end, Paul acknowledged how very extensive the falling away was: ‘All they which are in Asia be turned away from me’ (2 Tim. 1:15). …
“Widespread fornication and idolatry brought apostolic alarm (see 1 Cor. 5:9; Eph. 5:3; Jude 1:7). John and Paul both bemoaned the rise of false Apostles (see 2 Cor. 11:13; Rev. 2:2). The Church was clearly under siege. Some not only fell away but then openly opposed. In one circumstance, Paul stood alone and lamented that ‘all men forsook me’ (2 Tim. 4:16). He also decried those who ‘subvert[ed] whole houses’ (Titus 1:11).
“Some local leaders rebelled, as when one, who loved his preeminence, refused to receive the brethren (see 3 Jn. 1:9–10).
“No wonder President Brigham Young observed: ‘It is said the Priesthood was taken from the Church, but it is not so, the Church went from the Priesthood’ (in Journal of Discourses, 12:69).
“The concerns expressed by Peter, John, Paul, and James over the falling away were not paranoia but prophetic warnings about ‘Apostasia’” (“From the Beginning,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 18–19).
In addition to the “falling away” that would take place, Paul explained that the “man of sin” or “son of perdition” would be revealed prior to the Lord’s Second Coming (2 Thessalonians 2:3). The word perdition is derived from the Latin perditionem, meaning “ruin” or “destruction,” and it is a title given to Lucifer when he was cast out of God’s presence during the premortal life (see D&C 76:26). All those who rebelled with Satan against God during the premortal existence became sons of perdition when they were cast out of God’s presence. Paul also described the “man of sin”—one who “opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). The Joseph Smith Translation makes clear that in 2 Thessalonians 2:7–9 Paul was referring to Satan:
“For the mystery of iniquity doth already work, and he it is who now worketh, and Christ suffereth him to work, until the time is fulfilled that he shall be taken out of the way.
“And then shall that wicked one be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.
“Yea, the Lord, even Jesus, whose coming is not until after there cometh a falling away, by the working of Satan with all power, and signs and lying wonders” (in the Bible appendix).
With the Restoration of the gospel and modern scriptures, an accurate understanding of the adversary has been restored.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:7, Paul said that “the mystery of iniquity doth already work.” In the New Testament, the word mystery refers to those things that were hidden but have been or will be revealed (see Colossians 1:26). The hidden efforts of Satan to oppose and tear down the Church of God, therefore, will be exposed by God’s servants.
In connection with his teachings about the deceptions of Satan, Paul taught that those who refuse to accept truth will eventually lose the opportunity to receive it. Concerning those who “received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved,” Paul said that “God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.” This means that God will permit unbelievers to accept false doctrines and thereby forfeit their salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:10–12; see also Jacob 4:14; Alma 12:10–11).
Paul taught that a Church member who “walketh disorderly” (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 11) was not to enjoy full association with the Church. Paul was specifically speaking about people who refused to work and support themselves (see 2 Thessalonians 3:10–12). In our day Church members are encouraged not to associate with “disorderly” people who oppose the truth. Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained: “Enemies from within, traitors to the Cause, cultists who pervert the doctrines and practices which lead to salvation, often draw others away with them, and added souls lose their anticipated inheritance in the heavenly kingdom. When cultists and enemies become fixed in their opposition to the Church, and when they seek to convert others to their divisive positions, the course of wisdom is to avoid them, as Paul here directs, and to leave them in the Lord’s hands” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:66; see also the commentary for Matthew 5:29–30).