How to Read 2 Thessalonians

The Book of 2 Thessalonians

Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

Second Thessalonians focuses on the hope we have in Jesus' return. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the structure of 2 Thessalonians, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use these questions as a guide as you watch this video.   

Now that you have an overview of 2 Thessalonians in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in 2 Thessalonians. Read 2 Thessalonians 1:5–12. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about 2 Thessalonians 1:5–12.  

2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 (ESV)

The Judgment at Christ’s Coming

5This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—6since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you,7and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.9They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.11To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power,12so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: Jesus will be revealed from heaven.

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about 2 Thessalonians 1:5–12? (Consider the major characters, locations, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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 Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) Jesus will be revealed from heaven. (Interpretation) Jesus will one day return, just as He promised, and put an end to death, suffering, and sin once and for all.

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of 2 Thessalonians 1:5–12? How does its message connect with the main message of all of 2 Thessalonians? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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 Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: The second coming of Jesus (or the Day of the Lord) is often referred to as a day of judgment. Isaiah God will set right the wrongs inaugurated by the Fall in Genesis 3. As Revelation says, He will overthrow Satan, judge all people, and usher in His followers into eternity. For believers, Jesus' coming is the foundation of hope because it marks the end of sin and the beginning of eternity.

Contextualize: What themes does 2 Thessalonians 1:5–12 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of 2 Thessalonians? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the Old Testament?
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 Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: Since I know Jesus is coming, I can live in hopeful expectation of His arrival. That means that I will pursue righteousness in all I do—at work, at home, with my family and friends. I will also share the gospel with those who do not yet know Him. And I will not despair when the weight of sin comes crashing down on me, whether by my own failure, painful circumstances, or persecution. I can rest in the hope that Jesus will return one day to end sin and death forever and usher in eternity.

Apply: How does the truth from 2 Thessalonians 1:5–12 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of 2 Thessalonians to your life this week?
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 The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.  

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about 2 Thessalonians, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through 2 Thessalonians this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice. 

To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.