Grieved by the Corinthians’ lack of loyalty to defend him, seeking to spare them further reproof (cf. 1:23), and perhaps hoping time would bring them to their senses, Paul returned to Ephesus. From Ephesus, Paul wrote what is known as the “severe letter” (2:4) and sent it with Titus to Corinth (7:5–16).
Leaving Ephesus after the riot sparked by Demetrius (Acts 19:23–20:1), Paul went to Troas to meet Titus (2 Cor. 2:12–13). But Paul was so anxious for news of how the Corinthians had responded to the “severe letter” that he could not minister there though the Lord had opened the door (2:12; cf. 7:5). So he left for Macedonia to look for Titus (2:13). To Paul’s immense relief and joy, Titus met him with the news that the majority of the Corinthians had repented of their rebellion against Paul (7:7).
Paul was wise enough to know that some rebellious attitudes still smoldered under the surface, and could surface again, Paul wrote (possibly from Philippi, cf. 11:9 with Phil. 4:15; also, some early manuscripts list Philippi as the place of writing) 2 Corinthians. In this letter, though the apostle expressed his relief and joy at their repentance (2 Cor. 7:8–16), his main concern was to defend his apostleship (chs. 1–7), exhort the Corinthians to resume preparations for the collection for the poor at Jerusalem (chs. 8–9), and confront the false apostles head on (chs. 10–13). He then went to Corinth, as he had written (12:14; 13:1–2). The Corinthians’ participation in the Jerusalem offering (Rom. 15:26) implies that Paul’s third visit to that church was successful.
2 Corinthians contains several important theological themes. One of those themes is Paul’s teaching regarding the Trinity.
2 Corinthians portrays God the Father as a merciful comforter (1:3; 7:6), the Creator (4:6), the One who raised Jesus from the dead (4:14; cf. 13:4) and who will also raise believers (1:9).
The epistle also describes Jesus Christ as the One who suffered (1:5), who fulfilled God’s promises (1:20), who was the proclaimed Lord (4:5), who manifested God’s glory (4:6), and the One who in his incarnation became poor for believers (8:9; cf. Phil. 2:5–8).
The letter also depicts the Holy Spirit as God (2 Cor. 3:17–18) and the guarantee of believers’ salvation (1:22; 5:5).
2 Corinthians teaches that Satan is the “god of this world” (4:4; cf. 1 John 5:19), a deceiver (2 Cor. 11:14), and the leader of human and angelic deceivers (11:15).
The theme of the end times includes both the believer’s glorification (4:16–5:8) and his judgment (5:10).
The glorious truth of God’s sovereignty in salvation is the theme of 5:14–21, while 7:9–10 sets forth man’s response to God’s offer of salvation—genuine repentance.
2 Corinthians also presents the clearest, most concise summary of the substitutionary atonement of Christ to be found anywhere in Scripture (5:21; cf. Isa. 53) and defines the mission of the church to proclaim reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18–20). Additionally, the nature of the New Covenant receives its fullest exposition along with the book of Hebrews (3:6–16).
The main challenge confronting the interpreter is the relationship of chs. 10–13 to chs. 1–9. The identity of Paul’s opponents at Corinth has produced various interpretations, as has the identity of the brother who accompanied Titus to Corinth (8:18, 22). Whether the offender mentioned in 2:5–8 is the incestuous man of 1 Cor. 5 is also uncertain. It is difficult to explain Paul’s vision (2 Cor. 12:1–5) and to identify specifically his “thorn in the flesh,” the “messenger of Satan [sent] to harass [him]” (12:7).
Take the opportunity to read 2 Corinthians in light of our brief survey.
Soli deo Gloria!