The Thessalonian Correspondence, Part 2
As often happens in a young fellowship of believers, curiosity about the second coming of Jesus tends to overshadow the day-to-day disciplines of discipleship. It is an interesting project to survey the popular teaching one hears on the radio just to get a flavor of the plethora of ideas relative to this event. An explanation of every detail of every prophecy is offered, many times with such certainty that one might be led to believe that there is no reason to trust God for his grace to live in this world. Such was the prevailing attitude of the Thessalonians when they received the very encouraging letter from Paul. But when the messenger who delivered the first letter returned to Paul and reported how it was received, and that there was considerable misunderstanding about the events of the Rapture and the Day of the Lord, Paul immediately wrote a second letter clarifying his teaching.
2 Thessalonians can easily be understood by surveying the contents of the three chapters, each one having a separate and distinct theme. Chapter one, like the first chapter in 1 Thessalonians, applauds these believers for their steadfastness and endurance during hardship and persecution.
We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. (2Th 1:3-4 NIV)
Chapter two tackles the main purpose of this letter, the clarification of misinformation concerning the Rapture and the simultaneous judgment known as the Day of the Lord. There were false teachers who were teaching that this event had already happened. If this were true, these believers were thoroughly confused. In order to clarify, Paul gives an extremely pivotal block of teaching on this subject. Paul clearly explains that certain events must happen prior to the Rapture/Day of the Lord.
Before the Rapture/Day of the Lord, the rebellion must come and the man of lawlessness must be revealed. Some suggest that this is a general reference to rebellion as explained in 1 Tim 4:1. If this is what Paul intends, it takes very little discernment to observe that we are well along in the fulfillment of this condition. But this passage suggests that more than a general rebellion is in view. Paul talks about “the” rebellion (literally, the apostasy). Then, a specific person is revealed:
Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. (2Th 2:3 NIV) He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. (2Th 2:4 NIV)
This is a clear description of the great and final rebellion against God under the leadership of the Anti-Christ, summarized in Revelation 19-20. In order to clarify these statements, we must do some review of the term “Temple”, which is a unifying theme of the Bible. (See His-Story: Ezekiel, Part 2, for a more complete explanation.) Let me simply say at this point, that if we understand the ultimate prophetic fulfillment of “Temple” to be the sanctuary of God in the New Heaven and the New Earth, the penultimate fulfillment must be the Church (1 Peter 2-6). That means that the Anti-Christ must be one who sets himself up as the authority in the Church and once that is accomplished, he will proclaim himself as God. By this understanding, I am making no suggestion about any current church leader or office. I am only suggesting that when the Anti-Christ is revealed, he will somehow deceive the Church (but not the believing remnant). The point for Paul in 2 Thessalonians is that until these events happen, the Rapture/Day of the Lord will not happen.
Here is a sobering conclusion, if this view is correct. Hardship and persecution for believers is getting more intense and it will culminate in the Great Tribulation. Matthew 24:1-29 speaks of this time of great distress. Then in Vs. 30-31, Jesus describes the Rapture/Day of the Lord, which comes after the time of distress has already appeared. Could the Church be raptured prior to this event? Possibly. But the force of this text and that of 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 2 seems to stand against it.
So what is the relevance of these ideas to Paul’s Thessalonian correspondence? I will unfold that in my next post.