Archive for the tag “Thessolonians”

The Thessalonian Correspondence, Part 3

Discussing prophecy is a fascinating activity, often with far-reaching implications. Back in the 1980s, there was a group of Christians that was convinced that the Lord revealed to them that there was going to be a nuclear explosion over Chicago, with destruction covering a 300-mile radius. So these folks all made arrangements to be in northern Wisconsin for the fateful event – some selling their homes and quitting their jobs. Needless to say, most of them were embarrassed when the cataclysmic event did not happen and life as they knew it resumed. Admittedly, this is an illustration of a fringe group, but it illustrates what happens when prophecy is taken for more than God intends it – which in my opinion is to call his people to righteousness and ethical integrity, even in the midst of great difficulty, even persecution. (A survey of the major OT prophets reveals that their message was for God’s people to repent and reject their sinful ways – not to predict the future, although future events were revealed in order to motivate repentance and provide assurance and comfort in the truth that God was sovereign). When Paul taught the believers in Thessalonica concerning the Day of the Lord, his purpose, likewise, was to bring assurance and comfort his readers. But as I noted last time, certain false teachers were confusing the believers and causing quite a stir. Some were teaching that the Day of the Lord had already come, the fallacy of which I discussed last time. However, it seems that there were others who were convinced that the second coming was so close that they need not work. After all, why work if Jesus is coming soon? Paul is firm with these people. Read more…

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.

The Thessalonian Correspondence, Part 1

There is great interest in the biblical teaching about the second coming of Jesus, and rightly so. Acts 1 tells us of the proclamation of two men dressed in white, presumably angels, who were present at Christ’s ascension and who said:

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Act 1:11 NIV)

The two letters of Paul to the church at Thessalonica address this issue in a clear and straightforward way. But before I discuss content, I wish to give a background to the letter and put it in context of Paul’s missionary travels.

Paul first visited Thessalonica on his second missionary journey, the events of which are recorded in Acts 17:1-9. Here is a thriving city of over 200,000 residents, with a sizable Jewish community that welcomed Gentile God-fearers who were disenchanted with Roman idolatry and Emperor worship. Upon his arrival, as was his custom, Paul brought the Gospel to the synagogue, where these God-fearers responded. But the Jews were not happy with Paul’s ministry so they organized a mob to violently expel him and his team from the city. Paul escaped to Berea and the mob followed him there, causing him to flee to Athens. When Silas and Timothy met Paul, they traveled together to Corinth, where Paul learned of the gospel’s progress in the fledgling church in Thessalonica. From Corinth, Paul writes the Thessalonian correspondence, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, most likely within a few weeks of one another.

The purpose of 1 Thessalonians is encouragement. First, he encourages them in their faith and commends them for their steadfastness in the midst of the intense persecution they just experienced (1:3; 2:17-3:10). He utters a prayer with the nurturing heart of a loving mother (2:7) and guiding father (2:11), that their faith may continue to grow.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones (1Th 3:11-13 NIV)

Of particular concern to Paul was the anxiety of the Thessalonians over the circumstances of the second coming of Jesus (alluded to in all five chapters of this letter – 1:10; 2;19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-11, 23) and of their ignorance about the relationship of believers who died prior to this event and those believers who might still be alive. The central teaching in the NT about this issue is found in 4:16-18.

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1Th 4:16-18 NIV)

Regardless of one’s view on the timing of this event relative to the Great Tribulation, all believers can be genuinely encouraged to know that there will not only be a union with Jesus in the air, but that there will also be a re-union with loved ones who have already died. This event is called the Rapture, so named because of the Latin translation of the phrase in vs. 17, “caught up.” He closes his teaching on this subject by describing the coming Day of the Lord, a separate event from the Rapture when the unbelieving world is judged with the wrath of the Lord, an event believers will not experience (5: 9). His challenge is that since we have such a tremendous promise, we ought to live lives that display that hope.

So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. (1Th 5:6-8 NIV)

If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, the truth of the events surrounding the return of Jesus can be of great encouragement to you (4:18) But if you are still on the fence concerning Jesus, today is a great day to place your trust in Jesus who may be coming soon. And when he does, it will be too late!

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