This evening, we will explore some things in the letters written to the Thessalonians. Acts 17:1-9 tells of Paul’s visit to Thessalonica which occurred on his second missionary journey. Paul’s visit there brought many to salvation and started a riot. It was at Thessalonica that these famous words were spoken about the disciples: “These men who have turned the world upside down have now come here.” (Acts 17:6) Paul and his team were driven out of Thessalonica by jealous Jews who enlisted bad characters from the marketplace to bring charges of sedition and treason against Paul and his followers. The believers in Thessalonica sent Paul and Silas away at night to avoid the danger brewing. Paul intended to visit Thessalonica a second time but delays caused him to write letters to the believers. Paul wrote his letters to the believers at Thessalonica during one of his visits to Corinth. The first letter was written in 50AD and the second in 51AD.
The Thessalonian believers were apparently a strong group. According to Paul, their reputation was widespread. Because of God’s outpouring upon them, the believers were being intensely persecuted. Paul’s concern for them caused him to send Timothy to the believers in Thessalonica to encourage them. Timothy’s return brought good news of the believer’s continued faith. Evidently, a false teaching reported to be from the apostles had made its way to Thessalonica. This false teaching was causing the believers much distress. The teaching stated that the day of the Lord had already come. What is the day of the Lord?
In the New Testament, the day of the Lord refers to the second coming of Christ. So, the believers in Thessalonica were being taught that the second coming of Christ had already occurred. This teaching may have taken life because of the intensity of the persecution the believers in Thessalonica were enduring. What type of effect was this having upon them? For one, they were grieving over the believers that had already died. Since it was being said that Jesus had already returned for His people and the believers in the grave were not risen, then they were lost.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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.
/// 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV)
Another effect was that many believers ceased to work either because of despair or because they believed that it made little sense at this point.
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.
Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.
/// 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 (NIV)
Paul told the believers that they were not going to be in the dark regarding the coming of the Lord. They would not know the exact time but would be able to see the signs and know that Jesus’ coming was near. Signs of Jesus’ return include the falling away of people from the faith of Christ and the appearance of the Antichrist. The world would be taken off guard by Jesus’ return due to the deception of the enemy. One sign of Jesus’ return will be that the world will appear to have achieved peace and safety. This is probably a reference to the reign of the Antichrist and his treaty with the nations, including Israel and her enemies. Now, let’s talk about the interesting words about the coming of the Antichrist found in 2 Thessalonians 2:5-8:
Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.
Something is holding back the full appearance of the Antichrist and will do so until “he” is taken out of the way. What or who is this talking about and why is it important? While the “he” being spoken of here is a subject of some debate, most scholars believe that who is being spoken of here is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will not leave the earth since there will be others being saved during the Tribulation but will stop restraining the appearance of the Antichrist. Many believe that this is also a reference to the Rapture since the church is birthed by the Spirit and full of the Spirit:
Some see this as the end of a dispensation: “The special presence of the Spirit as the indweller of saints will terminate abruptly at the parousia as it began abruptly at Pentecost. Once the body of Christ has been caught away to heaven, the Spirit’s ministry will revert back to what he did for believers during the Old Testament period.” (Thomas)
How does this help settle the Thessalonians fears? Jesus’ return will be marked by the resurrection of dead believers and the ascension of living believers. No resurrection of the dead – no return has occurred. If the Thessalonians had missed the Rapture, then they were in the Great Tribulation. The Tribulation is marked by apostasy – people leaving the faith of Jesus for safety and provision found in the kingdom of a man masquerading as God. No great apostasy – no man calling himself God and moving to destroy all worship of anything other than himself – no Rapture has occurred. Is the body of Christ still operating and exercising dominion? No Rapture has occurred.
- Acts 17:1-9
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV)
- 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 (NIV)
- 2 Thessalonians 2:5-8
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