In the last post we began looking at what the Apostle Paul taught concerning the End Times. We looked at 1 Thessalonians chapters 4 and 5. He spoke of Christ coming with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ rising first, followed by the catching up (or rapture) of living believers. Paul said that this truth is to bring hope and comfort, that we are to share these words with one another when loved ones die and during times of persecution and trials.
This day of Christ’s return, Paul called the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord is the most prophesied event in all of Scripture. It is the time period when God’s patience will be at an end, and he will judge the world in righteousness, destroying the wicked on earth.
About a dozen passages talk about that day. If we look at all of these passages that mention the Day of the Lord, we can make a list of what the Old Testament says will characterize that day. The Day of the Lord is a day . . .
- of reckoning – Isa. 2:12 (NASB)
- of judgment – Isa. 2:13-17
- when man is humbled – Isa. 2:11
- when God alone is exalted – Isa. 2:17
- of wrath and fierce anger – Isa. 13:9
- of destruction from the Almighty – Isa. 13:6; Joel 1:15
- of tumult, trampling, and confusion – Isa. 22:5
- of vengeance – Jer. 46:10
- of doom – Eze. 7:10; 30:3
- of battle – Eze. 13:5; Zech. 14:3
- of clouds – Eze. 30:3
- of gloom and darkness – Joel 2:2; Amos 5:18, 20; 8:9
- that is great and awesome – Joel 2:11
- when the sun and moon grow dark – Joel 3:15
- when justice is dealt out – Obad. 1:15
- of punishment – Zeph. 1:8
- of the Lord’s anger – Isa. 13:13
- that is unique – Zech. 14:7a
As we will see in this post, it is also a day of rescue, of deliverance, of salvation for God’s people—all those who are in Christ and eagerly waiting for his appearing.
The young church in Thessalonica—less than a year old, full of new believers, Jew and Gentile—was undergoing quite severe persecution and tribulation.
Paul wrote his two letters to this church from Corinth, where he lived and preached for a year and a half during his second missionary journey. While in Corinth, Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica to see how the church was doing. Timothy reported back, and then Paul penned these letters to encourage and instruct them.
Paul Thanks God for the Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians 1:1–4 1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.
Paul here greets the Thessalonian church members. He prays that God’s grace and peace will be with them. Then he thanks God for them. He’s thankful that their faith is growing “abundantly,” and that their love for one another is “increasing.” In fact, he says that when he’s talking to the other churches, he boasts about these believers in Thessalonica, especially pointing to their steadfastness, their perseverance, their endurance and their strong faith in all of their persecutions and afflictions.
Growth through Persecution
This young church is an example to us. They were suffering; they were persecuted; they endured afflictions with faith, perseverance, and increasing love for one another.
This is what church is; this is what church does. And to be honest, growth in faith and love happens much more during trials and afflictions and persecutions, than it does in times of ease and comfort and affluence. When a church is sharing in trials, the main things become the main things. All the petty little things that annoy us, the things that we complain about, the issues that often divide us fade into the background and are put into their proper perspective. The color of the carpet in the foyer is no longer important. What kind of trees we plant out front really isn’t vital. Whether we have a paved, concrete, or gravel parking lot becomes a lot less significant. And instead, we come together to support one another, to defend one another, to comfort one another, and to love one another.
Our American church experience is not normal. Tribulation and trials are normal. The ease and acceptance and dominance in society that the American church has enjoyed for decades is not the norm. Persecution and hatred are the norm.
But the signs are everywhere that this is changing. Pastors used to be looked up to in society and respected; no longer. Christianity used to set the compass for the morality of our culture; no longer. Christians are now seen as hateful, backward, intolerant, and dangerous. Objections to homosexuality draw charges of hate mongering. When a homosexual is murdered, the finger of blame is pointed at Christians for creating a “climate of hate.” Attempts at saving the lives of the unborn are portrayed as attempts to make life difficult for women in crisis.
I read an opinion piece in the Huffington Post this week about the evils of conservative Christians where the author wrote this: “The faster conservative religion is overwhelmingly seen as mean, crazy, violent, hateful, misogynistic and anti-science, the faster we as a society can move on.” More and more, that’s how we’re viewed by society—as mean, crazy, violent, hateful, misogynistic, and anti-science.
History has shown that persecution ultimately strengthens the church. It removes the nominal Christians—the ones about whom Jesus said, “when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, they immediately fall away.” Persecution purifies the church. Persecution emboldens other believers to both stand firm when persecuted and to become more fervent in proclaiming the gospel. And persecution binds the true church together, the way it did for the Thessalonian believers, in shared hope and faith and love.
We must not get used to the easy American Christianity we’ve enjoyed. It won’t last forever. The Christian life, Jesus said, is one of tribulation and persecution and being hated. We’ve just lived in this little bubble for a while. But throughout the centuries, the church has been persecuted, and it’s happening in many countries around the world today. And it’s coming here, sooner or later.
2 Thessalonians 1:5–10 5 This 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— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 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. 9 They 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.
Paul makes an interesting statement in verse 5. He says that the fact that they are being persecuted and bearing up with endurance is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that they may be considered worthy of the kingdom.
Paul is not saying that their suffering reflects God’s judgment. What he’s saying is that the sufferings of the righteous and the prosperity of their wicked persecutors is clear evidence that there will be a future judgment, a time of retribution when the inequalities we see today will be adjusted, when the violations of justice will be remedied, and when matters will be completely reversed. Verse 6 says that God will justly repay those afflicting them with affliction and give them relief from their afflictions.
When will this payback happen? When will the persecutors get their judgment and we get our relief? It will be “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire.” The day of Jesus’ appearance is the day of the beginning of God’s judgment—the Day of the Lord.
Jesus will come to inflict “vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Their punishment will be to spend eternity away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. However, for believers—those who trust Christ, those who eagerly anticipate his coming—he will be glorified in his saints on that day, and we will marvel at him.
What comfort this teaching must have brought to the Thessalonian believers who were being persecuted, troubled, and afflicted! Paul wanted to encourage them that Jesus is coming, and all wrongs will be made right, true justice will prevail, and they will be rescued and delivered from their persecutors.
Notice that the judgment of the wicked and the rescue of the righteous happen on the same day—“on that day”—the day when Jesus is revealed from heaven with his angels. It’s two sides of the same coin—rescue and wrath, rapture and judgment.
When Scripture speaks of Jesus coming, he’s almost always accompanied by angels.
Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.
Matthew 24:30–31 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Jesus will come on the clouds of heaven with his angels, gather together his elect, deliver them from their persecutions and troubles, and then begin to judge those who remain during the Day of the Lord.
2 Thessalonians 2:1–2 1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.
Paul is continuing to talk about the coming of the Lord at the Day of the Lord. And notice that he says the Day of the Lord is the time when Jesus comes and we are gathered together to him—that’s the rapture Paul spoke of in 1 Thessalonians 4. It is the “gathering together his elect” from Matthew 24.
These Thessalonian believers had received a letter, or a message, or some kind of “prophecy” that the Day of the Lord had already come—that they were in the midst of the time of God’s wrath. And they hadn’t been rescued yet. Of course they were shaken and alarmed! So Paul wanted to correct this false teaching. He does this by telling them the things that must happen BEFORE the day will come, before Jesus is revealed at the Day of the Lord.
2 Thessalonians 2:3–5 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day [the Day of the Lord] will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?
Paul lists two things that MUST happen before the Day of the Lord comes:
- The rebellion, or falling away, or apostasy
- The revealing of the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction
In Matthew 24 Jesus said that tribulation would come and then “many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another”? Paul gives the same teaching here. When the man of lawlessness is revealed, then a great tribulation will break out. This is what Jesus called the “Great Tribulation.” And because of the intense persecution during that time, many will fall away, rebel, apostatize. But true believers, God’s elect, will persevere.
And then Paul describes how this man, whom we call the Antichrist, will be revealed. He says it’s when he enters the temple of God, takes his seat, and declares himself to be God. He defiles the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and demands the worship of the world. This event is called “the abomination of desolation.” Jesus spoke of that event as well in Matthew 24.
2 Thessalonians 2:6–8 6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.
Paul says that something, or someone, is restraining the antichrist from being revealed. The mystery of lawlessness is working—even back in Pauls’ day—but its full revelation in this man of lawlessness is being restrained. But a time is coming, says Paul, when the restrainer will be taken out of the way and allow the full revelation of lawlessness. We’ll look at who this restrainer is in another post.
After the antichrist has been revealed, after the falling away, after he deceives people with false signs and wonders, after he persecutes the people of God, then Jesus will appear with his mighty angels in flaming fire, and he will bring the antichrist to nothing. He will kill him and bring judgment on his followers.
Next, Paul goes on to tell us what it will look like when this man of lawlessness comes on the scene.
2 Thessalonians 2:9–12 9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
The Antichrist will be empowered by Satan. He will come with power, performing false signs and wonders in order to deceive people. And Paul says that the ones who are deceived are those who are perishing—the ones who refused to love the truth and be saved.
In Matthew 24, Jesus said that the deception would be so great that, if possible, even the elect would be deceived. Paul says the same thing. The deception is powerful, but it’s not the elect being deceived, it’s the perishing, the unsaved, who are deceived.
And because they did not believe the truth, but instead took pleasure in wickedness, in unrighteousness, it says that God will send them a strong delusion so that they will believe the lie. They rejected and rejected and rejected the truth, so God now seals them in unbelief and hardness by sending a deluding influence so that they will believe the lies and deceptions of the Antichrist and be judged.
These are sobering verses. Church is not just some nice social club. Christianity isn’t just a nice religion to help make you a better person. These are life and death issues. Those who are in Christ, who have trusted in him and followed him, may have trouble in this life, but they will be rescued from God’s wrath and enjoy eternity with him.
But those who have rejected Christ may live at ease in this life, but they will suffer eternal destruction—they will be judged and spend eternity in the lake of fire. Make sure you know whose side you’re on. You can’t be indifferent; there’s no middle ground. Jesus said, if you’re not for me, you’re against me.
Now, let’s look at the events from Matthew 24 and the Thessalonian epistles and put things in some semblance of order.
- Beginning birth pains – wars, famines, earthquakes
- Abomination of desolation/revealing of antichrist
- Takes seat in the temple
- False signs & wonders
- Great Tribulation
- Persecution of God’s people
- Jesus coming on the clouds
- Angels sent to rescue God’s elect
- Rapture & resurrection
- Punishment of the wicked
- Destruction of the antichrist
Jesus taught this order of events. Paul taught this order of events. And in a future post, we’ll see that the book of Revelation presents the same order of events.
One thing that is abundantly clear as we read these passages of judgment and wrath, as well as rescue and rapture, is that what separates the wicked and the righteous, the perishing and the rescued, the judged and the redeemed, is how they are related to Christ. Our eternity depends on how we are related to Christ.
We love the truth, or we reject the truth. We embrace Christ, or we ignore Christ. It would be a great tragedy if there was anyone reading this who walked away from Christ, who didn’t have a vital relationship with Jesus.
Paul is confident that the Thessalonian believers he’s writing to are rightly related to God. Here’s how he ends this section.
2 Thessalonians 2:13–14 13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As believers, we are chosen by God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that we might obtain the glory of the Son. What a wonderful truth! And Paul says that it is through the preaching of the gospel and belief in the truth that we are called to Christ and saved.
Let us not grow weary in doing good and in preaching the gospel, for the Day of the Lord is coming.