The Thessalonians Freak Out
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 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. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the apostasia [departure] comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 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. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 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. 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. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 ESV
One of the early churches, that of the Thessalonians, seems to have been greatly interested in the coming of the Day of the Lord. This is commendable, as believers throughout the church age are commanded to Watch and Be Ready at all times for our Lord to return (Matthew 24-25)! However, what the Thessalonians were worried about was that the Day of the Lord had already started. They saw the persecution around them and totally panicked! Now, why would that worry them so much? Let’s play this out.
If the persecution and tribulations of the Day of the Lord had started, and the “gathering together” was expected to come after this, then they should have been excited! They should have been encouraged that the “gathering together” was almost here! Were they? No! The exact opposite. They completely freaked out! They were worried they had missed the catching up event that we call the “rapture”. Why? Because they thought they had been LEFT BEHIND. Missed the gathering. They knew that if the Day of the Lord had started, they had missed the boat. They knew that the gathering together to Christ would come BEFORE the Day of the Lord.
Paul’s Previous Teachings to the Thessalonians:
How do we know that the Thessalonians knew the “gathering together” was to occur before the Day of the Lord? Let’s look at how Paul replied – “don’t you remember when I was still with you I told you these things?” Paul states that he previously had taught them about this. We don’t have record of what Paul told them verbally when he was there, but we DO have record of what Paul had previously taught them by letter. This included the following teachings:
For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 ESV)
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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. 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. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV)
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 ESV)
So the Thessalonians had been taught:
- We are to wait for God’s Son from heaven.
- Jesus will deliver us from the wrath to come. There will be future wrath, and we will be delivered from it.
- When God’s Son from heaven comes, He will bring with Him the souls of those who have died in Him. Then, with a cry of command, the voice of an angel and the trumpet of God, the bodies of the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and left will be caught up together with the dead in Christ, we will all meet the Lord in the air (not on earth), and so we will always be with the Lord. This is to be an encouragement.
- The Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are completely unaware, sudden destruction will come upon them, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness for that day to surprise you like a thief. We are not of the night. Paul creates a marked distinction between PEOPLE/THEY and YOU/WE. Unbelievers will be caught unawares like a thief in the night. Believers, the Thessalonians, will NOT be caught unaware.
- THEY (unbelievers) will not escape. WE (believers) will escape (Luke 21:36). What do we escape from? The sudden destruction of the Day of the Lord.
- The Thessalonians have the hope of salvation. God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through Jesus Christ.
The Thessalonians knew that in the future there would be a time of wrath and sudden destruction in the Day of the Lord. They also knew that they could expect to escape from that wrath, via being caught up together with the dead in Christ and taken to be with the Lord.
What Day Are We Talking About?
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 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. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day [the day of the Lord] will not come, unless…..
Grammatically, the “day that will not come unless…” must refer back to a day which was previously spoken of. In the sentence prior, we have an exact matching phrase about a day that is going to come – “the day of the Lord”.
“The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him” is an EVENT, not a DAY. It occurs in “the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor 15:52), not over a span of time. Believers will be whisked away to heaven and face the Judgment Seat of Christ. Further studies on this lightning-quick event are found here:
- The Rapture of the Church – Our Blessed Hope
- The Noisy, Not-So-Secret Rapture of the Church
- The Day of Christ- BEMA Seat
- Is the Rapture Imminent?
- The Day and the Hour That is Unknown
- Is It Better to be Taken, or Left?
The Day of the Lord, on the other hand, is a span of time, spoken of frequently in scripture. To confirm, we look in Scripture and find dozens of references to the Day of the Lord as being “THAT DAY” (Passages HERE). Further studies on the Day of the Lord are here:
The Day that will not come until the [apostasia] and man of lawlessness being revealed is none other than the Day of the Lord. This is completely separate from the gathering and catching up event commonly known as “the rapture”.
For believers, we are to pray to hasten the Day of the Lord, as it signals our imminent gathering together to be with Christ:
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 2 Peter 3:11-12 ESV
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV
The approach of the Day of the Lord is exciting for us – we wait for it, anticipate it, watch for it, hasten it, encourage each other as we see it approach. It means that Jesus is near, at the very gates! However, the Day of the Lord will be dreadful and terrible for those who “refused to love the truth and so be saved”. They will enter the time of greatest catastrophe known to humanity.
Are you CERTAIN of your Salvation, beyond a shadow of a doubt? Do you KNOW that no matter when the rapture occurs, you will be counted worthy to escape? If not, please read What Must I do to Be Saved.
- Part 2 – The Restrainer and the Restrained in 2 Thessalonians 2
- Part 1 – The Apostasia [Departure/Falling Away] and the Revealing of the Lawless One
- Part 4 – The Wicked Deception – “Aliens”?
The Bible is infallible. I am not. I am merely challenging traditional models and testing them against Scripture. I believe that traditional pretribulation teachings provide a solid backbone upon which to lay the musculature of details, some of which I think might need to be adjusted slightly. I encourage you to consider my thoughts as you also examine the scriptures to see if these things are so!