And so Paul prayed for their continued growth, specifically in the areas of faith and agapé. But having praised them for what was good, Paul goes on to note there were difficulties within the church as well. They correctly understood that Christ could return at any time. We too are to look forward to Christ’s imminent return! But obviously some misunderstandings had arisen. Apparently some person, or persons, had been saying they had a word of the Lord and that they had heard, or seen, a letter from Paul stating that the Day of the Lord had arrived. But the Day of the Lord can’t come until the Antichrist has been revealed.
Now there are some issues that need clarifying here. First, as I always note whenever we are dealing with eschatology, there a number of different views as to how these passages should be understood. God will work them out as He sees fit, regardless of how we perceive them. What follows is what seems to me to be the approach that is the most consistent with a literal interpretation of Scripture. And while it has problems, it has fewer than other systems.
Paul opens this second section with words concerning the coming of Christ and the gathering of believers to Him, the Rapture. It seems the Thessalonians were confused, because they thought that the Tribulation had arrived, but the Lord hadn’t. They were suffering great tribulation, but shouldn’t they have already be taken up? Paul referred to this when he said:
“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 5:9–11).
It appears to many of us that Paul taught the church would be removed before the Tribulation. The big problem with this passage is it refers back to some oral teaching which we don’t have. Consequently, we can’t be dogmatic about our understanding here. But as I already stated, this system seems to be the most consistent with a literal understanding of Scripture and the purposes of the Tribulation itself.
What is clear is that because of the suffering and persecution that they were experiencing. The Thessalonians had been led to believe that the Day of the Lord arrived Obviously this wasn’t true, for believers are not destined for wrath.
Now Paul primarily focused on why the Day of the Lord hadn’t arrived. First, rebellion, or apostasy must arrive. This isn’t simply disbelief, or even false teaching as we have seen occurring in all periods of church history, but “a special and well-known one.” 1
This isn’t “merely disbelieving but rather an aggressive and positive revolt.” 2
(see 1 Timothy 4:1-3 and 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 4:3-4) It is this apostasy that prepares the way for the final revolt against God, and while in a sense this can be said of all false religion, the last great apostasy refers to a specific rebellion.
The primary thing that distinguishes this rebellion, though, is the revelation of the “man of lawlessness,” that is the Antichrist. The Thessalonians couldn’t be in the midst of the Tribulation, for if they were, the Antichrist would have made his appearance. Another clear point is, if he is to be revealed, this necessitates he exists prior to his revelation. This does mean he could be around today. But this individual is doomed to destruction.
Be warned that we are not to try to identify this individual. All through history, the church has striven to tag specific individuals as Antichrist, from Anticous Ephines, to Hitler, from Nero to Henry Kissinger. And obviously, in each case, the church was wrong.
Paul states the Antichrist is one who not only will rebel against God, but will want His worship for himself. He will set himself up in the Temple and declare himself God. Remember, the Temple still existed at the time of the writing of this letter. It is this action that ties him directly to Satan, for desiring God’s worship caused Lucifer’s fall.
From our perspective, for Antichrist to set himself up requires the rebuilding of the Temple, though this isn’t necessary for Christ’s coming for His church. Remember, we are called to look for His imminent return. All that we hear of the rebuilding of the Temple may very well be the precursor to these events.
Study to be continued.
- Ryrie, Charles Caldwell, First and Second Thessalonians, Moody Press, Chicago, IL, 1959, pg. 103
To be continued.