NT Eschatology—Letters 04
Brothers and sisters, we have a request for you concerning our Lord Jesus Christ’s coming and when we are gathered together to be with him. We don’t want you to be easily confused in your mind or upset if you hear that the day of the Lord is already here, whether you hear it through some spirit, a message, or a letter supposedly from us. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. That day won’t come unless the rebellion comes first and the person who is lawless is revealed, who is headed for destruction. He is the opponent of every so-called god or object of worship and promotes himself over them. So he sits in God’s temple, displaying himself to show that he is God. You remember that I used to tell you these things while I was with you, don’t you? Now you know what holds him back so that he can be revealed when his time comes. The hidden plan to live without any law is at work now, but it will be secret only until the one who is holding it back is out of the way. Then the person who is lawless will be revealed. The Lord Jesus will destroy him with the breath from his mouth. When the Lord comes, his appearance will put an end to him. When the person who is lawless comes, it will happen through Satan’s effort, with all kinds of fake power, signs, and wonders. It will happen with every sort of wicked deception of those who are heading toward destruction because they have refused to love the truth that would allow them to be saved. This is why God will send them an influence that will mislead them so that they will believe the lie. The result will be that everyone will be judged who is not convinced by the truth but is happy with injustice.
The second letter to the Thessalonians was written shortly after the first letter, probably late 50 or early 51 CE. Paul wrote it to address an issue the Thessalonian followers of Jesus had — specifically, he wrote to them, “concerning our Lord Jesus Christ’s coming and when we are gathered together to be with him” (verse 1). As we’ve stated at the beginning of this series, the disciples received their view of eschatology from Jesus himself. As we can see in this passage, Paul stated the he and the Thessalonians followers of Jesus (at least) would be “gathered together to be with [Jesus]” (v. 1). This is the same message Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 24.29-31.
This is one of those passage where I really appreciate the Common English Bible. They’ve captured Paul’s meaning perfectly. He doesn’t want the Thessalonians to be “confused” or “upset” because they had heard “the day of the Lord is already here.” Most modern translations have a similar meaning.
Let’s just pause here for a moment and think about this. Some of the Thessalonian followers of Jesus were under the impression that the coming of Jesus had already occurred.
Let’s look at it like this. Some people would have us believe the return of Christ is a world ending event — i.e., the complete desolation of creation. If that’s so, then how could anyone have been duped into thinking that it had already happened? Furthermore, if the return of Christ really is that type of event, and these people really were tricked into believing it had already occurred (however unfathomable that is), all Paul would have had to write is, “Just look around! Everything’s still here! You’re still alive. I’m still alive. I’ve written you this letter and you’re reading it! So, it’s obvious that it hasn’t happened yet. Don’t be so easily deceived.”
But he doesn’t. And that’s hugely telling.
Paul start’s out his correction by saying, “Look...Jesus won’t return until two things happen. First, the rebellion has takes place; then, the lawless person will be revealed.”
When Paul wrote this letter in 50/51 CE, he said there were only two things left before Jesus returned.
And the revealing of the lawless person.
And then Jesus would come back.
Now, let’s compare that to what Jesus said in Matthew 24. There, Jesus said that before he returned there would be:
- many false messiahs
- reports of wars
- persecution of Jesus’ followers
- many will fall away
- false prophets
- expanded disobedience
- love will grow cold
- worldwide gospel proclamation
- “the disgusting and destructive thing standing holy place”
- a time of “great suffering”
Thirteen things must take place before Jesus said he would return.
Paul wrote in 50/51 there were only two things left.
That means within roughly 20 years, eleven of the things Jesus told his followers to watch out for had already happened or were on-going when Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians.
This is exceedingly important! Some people today are claiming that we’re seeing the “signs of the times,” meaning those thirteen things Jesus warned about. And yet, Paul wrote in the very early 50’s that only two things remained before Christ returned.
Someone’s gotten it wrong.
And as I stated in the beginning of this series, a lot of people are quick to point out that it’s the writers of the New Testament who were wrong. Yet, right here in the New Testament, we see Jesus’ predictions coming true. But, like most everything else Jesus said and did, it looks differently from what people expect.
Clearly, I think we’ve gotten it wrong. The clues are right there for all to see. However, like a lot of Jesus’ own contemporaries, we refuse to abandon our long held traditions and understandings. We have eyes but refuse to see (Mark 8.18; cf. Jeremiah 5.21).
Next time, we look at the “lawless person” Paul referred to. Click here for the next post in this series.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC