Paul wrote to the believers in Thessalonica not to be anxious or afraid because of some false teaching that had come their way. He gives reasons why these believers have not entered the “day of the Lord.”
What a person believes determines how they behave. There is the homicide bomber who believes that he is pleasing his god by blowing himself up and taking the lives of many others as well. Or the one who puts powerful, but destructive, drugs into her body because she believes that present pleasure far outweighs any future consequences. And then there are those who generously give because they believe the biblical admonition that giving is better than receiving. Everyone believes things which in turn gives direction to both attitudes and behaviors.
In the young church at Thessalonica believers were fearful because of something they believed. They had become convinced that the “day of the Lord” had begun and they had entered the time of great tribulation. They had listened to false prophets, likely a persuasive teacher as well as a pseudo-letter claiming to be from the Apostle Paul, with the result that many believed they were in the tribulation. Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 to assure them that their belief was not true and that they were to live confidently and not fearfully.
This passage in 2 Thessalonians has some difficult matters connected with it, however, in this brief study we want to highlight certain pivotal points in order to understand what it is teaching. We will approach this by looking at several key issues.
Defining the “Day of the Lord”. The “day of the Lord” is a concept that is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament. It refers to a time of special divine intervention in this world (e.g. Joel 2, 3; Zechariah 12-14; Zephaniah 3; Matt. 24:29). It includes three events: that of the 7 years’ tribulation period, the Second Coming of Christ to the earth and the Messianic (millennial) kingdom. Since the “day of the Lord” would begin with the terrible time of tribulation, this is what the Thessalonian believers had come to believe they were in. Because of their persecutions, some were promoting this false idea that they were in the “day of the Lord.”
The Sequence of Events in the “Day of the Lord”. As an apostle, Paul could have just said: “no, you are not in the “day of the Lord”. And even though he had apostolic authority, there were those who challenged his authority. However, he also had the authority of the prophets of the O.T. which would carry a great deal of weight. So instead of just saying “no, you are not in it”, he pointed out that an event clearly taught in the O.T. as the starting point of the “day of the Lord” had not taken place. And if it had not taken place, then obviously the “day of the Lord” could not have started. Daniel 9:27 teaches that the tribulation period begins with the signing of a treaty between the Antichrist (the leader of a western nation) and the leaders of Israel. This event not only starts the seven-year period of time but also reveals the Antichrist. But no such event had occurred which meant the “day of the Lord” could not have begun. Later the N.T. would add the point that at the outset of the tribulation period will be THE apostasy (the massive turning from God’s truth on the part of the “church”). This apostasy is closely connected to the unveiling of the Antichrist (the “man of lawlessness”.) Paul mentions this end of the age defection from the truth of God by those allegedly part of the church and John would give details later on. (Revelation 17)
The Event Prior to the “Day of the Lord” and the Rapture Event. But there is more. In 2:6-7 these believers are reminded that presently sin’s full blown manifestation is being contained. That will change, however, when the Holy Spirit (2:7) ceases His ministry of the restraining of sin. (Note that the Spirit Himself is not “taken out” of the world; as it is impossible for an omnipresent God to be removed from anywhere. Also, the reality is that the Spirit must be present on the earth since no one could be saved without the working of the Spirit in conviction and regeneration. Multitudes will be saved during the tribulation). It is the ministry of the restraint of sin that is removed. There is a clear sequence that must here be noted in 2:7-9. The ministry of restraining sin is removed and then Satan’s man is revealed as the Antichrist (at the covenant signing).
At this point it should be observed that in history the Spirit has used God ordained agencies to restrain sin in the world; namely the family, human government and the Church. Human government in the end time will be totally corrupted by Satan’s forces and the family is likely a shadow of what God intended (being badly degraded in much of the world). The church is the great agency of restraining sin and the removal of the Church out of the world in these end times will have a breathtaking impact on the world. The Church, with all of its imperfections and flaws, still retards evil in this world. The removal of restraint is best understood as the removal of the church at the Rapture event. The Spirit indwells the Church (1 Cor. 3:16-17 where “you” is plural and is speaking of the church body and not the individual believer. The individual believers are indwelt as well according to 1 Cor. 6:19). The removal of restraint takes place before the unveiling of the Antichrist (which starts the tribulation). Again, this points to the church’s removal prior to the tribulation. This affirms Paul’s teaching that the church has no part in the time of tribulation.
And the statement of 2:1 must be noted. Here Paul bases this discussion on our “gathering together to Him” which is the rapture event. He is calling the Thessalonian believers back to his first letter where he twice emphasized that believers in Jesus Christ are “delivered out of the wrath to come” (1:10), and that “God has not destined us for wrath” (5:9). These are powerful statements revealing the exempting of Christians from the future wrath of God; that is, the tribulation aspect of the “day of the Lord.” So, Paul based his discussion of the “day of the Lord” on his previously given instruction on the rapture event; an event which removes believers out of the world prior to the “day of the Lord”.
As Paul winds down his discussion in 2:13-14, he encourages them that they have been chosen by God “for salvation” (which basically means “deliverance”). In light of the context of future events, the “salvation” is most likely not looking at regeneration/new birth but at our “deliverance” from these terrible days of tribulation; reinforcing what he already said in his first letter to the Thessalonians.
The Events Within the “Day of the Lord”. So, the Apostle taught that the sequence is: the removal of restraint followed by the apostasy/unveiling of the man of sin. Paul then adds a couple of other truths about this Antichrist. He will take his place in the temple, and by so doing, declare himself to be deity. This is Daniel’s famous “abomination of desolation” that Jesus referred to as the great end time sign in Matthew 24:15 which occurs at the half way point of the seven-year tribulation. Also, Paul informed his readers that this blasphemy is short lived as the Lord will bring Antichrist to his end at the Second Coming. But between his unveiling and his termination, the Antichrist will have extraordinary powers by which he will deceive multitudes of people during the tribulation period. Many will believe him and this belief will dictate how they live their lives during those terrible days.
Concluding Thoughts. So, the believers at Thessalonica have been informed by Paul that some were believing that which was not true. There was no reason to live in fear and worry. They were not in the “day of the Lord.”
What we believe about future events also plays an important role in how we behave. If we live in a genuine anticipation of the Lord’s return and our immediate appearance before Him at the judgment seat, then we will purify our lives, says 1 John 2:28-3:3. We will live more focused lives for Christ, deal aggressively with sin and live in anticipation of seeing Him. However, if we are like the slave that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 25 who believed that “my lord delays his coming”, then we will be like that slave. He is described as one that lived badly and very sinfully. We must not think and thus believe “my Lord delays His coming.”
The Savior’s Second Coming is spoken of much more than was His first coming to the earth. We celebrate that coming each December because we know He came. His Second Coming is even “more certain” as it is spoken of many more times. Our real beliefs determine our behaviors.