Thessalonica is a city in northern Greece, where the early church thrived. One of the major issues that Paul addressed was the return of Jesus Christ. While this is a frequent topic in the New Testament; the believers of Thessalonica were especially in need of clear direction and as we will see in this flight Paul provided.
Tonight we look at two ancient books, two old letters from the past that have a message about the future; both First and Second Thessalonians have the focus on the future. Because of that focus they are called eschatological epistles or letters that have in focus the last days, that's all that means eschatological epistles. Both of them speak about the future.
The First Thessalonians is about the Lord's return and Second Thessalonians is about the Lord's retribution. First Thessalonians is about the day of Christ, another euphemism for His coming for the church, the rapture of the church, our gathering together unto Him. And the second epistle, Second Thessalonians is about the Day of the Lord; a very often used phrase in scripture that refers to a period of judgment, we call the tribulation period.
So in First Thessalonians, the focus is on Jesus Christ and the church. Second Thessalonians, the focus is on the Antichrist and the world. So they dovetail neatly together and it's important to take them as a package.
A little bit about this church in Thessalonica, because after all we are dealing with a real letter, a piece of correspondence written by an apostle to a real group of new struggling believers. I want you to know their story.
When Paul wrote this letter, they were less than one year old in their faith, and Paul had been with them only three weeks. He was there three weeks; it was long enough to establish a church, and then Paul left, and then several months after that, Paul wrote this letter to the Thessalonians, First Thessalonians, and just a few months after that or shortly after he wrote Second Thessalonians.
Now, he visited this town on his second missionary trip, and I know you probably know this story, but I want to retell it so you know where we are at chronologically. If you remember on Paul's second missionary trip, he decided along with Barnabas to go over all of the area they had been on their first trip, to reestablish, to reaffirm those new believers where they planted churches, to reaffirm them in their faith.
Barnabas and Paul had an argument. Paul took a new teammate named Silas, and Paul and Silas and his crew took the second missionary trip. So they went back over the churches. They went through Lystra, they went through Derbe, they went through Iconium, they strengthened the brethren, and then they kept moving westward. They went through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, but the Bible says the Holy Spirit forbade them to preach the word in Asia; it was a closed door.
Then Paul and his team went through Mysia and tried to go into Bithynia, but it says, the Holy Spirit wouldn't let them go there either; another closed door.
Paul has really only one direction to go and he goes there. He makes it to the town of Troas. Some of you have been there with some of us on a trip with the journeys of Paul, and in that little port of Troas one night, God spoke to him. And God spoke to him through a vision, a man of Macedonia saying, come over to Macedonia and help us.
So Paul takes a little Aegean sea ferry, I guess, and goes across the body of water from Troas to Philippi. And there at Philippi, there is a group of women at a river, the Lord opens up the heart of a woman named Lydia; she and her household are baptized. Paul gets into trouble, gets put in jail; you know the story, what happened in Philippi.
After Philippi, he leaves and he goes through Amphipolis and Apollonia and come to now the capital of Macedonia, Thessalonica; 200,000 people lived in Thessalonica at the time of the apostle's writing. As I said, it was the capital of Macedonia. It was a port on the Aegean Sea and the main traveling walking road, horse road; the famous Via Egnatia went through that town as well. So it was a very important town.
Paul is there for only three weeks, three Sabbaths. For three Saturdays he preached in the synagogue, and it says in Acts, chapter 17, he reasoned with them out of the scriptures. I have always loved that description, of a man reasoning, using logic and reasoning to get them to see that Jesus is the very Christ.
And it worked for some; some believed; some didn't. Those who believed were a large group of Gentiles and some of the influential women in the city. Some of the Jewish leaders were not sympathetic. They were envious the Bible says and they stirred up a commotion and poisoned people's minds against Paul and his gang.
And this is what they said, those people, those men who have turned the world upside down have come here also. So he gets booted out of that town. And after Thessalonica goes to Berea, after Berea goes to Athens, and from Athens sends Timothy back to Thessalonica just to see what's been happening since he left.
Timothy comes back to Paul and says, they are actually doing very good, but they do have some issues that need some further instructions. So he writes this letter. It's one of the first of all of the writings of the New Testament.
If you are curious what the first New Testament book written was, we believe it was Galatians. Galatians seems to have been written between 49 AD and 50 AD, right around that period Galatians was written. Shortly thereafter, around 51 AD, First Thessalonians, followed by Second Thessalonians was written.
To me that is very important, and here is why. It shows me that very early on in the New Testament writings the doctrine of the return of Jesus Christ was paramount. It wasn't secondary, it wasn't an afterthought, Paul taught it from the very beginning. And both First and Second Thessalonians focus heavily on the return of the Lord. In fact, we believe, if you put all of the verses together, one out of every four verses somehow deal with or touch on the return of Christ. It is a paramount teaching.
Something else that is noteworthy. He was there three weeks only, and yet in three weeks period of time he has managed to teach them about the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the Day of the Lord, i.e., the coming day of wrath, the Tribulation period, and the rapture of the church, they knew that, and Paul says, I told you these things when I was with you, let me refresh your memory. So they had in just a few weeks period of time a lot of good solid teaching.
But what I want you to notice is again, this theme of the return of the Lord, because in every one of the chapters in First Thessalonians, Paul mentions the coming of the Lord in some fashion. So look in chapter 1, verse 10, it says as its parting thought.
"And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." There is one reference.
Then in chapter 2, toward the end, verse 19. "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy."
Again, in chapter 3, toward the end, verse 13; "So that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints."
Chapter 4 verse 17; "Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we will always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words."
And in chapter 5 verse 23; "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it."
So it's pretty obvious just from that reading of those text that a focus of Paul; in fact the focus, the overriding taste, if you will, is the return of Jesus Christ for his church. So First Thessalonians is about that. Second Thessalonians deals with the Antichrist and the day of the Lord, the judgment that will follow. So in a short period of time they learned a lot.
Something else; isn't it amazing how quickly Paul in these areas that we are reading about in "The Bible From 30,000 Feet", in such a short period of time was able to get a church started? Didn't take long; he just went into a town, by faith, no real program, went into a synagogue, started there, preached Christ; some believed, some didn't. Usually he got hit, beat, thrown into jail.
He would get out; go to the next town, started all over again. But simply to start a church, he did not go into an area and say, okay now, Silas, Barnabas; we need to take a demographic study of the city before we do anything. We need to know the median age. We need to know the average income of the people. We need to know the educational base, and then we will tailor a church around that demographic. That's how often today churches are started.
So the idea in modern church planning is, let's give people what they want rather than giving them what God knows they need. All Paul did is unleash the power of the gospel. And it was started in a very short period of time by faith and the Holy Spirit doing his work.
I say that because sometimes I fear that we might just be edging out the fresh movement of the Holy Spirit. It is a danger with any denomination, any group, any church, any individual. We let things take the place of just trusting by faith. We have got our boards and we have got our committees and we have got our flowcharts, and we get together, and we plan with these leaders, and we talk things out, everything, but just getting on our knees and praying and trusting and watching God move.
It's almost as if, if we are not careful, we are saying, Holy Spirit, thank you so much for getting us started. We can now do the rest on our own; with our own planning and our own strategies and our own meetings. And I find that kind of thinking absent with Paul in the New Testament; a fresh work. It was not without its problems like any work of God, but that fresh dependence on God that was always a part of his life.
So we begin in chapter 1 with the introduction to the church. The introduction is chapter 1.
"Paul, Silvanus; [or Silas], and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
"We give thanks to God always for; and again, [he's from the South], you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to 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, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come."
What I want you to notice in verse 9 and 10 are what we call the three tenses of the Christian life; past tense, present tense, and future tense. They are all written here.
Notice in verse 9, "You turned to God from idols". That's the past. That's what you did at one time. You placed your faith and you trusted by faith in a historical fact of the death and resurrection of Christ. That's past.
The present is to serve the living and true God. That's what you are doing right now. You turned in the past, in the present you are serving, because you love Him, and as a response to show your love you serve him.
The third tense is the future tense and verse 10, "To wait for His son from heaven."
Now, I show that to you, because there are a few different times when Paul will do this past, present, future. He does it in Titus, he does it here. In fact, he does it twice; if you look back at verse 3, notice, "Remembering without ceasing your work of faith." That's past tense. That's where everyone begins; by faith in a past historical spiritual event. That's followed by the present tense. "Your labor of love." That's serving Him. Present. "Love always follows faith." And then finally the future, "And the patience of hope." We look toward the future. And it's this hope that gets us through all the crazy stuff we face and see on the news. We have hope that there is something beyond it.
So you could look at it this way. Faith looks back to a crucified Savior. Love looks up to a crowned Savior. Hope looks ahead to a coming Savior. That's one of the few times Paul will do that. I want to point that out when he does that.
I want you to compare verse 5 to verse 8 in what we just read. In verse 5, the gospel came to them through Paul and his team. In verse 8, he says, "From you the word of the Lord sounded forth." So the gospel came to them and now the gospel was coming through them. This describes how their life has changed and how their evangelism is working. Those who were once receivers of the truth have become transmitters of the truth. That's where the real joy of the Christian life is. It's not just God's done a work in me, but God's doing now a work through me. The word of the Lord came to me and the word of the Lord is being spoken through me to other people.
Also, notice the little term "The word of the Lord sounded forth." You see that little phrase, "sounded forth"? It comes from a word we get our term echo from. You know what an echo is? Echo-o-o-o. A reverberating sound that begins in one place and bounces off other things to make more sounds. So the word is exechetai or to echo.
Here is the point Paul is making by his language. The gospel made a loud bang where you guys live and now it's being reverberated through the hills and valleys of Greece through you. It came to you and now it's going through you.
What does this means to us personally, before we quickly move on? Christianity is not to be a private thing, contrary to what the prevailing idea is in the world. You know, politics and religion is to be kept private, it's a private matter. Why? Especially the spirituality part, that's become part of our problem, is we think it's a personal, private matter. If it's personal and private and if it has changed us personally and privately, then it ought to be seen and vocalized publicly. That's what Jesus Himself said, "What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight, what is whispered in your ear, proclaimed from the roofs."
So the little message I want to get across here is that we have become receivers. You want some spice and kick in your Christian life, become a transmitter. If we had the budget to host several evangelistic crusades; I am going to paint this scenario for you. We don't have the budget for this, but let's say we had a stadium here in town that could seat 50,000 people, and we decided to have an evangelistic crusade and fill that stadium every single night, full of 50,000 people, and that every night when we gave an altar call we had the best music and we had the best evangelist. Every single night a 1,000 people came out on the field to receive Christ.
Let's say we could fill that stadium and repeat that 1,000 people response every night for 35 straight years, day and night, day and night, 35 straight years. It would be amazing, wouldn't it? You think the whole world would be saved.
In 35 years if we did that, we would be further behind the task of world evangelism than the day we started. You go; I don't get it, further behind. Simply because the population is growing exponentially in the world, so that if that's the net result of our evangelism; a 1,000 people tonight for 35 years, we will be further behind the task of world evangelization.
But let's say there is no Christians on earth at all, and you and you alone, one human being is the only Christian alive, and you say, Lord, by Your grace, may I just lead one other person to faith in Christ this year. So you pray, and within the 12-month period of time you decide you are going to actually open your mouth and pray and lead a person to Christ.
Let's say God answers your prayer, so after 12 months, now there is two Christians on earth. Let's say you guys get together; you and the person you led, and say, hey, let's both pray to lead somebody to Christ, and let's say you do that, so that after two years you have four Christians on the face of the earth. And then you four do the same thing, and year three you have 8 and 16 and 32 and 64. If you play that out exponentially, 35 years; same amount of time as our crusades, you will have won 35 billion people to faith in Christ.
In other words, you will be fighting over heathens in a few years, because there aren't that many people on the earth. The whole world will have been won to Christ, if every person leads one person to faith.
So when the receiver becomes the transmitter, that's when the echoing starts, and it reverberates everywhere. Paul noted that about them.
Chapter 2 then, after the introduction to the church is the demonstration of Paul. Chapter 2 is all about Paul's own example.
Now, remember what I told you that after Thessalonica, Paul fled, he went to Berea and he went to Athens. And because of the circumstances that happened in Thessalonica, with Paul being sort of run out of town and being kept at Athens, something for his safety, a group of people, those enemies of his, were bad mouthing Paul and trying to give because Paul wasn't there in town to speak for himself, they were just starting gossip about Paul in town, and they were saying, well, Paul is a charlatan, you know he's not really true and real and he has ripped you off, and this anti-Paul sentiment was growing in Paul's absence.
So Paul will speak to that in this chapter, verse 6 of chapter 2. "Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ."
Get what he was saying, I am an apostles, I have the right to exercise spiritual authority and lay down the law spiritually. But he says, you guys know the truth. When I was with you, I didn't do that, I was authoritative, but I was not authoritarian. And he explains.
"But we were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us."
"For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believed; as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you in His own kingdom and glory."
Did you notice in that paragraph that Paul first of all uses a feminine metaphor to speak of his ministry among the Thessalonian church? We were verse 7 "gentle like a nursing mother." Now, nothing is more selfless on earth than a nursing mother. A nursing mother cannot make demands of her children and a nursing mother can ever say, would you stop crying for food, I am the mom here, I am in charge, you are just a baby. Nursing mothers will never do that. They understand the critical nature of the dependence of that newborn upon her.
So a nursing mother is a selfless individual, and Paul uses that feminine touching metaphor to describe his own ministry among the Thessalonian church.
Then verse 8, look at affectionately longing. Have you ever seen a mother away from her children? That's the best description I can think of. You know what they are like, they are affectionately longing.
I have taken a number of tours to Israel and invariably there will be a number of young parents, who want to go, and they go, we got all fixed up, we are going to leave our little children with our in-laws at home. And I am thinking, it's not going to work. I know what's going to happen. You are going to love it when you get there. First two days, third day, by the fifth day, you are going try to find the next flight out of Tel Aviv to come home. I have seen it over and over again; it's just hard for parents of young children, especially a mother, to be away from those darling little children for very long.
They start affectionately longing, and Paul said, I was like that and I am like that toward you. And I think that's a great mark of a pastor. You know, when I travel, and I travel to different places and I speak to different churches and go around the world, but honestly, there is no group in my mind and in my heart as great as this group, this church. So I can speak to other churches, its okay, it's good, but I want to get back home to where the flock is. And there is just that relationship that God put with Paul and the Thessalonian church.
But, though he was like a nurturing mother, he is also like a nurturing father. He uses that metaphor, verse 11, "we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children." So here is Paul balanced in his leadership toward them; nurturing father, nursing mother.
And that's chapter 2 by and large. Chapter 3 is his exhortation to godliness. So again, chapter 1 his introduction to the church; chapter 2, the demonstration of Paul among them; chapter 3 is his exhortation, for them to live a godly life.
Okay, remember how I said the overriding theme is what in this book? The coming of Christ, the return of the Lord for the church; really, the overriding theme is living in the light of the return of Christ. It's not just, hey, let me tell you something really cool about when Jesus is coming back; here is an eschatological Bible study. Really what Paul's heart and motive is is how those Thessalonian believers will live until Jesus comes back. That's really the theme of this next chapter.
I take you down to verse 8. "Now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord."
Hang in there Thessalonians, stand fast. The word describes a group of soldiers standing their post and not running away.
"For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before God."
Now, here is Paul saying to them almost exactly what John said when he wrote in the book of Third John, and this is what John said. "For I have no greater joy then to hear that my children are walking in the truth."
Both John and Paul would shake hands in agreement and say, the greatest joy in ministry is that those that I get to minister too are maturing and growing and enduring, hanging in there, standing fast.
"Night and day, verse 10, praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith?"
Chapter 4 verse 1 continues the thought. "Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality."
Now, he targets this specifically because he is writing to the Greek culture, very rampant in sexual immorality, and what a lot of people don't know is there was a group of deities worshiped in Thessalonica, that were worshiped sensually, sort of like in Corinth, the temple of Aphrodite, also in town of Thessalonica was a group of deities called the Kabiri, and the Kabiri were worshiped like Aphrodite, with the sensual appetite of the flesh.
So he says, okay, let me just tell you part of the will of God for your life, don't do that. This is what God's will is for your life. Be pure, be chaste, live sexually moral pure lives.
Again, I just got to say, Paul was there three weeks, it's amazing that Paul is alluding to stuff he taught them while he was there, and he was only there for not even a month. So how was it that this church grew and learned in just three weeks what they learned what they knew and how they grew. And the only thing I can say, it's not just what they listen to, because they listened to the best Bible teacher in the world, next to Jesus, in my opinion, Paul, but it's how they listened, it's how they listened.
Remember Jesus said, take heed, how you hear. And you can hear in a lot of different ways. You know, one of the great privileges and one of the problems at the same time in our country is this country is glutted with resources. We have Bible teaching on the radio and on television and you can download it on MP3 and you can read books, its everywhere, to the extent that people go, whenever, whatever, I can always get it, it's not a priority now.
On the other hand, first time I ever went to India; and I am going to go again in March, first time I ever went to India, what really took me off guard was how they listened. And I remember one time I was there addressing a crowd of 50,000 people. They were all sitting on the dirt. There was huge lights, just enough to light the area, the parameter, and we were going through a Bible teaching. Not a person moved. I mean, it was almost eerie, it was almost like weird. So it's just looking down.
And you know, I know that I wasn't all that terribly exciting to them, but there is a great proverb that says, to the hungry every bitter thing is sweet. So I am thinking, you know what, they are just soaking it up like a sponge, because they don't get a lot of it here in this country. And so they were hearing with rapt attention, as I believe the Thessalonians were during those three weeks that Paul was there.
Chapter 4, verse 13 through chapter 5 is the last section, and that is the instruction to believers. So we have the introduction to the church, chapter 1. We have the demonstration of Paul, that's chapter 2. We have in chapter 3 the exhortation to godliness, and finally the last section, beginning in chapter 4, verse 13 is instruction for the believers, and the instruction is primarily about Jesus return for the church and how to live in the light of that.
Verse 13 of chapter 4; "But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we will always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words."
Now, here is a group young believers who were wondering; this is part of the report Timothy brought back to Paul. Paul, they are a little bit worried about their loved ones who have died, and you told them that Jesus is coming soon and they are wondering, what about my loved ones who believed in Jesus like I did but they didn't get to see Him return like I might get to see Him return; of course, He hasn't come yet, but they are living with that teaching and that hope, but some have died.
So Paul talks about those fellow believers who have died and how it's all going to come about when the Lord comes back for his church, the dead in Christ will experience their resurrection first, followed by those who are on earth, who will be instantly raptured, snatched away in the clouds, in the air to meet the Lord. That's called the rapture of the church.
Now, it's funny. When I bring this up, invariably someone will say, well, the term rapture isn't a biblical term; so what, the teaching of the rapture is a biblical teaching. So you don't have the term, so what? The term millennium isn't in the Bible, but the words thousand years are in the Bible.
So you don't have the term but you have the teaching. The word Bible isn't in the Bible, but I own a Bible. So it's not the term, it's the teaching. And the teaching of the rapture is certainly in the Bible.
So where do we get the term rapture from? Well, in verse 17, notice the two words, caught up. See those words caught up; it's a Greek word harpazo. Harpazo is used 13 times in the New Testament, and I have culled all of the usages for you. Of those 13 times, harpazo, four times is translated to catch up, three times to take by force, twice to catch away, twice to pluck. Once it means to catch, and one time it's translated to pull. So pull, pluck, catch away, take by force, catch up, you get the idea.
Now, there is a great translation of the New Testaments, in four volumes, by foremost Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest, it's an expanded, very literal translation of the Greek into English.
Listen to this verse in the Wuest translation, "we shall be snatched away forcibly in masses of saints having the appearance of clouds for a welcome-meeting with the Lord in the lower atmosphere." It's pretty dramatic.
We get the term rapture from the Latin translation of the Greek word used here; the Greek word is harpazo. The Latin Vulgate translation by Jerome, translated it raptus or rapere, where we get the term rapture.
What is it? The rapture is where Jesus comes from heaven toward the earth, not all the way to the earth. Believers are taken from the earth to meet Him somewhere in the air, somewhere in the atmosphere. So it's not a full coming of Christ. It's like a fly-by, it's a near pass. That's different from the second coming of Christ.
The second coming, Jesus comes from heaven all the way to the earth. It's not just for Christians. The Bible says, every eye will see him, everyone, it's a worldwide event.
In the rapture, Jesus comes for his bride, the church. In the second coming he comes with his bride, Revelation, chapter 19. The rapture is sudden, it's unpredictable. You don't know the day or the hour. The second coming on the other hand is very predictable. The Bible tells you exactly when that's going to happen, its going to happen exactly 1260 days after the abomination of desolation, so three-and-a-half years from a very distinguishable point in the tribulation period, three-and-a-half years exactly Jesus will come back to the earth for the judgment to quell Armageddon.
I don't have enough time to get more than that into it, because of time, we have taught at length before.
Chapter 5 verse 1; "But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night."
So chapter 5 verse 1 is the word but, that introduces a turn in focus of subject. "Times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write, for you yourselves perfectly know that the day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night." You will find the term, the day of the Lord mentioned 23 times in the Old and New Testament combined.
Typically, it refers to a period when God intervenes in humanity very dramatically and typically it's used of judgment. Go trace down those terms on your own and you will see, it's typically not a fun day, a great day, it's a judgment day, the day of the Lord is wrath typically, judgment.
It doesn't necessarily refer to a 24 hour day, but a period of time, the day of the Lord and so most Bible scholars, taking all of the text of scripture, know that the day of the Lord refers to the future, great tribulation period. The tribulation is seven years, I believe, and the last three-and-a-half years, again I believe, is the worst period of time in human history called the great tribulation period; the day of the Lord, inaugurated by the abomination of desolation.
Okay, look at this verse 3; for when they say, ""Peace and safety!" then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that that Day should overtake you as a thief. For You are all sons of the light, sons of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.""
Verse 8; "But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Now, that could refer to God's eternal wrath, certainly that's true. If you are in Christ, you will never face judgment for your sin, you will never face hell. But in the context here, it also and primarily refers to God's temporal wrath, i.e., the tribulation period. God has not appointed believers to the wrath that God is going to pour out upon planet earth.
Now, please notice the contrast in the paragraph we just read. Notice the contrast in Paul's language between us and them, they versus we. He used that contrasting language a lot. He also makes the contrast between darkness and light, destruction and not appointed to wrath. That language is very simple understood, easily contrasting language between what's going to happen to them as unbelievers and those of us who are believers. Paul never conceived of the church remaining on the earth during that time of God's wrath.
Notice, he will come to them, how? What does it say? As a thief, not for the church, not for us. It's not like, oh no. We want Him to come. We are looking for Him to come. He won't come for believers. That's why he says, day is not going to overtake you as a thief. A thief comes unannounced, unexpectedly, and it's, oh no.
Nobody is looking for a thief. You don't put a note on your door and say, door is unlocked; Dear Mr. Thief, door is unlocked, wallet is on the counter, take a drink on the way out. It's sudden, and that's how the judgment that will come upon the world will be in the great tribulation period for the world who's lived in denial up to that point.
Now we get to the final three chapters and they will go by very quickly. Second Thessalonians; Second Thessalonians is a sequel to First Thessalonians, it's a sequel. It was written by Paul probably a few months, at the most, afterwards' probably because he heard some other things that were going on, as you will see. Paul needed to clear something up that bothered this church in Thessalonica. Now, it's a sequel.
Typically, a sequel is never as good as the original; at least I found a sequel that's a book or a movie lacks the punch of the original, not so with this. It almost seems like Paul saves the best for last. And if you have any, kind of, appetite for end times teaching, Second Thessalonians is treasure trove. Because we have here one of the main teachings in all of the New Testament about an individual called the Antichrist.
It goes by a lot of different names, even goes by three different names in this book, none of which are the Antichrist. He is called the Man of Sin in chapter 2 verse 2. In the same reference he is called the Son of Perdition, and in chapter 2 verse 8, he is called the Lawless One. So Man of Sin, Son of Perdition, Lawless One, all those are enough descriptions to know he's not going to be a great guy.
I said it was written a few months after the first letter to clear up a misunderstanding, and as we read through it, I think you will get it.
Verse 7 chapter 1; "To give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels."
I know I am picking it up in the middle of the thought, but I don't want to read everything. "In flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power; [you don't get much more a clear description of everlasting hell than that verse], when He comes, in that Day; [that's the day of the Lord], to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed."
Chapter 2 verse 1; "Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?"
Can you imagine, that was some of the Bible study this church got in the first three weeks of their new foundations class?
So what Paul is doing here is instructing them about being gathered together to him, which is the rapture of the church, and what he wants them to know is that gathering together to him, the rapture is going to happen before that terrible day of the Lord, that judgment that's going to come upon the earth.
Now, evidently, they were feeling persecution back in Thessalonica; they lost their jobs, they were being beaten, they were being killed, and so some of the believers thought, this is it, we missed the rapture, we are now in the day of the Lord, we are in the tribulation period, and they were freaking out, because they thought they were experiencing that future day of wrath.
Paul says, can't happen, can't happen yet, because our gathering together will happen first and then will come the day of the Lord, and only after the Man of Sin is revealed will you see that great horrible last three-and-a-half year time period of worst history, worse time in all of history.
So he is basically telling them, calm down, relax, you are not in that day, you have to be gathered together to Him first, and obviously that hadn't happen, you are not in the tribulation period. Okay. Verse 4 describes that middle point, the abomination of desolation. Look at verse 4; "who; [that is the Man of Sin, the Antichrist], opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God and shows himself that he is God."
Daniel referred to this three times in his writings and called it the abomination of desolation. Jesus used the same term and pointed to something that has not yet happened and told the disciples to look to the future, right? "And when you see the abomination of desolation, as spoken by Daniel the prophet, standing in the Holy Place, you who are in Judah, Jerusalem flea." It's the same thing that he is talking about.
Okay. You with me so far? In history, in the past something happened that we told you about, around Christmas time, when we talked about Hanukkah, we told you about Antiochus Epiphanes or Antiochus the Fourth; the eighth Assyrian King, remember that? What he did is walked in times passed, into the temple, proclaimed a new worship institution to Zeus, demanded the people worship the image of Zeus in the temple, and that caused eventually a Jewish revolt; praise God, called the Maccabean Revolt, cleansing of the temple, celebration of Hanukkah.
The Jews refer to what Antiochus the Fourth did historically as the abomination of desolation. But Jesus, years later said, haven't happened in its fullness yet. When you see, future tense, the abomination of desolation. Now, He is filling in the blanks and tells us exactly what this Man of Sin, this Antichrist; again, goes by a lot of terms, will do.
John in the book of Revelation gives us more information. Tells us, there is a guy coming called Antichrist, who has a worker; the false prophet, and they are going to get together on a project, and here it is, Revelation chapter 13, beginning in the fourteenth verse. "And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast. He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. And a mark was put on them, [6, 6, 6, etcetera]" That whole section fills in even more what Paul is alluding to here in Second Thessalonians. So the Antichrist will reenact in the temple at Jerusalem what happened historically with Antiochus Epiphanies.
Now, here is the only problem. When Paul wrote this, when did I say it was, around 51 AD, there still a temple that stands in Jerusalem and will stand there for another 19 years. But in 70 AD it was destroyed, there hadn't been a temple there for 2,000 years.
So for all of those prophecies to be fulfilled, there has to be a temple built in Jerusalem. So you can be rest assured, at some point in history or some point in the future, a temple will be built in Jerusalem, on the Temple Mount, and plans are being made; not everybody is excited about those plans, but nonetheless there is a group of people who are ready for that.
Okay. Go down to verse 6; "And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time; [he, referring to the Antichrist]. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work."
I mean, one day it's going to have full bloom with the Antichrist, but that spirit and mystery of lawlessness is already at work in the present age. Only, notice this, He; capital H, please notice that, it must be a reference to some form of deity, "He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is in according to the working of Satan; [Revelation 13], with all power, signs, and lying wonders; [again, Revelation 13], and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion that they should believe the lie that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness."
Now, what is he talking about? Well, to be fair, since we weren't there in Thessalonica when he gave them the first information, we can only piece things together. But most Bible scholars believe that the restraining one is none other than the Holy Spirit; that's why I drew your attention to capital H-E, He, must be a reference to the Holy Spirit; capitalized by the translators.
Do you remember in Genesis 6, when the spirit of God was striving with wicked people on the earth, right before the time of the flood, and then the text says, God says, "For my spirit will not always strive with men." And He got out of the way and let God the Father enact the judgment of the flood.
So the restraining one, the hindering one is the Holy Spirit. And by the way, it's interesting that Jesus did parallel the days of Noah with His coming. When He said, "as it was in the days of Noah, so it also will be at the coming of the son of man."
Now, wouldn't you agree that the Holy Spirit is the only person with sufficient power to restrain the evil that is going to come, via the Antichrist and the false prophet? It's not the president in Washington; it's not the Prime Minister over in England, or any other world leader that's capable of that, only the Holy Spirit has that kind of restraining power.
How does He do it? That's pretty easy to see, I think, follow through with me. The Holy Spirit restrains evil in the world through Christians who are living in the world, in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, and through whom the Holy Spirit is working. How will that be taken out of the way? Easy, what he talked about in First Thessalonians, chapter 4, the rapture of the church. The Holy Spirit in dwelling believers; by the way, we are called salt and light, right, you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.
When the salt of the earth and the light of the world is removed by the church being taken out of the way, and now you don't have the restraining power of Christians in the community, the world will be like a festering sore, like putrid meat, it will quickly go bad, because there will be no voice saying, we shouldn't have abortions, that's wrong. That's immoral to do that activity, or that activity, there will be no group preaching the truth, they will be taken out of the way.
So the Holy Spirit; it doesn't say it will be taken out of the world, the church will be taken out of the world, thus the Holy Spirit will be taken out of the way, there is no restraint anymore. Interesting!
More and more, I am hearing the voices of the secular media, especially the far left; boy, I am getting political and you are not supposed to do that publicly, are you, saying things like this. The real problem is those freedom hating right wing fundamentalist Christians; if we could just get them out of the way.
One day they will have their wish. We will all be taken out of the way. Now, we are not out of the way yet, so we still need to be salt, we need to be light, we need to stand up for truth, we need to be the voices that are the restraining voices of God's workers on the earth. But one day they will have their wish and this world -- listen, if you think the world is bad now, this is a cakewalk, this is heaven in compared to what it's going to be like when every stand -- a person who stands for the truth is removed, and this world will putrefy quickly, almost instantaneously, like a festering sore.
Verse13; "But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or letter, epistle."
"Finally, brethren, verse 1 chapter 3, pray for us that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith." I will say, Amen to that.
Verse 6; "But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us."
Go down to verse 13; "But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good."
Verse 16; "Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all."
Verse 17; "The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every epistle; so I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."
Now, ever since Paul wrote these two letters, ever since these two letters got out, the church has been waiting and looking for the return of Jesus Christ; it's called the imminent return of Jesus Christ, it's what we are looking for. That's why Paul will write in Titus, chapter 2, verse 13; "Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ."
We are looking for Him to come. You say, yeah, but he wrote that like 2,000 years ago, and he hasn't come back yet. Well, he is 2,000 years closer than he was, and in 2,000 years a lot of people have culled through the scripture and saw, certain things have to happen. Like there has to be a temple for the Antichrist to come, and the Antichrist has to come before there is the second coming of Christ to the earth. So there can't be a temple unless there is a nation of Israel, and there wasn't a nation of Israel till 1948, and all those were talked about and predicted, and so we can piece it together and go, well, we live at some pretty interesting times, we live at some pretty interesting times.
But it can occur at any moment, I believe that. And I want you to know this in enclosing; some of the greatest preachers of history have looked and waited for the imminent return of Christ. Don't let people lead you astray in saying, that doctrine of the rapture that could come at any moment is wrong and heretical. They do not know their church history, and they do not have the spirit of the New Testament, looking for the blessed at hope.
Listen to the words of Alexander Maclaren quote, "The primitive church thought more about the second coming of Jesus Christ than about death or about heaven. They were not looking for a cleft in the ground called the grave, but for a cleavage in the sky called Glory. They were not watching for the undertaker, they were looking for the uppertaker."
Charles Spurgeon said, "The Lord's coming is possible any day, and impossible no day."
G. Campbell Morgan, "I never begin my work in the morning without thinking that He may interrupt it with His work, I am not looking for the grave, I am looking for Him."
D.L. Moody was asked the secret of his success, and he said quote, "For many years, I have never given an address without the consciousness that the Lord may come before I have finished."
Question, are you looking forward to it? Or let me just ask you this, are you looking for it? There is a difference between somebody looking at something and looking for something. When you look at something, that's observation, when you look for something, that's anticipation.
When there is a wedding; we just went through a glorious wedding in our family, there were people who came and they observed, they were looking at it. I have got to tell you, the bride, she has been looking for it all her life and that was the day. And you are the bride of Christ, and I hope you are looking for the return of Christ at any moment. That your heart hasn't grown cold, and you go, yeah, whatever.
You might not make it home tonight; you might end up in heaven, boom all of us, instantly. You might not make it through a week. I used to pray that the Lord would rapture us before a test I would take in school, or if I got a traffic ticket before I had to pay it, it would be very convenient.
Let's pray together. Heavenly Father, we have been able to indulge ourselves in some of the richest portion of text from your word. It's the kind of stuff that brings hope to the weary and the persecuted, to a group of Christians in a society that was not sympathetic toward their belief system. That was narrow minded toward the things of God in Christ.
And so Lord, we can really relate to this young church in Thessalonica, on a number of levels, because this church here is one that loves truth and is consistent about Bible study in its application. And also because of the culture we find ourselves in, and the political climate, and the moral climate.
And so Lord, our hope is not in that, our hope is in You, and we know that at anytime the Lord can descent with a shout, the voice of an archangel, the trumpet of God, the dead in Christ, being raised in their new bodies, and then we who are alive and remain caught up to meet Jesus, and to be forever with Him.
I pray that hope for the future would carry us through. And I pray for those in this auditorium tonight who don't have hope, because they don't have a relationship with You, I pray they will also give their lives to Christ. Jesus' name, Amen!