The Church and the Day of the Lord
Philippe R. Sterling
Pray and work while waiting for the coming of the Lord.
Paul’s first letter encouraged the believers in Thessalonica, but it did not provide all the answers to theological and practical problems. The believers were enduring persecutions and afflictions. Then a letter arrived as if from Paul stating that the day of the Lord had actually come. The church was confused and disturbed. Some of the believers reasoned that since the Lord’s coming was so near they ought to quit their jobs and wait for Him. This put a burden on other believers to care for them. The fact that the Rapture may happen at any time and the day of the Lord will begin does not mean that believers are free to live in an irresponsible manner. Believers must keep their jobs and earn a living until the Lord comes.
2 Thessalonians has different features from 1 Thessalonians. In 1 Thessalonians the emphasis in on the coming of the Lord in the air for believers and in 2 Thessalonians it is on the coming of the Lord with believers to the earth. In 1 Thessalonians the coming of Christ stands out and in 2 Thessalonians the coming of the man of sin stands out. In 1 Thessalonians comfort predominates and in 2 Thessalonians correction predominates.
Literary Structure and Content
I. Greeting: Paul greets the Thessalonian believers and invokes God’s grace and peace (1:1-2).
Paul opens the letter by identifying himself and his companions to the church in Thessalonica. He will end the letter with a personally written greeting as a mark of genuineness. Someone may have sent the church a letter written falsely in Paul’s name (see 2:2).
Paul mentions Silvanus and Timothy. Silvanus also known as Silas was with Paul when he first came to Thessalonica. Paul had sent Timothy to the Thessalonians on a previous occasion.
II. Thanksgiving and Encouragement: Paul thanks God for the Thessalonians’ growth in faith and love,
encourages them to persevere in their trials, and assures them of his prayers for them — God will reward them
for their faithful endurance and will repay those who persecute them (1:3-12).
A. Paul thanks God for the Thessalonians growth in faith and love but does not mention hope (1:3-4).
In 1 Thessalonians Paul referred to their faith, love and hope. Here he only mentions faith and love. Perhaps that is because they had been shaken from their composure by people who taught that the Tribulation had already come. Thus they lacked hope in Christ’s return at the Rapture to deliver them before that terrible time began.
B. Reward: God will reward believers who faithfully endure persecution and suffering (1:5).
God will ultimately reveal His righteous judgment. For believers it results in rewards. For unbelievers it results in retribution. By their persevering faith and love in persecution and affliction the Thessalonians are eligible for royal status in the Kingdom of God.
C. Retribution: God will repay those who afflict believers (1:6-10).
The passage implicitly reflects a series of end-time events. This includes the Tribulation, Second Coming, Millennium, Great White Throne Judgment and consignment of unbelievers to the Lake of Fire. Paul will clarify that they are not currently in the Tribulation (2:1-12). He had written of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture in 1 Thess 4:13–5:1.
1. God’s retribution involves Tribulation wrath (1:6-8).
2. God’s retribution involves eternal destruction (1:9-10).
Paul shifts from the Tribulation to the eternal fate of unbelievers. The unbelievers will suffer “eternal destruction.” They will be eternally separated from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power.
D. Prayer: Paul and his companions pray that the Thessalonian believers would be worthy of their calling --
that calling is to rule and reign with Christ in the Kingdom (1:11-12).
The divine favor of ruling with Christ is something of which believers are to be “worthy” (vv. 5 and 11). It is not automatic. The work of faith is required.
III. Correction: Paul corrects the misconception of the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord has come (2:1-17).
A. Don’t fear that the day of the Lord has already come — don’t be deceived about the order of events
concerning the Rapture and the Tribulation (2:1-3a).
The church at Thessalonica had a major end-time misconception. False teachers were saying that the day of the Lord has come. The day of the Lord refers to the Tribulation. If the day of the Lord has come then they have missed the Rapture. This is contrary to Paul’s teaching.
There are several views today about the timing of the Rapture. The Pre-tribulation view is that the Rapture occurs prior to any part of the Tribulation. The Mid-tribulation view is that the Rapture will occur in the middle of the Tribulation. The Pre-wrath view is that the Rapture will occur towards the end of the Tribulation and that the Church will suffer the wrath of men but not the wrath of God. The Post-tribulation view is that the Church will go through the entire Tribulation and at Jesus’ Second Coming He will first rapture the surviving believers and then immediately return with them to rule and reign on the earth. In the following verses Paul defends the Pre-tribulation view.
B. The day of the Lord will not come until the man of sin is revealed (2:3b-5).
Paul reminds the Thessalonians of two things he had taught them: the day of the Lord would not begin until the departure of believers and the revealing of the man of sin. The man of sin will be a political ruler, whom the apostle John call “the beast,” whose work is supported by a religious leader known as “the false prophet.” The revelation of the man of sin will be followed by a blatant display of blasphemy impossible to miss.
C. The present work of the Holy Spirit through the Church restrains the revealing of the man of sin (2:6-12).
The removal of the Church at the Rapture will be a removal of God’s restraining power. The mystery of lawlessness is active but restrained during the Church age. The lawless one will be revealed for a brief rampage during the Tribulation and then terminated at Christ’s Second Coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accord with the activity of Satan.
D. The Church will be saved from the day of the Lord (2:13-15).
E. Prayer: May the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father comfort and strengthen you in every good
work and word (2:16-17).
IV. Exhortation: Paul exhorts the Thessalonian to pray and to work as they wait for the coming of the Lord (3:1-15).
A. Pray as you wait (3:1-5).
1. Paul requests prayer for the spread of the word of God and for deliverance from evil people (3:1-3).
2. Paul expresses confidence in the Thessalonians and prays for their steadfastness (3:4-5).
B. Work as you wait — lead disciplined lives (3:6-15).
1. Some believers live undisciplined lives (3:6, 11).
2. Paul modeled and taught a disciplined life (3:7-13).
3. We are to admonish and exhort those who live undisciplined lives (3:14-15).
V. Closing: Paul gives a final prayer, certifies the letter and offers a blessing (3:16-18).
A. Prayer: Paul prays for the Lord’s peace and presence (3:16).
B. Certified Letter: Paul writes in his own hand the final greeting so as to certify the genuineness of this
C. Blessing: The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all (3:18).
Theological Reflection and Application
1 and 2 Thessalonians contribute to the development of this timeline of history: Ongoing Restraint of the Mystery of Lawlessness in the Church Age, Resurrection and Rapture of Believers, Revelation of the Man of Sin and Tribulation, Second Coming of Christ with Glorified Believers of the Church Age, Millennial Kingdom, Great White Throne Judgment and Consignment of the Unbelieving to the Lake of Fire, New Heaven and New Earth.
These affirmations and applications follow for those living in the Church age:
- We need to remember that our calling is to rule with Christ in the Kingdom. Our growing faith, love and hope in this life prepares us for the life to come.
- God rewards persevering believers and justly repays those who afflict them.
- We should know and adhere to the truths of God’s Word so as not to be swayed by false teaching.
- God wants us to know the general timeline of prophetic history. This can strengthen our hearts for every good work and word.
- We should engage in productive labor as we wait for the coming of the Lord.