1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
I remember my first time witnessing in, and the guy said “Jesus is alive.” My first thought was, “Alright, this is going to be easy.” It turned out this fellow was apart of a fast-spreading sect named Lightning from the East is alarming Christian communities across China by winning large numbers of converts to its unorthodox tenets, often by abducting potential believers. Its followers, who say they number 300,000 but whom observers measure in the tens of thousands, believe that Jesus has returned as a plain-looking, 30-year-old Chinese woman who lives in hiding and has never been photographed. They credit her with composing a third testament to the Bible, writing enough hymns to fill 10 CDs and teaching that Christians who join her will ascend to heaven in the coming apocalypse. The Jehovah’s witnesses for long have taught that Jesus would return in 1914 – now they teach that he invisibly returned. In Miami there is Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda who believes he is Jesus and the antichrist and has hundreds of followers.
Thessalonians were also confused about the return of Christ. Sometimes we think teaching about the return of Christ is confusing and shouldn’t be taught to new believers – Paul and the missionary team taught new believers these things in the short time they spent in Thessalonica.
Hope for the living and the dead (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (ESV)
The Thessalonians were confused. The reasons for their confusion were, if Jesus is the way to eternal life, how come some of us are dying? The basic statement of our faith is John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” They had a misunderstanding regarding death. Paul’s teaching on the end times and return of Christ arose out of a very practical pastoral concern in the church. The resurrection is the grounds for our hope. John 11:25-26: Jesus said to her (Mary), "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" 1 Corinthians 15 also explains that our Christian hope is that Jesus rose from the dead. As a result, since Jesus rose, those who have died in him will also rise with him.
Jesus return will not be a secret return. The Lord himself will descend with the cry of command, Voice of the Archangel, The trumpet of God. Acts 1:6-11: “So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." (ESV)
The Latin for “Caught up with him” is “raeptius.” This is the word we get the English word ‘rapture’ from. The rapture of the church is simply our being caught up with Jesus in heaven. The word “rapture” is taken from the Latin word translated into English as “caught up” in verse 17. Christians disagree as to the timing of this event in relation to the “tribulation”, a period of time (often seven years) before Christ’s return in which God’s judgment will be poured out upon the people’s of the earth. Although since the 1800’s many American evangelicals have held that the rapture will occur before the tribulation – the “pre-tribulation” position, the dominant view throughout church history has been to link the rapture to the return of Christ – the post-tribulation position. Still other views place the rapture near the middle of the tribulation. The important thing to remember and what all agree on is that the church on earth will be gathered together with those who have died in Christ to be with Him forever. It will all turn out all right in the end. Therefore we don’t mourn as the world mourns (verse 13) and we are to encourage one another with these words (verse 18) However, we don’t just encourage the mourners, but encourage all who are suffering.
Watch and Wait for His Return (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 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. (ESV)
When is this going to happen? Paul says, I don’t need to write you about the times and seasons. Because he taught them already? Because no one can now – Jesus said that not even the son knows the day or hour of his return (Matthew 24:36). Paul explains that the coming of Christ will come “Like a thief” (referring back to Jesus in Matthew 24:43). The unbelievers will be surprised, when they think they are secure, destruction will come on them. Things will be looking good. It will look like an era of hope and renewed peace. In such a time, they will come to destruction. Do not be surprised, we are not like those to whom the thief comes and we had no idea he was coming. We should see the signs of his coming and prepare ourselves accordingly. I believe that any view of the rapture must teach us to watch out for these things.
What are the signs of his coming? Reading Matthew 24:1-29 we see:
· False prophets will come and lead many astray (4-5)
· Wars, rumors of wars and famines (6-8)
· Persecution and hatred of Christians (9)
· Great Apostasy (many fall away to betrayal and apathy) (10-13)
· Gospel proclaimed worldwide (14)
· Desecration of the Holy Place in Judea (15-16)
· Great earthquake in Jerusalem (29)
Notice, all but the last two have happened in every generation? Therefore, keep awake and sober, building each other up. It doesn’t mean that we become crazy prophecy hunters, but that we put on faith, love and hope. We do not get fearful, for God hasn’t destined us for wrath, but with soberness, understand the reality of the hardships to come.
Its Going to Get Worse Before it Gets Better (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12)
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (ESV)
The Thessalonians thought they had missed it. Someone had evidently, between the first and second letters come to the Thessalonians and told them that they had missed out on Christ’s return. Therefore Paul says, be discerning in what you hear from your teachers regarding Christ’s return. For example, the Jehovah witnesses claimed Christ secretly returned in 1914. Don’t believe it.
There will be a rebellion or apostasy: This is probably the apostasy spoken of in Matthew 24. It comes from within the church in betrayal and apathy, and outside of the church in persecution. In that climate, the antichrist will be revealed. This is Paul’s answer to the Thessalonians – you haven’t missed Christ’s return because the antichrist has not been revealed yet. The church will see the Antichrist, whether you are pre-mid-or post somehow he is going to be revealed before Jesus takes you away. Personally, I believe that we will see him rise to power, persecute the church, and commit gracious blaspheme (the abomination) at the site of the temple. Paul taught these things to the very young Thessalonians Christians. The Antichrist will:
o He has no regard for God’s law
o He is a son of the destroyer even though he looks like a builder
o He claims a divine prerogative for himself
o He commits the abomination of desolation in the holy place
o His coming is by the activity of Satan
o He will be able to do great miracles and signs
o He will deceive many
o He will be killed by Jesus
Verses 6-7 indicate that he (or his spirit) is currently being restrained. The restrainer will be removed. Much discussion here. Something or someone is restraining evil until it will finally give way and allow the lawless one to be revealed.
o It’s a mystery of lawlessness
Þ Government: Paul didn’t want to say the government because it could put the church in danger so he is careful not to name it. Antichrist will come to power in a period of anarchy
Þ Michael the Archangel: This is from revelation 12:7-12. Michael is restraining the devil by warring with him in heaven, but will ultimately cast him down to earth, at which point he will use the antichrist.
Þ The Holy Spirit: Through the church, the Holy Spirit restrains evil. Many pre-tribbers believe that the rapture of the church will mean the removal of the restrainer (HS) so that the anti-Christ can come to power. Less spiritual is that the church will be marginalized and persecuted allowing the evil one to come to power.
The wicked will be deluded (verse 9) by the activity of Satan with signs and wonders to be a deception for the unbelievers so that he will be just in his judgment. Christ will destroy him in his coming: (verse 8) Jesus will ultimately kill the antichrist at his coming by a word of his mouth
He Who Loves the Truth Will Be Saved
Piper: The apostasy comes to a crushing climax in verses 9–12 with an incredibly heavy force of delusion and deceit. According to verse 10 the signs and wonders of the man of lawlessness deceive those who are perishing. Why? Why are they so vulnerable? Why do many professing Christians leave the truth and follow falsehood? Paul's answer at the end of verse 10 is that they refuse to love the truth (literally: they did not welcome a love for the truth). Notice: it is not merely an issue of knowing or believing in a merely mental sense: it is an issue of loving. And this means that saving faith—faith that will endure to the end through the affliction now and through the apostasy to come—is not merely an accepting of truth but a loving of truth. Verse 10: "They perish because they refused to love the truth."
We can be sure that when the man of lawlessness comes, his signs and wonders will be used to support claims that appeal to our natural desires. Therefore the only defense against this appeal will be a deeper desire for God. If Christ is our portion and our treasure, if he satisfies our longings, and if we love the glory of his gospel, then the mystery of lawlessness will not overcome us, and our love will not grow cold and we will endure to the end and be saved. May the Lord grant us all to receive the love of the truth. Amen.